Look, they say: the public applauds the chevron NHS workers and turns to the state to make up for their lost wages. Get to the end of this whole antiviral “war” and Britain will be like 1945: looking with enthusiasm to a future where the state will play a much more important role in everyone’s life.
And how stupid Starmer would be to fall in love with this temptation. A more appropriate comparison with now is 2008/09 when the economy was also on its knees. At the time, as now, many people on the left believed that the future was theirs: that the masses would embrace socialism as a way to escape rotten and failing capitalism.
Yet the opposite has happened: voters in Britain and around the world have viewed conservative parties as a way out of trouble. It was not more state intervention than they wanted – it was tax correctness.
British voters still wanted healthy public finances in 2015 when they rewarded David Cameron with a majority – despite Labor and unions trying to bleat on “austerity.” A long-forgotten Labor internal review of the party’s defeat that year, written by Jon Cruddas, concluded that Ed Miliband had lost not in spite of austerity but because of it – voters did not like the idea of a government spending the money it hadn’t gotten and passing the burden on their children.
In addition, in 2009, people had real reasons to be angry with capitalism, thanks to the behavior of many banks. This time, no one blames the free market – except perhaps the wet food market in Wuhan – for our economic difficulties. It is clear that we are headed for a very deep recession, whoever ran the economy: government, big business or a delicate network of co-operatives. If people are to be confined to their homes, there is a limit to the amount of economic activity that can take place.
There is no point in blaming the economic system for getting us into this rut; what matters is how to get out. We are all going to ask ourselves: what is the best way to grow an economy that could contract by 20% in the current quarter?
The answer will not be to expect the state to act as the main engine of growth – although some investments in infrastructure will be highly valued, both as a means of creating jobs and fostering private investment. The dramatically increased number of people working at home during this crisis has shown, for example, the inadequacy of our broadband.
But beyond that, it is not the state that will develop our atrophied retail and leisure sectors. Does anyone really want the High Street to be repopulated with state-run Soviet-style shops and restaurants? Once again, the big experimental test bed that is the real world has shown that if you want rapid economic growth, it is much more likely to come from tooth and nail red capitalism. Give people the opportunity to make a fortune and they will respond by creating jobs and wealth at remarkable speed.
I’m not saying the British public wants a wild west, but most can see that a monolithic state-dominated economy would be a huge drag on the country’s wealth. In addition, by then, we will all be able to see the distorting effects of state intervention. When the leave system ends, hopefully, soon, we’ll see how it perversely encouraged workers to ask to be sent home, even though they could have continued to work safely while respecting social distance – just look at the size of all those cavernous warehouses that have closed the shop.
Since the early 1950s, British voters have shown that they view plowing as an indulgence for good times. When the economy is doing well, as it was in 1964 and 1997, it was safe to vote for work; when we are in crisis, as in 1979 and 2010, we tend to vote conservative.
If Keir Starmer has a long term vision, he will realize it. He will sit down while capitalism regenerates, hopefully with the help of low-tax deregulation, and then hope to advance his party when things are good once again.