Monday, December 03, 2007

Reinventing the State Chapter 14: Repoliticising Politics: The case for Intervention

Of Paul Holmes' chapter I said that if you read "profit motive" for "markets" the arguments are quite good. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Tim Farron's effort.

When the promising, fun diatribe against the sameness of Labour and the Conservatives and the shallowness of Cameron and Blair under the slogan "I can't believe it's not politics" reaches it's point, that point turns out to be that neither is sufficiently Old Labour. Yes Cameron and Blair are shallow, although Blair largely got his policies from the deep but wrong Gordon Brown. I imagine that Cameron, should he get the chance, will get some policies to implement from a deep but wrong sidekick of his own.

Fundamentally they agree on a non-interventionist approach to the market and are opposed to anything more than a gesture in the direction of redistributing wealth.

Hmmm. Frankly, no party is proposing big changes in the amount of redistribution that goes on. Although Duncan Brack argued at length in his chapter about the need for more equality, he offers nothing concrete to the poor.

I have noticed a tendency in some quarters to talk abstractly about inequality as a substitute for having policies to tackle poverty. Abstract principles do little heavy lifting in determining policy priorities, and being a subscriber to the (vague) notion of relative poverty by no means guarantees you will give fighting poverty a higher priority than someone who considers poverty only in absolute terms. I would like to see higher simpler benefits with less means testing, because poverty stinks, not for any abstract reason; although I haven't yet found the money.

As for the point on intervention, Farron seems to consider it intrinsically virtuous. In fact the Tories and Labour have long been willing to intervene on behalf of their interest groups, and strip away the interventions of the other lot - arguing liberalism while practising class war. Labour are still fighting the class war, although they are no longer sure what side they are on.

I am quite happy to consider proposed interventions on their merits - expecting those merits will be less than they appear - but I find Tim's enthusiasm terrrifying.
And why should we not ... consider placing restrictions so that certain categories of property cannot be transferred from the owner-occupied to the rental market?

Because that would drive up rents and further enrich property owners at the expense of tenants.

Tim rails against Adam Smith, suggesting that great harm is done by free markets. These are some of the examples he gives:
  • The state of British farming [as subsidised]
  • The outrageous exploitation in world trade [barriers and subsidies]
  • NHS outsourcing [guaranteed incomes for contractors]
  • PFI [virtually devoid of competition]
  • Capita being let off a £1m penalty [i.e. the state giving our money away]

If I was asked to think of some examples of reasonably free markets, I would probably look at something like computer hardware or furniture or restaurants. And where are the comparable disasters in these lines of business?

Intervention is the only course of action open to a true liberal ...

Wow. Dripping with no sense of irony.

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