Polly\’s mistake

I think the problem with her world view is this:

…we are essentially a social democratic nation.

I don\’t think Britain is.

For three different reasons.

Firstly, I simply believe that we\’re collectively rather more individualistic than a social democratic polity would suit. Almost by happenstance we started this idea in the 1650-1700 span that people should be allowed to get on with things as they wish without the interference, permission or approval of the State. It became the very British definition of freedom and liberty: that we can cooperate, assemble, club together, as we wish and no one can say us nay nor do we need to ask for the right to do so*.

What Burke later called the little platoons surged into existence as a result. This self ordering of civil society certainly used to be one of our defining features and while recently there have been gross intrusions into it it\’s still part of what, at least in our own eyes, makes us different.

The second is that we\’re actually appallingly bad at running the encoutrements of a socially democratic state. The jobsworth, the form filling, clipboard wielding bureaucrat is a national figure of fun and has been for generations. In a way that a bureaucrat in Sweden say, or Germany, simply is not. Such an occupation there provides a rise in social standing, it simply doesn\’t here, it makes one an object of derision. And for very good reason too: when our bureaucracy gets ahold of a project, however well meaning it is, however righteous it would or could be if properly implemented, they manage to fuck it up entirely.

From the idea that the poor should have somewhere decent to live to Lee Jasper in a council house while on £100,000 a year. From the idea that we might check the sexual desires of those who would work with children to 11 million people having to register to take the neighbour\’s kids to cub scouts. As reported today, from the idea that perhaps child care should not be the Dickensian farming out of babies to an army of snoops checking the house of anyone who has the temerity to look after kids for more than 2 hours a day for more than 14 days a year.

As for the economics: if you look at those countries which are held up as exemplars of that social democratic ideal, the Nordics, absolutely no self proclaimed social democrat here seems to understand their tax systems. Nor their health care services, their education systems or anything much else of how those societies operate.

In taxation they are a great deal more liberal (even \”neo-liberal\” to scare the bejabbers out of middle class lefties) than we are. Lower corporate taxation than we have (much so in fact). Yes, the income tax rates are higher, but so also are the VAT rates (which as we know are highly regressive). In total in fact, their tax systems are *less* progressive than our own.

We have people here screaming that \”the rich must pay their fair share\” while absolutely failing to see what the Nordics have understood: there just aren\’t enough rich people and collectively they don\’t have enough money to pay for a social democratic State. Everyone needs to be taxed, and taxed heavily, to pay for it. VAT at 25% on everything for a start.

The health care systems tend not to be run as one, national, monolithic service. Education is markedly freer than our own State system of monopolistic supply. Goof grief, the Finnish system, marked as number 1 in the world by some measures, even has our old Grammar/ Secondary Mod divide between academic stream schools and vocational (at a later age, but still….)

No, I don\’t think we are a social democracy, nor do I think we desire to be. Partly because we just ain\’t the right sort of fodder for it, partly because we\’re entirely crap at running such a State and finally because those screaming for this form of State seem not to understand how those places which are actually work.

* Yes, I know that unions were not treated this way: but that\’s part of the point, that it was *only* unions that were the exception which is why such treatment stands out. Until after WWII you needed permission from Paris to have a club of more than 25 Frenchmen. A club of anything at all.

7 comments on “Polly\’s mistake

  1. The british people are, to generalise, both more individualistic and more (socially) liberal than the governments who always get inflicted upon us. The problem, it seems to me, is anglospheric in nature. Not long after the individualist/liberal idea came up, a furious reaction arose against it, which manifested as religious revivalism and a strange elitist form of secular socialism/statism, the two of whch rapidly came to dominate the “ideological hegemony” in the C19. This was what “Victorian Values” was. A similar reaction occurred across the anglosphere, particularly in the USA. The consequences of it are what drive anglopsheric statism to this day.

    A puritanical public morality, “philanthropy”, and hysterical level of interventionist busybodyism, temperance and so on. It’s not “social democracy” as such, as experience on the continent, it is somewhat different, since it is primarily driven by elite moral(ist) values rather than by the more economic focus of continental socialisms. So in economic terms, anglo-socialists don’t bring in some particular economic policy to achieve an economic end, it is to demonstrate some virtuous moral quality. You don’t tax the rich for economic reasons (though that may be trotted out as a feeble excuse), you tax them because it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel, eye of the needle, blah de blah.

    This is one reason anglo-statism is so inept at achieving any positive results. It’s not being done for practical purposes, but for virtue alone. The vicarish Blair and Brown perfectly examplify “our” socialism with their public espousals of their religiosity and moral compasses etc.

    Sadly this anglo-socialist view is now becoming globally hegemonic (largely due to american power), thus the global epidemic of greenism for instance (greenism being the very perfect exemplar of anglo-moralism; puritanical, miserablist, self denialist and self-deprecatory. It’s nutball protestantism without God).

    The elite are trying to morally reform us. They aren’t driven by a desire to achieve good practical results, but by a fanatical desire to save our souls. That’s why it’s such a constant pigging disaster.

  2. The jobsworth, the form filling, clipboard wielding bureaucrat is a national figure of fun and has been for generations. In a way that a bureaucrat in Sweden say, or Germany, simply is not. Such an occupation there provides a rise in social standing, it simply doesn’t here, it makes one an object of derision.

    … and in the last twelve years has made an art form of it.

  3. Ian B.:

    That’s as well-done an explanation as I’ve seen in a very long time. And, of course, part of the belief is that, with the “proper” economic structure, men will more nearly behave as they ought and that most of mens’ shortcomings will simply cease to exist (or at least to cause many problems).

  4. Ian B.:

    I think you would be interested in reading the essay, “Politics, Imprisonment, and Race” at the La Griffe duLion website: lagriffedulion.f2s.com
    It’s a striking example of similar unintended consequences.

  5. That’s a rather amusing story Ian B but tracing the history of nebulous cultural drifts is a little like looking at the stars and seeing ..well whatever you like. The equally Victorian Romantic sensibility to which individualists often unconsciously appeal is in reaction to the self loathing rationalists . You would have to go along way to find a vision of humanity more horrified than Lord Rochester’s or indeed Swifts .

    Another reading then sees Man reduced to atom by the 18th century and a reaction in the form of Romantic Conservatism religious enthusiasms and medievalism .All refuse to accept this unit man and refresh the Anglo spheres peculiar resistance to authoritarianism of all stripes .
    That’s just one shape in the stars I could draw many more the notion of the latent rational utopia frustrated by the 19th century seems a peculiarly implausible one to me .

    Interesting though , thanks for that

  6. Pingback: Britblog Roundup N241 – Best of British | nourishing obscurity

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