History repeats itself: first as tragedy, second as farce.

Bonjour Tash Appreciators!

The BBC has just finished a mini-series about the “Masters of Money”. It was in three parts and covered the theories of Keynes, Hayek and Marx. The facial hair alone tells you they’re interesting:

John Maynard Keynes:
Friedrich Hayek:
Karl Marx:
The point of the programme seemed to be that the problems with the economy are more complicated than just stimulus v. austerity. Apparently both have advantages and disadvantages. Whoddathunk. It also followed the current political agenda whereby the issues that no-one wants to discuss are ignored and we just argue about whether history tells us to spend or save in times of economic strife. The main subject of this debate, the Wall Street crash, followed years of hardship, not the most prosperous time in human history. It’s arguably not all that relevant and by focussing on it we ignore other issues where debate might be useful.
One area where there is no debate is the seemingly unchallenged view that benefits for those who can’t be bothered working should be cut. “One Nation”/”The Big Society” apparently means a choice between working for crap money or being left to fend for yourself. It’s maybe an attractive idea to cut benefits altogether but, if you look back in time, we’ve been there and done that – it doesn’t work. 
Back in the 19th century, politicians weren’t as media-savy and they said exactly what they were doing. Just like today, they tried to split the poor (those on benefits today) into the deserving and undeserving. The deserving got help from their local parishes (local authorities today) while the undeserving were sent to the poor house (prison today). Things only changed when Rowantree and the other enlightened men of the time took matters into their own hands and provided jobs in newly invented factories.  There followed an industrial revolution and Britain’s economy led the world.
Another example where the UK is possibly blinkered is the EU. You can expect to be laughed at if you even mutter the word “federalism”. Again, if you look at the 19th and 20th centuries, history tells us that we are infinitely better off together than apart. I seem to recall a similar scepticism across the Pond but, if you forget the Civil War, that worked out pretty well. 
There are other examples of us ignoring history but you get the picture. What we do next is a tough decision, but we do ourselves no favours by allowing the debate to boil down to spend v. save. We’ve been dragged into circular arguments about narrow issues when we should be thinking on a macro scale – like Marx – and actually having a useful debate. Over to you to work out what you think.
Have a great weekend folks,

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