Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Zombie apocalypse at the Telegraph

We've all, from time to time, held or spouted political opinions that owe less to rational analysis of what's going on than they do to prejudice or habit. Some people actually get paid to produce what Chris Dillow calls 'tribal grunts'. We're all, to a greater or lesser extent, guilty of having blind spots and prejudices, but it does gets a bit worrying when the same stimulus continues to provoke the same unvarying stream of Pavlovian drool for thirty-odd years without any sign of nuance, reflection, change, development or learning.

Take the news that the population's gone up, due to a combination of immigration and an uptick in the birth rate. This can only mean one thing - it's time for the Daily Mail headline writers to reach for the blood pressure meds and the caps lock - ('Population of England and Wales soars by nearly FOUR MILLION in just 10 YEARS' - no link provided because there are already more than enough angry people clicking on this). And in the good old Torygraph, Philip Johnston warns:
More public services will need to be privatised, the burdens on taxpayers reduced and people encouraged to look after themselves and make provision for their own future. Yet the reforms needed to bring this about are often resisted by the very people who promoted the population boom that has made them unavoidable. 
Really?  Has it never occurred to Philip, even a millisecond, that it might be more complicated than that. For example, what is the problem that we 'need' to solve through the tax cuts and privatisation? Is it, by any chance, the ageing population, with fewer people of working age supporting more pensioners (AKA the '"demographic time bomb")? The sort of problem that might be mitigated by more people of working age coming into the country, decreasing the average age of the population and increasing the proportion of people paying tax?

But that can't be right, grunts Johnston, because 'While many immigrants, such as those from Eastern Europe, are hard working and skilled, they and their families require housing and health care, and their children need schooling'. Assuming there's a significant uptick in the number of kids, (AKA the people who'll be working and paying taxes when Philip Johnston's in his care home) what does that do to the seriousness of the "demographic time bomb"?

And what's with the 'need' to privatise all these public services? This might have sounded like fresh new thinking in 1980 but it's what they've already been doing for the last 30 years, with mixed results. They've already privatised the low hanging fruit. Sometimes it worked, other times they privatised things like the railways that didn't make much sense in market terms, and didn't clearly make us any better off. Now we're left with the more difficult nitty-gritty services, have we really got good reasons to believe that privatising a service always makes it more efficient, or is this just an ideological reflex? What about the NHS, versus the notoriously inefficient private-sector-led US health care system? Looking at the performance of the fairy jobmothers at A4e, for example, I'd say the case for outsourcing employment services hasn't been proved by a long chalk. And whilst we're on the subject of private contractors with alphabet soup monikers, if 'private=good, public=bad', why's the army stepping in to do G4S's job?

And, as for these tax cuts, well, going easy on tax collection certainly worked out well for the Greeks, didn't it?

I'm sure somebody with a bit more knowledge and analytical skill could produce arguments that I'd find harder to dismiss, but Johnston's not even trying here - he's just shambling on as if the way to win an argument is just to repeat the same message over and over again until your opponent eventually dies or something.

By rights, the dominant rightist ideology of the last generation or so should be dead by now, killed in the great car crash of 2008. Instead, like a zombie in a horror film it lumbers on, undead, urged on by powerful reflexes from deep within its decaying brain stem ... 'must ... stop ... immigrants ... urgh ... must slash taxes  ... must ... privatise ... mmm .... BRAAIINS!!