Friday, July 02, 2010

Masters Of Self-Interest

Today the TPA publishes the Trade Union Rich List. The list makes facinating reading:
  • 38 Trade Union General Secretaries and Chief Executives received remuneration of over £100,000 in 2008-09.
  • Numero Uno is Gordon Taylor, head of the professional footballers union, who got a total £856k. (he's presumably being rewarded for achieving what all union leaders seek to achieve - getting their members mega-pay for pants performance - and see Jeff Randall's excellent plan for a vanity tax on England's... er... "footballers" ).
  • Many of the big public sector union bosses - the ones who will soon be leading strikes against pay freezes and pension reforms - are paid well over £100k, far more than most of their members, eg:

These people are masters of self-interest. A self-interest that rests on promoting a state of conflict between their members and the employers - something we'll be painfully reminded of over the next few years (eg Mr Crow's call this week for a "wave of strikes").

Now, we have no problem with self-interest. Indeed, we applaud it. We reckon it's been one of the key drivers of human progress throughout the ages.

But where we do have a problem is when self-interest gets dressed up as something else. Such as those old favourites "the national interest", "the public good", and "fairness for all".

Right now, we're getting rather a lot of that. As we face up to our decade of spending cuts, it's coming from all the various industries that are currently being propped up by tax-funded subsidies.

Needless to say, the Arts industry is centre stage. They reckon cuts will be disastrous to the national interest, and may mean the end of James Bond as we know it. As we've blogged many times, the £600m we give them through the Arts Council every year, plus the dosh channelled into the arts via the £3.5bn pa BBC, plus the subsidies to the film producers, are all prime candidates for the chop. There is zip overall economic benefit (eg see this blog), and it is outrageous that poor taxpayers are forced to subsidise middle class rentiers like Mr and Mrs T when they toddle off to the RSC or the Chichester Festival.

Then there's the tax-funded science research industry.  They've been squealing to Newsnight about how cuts to their budgets would be disastrous because their work is essential to our future prosperity. Oh yeah? Like how? As it happens, Tyler once took part in an international research study seeking to quantify the economic return to basic scientific research funded by taxpayers. After about 2 years, many weighty papers, and research meetings right across Europe, we could find no serious evidence of any return whatsoever. Yes, scientific knowledge definitely drives technological progress, but we British taxpayers would be better off if we cut British science subsidies and simply coat-tailed on the yanks (which to be frank, we've been doing anyway for the last 50+ years).

Then there's the Foreign Office, whose alumni are currently touring TV studios to warn of the dire consequences if we cut their budgets. Apparently, cuts will mean we will no longer be able to "punch above our weight". Sorry? Did I miss something? Falklands aside - a war launched against Foreign Office advice - post-Suez, when exactly did we ever manage to punch above our weight? Where's the benefit to taxpayers?

There are a host of others, too tedious to recount, but you'll see them popping up over the next few months to explain why cuts to their budgets will be disastrous for you.

As always, you need to treat all such claims with extreme suspicion. Identify the self-interest of those who are making the claims. And demand clear hard evidence of the benefit to you.

In our cash-strapped world, where your taxes have already been increased, arm-waving on Newsnight is no longer enough. The burden of proof is now on those who want continued public funding. It's back where it always should have been.

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