Friday, 9 January 2009

Nurture the strong, Part II

As I tried to explain yesterday, I believe it is necessary to look after the strong if the weak are to be assisted. I suppose the principle is that you shouldn't kill the goose that lays golden eggs. Underlying my point is the biblical saying about the poor always being with us. Although I dispute use of the words "poor" and "poverty" to describe all but a very small number of people in this country, I will use them here to refer to those for whom providing themselves with housing, food, clothing, heat and water is a financial struggle. We all search for ways to reduce poverty and some idealists get so carried away with their good intentions that they claim to be able to abolish poverty completely. The error in their reasoning is that they leave human nature out of account.

Let's assume we elect a radical government that nationalises all property and distributes it in equal shares to every adult. For a fleeting moment poverty (in the modern sense of inequality) would be abolished because we would all have exactly the same, but only for a moment. Someone will find a pack of cards and start a game of poker, resulting in some ending up richer and some becoming poorer. Someone will turn his money into cans of lager and thence into an even less tasty liquid. While this is happening, someone else will sit at home learning crochet and find himself relatively richer than the losing player and the boozer and relatively poorer than the winning player and the lager seller. Through a combination of differing personal habits, differing skills and differing luck the same inequalities will arise as currently exist. Current levels of financial inequality might never be matched, but inequality is inevitable as is the loss by some people of everything the State so helpfully gave them. As they walk out of the poker room dressed in nothing but a barrel held up by sturdy braces they might curse their bad luck at running into a straight flush when they held four of a kind, but that's the way of life because people take risks and some lose.

I wrote yesterday of how Mrs Thatcher's famous words "there is no such thing as society" have been misconstrued for over twenty years. She was addressing the concept that "society" is a thing with a mind and body of its own and is capable of doing things; her point was that only people can do things. That is not to say there is no such thing as society in all contexts. A cricket club is a society, a village is a society, a country is a society, but each is a society in a different way. The one thing societies have in common is mutual dependence among their members. The best cricketer in a club is of no use unless another ten player turn out to make a full team. Village society consists of numerous acts by which people rely on others and others rely on them - Mrs A does Mr B's washing because Mr B is housebound and can't cope with that work, Mr C gives Miss D a lift to the shops, the whole village gets together for a jumble sale and a fireworks party and so it goes on. The larger the group the more nebulous the links are that make them a society and the more individual smaller societies exist within the large one. Each cricket club is a society, all the clubs which play in a particular league form a further society and all the teams playing in similar leagues around the country are a larger society again. They all have something in common and they all depend on each other to a greater or lesser degree.

Describing a country as a society is rather more difficult, particularly when, as now in the UK, the government creates or exacerbates divisions to set groups against each other. Nonetheless there is an important respect in which it is possible to see the whole of the UK as a society because some things affect the whole of the country. Decisions taken by the UK government obviously come into that category but so do decisions taken in other countries which affect our ability to look after ourselves.

A fine illustration of this is taking place in eastern Europe at the moment. Back in the days of the USSR the discovery of vast reserves of natural gas in Russia led to supplies being piped to numerous of its neighbouring states because they were all under rule from the Kremlin. The dismantling of the Soviet empire into individual sovereign states did not suddenly give those states their own gas reserves, they continued to rely on Russia for supplies. Gas has become an essential fuel in these countries just as it is in the UK. It not only boils a Ukrainian's borshch it also generates some of his electricity and fires his heavy industries. The tap remains stubbornly situated on the Russian side of the border giving the old Imperial power the ability to cripple its neighbour and demand just about any price it likes. The current huffing and puffing will die down before long, at which time Russia will receive a much higher price than before and Ukraine will have suffered massive financial losses. The simple fact is that Russia and Ukraine are not part of the same society these days, unlike when the pipelines were first built and reliance on gas became established. In those days losses in Ukraine were losses for the whole USSR of which Russia was, of course, the largest part. These days Ukrainian losses do not cross the eastern border.

Nations are the largest manageable societies in history. All the wild celebrations when London was selected to host the 2012 Olympics illustrated a bond of nationhood. It was not so much hosting the Olympics that was being celebrated, it was that a contest was won in which we, as a country, were involved. It was all the sweeter for putting one over the French, and all the more bitter for them because London was chosen rather than anywhere else. That the games will cost money we don't have and will not produce one hundredth of the long-term benefits being claimed for them is neither here nor there. We won, and it was "we" because the concept of nationhood is real and binds people in a way that being European or part of a "world community" never will. It is the same historic and cultural bond which caused artificial political constructs of countries like Czechoslovakia, East Germany and the USSR itself to revert to the units with which their people felt comfortable.

Once a society exists, the point I made yesterday applies to that unit - be it a club, a village a county or a country, each of them can only operate through individual people. But that is only part of the picture. That illustrates how things work looking from the bottom upwards. For example, when it comes to plumbing I know very little, I am weak and poor in my knowledge, I have to look up the chain of knowledge and skill to find someone to help me when a pipe bursts. It is to my benefit if his business remains healthy because he will be available when I need his services again. But what about the top-down picture? What determines whether he is in a position to help me? One factor is the forces on him from further up the chain. He needs a supply of copper pipes, joints, solder and a blow torch, he is dependent on his suppliers and they are dependent on the suppliers above them. In some fields it is inevitable that the ultimate link in the chain is an importer who is reliant on finding a supplier overseas.

As Ukraine and other eastern European countries are finding at the moment, being reliant on another country for regular supplies of an essential product is fraught with risk. In principle it is no different from the risk of plumbers running out of copper pipe because no more copper can be imported, but the stakes are very different.

Part of the task of nurturing the strong so that they can help the weak is ensuring that the nation in which they operate is as self-sufficient as possible in the essentials of modern life so that they remain strong. If you import a large proportion of your food or of the fuels you need to live as you are accustomed to living, you are at the mercy of people who feel no bond to you other than the money you pay them. That is not to say we should seek to exist without reference to the rest of the world, of course there are many things we import which we cannot grow or make here. Life will not become difficult if kiwi fruit are in short supply, it's rather different if the scarcity is of wheat, potatoes or dairy products. But we should recognise that some things are far too important to be at the whim of people over whom we, and our government, have no direct influence.

Nurturing the strong is not just about charitable and voluntary acts, nor is it just about individuals acting individually. It is about realising that we all depend on others to help us in all sorts of ways. We cannot all set up our own businesses, most are employees. Although it is to state the obvious, it is worth stating - no one can be an employee without an employer, and no business can employ someone unless it is a going concern. We cannot all do plumbing, electrics, woodwork or car mechanics, most of us rely on others to provide those services when we need them. We cannot all grow the vegetables and fruit we need or keep a cow, two sheep and a pig in a spare bedroom, we rely on others to produce these things for us and make them available in manageable quantities.

Unless we are as self-sufficient as possible in essential goods and act to keep business strong and profitable the people who will suffer most are those who are most dependent on others. And this leads to one of the great ironies of modern politics.

Talk about reducing the size and influence of government, talk about encouraging self-reliance and self-sufficiency, talk about strengthening the nation rather than international bodies and you will be labelled "right wing". Once that label is attached people will be told by the current government and those who support them that you are concerned only for yourself and have no care for those less fortunate. Yet when we look at real life we find it is the strong who help the weak, the profitable who employ the unemployed, the skillful who teach the previously unskilled and the wealthy who fund the truly effective schemes for the poor.

The left offers nothing other than "I'm from the government and I'm here to help". It is not without reason that Ronald Reagan described that phrase as the nine most terrifying words in the English language. Government help usually doesn't help because it takes too much from those who cannot afford it and delivers it too expensively and inefficiently to too few of those who need it.

The politics of the left says a lot about the government helping the poor but government has not done, and can never do, one thousandth of what is actually done. The only sustainable way to help the poor is to provide them with work and to make available goods for them to buy to improve their quality of life and to do so at a price they can afford. Only the strong can provide those things and they can only provide them if the country in which they operate is itself strong. The beliefs that lead to me being labelled "right-wing" are nothing to do with selfishness and a lack of concern for others even less fortunate than me. They are about putting into place the only effective way of reducing poverty and making it less painful for those few who remain poor.


5 comments:

james1071 said...

FB,

The strong are indeed being 'nurtured' and receiving their bonuses with government cash.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Excellent and astute post!

dmc said...

Your blogs should be compulsory reading in schools to get children thinking and discussing rather than learning by rote.Thankyou.

TheFatBigot said...

Thank you gentlemen, I'm glad you liked it.

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