The Problem With Owen Jones

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.6280777333_df166f486d_b-1

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 Thatcher-Council-H_2531736bprospect 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


  1. I can only comment on what I experienced being under a Thatcher Government. There were jobs aplenty, people were buying their own homes easily without fear of loosing their jobs and loosing their homes, the Country was prosperous and the economy booming. There was a future and hope for EVERYONE. If you were willing to work everything was there for the taking, holidays, leisure interests (we had a boat on Windermere), etc. Look at the comparison NOW. If you are willing to work and can find a job you will barely earn enough to survive because of the minimum wage, which was a brill idea for those in low paid jobs like washer uppers, cleaners, etc., but everyone is being paid it now if the company can get away with it. God help those who can’t find a job. What a contrast!!!!

  2. “Individuals suffered under Thatcherism, undoubtedly.”

    Individuals? Don’t you mean most of the Northern part of the country and Scotland?

    It’s all very well criticising Owen Jones but I think you’ve forgotten to take off your rose-tinted Thatcherite spectacles.

    “before Thatcherism we were all less prosperous together.” correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t wealth measured by how much money you have compared to others? I’d rather we were all less prosperous together, instead of what we have now – billionaires receiving tax breaks while the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed are thrown to the wolves.

    • No, I don’t think wealth isn’t ‘measured by how much money you have compared to others.’ Who is richer: the man who can only eat three days a week or he who eats bacon for breakfast, a Pret sandwich for lunch and a cooked meal for dinner?

      Do you mean it when you say you’d rather we were all equally less prosperous? If so, how much less prosperous ought we to be? Should we only eat three days a week? Or is £10K a year sufficient? £20K?

      Despising income inequality isn’t a great reason to kick the absolute level of wealth out of the equation altogether. If I can so suggest, it might even be preferable to tolerate inequality if it affords the poor and those on middle incomes a better standard of living.

      • * My first paragraph doesn’t actually do a great job of explaining why wealth isn’t necessarily relative, so let me reshape it.

        Imagine the richest man in the world. He currently has £1Z. Giving him an extra pound leaves him, still, the richest man in the world but he now has £1Z and £1. Although his relative ranking remains the same, he is absolutely (£1) richer.

      • You kinda just proved my point there though.

        The man who can only eat 3 days a week is substantially less wealthier than the man who can eat “bacon for breakfast, a Pret sandwich for lunch and a cooked meal for dinner.”

        What I meant was that income inequality is the problem, because it means that some people get hardly anything whereas others get too much.
        If some people were made less prosperous, their wealth could be used to make others more prosperous… I may have not made that clear in my first comment, apologies…

        I am not opposed to there being some level of inequality because some people in my eyes deserve more than others but it became far too extreme under Thatcher and led to ridiculously large gaps between the most wealthy and the least.

    • You’d rather the poor were poorer, as long as the rich were a little less rich.

      Consider who gives employment to the poor, and the effect on that employment, should companies be toppled in the name of “fairness”.

  3. @owenjones1917 has not blocked you. His account has been suspended, but will hopefully be back soon.

  4. Asked by me to respond to this provocative article, Owen replied

    Owen Jones ‏@OwenJones8422h

    @StRemeze Ha – not going to dignify this gibberish with a response I’m afraid.
    That was short and to the point, then!

  5. “She was on the right side of the arguments, and the electorate voted accordingly. It was the free market in action.” I hope the author isn’t equating democracy with individual liberty. Tyranny of the majority is still tyranny.

    • You can’t have democracy without some degree of individual liberty. I don’t believe in absolute libertarianism.

      • A little bit of violence/threats/coercion is OKAY ! Makes you sound like you think a little bit of rapeyness is OK?! How about being robbed (with just the one punch in the face) and the robber lets you keep more than 50pct of your money? I mean being absolutely against one person being violent against another is a bit fucking extreme isn’t it. Cock.

  6. In fairness, social inequality is greater now than ever. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing. I think there are Govt. stats somewhere to back this. It came up in my MEd course last week. Perhaps this is what he meant by less equal? Never heard of the chap though so he could have meant something else entirely!

    • The gap between rich and poor only moves perceptibly at one side. The rich side. The poor are always in much the same situation, and always will be, or they wouldn’t be ‘the poor’. The only thing that helps poor people is the opportunity for individuals to better themselves. I believe that these opportunities are removed by the policies that people like Owen Jones pursue. Whereas for example, the right-to-buy scheme made homeowners of social housing tenants.

      • That may have been the idea, but it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way in practice. Right-to-buy, like many of Maggie’s policies, redistributed resources from the poor to the rich. 80s felt like a boom because the rich were getting so much richer – but they weren’t generating wealth, so much as gaining it from the state whether through benefitting from right-to-buy or from the privatisation of state assets.

        • Some social housing tenants were given the opportunity to buy a house, which many of them would never have achieved otherwise. So regardless of what happened afterwards it did work that way in practice. Some of (perhaps most of) them sold their houses for a profit, and that profit filtered into the rest of the economy in one way or another. The fact that one man bought forty of those houses doesn’t take that away.

          Having worked briefly for a local authority I find the abuse of public finances quite sickening. I agree with privatisation in principal. If only the process was more transparent and less open to corruption and cronyism.

  7. Owen Jones is a satiric Hugh Laurie comedy bit from the 1980’s, gone “kayfabe.” (Google it.) If he did not exist, he would need to have been invented.

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