Our liberal culture is smarter than failed planners such as Blair

Our liberal culture is smarter than failed planners such as Blair

by Eben Wilson
article from Friday 6, April, 2018

A FRIEND OF MINE who knew Tony Blair when he was a young barrister described him to me as “a chameleon, a snowball and a prat”.   I disagree; I think Blair has a worldview that forces him to become a chameleon, a snowball and a prat.  I think Blair is honest and sincere about his own views; on BBC Radio Four’s Today he was the usual persuasive emotionally intelligent communicator; once again lauding the EU as good and essential for the UK’s future. 

The problem is that he ignores the evidence; an increasingly centrally planned entity, with twenty plus percent unemployment among EU youth, slowing relative growth, a dodgy currency without fiscal policy grounding, and huge internal stresses on shared immigration rules. 

The economist, F A Hayek tells us that when central planners see their plans fail, they never back away, but rather re-plan the plan. This is Blair’s world that makes him a chameleon.  Similarly his skills at communication, if what he says is dissected, become water spume that dissolves away; his ideas can only be seen as snowballs.  Paradoxically, Theresa May suffers from the same issue, except her communication style is like a lardy cake topped with glitter and candles; looks odd, swallows like gloop.

Blair is incorrigible in his blinkered blindness. He has said the EU’s problems are a reason for staying in and helping to create a “reformed EU” as if that is possible.  Again, liberal economists would call this rational constructivism; a future that is always a planned one, a constructed society where good people do good things to create good results. This is what sets him up as a prat just waiting for a fall.  Such planning is failing and always will fail.

The world view of managerial planning imbues the metropolitan elite, including the Scottish Government – and of course the BBC, who thrive off the glasshouse commentariat.  This elite plans and manages the control and communications panels of the EU; and they have been found out.

The same Today programme had a discussion with some automotive industry workers in the North East of England. What was interesting, despite leading questions trying to extract a sense of fear and doubt about Brexit, was that their general view was “let’s just get on with it, we can work the problems out when we are free”.  Here was the voice of what I call true liberalism; the natural instinct of the majority of the electorate that self-governance is important, that life throws spinballs, but localised effort using local knowledge and the time to be creative and think things through can conquer problems without politicised planning.   

They’re right. As I explained earlier on ThinkScotland, this is what Jaguar and Waymo have inherited, the creative dynamism of capitalism driven by localised engineering knowledge and consumer preference, in Jaguar’s case stretching back decades, combining with the “new stuff”, driven by the localised knowledge of IT nerds, which Waymo is harnessing to disrupt old methods of travel with new democratised methods.  They have found their way to where they are now without planning.

These good people are using good ideas to create outcomes that we will choose to pay for – or not.  As consumers we will decide if these ideas are good; while the designers will do their utmost to find out if a Jaguar SUV works for us as a taxi, or whether a cheaper self-drive plastic pod is what you want.  And if you are worried about job losses, don’t be; there are now 875,000 people in the UK alone who are over 75. We can keep them more active and mobile as they age using self-drive vehicles, but there is an entire industry going to emerge in self-drive transportation assistants to help them with their journey.  Today, we call these people taxi drivers, but tomorrow they are going to need to be more skilled and they will be more highly paid. Hopefully they will offer a higher quality form of transport than a cruddy old Nissan smelling of cigarette smoke. 

Decry my views as optimistic and you miss the point. True liberalism, as with those automotive workers, is strong in its optimism. It’s the central planners who are pessimistic; they doubt the creative potential of others and so want to control us all. 

This is what makes the Brexit debate so infuriating for true liberals.  The planners want a clear plan; but there is no plan and can be no plan; what there is instead is hope and freedom to be affluent on our own terms through liberalism.  All economic evidence tells us this is available to us if we are allowed to be free to choose.  We need to hail this ride, well done Jaguar, well done Waymo, we are lucky to have you, and there will be others who follow them.

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