Monday, 1 April 2013

April Fool's Day...ain't that the truth

Just occasionally I'm moved to use this blog to comment on stuff beyond the satisfying but ultimately pretty banal world of my running and bicycling. Today is one of those occasions. There's been such a tidal wave of nauseating cant in the last day or so I can't let it pass.

And no, I'm not talking about the reaction to Peter Sagan's "joke" yesterday, though that was bad enough. The best riposte to it that I've seen is here:

(And having read a few more of her contributions and seen the photo, all I can say is that's it a good job there's not currently a vacancy for Mrs Monmarduman; though why a sassy and attractive twenty-something would apply for it is as much a mystery to me as you).

I'm talking about the reaction to the changes to the welfare reforms and NHS that come into effect today. Now, before I go any further can I make it clear I'm no apologist for this government. It's a disgrace on many counts, and I certainly won't be voting for its re-election next time. I also think there is way too much wealth and income inequality in this country; I've read and buy the arguments expressed in this:

...but it's just that my diagnosis of the causes and effects are different to prevailing wisdom; there's too little free market in this country. Any basic economics course will tell you that one of the conditions for successful 'perfect' markets is full information; my stance is that recent generations of politicians, bankers, big business, senior civil servants and quangocrats have successfully manipulated, obfuscated and rigged the world around us to the point where information is completely imperfect, and that world benefits them very nicely. Our new class of professional politicians (of all parties) so badly need to keep power to maintain their careers that taking principled stands in the best interests of the country is viewed as eccentric at best, and evil at worst. Similarly, it's evident from episodes like the Mid-Staffs NHS scandal that many in public service think the producer interest is paramount, and the consumer interest somewhere far behind. It's not purely a public service problem - the contagion has spread to many parts of the private sector too, notably banking and financial services of course. I was very close to the part of HBOS that caused much of the trouble that Lloyds is still seeking to clean up, and it's to my deep and lasting regret that I didn't blow the whistle (I was asked, along with a relatively small number of others, to close down perfectly healthy businesses in order to free up capital for the insane property lending and taking of equity stakes we knew were happening).

I could go on, but need to get back to the source of my ire today, the benefit changes in particular. I've seen and read the commentary on them, and I'm sure there probably some inequitable circumstances created that weren't there before. But hang on a moment - even Iain Duncan Smith has said that the changes are now about managing the increase in the benefits bill rather than reducing it. So we're managing the increase in our benefits bill at the same time as our national debt is rising at nearly £4,000 A SECOND. And when the bill for the interest on our national debt already exceeds what we spend on education. And before people say we could either a) cut other areas, or b) not cut at all - have you thought that through, really?

So let's look at cutting other areas. Well, the two most significant parts of our national budget are health and social security respectively (16% and 25% respectively in 2011-12). Within reason, everything else, including education and defence, pale into insignificance, and even cutting them by another 20% wouldn't really help. Health is ringfenced (rightly or wrongly), and the likes of defence and police have already faced really significant cuts. So, if you accept the principle that our deficit has to be cut (so as to provide some vague semblance of control over our debt), something has to give, and the obvious candidate is welfare spending. Though I'm not saying that the welfare budget couldn't be used better - winter fuel allowances to wealthy pensioners for example; means-testing it wouldn't save a lot, but it would provide some indication politicians are doing the right thing rather than just scrubbing around for votes.

Maybe you don't accept the principle that our deficit has to be cut, and our debt and attendant interest payments made manageable. Forgive me, but you're either a fantasist, or you really couldn't give a monkeys for future generations. The fantasists think that economic growth will get us out of this hole; it won't, simple. Our population is ageing way too fast (with the extra pressures that creates on the pensions and health budgets) for that to be true. Maybe you know this, in which case you really are saying (and please excuse the language that follows; it doesn't happen often on here) "fuck you" to future generations. Neither Britain, nor many other parts of the so-called 'developed world' have the clear advantage in skills, education and innovation that they used to have; we're not going to get away with paying ourselves more (whether that's private salaries or public social payments) than China, India, Indonesia etc etc, AND pay our debts off simultaneously; we're lumbering our kids and their kids with massive, humungous debt interest payments that they're going to spend their lives paying off via high taxes or incredibly low levels of state spending, whilst watching their living standards fall in real - not just relative -terms. The alternative of course is that the government randomly appropriates private wealth, but that's never going to happen is it? (Just ask the citizens of Cyprus).

So to all those complaining're no better than a whinging teenager, hassling his/her parents for a no-expense-spared 18th birthday party when the poor buggers are already maxed out on their credit cards and overdraft. Engage in a debate about how better you can spend the money that's available, and even how much money is available in the first place, but don't just say "it's not fair"; that solves nothing.

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