Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Autumn statement: it's the democracy, stupid

I tend not to pay too much attention to economic metrics. It seems to me that people read them whichever way they want to read them and project their own hobby horse assumptions with them. If I want that sort of blogging I go to Flipchart Rick, who is a prestige merchant, drawing only on sources permitted within the bubble.

Depending on who you read, the latest OBR statistics are evidence of either a total Brexit catastrophe or the complete opposite. Flipchart Rick is a utilitarian. The only thing that matters to him is the numbers. Democracy, however, goes beyond dry economic metrics and in this economics to takes a back seat to matters of identity, self-determination and the spiritual needs of humanity. All of which is presumably backward mumbo jumbo to economists.

Me, I prefer to view economics in its proper context and I don't think we should be slaves numbers. The human spirit very often defies expectations and the future is not predictable. All we can do is take our best shot based on the best advice available. In this the greatest enemy is certitude. We could very easily condemn ourselves to drudgery if we didn't let our ambitions and desires transcend the pragmatic.

One example of economic hocus pocus this week is the suggestion by Credit Suisse that Brits are automatically $1.5 trillion worse off just for having voted to leave. By some jiggery pokery that might even be true but how do you persuade half the population who have nothing to begin with that they are going to be worse off?

Rick has it that "with NHS, schools and defence budgets protected, to an extent, this means an ever tighter squeeze on everything else. The cost of the Brexit process, including thousands of extra civil servants, will also have to be found from this shrinking pot".

It really depends on your worldview as to whether that is a good or bad thing. Personally I think the rot really set in in Britain as the government got wealthier and as it set about nationalising and bureacratising public life, it destroyed the voluntary ethos that underpins community. I think New Labour was one of the worst things ever to happen to the UK.

Consequently if Brexit does defund big government we might actually see a newly mobilised voluntary sector and in the process people will rightly start asking why it has any right to tell us how to go about such things when government is not funding such initiatives,

The bottom line is that I think we need major democratic reform, a major cultural revolution and that will necessarily mean kicking over a few anthills. I don't care what the numbers say. The numbers can give us some useful warnings, for instance, the OBR forecasts that lower immigration will cost UK £16bn and we want to think very carefully about closing doors, but the idea that the numbers should deter us from doing what we each feel is necessary to bring about a society we want to live in is bankrupt.

As it happens, this blog among many others went to considerable lengths to disavow Vote Leave's £350m claim and warned that Brexit could cost considerably more. I even went as far as predicting a recession, which may yet manifest itself. The fact is there is a process to go through as a corrective to what has been done in our name and without our consent.  

And you can talk to me about deficits and national debt if you like but a lot of the spending we are doing in this decade is to plug policy gaps left by the last three governments. The Royal Navy has been pruned and neglected and all the while we were living the high life on borrowed money we did little to address our energy needs instead focusing on vanity toys and renewables.

A vote to remain in the EU was to vote for more of the same narcissistic government pursuing ever more expensive and dubious goals while continuing to neglect the basics. The only great pity of Brexit is that the same establishment that got us into this mess is tasked with getting us out of it. 

I'm not taken with the panglossian nonsense of leavers for a moment and I don't believe Brexit will bring about a jobs surge or see "bumper deals" rolling in. I think we are going to have to work double time just to tread water for at least a decade - but the point is that we very much have departed from the post war settlement which has stagnated and run out of ideas. To borrow a phrase, the future's not set, there's no fate but what we make for ourselves. 

It could be that we have made a mistake, but then again we were voting not for what happens in this years Autumn Statement, but for what happens ten years down the line, not for our immediate financial concerns but for the democratic and social life of the nation. What's sure as anything, that is just as much a valid estimation as what the clever people think

There was always going to be a price to pay for Brexit. We heard the warnings, we made our choice and ultimately we won't know what it means for some time. What we do know is that it was time for change and now that ball is rolling. Whether it is a success or not depends on whether we are going to grasp the challenge with both hands or sit around moaning about it. It will take more than a gloomy interim forecast to change my mind. 

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