Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Polly and her true love

Polly Toynbee once more spouts forth some ludicrous shit about her true love: the state (Gordon is relegated to merely her bit on the side). Alas, once more, the poor little Greek boy finds her too tedious even to bother fisking properly (can it be that he has succeeded in "holding back the rage"?) although he does some nice link round-ups.

Luckily, geek-at-heart that I am (a fact that renders my boredom threshold extraordinarily high), your humble Devil finds that Polly is still great target practice, even though so many people seem to be lining up to have a go...
This oxymoron "compassionate Conservative" turns out to be true-blue "shrink-the-state" Tory, barely rebranded. The heart of it lies in Cameron's words: "There is such a thing as society; it's just not the same thing as the state."

This is, of course, merely a repetition of Thatcher's widely misrepresented position.
This book fleshes out that abhorrence of the state and all its works, the true dividing line between left and right.

Hmmm, I suppose so; broadly speaking you are right. Let us assume, for the moment, that this is a correct assertion, Polly.
Norman [the referred to pamphlet's author] dates the beginning of society's downfall at precisely the point when the left would celebrate the foundation of the good society: Lloyd George's radical 1911 budget and the welfare state. But for him, here began the rot of "an invasive state" that "disrupts the voluntary bonds between people".

Well, yes and no, Polly, but mainly no. The Welfare State did not start in 1911: National Insurance was introduced in 1911, sure, and at a time when private commercial insurance was not really an active business (not in and of itself). The Welfare State, that we all refer to as such and which includes the NHS (the envy of the world...), was introduced in 1948.

The crucial difference is in the difference between funding and providing. Although the government collected National Insurance contributions, it was not the primary provider of services: after the introduction of the Welfare State, it was.
It is hard to know if this fanciful social history is sincerely believed or not. Most of these friendly societies offered weak help because participants were too poor to pay much in. Most people didn't belong to one at all. Many of these "20 million" members were only paying a penny a week towards their funerals.

I think that we will direct you to The Snipe on this one, Polly.
In 1911 the average wage was 28 shillings a week (£1.40) for miners in South Wales, a fairly good stereotype of the working classes.

Now let’s compare that with minimum wage increases to £5.35 per hour in October, taken with a 40 hour week gives a pre tax wage of £214.

152 times the equivalent wage in 1911. If people were paying in ‘only a penny a week’ to their funeral plans then that’s the equivalent of £1.52 a week now, or to put it another way – the cost of a Friendly Society Life Assurance Plan, and you even get a carriage clock and no medical. So why is this leftist idea a bad one Polly?

Furthermore, Polly, my old trout, you have just contradicted yourself. These friendly societies were a leftist idea, were they? And they existed before the Welfare State, yes? So, they are in fact, leftist societies which are not fundamentally statist? So how is it that the "abhorrence of the state" is "the true dividing line between left and right"?

The trouble is with people like Polly (and, of course, Neil Harding) is that they are simply unable to consider that private enterprise or, indeed, non-profit compassionate works could come from anything or anyone other than the state. The Friendly Societies (and, indeed, the original building societies) counteract this view. As did the poorhouses: sure, they weren't great, but they did at least provide the bare bones of a living, and they were almost exclusively funded by charitable donations, or the voluntary contributions of those who would, in the end, benefit.

The point is that, when the state first intervened in this sort of thing, there was, indeed, a great deal of poverty and, unlike today, no real insurance mechanism to deal with it. The Friendly Societies, etc. were the ordinary people's response to this problem.
Whereas Lloyd George pensions took old people out of starvation, and thereafter each new "invasion" by the state into welfare - right up to today's tax credits - has lifted more people out of penury by using general taxation.

Yes, yes, yes, Polly, but only because the ludicrously low Personal Tax Allowance means that people are paying tax on a very low level of earnings, i.e. someone works 20 hours a week on the minimum wage and they are paying income tax: why? Remember last week, when I wrote about you and your fuck-buddy?
Brown has forced employers to raise the wages of the poorest in order that he may collect more tax. The more he raises the minimum wage, the more tax he gets that he otherwise would not have had.

It is a policy of such breathtaking cynicism that it makes my blood boil and renders me almost speechless. Almost.

He is taxing the poor, and then graciously giving a wee bit of their money back simply in order to make them clients, or rather slaves, or the state.
The state didn't destroy society, it created it.

Oh, right, Polly; so actually those Friendly Scoieties didn't exist? The state has created a society, and many of us do not like the society that has resulted.
Is it the same nostalgic delusion that led John Major to dismantle the railways, forgetting that they would always need taxpayers' cash?

Sorry, Polly, but remind me: was it the state that built the railways? Or was it private companies? I think that you may find that it is the latter, Polly. Yes, the railways need state cash now, because the state engenders dependency. However, were the state to say that there was no more cash to be given, then the private companies would have to fend for themselves and yield to the market.
Or is it Major's vision of spinsters bicycling to church, yearning for the days when spare middle-class women had time for charity work, instead of working as professionals for the welfare state? This sentimental conservatism has all the historical truth of a Hovis commercial.

Given your inaccuracies, Polly, I really wouldn't start throwing those stones about if I were you. The fact is, Polly, that many middle-aged women do still do large amounts of charitable work; not as much as they did (when nearly half of everything that you earn is snaffled by the state, one finds that one needs to bring in an income to keep oneself in the style to which one has become accustomed) and who is the loser in this equation? Is it those who do the charity? Or is it those for whom the charity exists, i.e. the poor and the disadvantaged?
Cynics might suspect nostalgic sentimentality a useful political camouflage to disguise deep cuts in the functions of the modern state. The truth is that the voluntary sector is small. Keen to do more, it has neither the capacity nor the desire to be an alternative state. The whole sector spends £25bn a year (the state spends £400bn). What's more, nearly 40% of its income comes directly from, yes, the state. The growing non-profit sector only accounts for 1% of GDP.

Not an argument, I'm afraid, Pol. In the US, where the state takes considerably less of everyone's earnings, private charity is extremely active. It would be quite easy to argue that the charitable sector is very small because the state is big.
Charities are good at filling gaps and inventing better practice. But even their cheerleaders say it is absurd to imagine they could be a substitute for the state. On the contrary, they fear becoming too much an arm of government.

There is so much wrong with this paragraph that it is difficult to know where to start.
  • Define what you think the state should be doing; do you think that micromanaging people's lives works? I would say that all the evidence shows that it does not.

  • If you think that the state should enforce only laws and wars, then those are certainly areas that charities should not be in. However, were the state not so involved in the minutiae of people's lives, then the charities could stop spending so much of their money on lobbying ministers and get on with doing the work that they exist to do.

  • Charities, in other words, should fill the gaps: what needs to be defined is where the gaps are.

  • Of course charities fear "becoming too much an arm of government", but this is about haviong control over what they do. Far too many charities are actually constrained by the fact that they receive government funding. They are also aware that few people trust the government: why would they wish to get involved in that?

  • Some of our most-effective charities receive no government funding: the lifeboat service, for instance.
    We have, for example, an extremely good lifeboat system in the UK. There’s no government or State involvement at all. Purely private charity finances the whole thing. What motivates those who actually climb into the boats to do so? Not money (as far as I’m aware it’s only the Coxswain who actually gets paid), but a sense of community perhaps? The respect one gets in a seaside town from being willing to risk your life for others? Whatever that driving force is it doesn’t seem to scale up very well.

Incentives matter, Polly. OK?
If Cameron means to roll back the state, there are only two ways.

No, Polly, there are, you dim-witted bitch. There are a huge number of ways but, so stunted is your imagination and atrophied your powers of reason, you simply cannot conceive of more than two.
He can create enormous mutuals or private insurers for people to pay into while cutting their tax bills (though who pays for those that can't?).

He can create them? Why? They already exist and they already have business models that work. Or, of course, with more money flowing into private insurance, smaller companies will also spring up, catering to the "local" market.

As for who pays when people cannot, well, that is where the state comes in. We aren't barbarians, Polly. But, whilst the state funds those who cannot (not "will not") pay, they give the money to a private fund or mutual. This would ensure that neither the state nor the recipient piss it up the wall. It would ensure, for instance, that the equivalent of NICs would actually be spent on health, unemployment and pensions for those that pay it, rather than subsidising the House of Commons tea-room.
Or he can do what Conservative governments do: just keep cutting what the state spends.

These are effectively the same thing, Pol. Listen, cutting what the state spends is a good idea because the state is extremely wasteful. Those of us on the right are not necessarily saying that we should have tax cuts for the rich and that everyone should be left in penury: we simply argue that the state is not the best provider of services. Even if the state funds those services, then fine: just don't let it be the provider.
These are both rather old Conservative policies, but there is no third way to shrink the state.

There are, as I said, many of them. Perhaps you should have a look around the right-wing blogosphere, Polly; we're full of ideas, you see. Yes, even that pendant Worstall has suggested a strategy or two.
No wonder the book lacks precise prescriptions. The Tories' abiding belief that taxes are wrong springs from a moral certainty that the state itself does moral harm. As Norman writes, "it kills enterprise, it undermines diversity, reduces independence and increases centralisation".

Yes, and it creates client slaves, it reduces them to animals; it punishes forethought and rewards fecklessness and waste. It creates awful sink estates, it creates substandard schools; it rations health provision and it destroys individuality. It is not the taxes, Polly, that are evil, it is the fucking welfare state and, as long as taxes are used to prop up this loathesome edifice then, yes, they will be evil.
So who is going to stand up and say that government is a force for good?

Not me: I'm guessing that you will. Oh wait, you have been haven't you. God, you're a selfish, hypocritical cunt.
Who will say the blindingly obvious: there is no good society without a good strong state? Markets can only thrive with strong government regulation.

Then the state should regulate only what it needs to regulate, and let the market work out the rest.
The happiest, most socially just and economically successful are those that embrace big government: the Nordics.

Oh dear, oh dear; since there is little point in re-inventing the wheel, do you mind if I quote pendant-boy here, Polly?
OK, if Polly really does think that the Nordics are the perfect society let’s have a look at some of the things they do.

Sweden, for example, has no national minimum wage.

Sweden, for example, does not have a National Health Service. They even have private provision of health services to supplement the County Council based system:
It is also the county councils which own and run the hospitals, health centres and other health institutions, even if these institutions are supplemented by private providers which, in most cases, have contracts
with the county councils to supply certain services.

That looks very like contracting out to me.

Sweden, for example, has a pure voucher system to pay for education.

Hey, bring it on!

Need we say more, Polly? Oh, sorry, yes, you've got a load more crap to shite out at us, eh?
Other lines cross dangerously between the parties. Decentralisation is now the Cameronian cry. Why? It is the easiest way to dismantle the state.

Hooray! Yes, please! Choice, freedom and better services. Yay! Abolish the Welfare State for it fails to provide even those things that it should: it impoverishes people in terms of service provision, it destroys innovation and competition and forces the stagnation of societies.
Never mind postcode lotteries, local inequalities between poor and rich districts, push blame and responsibility down to weaken the centre.

Polly, you dense twit; we have all of that now, and that is with a big state; what, precisely, is carrying on with this failed experiment going to do?
Here, too, Labour risks doing the Tories work for them. There should be nothing to fear if Cameron's policies spring from this same old Conservative spirit. The danger is that Labour will have lost the voice, or the right, to oppose the demolition of the state by failing to stand up for its virtue now.

No, they have lost the right to argue for the state because they have failed to make it work over the course of nearly a decade. That is why they have lost the right to praise it.

And you, Polly, on your £140,000 (allegedly) never, ever had the right in the first place. So, do us all a favour: shut up and fuck off.


Anonymous said...

Right then...

I reckon, take out the Polly wuotes entirely, and re-write the substance of that, and you've got a pretty good comment article. Of course, with the Polly stuff it's more fun...

BTW; nice to see you endorsing market socialism ;-)

Anonymous said...

Splendid post, DK, as always when you rip that contumelious cunt apart.

And I have to rip out one particularly true point in your post:

"Not an argument, I'm afraid, Pol. In the US, where the state takes considerably less of everyone's earnings, private charity is extremely active. It would be quite easy to argue that the charitable sector is very small because the state is big."

That's exactly true. I can say so with no small amount of certainty because I, being an immigrant to the U.S., have lived under both systems.

Not only does having a larger amount of your personal income at your disposal make you more inclined to share the wealth with worthy cases, it's actually even better than that.

You see, when I give to charity as an individual rather than via my taxes, I'm giving my money to people and causes that I have chosen to support rather than just surrendering my earnings at gunpoint to a remote bureaucracy, hoping that some of it trickles down to the people that I want to help.

The latter breeds understandable resentment and reinforces the "I gave at the office, so fuck off" mentality.

That, and the fact that you can do as much with a dime in the hands of private charities as you can do with twenty bucks in the hands of a bunch of unaccountable, uneducated and faceless bureaucrats.

Guess where I'd rather invest the money that I want to donate to doing good?

That's why charities are so successful over here, and that's why the welfare is such an abysmal failure over there.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and of course this one of Polly's:

"Markets can only thrive with strong government regulation."

Yes. As the Soviet Union so clearly proved to us.

Strong government regulation is the very antithesis to thriving markets.

She's not merely wrong. She's so terminally stupid that it's a bloody wonder that she has managed to live past puberty.

Raw Carrot said...

The Welfare State did not start in 1911

Quite right. If she wants to go further back then how about the 1906 Liberal Govt. In fact, the "National Archives Learning Curve" describes one of the motivations behind the welfare state quite nicely:

"There were also political reasons for introducing welfare reforms. The Liberals were concerned about the growing popularity of the new Labour Party. They thought that welfare reforms might attract voters to their party instead of Labour."

And so, Herbert Spencer (my idol) was quite right: the race to the bottom had begun; politicians would from here on compete for votes on the basis of who could buy the most... Something we see Blair and Brown continuing to this day... Disgusting.

Tristan said...

I fondly remember the day I finally realised quite what an idiot Polly Toynbee is (to be fair, she'd not registered on my radar much before then), talking about how her friend Red Ken should be given more power to interfere in our lives in some free copy of the Grauniad.

I'm glad for your commentry (and those others) saves me getting worked up over her (and people like her) :)

Anonymous said...

Oh dear. Another rightwing guttersnipe trying to bask in Ms Toynbee's reflected glory. A movement utterly bereft of new ideas has to resort to name calling and pernickety fusiness.

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