As we all understand, the fundamental divide between left and right is the issue of personal responsibility.
We on the right believe that the world is a better place if individuals - or more specifically families - take responsibility for themselves. Economics is all about how self-interest not only drives our lives, but underpins stable and mutually beneficial relationships between us (eg see this blog). From the economy, to education, to health, to welfare, the right believes when governments get involved beyond law and war, the long-term consequences are almost always dire.
The left believes the exact opposite. They believe the world is better if planned and managed by a benevolent dictator who goes by the name of "Society". For the left, the apparent randomness of markets is the law of the jungle, and individual differences in talent and interest a monstrous inequity. They believe that markets are an indulgence, or as the late John Smith put it to Tyler on a City lunch tour, "markets where possible, government where necessary". They believe "equity" trumps growth, and they believe there is no such thing as individual failure, only social failure.
Of course, to go along with the left you have to believe that government can actually deliver what it promises. And as we document on BOM every day, there is precious little evidence of that. Indeed, even if you accept markets fail from time to time (eg the current credit crunch), government failure is a whole lot worse: lack of competition, one-size-fits-all, producer capture, lack of innovation, perverse incentives... we blog it all right here.
In essence, the left believes markets fail and governments succeed. We believe the opposite (see this highly readable IEA paper by Helen Evans for a discussion of this key difference in the context of the NHS).
This morning Commissar Johnson returns to the issue of obesity. Rejecting Cam's view that fatties should take responsibility for themselves, the Commissar says:
'It's easy for politicians to stand on the sidelines accusing the impoverished, the fat and the excluded of only having themselves to blame.
Just as the Government has a moral duty to tackle poverty and exclusion, so it also has a duty to address obesity.
But this is not a licence to hector and lecture people on how they should spend their lives - not least because this simply won't work. Tackling obesity requires a much broader partnership.'
Exclusion, moral duty, partnership... great words. You are excluded from the ability to manage your own calorie intake, so the rest of us in partnership have a moral duty to stump up for huge government programmes to get you off the hook of your own self-indulgence.
OK, so how would we on the right discharge our moral duty?
A few months back we looked at Moorside Road Dewsbury, the road where "kidnapped" Shannon Matthews lived. Some of the neighbours are pictured above celebrating Shannon's return. We surmise one or two of them might be suitable candidates for our moral duty.
As we discovered, the residents of Moorside Road have some serious issues: high crime, poor education, high unemployment/incapacity/lone parent welfare dependency, and family dysfunction. Looking at the pic, I'm guessing life expectancy is also low.
The left's response is more welfare and more government support. But in truth, money is not the issue. As we discovered, the average household income is getting on for £30 grand pa, and is within 20% of the national average.
The issue is the people, and how they choose to live their lives. And the 60 years of welfare state which has clearly failed them so badly (cf Glasgow East).
So what is our real moral duty?
It's surely to help them take responsibility for themselves. And for Moorside Road, that means above all else, increasing the financial incentive to work, and cutting the financial incentive to doss around drinking 22p lager and producing stacks of no-hope kids.
It also means freezing Labour's minimum wage (better still, abolish it). As we pointed out in the original blog, there are private sector jobs in Dewsbury, and there'd be a whole lot more if employers could pay rates which actually reflected the low productivity of their prospective new employees.
Our real moral duty here is not about more state hand-outs and trying to live other people's lives for them. It's about taking tough decisions like Clinton did over his welfare reforms. Decisions which recalibrate financial incentives and ensure individuals are not paid to harm themselves and others.
Yes, such decisions might produce some casualties in the short-term, but the US reforms have clearly not produced the catastrophe the left predicted.
And besides, nobody ever said moral duty was an easy option.
PS The minimum wage is a totem for Labour. And it's often argued that every civilised country needs one - "90% of countries have one, even the US". But the critical issue is really its level. Ours is now £5.52 per hour. In the US, the Federal Minimum Wage is $6.55, or just £3.29 - plus the US is richer. In places like Dewsbury, a minimum wage of £5.52 is almost certainly too high to expand labour demand for low-skill workers.
PPS Accompanying Rockin' Al's speech today is the latest official estimate of what obesity costs the rest of us - we're apparently now up to £50bn in NHS costs alone. As regular readers will know, these estimates get bigger every time they're wheeled out. Just two years ago, then Fit Minister Caroline Flint told us the NHS costs were £1bn pa. But virtually simultaneously, the then Dear Leader told us the costs were £4bn pa just on treating T2 diabetes. Compare and contrast with the NAO's 2001 estimate of £0.5bn pa. Pick a number: any number, as long as it's A Big One. (NB Tyler wishes to disassociate himself from the Major's recent appallingly fattist and sexist remarks to the effect that our ex-Fit Minister is "fattening up nicely").