Monday, May 16, 2011

Rally Against Debt - not really bringing the people with them...

I was intrigued by the reports of the 'Rally Against Debt', which took place at the weekend in London.

Intrigued because, in a society which is generally resistant to change, most demonstrations are aimed at stopping something from happening, rather than demanding that it does. And curiously, I find myself sympathising with their wish for the deficit to be cut faster, and for the level of debt to be decreased. After all, interest paid on debts that accrue on non-investment activities is wasted expenditure, and debt has to be settled eventually.

However, the organisers of, and participants in, the 'Rally Against Debt' don't appear to inhabit a world where the art of the possible meets the science of economic theory. And yes, you could legitimately argue that an adherence to the art of the possible has contributed to the economic mess the country now finds itself in. That said, successful reform brings along enough people with it to sustain it when times are tough.

The United Kingdom has become a country where people have grown used to, and comfortable with, a level of State provision that we apparently cannot afford. I say, apparently, because until you strip out the bureaucracy, over regulation and inefficiency that dogs this country, it is difficult to tell what the nation can afford. Individuals have become dependent on the State to sustain them and their lifestyle, in some cases regardless of merit.

But there are plenty of people out there who need the protection of the State, who are genuinely ill, genuinely disabled, genuinely victims of misfortune, who need and deserve the support of the wider community. And these people are genuinely fearful that the blunt instrument that is big cuts will hurt them, and hurt them badly.

Many of the rest of us retain a sense of compassion, a sense that, whilst cutting spending is necessary, we would like to protect those people, to retain those aspects of communal life that add value to our lives, like libraries, to play our part in building a better society. And I don't sense that those who participated in the Rally entirely 'get' that.

The reports so far, almost entirely from bloggers, given the relative lack of critical interest from the mainstream media, seem to feel that the rest of us are part of some terrible conspiracy to stall deficit reduction measures. And if by 'stall', they mean 'seek a strategy that isn't simply slash and burn', they would be right.

Because, ultimately, it is imperative that those who govern comprehend the effects of their decisions on those they govern, that spending policy is about more than a rush towards minimalism, and that taxes paid contribute towards building a safer, freer society.

Now I'm not saying that those attending the Rally disagree with me on this, it's simply that they give the impression of worshipping at an altar by indicating a willingness to sacrifice those less fortunate than they are. Worse still is the utter disdain shown for those who indicate less than total agreement with them.

It is very difficult to make lasting changes to society without building a base of support, or at least acquiescence, for those changes. Political parties that try to buck that rule tend to crash to defeat, their changes reversed by an incoming administration with a mandate to do so. Perhaps those so keen to cut the debt might bear that in mind before lecturing the rest of us...

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