UK and US politics is increasingly polarised between those who see the state as a threat and those who see it as a lifeline or ally. This week I want to explore why some people think the state is the answer to most of their problems, and why some think more or less anything the state does is harmful to their interests or undertaken for cynical reasons.
In the Commons a majority of MPs are optimists about state activity. They tend to the view that the state is there to right wrongs, create greater equality, provide important services and look after people. They therefore tend to like more state activity rather than less, and regularly support governments which like to raise spending and take on more tasks for people. In every year I have been in the Commons so far state current spending has gone up in cash terms, and usually has gone up in real terms as well.
Those who see the state as a friend say that it is thanks to the state that people with little or no income have money to spend, that everyone gets access to health care regardless of means, that we are kept safe in our communities thanks to the plolice and criminal justice system, we are provided with free schooling, pensioners recieve a range of additional benefits, and money is taken from the rich to help pay for it all so there is greater equality.
They often go further, and see private sector companies as potential exploiters or bullies. In their view the state has to tax, regulate and check them to stop them abusing their customers, employees and local environments. Only the state can make people and companies respond to the threat of global warming, the dangers of unregulated motoring, and much else which defenders of the state fret about.
I will look at just how frustrated the advocates of freedom and free enterprise are by the ever growing modern state tomorrow. They respond to these arguments for a larger and more powerful state by pointing out the large gap that often opens up between the aims of the state actions, and the outcomes. When the state took over large industries with a view to running them in the better interests of the customers and employees, they found instead that nationalised industries topped the lists for sacking people, losing business, and putting up prices. The more the state tries to tax people into equality, the more the rich go offshore or hire better accountants to avoid the taxes the state seeks to impose. Inequality rose under Labour despite all their efforts to bring it down. With the demise of grammar schools in most parts of England, the gifted child from a low income household now finds it more difficult to advance than previous generations who had access to selective schools as the rich continue to enjoy. The more money that is put into the less successful parts of the country, the less successful they remain. All my time in Parliament has had a similar list of places that need special treatment.