Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Greens Are Growing In Popularity - But Be Careful What You Wish For


I was reading the other day that The Green Party Is The Second Most Popular Party For Young People (with Labour being the most popular).

So despite losing the intellectual battle years ago, it seems that the economic left does have a political future then?

Alas, yes, it seems that way, but it's easy to see why the myths perpetuated by the economic left continue - we are all socialists really.

What? What do you mean we're all socialists? David Cameron is not a socialist; neither is Jacob Rees-Mogg, nor Owen Paterson, and neither are you, Philosophical Muser. It's just not true.

But you mean something different. Here's what I mean. There's a very important distinction - one I made here - the one between the socialist in the socio-personal economy and the socialist in the market economy. In their attraction to the economic left, many young people are confusing the two by a false conflation. When it comes to the evolutionary socialist in us - the one that assents to kinship, inter-personal bonds and shared-interest groups, the predominant force is the socio-personal economy, explaining our natural assent towards sharing, being generous and kind, and mutually assisting one another. This legacy has primed us for millennia, long before any such thing as a market economy of trade came into place. Consequently, on grounds of adhering to our socio-personal make-up, we are justifiably faithful to a socialistic framework in our cognition.

That is not the same, though, as saying that because of our socio-personal socialism we can justify socialism on market economy grounds. As the history of hard left economics taking root in China and Russia shows, and as is still being shown today in France under Hollande, the market economy operates under a different heuristic to the socio-personal.

Our affinity with friends and family is based on bonds of attachment, either blood-connection (relatives) or like-mindedness (beloveds, friends, and social groups). But the market economy extends way beyond these affinity rings, where success isn't just about familial bonds or connecting with like-minded people, it is about connecting with the vast majority of people who are not like us. I may have little in common with the Indian chef who cooks my chicken biryani, or the garage mechanic who fixes my car, or the vet who cares for my cat, but what connects us is our ability to specialise in a market economy where goods and services create value, and where diversity augments that value through multiplicity.

The qualities of the affinity rings related to the socio-personal are not the sort of qualities that can be artificially engendered from on high in a top-down organisational hegemony, which is why socialism in the market economy is futile as well as being empirically imprudent. What's happening with the rise in popularity from the economic left is that they are trying to rivet on to their (our) socio-personal socialism a justifiable market socialism, which is a bit like trying to justify sleeping with all our colleagues at work on the grounds that we sleep with our husband or wife at night in our own homes. Different strokes for different folks.

Hmm, so if we can see where these socialist tendencies come from, this green popularity surge is probably not that surprising either, is it?

It's not that surprising. In the forties and fifties most of the general public would have been fairly unmindful and apathetic towards environmental issues. Even when I was a lad in the late seventies/early eighties you hardly heard a word about the environment. Environmental campaigners in those days were generally regarded as over-sensitive and largely eccentric neurotics - an easy imputation when you're part of a minority cult. What's apparent, though, is that the next couple of generations that followed had been taking a great deal of notice of what they were saying, eventuating in this young green-conscious generation that is now reaching positions of influence in government and business, and turning our mainstream parties greener too.

So politicians are under pressure to be greener?

They are if they want to appeal to young voters, yes. I'm told that the RSPB has over one million members, which alone tops the number of members of all the main political parties. Add to that all the Greenpeace members and people of the green-left persuasion and it's probably becoming apparent that environmental concern is a great deal more ubiquitous than is given credit for. We know the civil service runs thousands of private opinion polls and focus groups each year, as well as heeding the pressure from farming syndicates and various interest groups keen to preserve the greenness of the UK, so it's unsurprising that politicians are feeling the pressure to respond to the nation's greenness. Politicians are, after all, primarily interested in votes and popularity, so they have to generate policies that won't be seen as costly in terms of votes.

Even though we see increased environmental awareness in younger people these days, it’s often the case that a vote for a minor party means a vote that expresses disenchantment towards the mainstream parties.

True as that is, I think over the next few decades we might see a change in the political landscape, where instead of having two predominant parties, we have five or six mid-size parties, which will mean policies that used to be trivial will soon be more in the mainstream.

Gulp!

Exactly! It's well known that when you're a minor party your policies don't have to withstand quite so much rigorous intellectual scrutiny as the major parties. When I talk of policies, I mean, of course, proposals that require the management of funds. Don't forget, the government do not have any funds of their own - they only have public money handed over by the taxpayers. So everything needs paying for, meaning that the policies that come under the most intense scrutiny are the ones that require the most diligent economic analysis. Minor parties scarcely have to do this because there is little chance of them ever having enough power to implement those policies. Consequently, then, minor parties are able to have the charmed political life of promising attractive things without ever facing the danger of having to balance them out in the economy. For a long time the Liberal Democrats had this distinction, until slow increase in popularity eventuated in a coalition with The Conservatives which then mercilessly exposed their economic policies . Like the minor parties of today, the Lib Dems used to proffer policies that told people what they thought they wanted to hear, only to have them candidly exposed when their merits and demerits were under more careful examination.

And the Green Party is even worse than the Lib Dems?

Worse? You bet it's worse; it's worse in the same way two broken legs are worse than a grazed knee. For an indication of this, have a look at Andrew Neil's Sunday Politics interview with Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, which stands out for me as one of the most alarming exposures of ill-conceived economic policy I've seen in a long time. It's rare to see a leader having her party's policies torn to shreds without even the smallest ability to defend them or balance them up - instead simply getting in a jam each time and responding with “I would urge your viewers to go our website and see how the figures are worked out.” 

Alas, that's the reality, though - their policies are indefensible - economic moonshine of the worst kind I've seen. Not only are they inimical to successful human progression and increased prosperity, they are antithetical to even the basic truths you'd learn about in first year economics.

Even if we pretend there is some solid rationale for the so-called ‘Citizens’ Income’, which promises a minimum weekly income of £72, the economic cost (£280 billion) is a pipe dream. The same is true of their proposed wealth tax, which Bennett claims will generate between £32 billion and £45 billion, when the reality is that wealth taxes in other European countries generated only a fraction of that. Add to that the proposals for import tariffs, business subsidies, increased minimum wage, price controls, and the kind of Piketty-esque redistributive taxations that would retard innovation, and probably drive much of our best talent out of the UK, and there is a good case to made that with The Green Party in their current form, we have, in terms of the economy, perhaps the most dangerous fringe party of them all - a party whose policies would severely compromise the global benefits of innovation, trade, competition and the free market of supply and demand far more than all the other parties would.

A vote for the Green Party actually gives every indication of being a vote for negative growth, as they look to free humankind from what they perceive as the disaster of its Promethean economic advances. While it’s true that in some cases people willingly vote for one of the smaller parties because they are disenchanted with mainstream politics, it’s also true that as the landscape begins to shift, and dissection of the minor parties' policies intensifies as more look to get their feet in Westminster’s door, surely very few people could actually bear to envisage what the country would be like if The Green Party's policies were ever made manifest in any kind of sphere of political influence.

With the ever-rising popularity of the Green Party, it is no longer the case that the green vote is a spoiled vote in protestation at the mainstream parties, nor merely a principled vote towards a candidate they actually like and believe cares about the world - it is, in terms of human well-being, a vote for what is surely the party with the most dangerously counter-productive set of policies that has ever got this close to the mainstream.

 * This was also published as an Adam Smith Institute Article (see here)

** Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

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