Sunday, 19 December 2010

Are the Young, Free and Ugly the new oppressed?

Listening to Stasi Radio is a useful way of gaining an insight into how the other lot think and hey I pay the compulsory licence fee so why not while it's there? A fascinating conversation broke out 2 weeks ago on the airwaves between a man who wanted to force marriage upon everybody (presumably by drawing lots amongst us singletons) and a cohabitee with kids who seemed nice enough and saw tying the knot as a lifestyle choice she had chosen not to make.

"Marriage is best" apparently - people whose parents stay married regardless of whether they can still stand each other do better in education and thus have better employment prospects. What the Tory/religious/busybody tendency invariably neglect to mention is that teenage pregnancies, addiction problems and their social side effects (i.e. single parenthood and broken homes) tend to spike in areas with failing comprehensive schools and subsequently low aspiration.

These houses of broken dreams have made a niche of unleashing illiterate and innumerate young men into a society where work is scarce in a failing economy but welfare is everywhere you look. The reality is it is the social ills and the lack of opportunity that are feeding single parenthood and broken marriages, not, as the Tories would have you believe, the other way round.

But Iain Duncan Smith, a good man who is right every now and then, has decided that the real issue is that not enough of us are getting hitched, or into a civil partnership if you're that way out, and I thought, "it didn't take the Tories long did it?."

In the past, their pet hate was gay people, most clearly illustrated by the introduction of the repulsive Section 28 in 1986. So last year, in his attempt to convince us all he was some sort of 'liberal', Dave turned up at Mardi Gras and Pride, apologising for the law and promising any new tax break or benefit for marriage would apply to civil partnerships too.

However, nobody becomes and stays a Conservative for no good reason. As a breed, they are a judgemental lot (I'd know from being in CF for two years) and I always got the impression that they had a league table of 'ways of life' that they kept in their pocket or at least mentally. "Married, two kids, churchgoer, captain of local cricket team" was at the top, while "gay, single, no ties" was rock bottom. Now in a marriage of convenience between Cameron and the 'pink and proud' community, it is the unmarried hetrosexual who finds himself as the scum of the Tory earth.

When people talk about giving a handout to someone, I never hear it asked, "ah yes but who is paying for it?. Who is putting the money in the pot and walking away so someone else can take it?" Personally, I find it obscene that a single person on a modest income should subsidse the lifestyle choice of a couple who may be on thrice the takehome pay of the individual funding the largesse. It has already been accepted that the money is highly unlikely to steer a couple one way or the other, so it can only be a highly expensive gesture that does marginal damage to some and no good to anybody.

Once we get to work on the real issues, these questions tend to take care of themselves - personally the idea of getting married doesn't interest me at this point in time, and when IDS and his friends act like the street pushers of the tied knot, its appeal becomes even less.

Sorry Students - the Statists let you down

When discussing LPUK policy with a distinctly statist friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, we got onto the subject of welfare reform, and explored our basic aim of incrementally rolling back a great deal of the welfare state. He said to me in a rather animated fashion "look Daz, I've been paying into the system, so if I lose my job tomorrow why should I not get the dole?". This brought to me that what we are really looking to do is renegotiate the terms and conditions between state and citizen in a way that we believe will benefit the individual in the long run, and was at the front of my thoughts while watching the first genuine riots seen in this country for many years.

The state currently guzzles almost half of GDP in Britain, a frightening statistic, and one which we all want to see gradually brought down to a figure that leaves a skeletal safety net while causing minimal infringement on people's ability to live prosperous, free and fulfilling lives. However, if one works from the assumption that big brother takes 45-50% of the cake, then I don't think it's unreasonable to say "yes I want an education and a state pension to come out of that - after all if you hadn't taken the money from me/my parents that is what I/they would have spent it on". Not everybody has even a basic grasp of economics, and the importance of risk vs reward equations in driving growth in the private sector. Nor is it fair to expect everyone to read Milton Friedman...the Welfarists of Labour and the Corporatist Tories have lied through their teeth to people and tried to run an unsustainable system for decades.

Now we are where we are, and the students of today wonder why the education that had been 'free' to their parents (who had the same 'tax-welfare contract') is no longer free to them. They were misled, and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the system finally imploded. Yes I feel sorry for them.

The conversation people always seem to have is "do we want a health system run on NHS principles?", "do we want comprehensive education directed from the centre?" and "do you want taxation to fund a state pension?". Scared of change or that their taxes will not be cut in line with reduced state provision, many answer "yes". What is very rarely if ever asked, certainly not in the statist media, is "is that model sustainable given the country we have now, and the changing demographics from the birth of welfarism 60 years ago?". I'm no economist but even a layman can see that what we need more than anything is real growth, a rapid reduction in the relative size of the state in terms of spend, and a fundamental shift in what government takes from you and gives back in return.

In the short-term, perhaps we should go back to the old arrangement of free degrees, but with only the best and brightest doing them (this is purely a personal view and not LPUK policy), Further downstream, allowing parents to keep more of their hard-earned will mean that many will be able to look at these choices themselves more proactively, whereas the challenge for us will be seeing the best of the American model adopted over here. Nobody who gets a place at Harvard ends up declining it because of their background and encouraging a climate of social mobility out of the rubble of the present will not be easy. Neither will re-visiting the state-citizen contract that has been in place since 1945, but when something is not nice, that normally means it is necessary.