The darling of the Progressive Left is wrong, about everything
To make a convincing argument succinctly is extremely difficult. This was demonstrated on Twitter recently when a spat broke out between professional rentagob Owen Jones and “left-wing writer” Sunny Hundal. As I understand it, Owen thinks that pensioner’s benefits should not be means tested, as this would stigmatise those that claim them. Sunny thinks that some of them should be means tested. Frankly I wasn’t convinced by either of them.
Owen Jones interests me because he is a skilled orator, and this gives him the potential to be an influential figure. Unfortunately for him his talent for rhetoric is undermined by a terminal lack of substance. His arguments succumb so easily to the application of logic and reason. Given the slightest scrutiny they are revealed to be nothing more than the ramblings of a man who is infatuated with the sound of his own voice.
The independent recently published a piece by him in which he attempts to blame the countries economic and social woes on Thatcherism. I’d like to take a look at this article in a bit more detail, because it is a particularly nauseating example of his work. It is a self serving and puerile piece of writing.
In it he claims that Thatcherism was a national catastrophe. This is a ridiculous simplification of an ideology that encompassed virtues ranging from nationalism to free market economics. It is as ridiculous to deride it as a catastrophe as it would be to claim that it was wonderful for everyone. Individuals suffered under Thatcherism, undoubtedly. But the nation as a whole flourished. Economic growth figures from the period back this up. It is this tendency to project the plight of the individual to that of the nation that is characteristic of a weak argument.
Thatcherism left workers at the mercy of their bosses, he says. Before Thatcherism the people were left at the mercy of the unions. Everyone suffered as a result of their strikes. The unions were democratised under Thatcherism, and membership became optional. This process of democratisation neutered the destructive elements of the unions, and when the workers were given a say in their own future they chose to work.
He claims that the current rate of long term unemployment is a result of the loss of industrial jobs under Thatcherism. There may be a small amount of truth in this. The fact remains however that there was no viable alternative to the reforms that were made by the government in the early eighties. It would have taken massive state subsidies to keep those workers in employment, the social consequences of which would have been more corrosive and more divisive than anything caused by Thatcherism. Despite the ‘devastating’ effects of Thatcherism, national production has actually increased since Margaret Thatcher was in power. Whether Owen Jones likes it or not, increased production creates profit, and profit creates prosperity.
The fact is that there are large numbers of people stuck on benefits. The blanket provided by the welfare state makes unskilled full time work pay less than out of work benefits, once the cost of rent and living has been taken into account. There is no way out of this other than a reduction in benefits. It is not savoury perhaps, but neither is welfare dependency. The argument against doing this is that there are not enough jobs for the unemployed, but this is a separate argument. The creation of jobs and the welfare trap are linked but not directly.
His assertion that right-to-buy is responsible for the housing shortage is utterly fatuous It is quite an attractive prospect to have the state subsides ones rent bill, but it is not a long term solution to the housing problem. No government could continue to build houses at the rate the people require them. Social housing was an experiment which showed initial promise but which has now failed. It is not just the scarcity of housing that creates social tension, but the allocation. The problem, as he correctly states, is that housing benefit is being used to line the pockets of landlords Housing benefit doesn’t reflect market rates, it dictates them Without the benefit the free market would be allowed to operate by the laws of natural selection. Rents would lower to reflect austere times. They are being artificially held aloft, which is contributing to the stagnation of our economy. As a result of soaring rents people who have never had any experience of the welfare state have less money to spend every month, and this is contributing to economic stagnation.
The welfare state is not working in its current form. Where it should act as a safety net, it acts as a keep net. It is not the complex issue that it is made out to be. Minor adjustments would redress the imbalance and make it pay to work. Currently this phrase is just a media friendly mantra that no politician has any intention of acting upon. No politician within a sniff of power has the requisite courage.
To dismantle another of Owen Jones’ assertions seems cruel, given how feeble they are. This next one is quite remarkable, even by his standards. He says that our current economic problems are a result of Thatcherism. Allow that to sink in for a moment, and see if you can connect these two events without the use of smoke or mirrors. It’s impossible. It completely ignores the ridiculous rate of borrowing pursued by the government since 1992. It completely ignores the fact that the financial crisis has its roots in another country. This attempt to rewrite history is an insult to the intelligence of his readers. I can only assume that his articles appeal to people who want someone to tell them what to think. With the ease of access to information increasing by the day, this is not a growth market.
Owen Jones states that we are a less equal nation than we were before Thatcherism. What this means in reality is that before Thatcherism we were all less prosperous together. This is another way of saying that if I can’t have something then nobody can. There is a reason that Margaret Thatcher was humiliatingly victorious. She was on the right side of the arguments, and the electorate voted accordingly. It was the free market in action.
Daniel pushes paper at a London based centre-right think tank. Between meddling in the dark arts and raising his young family he occasionally tweets at @danieljksn
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