As a political Lefty, I have to think the unthinkable sometimes, just because my own biases might make me blind to the truth. So, what I’m asking myself, could the Tories be right in their main policies?
My moral compass struggles with this because obviously it is, in my opinion, morally repugnant to put the emphasis on the budget deficit reductions on the poor and the weak while ignoring whole segments of society that not only has the capital to easily fill the deficit gaps, but who also have reserves and incomes that far outweigh the deficits.
In my way of thinking, the cuts in housing benefits for the poor are immoral because the government at the same time introduced a state sponsorship for house buying for the better-off.
That means that if you’re poor, then the government will hound you for pennies and a few quid. If you’re rich, the same government will guarantee tens of thousands or more if you buy a house.
While £100 less per month for a single mother in a council estate is a disaster, economically, the same amount for a middle class couple earning £5000 a month is far less of a problem. It might not be a trivial problem, but it is far easier to downsize £100 for the middle class couple. For the single mother, that loss could mean the difference between struggling and homelessness.
With the emphasis on cutting for the poor, and ring-fencing the benefits for those who earn well, the moral nature of the problem seems clear to my lefty heart. It seems clear that the government could be far more effective in reducing the deficit by reducing the benefits going to the more well-off than to attack the poor and the sick. It seems to me that going after the better-off, it would also not have such a drastic impact on the general economy because the government could do much less.
To cut benefits and such to the poor, you have to cut to the bone. To cut benefits and such that mainly go to the middle-class and above, you’d only need to cut marginally because the state income would be far greater. There are many more middle class people than there are poor people. Getting say 20 bn from 5 million poor people is going to hurt far more than getting 20bn from say 40 million better-off people.
The Tories will use very moralist rhetoric against the poor, but will use far different language to describe the house buying benefits. To my lefty heart this will make my blood boil, and I will reach for the internets to vent my wounded sense of fairness.
However, there comes a time when I have to step back and ask myself – are my own biases making me blind? Is there a case to be made for these policies? Could the Tories ever be right? The problem is of course that economics is so shitty as a science that without a formal degree in it, you’re left with trying to navigate biases that you can or you can’t see.
It is easy with a person like Paul Krugman. He might be a Nobel laureate, but the problem with the field of economics is such that he can be a Nobel laureate at the same time that he is a political activist and a partisan pundit. The same is true for the darlings of the right, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. They seem to be political agents first, and scientists second.
A point of illustration is the latest debacle with Ed Balls of Labour who wants to raise the top tax rate from 45p to 50p for people earning over £150,000 per year. Only 1 per cent of the population earn that much, and it says a lot that Labour can not suggest that the tax should go up for everyone earning more than, say, £50.000 per year. It would fix the deficits far easier than going after the last pennies of the poor, and the government has said that we’re all in this together. Except the rhetoric since Mr. Balls’ suggestion has been that Britain will be an economic wasteland since everyone will pack up and go elsewhere.
We’re ill served by economics being so wed to politics. It means the truth can’t be had, and we’ll never know the exact answer to my question: can the Tories ever be right? And that makes me annoyed, and what makes me more annoyed is that media serves us ill by choosing the bias instead of the hard-work of real research.