Dinosaurs are dangerous. We don’t need a country run by them

Dinosaurs are dangerous. We don’t need a country run by them

by Eben Wilson
article from Wednesday 14, March, 2018

THAT THE DINOSAURS in the Labour Party who are devoted to socialism still hold to their creed may seem bizarre to many who read these columns.  But they do, and many of our younger generation are being duped by the appeal of apparent morality that is on offer.

Socialism is an enticement that for many is difficult to resist; offering stalwart claims to decency, support of the downtrodden and a clarion call for social justice.  Such rhetoric is seen as good; unfortunately what is often unseen is that the practice of aiming for those goals is self-immolating.

More than that, it is in that practice that true liberals can see the ghastliness of socialist practice as its unintended consequences develop.  The reality is that dinosaurs are dangerous.

As an example, let’s take that apparent shibboleth of the left; the proposal to renationalise the railways.  What a truly weird policy this is.  Let me explain why in simple terms.

I have a colleague who sells a service to Network Rail.  It’s a safety system for workers who service the rail bed; using smart technology involving an armband, wireless radio, and a cab mounted data system.  It’s needed because workers on the permanent way today rarely use shovels; almost every tool is powered, servicing sites are full of machinery; cranes, ballast dumpers, lifting gantries, vibrating drills, welding kit, gas torches, torque wrenches and, of course, moving trains.

Another colleague is involved with signalling technology. He despatches specialist electricians competent in systems that use 3.4 volts, 24 volts, 240 volts and 400 volts and who work along railway lines inside those grey steel boxes you see at almost every set of points near a station.

A quick count of these tools and technologies tells me that there are at least thirty-four sub-system contracting sectors involving hundreds of companies working on thousands of basic maintenance, repair and operations tasks on the rail bed.

Now let’s ask ourselves, what does Richard Leonard mean when he says he wants to “renationalise the railway”?  Is he proposing to bring all these contractors in-house to a new British Rail? Can you imagine the range of skills, equipment and tools that this new monolith would need to be competent in? That means competent in purchasing, maintaining and using.  Can you imagine the overhead involved in the centralised co-ordination and management of scheduling that usage?

Anyone who has worked with Network Rail will tell you that they have enormous difficulty scheduling any co-ordinated engineering progress in the face of train operation needs.  That’s why our train service tends to close down during national holidays and over weekends; doing anything across the network involves horrendously complex equipment, manpower and technical planning.  It is also why the train franchises have called for them to be allowed to run their own rail beds; they think that could be more efficient because they would focus on their own track needs in a more localised way.

Nationalising the railways offers an opposite pathway, agglomerating the planning into a massive management monolith. And we have lots of historical evidence that when this is done, especially where management has no financial incentive to perform, a devious make-do lassitude develops. 

Convertible Wartburgs come to mind.  In the early 1990’s, when Poland threw out its communists and Western advisers came to help out Solidarnosc, it was discovered that the Soviets had a factory in the countryside near Warsaw that built convertible Wartburgs. The Wartburg was the vehicle that the Communist Party favoured its mid-ranking bureaucrats with; smaller than a Zil, bigger than a Lada, equality was not one of the outcomes of communist socialism.  I say “built” but actually what the factory did was re-build ordinary Wartburgs by cutting off their roofs, welding bars into their sills and putting on a ragtop.  The wives of mid-ranking Soviets were apparently keen on them.

If you research the detail of the nationalised British Rail just prior to Beeching you will find many examples of this make do and mend. There was huge waste and very little remedial servicing going on; for example, many of the railway’s freight wagons were rotting in sidings. They had been forgotten; no-one actually knew they were there.  This is what nationalisation of industry always does; rationing by neglect.  If you get a chance, take a look inside one of your local NHS’s consumables supplies cupboards and check the supply dates.  Ask a nurse how well the stock of each consumable matches the pattern of their usage.  It won’t; what is called “squirrelling” is rife across the NHS and of course they have a, costly, central program to try to reduce it.

The strange thing about this is that, despite the Labour Party and its politicians being populated by ex-public sector clones, it has enough advisers who know a bit about industry that they must realise that the nationalisation of a modern technical industry is, frankly, bonkers.

So why do they keep it as a talisman policy?

The answer is power. The Labour Party represents the worker interest and aims to make it powerful.  You may think you are a worker and so the Party will serve your needs, but you are far more importantly a consumer; and consumers have many more needs than just the focussed special interest of their workplace.  

And that’s the rub; when socialists exercise power, it is prejudicial power.  They impose privileges on those workers who support them. One of the largest group of supporters are those in traditionally loss making heavy industries, such as old British Rail, who want our taxes to support their industrial interests, alongside the public services who spend our taxes.

At the core of socialism lies a shallowness; there is a deeply prejudicial intellectual stupidity in wanting to nationalise any complex technical industrial system. The railways are not a train set; they’re a service for consumers of efficient transport.  Anything else and they become the plaything of factional political power.  Dinosaurs who want to control you, not feed you.

It’s a no-brainer for the Labour Party to support the re-nationalisation of the railways, but this has nothing to do with making the railway more efficient.  It is to buy votes through power over people.  In this there is a deep immorality. 

The railway is an eighteenth century technology to carry coal, brick, slate and stone for construction; as a people-carrying system it is hopelessly heavy, slow and brittle.  Today, we are on the threshold of fully flexible, rapid, intelligent human transport systems that will help the infirm, vulnerable and elderly optimise their independence and potential in wonderfully liberating ways.

In this new world of digitised automated systems there comes with it a new moral imperative. The flexibility of dispersed control by individuals of autonomous systems can democratise their use, putting power into the hands of the many, not the few.  It is more market mechanisms and less central planning that release these new freedoms, Mr Leonard, because they empower everyone.

To support socialists who slyly tell us they will distribute wealth and income to needy people – when they know full well that they must first fill the pockets of highly paid and subsidised heavy industry workers and take control of our technology – is to take part in a devious charade; socialism is not only impossible, it is truly power-seeking bunkum.

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