THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
An interesting question
British values

Of poverty and privilege

After less than two years back in Britain I am bored of the first world problems of this plump and pampered land. I am particularly tired, for example, of the overused word "privilege". To me, the great enemy of mankind is not privilege but poverty. Those of us who are not poor represent a problem solved. The question is how to increase the wealth of those who still are. As a purely economic issue, that's a question long since answered.

History shows us that free markets cure poverty fastest. History also shows us that socialism increases poverty. Ask the millions of people in the former Soviet Bloc. It is a stupid, nasty, hateful doctrine; the moral equivalent of deliberately infecting the healthy with disease in order to reduce health inequality.

Socialism's obsession with material goods ignores the fact that the ability to accumulate wealth, important though it is as an engine of economic development, is not that big a deal at a personal level. Faced with my late wife's cancer, our life's savings could ultimately only buy her more comfortable surroundings in which to die. Material rewards for a life of hard work are all very well, but any sane person knows that true happiness comes from things that have little or nothing to do with money; health, culture, education. recreation and family. 

There's a wonderful passage in one of Billy Connolly's shows where he talks of a man at a dinner party who, asked what he did, said "I am a tobogganist". Connolly has much fun imagining what his Glaswegian working class father would have said if he had told him that's what he wanted to be. I have recently been reading about the famous photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Both came from rich families. Both walked away confidently from their material comforts (although Frank occasionally took money from his parents to help him along) in order to embark on artistic careers. Their equivalent, if you like, of tobogganing.

The confidence, perhaps even arrogance, of such people about the importance of their life choices derives from the fact that, unlike Billy Connolly (and most working-class children) they have no practical-minded parents telling them, with their best interests at heart, to "get a real job" The confidence, or indulgence, of their parents is helped by money, of course. If you can't support your child for ever, you are understandably more anxious to see him support himself. But their "privilege" was more complicated than that. Their parents did not laugh at them when they aspired to be "tobogganists". Rather, they expected of them, if that's what they were going to do, that they should head for the highest Alp. That expectation is the true nature of privilege.

Yes, it's easier with money but it's also possible without. Chinese children do not do best in Britain's schools because Chinese parents are, on average, richer. They do better because their parents, on average, value education more highly and expect more effort. A "tiger mother" may not feel like a privilege when you are under her care and control, but she is worth more than all the money in the world. Any parent, rich or poor, educated or not, can be a good parent - with better effect on their child's ultimate happiness (and, incidentally, the nation's prosperity) than any redistribution of wealth.

I remember two long-lost school friends in my scruffy home town up North. Their father was a dustman devoid of all aspiration. Their mother, however, had a dream. Both arrived at infants school able to read because she had pushed them around town in their prams teaching them to do so from the road signs. Unashamedly eccentric herself, she empowered them to be different from their contemporaries and not to give a damn about the relentless peer pressure to be stupid at our bog-standard comprehensive school.

She wasn't Chinese. She was from the white working class; now the second-worst performing ethnic group in Britain's schools. She did nothing any parent, grand-parent or aunt - rich or poor - could not do. I wish all the whingeing envy-ridden half-wits banging on about "privilege" would shut up and be like that scruffy, oddball, utterly splendid mother. She refused to be defined by her circumstances. So - if we have any dignity - should we all.

If you have economically under-privileged kids, if you teach them, are related to them or even just have them as neighbours don't tell them they are doomed. Don't encourage them to hatred and envy. Encourage them to dream of "tobogganing" and lend them the occasional book. Let them see you reading for pleasure (pretend if you have to) so they think of it as normal. Then they will be privileged kids too.


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Mark, They already increased the money supply several times in the UK, by scary amounts.

If it has increased economic activity any no one is admitting it yet. On the other hand the value of the pound against the dollar has slipped quite a lot.

I think you are talking about putting the horse in front of the cart, or maybe cargo-cultinomics ^_^


Yes... but increasing the money supply might increase economic activity.

And I agree, investment is the key.


Mark, you are like the hydra, I cut off a head and another 7 snap at me with what I wonder must be tongue in cheek arguments.

So printing money... The governement could print any amount of money, but that does not mean it would be worth anything look at Germany after the great war.

Unless there is some increased value involved all it does is in the end is to water down the value of the currency. That is called inflation.

The government just increasing the money supply will inflate the currency and it will loose it's value against other currencies but if you studied economics like you said you did then I figure you ought to know that.

The evidence does not suggest the government can print extra money in the long term without causing inflation... unless it is balanced against, not gold, but the value of UK PLC. Usually talking argument short cuts no body mentions that.

That balancing is difficult and, based on the evidence, the governmemnt gets it a bit wrong, accidentally or on purpose, most all the time. Money supply has to be able to match economic demand/activity.

Also as I think I said several times, and again you can hardly not have noticed. I didn't say "save" talking about pensions but _invest_. And no you can't 100% guarantee the future or we would all be very rich.


So, you are saying it is impossible for the government to print money ? All money used by govmt must come from taxation?
Since it is fairly clear that the government can, actually, print money - I presume that what you mean by this is that money produced by government cannot lead to any increase in economic activity - that this money printing is effectively a tax on private money either through inflation or actual tax.
But, I don't think it is at all obvious that this is true, and in fact, the evidence tends to suggest that it isn't.

Finance and the real economy are seperate things - If we all save money it is no guarentee that the real resources we need will exist.


Mark you ask (and I do have a suspicion you know otherwise and see this as a joke) "Is giving people money not the opposite of taxation".

I guess you mean the state "giving".

My question is what is the source of any money the state chooses to "give"?

You know it must be taxation. So it is not giving, it is at best returning what was previously taken. But then you knew that too.

Your first argument makes no sense to me. Most any expenditure can be funded if the model works, only a (apologies for my profanity) dick head or a crook would try to fund something like a pension scheme with a pyramid scheme or what's known as a ponzie scheme.

Like I said they could have funded it fine if what was taken, supposedly to fund it, were actually invested at the time and not spent.

The governemt _could_ do things right. It would need people who knew what they were doing and looked more than a year or two into the consiquennces of their foolishness.

The problem is that it does not, and does not so consitently that it can not really be trusted to get it right. It seems like it is not as smart as it's smartest members it is dumber than it's dumbest members. It is like the worst sort of person.

But even if it were exemplary and wonderful it still has no place or honest right to have a finger in so many pies.


OK... If it is an absolute impossibility for certain expenditure to be funded by taxation - if the real economy cannot cope with the demands placed upon it and there simply aren't enough resources - then it doesn't matter whether we insist on saving or not - there still won't be enough resources to go around.
Is giving people money not the opposite of taxation?

It all comes down to the "government can never do anything right" thing I guess.

While you might want to criticise my specific assumptions, I don't think it is fair to criticise the act of assumption-making itself. What other means do we have of producing an argument?


Mark, Tomsmith answered your question for you.

Your question makes assumptions in one part and then just assumes they are true in the next. A house built on sand.

Taxation does make a difference to the economy and it is observable.

Also your "question" seems to have very little to do with what I was actually arguing.


Why not?


"If the amount of money in the economy makes no difference to economic activity - if making more money cannot lead people to do more work, then why would taxing them cause them to do less?"

Because taxation is not the opposite of printing money.


What extreme examples. Somalia's government's historic failure to perform the duties of a minarchist government does not justify the German government's intrusion into every aspect of life. I cannot speak with authority of anything about the German economy except the systemic bribery and corruption in the real estate industry. When buying and selling is regulated, the first things to be bought and sold are regulators (PJ O'Rourke). From that (admittedly limited) sample, I suspect that Germany is a massively corrupt country, perhaps more so than Somalia. But if corrupt corporatism; big business hand in glove with big government, provides you with peace and quiet, perhaps that suits you? Screw all the people who could have become less poor, eh? As long as your life is serene.


Found at "Yer ol' woodpile report" under the title,

Mother, family of 9, along US Route70 Tennessee, 1936. Hard times. They'd gladly trade for what we call "poverty" today

This is the first world less than eighty years ago, and frankly it was not a whole lot better in some quarters of British cities. We live in a pampered age.

I suspect (though obviously cannot prove) that those children would seize any chance of work or education that might come their way, after their chores were complete.

james higham

After less than two years back in Britain I am bored of the first world problems of this plump and pampered land.

Similar path, Tom.


Somalia is far from the greatest place in the world, but it's better now than when it had government:

As Germany would be if it got rid of its government.

Wealth comes from private property, free markets (markets with no government interference), and the division of labour.

The only way government can help this is by providing law and order. And even then this could be better provided by the free market.

Regulation does nothing but increase costs and decrease competition (which is why most big firms are all for it).


Define free markets. I have just been in Somalia where economic actors are free to act without any pesky interfering government. No soddin' 'elf and safety. But, equally, umm it is a really unsafe, unhealthy place. I'll take nice, regulated Germany any day.


If the amount of money in the economy makes no difference to economic activity - if making more money cannot lead people to do more work, then why would taxing them cause them to do less?
And if taxing makes no difference to the economy, why is it preferable for the money to be saved rather than taxed?


Sackerson, Are you really seriously holding the introduction of credit cards against Bankers? And mortgages (leaving aside that many domestic mortgages are provided by building societies in the UK)?

You are kidding - right?

Like I said no one forced people to basically misuse their credit cards. No one forced anyone to take out a mortgage.

You could as well blame car manufacturers for all road deaths and injuries, or maybe Brewers.

You may be able to make a case against building societies for giving too big mortgages backed by weak endowment policies.

Buying that home... you could have bought one in London for £4,000 in 1965 and a gallon of petrol for 5 shillings (£0.26).

And somewhere nice on the tube when the lines were being built for £400.

The average house price in the UK in 1945 was still around £500. It's called inflation.

Immigration and the reasons the British state encouraged them are a whole post on their own along with economic illiteracy behind UK state pensions and welfare.


Moggsy, the bankers do indeed have a role to play in what's happened. They introduced credit cards. And they pumped house prices by making more mortgage credit more easily available - I could hardly wander into an estate agent and ask for a 3-bed semi for £23k today, though I could have got one in 1984.

And after importing lots of poor people we are going to have ballooning costs (HEW, police, courts etc) relating to them and their dependants. It's happening already. Short term gain, long term pain.


Sackerson. You say the Banker's economy has buried the populace under debt? Like they just forced people to max out their credit cards did they? Twisted arms? How mean of them.

There was me thinking it was just people borrowing more than they could afford to pay back and buying stuff they didn't really need and throwing away stuff that still worked.

Not so different to the government when you really think about it.

So comforting to have someone, or _some group_ a person can blame all their troubles on (and can't that go to dark places?), an excuse not to look too hard at themselves, I guess this is kind of leading back to the theme of the post then isn't it?


What a wondeful and aspirational (for every last one of us) post that was.

If you could only make teachers and social services and government listen.

Sackerson I think the large scale immigration to the UK was, to begin with, the government trying to fill jobs that the indiginous population no longer wanted to do.

Later it was also about sustaining a badly thought out model of social care/pensions that really needs an always rising population, one that always has many more tax payers than dependants... and the population was now headed on a downward slope.

It is like pyramid selling shemes they are only able to operate for a while and everyone who joins when it gets to saturation looses out. Immigration is just the government trying to find new customers to keep it going.

With the current system either the UK will just sooner or later burst at the seams with new people, or the system will break down as fewer and fewer people are taxed more and more heavily to support larger and larger numbers of welfare recipients of one kind or another.

It really isn't just "spongers" it is pensions, disability payments, care home and National Health System costs.

The bad mistake and the problem is all this is paid for out of workers tax, when things like pensions and Care for the old plus thieir medical costs should be mostly being paid for bit by bit over a persons working life, saved and invested, without it being able to be raided by the government.


Excellent article.

Can I suggest that socialism is not the only stifler of initiative? The bankers' economy we now have has buried the populace under debt, and at the same time bought the political class so that they have permitted large-scale economic immigration to keep down wage rates, sustain unemployment among the indigenous population and maintain profits for the owners of large businesses. So it becomes easier for negative thinking among the poor to justify itself. Postive thinking is great, as long as you still have a chance; fewer now have that chance.

The "boom" of the last 30 years or so (with occasional pauses) has been a binge that, while enriching a minority, has left most without the realistic prospect of independence in this country. The "crony capitalism" in the UK and USA are in danger of laying the foundation of socialist regimes in both countries.

Chapman Pincher should update his book "Their Trade Is Treason" to include members of our current plutarchy.


Free markets cure poverty fast for a few people. Unfortunately, when markets are not free, it does not really provide the environment that some business people need in order to prosper.

I personally believe that kids who are more exposed to entrepreneurial activity from early are more likely to become entrepreneurs. it just like the mother who pushed her kids around in prams and taught them herself. Kids pick up what they see their parents doing.

You don't have to like a book to pick it up around kids. However it models behavior you want to see them doing.

David Davis

Good thing you wrote there, old fella.

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