Jousting with your Inner Thatcher: Part 2 – ‘You shouldn’t need the government to do it for you’

In the style of Adam Curtis: “This is a series of posts about how our politicians became so successful at promoting a US-style form of individualism that we all – even those who claim to hate her – came to have a little Margaret Thatcher hiding inside of us, guiding our every move.”

That goes for the anarchists too in my experience. In fact I spoke to a couple who were quite confused when Cameron unveiled The Big Society. It sounded to them like a step towards anarchism. Many on both left and right these days tend to agree that the government shouldn’t do too much for us. Ultimately, say these people, it would be great if we did without the government altogether.

Now, if what you’re saying to me is that our government is run by greedy, selfish scum and we shouldn’t trust them to organise anything bigger than a tea-and-scones picnic for us then I’m bound to agree with you. It doesn’t strike me as an idea that could be argued with – except by people who directly benefit from the current state of affairs of course, which isn’t as many as it should be.

And that’s the big problem that the left at least should understand (the right are precisely the right because they refuse to be concerned about it): resources are distributed very unequally in our society. And no, they don’t go to people based on merit, and if they did, whose idea of merit would it be? And what of those born without merit? Are they condemned to a life of poverty? The question of the mechanics  of inequality is not as obvious as people think, and involves moving away from the comedic idea that people people earn what they deserve.

Where people are right is that we can always get more involved in creating our own lives. We live a life that is consumerist in a deeper way than us being able to buy lots of silly shit in the shops. Everything is done for us, often by professionals. Education is done for us. The local gym is run by other people. Charity is done by professionals. Pubs are run for us. Food is made elsewhere. Festivals are created for us. It lulls us into a strange state of active passivity such that even when we decide we want to break away from mainstream society, we assume, as we  run around doing lots of stuff, that someone else will sort out the cool shit we want to be involved in.

We should organise more stuff ourselves. We should make our lives our own. It’s all true. But over it all hangs one important cloud: a form of economic organising – companies and corporations in a government-created market environment – that concentrates wealth in people and places where we can’t get at it. Until we find another way of organising our economy, there is only one body with the power and ability to redistribute that wealth in a more reasonable way: the body that creates the legal structure of companies in the first place.

We can argue all day about how the government should be organised and who gets the power of decision-making, and how to distribute resources without concentrating too much power in their hands, but the idea of reducing the government while corporations run free is the Thatcherite utopia. People in power deliberately obscure the question of resources in the name of an individualism they expect us all agree with. We shouldn’t let them. We shouldn’t let our inner Thatcher whisper ‘Yes’ as we hear them talk about taking responsibility for our lives. They mean something different by it than we do.

So yeah, it turns out that, even if some of those Tories believe their own rhetoric, The Big Society is a cover for a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary people to those who already have it. It isn’t a Big Society at all, it’s a Big Shit On Our Heads. Work for free because we (the rich) don’t want to pay for it. If you don’t have the services you want, you’re to blame. A lot of people have noticed this by now and I’m not saying anything new. But if you want to know the kind of thing I mean by ‘government-created market environment’, have you noticed that according to the politicians (as well as their backers, of course) what rich people need to incentivise them is higher salaries, while what poor people need to incentivise them is…lower salaries? They build their tax and welfare policies accordingly.

We don’t need the government to organise everything, but until our economic structures change, we do need our central governing body – whatever form it takes – to distribute wealth a little more evenly, and to take steps to lower the huge wealth gap that they’ve been busy creating. That is what this current government will never do, and so their vision of ‘small government’ is not in favour of freedom, as they claim, but in favour of corporate power, i.e. in favour of themselves and their friends. As for your inner Thatcher, I recommend a sharp blow of a mace to the skull. Do it quick, before she starts whispering to you again.

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5 Responses to Jousting with your Inner Thatcher: Part 2 – ‘You shouldn’t need the government to do it for you’

  1. woof says:

    “the anarchists” and who be this homogeneous rabble?

    Now, if what you’re saying to me is that our government is run by greedy, selfish scum and we shouldn’t trust them to organise anything bigger than a tea-and-scones picnic for us then I’m bound to agree with you.

    I think that misses a key point that would reduce the need for a moral judgement against those in government. Namely that anyone(or thing) in that possition of relative power almost unfailingly end up, through their (incidental?) actions in that possition, as manifesting a situation that is ameniable to framing as greed, etc…Basically I don’t think it really deals with /why/, and ends up normatively implying that perhaps if only they weren’t x y z (ie a moral judgement), then things just might be ok (from the asserter’s point of view).

    “Food is made elsewhere.” you certainly don’t complain when I cook for you :p but slightly more seriously:
    “We should organise more stuff ourselves.”
    What about the analysis about /why/ less stuff is organised by ‘ourselves’? It was touched upon in a previous posts comment thread…I don’t think it’s an accident or just the way things are…

    Apparantly there is no such thing as society, so why do you keep banging on about it?

    • agent z says:

      The insult directed at politicians was pretty flippant. I suppose some people could interpret it as a moral judgement on their personalities, but since I was very inclusive with it I hope people would get that it is a systemic problem.

      I thought the paragraph before the ‘we should organise more stuff ourselves’ was dedicated to talking about reasons people don’t organise. It didn’t cover everything because you rarely can in a blog post – were you thinking of other points specifically?

  2. Tim says:

    I think I am starting to get a handle on what “big society” means. And I do not think it is about working for free or individualism at all. Quite the opposite. I think its a manifesto for the class system.

    I think that the core principal it is based on is that “a legislative parliament is fundamentally limited in the kinds of social change it can achieve”.

    Whilst this is true, and maybe even obvious, the limitations of legislative power could be seen as a deliberate and useful limit on the ambitions of those who have come to the most power.

    There are many other forces for social change though. For example, HSBC has assets approximately equivalent to UK annual GDP.

    So, if legislation cannot do everything that Cameron etc want to do, then they must use those (and new) other mechanisms to do it. This is the “big society”.

    In practice what it means is deregulation of existing non-governmental power structures (corporations, think-tanks, lobby groups, industry organisations, charities), and the establishment of new non-legislative power structures, that will use resources control and “reciprocation” to establish forms of social control that government could not by itself achieve.

    The idea of reciprocation is strongly attached to the “big society” idea. Those with the most existing power and wealth are the most able to “reciprocate” so will have the largest influence.

    There is also a very strong element of a modern kind of Social Darwinism masquerading as scientific enlightenment. Essentially, as I read it, the line is that the natural order of things is for the best people to succeed (natural selection). Therefore the most successful people must be the best. Therefore the kinds of institutions that the best people create are best placed to perform this “nudge” kind of social control.

    To put it very bluntly, the rich should be allowed/encouraged to structurally design all social institutions so that the poor are forced to behave better.

    You try having influence on the shape of service provision by a large charity if all you can “reciprocate” is a £100 donation, when a banker can “reciprocate” £1 million.

    • agent z says:

      Interesting way of looking at it Tim. I think that might be the effect of some of the changes being introduced, but I wonder if you give them too much credit when you suggest that is the intention. I suspect the Big Society is a bullshit PR term that is so vacuous they can use it to channel many of their self-serving beliefs, some of which you mention – but I feel like its more haphazard than you suggest – there probably isn’t such a grand plan.

      • Tim says:

        I think there is a grand plan, and I think “David Willetts” has written about it extensively and explicitly (in several books, articles, etc, not all of which I have read).

        It doesn’t take much for the handful of most powerful cabinet minsters to form a grand plan. They talk to each other almost every day.

        I won’t argue that their plan is not very self-serving though!

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