My mancrush on Theodore Dalrymple continues unabated, as he gives us a foretaste of what may — nay, almost certainly will — be coming our way before too long. His topic is the British austerity program, as the Coalition government tries to keep Britain from turning into Greece with blander food.
He begins with the usual metaphor of government-as-dependency-pusher:
For some politicians, running up deficits is not a problem but a benefit, since doing so creates a population permanently in thrall to them for the favors by which it lives. The politicians are thus like drug dealers, profiting from their clientele’s dependence, yet on a scale incomparably larger.
He also observes that shaking off the monkey of government addiction can be difficult, even painful. As evidence, he offers the example of the recent English protests over rising tuition (protests prompted in part, he notes, by a sense that English University degrees have become overvalued — which was not an apparent problem when the state subsidized the overvalued endeavor, but became much more pressing as the students were asked to foot the bill for their own extended adolescence.) He notes that proposed tax increases weren’t what drove the Brits into the streets — it was the threat of not being the beneficiaries of their neighbors’ involuntary largesse. They were afraid of missing the high.
A quarter of a million people took to the streets—in solidarity with themselves. Many were teachers protesting the proposed cuts in education spending. Yet after a compulsory education lasting 11 years and costing, on average, $100,000 per pupil, about a fifth of British students who do not attend college after high school are barely able to read and write, according to a recent study from Sheffield University […I]t is impossible to resist the conclusion that the demonstration was in defense of unearned salaries, not (as alleged) of actual services worth defending.
And speaking of salary vs. service:
Wherever one looks into the expanded public sector, one finds the same thing: a tremendous rise in salaries, pensions, and perquisites for those working in it. In Manchester, for example, the number of city employees earning more than $85,000 a year rose from 68 to 1,746 between 1997 and 2007. In effect, a large public service nomenklatura was created, whose purpose, or at least effect, was to establish an immense network of patronage and reciprocal obligation: a network easy to install but hard to dislodge, since those charged with removing it would be the very people who benefited most from it.
One of the Labour government’s gifts to public employees was overly generous pensions. While Gordon Brown raised taxes on pensions funded by private savings, he increased pensions for public-sector workers. In many cases, these government pensions, if they had not been paid for with current tax receipts and (to a growing extent) borrowing, would have required funds of millions of dollars to support. In other words, Brown was Bernard Madoff with powers of taxation.
And when it comes to a struggle between the taxed and the beneficiaries of taxation, the outlook is less than hopeful:
[O]ne side is bound to be more militant and ruthless than the other, since taxes are increased incrementally—and everyone is already accustomed to them, anyway—but jobs are lost instantaneously and catastrophically, with the direst personal consequences. Thus those who oppose tax increases and favor government retrenchment will seldom behave as aggressively as those who will suffer personally from budget reductions. Moreover, when, as in Britain, entire areas have lived on government charity for many years—with millions dependent on it for virtually every mouthful of food, every scrap of clothing, every moment of distraction by television—common humanity dictates care in altering the system.
The band Chumbawumba once put out a disc called Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records. Likewise, here in the states, we’re already starting to see the media crank up the footage of Americans who will apparently be our batch of starving children or elders, which will be used to sell tax increases.
In any case, Dalrymple’s article is long, but chock full of goodness. Read it.