Labour’s new favourite book reaches the right conclusion, but applies the old solution.
It’s been my belief for the best part of twenty years now that balanced and mixed cultures work better, are more creative, and produce a higher level of individual citizen satisfaction with their lot. This in turn tends (when trade unions are kept out of it) to produce increased productivity – although with slower growth. (I don’t believe growth should be the aim any more anyway: not only has it allowed the world to talk itself into disaster, it has also helped rationalise financial and anti-ecological practices of unparalleled stupidity).
But it was only eight years ago when I finally found a source that both recorded and analysed all the bits and pieces of data I’d seen about this over the decades. Bizarrely, it was (and is) the CIA’s website. There, any economist can find all the proof he or she needs that mixed economies work better, Friedmanite theories are bunkum, and wealth does not trickle down to the poor; to be crude for a second, the data shows that inequities of wealth piss on the poor.
But every wheel must be reinvented – especially after thirty years of denying that wheels are a good thing – and so now a new book has come to the fore. It is called The Spirit Level, and its authors have done further contemporary research to arrive at pretty much the same conclusions outlined above. (They’re epidemiologists, not social scientists…so they start ahead in my view.)
Even more exciting, the Guardian has adopted it as the best thing since Mao’s Little Red Book. In an article today – and so I assume it’s in the print edition of the Observer – staunch liberal Nick Cohen calls it
‘….a cross between a manifesto and a call to arms. At one leftwing meeting recently, a speaker wished everyone in the country could read its argument that societies more equal than Britain enjoy better physical and mental health, lower homicide rates, fewer drug problems, fewer teenage births, higher maths and literacy scores, higher standards of child wellbeing, lower obesity rates and fewer people in prison……’
I think everyone in the Labour Party would be a good start, given the rich-poor chasm increased under its ‘New’ formulation. But let’s not be bitchy: Cohen’s summary of why The Spirit Level represents rediscovered truth is (whatever you think of his politics) very incisive:
‘Once countries reach a certain level of wealth, what affects the citizenry is not the growth in GDP but the level of inequality. Man is a social primate, and people who worry about their status and feel too keenly the humiliations their superiors inflict on them become anxious, mistrustful, isolated and stressed. This pattern holds whether you look at inequalities within different countries or between more equal or unequal states in the US or counties in Chile.’
Probably true. And here – just for one rare moment – we have what appears to be a ‘positive’ fact…and thus something that should be reflected it in the reality of policy strategy. However, the authors go on from their empirical findings to suggest a classically insouciant Stateist ‘solution’ to the problem: laid down from above as yet another millstone to stifle individual effort.
Going back over a hundred years before the CIA was ever imagined, Jeremy Bentham proposed – without the benefit of any data – exactly that truthful empiricism of balance: ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’, he felt, should be the aim of every society. Not only was Bentham a brilliant, instinctive observer of social anthropology before it was an ology, he was also a man blessed with a complete absence of bollocks in his thinking.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for Nick Cohen. For his assumption in the Guardian/Observer piece is that, by definition, the Tories don’t want ‘more’ equality.
I wonder: is he mad? Cameron has had to work day and night for four years to explain away his background. The current Labour Party’s MPs are more middle class and Oxbridge than the Coalition’s.
Actually, Cohen’s a bright bloke and he isn’t mad: it’s just his job (and his preference) to keep on insisting that all Tories are evil and greedy…..unlike Mandelson, Prescott, Byers, Blair, and Hoon.
The Guardian’s Salvation Army will never accept that the differences between Labour and Tory policy on equality are ones of strategy and definition, not objective.
Labour wants a Stateist-enforced blanket equality where privileges are given as of right and at random to those they perceive to be ‘deserving’ – whether they be women (whatever that means) or asylum seekers – see the last Slog post of yesterday.
The Conservatives want a society where achieving equality should be both every individual’s opportunity and responsibility – but with safety-net help from the community here and there, and a legal system that recognises equality before the Law.
There are three things in the way of the thing we should really be after – equality of opportunity: Labour’s willy-nilly privileges nonsense; Tory unwillingness to recognise the gross inequality so obvious in many of our legal processes; and Labour’s innate preference for judicial secrecy.
In fact, the bizarre reality is that New Labour increased inequality and secrecy before the Law (especially in the heinous Family Courts), but forgetting that and remaining balanced, the everyday bias of judgements and sentences in favour of the rich is so obvious as to be barely worth observing. A classic case this week was five men robbing an extremely wealthy gem dealership – and getting sixteen years each. Compare this with the way MPs, bankers and senior Mandarins have robbed the country blind without, as yet, any of them even seeing the inside of a prison. I’m not condoning jewel heists: I’m saying there’s one law for the career criminal, and no law for the Establishment.
I am as sickened by occasional blase Tory pleading for the wealthy as I am by the pc mob’s inability to ever see a homosexual, Islamic or feminist in the wrong. But when it comes to books like The Spirit Level, the Left simply cannot accept that the policy approaches its authors recommend (being fluffy academics) could ever be mistaken: thus, the Right’s flaying of this part of the tome must be, ergo, cast-iron evidence that they hate the whole idea of better balanced societies.
This might have been true in the Thatcher Dry wing of the Tory Party in 1982: it was, in fact, Mrs Thatcher’s greatest misunderstanding of what her ideas would bring in their wake. But among the Cameroons, balance is a central plank of how the Big Society works. To deny this is, again, to be completely unable to see virtue in the other side’s argument. This remains the fundamental problem with the New pc-Left – and highlights yet again why they are far more of a threat to British liberties than the Far Right.