Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big And Stupid


According to a poll in this morning's Independent, two-thirds of voters now agree that "government has grown too big and needs a major overhaul to make it smaller" (see here for full poll results).

Well, hallelujah. After 12 grim years of rule by Socialist Commissars, British voters have once again shown they're not quite as dumb as the ruling class like to think.

Of course, that's not the way the Commissariat running dogs and lickspittles see it. The Independent itself claims we stupid voters have misunderstood the entire issue:

"The "big government" versus "small government" opposition is, in many respects, a false one. There are areas of British life where the state's activities are distorting and it should pull back. But there are other areas where government ought to be more activist in pursuit of the public good. Our political leaders need to decide where government has a role – and then concentrate on making it as effective and productive as possible in fulfilling that role. The true enemy is not "big government" but "stupid government".

So voters are confused. Instead of demanding a downsizing of government they should really be demanding that government stop being stupid. Apparently that's the real enemy of the people.

The "Independent" adds:
"[The] claim that all of society's ills can be laid at the door of an over-active states is too simplistic. There are also areas of public life where the state has plainly not been active enough. The Government has failed to do enough to stimulate investment in renewable energy technology and infrastructure. The result is that we lag far behind the likes of Germany in the development of solar energy and wind power."
So it doesn't matter that we the people remain deeply unconvinced by warmist theology (see Mr Booker's latest heretical tract here), or that we're aghast at the increasingly bonkers commandments from the warmist priesthood (such as today's injunction from Archbishop Stern to stop eating meat). As far as the Commissariat are concerned, we're being stupid. We must be prepared to sacrifice everything - our livestock, our prosperity, even our hypothermic lives - in order to placate the great God Gaia. Anything else would be... well... stupid.

The Independent also deploys the left's current killer argument against small government:
"One of the reasons we got into this economic mess was the prevalent political ideology that said financial markets were always self-correcting and should be left to their own devices. The banks blew up a destructive credit bubble without facing any meaningful controls from the regulator."
Financial markets are big and stupid, so government has to be big and strong. QED.

Except of course, governments themselves were heavily implicated in the financial bubble and its subsequent collapse: central banks that kept interest rates too low for too long, regulators who couldn't regulate a rice pudding, high spending politicos who luxuriated in the fiscal windfalls generated by the credit boom, etc etc.

Nobody of Tyler's acquaintance thinks government can stay out of financial markets altogether. For example, in a modern economy they have to be the ultimate guarantor of retail bank deposits, they have to ensure their own debt financing operations don't destabilise the currency, and they have to hold the ring against anti-competitive practices (just like in other markets). But that doesn't prove the case for big government more broadly.

The thing about big government is that it is stupid by nature. It truly is the nature of the beast.

And that's not to say that the people who work in government are stupid (Tyler met another very sharp civil servant just last week). And it's not to say that private sector operators are all smart.

No. Fundamentally, big government is stupid because it lacks direction from choice and competition.

Many private sector operations suffer from just as much stupidity. But they have a big advantage over government. Because in their case, if they are too stupid, and if they fail to improve pdq, they go out of business. Their behaviour gets shaped by choice and competition. Which means that unlike government, the private sector largely comprises winners - operations that have dealt with their stupidity (or at least, enough of it to survive out there in the jungle - eg see this blog).

Of course, the commissariat are never going to see it this way. Not only do their jobs depend on Big Government remaining big, many of them actually believe big government knows best. They believe that warmism is the one true faith, that a benevolent superstate headed by Commissar Bliar is A Good Thing, and that markets cannot be trusted.

So who is it that's stupid exactly?

Right now, the pressing issue is how we get Mr Cam to follow through on his fine words at the Tory conference. We completely agree that it was Big Gov wot done it - both to our economy and our society - but in six months time we're going to expect some action. As this poll highlights, we're ready for some serious downsizing.

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