The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Budget Bore
by Peter

It would be over-the-top and old-fashioned to accuse a Labour Chancellor of sounding like a soviet commissar, so I will quote Martin Wolf rather than make up anything of my own. Here he is:

as I tried to stay awake during his Budget speech, I understood what it was like to listen to a Soviet commissar delivering a discourse on prospects for the tractor sector.

This was the speech of a man with a plan for every cranny of British life – for children, childcare, skills, education, science, the environment, enterprise, economic development and even Olympic athletes (this being the most Soviet moment of all). Some of Mr Brown’s plans are sensible. Some look absurd. But what remains missing is an overall strategy for reform of the public sector or, equally important, of the tax system, under a putative Brown premiership.

There is something in this. Listening to Brown one was struck by how much he believes the State has to wade in to save us from ourselves. We were being tinkered with - just like the nation's finances:

this Budget amounts to next to nothing. On an indexed base, the fiscal policy decisions add a mere £415m in extra tax in 2007-08 and £705m in 2008-09, after a giveaway of just £380m in 2006-07. Individual measures are tiny: the biggest for next year is the £275m cost of failing to adjust fuel duty for inflation until September 1 2006.

Brown was most interested to manage the public when he talked about training

Mr Brown remains a man obsessed with quantitative targets for inputs and outputs, rather than a man who has internalised either the role of incentives or the deep uncertainty about the future. No passage from the speech better illustrates these failings than this: “Today the British economy has just 9m highly skilled jobs. By 2020 it will need 14m highly skilled workers. And of 3.4m unskilled jobs today, we will need only 600,000 by 2020.”

This is Soviet tractor planning at its ludicrous worst. Fifteen years ago, no one imagined the current economic role of the internet, for example. Yet the chancellor now dares to tell us the precise number of highly skilled and unskilled people the economy will “need” 15 years hence. In fact, he has no idea how many skilled people the economy will need (or, more precisely, demand) by then. Such “plans” are not worth the paper they are written on.

So that's it fro the FT. Brown is competent but boringly compete net, interested in managing the public rather than managing the State. Labour's big problem just now - and for the years to come - is the NHS. All that money has brought surprisingly little improvement - in spite of the that (rather soviet style) Healthcare Commission designed to ensure it was well spent. All of which brings to mind a Scottish expression about best-laid plans...

There are no easy answers for any of this - and the correct response is unlikely to be to spend more still.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 3:10 pm  
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.


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