by Jamie Whyte, Corvo Books Ltd., 2005, 0954325559
It's a shame that Jamie Whyte's books are so brief. They keep me
rolling on the floor almost continuously. Then again, I would
probably develop an even worse set of lungs if I spent more time
rolling around dirty carpets gasping for air.
Whyte tears apart Blair's (and policitian's in general) prose and
logic with amazing clarity and wit. The quotes below are long, but
contain some gems, e.g. "But as far as I know the seven deadly sins
are not ranked: sloth is no worse than greed."; "None distinguishes Mr
Howard from Mr Blair or from Gordon Brown or, indeed, from anyone who
can operate a toaster."; and "There is something mesmerising about
obvious falsehoods declared with conviction."
[p14] Beginners in specifying political goals ought to study this list
well. It is a beautiful example. First, there are ten goals. Ten is
really the only suitable number of goals. Not only is it a round
number, it is likely to bring to mind the Ten Commandments with all
its divine authority. Seven, though also biblical, might conjure up
the deadly sins and so should be avoided. Twelve is OK, what with the
twelve disciples and all that, but the number has been tainted by the
Alcoholics Anonymous twelve step recovery programme. You don't want to
cast Britain as a recovering alcoholic.
[p16] In January 2004, shortly after becoming leader of the
Conservative Party, Michael Howard published a personal creed of
sixteen principles. Sixteen is a strange number of principles; for
reasons already considered, it should have been ten. And in the case
of Mr Howard's principles ten would also have had the virtue of
reducing their number. For they are pathetic. None distinguishes Mr
Howard from Mr Blair or from Gordon Brown or, indeed, from anyone who
can operate a toaster.
[p24] Any system that depends on the superior morality of its
participants is poorly designed. A well-run army does not require
heroic soldiers, and a well-structured polity does not require honest
politicians. Political deceit should be so readily discovered and
punished that even the most conniving politician becomes utterly
[p28] Even given the great progress of British sentimentality, American
political campaigning still strikes most of us as gauche. But that
doesn't mean British politicians do not indulge in the same
shenanigans. They simply employ a style better suited to British
sensibilities. Irrelevant associations needn't be boldly declared in
red, white and blue; they can be subtly suggested just as well.
[p61] But if people really did want to spend more of their income on
education, they were free to do so. They could hire private tutors for
their children or donate money to local schools to improve facilities
or hire extra teachers. The only justification for increasing tax to
spend on something is that the [p62] money would not otherwise be
spent on it. Mr Salmond wanted to increase income tax and spending on
education precisely because he doubted people would spend the money if
not compelled to. A policy of compulsion may be right, but it cannot
be right because people want to do what they will now be compelled to
It isn't only some on the Left who claim that people should be
compelled to do what they prefer to do. John Hayes, Conservative MP
for South Holland and Deeping, recently wrote an article in The
Spectator lamenting a new liberalism infecting the Conservative
Party. He claimed that the party should adopt a policy of actively
promoting certain virtues, such as 'duty, restraint and loyalty'. Why?
Because these are the values of the vast majority of British
citizens. Yet if they are, why would the government need to promote
them? Why waste money encouraging the values that people already have?
Mr Hayes favours policies that promote his values. You would expect
him to justify this idea on the ground that his values are right but
sadly uncommon. Alas, that would look undemocratic. Who is he to
impose his values on a population that does not share them? So instead
he claims that his values should be imposed on people precisely
because they share them. It may be crazy but at least it's democratic.
[p64] It is an absurd argument insofar as it is intended to win your
vote. If something really is inevitable, then it should make no
difference to how you cast your vote; it will happen whoever comes to
power. But the absurdity of an argument never stopped a politician
[p65] There is something mesmerising about obvious falsehoods declared
[p69] Creationists believe the biblical story of the Earth's origin. They
believe, among other things, that the world was created around 4000BC
by a word. The word was God and the word was with God. (God was
apparently beside himself at the time of creation, which is
This theory has at least two problems. It is inconsistent with what
modern scientists believe about the age of the Earth, which they
estimate to be not 6000 but 4.5 billion years old. And there is no
evidence for the theory, beyond the opinions of the authors of
relevant bits of the Bible, who we cannot regard as reliable sources:
they fail to explain either their evidence or their research methods.
Creationists are acutely aware of the first problem. They devote much
energy to challenging contemporary theories about the age of the Earth
and its natural history: evolution, dinosaurs and all that
nonsense. But they fail to notice the second problem. They argue as
though refuting the contemporary scientific view would suffice to
establish the truth of [p70] Creationism. They argue as if modern
science and Creationism were the only options.
They are not. There are also the creation stories of the world's other
pre-enlightenment cultures. Establishing the truth of Creationism by a
process of elimination would require the refutation of these stories
too. And not just these stories but all those possible creation
stories that have not been made up but could have been - that the
earth is a giant pomegranate that fell off the back of a cosmic fruit
truck or was created three weeks ago by the number 12 or whatever you
When there are infinitely many possible answers, you cannot gain
victory for your hypothesis by eliminating the alternatives: there
will always be another you have not yet defeated. And you certainly
cannot win by eliminating just one of them. Creationists who think
that they can prove their position by attacking the popular scientific
view commit the false dichotomy fallacy. They argue as though there
were only two possibilities when in fact there are many.
What's good for the priest is good for the politician.
[p81] The standard argument against fox hunting is that it is cruel to
foxes. Or, as the Blairite Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, recently
put it: the government supports 'the right of the majority to live in
a humane, modern society, which does not treat the killing of animals
as "sport"'.31 But the sports of fishing and shooting involve the
killing of animals. Surely they too should be illegal. What is the
relevant difference between the cruel sport of hunting foxes with
hounds and the cruel sports of shooting and fishing? Why should the
former be outlawed and the latter protected at all political cost?
In his article Mr Blair hinted at an answer. He pointed out that
hunting with hounds is a 'minority interest'. He could not have been
suggesting a whole new principal of jurisprudence, that all minority
interests should be illegal. That would rule out stamp collecting and
running for political office, among other harmless activities. Rather,
he must have been suggesting a qualification to the cruelty
principle. He thinks that cruel minority sports should be illegal;
popular forms of cruelty are just fine.
[p84] Since his intellectual conversion, Mr Blair has claimed that
free markets, competition and the profit motive are the best way to
ensure an efficient allocation of resources. Why then does he not try
to privatise the NHS and state schools? The answer cannot be that
these services are too important to 'be left to the free market'. What
could be more important than the production and distribution of food?
Yet the Labour Party never suggests nationalising farms and
supermarkets. Perhaps Mr Blair has some complex set of principles that
explains why schools should be nationalised but not supermarkets. But
if he does, he doesn't tell us what it is. In the meantime, he appears
to have an incoherent set of policies.
Many think it is childishly pedantic to demand consistency from
politicians. It shows a failure to understand the messy reality of
politics. Politicians need to be masters of 'the art of the possible',
not intellectual purists. Those of us who worry about consistency
should grow up.
But consistency is not a matter of purely academic concern. If
statements are inconsistent, then at least one of them is false. A
politician who advocates policies that violate principles he uses to
defend other policies isn't just intellectually corrupt; he has some
wrong policies - at least, he does if his principles are true. If
smoking and drinking should be allowed because they cause little harm
to anyone but the smokers and drinkers, then snorting cocaine should
be allowed too. The law preventing it is wrong. Improperly denying
citizens their liberties is a serious mistake. It is not something
that only pedants should worry about.
[p86] No one likes changing his mind, for a simple reason: if your new
opinion is true then your old opinion must have been false. To change
your mind is to admit error.
People really shouldn't worry about it so much. There need be nothing
shameful in changing your opinion. Intelligent, well-informed people
get things wrong. And, when they disCOver they have, revising their
opinions is the only sensible thing to do. Changing your mind
occasionally should be taken as a virtue. It shows that you are still
thinking about things. If you have held exactly the same opinions for
the past ten years, then you know when your brain shut down.
Why then are politicians so reluctant to admit that they have changed
their position on an issue? The obvious answer is that doing so
creates a kerfuffle in the media. The politician will immediately be
accused of making a U-turn. It is a strange accusation. Making a
U-turn is, of Course, prohibited on some busy streets, but usually it
is a sensible thing to do when you discover you are travelling in the
[p94] What, after all, is anti-social justice? But if social justice
is simply justice, then who could ever have thought it inconsistent
with economic efficiency? The economic efficiency of developed nations
is founded upon the rule of law and enforceable contracts provided by
their judicial systems. This has been well understood for
centuries. To suggest that, prior to the advent of New Labour,
conventional wisdom had considered justice and economic efficiency to
be at odds is outrageously stupid.
Of course, by 'social justice' Mr Blair might not mean justice. He
might mean what many on the Left mean by it: namely, redistribution of
wealth. But if this is what he means then social justice and economic
efficiency really are at odds, even now that we have New Labour.
Taxation creates what economists call deadweight losses. These are
losses that are not offset by any corresponding gain. Deadweight loss
is economic inefficiency. The greater the deadweight loss, the greater
the inefficiency. Taxes create this economic inefficiency because they
discourage people from engaging in the taxed activity, such as earning
income or purchasing goods. Head or 'poll' taxes are an exception
because they cannot be avoided by changing your economic
behaviour. Only killing yourself will suffice, and that defeats the
purpose of avoiding tax, which is normally better to enjoy your money,
not just to thwart the government.
Mr Blair has not found a way of redistributing wealth that does not
require taxation. Nor has he discovered a way to avoid the deadweight
losses of taxation. So he has not found a way of avoiding the
trade-off between economic efficiency and the redistribution of
[p97] Remove prices, however, and the optimal supply cannot be
determined. When everything costs consumers the same - in this case,
nothing - consumers will always choose the best available. If Chateau
Petrus and Jacob's Creek were both free, everyone would want lots of
the former and none of the latter. Petrus would have to be rationed,
and Jacob's Creek forced on disgruntled drinkers.
Where consumers pay nothing, state rationing is unavoidable. As
consumers, people want rations increased; as taxpayers, they want them
decreased. The state ration imposes a [p98] trade-off between these
conflicting desires. Where there are prices, however, consumers ration
themselves. The advantage of prices over tax-funded free consumption
is that individuals know their preferred trade-offs better than the
state can. That is why consumers are typically more satisfied with
goods and services they receive via the private sector than those they
receive from the state.
Perhaps Mr Blair has an answer for this apparent problem, a
breakthrough idea that eliminates the need for prices in efficiently
allocating resources. If he has, he should share it with us, if only
because it would be worth a Nobel prize in economics. Until he does,
however, it can only seem that Mr Blair is attempting the impossible.
Many will be impressed to hear that Mr Blair is attempting to do the
impossible. Because nothing is really impossible. 'Impossible' is just
a word for people who aren't willing to put in 110% effort.
[p99] In 1997 Mr Blair promised that:
Together you and I will begin to build the new society, a society in
which each of us has the chance to grow, to achieve, to contribute, to
create dignity for ourselves, and not for ourselves alone, but for
others also; a society in which each of us has a stake, a share and we
will give back to our children what they deserve - a heritage of hope.
New societies do not arrive just like that, of course. It takes more
than a few months to establish a heritage of hope. So this kind of
rhetoric can be enjoyed for quite some time. But not forever. People
have limited patience. Even Jesus told his followers that he would
return to establish paradise on earth while they still lived. And
modern men are not nearly as patient or as gullible as first century
Christians. It takes only a few years before they get tired of hearing
about the promised New Jerusalem and start asking what the government
has actually achieved.
That is why Mr Blair's speeches now typically include several
paragraphs on the achievements of his government. Perhaps they do not
amount to a whole new society - who could ever have expected that? -
but Mr Blair believes they are impressive. In June 2004, for example,
he claimed that:
In seven years, we have delivered a stable economy, rising employment,
and big reductions in unemployment and poverty.40 A politician may be
forgiven such open self-congratulation; the opposition is unlikely to
advertise his achievements.
But even a politician should stick to the basic rules of boasting. He
should not take credit for others' achievements, he should not pretend
that failures are successes and he should not exaggerate his
The following three chapters concern the ways Mr Blair breaks these
[p112] Where spending is outsourced it is unlikely to deliver a
net-benefit. So Mr Blair ought to go to unusual lengths to show that,
in the case of his public services policy, the benefits of this
spending really do exceed the costs. Instead, he simply asks us to
rejoice at the very scale of the spending, as if there were not the
least risk of its being wasteful.
[p113] Presbyterians may like working but most people do not. \ That
is why they need to be paid to do it. Your job gives you \ a salary,
friends and eight hours a day away from the family. \ These are the
benefits that offset the cost of the actual toil. If you made a
breakthrough in your productivity, so that you -- ~-~ could generate
the same income with half the effort, you would have an interesting
decision to make. Should you work just as hard for twice the money, or
work half as hard for the same money, or something in between? Those
who value money higher than leisure will keep their heads down; those
who value their free time higher will put their feet up.
The same goes for an entire economy. As productivity improves, the
population can press on and deliver a larger Gross Domestic product
(GDP). Or the nation could make do with its current GDP and people
could take it a little easier. Those of us who favour the second
option will be accused of promoting an ethos of sloth. Perhaps. But as
far as I know the seven deadly sins are not ranked: sloth is no worse
[p116] All must proceed on a mere hunch that the services [taxes]
would provide are worth the cost.
In reality, the hunch on which they proceed is probably rather
different. It is not that the benefits of their spending exceed the
cost in tax. It is that the policy will gain more votes than it
loses. And, when it comes to government spending, this calculation
tends to favour increasing it, for two reasons.
The first is that the benefits of increased spending are typically
enjoyed by many voters while the costs are borne by a few. Improving
the quality of state education, for example, benefits 90 percent of
families with school aged children. But the increased tax burden falls
disproportionately on the rich: 50 percent of income tax is
contributed by 10 percent of taxpayers. The policy has more winners
than losers, even if the total cost exceeds the total benefit. Given
our one-man onevote system, any policy that has many small winners and
a few big losers is likely to be a vote winner.
The second reason is that many voters now seem to believe that
taxation is intrinsically good. They favour it even when they believe
it will fund wasteful spending. In November 2002, an ICM poll asked
voters if they were willing to pay more tax to fund increased spending
on public services. 62 percent said yes. It also asked respondents if
they believed this extra spending would improve standards in health
and education. Only 51 percent said yes. At least eleven percent of
voters favour pointless increases in taxation.
With such people in the electorate it is little wonder that Mr Blair
promotes his policies on the ground that they are expensive. But that
doesn't make the argument any better. Even in a democracy, pandering
to fools is not the path to enlightenment.