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Occupy versus the Tea Party

By Guest
October 28th, 2011 at 10:45 am | 4 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

In the last few weeks the ‘Occupy’ protests have developed from one protest in New York to a global movement, with similar protests appearing globally. The protesters in New York and elsewhere seem to be broadly in favour of less corporate influence over government and oppose the special treatment government shows financial services. Across the world these occupy protesters have adopted an anti market rhetoric which emphasises the disparity of income and the lack of regulation which caused the current financial crisis as primary motivations.

Ironically the occupy protests have a lot in common with another recent American protest movement: the Tea Party. Both the Occupy protesters and Tea Party activists argue for an end to corporate welfare, and for a more transparent and honest political environment. Given that both groups have important similarities it is worth examining why the Occupy movement has spread globally, while the Tea Party movement remains to be copied.

Political narrative and economic rhetoric are both at the heart of why a movement like the Tea Party has not emerged outside of the United States, and why it is unlikely one ever will.

In the United States there is a history of movements like the Tea Party emerging; what has developed in the last few years in America is not unique. The American political culture is conducive to those who believe in individual liberties and free markets, and Americans have a narrative which has at its focus a return to classical liberal roots, which most other countries cannot boast. Tea Party activists are able to play on the reverence almost all Americans have, regardless of their political affiliation, to the Founding Fathers and the spirit of the American Revolution. As the Tea Party developed it became more political and broadened its remit from taxation and economic policy to values and virtues. It was not long before guns and god, two of the three big Gs of American politics, began to feature heavily in Tea Party rallies and events. It is this distinct American flavour which has confined the Tea Party to the United States.

In both America and the rest of the world big government activists have had rhetoric on their side. To make the case for redistribution and increased regulation is easier than making the classical liberal case. Words like ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ have more emotive pull than ‘freedom’ and ‘individualism’. It is easier to convince people of the need to tax the rich more in order to save public services than to make the case for reductions in public spending and lowering taxes. While the cause of the financial crisis is an incredibly complicated matter, arguing that the crisis being a direct result of too little regulation and government oversight is simple and convincing.

The best hope for the classical liberal movement has to be in shifting the economic rhetoric, through discussion and education. When I was at the Occupy protest last week in London I was struck by how many of the protesters believed that advocating the divorce of government and the private sector was incompatible with the free market position. A worrying number of the protesters believed that a support of free markets entailed a support of huge corporations and businesses and the favours they receive from government. It is unrealistic to hope that a movement like the Tea Party will emerge in the UK. In fact a Tea Party movement in the UK would almost certainly be damaging to classical liberals, as such a movement would inevitably become seen as a conservative pressure group. However, through direct dialogue and education classical liberals can show the Occupy protesters and those who support them how a free market system and limited government will not only deliver a safer and more responsible financial service sector, but will do far more to alleviate poverty, promote peace, improve standards of living, and increase social mobility than any government program or mass redistribution of wealth.

Matthew Feeney is a member of the Liberal Democrats and a former staff member at Liberal Democrat Headquarters.

Some tea, a party atmosphere... But this is no Tea Party.

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Poor: Good news! Your days are numbered.

By Tom Papworth
October 27th, 2011 at 11:00 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I’ve been thinking about this picture, posted on Liberal Vision last Wednesday, of a young protester at St. Paul’s.

Never mind, for a moment, the fact that he looks a bit like the kind of person that was being easily recruited into certain Youth movements in the 1920s and 30s following a previous period of economic upheaval. What disturbs me is the sad sentiment that he has written on his board.

It’s not the “beware” bit, threatening though that is, but the idea that it is the rich whose days are numbered. I can’t imagine what is going through his head, but it is clearly very different from what I believe. For my fervent hope is that it is the poor whose days are numbered.

Eliminating poverty is a far more noble calling than eliminating wealth. Eliminating wealth is destructive; eliminating poverty creative. Eliminating wealth brings people down; eliminating poverty requires people ascending. And, as that “beware” makes clear, eliminating wealth is aggressive, whereas eliminating poverty is cooperative.

Sadly, many people today continue to be enslaved to the idea that wealth is a zero-sum game; that there is a “lump of wealth” that can only be shared out, but cannot be grown. Thus, they devote their lives to the struggle to redistribute that which is, rather than to create more wealth so that everybody can benefit from that which will be. It is, I suspect, for this reason that more young people seem to want to work for NGOs than to set up their own business.

Fortunately, in all likelihood, it is the poor, rather than the rich, whose days are numbered. Those who benefit from the perpetuation of the idea of poverty would like us to believe that “The poor shall always be with us” but the truth is that real poverty (as each generation perceives it) is rapidly eroded by the passage of time and human progress. The poor of the future will enjoy greater living standards than the moderately well off of today, while across the developing world hundreds of millions more will be lifted out of poverty.

This will be achieved by entrepreneurs inventing new products and new processes, getting rich by serving their fellow humans and making the lives of their customers that bit easier. It will not be achieved by grim young men holding aloft placards of hate. But at least those young men will have jobs, courtesy of the entrepreneurs they so despise.

The Hubris of David Cameron exposed at PMQs

By Tom Papworth
October 26th, 2011 at 11:00 am | No Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

One of the best things about Prime Minister’s questions is that not everything can be scripted.

Of course, the whole of Wednesday morning is devoted to preparing answers. But in the exchange with the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister has to respond somewhat spontaneously. And in those moments one gets a true insight into the Prime Minister’s thinking.

Gordon Brown famously revealed his superhero alter-ego during one PMQs, exposing his self-image as a great statesman, striding the world clearing up financial turmoil from New York to Frankfurt to Tokyo. His risible arrogance led to a predictable bout of yah-booing from Members opposite.

Last week,  PMQs revealed something far more disturbing from David Cameron, but members opposite failed to notice, for to them it was a perfectly normal thing for a Prime Minister to say.

“I take responsibility for everything that happens in the UK economy”

Everything? Really? The UK economy is an incalculable number of individual transactions and decisions, taken by millions of people, each of whom has a unique set of value-preferences and a unique set of knowledge. The UK economy is the free will of 60 million people. Does the Prime Minister really believe that he is responsible for all that?

Admittedly, this conceit is all to common among politicians. It lay at the heart of Project CyberSyn, Salvador Allende’s computer-driven economy, where “companies will have to conform to the Government’s planning.” It lay at the heart of the Maoist and Stalinist five-year plans that led to the starvation of millions. It is the conceit that built the Common Agricultural Policy and destroyed the British car industry.

Today at PMQs I would like somebody to stand up and ask the Prime Minister “Last week the Prime Minister told the House that he took responsibility for everything that happens in the UK economy. Does my Right Honourable Friend really take responsibility for a child’s purchase of a lollipop, or the choice of the local off licence owner to discount Stella rather than Becks? And is it not, in fact, a cause of today’s economic malaise that governments have, for as long as any of us can remember, sought to replace the free will of the people with the plans and regulations of politicians? Is it not time that politicians got out of people’s way and allowed them to get on with what they do best, which is create wealth for themselves and one another?”

Sadly, I doubt that anybody in the Commons will have even noticed the Prime Minister’s moment of hubris. Instead of a question like that, both David Cameron and I will have to put up with more drivel from Ed Milliband.

In a society of saints

By Tom Papworth
October 25th, 2011 at 11:05 am | No Comments | Posted in Economics

Over at the Adam Smith Institute, Dr. Eamonn Butler has a review of Tom Palmer’s new book, The Morality of Capitalism. Summarising one chapter, Dr. Butler explains that

The Chinese economist Mao Yushi [presents] an interesting paradox. If we were all completely benevolent – looking out for the interests of other people rather than ourselves – we would have just as much conflict as capitalism is said to give us. We would be fighting shopkeepers to charge us more and reduce their quality. The arguments would be just as red in tooth and claw, but the incentives would all be to reduce value rather than to create and increase it, as capitalism does.

Perhaps. But managing conflicting priorities is not the only reason that we need a capitalist system; nor does the existence of a conflict in a community motivated by other-interest suffice to justify capitalism. A deeper understanding of the role of markets is required.

To read the rest of this article, and to comment, visit the Adam Smith Institute website.

"Lord! Tell us how to allocate resources amongst the various second and third order productive processes in a rational manner, for only you have the ability to synthesise dispersed knowledge without the signals provided by market-prices!"

Ordinary folks just don’t care about Europe

By Angela Harbutt
October 24th, 2011 at 6:13 pm | 10 Comments | Posted in EU Politics

Given the bile spewed out almost daily by certain national newspapers over recent years, telling us why the European Union is at the heart of every problem facing Britain today, it is perhaps surprising that most people in the UK do not give a stuff about Europe. Indeed, people actually care more about drug abuse, morality or the environment than they do about Europe!

I say this with confidence. The monthly Ipsos MORI issues tracker ,which is probably one of the best trackers of the state of the nation’s collective mind, shows that only about 3% of the population think that Europe is an important issue whereas some 60% think that our economic situation is important, 30% think that unemployment is an important issue, and 20% think immigration is important.

I have always liked this survey. Ask people if Europe is important they will say yes. Ask people if they want a referendum they will say yes (who says no to a referendum I wonder? ). Read the papers and you would think it was the subject of every single chat at the office water cooler every day. Hmm right. But ask them to spontaneously indicate which things they think are important and now we are getting to what people are really thinking about – not what some push poll or newspaper wants us to believe.

And yet here I am watching the ludicrous parliamentary debate on the EU referendum. An hour or two ago they were honestly arguing about the difficulties of deciding whether any referendum should be under a FTP voting system or a preferential voting system. OH the irony!

Had David Cameron left this as a back bench debate he could have focused today on the good news coming out Libya, his scrap with Sarkozy, his trip to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting etc. His ill-judged attempt to whip the Conservative MPs has backfired monumentally. MPs we have never heard of are threatening  to resign from  jobs we have never heard of over the issue. This story is not about Europe it is ” a test of Cameron’s authority”, or  “a test of whether the Conservative party trust their leader on Europe”…..

And there can only be one outcome from this…. On a matter that only a tiny minority of us ordinary folk think important, the nation will come out of this concluding that  David Cameron is leading a divided Conservative party. That’s not good news for him or his party.  Where has David Cameron’s political antennae gone?  It left with Andy Coulson. Further evidence that someone more in touch with the mood of the nation, the way stories gather momentum, twist and turn, is needed at NO10.

Nick Clegg has not come out of this without criticism (read Simon McGrath’s excellent article on “Why won’t Nick Clegg trust the people..”). We stand for democracy, claim to be in favour of parliamentary reform and at the first sniff of democracy in action (the EU referendum brigade’s so-called e-petition) whips his party into voting against it. Better, I suppose, than whipping the party to abstain.

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