The relationship between the state and the people increasingly reminds one of a strict father chastising his naughty children.
There’s nothing new about the underlying paternalistic philosophy, but the scale of its application is steadily growing.
It was some 50 years ago that Richard Nixon said one of the few true things he ever uttered: “We’re all Keynesian now.” That was putting it mildly.
I’d say that all modern Western states tread the short stretch between Keynes and Marx. In other words, they’re all socialist to varying degrees.
Socialism originally proceeds from the assumption that the state knows what’s good for the people better than the people themselves. This is analogous to a father knowing what’s good for his children.
Like the father, the state must impose its will on the people for their own good. Also for their own good, the state may throw its naughty children over its knee and give them a thrashing if they dare challenge its authority.
Yet the founding premise of socialism is a lie: the state doesn’t really know what’s good for its subjects better than they themselves know it. That’s why the duty of paternalistic care the state assumes eventually becomes powerlust for its own sake.
Thus, if we blow away the smoke puffed up by sanctimonious liars to conceal the true nature of socialism, its essential feature, in fact its raison d’être, is a maximum transfer of power from the individual to the state.
To serve this purpose, the state will always try to make more and more people more and more dependent on it: for their medical care, their children’s education and – ideally – their very livelihood.
The nastier modern states use unbridled violence to that end; the more benign ones rely on other expedients. Yet ultimately the desired end is the same.
Taxation is the most widespread method of crowd control in Western countries; it’s the cane in the hands of a strict schoolmaster of yesteryear. Its efficacy goes beyond the obvious outcome of making the state richer and the people poorer, and therefore more in need of the state largesse.
For the masterly use of the cane of fiscal policy can beat crowds into shape in all sorts of subtler ways. A high-taxing, high-spending, inflationary economy doesn’t just affect our bank balance; it alters our behaviour.
Just imagine for the sake of argument that the state uses taxes, say, to double the price of wine and halve the price of spirits. I’d suggest that the incipient oenophilia of the British would disappear faster than you can say: “Let’s drink whisky with dinner, shall we?”
Or, relying on history rather than imagination, consider these facts.
The last 50 years of the nineteenth century produced an overall inflation of a meagre 10 per cent. The corresponding figure for the last 50 years of the twentieth century – when we all became Keynesian – is a whopping 2,000 per cent.
In that first period, income tax was practically nonexistent by our standards, and even that paltry tithe was paid by relatively few people. Public spending and borrowing were consequently low as well.
In the second period, the British government set out to prove the economic maxim that promiscuous state spending causes runaway inflation. Not only the inflation rate but also taxes shot up pari passu with the socialisation of the state.
Furthermore, during the same period, the inflation of assets, mainly properties, outstripped the monetary inflation tenfold.
The behavioural upshot was that Victorians were good savers and conservative investors. After all, a man was unlikely to become a spendthrift or a gambler if he was blessed with an income that he knew wouldn’t diminish by more than 10 per cent over his lifetime.
The reverse was true during the second period I mentioned: there wasn’t much point in saving money if it rapidly lost value. Hence people had to become either profligate borrowers and spenders or else reckless investors. typically in properties.
The 2008 disaster was a direct result, except that this was hardly a disaster for the state if we keep in mind its true desideratum. As people were defaulting on mortgages and declaring bankruptcy under the weight of unsupportable debts, they became more dependent on the state. QED.
Those who somehow managed to stay afloat tended to liberate themselves from the state’s tender mercies, making themselves, in the eyes of the state, disobedient children to receive six of the best.
This is the only context in which the government’s latest outrageous initiative can be understood: the Chancellor has announced a plan to charge VAT on private school fees.
Such promises are the only ones our governments keep unfailingly. Thus parents who now pay, say, £25,000 a year to educate a child can confidently expect to be paying £30,000 soon.
For many parents school fees represent a tremendous sacrifice: I know families who spend half their income trying to shield their children from the toxic effects of our comprehensive non-education.
The state thus gets them coming and going. First, it destroys the excellent two-tier system Britain had until the mid-1960s and creates hatcheries of ignorance, stuffing pupils’ heads with mendacious ideology and no real knowledge.
The children leave school unable to read and write properly, yet convinced of the unmitigated and uninterrupted evil of their country’s history. The only exams on which British children hold their own against their continental counterparts are pregnancy tests.
Second, when desperate parents spend their last pennies on trying to prepare their children for a better life, the state whips out the punitive cane of taxation.
It must be emphasised that it’s not just the EU but all modern states that pursue political ends camouflaged as economic ones. Economically speaking, the state would vastly benefit from making school fees not only tax-deductible but actually tax-free.
This way more children would go to private schools, thereby reducing financial pressure on state education. And, in the long run, more of the properly educated children will become tax payers, rather than tax consumers.
However, the state would lose a measure of its control over the people, which goes against the grain of its very essence. Hence, rather than encouraging parents to educate their offspring privately, it punishes them for having the temerity to do so.
Exactly the same applies to private pensions, another bugbear of the modern ‘Keynesian’ state.
As a proportion of average income, British state pensions, at just over 20 per cent, are the lowest in the developed world (in Holland, for example, they’re over 100 per cent, and elsewhere around 70-80 per cent).
On the plus side, our private pension funds are the largest in Europe, which partly makes up for the pittance we receive from the state. This, however, is an affront to our powers that be.
A private pension may make a person independent from the state for the last decade or two of his life. This simply won’t do.
The same thing happens here as with education. The state is a dog in the manger: it isn’t prepared to solve the problem, yet pounces on those who try to do so for themselves.
That’s why every government, Tory or Labour alike, robs pension funds in every conceivable way, and this government is preparing to follow suit.
Again, the measure makes no economic sense: the more money people have in their private funds, the less pressure they’ll put on social services.
But that’s like saying that a schoolboy would be better off reading, say, Reflections on the Revolution in France on his own, while ignoring the rubbish demanded by the Universal School Curriculum. Yes, he will be better off, but the state won’t.
We should all stuff a thick magazine into the back of our financial trousers and brace ourselves for more punishment. Our Head Mistress and her deputy are really cross with us.