Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Britain's coffers are empty, yet still the compassion industry squeals for more money
Cut spending and taxes now, Tory MP Liam Fox demanded yesterday. A week ahead of the Budget, he delivered an almost undisguised assault on the Coalition's economic policies - and his speech will be music to many Conservative ears.
We are almost three years into the life of a Government which took office promising to reduce the mountain of debt bequeathed to the nation by Gordon Brown and Ed Balls.
Yet today, while the BBC runs an unrelenting propaganda campaign on behalf of the Left, proclaiming the iniquity of 'Tory cuts', there has been no effective progress in reducing that debt.
State spending takes nearly half of national output. The national debt burden is still rising and scheduled to reach an awesome 96 per cent of GDP by 2016. The social security budget will rise from £182 billion this year to £199.3 billion in 2016-17. What is happening to Britain - and to our money?
The Chancellor, George Osborne, has arguably done his best. In his first years of office, he set targets for reducing state expenditure that seemed at the time brave and ambitious. He also increased many taxes to boost Treasury revenues, with hopes of cutting them again towards the end of this parliament.
Yet, in the event, thanks to the stagnation of the economy, the tax take has fallen well short of predictions. Meanwhile, cuts have proved extraordinarily hard to deliver.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, only 67 per cent of promised reductions have materialised, including just 32 per cent of pledged savings in the £208 billion bill for welfare.
The Treasury has struggled against the intractable problem that £138 billion of the Government's total £677 billion spend is committed to public sector pensions, almost all of them index-linked. The cost of servicing these continues to soar.
Since the welfare state was founded in 1945, a vast fortress of public entitlements has been created, defended by a garrison of lobbyists and crusaders which we might call the compassion industry. This fights tigerishly against every attempt to turn off the tap of taxpayers' generosity, even to the least deserving recipients.
There is currently a new applicant every nine minutes for Disability Living Allowance, which is due to be phased out; 71 per cent of those who come forward are provided benefits for life without checks.
The Archbishop of Canterbury weighed in at the weekend with remarks wet enough to earn him a place on a fishmonger's slab about the wickedness of proposed real-terms benefit cuts.
The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, earlier this month warned of possible civil unrest if the legal aid budget is cut as proposed. Scarcely a day goes by without some prominent educationalist denouncing the Government's parsimony towards schools and universities.
Yesterday morning, I read an online blog about the NHS by a contributor who complained: 'I am a nurse and I find it increasingly frustrating that there seems to be a focus on a cost-effective service rather than the patient being the focus of the service.'
My point is that we are institutionally wired to assume unlimited public funds are available to fulfil obsessively extravagant requirements for human rights, environmental protection and much else.
Coroners constantly demand drastic new public safety measures to protect against outlandish forms of accident.
We need the imagination and courage to defy kneejerk sentiment about health care, and admit that the resources do not exist to give any hospital or NHS trust the money it wants to do everything modern medical science makes possible for every patient.
This is a harsh but vital message. Yet the Government gets almost zero support from health professionals, pundits and the media in conveying it to the public.
I recently heard a senior doctor say smugly: 'It is not my job to ration medical care. My job is to give patients the very best treatment available, and leave it to the politicians and bureaucrats to worry about the money.'
He thought this emphasised his own high ethical standards. Some of us would say that, instead, he exposed a wretched lack of responsibility about helping to solve a huge problem in our cash-strapped society.
We cannot reasonably expect the recipients of welfare to refuse their opportunities to claim cash on offer. But it seems somewhere between regrettable and scandalous that so many people holding responsible jobs collude with them.
For instance, consider those young unmarried mothers who make no attempt to find jobs because they live perfectly comfortably on benefits.
There are doctors who knowingly sign false sickness claims, and local councillors and officials who fight tooth and nail to cling to every penny of their budgets.
And at the same time there are always BBC correspondents who peddle repeated half-truths and sometimes outright falsehoods about government cuts.
The Nazi musicians who changed their tune
Events in central Europe during the Thirties and Forties cast a long shadow, and hiding in it for a long time has been the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra – which has finally come clean about its over-friendly relationship with the Third Reich and revealed that almost half its players at the time were Nazi Party members; that 13 Jewish players were expelled, five of them to die in concentration camps; and that a lingering culture of sympathy to Nazism survived into the Sixties thanks to an SS-enrolled trumpeter who not only kept his job after the war but became the orchestra’s executive director.
This is shameful and disturbing – and it’s generating fever-pitch debate, especially among those commentators who still tend to judge the merits of mid-20th-century musicians by their war record. There have been calls for the Vienna Philharmonic to be disbanded and its recordings shunned on the grounds that they’re “contaminated” by lingering evil. As the argument has opened out, I’ve seen lists of “Nazi villains” of the music world – Furtwängler, Schwarzkopf, Karajan and Strauss, the usual suspects – resurrected for comparison with lists of Nazi victims: Korngold, Weill, Hans Krasa, Erwin Schulhoff and the countless others dispossessed or silenced. And it isn’t hard to understand the indignation. These are wounds that still hurt. We inherit them. We feel them with a sense of shock.
Behind the shock, though, lies the curious assumption that all great musicians should be great examples of humanity, and that you can’t be one without the other. Where in history you find the slightest evidence of this, I’ve no idea. The fact is that bad people often generate good music, and good people bad. Wagner was a monster but still gave us Tristan, Meistersinger and the Ring. Reciprocally, although it’s tempting to award a random genius to composer-victims of the Third Reich, they are mostly minor figures. Interesting, worth investigation, celebration and acknowledgement, but not great.
In any case, lining up villains versus victims isn’t subtle. Still less is it accurate. Was Richard Strauss a villain? Yes, to the extent that he allowed his international prestige to dignify the Third Reich by accepting Goebbels’s gifts of honours, status and performances. But every gift came with a loaded gun behind it. Strauss was old, and felt himself entitled to sit back and be adored rather than trouble-make and face the consequences. And one thing never to be forgotten before you condemn Strauss is that he had a Jewish daughter-in-law and two Jewish grandsons. His compliance kept them all alive.
As for Furtwängler and the others who performed under the swastika, there was an undoubted mixture of foolishness, delusion, opportunism and cowardice. You can say of all these people that they should have had more courage, more integrity, and been prepared to sacrifice careers, futures and maybe lives. But that’s a big ask. What would you or I have done? I like to think I’d have been brave, but I can only thank God that I’ve never had to find out.
Intellectuals and Race
There are so many fallacies about race that it would be hard to say which is the most ridiculous. However, one fallacy behind many other fallacies is the notion that there is something unusual about different races being unequally represented in various institutions, careers or at different income or achievement levels.
A hundred years ago, the fact that people from different racial backgrounds had very different rates of success in education, in the economy and in other endeavors, was taken as proof that some races were genetically superior to others.
Some races were considered to be so genetically inferior that eugenics was proposed to reduce their reproduction, and Francis Galton urged "the gradual extinction of an inferior race."
It was not a bunch of fringe cranks who said things like this. Many held Ph.D.s from the leading universities, taught at the leading universities and were internationally renowned.
Presidents of Stanford University and of MIT were among the many academic advocates of theories of racial inferiority -- applied mostly to people from Eastern and Southern Europe, since it was just blithely assumed in passing that blacks were inferior.
This was not a left-right issue. The leading crusaders for theories of genetic superiority and inferiority were iconic figures on the left, on both sides of the Atlantic.
John Maynard Keynes helped create the Cambridge Eugenics Society. Fabian socialist intellectuals H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw were among many other leftist supporters of eugenics.
It was much the same story on this side of the Atlantic. President Woodrow Wilson, like many other Progressives, was solidly behind notions of racial superiority and inferiority. He showed the movie "Birth of a Nation," glorifying the Ku Klux Klan, at the White House, and invited various dignitaries to view it with him.
Such views dominated the first two decades of the 20th century. Now fast forward to the last few decades of the 20th century. The political left of this era was now on the opposite end of the spectrum on racial issues. Yet they too regarded differences in outcomes among racial and ethnic groups as something unusual, calling for some single, sweeping explanation.
Now, instead of genes being the overriding reason for differences in outcomes, racism became the one-size-fits-all explanation. But the dogmatism was the same. Those who dared to disagree, or even to question the prevailing dogma in either era were dismissed -- as "sentimentalists" in the Progressive era and as "racists" in the multicultural era.
Both the Progressives at the beginning of the 20th century and the liberals at the end started from the same false premise -- namely, that there is something unusual about different racial and ethnic groups having different achievements.
Yet some racial or ethnic minorities have owned or directed more than half of whole industries in many nations. These have included the Chinese in Malaysia, Lebanese in West Africa, Greeks in the Ottoman Empire, Britons in Argentina, Indians in Fiji, Jews in Poland, and Spaniards in Chile -- among many others.
Not only different racial and ethnic groups, but whole nations and civilizations, have had very different achievements for centuries. China in the 15th century was more advanced than any country in Europe. Eventually Europeans overtook the Chinese -- and there is no evidence of changes in the genes of either of them.
Among the many reasons for different levels of achievement is something as simple as age. The median age in Germany and Japan is over 40, while the median age in Afghanistan and Yemen is under 20. Even if the people in all four of these countries had the same mental potential, the same history, the same culture -- and the countries themselves had the same geographic features -- the fact that people in some countries have 20 years more experience than people in other countries would still be enough to make equal economic and other outcomes virtually impossible.
Add the fact that different races evolved in different geographic settings, presenting very different opportunities and constraints on their development, and the same conclusion follows.
Yet the idea that differences in outcomes are odd, if not sinister, has been repeated mindlessly from street corner demagogues to the august chambers of the Supreme Court.
The horror of abortion
Our governor here in Arkansas now has vetoed not one but two anti-abortion bills that made it past the state legislature this session. One bill sought to protect the unborn starting at the 20th week of pregnancy. The other would go into effect after 12 weeks' gestation if a fetal heartbeat could be detected. Both are now law, passed over the governor's objections.
The Hon. Mike Beebe is ordinarily the most reasonable and agreeable of men -- even if he is a lawyer by trade and a politician by career. And his vetoes made some good points. For the governor has aligned himself with those who have come up with powerful arguments -- legal, economic, and just about every other variety -- against attempting to put limits on abortion.
I say almost every other variety. For the governor overlooked one small point that may explain why our legislators have overridden his now repeated vetoes by overwhelming margins: the inalienable dignity of human life.
That minor detail may be lost in all the learned arguments of constitutional experts and others committed to the most modern, advanced Darwinian concept of humanity as but the latest and highest-evolved of life forms. But to those of us who believe -- yes, preposterous as it may be -- that we are created in His image, that one small point is all-important. And we choose life.
The governor explains that he vetoed these pro-life bills because he has taken a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, a document replete with provisions to protect a wide array of rights great and small, from freedom of religion to due process. Yet he asks us to believe that the Constitution cannot protect the first and most fundamental of human rights, the one that precedes all the others, and without which all the others are meaningless: the right to life. And there are many others learned in the law who agree with him, if for their own purposes.
But this issue is far from closed. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has moved closer and closer over the years to protecting the unborn in a series of decisions recognizing the states' -- and the people's -- interest in protecting the next generation, each time softening the harsh decree that was Roe v. Wade in 1973. Maybe it's because the composition of the court has changed since the 1970s, or maybe it's because even justices of the Supreme Court of the United States have a conscience that can be awakened, however gradually.
My theory is that the court has begun to shift its position because all the steadily accumulating scientific evidence -- sonograms and neonatal research and fetal heartbeats and the like -- confirms what the biology textbooks long have said:
From the moment of conception, a human being is a human being -- not a cat or dog or horse or just a blob nobody will miss. The secret of our development is already locked within the genetic code of a microscopic, single and singular cell. Maybe, just maybe, we are indeed wonderfully and fearfully made.
"Thy life's a miracle," to quote from "King Lear." "Speak yet again." As the Supreme Court continues to do on this subject. Could it be that an Elizabethan playwright knew more about life than our oh-so-advanced sophisticates do today? And just as art can be science in the making, poetry may yet presage law. Thy life's a miracle, governor. Speak yet again.
But abortion is the law, we are incessantly reminded. Yes, and racial segregation was once legal, too, And it was law of the land longer than abortion-on-demand has been, but that does not mean men of conscience ceased to struggle against it, or that all the states made themselves a party to it.
Why should Arkansas -- or any other state -- make itself an accomplice to this sordid war on the unborn? If we cannot stop it, at least let us not join it. Instead, let us do what we can to limit it -- ethically and morally, legally and constitutionally. And if we lose one court battle, that does not mean the war has been lost.
The basest of all reasons not to defend the most innocent and vulnerable, the least among us in this Age of Abortion, is that we cannot afford the court battles. It will cost too much, we are told, to save them. So much for the old idea that life is priceless. Indeed, miraculous.
Our governor's current defense of his vetoes comes disturbingly close to asserting that the Constitution is whatever a majority of the Supreme Court says it is at a given time, as if the court could never see things in a different light. Allow me to pose a simple question about American history that may illuminate the difference between the Constitution and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it: Tell us, governor, who do you think was truer to the letter and spirit -- and vision -- of that Constitution?
Was it the venerable Roger B. Taney, the chief justice who wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision that declared human slavery the law of the land, the whole land, in accordance with his narrow view of the Constitution? That landmark decision saw nothing ironic about the spectacle of the Image of God on the auction block in this land of the free, full of souls praying that God save the United States of America. So tell me, governor, was Chief Justice Taney true to the Constitution in Dred Scott v. Sandford?
Or was it a prairie lawyer named Lincoln who never accepted the precedent or permanence of the Dred Scot decision? Mr. Lincoln read the Constitution as the embodiment of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. As in: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Emphasis definitely mine. As one day I hope it will be the governor's, too. Thy life's a miracle, governor. Speak yet again.
To this day there are still those who, like Mr. Lincoln, dream of a land of life and liberty. And there are those killers of the dream like Roger Brooke Taney, whose cramped view of the Constitution is based on neither science nor art. And offers neither hope nor vision nor poetry nor grace. Nor, in the end, life.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.