TRIGGER warning and all that.
If you’re reading this article, you have probably read an opinion piece by Alex Hubbard, published a couple of days ago on this site. If not, do. Done? Good.
Mr Hubbard, unlike many of his battered and bruised comrades on the left, is in a pensive mood. He reflects accurately on a terrible year for the left of the spectrum. The usual suspects pop up – Donald Trump, Brexit, the rampant Conservative government. In a rare example of left-wing self-awareness, he speaks of the need for a change in approach and attitude to those who disagree with one’s own opinions, and offers some good advice for socialist resolutions to take into this new year.
One particular resolution will be, perhaps, more useful than others: “be prepared when our own ideals may be at fault.” Ever wishing to be helpful, and in the interest of saving you a lot of time and effort, I thought I might aid your preparation by identifying an area of fault:
Socialism doesn’t work. More specifically, non-voluntary (read: authoritarian) socialism, being the collective state ownership of the means of production and the distribution of goods doesn’t work, and never has. Historically, a society built upon Marxist ideals has always maintained its impoverished existence through bloodshed. Every society that has embraced the free market – the typical punching bag of your average socialist university student – has been measurably improved, in wealth, health, liberty, and so on.
Although this information really shouldn’t be news to anyone, I rather suspect there are a few readers foaming at the mouth. “Feel the Bern, you capitalist pig.” Recognising the truth in what I’ve wrote is step one, but I don’t particularly want to spend this article extolling the virtues of capitalism, or laying in to socialism, mainly because most of those I wish to engage with will simply stop reading (if they haven’t already). My previous statements, that one works and the other doesn’t, should suffice, and are true, and I implore you to read widely to understand why. Instead, I wish to suggest a more useful way to direct your time and efforts than simply redeveloping or repackaging socialist economic policies, as suggested by Mr Hubbard.
The problems you face must first be dealt with by removing the biggest obstacles to solving them: your leaders. I’ve already mentioned Sanders. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn may be the “people’s hero”, as Hubbard writes, but the people in question are his own. His own don’t include most of the Labour party, who favour Theresa May, a Tory. That tells its own story. The general public are in agreement.
Recognising this collective dislike can be hard. I had a similar epiphany recently over Nigel Farage. Well liked inside my own head, and amongst some of the righties I associate with, I was blind to the fact that Farage isn’t just disliked by rooted lefties, but also by floating voters and a lot of other righties. The same is true of Jeremy Corbyn on the left, though for clearly different reasons.
Corbyn, an intractable socialist ideologue, is a gift to the Conservative Party; often ineffective in PMQs, virtually absent on the national stage, and unable to control the deceptive Blairite factions that work constantly to undermine and discredit him. He walloped Owen Smith in the leadership contest, then disappeared without a trace, appearing only occasionally to praise murderous Cuban dictators or call for a British maximum wage.
He, and Sanders too, fail to capture the imagination of the post-university, working voter for a variety of reasons. Socialism is one. The lies they tell – on income inequality, child poverty, shrinking middle classes, corporate tax avoidance, and the rich not paying a fair share, as a few examples – are easily pulled apart.
The main reason, in my estimation, is the policies they put forward. We can argue our ideological differences about a huge public sector and centralised control of everything from education to investment in the comment section; I’m talking about the glorious rhetoric of Corbyn’s utopia, and the real cost of implementing these policies – high taxation and a big government.
I believe most people are natural libertarians. By this, I mean that most people want to be left alone to live their lives how they choose. They recognise that success requires hard work, and want to know that hard work comes with suitable recompense. More so, they want to keep as much of the money that they earn as possible, and want necessary taxation to be just that – necessary, and fair.
Most people are infuriated by the wasteful expenditure of their hard earned cash, which is why people grow angry when they hear about manipulation of the welfare state, rather than because they hate poor people. The state in its current form is a monolithic bureaucracy, swallowing up taxes and spending them inefficiently. The NHS always needs more funding, state education is a disaster, and government-run schemes like HS2 always run over budget and schedule. Whatever the sector, large public-funded government monopolies fail to offer the taxpayer value for money.
Furthermore, I believe most people want the government to maintain their liberties and provide a bulwark against injustices with the least possible impact. Simply put, they want not to see government dutifully shadowing them as they pedal around on their bikes, providing steady hands for every wobble, but want to know that government will be waiting nearby with a sticking plaster should they fall and suffer a graze.
Reassessing the role government plays is the main task that faces our generation, and, by extension, how best to extend the bounties of the modern age to those most in need. The twentieth-century was the testing ground for big socialism, and it was found to be wanting. Student socialists need, then, to reassess their own role in politics, and their own economic ideology. Issues more likely to matter to the left – climate change, social equity, the ethics of business – can still be fought if one accepts capitalism to be the best vehicle of income mobility.
The left-right divide is no longer about economics, in reality. More properly, one should come to define left and right as how the government utilises the power it has; pro-actively in the former, passively in the latter. The libertarian-authoritarian scale is helpful, but left-libertarians and right-libertarians have very different ideals, for example. Reforming how government interacts with the free markets is of paramount importance, especially as Theresa May sleepwalks us ever closer to a kind of Brexit that nobody can foresee. If the left can respond with common sense free market policies – and socialists wake up and realise it’s over – we might just be able to have a challenging debate on this. If not… well, prepare yourselves for many more 2016s.
Shameless plug. If these articles have tickled your fancy, and you would like to hear Alex and I tear chunks out of each other’s social and political beliefs more often, we will be the hosts of a new debating show on Bay Radio (link on menu-bar above). The Platform will air on Wednesdays for an hour, starting at 4pm, as soon as the radio station is brought back on air. See you there!