Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state


10:04 am - February 5th 2012

by Chris Dillow    


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If you ignore the mindless tittle-tattle, David Miliband’s New Statesman article raises a genuine issue: what should be the left’s attitude to the state?

The weaknesses of the "big society" should not blind us to the policy and political dead end of the "Big State". The public won't vote for the prescription that central government is the cure for all ills for the good reason that it isn't.

Although this is seen as “Blairite” it is also consistent with a more radical leftist tradition of scepticism about big government is a longstanding tradition on the left such as guild socialism, anarchism, market socialism or Marxism.

And such scepticism is valid. In some respects (not all – I just highlight the flaws), the state does not promote leftist ideals:

» It is not very redistributive. The difference between the Gini coefficient for post-tax income (that is, income including benefits after direct and indirect tax) and original income is only seven percentage points: 38% vs. 45%. The tax rate for the middle quintile, at 27%, is not far short of the 32.6% on the top quintile. To a large extent, therefore, the state redistributes income within the working class. And this has an unpleasant effect. It leads to a “divide and rule” the working class, with some public workers and benefit “scroungers“ being stigmatized. 

» It is insufficient to protect the interests of the vulnerable. The state can be – and often is – captured by people hostile to the worst-off with the result that benefits are cut.

» The state serves the interests of the rich whilst attacking the poor.  A man who, in his mental distress, tries to kill himself is imprisoned for damaging property. A man who, with a more respectable mental disorder, wrecks the economy merely loses a knighthood; those who say Fred Goodwin broke no law miss the point – that there are no laws against capitalist vandalism.

» The state serves as a lightning conductor, which deflects criticism away from capitalism – for example, when the crisis is blamed upon Labour’s deficit or weak banking regulation rather than the flaws of capitalism itself. 

» The state is run according to the same dysfunctional ideology than runs business – hierarchical managerialism. However, in the private sector its flaws are mitigated by the forces of competition whereas they are much less so in government. The upshot is that the state offers indifferent value for money.

It is in light of these flaws that we should read Sunny’s claim that spending cuts won’t make the government unpopular. Very many working people are not opposed to cuts because they do not regard the big state as their friend. And this is for a good reason.

Granted, David’s analysis and solutions here would be rather different from mine. But he is posing a good question. The tragedy is that, in our anti-political political culture, this question will be ignored.

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About the author
Chris Dillow is a regular contributor and former City economist, now an economics writer. He is also the author of The End of Politics: New Labour and the Folly of Managerialism. Also at: Stumbling and Mumbling
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Reader comments


“The state can be – and often is – captured by people hostile to the worst-off”

That’s not a failure of the state per se, it’s a failure of the political system of party donations.

“Very many working people are not opposed to cuts because they do not regard the big state as their friend. ”

Citation please.

Richard: “That’s not a failure of the state per se, it’s a failure of the political system of party donations.”

No it isn’t. It’s a historical feature of the state; it’s always been a tool of the dominant stata of society, be they theocratic, aristocratic, bourgeois, etc. You can _imagine_ a state which serves the interests of all citizens equally; but you can also imagine a state in which we all ride around on magical unicorns.

Regarding the OP, I have some sympathy with the view that you don’t have to be a Blairite to be hostile to ‘big government’. In fact, New Labour was highly statist and centralised, _and_ ideologically committed to the saturation of public service provision with private interests.

However, I’m not sure how you can talk about the private sector’s inadequacies being “mitigated by the forces of competition” and “value for money” and then suggest that this critique is coming from a significantly different place from D Milliband’s. Maybe it’s a difference in shades of neoliberalism to subtle for me to appreciate.

I wrote about criticism of the state from the left recently here, too:
http://overland.org.au/2011/12/the-state-is-not-the-remedy-but-the-poison/

Article: “It is not very redistributive.”

But if there were no state, what other mechanism could achieve any redistribution at all?

Article: “It is insufficient to protect the interests of the vulnerable”

Again, no matter how pathetic the current government is on this issue: what other entity will protect the interests of the vulnerable? I believe it used to be the church.

Article: “The state serves the interests of the rich whilst attacking the poor.”

It does to some extent, but at least in democracy each person has a vote: without that power and influence would be determined pretty much entirely by wealth. Admittedly democratic outcomes can often be bought anyway by the wealthy with donations and buying favourable press, but again I fail to see how a small or non-existent state would be anything but worse for the poor – it would simply make the influence and power of the wealthy seem more legitimate.

Article: “The state serves as a lightning conductor, which deflects criticism away from capitalism”
I suspect that if the state were not there as a lightning conductor, capitalism would happily find other scapegoats – as it does already. I wonder how many people blame “scroungers” and immigrants for the current economic situation?

Article: “The state is run according to the same dysfunctional ideology than runs business. However, in the private sector its flaws are mitigated by the forces of competition whereas they are much less so in government.”

That may be so, but that doesn’t mean the private sector would be any better at running public services, where there is usually an inherent lack of competition anyway. The very reason the state started providing public services is because the private sector proved inadequate to the task in those areas.

6. Chaise Guevara

This is an interesting piece. Not sure about this, though:

“The state serves the interests of the rich whilst attacking the poor. A man who, in his mental distress, tries to kill himself is imprisoned for damaging property. A man who, with a more respectable mental disorder, wrecks the economy merely loses a knighthood; those who say Fred Goodwin broke no law miss the point – that there are no laws against capitalist vandalism.”

First, I think it’s bordering on tinfoil-hat mentality to imply that we outlaw arson but not “capitalist vandalism” because we’re only interested in oppressing poor people. I’m not sure what law you could pass to ban “capitalist vandalism”, or even how you’re defining that concept. In the wake of the financial crisis, you could pass benefit-of-hindsight laws to outlaw certain dodgy practices, and indeed we’ve done so. But before the crisis the powers that be were not agreed that these were dodgy practices. And it’s hard to see how you could create a law that would ban ALL damaging business methods without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Second, comparing two anecdotes is not particularly meaningful. This is especially true when they’re non-comparable: a criminal and a non-criminal. Even if you could find a rich guy who broke the law and did more damage than the arsonist, yet received a lower sentence, that could simply be down to the attitude of the respective judges.

Third, it’s simply not honest to claim that the state “serves the interests of the rich while attacking the poor”. It happens in some cases, like libel law. But in many other cases the state shows it is very good at protecting and supporting the poor at the expense of the rich. Progressive taxation. NHS. Free education. Worker’s rights. Even, ultimately, the use of the state to maintain order and dispense justice, rather than rich people employing private enforcers. Along with things like infrastructure, this is the whole POINT of the state.

So is David Miliband telling us that he is now an anarchist?

8. Chaise Guevara

Also, jungle @5 raises several good points that all link in to one thing: the article raises genuine problems with the state without suggesting what system other than the state could be employed to resolve such problems. It’s the perfection fallacy. I’m happy to take away the lesson that we shouldn’t blindly trust the state, or assume that a bigger state is always a good thing. But claiming that these things make the state “bad” is like saying a cancer drug is bad because it only improves your survivability by 10 years, when the alternative is taking no drugs and dying in six months.

It is good to see the Big State questioned from the left, particularly because the two terms have become synonymous over the last decade or two.

“When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.” — P.J. O’Rourke

What we have is a capitalist state, there are other forms of state.
For those prepared to read essays I recommend a couple of Richard Seymour’s recent posts on the nature of the state.
http://leninology.blogspot.com/2012/01/state-of-18th-brumaire.html
http://leninology.blogspot.com/2012/01/terrifyingly-real-poulantzas-and.html

I think the big state proponents, and probably anyone considering legislation, should always consider how they would feel if their political opponents proposed the same, or were in power with those powers. If they don’t feel comfortable, then either don’t make the change, or ensure that your opponents can never be elected again.

The original radicals were against state power. The fight for religious liberty, freedom of speech etc was against religious and political orthodoxy imposed by the state. The protection of individuals embodied by such principles as habeas corpus, the necessity for warrants, jury trials etc, were all limitations placed on state power. The rule that Parliament must consent to taxes etc etc, all these things are about restraining the power of the state against individuals.

Then along came the socialist ideology, which, rather than limit the power of the state, sought to take over the power of the state and run it for the ‘benefit of the many, and not the few’. Socialism stole some of the clothes from the original radicals, and mixed it up with the authoritarianism of the Ancien Regime. Where lefties have found themselves in opposition, they are capable of seeing the problem with a powerful state, and even may identify, due to the stolen clothes, the leftwing cause with liberty, but, when in actual power, rather than dismantle the machinery of oppression, they just re-badge it, and often scorn the old limitations as no longer necessary, now ‘the people’ are in charge. So from Czarist tyranny we move to ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. So that’s alright, then.

I think the mistake lies in admitting that this single thing called a state exists, or at least has the boundaries it is claimed to.

Sure, there’s some things that are pretty closely tied to the whole monopoly-of-violence principle the textbooks talk about; the army and police. And in relation to that you have a range of views, from the gratuitously nasty to the impracticably nice.

But outside that, there are just people turning up at jobs, sitting in front of a computer making decisions, perhaps out on the street fixing stuff, or in a surgery fixing people. None of these people have noticeably more power to get away with anything dodgy than anyone else.

So the whole first range of views is completely irrelevant; the only difference is where the money comes from. Which is generally from either the market or from tax, which a few outliers like jobs funded by charitable donations, or the butlers and in-house lawyers and journalists of the mega-rich.

Obviously, there are people who believe the market works universally better, or would, if it was allowed to.They will do things like quote Gini statistics in a way that ignores the existence of tax-funded services like the NHS; not a mistake that would ever be made by a smart person arguing honestly.

They would probably even argue for reducing economic activity as a response to a depression. Such people are idiots, and can’t be reasoned with; they don’t base their views on reason or evidence.

Now in theory, there might be such a thing as a currently tax-funded activity that would work equally well or better as market-funded; the market does work for plenty of things, like bakeries. But after 30 years of three sets of governments searching for such and only finding one or two, I’d bet against it.

Now maybe there are people who have sensible alternative plans, other than tax or the market, for how to pay people to work at necessary jobs. Which anyone might agree with or disagree with; even excluding the idiots and paid propagandists, there are a range of reasonable views.

But the second range of views has nothing to do with the first. And it’s nothing but a rhetorical trick when someone says ‘get rid of big brother state’ when what they specifically mean is make most people pay for their own health care, with the poor relying on charity, or going without.

When you go into an argument and and they have a rhetorical trick, while you have reality on your side, the day to day experience of people’s lives, then that’s pretty much the best possible circumstance.

If you would lose even so, then you would presumably lose any other argument as well.

So if that is where the argument is going to be, fight it, or give up and leave politics.

I embraced the political right because I objected to the state. I was influenced by Distributism and radical schools of thought, but saw no home for that on the left. Teh right offered me a narrative, a vehicle and companionship as I sought to find a way that could enable personal liberty and freedom of conscience.

“Don’t trust the state”, says man who went to court time and again to protect state secrets.

We don’t need lectures about the state from a member of a govt who used the power of the state to lie the country into a war for no reason. Or a govt who signed away a extradition treaty with the US that gave away our rights as citizens.

Just more discredited Blairism. We now have 2 tory parties, we don’t need any more. If the only way to win is to dismantle the NHS and the welfare state and increase the military state, the I would rather not win. Let the tories build a fascist state. It is what they are good at.

@12 Soru,

“When you go into an argument and and they have a rhetorical trick, while you have reality on your side, the day to day experience of people’s lives, then that’s pretty much the best possible circumstance. ”

Dude, I wish you had a rhetorical trick! That’s a load of belly-button-contemplating twaddle. Maggie said; there’s no such thing as society, only individuals. You seem to be saying; there’s no such thing as the state, only people sitting at desks – oh and the police and the army.

18. Albert Spangler

What irritates me here is that we have no in depth explanation of what ‘The State’ actually is. At what point does The State end and The Private begin? Do subsidised bus routes count? Are housing associations part of the state? Or are we really only talking about purely central government owned, planned organisations? In which case The State barely exists in this country.

I find arguments both for and against the state fairly simplistic and irritating. I would be all for a body, state owned or private, which was responsive to the needs of its service users and accountable to its staff, users and, if relevant, customers.

These issues are universal to any entity. People who feel empowered over their services they use/pay for are much happier, more productive and feed back information to top levels more, and services which are more responsive to the needs/desires of their users are looked upon much more highly. What we suffer from, I think, is not so much Big State or Big Business, but from no accountability to the people they serve.

Sadly, I cannot offer the optimum solution myself, but I can point to both private and public bodies which are generally favourably looked upon, for example John Lewis which upholds relatively high standards of worker democracy and fairness of wealth distribution, and for The State, Germany’s companies working with Unions rather than against them and vice versa.

Although the left may be associated with statism, marxist socialists and left-libertarians are as anti-state as liberals.
After Blair and Brown, the quote should be ‘why lefties should be sceptical of the Labour Party’

20. Tax Obesity, Not Enterprise

Chris —

In answer to your points:

1. Why should the state be redistributive??

2. The vulnerable seem to me to very well provided for to me

3. Feeble rhetoric. What are the interests of the poor? More welfare dependency?

4. The problem IS Labour’s deficit AND Labour’s weak banking regulation. Capitalism is the only game in town!

5. ” the state offers indifferent value for money”. Yes! That’s why the coalition is reforming the NHS! And why more public services should be privatised!

I’m sympathetic to the points that Chris Dillow makes.

But here’s the problem I think. For the right, there is an alternative structure – the big corporate firm – that works fine instead. Most right-wingers will instinctively defend corporate excess and over-reach.

For the left, we don’t seem to have an institution that works as a counter-weight against the state and firms… Unions maybe, but I think they’d need to change how they work a lot to become a different kind of a civil force.

So we’re stuck with the state as the only counter-weight? Over the long term, I think this is a losing proposition.

@ 17 Albert,

“What irritates me here is that we have no in depth explanation of what ‘The State’ actually is.”

It’s surely an indication of how bloody gargantuan the state has grown that people can no longer work out what it is and where it ends.

As for regulation, the market is a far better regulator. If you don’t serve your customers well, you’re out of business, end of story. As for banking, it’s only because all the market mechanisms for regulation have been taken away, is it even necessary for the state to regulate. (btw regulation is not the same thing as enforcing the law, but the state doesn’t do that very well either).

@ 21 Sunny,

“For the right, there is an alternative structure – the big corporate firm – that works fine instead. Most right-wingers will instinctively defend corporate excess and over-reach.”

I can’t speak for right-wingers, but there’s a far better alternative structure than either the big state or the big corporation; the liberal structure; liberty, property and free trade. Under this model, you can have all the co-operatives you like,and the only businesses that get big are the ones who we the consumers favour, not those which are mobbed up with the state.

@23. I think you are partly right. The real problem is that both the left and the right confuse free trade with corporatism

@ 24 Ian,

Partly right??! Hmm.

“The real problem is that both the left and the right confuse free trade with corporatism”

Aye. Both of them fear and distrust liberty and hold onto doctrines which reject the harmony of interests between us all (e.g. nationalism and marxian class war). They have more in common then either is prepared to admit.

I think the main problem that the contemporary dominant lefty opinion formers who have appointed themselves like modern day Bourbons see the state in a completely different perspective from the people who they claim to speak for. They see the state as a benign force for good. Go into the states welfare ghettos and they will not be complaining about Tesco, the foreign supply chain of Apple, emissions or consumerism. Virtually every grievance that they have is against the state that the Left tell them is their friend. Is it any wonder that they have stopped listening to the modern Left when they do not believe that the Left listen to them.

It has been known for centuries that private commercial interest given the chance will capture the regulatory apparatus of the state to serve their interests. Absolutely nothing new about that phenomenon. However, a similar thing happens with the state that everyone but the Left can see. The apparatus of the state will be captured by those who work for the state and it eventually comes to operate to serve their interest and not the end user of the service. Most people who interact with the state and its agents will be left in no doubt who matters in the interaction and it ain’t the person who is paying for it. I had reason recently to go into a local council office and what was striking is that one is immediately placed in a holding cell, the obligatory public sector waiting area. A sign on the council officers desk informed the unwary that verbal aggression will not be tolerated. Indeed. They tend not to tolerate verbal aggression in bars and hotels either. Yet manage to muddle along without placing signs on the bar to that effect. The subliminal message that is being reinforced is that we will see you when it suits us and the agent of the state is the person who matters in the interaction.

The horrible statism that we have allowed to develop in the UK means that the bureaucracy exists just to serve the bureaucracy. The former state utilities now pretendy private utilities like gas, electricity and water produce more with only half the employees that they used to have. Leading one to conclude that half the employees when they were state employees were producing, er, nothing. That is not a call to privatise everything, just an example that the apparatus of the state has become totally divorced from the interests of the people they supposedly serve.

I don’t think the real issue is between what is best done publicly and what is best done privately. The problem is statism and the centralism of power on these islands. Regions, communities and people have been completely disempowered through UK statism and both main parties are equally to blame. They are always against the centralism of power when they are in opposition and when in power do the things that they previously opposed. There is never going to be common agreement about what should be done publicly and privately to suit all. Minimal state advocates have no more right to impose their ideal system on everyone else than the nanny state advocates have in imposing big government on everyone. So the way around the problem is for the devolution of power away from the centralised state to smaller more coherent communities to decide for themselves what kind of communities that they want to live in.

@ 27,

That’s all good stuff, and then we come to the last paragraph…

“Minimal state advocates have no more right to impose their ideal system on everyone else than the nanny state advocates have in imposing big government on everyone. So the way around the problem is for the devolution of power away from the centralised state to smaller more coherent communities to decide for themselves what kind of communities that they want to live in.”

How come you get to impose your ideal system of decentralisation, but I’m not allowed to ‘impose’ my ideal minimal state?

Richard W: “The apparatus of the state will be captured by those who work for the state and it eventually comes to operate to serve their interest and not the end user of the service.”

Checks and balances within government administration are intended to prevent that. In the department I worked, proposed new spending programmes had to be presented, together with a ROAME (Rationale, Objectives, Appraisal, Monitoring, Evaluation) statement, to peer groups of senior colleagues, which could and did pick holes in the statements and reject proposals. In the civil service, there are personal or directorate brownie points to be earned by blocking bad programmes.

It wasn’t enough to claim that the proposed programme would do good things out there but explain why that wasn’t happening already if it was such a great idea and also why there were not more cost-effective ways of achieving the objectives. Sly administrators who wanted to avoid the rigors of that process would present spending proposals to peer groups claiming this is what their minister wanted, with supporting memoranda from the minister’s private office – which inevitably created dilemmas for overseeing peer groups.

In addition to to internal departmental checks, there is the potential for adverse external commentary by the National Audit Office (NAO), which is sometimes searing, and Parliamentary select committees as well as PQs and hostile letters from shadow ministers and MPs. Senior civil servants don’t like to be the targets of critical commentary by the NAO, a select committee, hostile PQs and correspondence, which all needs to be replied to and which goes on the files. Btw this yields an insight into why the civil service was so adverse to Blair’s practice of sofa government, where discussion went unminuted.

IMO a more serious recurring issue is the capture of regulatory watchdogs by private sector interests – a problem well-recognised in an extensive trans-Atlantic literature literature.

Professionals here may be interested in this link to a famed academic paper by Ann Krueger: The Political Economy of the Rent Seeking Society, originally in the American Economic Review 1974:
http://polisci.osu.edu/faculty/rwliddle/class/2007/Spring/PS741/1974-Krueger-Political%20Economy%20of%20the%20Rent.pdf

Btw Ann Krueger has Republican affiliations.

“those who say Fred Goodwin broke no law miss the point – that there are no laws against capitalist vandalism.”

Which is why in the US – the country where the political process has been hijacked by capitalists the most – the likes of Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Skilling, and Benard Ebbers are sunning themselves in federal prisons for decades.

OP,

The state serves the interests of the rich whilst attacking the poor. A man who, in his mental distress, tries to kill himself is imprisoned for damaging property. A man who, with a more respectable mental disorder, wrecks the economy merely loses a knighthood; those who say Fred Goodwin broke no law miss the point – that there are no laws against capitalist vandalism.

With regard to this point, the FSA report is worth a read.

http://www.fsa.gov.uk/pubs/other/rbs.pdf

25
You are mis-representing libertarian socialists when you attempt to put all of the left into the same category. It’s tantamount to me asserting that liberals come under the label of fascism. And as I have already stated, Marxists are anti-state too.
If you are going to present an argument for liberalism, creating false bogey men is not the way.

I’m none to clear as to exactly how libertarian socialists differ from the other 56 varieties. Are there any examples of where this species has established ascendancy in maintaining the government of a real state?

33
There are as many examples of libertarian socialist states as there are of real liberal states.

@34: There are as many examples of libertarian socialist states as there are of real liberal states.”

As Sartre used to say: Existence precedes essence.

And as Hobbes put in The Leviathan: “For words are wise men’s counters; they do but reckon by them: but they are the money of fools, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other doctor whatsoever”
Leviathan Bk.1 Chp.4
http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/h/hobbes/thomas/h68l/chapter4.html

We would need to first agree the criteria for a “liberal state” before we could agree how many would qualify for the label. IMO it’s the same with “libertarian socialist” states.

I think this sort of anti state thinking is something of a dead end for the left.

The state is merely a tool, it is in itself neither good nor bad, it depends on who is operating it.

Realistically, we will always have a state (despite anarchist or marxist fantasies) So the real question is; Who controls the state, and in who’s interests does it operate? Historically the state has been captured by, and operated on behalf of the wealthy and business interests. This has happened again in recent times.

The socialists of old recognised this, and so their strategy was to capture the state and operate it on behalf of the working class. Which is what Labour governments of old tried to do with the creation of the NHS etc.

I find this sort of anti-state thinking to be a bit vacuous. If not the state, then what body can redistribute wealth, or stand up to corporate domination. Local councils cannot do this effecively, nor can workers coopratives. So I think the old strategy of capturing the state to work in the public interest is still the only viable strategy in town.

Unfortunately the Labour Party under the Blairites sold itself out to corporate interests. And so the above cannot really apply to the last Labour government.

Graham: “The state is merely a tool, it is in itself neither good nor bad, it depends on who is operating it.”

I mostly agree but believe the instituted checks and balances in government administration matters and the extent to which government is representative also matters to the quality of government. FWIW the electoral systems is important too and I don’t go along with the regular prescription that what we need is strong and decisive government. I rather like coalition governments.

35
The Jacobins were quite clear about their idea of the state and their ideal of a liberal society, much of the success of the French Revolution was, in part, due to pamphleteering outlining same.. Indeed, the level of literacy in the UK was higher in the 18th century than in the 19th, and the ability of the French revolutionaries to spread the written word, played no little part in convincing govenment that literacy could be a dangerous thing.

My problem with a lot of what Miliband has written is that for all the talk about what the “left” should and shouldn’t do, is how the left is defined by Miliband. It seems to me that there’s a lot of talk about repositioning/rebranding the left as ‘centrist’ (not even ‘centre left’)

I agree with @36. Graham. The State in itself is relatively neutral and can be used, in different ways, by different parties with different motivations.

It seems crazy to me that some argue that the State prevents capitalism/trade supporting or reaching out to those at the bottom. Surely the State as most people understand it was needed because of the failure of capitalism/trade/&c. trickling down to the bottom. The paternalism of the Rich wasn’t enough and neither was the charity of the Church. The truth of it is that without the State acting like a counter-weight, you end-up up with the bottom half of society being exploited into homelessness, starvation and relentless misery without any real voice or representation.

With the way the modern media works now, I can’t see this being any different when you take into consideration the never-ending demonisation of the poor and the disabled. A right wing media is practically grooming it’s viewers and readers into lashing out against the sick and the unemployed – and, yet, we’re to be believed that it’s this same society that would actually employ or support these people if the State didn’t exist or was scaled back to a minimum? Hmmm, I’m not sure about that.

Regarding bureaucracy in the State. I think, for some, there’s an element of who is behind the bureaucracy, rather than the bureaucracy itself. The idea that it’s a self-serving and self-perpetuating thing is genuinely interesting. It only seems to have become a real problem when the proles (no longer having access to traditional prole jobs through the lack of industrial work) started to filter into local government etc. Before that, finding something to do within the Home Office or squeezing into a board of Directors somewhere a couple of days a week didn’t seem to be that much of an issue. I can imagine a lot depends on what school you went to though &c.

” I rather like coalition governments.”

One of the big ironies is that coalition governments often have far more of a purpose and drive than single party ones. The small parties usually insist on a written agreement with timescales for the implementation of policies. You may not agree with what the current government is doing, but you can’t deny they are actually doing things. Similarly in Wales the only time the devolved government ever seemed to do anything was when they were in coalition.

39
Just a point that needs clarifying, the state preceded capitalism although it wasn’t as all embracing as our modern state. It was capitalism that could not function without the input of the state. For example, implementing a universal weights and measures system was necessary in order for all to compete on a level playing field.
Late capitalism is about mass production and the creation of new products, this would be impossible without the state imposing copyright and licensing laws as nobody would invest millions into research and development if A N Other could then copy and produce the item for the production cost only.

Sunny made what might be a revealing point about the thinking of much of the left (not the left libertarians, or the actual Marxists (they are quite thin on the ground mind)):

But here’s the problem I think. For the right, there is an alternative structure – the big corporate firm – that works fine instead. Most right-wingers will instinctively defend corporate excess and over-reach.

For the left, we don’t seem to have an institution that works as a counter-weight against the state and firms… Unions maybe, but I think they’d need to change how they work a lot to become a different kind of a civil force.

So we’re stuck with the state as the only counter-weight? Over the long term, I think this is a losing proposition.

Leaving aside the idea that right wingers believe in the big corporate firms (maybe twenty years ago…), the question I have is why does there have to be a structure, an institution. This kind of thinking is itself a trap – you end up looking for a solution to a problem which is not actually relevant. Chris advocates a breakdown of institutions (he may not phrase it like that, but that is what devolving choice to a lower level would be), rather than seeking a different structure. If you need a structure for the state, you are effectively agreeing the state has to exist in its current form (large and in need of structuring), rather than starting from the more logical position of the state will structure itself according to what it is needed to do. Prioritising the framework over the content effectively means the content is dictated by the needs of the framework – and large corporations or large centrally-controlled state both would produce large and inefficient frameworks.

As for big corporate firms, it tends to be overlooked that over half business employment is in firms employing less than 200 people.

IME so-called “right-wingers” are more likely to be sympathetic about the challenges faced by small and medium-sized enterprises, which often have low rates of staff unionisation, than stereotypical “leftists” who focus on public sector employers, where unionisation rates are high, and large corporations.

Bob B

I think it’s more accurate to say that the Right users feigned sympathy for the plight of small businesses as a justification for the reduction of workers rights across the board in order to benefit the large organisations that actually bank roll them.

“Although this is seen as “Blairite” it is also consistent with a more radical leftist tradition of scepticism about big government is a longstanding tradition on the left such as guild socialism, anarchism, market socialism or Marxism”

David M’s article is not consistent with the more radical leftist tradition because he’s not actually proposing anything. He’s not actually offering a clear critique of the Big State either. He’s simply going along with current fashion (while forgetting that he was a member of a Government that wanted to lock people up without trial and give the police shoot to kill powers).

Libertarian leftists will always have only a small space to manoeuvre because all political parties are united in fear of their ideas. The political parties want stage-managed party conferences, plenty of PR, tightly-controlled focus groups.Empowered grassroots organisations is going back to the eighties when the Labour Party had debates!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/8w70OW44

  2. David Tarbuck

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/8w70OW44

  3. Ebony Dawn Marsh

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/8w70OW44

  4. Sarah Ditum

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/8w70OW44

  5. Jason Brickley

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/FMsdr9IX

  6. Alex Marsh

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/8w70OW44

  7. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/0M52CGwB

  8. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/vlc58git

  9. Michael Bater

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/kxgxVq0Q via @libcon

  10. Ashwin Parameswaran

    "why lefties should be sceptical of the state" http://t.co/47A5iXvo – why the radical-left is more coherent than the centre-left.

  11. Cathy

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/eak2pJaE via @Greenleftie

  12. Liza Harding

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/8w70OW44

  13. Simon Watkins

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/eak2pJaE via @Greenleftie

  14. Mark

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/eak2pJaE via @Greenleftie

  15. sunny hundal

    Echoing David Miliband, @CJFDillow says there are many reasons for lefties to be sceptical of the state http://t.co/GCBgKK1r

  16. Steven Fielding

    #M13126 If the left doesn't love the state, who will? And what did the state do to deserve all this lack of respect?! http://t.co/GmZt3Nds

  17. Tim

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/ClayASYa via @libcon

  18. Frank Pasquale

    “The state is run according to the same dysfunctional ideology than runs business – hierarchical managerialism" http://t.co/R1f9xfVz

  19. George Woodhams

    Echoing David Miliband, @CJFDillow says there are many reasons for lefties to be sceptical of the state http://t.co/GCBgKK1r

  20. Michael Gardiner

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/8w70OW44

  21. Rory Gormley

    Echoing David Miliband: why lefties should be sceptical of the state http://t.co/8w70OW44

  22. Orson Wang

    "why lefties should be sceptical of the state" http://t.co/47A5iXvo – why the radical-left is more coherent than the centre-left.





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