Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Corbyn: What Integrity?

Jeremy Corbyn is not having a great week. Even if the claims that he walked past empty seats to sit on the floor of the Virgin train are untrue (doubtful, but possible), he has shown himself to be rather too much of a shameful opportunist by making that embarrassing short video. It was a silly pro-nationalisation plug that backfired on him.

But leaving that aside, I want to focus here on a bigger part of the Corbyn picture, because long before Train-Gate, I've been told several times that whatever faults Jeremy Corbyn has (for Americans, read Bernie Sanders) he is a man of strong, principled integrity, and that such a thing is a rare quality in politics. I would say such people are half right: yes, integrity is too rare in politics, but no, Jeremy Corbyn doesn't have it - not in my eyes. Here's why.

The socialistic ideas Corbyn has on the broad range of economic issues are not just naively idealistic, they are hopelessly inimical to logic and reason, and they have been discredited by economic expertise for as long as economics has been a formal subject.

Now for me there are only likely to be two explanations for how a man can get to the age of 66 and still believe all this guff: one is that he knows the full extent of his folly but isn't all that bothered about getting his facts right as there are lots of people in this country who think along the same lines (and perhaps more importantly, can keep him elected), and the other is that he genuinely still harbours an honest ignorance about how counterfactual and damaging his policies would be if they were ever implemented.

To be perfectly honest, I've no idea which it is (maybe a mix of both) because both positions are anathema to me. That is to say, I couldn't bear to be so cognitively dissonant that I could hold views I knew deep down to be wrong just to stay in my job or obtain popularity; and I couldn't bear to exist in a state of mind in which I hadn't thoroughly got to grips with facts and truths central to my vocation.

I suppose the extent to which either of the above is true is something only Corbyn knows. But either way, it ought to scream out at us that whichever it is, the case for Jeremy Corbyn being a man of 'principled integrity' must fall flat on its backside.

For I see no principled integrity in knowing the full extent of one's folly yet not bothering to live with values consistent with the correction of that folly, and I see very little integrity in not properly researching the economic arguments, logic and reasoning that so easily expose his ideas as being harmful to the economy, to growth and to the increased prosperity of others in poorer nations too. The fixed pie fallacy, the free lunch fallacy, the 'seen and unseen' fallacies, the failure to understand the damage of price fixing, excessive taxation - you name it, Corbyn falls for it.

So I'm afraid I cannot go along with the idea that Corbyn, and people like the London mayor Sadiq Khan, and the rest of Corbyn's economically illiterate shadow cabinet are people with principled integrity, because for whatever reason they continue to persist with damaging ideas and foolish views about reality.

It's not all that different to how a biologist might feel about a young earth creationist or an astronomer might feel about an astrologer - they may concede that such people believe they have good intentions, and are often quite likeable personality-wise, but there is very little integrity in being the kind of people forever trying to give credit to long-standing discredited views when it is so easy to pick up a few text books and see the folly for themselves.

And by the way, if you're going to try to tell me that perhaps many of them have already studied this subject and simply arrived at their current conclusions on the basis of that learning, then that doesn't let them off the hook one bit, for me - it merely confirms that they are either incapable of learning the basics, or that they have a personal agenda that overrides the facts and truths in front of them.

And this brings me to my last point. Given that the relatively simple fact that competition and free trade are the biggest drivers of widespread prosperity, there must be one heck of an agenda with the likes of Corbyn as he consistently champions policies that make those things less conducive to fruition. Despite developing a reputation to the contrary as the saintly socialist saviour with real principles and integrity, why is he doing everything he can to implement policies that make the less fortunate even worse off? Is it perhaps that people on the hard left get so much of a buzz championing the underdog that they develop a saviour complex - and perhaps even subconsciously relish keeping the poor in their state because it keeps alive their raison d'etre?

You see, it's no small irony that not only is it the ability to trade that most efficiently lifts people out of poverty and drives improved living conditions for everyone, it's that when people do become more economically prosperous it is then that they are most likely to help others. In other words, free trade doesn't just help Jack and Jill, it helps Jack and Jill help Tom, Dick and Betty too. Someone with barely enough food to survive is less well equipped to help others thrive. On the other hand, the average mother in somewhere wealthy like the UK or USA often has the economic security to help others in the community, particularly when they retire or if they work part time.

And as the nation in question gets wealthier, the narrative of the socialist saviour becomes even more outmoded, to the point that they can only keep up the lie by creating new fatuous subplots, like the rich are making the poor even poorer, that we need a fairer society that works for everyone, and that capitalism is the most justifiable target for all our opprobrium. Part of the reason that Corbynomics is so easily ridiculed in circles of economic competence is that the socialist need to scratch our societal itch is dying out more slowly than the itch itself. 

Or to put it another way, a medicine is being offered to cure a disease that's been cured by another kind of medicine. And to rub salt into the wounds, the medicine being offered by Corbyn is actually a poison that inhibits the potency of the actual cure (the closest real life example of Corbynomics in action at the moment is not in Scandinavia, as some people think, it is in Venezuela, and the results are catastophic).

If you want principled integrity, you can find it far more in people like Deirdre McCloskey, Robert P Murphy and even the IEA's Philip Booth - good honest economists, and also people of faith, who have a proficient enough understanding of the political landscape to speak of what's best for everyone, but who are also not afraid to embrace truth and facts even when they are not part of consensual opinion.