Saturday, October 02, 2010

What exactly do the Tories mean by a "Small State"?

The ideology that is driving George Osborne's maniacal chainsaw attack on the fabric of British economy and society arises from the philosophy of individualism (which is fundamentally mistaken, given that mankind is a social animal) which has the mantra "Private good, public bad".  They always preach the virtue of a "small state".

What is a small state?

What is the state?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a state as: an organized political community under one government; a commonwealth; a nation.

Which is odd, because the Tories who want a small state always oppose devolution of Scotland &c as "Breakup of the Union".  They talk up the nation. 

To work out what they want, we have to look at what they hate. They hate Communism, where the State was, or tried to be, total, with no private economic sector, and almost no individual freedom. Totalitarianism.  Which is a dumb and failed idea, to be rejected by any right thinking person.

Right thinking peeps have come to a consensus on the correctness of a mixed economy, with the private and public sector in dynamic balance - more in some countries, less in others. But there are ideologues within the Tory party, and also maybe within the LibDems, who want to go further, and reduce the "State" to a bare minimum, with maximal power and minimal restraint handed over to the private sector.

This is what is happening in the NHS, and has been for decades, with private suppliers competing with NHS suppliers. And in local government, where private contractors have been taking over housing and waste management. 

There is scant evidence that private service is cheaper or more efficient than public provision, and some evidence that it is less efficient. Which is not to say that state provision is always efficient. It is not. It needs constant revision, preferably grassroots-up through an enhanced Suggestion Box system.

A key point to remember is that the flagships of the private sector are the multi-national (transnational) companies. They are bigger than most states, and are effectively above and beyond many laws. Their directors' responsibility is solely to maximise profits, and they avoid and evade taxes to a large degree. They have overweening political influence. They like the idea of a "small state", because it leaves them free to maximise profit with scant regard for the well being of people and other living things. The state most definitely needs to grow, not shrink, its power to bring multinationals under the rule of law.

So it is all a bit unclear. The State is an ambiguous, mixed concept. It can be inefficient, it can sometimes be an enemy of freedom. But it can also serve the people, as with the NHS, social services, the welfare system, the police (in their good, thief catching function, not in their controlling mode, as in kettling), and even the armed forces, in their defensive mode (protecting us from invasion by the French, and in successful actions in, dare I say it, Sierra Leone.

The state is, as the definition says, our common-wealth. We are a social species, and the state should embody and facilitate our sociability. The state is our pooled resources. It can get it wrong, and can be inefficient, in which case it needs to be reformed.  Maybe it could be reformed so as to make it more efficient, in which case, the tax take could go down, which would be nice, but don't hold your breath.

What is most definitely blindingly obvious is that it has taken the state decades and centuries to reach its present level of debt and inefficiency, and it will take many decades to reform it towards efficiency and solvency. Osborne's cuts are a totally insane effort to destroy the deficit in 5 years.

What we face as a nation is what an obese man with a BMI of 40 faces when he goes to a surgeon, and the surgeon offers to cut the flab off with a chainsaw. Without an anaesthetic.  Osborne's cuts are deadly. They will increase unemployment, bring on a double dip recession, lower the tax take, and increase, rather than decrease the deficit.

Don't believe me? Just wait 12 months to see who is right.


More on the Small State


Derek Wall said...

spot on, I am not a fan of the state but this is an excuse to give the corporations free reign.

If they were going to mutualise the banks, redistribute land on a large scale, etc, etc, then they could justify some of their rhetoric.

however its an excuse to cut public services while preserving (indeed accelerating) an unequal society.

Eliza said...

A man with a BMI of 40 just about sums up what the UK has become under NuLab.
Crash diet and exercise diagnosed before collapse and a heart attack.
Thanks for the perfect analogy, Doc :)

DocRichard said...

Exactly - diet and exercise, not an apronectomy carried out with a chainsaw and without an anaesthetic.

Another analogy might be addiction. The UK has become addicted to easy money, like a patient hooked on prescribed benzodiazepines. Abrupt withdrawal may precipitate an epileptic fit (= deep recession, civil disturbances). The right way is slow withdrawal and steady reform of the economy to transform it into a sustainable, steady state, ecological economy.

DocRichard said...

Hi Derek

It is always a pleasure to agree with you.

"Mutualise the banks"? Why yes indeed. And included in that would be taking back the monopoly on money creation that the banks have arrogated to themselves. Which is a big step forwards for our ongoing debate on this matter.

We really need a big, detailed authoritative web page (or wiki?) setting out alternatives to the Osbore's madness.

My starter is here: