Thursday, 28 April 2011

It's so easy to blame "the cuts"!

The more reflexive members of the political class, principally the public-sector salariat hanging on to health, education and local government, are always worked up by talk of "the cuts" and seeking efficiency in the use of resources.  The idea of the state being there as a combined piece of blotting-paper, absorbing often undermotivated and unemployable people, while being a universal provider, disposing of largesse to the same, often self-defined deserving causes, remains one of the more pernicious myths.

Taxation is seen as some kind of universal good - rather than an enabler to permit the communal provision of service, social security and the promotion of the civilised values.  This leads to an uncritical, knee-jerk response to anyone who questions whether the level, nature and organisation of government activity is best-placed to deliver the requirements of a modern, civilised society.  Never mind the quality, feel the level of expenditure.  It's difficult to see how the NHS and education have significantly improved since 1997, let alone to the extent that should have been demonstrated by Labour's ability to throw money, outsourcing and platitudes at them.

Last month's demonstration showed that there is still a large number of interest groups with more or less genuine concerns.  The methods adopted by Osborne and his cronies to identify cuts and follow them through with continued leaching of public resource into the private sector are sufficiently evil and self-seeking as to raise real concerns, but the "March for the Alternative" would have had much more resonance if there was a genuine attempt to develop alternative policies with a radical justification.

The extent to which political debate has been atrophied in the last thirty years is a principal cause.  Instead of arguing for the state provision of services where there are clear benefits that cannot be quantified by individuals (health, transport, defence, security to name a few), and the most efficient means of procuring them to minimise the net cost to society, there is endless discussion about privatisation and outsourcing, forgetting that these are the very phenomena that drive up the costs and undermine the legitimacy of collective action.

A genuinely-radical position would be to question not what services are provided, but how they are secured - this almost gets down to the localism red-herring but not quite.  There is no moral good in taxation, although when taxes are levied, they should be proportionate and progressive.  So shouting about "the cuts" is playing into Tory hands, as they are only too happy to have a simplistic debate rather than facing scrutiny for the continued promotion of crony capitalism and large-scale snoutage that has fuelled their rise and the promotion of management-driven mediocrity as the ultimate aspiration.

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