ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES – 99
GOVERNMENT’S WAYWARD SPENDING – IT’S OUR MONEY!
Expenditure by “Big-government” is not readily susceptible to economic calculation. Therefore it’s impossible to know whether citizens would support central or local spending proposals – and they are never consulted anyway. The result is often a massive waste of public resources.
Those reaching these spending decisions are individual people – treasury mandarins, committee members, councillors, civil servants, whoever. They have one thing in common: it’s not their money that they are spending. Consequently decisions to spend billions of pounds of other people’s money will follow an agenda that is alien to the thoughts, feelings, desires and preferences of individual citizens. Officials with no personal “skin in the game” will instead pursue a vote-catching agenda that is nevertheless promoted as a public benefit.
Over the past 12 months the government’s Covid-based fear-stoking,, always backed by claims to be “following the science”, have succeeded in softening-up an electorate that now languishes in an induced credibility-coma. It has swallowed the ridiculous “save-the-NHS” mantra and ceased questioning the edicts that flow from medically-supported “guidance”. It’s as if the medics have taken over the minds of ministers and no one is noticing the scale of consequential economic damage. A policy that shoves the economy into deep freeze and then throws bucket-loads of phoney money at it, is surely psychotic.
Contrasts between measures taken in different countries would make an interesting study. The UK response, though causing huge economic damage, was at least understandable in terms of its motivation: doing everything possible in the face of an unknown viral plague for which no one was prepared. However, in its haste to help businesses and employees forced out of work, official schemes, including furlough, were often misdirected. Astonishingly, more than three thousand businesses have voluntarily repaid their furlough money to HMRC, having found that they didn’t need it. (Imagine an auditor being told by a client that their “internal controls” include reliance on directors’ guilty consciences!)
But that is mild compared with the insanity that has taken over the Biden administration. The US Treasury has unleashed immeasurable showers of printed money. Even Americans who have spent most of their lives living and working abroad have been sent cheques for $600, and now $1,400, per person, regardless of need.
Contrast with the last financial crisis
Note the difference between official responses to this crisis and the financial meltdown of a dozen years ago. Individual businesses bailed out over the past Covid-year were not unviable zombie outfits; they were solvent and many were thriving. Consequently there was both logic and compassion in the decision to throw them a lifeline. Not so in 2008-2009. At that time the Treasury lashed out to save banks that had succumbed to the lure of overvalued mortgage-backed securities which they subdivided, rewrapped and re-sold in a money-making whirligig that left them beached and bust when the music stopped. Those idiots should have gone to the wall as a warning to all financial markets, and bailing them out was a crime against tax-paying citizens.
democracy in name only
The critical democratic deficit
Since Britain does not have a written constitution we cannot identify constitutional breaches by references to specific rights in chapter-and-verse fashion. But we don’t need a written constitution to identify blatant democratic transgressions. Wrecking businesses across the nation is all very well, provided the public has expressed its approval. Without that, democracy would exist in name only and would instead be a mechanism for mass coercion. If we have been reduced to mere tools for enacting the dictates of official policy, we stand on the slippery slope towards incipient totalitarianism.
America has safeguards. Its government is accountable to the extent that a breach of the constitution is more easily identifiable. As Professor Barron pointed out in his last essay, any measure that restricts citizens’ right to peaceful assembly is a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Or, forcing viable businesses to shut by decree, effectively depriving their owners of the use of their property without due process of law, is a violation of the Fifth Amendment. As such these actions are treasonable and the government, if sued by a class of citizens, would find itself subject to a ruling by Supreme Court judges.
Responsibility for balancing the budget
Britain has the Common Law, under which any measure that restricts our civil liberties is a transgression unless supported by popular mandate. Frivolous budgetary waste is arguably unconstitutional, but only a truly representative private sector body could protect us from Whitehall’s habit of squandering taxpayers’ money on populist bagatelles. Unless privately funded, we shall be spared the garden bridges and other state-sponsored glamour-projects. There would be no more uncosted fantasies, whether new runways, rail links, power stations, public sector building works, looking-for-ET-aliens-in-outer-space, or investing in flawed and untested software.
unscrutinised spending targets
Such a body, representative of taxpayers’ interests, would vet government spending plans: fewer indiscriminate bailouts for airlines or favoured industries that cannot stand on their own financial footing. No more gesture politics or unscrutinised foreign aid based on “targets”. No more money for anti-smoking classes in Cambodia, Colombia and Myanmar. Indeed, MPs are now seeking a review into why the UK sent £71m in aid to China in a single year, in accordance with a policy of “shared objectives” such as combating illegal wildlife trade, promotion of green energy, and (wait for it!) supporting human rights. By the way, China’s economy is five times the size of ours.
What would I do?
In a nutshell, the government’s spending protocol must be stood on its head, effectively reversing the order of play: abolish the present administration’s flawed top-down approach to budgeting (“we’ve got all this money – now what should we spend it on?”) and instal bottom-up financial budgeting: “If this was my money, would I spend it on this?” followed by rigorous testing and potentially punitive consequences for irresponsible authorities. If in doubt, MPs should ask their constituents! Officials might actually glimpse the meaning of “public servant”.
concept of value-for-money
As for our national religion, otherwise known as NHS, the concept of “value-for-money” would be instilled at all levels – not just for a score of million-pound Nightingale hospitals devoid of patients, or £10-billion “test-and-trace” technology that fails to identify more than a handful of cases – but also for the countrywide Covid testing centres, manned all day by qualified medical staff who have nothing to do because the pharmacy next door is handing out a six-pack of personal testing-kits to every customer – free!
Instead of training staff on “Diversity, Equality and Inclusion”, employers and budget-holders will be required to run courses on “joined -up-writing”!
Grass-roots level also
Local Councils’ spending programmes would come under harsh scrutiny based on exacting criteria. Instead of paying councillors to dream up new ways of screwing up our lives, citizens would be consulted. Indeed, comprehensive consultation protocols would be hard-wired into local government legislation, and it would be enforced before the Council proceeds, for example, to gridlock every main road with traffic that has been banished from its normal route by barricades, shrieking signage, mast-top cameras and £100 fines, while fouling the atmosphere with exhaust fumes of idling vehicles that can’t go anywhere – even fire-engines, ambulances and delivery vans. Heaven help the elderly who cannot now rely on emergency access. It would be forbidden to shrink the width of roads and pavements by installing scarcely-used cycle lanes that leave no room for kerbside parking space, effectively converting roads into one-way routes.
These shitty little Hitlers wouldn’t behave like this if they had to do it with their own money. Time to switch off the tap?
EMILE WOOLF – ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES 99 [28 APRIL 2021]