Sunday, 10 July 2016

Loathsome concern troll

The spectacle of Andrea Leadsom lying to get votes wasn't that shocking in the wake of our post-truth EU referendum campaign. But her willingness to find an entirely new class of people to scapegoat in pursuit of her political ambitions is genuinely disturbing. Andrea is apparently now running as the Earth Mother candidate for the leadership of The Party Of The Family.

In a novel variant of the "I'm not racist, but..." trope, Andrea has told her electorate that she's got nothing against childless people but, obviously, her childless opponent can't possibly have quite the same stake in the future as she, a parent, does. All animals are equal, but breeding animals are more equal than the others.

Leadsom could do the decent thing and apologise, but she's chosen instead to do the Trump thing. Remember how Trump ended his famous rant about Mexico sending America its criminals, drug-pushers and rapists with those damning-with-faint-praise weasel words "...And some, I assume, are good people"? Leadsom tries to pull the same trick with the childless - after a bit of fake concern for the Mays' inability to start a family ("I am sure she will be really sad" with its vile Trumpian undertone of "sad" as synonym for "loser") she comes out with the exactly the same arse-covering rhetorical trick:
"she possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next. So it really keeps you focussed on what are you really saying, because what it means is you don’t want a downturn but never mind, ten years hence it will all be fine, my children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.”
And when anybody dares to object to her spiteful little digs, the response is pure Trump - she even uses Trump's favourite word, "disgusting" in her attempt to silence journalists who accurately reported what she actually said.

If the rhetoric is nasty, the content is stupid. This excellent post by Maria Farrell on Crooked Timber manages both to put Leadsom's cruel and petty-minded taunts to shame with a measured and dignified response and to neatly demolish Leadsom's "stake in the future" argument as a variation of the fallacy of composition:

Tonight, as the cover of tomorrow’s paper does the rounds of Twitter, Leadsom is getting her denial in early. She didn’t say any of that. Or maybe just some of it. Or maybe it was out of context. She must mean the bit where she said May might have nephews and nieces, but she, Leadsom, has children. And anyway, as Loathsome concern-trolled May, it must be ‘very sad’ for her not to have children. Sorry, Leadsom. Don’t know why that keeps happening.

(And hey, it’s not as if May is a friend to families, not to immigrant and asylum-seeking ones, anyway.)

The direct quotes have Leadsom arguing that having her own children gives her more of a stake in the future. And not just in the next one or two years, but the next ten, even. Astonished though many of us may be that someone who campaigned for Brexit was thinking even two weeks ahead, let alone beyond Christmas, let’s take the assertion on its merits.

Do parents have a bigger stake in a nation’s future?

No, they do not. They have a big stake in their own children’s future, in the vulgar-evolutionist sense of having made a big investment in same, but many of them seem to convert this single – well, on average 1.7 times – play into a strategic desire to set the rules of the game in their offspring’s favour.

Let’s look at education. Middle class parents in the UK agonise over education, intuitively accepting that it is both a positional and excludeable good. (Forgive me, economists, if I’ve mangled your terminology.) It’s not enough that your own child gets a decent education. It’s actually quite important that other people’s children don’t. Otherwise, what is the value of your child’s accent and, ahem, contacts. If you doubt the fact that everyone implicitly accepts this, think about the way people talk about why they send their children to private schools. ‘I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t’. ‘I feel awful about it but I don’t have a choice.’ ‘We just want to give her every chance we can.’
All in all, the nastiest and worst economic argument since Niall Ferguson wilfully misinterpreted Keynes' remark that "In the long run, we are all dead" to imply that as a childless homosexual, Keynes had no stake in the future, when it's quite obvious from the context that Keynes was simply arguing against the notion that markets should just be left to naturally self-correct after recessions (everything might be fine in the long run, but people's live can be ruined if they, personally, are left avoidably poor or jobless in a short run which might last for years without some action to stimulate the economy).