THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Reflections on Brexit
THINK - The Economics of Change | Institute of Economic Affairs

The state of the nation and the world

It has been an astonishing few weeks in British politics and – while I believe our events are specific to our circumstances – there does seem to be a pattern emerging in the affairs of Mankind as a whole. So let's take pause and summarise where we stand. I will state matters as best I can and ask you, gentle readers, to tell me where I am at fault.

  1. The "capitalist" system is working well on a global scale. One hundred million people came out of poverty in the last decade. Most of them were in China. Almost all of them were in Asia, living under regimes that are openly anti-democratic. How well capitalism functions seems to depend on the extent to which markets are allowed to work unimpeded. People living under an authoritarian state that, for whatever reason, decides to allow free-ish markets, can make just as much economic progress as those living in a democracy. And MORE progress than those living in a democracy that – at the peoples lawful bidding – decides to "manage" its markets. 
  2. The myth of socialism is still powerful. Even though tested to the destruction of tens of millions of human lives and the impoverishment of billions more in the 20th Century, the ideas of "equality" and "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" are still attractive to many who ought to know better. Look at Venezuela. Not only were the people there fooled by Chavez, but many of our own leftist leaders sang his praises and spoke of the great future to come. Here that future now is; shorn of life's essentials and with crowds of women forcing their way past border guards to buy food and toilet rolls from the "inferior" state next door. As always. 
  3. Democracy seems to be in crisis. There is a widespread sense that self-serving elites are in control of government and state institutions in the Western World. Whereas Churchill, Attlee and most recently Thatcher had admiring followers, modern politicians have no "fans". A healthy cynicism is all very well, but we seem to have reached a stage where "they are all the same" is our only political thought. The danger is that, if we believe all politicians to be bad, only bad people will run for office. Another danger is that any demagogue who can present convincingly as NOT being "the same" seems able now to get a hearing, regardless of merit or even sanity.
  4. The identity politics practised by the modern left for so long seems to be breaking down. The "Black lives matter" movement in the United States may well prove to be its last hurrah. It's not as easy as it was only a year ago to silence a political enemy by calling him names. Over 17 million of us were called "racists" during the referendum campaign and still live to tell the tale. Some real nastiness may emerge as actual racists act illegally on their hatreds but that can and should be managed without reverting to suppression of free speech. 
  5. There is a trend to division. To those of us who enjoy history and Star Trek, this is worrying. Most European history, in particular, is of nasty little statelets bickering and fighting over what (with hindsight) seems to have been precious little. That had its benefits in driving the technological advances that placed Europe and its now-independent colonies in the "first world", but it made for an uncomfortable life for the citizenry. There was hope that the whole world might follow the pattern set in the pre-history of our own islands, with tiny nations merging into greater ones. At some level perhaps most of us imagined we were heading towards a Star Trek universe in which a United Earth would sit at the heart of an interplanetary Federation of nice guys. Scotland failing to gel with England & Wales, the Catalonians failing to get along with the other Spanish and the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union may suggest to pessimists that the Star Wars universe is a more accurate prediction.
  6. Technology is changing our world in unpredictable but mostly positive ways. At an IEA conference in London last year I heard a futurologist predict the imminent end of ageing and the cure of most killer diseases. He said that most of the younger people in the room could expect to live 800 years. And not 800 doddery miserable years but most of them youthful and healthy. The economic consequences of that prediction would take us into whole new realms of complication! As someone who enjoys being around children, I am rather happy I won't live to be on a planet where people have to put off having them until they are 700 or so! Nor do I fancy the idea of the teenage years going on for centuries! Less dramatically, such mundane tech as "driverless cars" will solve many everyday problems, such as traffic congestion and road accidents. Communications technology is simultaneously raising and lowering the level of civic discourse at present but many believe it is also enabling a more participatory democracy that may be a solution to the crisis of cynicism mentioned above.

However it is organised, I believe that democracy is a better way of selecting a government than any other, but it is no guarantee of success. Bad governments are often elected by free peoples because we are no wiser than the unfree. In some ways we may be more naive than them. I am willing to bet that if North Korea became free, it would take a couple of generations before any of its citizens were prepared to believe a more powerful state was the answer to their problems.

In my ideal world the ship of state would be so small that it would not make much difference who was at its helm. We would not be electing bosses, but trustees; people whose job is was to keep our few laws up to date to reflect changing circumstances and ensure that the modest taxes raised to fund the state were honestly and appropriately spent on such practical, boring things as public infrastructure, law enforcement and an independent judiciary. We are very far from that and even if things go reasonably well from this moment (which I have no particular reason to assume) most of us will be dead (except for young readers with 800 year life expectancies) by the time such a state could be achieved.

This may be why I fear the trend to division less than others. I would rather see lots of micro-states experimenting with different approaches. Terrible though it may be for the citizens concerned, we probably need many more Venezuelas before the scales finally fall from the eyes of such idiots as Owen Jones – a young man whose very existence made me weep even before I knew he might live 800 years. More positively we need some micro states to practise Austrian economics and strike envy into the hearts of the citizens of the failing states around them. Sentimentally attached as I am to Scotland and hard though it would be to abandon my good Scottish friends to the horrors of a cold, wet Venezuela, I would pay that price to set England on the path to true freedom.

Given that many of us hunger for the soft option of socialism to such an extent that we are blind to its oft-proved hard consequences, any progress towards my ideal is likely to be two steps forward and one back. Democracy is a weary business because so many contradictory things are so blindingly obvious (despite being demonstrably wrong) to so many. I fear that those in control of what is taught in our schools and colleges will continue to have a disproportionate and negative effect on our political future. For so long as those institutions are state funded and controlled teachers and lecturers are almost bound to be statists and leftists. Honest classical liberals would find it hard to face such a parasitical existence. I told a retired Permanent Secretary at dinner a couple of years ago that I didn't know how he could sleep at night knowing that every penny he had ever "earned" was taken by state violence from his fellow men. Even as I said it (and enjoyed his slapped-in-the-face-with-a-wet-fish reaction) I realised that there was the problem. If people with my views won't go into government service how can it ever be shaped by our views?

Life being as complex as it is, you can find evidence to support pretty much any point of view you want to advance. Especially if, like most people engaged in political debate, you systematically select the data that supports your case. So, select away gentles and let me know how wrong I am. Is the above a fair assessment of where the world stands today?


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Flaxen Saxon

Sorry about that Tom. Try this:

I tested the link, so it should be okay.


I am not sure about that James. There are those for and against the union with Scotland and good arguments on both sides. I would like Scotland to stay, but then I would like Ireland to return so what do I know? It seems crazy to me that people who teach their children the same nursery rhymes and laugh at the same jokes should be politically divided over historical issues that no living person is responsible for. It's up to them obviously. One only wants to work with volunteers.


I agree with you. Since being introduced to the idea I have given it much thought and discussed it with lots of friends. None of us particularly want to go, but we can't think of any way in which life would be better for lasting longer.

You may be interested in hearing Dr Steve Davis's speech, so I will put it up in a new post.

Incidentally, I clicked on your link with interested intent, but it appears to be broken. Can you post the correct one please?

Flaxen Saxon

An interesting post and most of what you have to say I would agree with. I'd like to comment on the '800 year human'. As a professional biologist (geneticist) I don't think we are close to 'immortality', just yet. I know some eminent scientists think it will come soon but, in my opinion, they are over optimistic. However, if the science and technology comes together to usher in 'The Brave New World', there are ramifications that have hardly been broached or addressed. Who will benefit? Clearly this is not something that will be available to all- just on economic grounds. And the ethical considerations are legion. I posted concerning this vexed topic sometime ago. You can read it here: To be honest, I am more than happy with my 3 score and ten. An eternity of a dreamless sleep. Perchance to dream.....


We don’t have anything like the systemic problems currently on horrendous display in the USA. No doubt there's an issue but nothing that couldn't be solved if we engaged with our immigrants, integrated those willing to be integrated and dealt firmly with the rest. I don't blame them. I blame our feeble minded civil servants in fear of being called bad names by SJWs. Very few “problems” are actually the fault of immigrants; they are caused by SJWs being “offended” on behalf of people far too sensible to be offended themselves. Those days are past I think - as per the identity politics paragraph. Don't forget Rotherham was finally addressed when a Muslim became the local head of the CPS.

Lord T

Does look fairly accurate except for one glaring omission. The followers of Allah. I see them having to be put back in their box and it won't be pretty.

James Higham

The division, of course, is deliberately fostered and funded.


That those are necessary extras for civilisation I would agree, but democracy is just a mechanism to appoint a government isn't it? It's not a goal in itself as witness the huge variety of implementations around the world. I could argue for example that the business concept of conflict of interest should be introduced to the mix to create a more just variant of democracy. All citizens should have one vote but should not be allowed to cast it in an election if they have a financial interest in the outcome. So a local government employee, a contractor providing services to a local authority or a recipient of local authority funded benefits or care should have no vote in a local election because they are in clear financial conflict with the council tax payers. And similarly for national elections. My old law firm derived a significant percentage of fees from advising national government. A condition of the tender for such work could have been that a "conflict" tag was applied to all the firm's partners for the next General Election. Many of the problems of democracy in a welfare state such as the UK arise from people voting for their selfish interests rather than the good of the community. Would electors vote to run the nation into debt if all the people expecting to benefit from the money raised were excluded from the vote? Would people be so keen on ludicrous non means tested benefits reaching two thirds of households in a rich nation if they carried the loss of their votes as a cost? The Electorate in some parts of the U.K. would be tiny under such rules. Would that be antidemocratic or just equitable? Beggars can't — and perhaps shouldn't — be choosers.


Thanks. If I could get it to a wider audience I would but please feel free to help by tweeting, reblogging, posting links to it on Facebook or in comments elsewhere or whatever else springs to mind.


I am relaxed about missing out on 700+ years of life. Most people are fairly boring already. With time pressure removed, I imagine more would become so. Imagine how many marriages some would have with so many chances to get it right and so few incentives to make a dodgy marriage work! The only outcome I would be interested to see would be if idiotic ideas like socialism would persist in any individual over 200 years old. Every example of its lethal, miserable failures would be within living memory to most if we currently enjoyed such life expectancy. Owen Jones would surely be laughed out of public life?


I have never been a smoker but smoking is certainly a good indication of how government has lost sight of its ethical boundaries. Humans ingest all kinds of stuff they might better avoid and once we have accepted (as I haven't but it seems a majority has) that government has a right to intervene for our own good, it's hard to see where that stops. Especially when rent seeking "public health" workers would lose their parasitical place if they ever acknowledged a boundary.


It is so complex.
Excuse me for using 'tobacco' as an example.
It appears that New Zealand has decided to cut its spending on general tobacco control and prioritised the Mauris who tend to smoke a lot more than others. As I understand it, the idea is put funding into persuading Mauris to stop smoking.
A professor Chapman from Australia thinks that this is a bad idea. He reckons that a general decrease of, say, 2% in smoking prevalence is better that a specific decrease of, say, 5% in the Mauri population. He may be right, numerically.
But my point is that he goes on to say:
"If you want to get smoking down across a whole population, there is no substitute for policies and campaigns that have mass reach potential, reaching nearly all smokers. Tobacco tax, mass reach motivational media campaigns, smoke-free policies, and packaging controls all tick that box. Intensive smoking cessation services don’t".
Thus, the said professor declares that persecution beats persuasion. That is undoubtedly true. Persecution will always beat persuasion in the short term - until people rebel against the persecution.
I think that more and more people have begun to see the EU as Persecution. I don't mean just smokers, vapers and such. I mean the deluge of regulations and associated costs. An acquaintance of mine has a medium sized haulage firm, and he bitterly complains about the avalanche of rules and regulations emitted by the EU.
Government must always beware of 'bureaucracy creep'. Bureaucracy has expanded out of proportion in the EU, and that must be recognised. That is true also of the UK itself. It isn't so much a problem created by today's politicians - it is the fault of previous occupants of State Ministries.


Very fair, very balanced.

barnacle bill

A very well opined post, with some very valid points and observations. One that is deserving of a wider audience.

For my two pence worth I believe we have seen politics (with a small p) cross over the boundary from Politics into everyday life. Now instead of trying to run the country for the good of us all, our politicians believe they know better at how we should live our lives and continually try to do so.

The ethos of public Service has instead been replaced by a sort of feudalism with our politicians thinking they are the Lords/Ladys of the Manor. One has only to look at some of the reactions from the Remain side to see how they view us nowadays.

It is finding get politicians back to being servants of the Public, instead of seeing politics as an easy path to riches and power, that is probably the biggest task facing us.


Elections are a necessary, but insufficient condition for democracy. The necessary extras include impartial institutions separate from Government. But the most important extra is tolerance: the notion that all those who voted for the losing side in an election accept the result and look forward to getting a 'better' result next time.

EVERYTHING in our society that lends legitimacy to intolerance is corrosive of democracy. For example, the hair splitting commentary about the Bradford taxi driver who drove to Glasgow to murder Mr Shah because he had 'insulted' the Koran. Shame on the journalists who tried to represent that as 'complicated' rather than a pure, weapons grade religious hate crime.


"if we believe all politicians to be bad, only bad people will run for office."

True but good people do run for office unfortunately office quickly turns them bad.

"imminent end of ageing"

Bit late for me at my age for which I am very much aggrieved.

An excellent article you have articulated everything I think and believe. I do try to put it into words but never succeed particularly well.

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