jueves, 16 de abril de 2015

The destruction of the British character did not come from Nazi- or Soviet-style nationalization or centralized planning...

The Roads to Serfdom

by Theodore Dalrymple

One can gauge how completely collectivism has entered our soul—so that we are now a people of the government, for the government, by the government—by a strange but characteristic British locution. When, on the rare occasions that our Chancellor of the Exchequer reduces a tax, he is said to have “given money away.” In other words, all money is his, and whatever we have in our pockets is what he, by grace and favor, has allowed us.

People in Britain who lived through World War II do not remember it with anything like the horror one might have expected. In fact, they often remember it as the best time of their lives. Even allowing for the tendency of time to burnish unpleasant memories with a patina of romance, this is extraordinary. The war, after all, was a time of material shortage, terror, and loss: what could possibly have been good about it?

The answer, of course, is that it provided a powerful existential meaning and purpose. The population suffered at the hands of an easily identifiable external enemy, whose evil intentions it became the overriding purpose of the whole nation to thwart. A unified and preeminent national goal provided respite from the peacetime cacophony of complaint, bickering, and social division. And privation for a purpose brings its own content.

The war having instantaneously created a nostalgia for the sense of unity and transcendent purpose that prevailed in those years, the population naturally enough asked why such a mood could not persist into the peace that followed. Why couldn’t the dedication of millions, centrally coordinated by the government—a coordinated dedication that had produced unprecedented quantities of aircraft and munitions—be adapted to defeat what London School of Economics head Sir William Beveridge, in his wartime report on social services that was to usher in the full-scale welfare state in Britain, called the “five giants on the road to reconstruction”: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, and Idleness?

By the time Beveridge published his report in 1942, most of the intellectuals of the day assumed that the government, and only the government, could accomplish these desirable goals. Indeed, it all seemed so simple a matter that only the cupidity and stupidity of the rich could have prevented these ends from already having been achieved. The Beveridge Report states, for example, that want “could have been abolished in Britain before the present war” and that “the income available to the British people was ample for such a purpose.” It was just a matter of dividing the national income cake into more equal slices by means of redistributive taxation. If the political will was there, the way was there; there was no need to worry about effects on wealth creation or any other adverse effects.

For George Orwell, writing a year before the Beveridge Report, matters were equally straightforward. “Socialism,” he wrote, “is usually defined as ‘common ownership of the means of production.’ Crudely: the State, representing the whole nation, owns everything, and everyone is a state employee. . . . Socialism . . . can solve the problems of production and consumption. . . . The State simply calculates what goods will be needed and does its best to produce them. Production is only limited by the amount of labour and raw materials.”

A few, equally simple measures would help bring about a better, more just and equitable society. Orwell recommended “i) Nationalization of land, mines, railways, banks and major industries”; “ii) Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one”; and “iii) Reform of the educational system along democratic lines.” By this last, he meant the total prohibition of private education. He assumed that the culture, which he esteemed but which nevertheless was a product of the very system he so disliked, would take care of itself.


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