As the general election draws ever closer there have been hyperbolic exchanges between the political parties. Although the actual policy differences between most of them are fairly trivial there is a clear rhetorical split between the conservatives on the right and pretty much every other political party on the left.
This semantic divide is most apparent when the economy is being discussed.
Mrs May is often accused of callousness while she has chastised her opponents for being reckless
As a libertarian my allegiance on this matter should theoretically land with the Conservatives. If we can limit the parameters of the state then it should shrink. However, the end game of austerity is not to diminish the state. It is rein in finances and debts to a point where the state can begin spending large amounts of money again. There is a world of difference between those two goals.
So the question I find myself asking is this; is there really any point of austerity?
Until quite recently my response would have been quite predictable. “Well, surely a government that is committed to reducing spending is much better than an obnoxious state spending programme”.
Yet when I watch the coverage of the election and talk to my friends it is quite clear that in the years since the austerity began people’s ideology has not changed. People still expect the government to provide the same quantity and quality of services it provided before the financial crash.
In fact I think it is fair to say that there is a palpable sense of anger at the Conservative party for not putting more money into public services. Indeed the Tories have never actually said that they will need to scale back the size of the state. They have used meaningless euphemisms like ‘when times are tough we need to be sensible’. Although less money is going being invested under the guise of austerity the politicians have not actually tried to reduce the commitments of the state.
This is for obvious reasons a recipe for disaster. If people have been promised something and it is not delivered- or is brought to them in a lacklustre and barely functioning condition they are going to be angry.
A government on a shoestring does not work, unfortunately. If we want to limit state involvement in our everyday lives we should be honest and say so. But this is not what austerity is.
For a modern society to function adequately it needs capital. Whether that investment comes from the government or from the private sector is up to the individual. However we can all agree that keeping services under national control and starving them of funds is not going to work.
An important reason that Jeremy Corbyn has gained so much traction this election is that there is a great deal of anger about the state of Britain’s public services. If the result of austerity is an angry backlash that introduces more spending. We can conclude that it is a counterproductive policy.
So what do we do with this information?
Evidently our efforts would be better spent promoting a genuine Libertarian movement rather than throwing our support behind the Conservative party.
But let me be clear, I am not advocating more government spending in order to appease the public. As Libertarians we should be promoting a positive message of how private initiative can improve and modernise our society rather than siding with the forces of austerity.