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Rightwing Politics (is) for Dummies

Right-wing arguments are typified by binary, uber-simplistic one-line platitudes. I've discussed the most annoying ones though this is by no means a complete list.

Private Sector is GOOD
Public Sector is BAD

This is because the private sector operates in a competitive marketplace and has to be better.

That's the theory. The reality is never so simple.

In my actual experience of many different workplaces I have not found the public sector to be any more or less efficient than the private sector. This is because public sector organisations are run by people and....so are private sector organisations. The quality of an organsation is largely determined by the calibre of the leadership rather than who owns it and what its motives are. In manufacturing in particular, the effort involved in using a new supplier often results in a mediocre supplier being retained to avoid the beaurocratic approval process of switching supplier. Endless sub-contracting in the private sector which is designed to take away risk from the principle supplier only serves to increase beaurocracy and make things more confusing for the customer.

I agree that competion improves performance but in many aspects of the economy it is not possible to have a competitive structure. In utility provision and public transport it is often only possible to have one supplier. The latter-day practice of putting contracts out to tender results in companies bragging to win contracts and then failing to fulfil their obligations within it becuase once they've won a contract they are free to do as they like. I know of an IT company that won a contract with a local authority; if you were a senior manager with responsiblity for issuing contracts then your computer would be fixed immediately, if you were an ordinary worker then you were placed at the back of the queue.

The Conservative party in Britain maintains that because rail passenger numbers have increased significantly since the mid-1990s, at about the time they were privatised, then it must be privatsation that has caused the big increase in passenger numbers. This is nonsense. Regular rail users will point out that the quality of the railways in Britain has only started to increase recently, was awful shortly after privatisation, and the price of travelling by train has gone up well above inflation since the days of British Rail.

A scientist would never assume that just because two things happened at the same time that one had caused the other, unless it can be demonstrated to occur with a repeatable consistency that is greater than chance.

I would venture to suggest that the reason more people are travelling by train in the UK is because the timing of rail privatisation coincided with a massive increase in the numbers of people going to university and therefore travelling around the country, plus the increased popularity of our cities as short break destinations. Few people would have visited Newcastle, for example, 30 years ago (unless using it as a base to visit other tourist attractions in the north east), but nowadays has a lot to offer the visitor. Plus, as society has become more affluent more money tends to be spent on leisure and tourism. An increase in business travel has also occured in this time.

In other words rail privatisation and the big increase in passenger numbers is nothing more than a coincidence.

I believe a well-regulated private sector is crucial to the affluence of society, but right-wingers take it to an extreme level. The private sector delivers when it is in a properly competitive market place, but this is not always the case.

"People spend money better than any government spends it for them"

This common refrain from the Right is another example of dim-whitted simplification. For the most part I'm sure it's true that people should be free to spend a majority of their earnings themselves, but for many public services the state spends money in a way that is necessary and fair, and often very efficiently. In heathcare, for example, the British NHS is the most efficient large healthcare provider in the world and it is a taxpayer funded service. In defence and the police the state is the only effective means of delivery so in some cases governments do spend money better than individuals.

"Parents bring up children better than governments"

What a stupid remark, but one that right-wingers often make. It most cases the state should leave families alone, but a lot of parents aren't actually very good at bringing up their children and some government invention and steering is absolutely right and necessary in some cases.

"Lower taxes incentivise wealth creation"

The Right claim that cutting taxes for the rich has resulted in more tax revenue coming from the rich. Firstly, as my piece Business & Wealth Creation discusses, the fact that economic growth was no higher since 1980 than in the 30 years before, it is incorrect to say that the rich have 'created' wealth; they have merely redistributed wealth in their favour from everyone else. But the cutting of taxes for the rich merely coincided with a shift in the pattern of wealth towards those in the top 1%. Cutting income tax didn't cause this, it is just a coincidence. To add to the stupidity the Conservative government has claimed that cutting income tax for the rich to 45% in the last year has resulted in more revenue coming in. More revenue has come in but it is not because tax was cut; the reason the rich are paying more tax than before is because 85% of recently economic growth has gone to the top 1% and they are 15% richer than the year before. Cutting tax to 45% hasn't caused the rich to pay more money, again, it is just a coincidence, and if they'd kept the rate at 50% they'd have collected even more money.

"Thatcher transformed the economy"

I have written a piece dismissing the supposed achievements of Thatcher but I have a few more points to make. Thatcher belived in the family and yet her social and economic ruination did an awful lot to destroy families. She believed in Law and Order and yet crime doubled. She believed in low taxes and small government yet taxes were higher as a percentage of GDP in 1989 than in 1979, only the rich paid a lot less and everyone else paid a lot more. She believed in creating a "nation of haves" and yet succeeded in creating many more 'have nots' than newly created 'haves'. And whilst I greatly admired her tenacity and style I can't help thinking that the average used-car salesmen has a tenacity and style as well.

"Socialism doesn't work therefore socialised medicine doesn't work"

I saw a documentary by an American right-winger who compared "socialised" medicine with socialist cars. The East German Trabant car was held up as a model of what happens in a socialist economy. But buying a car is totally different from buying healthcare. Firstly, you don't need to be an expert to decide if you like a car whereas you are forced to defer to an expert when buying healthcare. Secondly, whereas buying a car is an enjoyable experience nobody actually wants to get ill. Being ill is bad enough without having to worry about how you are going to afford treatment. I am grateful for living in a country with "socialised" medicine because I don't have to make any choices or worry about money when I'm ill.

Political extremes often gain popularity because they treat everything very simply and come out with slogans and platitudes that a largely disinterested electorate can latch onto. Nothing is ever as simple. Political parties that congregate around the centre ground often bicker over minutiae of policy in a manner that irritates the public. Unfortunately it results in many people from disadvantaged backgrounds supporting right-wing political parties that do not have their best interests at heart.