I recently was invited to a lunch where one of the major names of New Labour, a leading entrepreneur who had hosted the lunch, and several business people including myself discussed the current political and economic outlook.
The host suggested at one point that the New Labour project had failed. Indeed the current turmoil of the Labour Party and its leader might cause one to come to that conclusion.
The reality is much more insidious. New Labour was deeply successful. Its legacy will be that it has moved the mind of the average British person from centre-right to centre-left.
The central thesis of New Labour is that government can encourage the markets but then play Robin Hood with the wealth that is created. Blair may have focused on the former; Brown’s true colours became apparent with the latter.
Is it possible to believe in free-markets and also an active role of government redistributing wealth? I would argue that these are mutually exclusive positions.
Those of us who believe in free-markets believe that individuals are responsible for their fellow man and for their personal destiny. We believe in human ingenuity, in the exercise of our intellects towards greatness and excellence, in the triumphs resulting from hard work, in generosity and rebirth – no one is ever down and out forever, and the commitment to creating a “bigger pie” where more people enjoy prosperity.
Sadly, we have to accept that there are some real bastards in the world. There are those who leverage the wide open practice of capitalism in the free markets for their own ends, and couldn’t care less about whether people around them survive, thrive or die. I believe that this is a small percentage of humankind, and that most people most of the time want what’s best for the greatest good.
Still, I reluctantly accept that these “zero sum” people exist and are deeply envied in society rather than pitied for the bankruptcy of their spirits. I know that the more I try to tie the bastards down, the better they’ll get at their “win/lose” approach to life. Amoral wealthy people stay that way. No government will be able to re-engineer them for goodness. They use tax havens, lawyers and power to avoid compliance with governments who would rein them in.
Whereas New Labour argued that there should be fair rules, every sensible adult knows in their gut that life is inherently unfair. We can’t engineer fairness. Surely the right definition of fairness is that you get out of life what you put into it. We all start where we do, some of us the daughters of tycoons, others of us the daughters of beggars. I believe that inside of every poor person, however, there is a middle class person trying to get out. They “get out” through education, family support, good role models, their faith, enormous hard work and sacrifice. I have never met a single person who has told me the story of their life, and claimed that some government program helped them achieve a middle class lifestyle. Equally, I’ve never heard any entrepreneur attribute their success to the hand of government in their lives.
By telling citizens through 13 years of New Labour that all will be well, “we the government will take the bad people away, and redistribute their wealth which they must have gotten through evil means”, New Labour sent the UK back to a childhood. They impoverished our thinking, and weakened the spirit of the average British citizen. They created a new feudal state of the mind which will be their real legacy, and which will take years of work to undo.
It is an irresponsible parent indeed who puts the family in debt so that the children have to pay more for a good life than they did. It’s an act of active manipulation of the citizenry to not be transparent about the levels of spending and the outcomes of maxing out the credit cards.
The simple fact of the matter is that New Labour could have saved for a rainy day from 1997 to 2007. Instead they invested in public services which we couldn’t afford if we were going to run a balanced budget. As a result, we were well and truly unprepared when disaster hit.
Now, the kids will grow up all right. But it will be a searing and harsh arrival into adulthood.
I’m optimistic that the average 20 year old as he/she approaches 30 will learn the right lessons from the dark years of 1997 to 2010: that there was an inherent inconsistency in New Labour.
Free markets have lifted a billion people out of poverty over the past 25 years. They have the ability to continue to do so. As people become more wealthy, they can in turn solve more social problems.
You cannot believe that people are responsible for the well-being of themselves and their fellow man, and want to rig the system against the bastards. You can’t outsource social justice to the government. It happens in your neighbourhood, your school, your church, your family and your office. We will unfortunately always have the bastards with us. They are part of the human condition much as we’d like them not to be.
But the average man does want to be responsible and cares about more than himself. He shouldn’t have been condescended to by New Labour, and his children will learn the hard way that there is no free lunch, only free markets.