I have been very interested to observe the debates going on in Britain in the aftermath of the UK Government’s ‘Pre-Budget Report‘ that was issued earlier this week. When considered together with other measures and steps the government took previously, from the nationalisation of Northern Rock onwards, it has led some commentators to ask whether, in Britain, ‘Old Labour’ has returned and buried ‘New Labour’. And from that they conclude that old-fashioned ideology may be back, with a seriously redistributive party (Labour) battling it out with a free market one (Conservatives).
It’s hard to be sure about all this right now. After all, some of the ‘Old Labour’ measures were following the earlier lead of US President George W. Bush, not perhaps a socialist by anyone’s definition; and yet Bush spent more public money (and not just on Iraq) than any President in US history. And in any case, current times are just so – well, strange – that it is difficult to say that any pattern of behaviour we observe is really part of a pattern that can be reduced to ideology. I’ve been listening to senior UK government officials suggest they have (or think they have) a strategy for the financial and economic crisis, and it seems some are happy for this to be given an ideological slant by the media – but in reality there isn’t much ideology there, just a sense of desperation that something needs to be done to get things moving again, and this just happened to be the ‘something’ that came to mind.
In fact, I rather doubt that the ‘slash-taxes-now-and-much-more-taxation-later’ approach will achieve anything very significant. Taking a few pence off retail items (while knowing that this is for a limited time only) will not, I imagine, create a consumer boom, though it will have a strong (i.e. negative) effect on the exchequer. I just can’t see that working. Neither can I see much sense in UK opposition politicians screaming at their government to force the banks to lend more money, now that the taxpayer has given it to them. As I understood it, lending money where there were doubts about the ability of the debtor to re-pay is how we got where we are in the first place.
But leaving all that aside, I can’t see anything in this hotchpotch of policy-making and policy-opposing that has any real ideological profile. Which is a pity, in some ways, because I wouldn’t mind seeing someone step forward with proposals for resolving our current problems based on a frame of reference that is likely to produce calm consistency in decision-making. But for those who think that, after all this time, what is happening is the old cry for public ownership of the means of exchange, I would say don’t celebrate yet. Whatever may be happening, I seriously doubt anyone doing it had an open copy of Das Kapital in front of them.