There are three subjects on which I write pretty regularly: smoking bans, the EU, and global warming.
For the most part I see them as more or less disconnected from each other. The way I see it, smoking bans are driven by the senior medical establishment and a variety of zealots in outfits like ASH. And the EU is a long term political project that’s been under development for 50 years or more. And global warming is a scare got up by climate scientists in the UN IPCC.
But today I was thinking that the effect of all of them is to depress economic activity one way or other. Smoking bans have negative impacts in the hospitality trade and elsewhere. And associated drives to curb alcohol consumption and obesity also have the same effect. The EU generates large numbers of rules and regulations most of which have a negative economic effect, because they increase the paperwork and overheads of companies in a multitude of ways. And the global warming scare, and calls to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ also entail reductions of energy consumption, and increased costs of fuels as ‘renewable energy sources’ like solar power and windmills prove much more expensive.
They all add up to a Big Squeeze on the economy, that is gradually tightening, so that the whole of Europe and the USA are now in recession, if not outright depression.
Yet all these economically restrictive policies are continued with nevertheless. Smoking bans just get tighter and tighter. The war on alcohol and obesity is now ramping up as well. The EU continues to make new rules and regulations, and disregards the impact of the single currency on the less competitive Mediterranean countries. And there’s not much sign that the global warming scare has abated, even though it’s been pretty thoroughly debunked.
The negative economic effects of these various policies must be perfectly obvious to governments. So why do they continue with them all? Why do they pursue policies which will result in economic contraction rather than growth?
For the past 60 years, governments everywhere, of every political shade, have tried to boost economic growth, and improve living standards. So why has the goal now become one of economic contraction?
There are a number of possible answers. These days all the Western countries have become much more environmentally aware. And the environmentalists and Greens see industrial civilisation as poisonous and destructive, and driven by ‘greed’. The global warming alarmist wing of the environmental movement even think that human industry, in the form of CO2 emissions, is warming the entire planet. And it must be stopped, and we must learn to live simple and frugal lives.
And all Western countries also have strong left wing political movements who usually believe that Western capitalism is naked exploitation of human labour and material resources, and needs to be overthrown and replaced by rationally-planned state-run economies.
And there’s also a pronounced puritanical streak to Western culture, which has for centuries disapproved of alcohol, tobacco, sex, drugs, dancing, theatres, music, and more or less anything that isn’t essential for survival.
And perhaps what we have at the moment is a sort of informal alliance between all these different critics of Western civilisation. They are all agreed (although for different reasons) on the need to cut consumption, slow the economy, and perhaps redistribute wealth more equitably. They have arrived at a consensus.
More importantly, all are agreed that the only way to get these results is through the top-down imposition of restrictions – by law. People won’t change their ways of their own accord, so they must be made to change, for their own good. Smoking bans are a form of restrictive legislation. The EU generates thousands of restrictive regulations every year. And the imperatives of climate change also result in further legislation. And all these restrictions are brought in gradually, so that cumulatively the squeeze gets tighter and tighter.
So what will happen?
Well, the effect of all these restrictions will be to gradually impoverish everyone. Everyone will get poorer. And some people – the poor in Greece and Italy and Spain and elsewhere – will become very poor. They will be made destitute. And these people will riot (they have been already). And as everyone gets poorer, more and more people will protest and revolt and riot. It will be governments everywhere pressing down harder and harder on the people. And governments everywhere will become more and more unpopular, with police on the streets everywhere.
I’d like to suggest that the political and moral and economic convictions underpinning this Big Squeeze are actually rather soft. They are, if nothing else, in one degree or other largely irrational. And when they are tested to the limit, they are likely to be found wanting of the necessary steel to push things through in the face of ever-mounting opposition.
Socialists, after all, usually despise the rich, and regard themselves as allied with ‘the people’ . So they’re not going to like policies which penalise the poor, and result in poor people being beaten up in police baton charges.
And greens and environmentalists want a green world full of trees and birds and animals, not a war zone. So they’re not going to like what happens as conflict mounts.
And the kill-joy puritans don’t really want civil war either. They just don’t want people smoking and drinking and enjoying themselves.
So the informal alliance will start to get ragged, as the emerging world proves not to be one of socialist peace and equality, nor green tranquillity and beauty, nor pure living unsullied by tobacco and alcohol. Quite the opposite will be happening, in fact.
The informal alliance of like-minded people will begin to disintegrate, with calls to relax the restrictive rules and regulations. Politicians and pundits will start to break away from the consensus. And the rebels will be rewarded by increasingly angry electorates.
Eventually, the consensus will completely break down, and the attempt at top-down control of large economies will be abandoned. There will be a bonfire of regulations.
Well, that’s what seems to me to be set to happen. The policies being followed are ones that are intended to contract economies, and shrink economies, and that is what they will do. And this will result in growing discontent and insurrection, and the disintegration of the loose alliance of politicians and pundits which set matters on this path, and finally the abandonment of the entire mad project.
Or have I missed something out?