Tuesday 21 November 2017

Arresting the decline

If I were to pick a columnist who shaped my political views as a younger man it would be Philip Johnston of The Daily Telegraph who was writing for it back in the days when it was a still a semi-serious newspaper. 

Though it has been a very long time since I bothered to read it, it is interesting that he should have penned this article detailing how entitlement culture has a total grip on British politics. It slots in very well with some of the themes on this blog of late and is not too far dissimilar to what I would have written last night were I not stricken with the lurgy. 
The main reason why we have run an almost permanent deficit since the 1960s has been the explosion of entitlements that fractured the something-for-something contributory principle originally espoused by Beveridge. The state gives money to people because of who they are rather than what they need and irrespective of what they have paid in. And once commitments are made they are set in stone.
To give one example: when my children were young (not that long ago) there was no free nursery schooling; yet not only does this new entitlement continue despite our indebtedness, it has been expanded to curry favour with a particular group of voters. Woe betide any Chancellor who tries to cut it.
Over time such entitlements have supplanted contributory benefits and given rise to resentment among the people who pay the taxes to fund them, who are in turn dissatisfied with the standard of services they receive from the state.
In a non-collectivist world, they could get better schooling for their children and higher levels of health and social care for themselves if they could spend more of their own money on what they wanted rather than what they are given.
We should have started to uncouple personal welfare from public spending years ago as the country became richer, leaving the state to help only the very poor. Instead, radical ideas such as top-up education vouchers and treatment co-payments in health have been killed stone dead.
It is heartening that Mr Hammond remains focused on spending restraint; but like most recent Chancellors he misses the big picture, or is simply unable to redraw it. Mr Brown, in particular, went off in the collectivist direction, deliberately dragging ever greater numbers into the welfare net.
We are now in the perverse position of relentlessly cutting the things the state is supposed to provide such as defence, policing and infrastructure, while political parties vie with each other to promise more people more things that they could and should do for themselves.
Those who want to see the proportion of GDP taken by the state reduced to around 30 per cent, with commensurate tax reductions to boost productivity, choice and growth, are hardly heard from anymore. We are doomed to pile up debt while periodically chipping away at it without making a discernible impact. The entitlement culture has won.
I've been expressing similar arguments quite frequently of late - and in the Twittersphere this kind of thinking makes you some kind of monster. So in that respect entitlement culture has also won the battle of ideas. We are, therefore, doomed to watch the slow rot of the country while we cannibalise wealth. The politicians cannot arrest the decline because to do so would take a degree of political courage that simply isn't there. 

Consequently only a seismic political event can break the deadlock. That is why Brexit is so damn important to the survival of the nation. Unless we have this out we are done for. The status quo is certain death. Brexit is a window to turn it around. If Brexit is defeated, then so is Britain.  

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