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October 12, 2017

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From Arse To Elbow

Related to this, there is also a class of policies that have supposedly been pursued but whose fruits have remained tantalising out of reach because they "haven't really been done at all". In other words, the failing was not one of bad implementation, which might be the result of incompetence or unfortunate circumstance, but of insincerity.

While Universal Credit will be characterised by some as a botch by Whitehall, I suspect Brexit will be framed by many leavers as deliberate sabotage.

Anarcho

"The failure of a few Marxist governments does not discredit Marxism, any more than the failure of conservative or liberal governments discredits conservatism or liberalism."

The failure of EVERY Marxist government, surely? And it does discredit Marxism that all it has done is prove anarchist warnings correct? Whether it was social democracy becoming reformist or state socialism becoming tyranny, we were right.

"Of course, central economic planning is a bad policy. But it’s bad in principle; the problem is not that the USSR had the right idea but screwed up the implementation."

And you call yourself a Marxist? If Marx was clear about anything, it was that his vision of socialism would be based on a common plan. He attacked those, like Proudhon, who advocated market socialism (and, no, Proudhon did not advocate "Labour Notes," regardless of Marx's claims otherwise.

TickyW

Yes, the purpose of social security should not be to "make work pay", which is the declared objective of UC. Making Work Pay (MWP) is the policy justification that seduced so many well-meaning think tanks and MPs alike into applauding it.

No, the purpose of social security should be to provide social security for the unemployed and those who cannot work. UC and the accompanying benefit reforms have abandoned this concept of social security, what with the sanctions regime being deeply embedded in it. The social security system has been transformed into one that delivers desperate, overly compliant workers into precarious. low paid jobs. Triples all round for employers!

Another declared purpose of UC was to simplify the social security system by centralising administration and consolidating six separate benefits into one. Centralisation supports surveillance of claimants, which where fraud is concerned is a good thing. But as Peter Lilley's "I've got a little list" speech at the 1992 Tory conference shows, such surveillance was always going to be used to persecute "undesirables" (single mums and other bete noirs that existed in his, and IDS's, twisted minds). And of course we now see the outcome with many claimants being hounded off benefits because they don't meet the state's worthiness criteria. Rough sleepers now abound, as do the distress cases now seeping into public consciousness via a hitherto fawning media.

As for simplification, well UC is complex, both for claimants and administrators.

So Chris is correct IMHO. UC is an awful policy. However, I believe its implementation has probably been reasonably good, given its complexity. The issues with it are not implementation errors - the issues are more to do with the policy itself. The suffering it is causing is due to bad policy.

ConfusedNeoLiberal

These two parts:

"But I don’t think this works. Marxism is like liberalism or conservatism – a loose set of principles."

and

"Of course, central economic planning is a bad policy. But it’s bad in principle; the problem is not that the USSR had the right idea but screwed up the implementation."

Confuse me very much. Could you please point me to what do you consider to be Marxism? I always thought central planning was an essential part of it.

Patrick Kirk

Drug criminalisation is an example of bad policy well implemented, in my opinion at least. The policy has utterly failed but the jails are full of druggies.

chris

@Anarcho, Confused - Marx said little about central planning, and even less that was detailed and thorough. I'm not sure the fully-extensive and undemocratic central plans of Communist states are consistent with his views.
That said, I call myself a Marxist mainly because I mostly subscribe to his analysis of capitalism (the role of class and exploitation, technological determinism etc) rather than his view of communism. It's possible to be a Marxist without agreeing 100% with everything Marx said, just as you can be a Keynesian. Hayekian etc without fully agreeing with them.

Jon_halsall

@Anarcho - can you give me an example of a successful large scale Anarchist society?

James

Good policy badly implemented: the national curriculum. Often arbitrary material and badly joined up between subjects and levels of education.

Bad policy well implemented: pensioner bonds, a very effective policy/bribe launched four months before the 2015 election.

Blissex

Always interesting ideas for discussion from our blogger...

«Of course, central economic planning is a bad policy. But it’s bad in principle;»

That's a pretty big accusation against many large successful businesses that have centrally managed and enforced plans, and who pay astounding amounts to the CEOs and CFOs who put their names on those plans. Without central economic planning most large businesses could not survive, especially those based on large fixed capital investments.

«a terrible policy but beautifully implemented»

The "light touch" disregulation of gambling in financial markets? The overarching policy of "privatized keynesianism" that resulted in booming asset prices for 35 years?
The finest minds in government and at the BoE have worked hard on those, with great success.

«add tax credits to this list»

Tax credit are a bad idea in principle, as in the medium-long term they just enable low wages, and the implementation has been mediocre but successful.

Blissex

«Marxism? I always thought central planning was an essential part of it.»

That's curious, because I always thought that central planning was an essential part of "capitalism", as "capitalism" mostly means huge oligopolies that impose their centrally planned resource management on everybody else. And that CEOs and CFOs of huge oligopolies claim enormous compensation based on allegations of their superhuman "talent" for creating and enforcing successfully those central plans. Colossal businesses like US Steel and Ford in the past or Wal*Mart and Boeing today don't have any meaningful "internal market", but execute based on centrally managed, and often micromanaged, plans.

And I was under the impression that conversely our bearded Karl main criticism of "capitalism" was that it alienated real people from meaningful work, stripping their autonomy and creativity to make them cogs in giant plans created and enforced centrally by self-styled "heroes of wealth creation".

Or perhaps state-sponsored central planning is an obnoxious necessity in industries with huge fixed investments and returns to scale, because nobody launches a new $10 billion silicon foundry or nuclear plant on the market to see if there is any demand for it.

Blissex

«pensioner bonds, a very effective policy/bribe»

An aside here: always add explicity "tory" as in "tory pensioner bonds".
Because they mattered only to pensioners who had several thousands (up to £10,000) in cash lying around, and most pensioners don't, and those who do already vote Conservative.

Why would a tory government want to bribe cash-rich people who would be voting tory anyhow? As national election bribe they were pointless.
They were most likely a bribe not to tory general election voters, but to Conservice association members and electors in leadership contests, to butter them up to enhance the leadership chances of G Osborne when D Cameron retired from PM as he has promised.

Note: not all oldies with cash lying around are Conservative association members, but the vast majority of Conservative association members are oldies with quite a bit of cash lying around.

coprolite

i thought of one:

A European Union.

Richard Gadsden

I'd argue that ERM is exactly an example of a good policy badly implemented - if the UK had entered the ERM at a sensible rate instead of DM 2.95, we wouldn't have had the early 90s property bubble, wouldn't have had the Black Wednesday crash and consequent negative equity catastrophe and might well have eventually joined the Euro.

(OTOH, there's a good case that the 90s property bubble is why Major won the 1992 election, so perhaps the policy wasn't so bad after all from the purely selfish view of those implementing it)

PaulB

Brexit was conceived as an electoral policy, the less concrete the better. The strategy relied on comparing a paradise of the Brexit voter's imagining with the unlovable reality of the EU warts and all.

That way Patrick Minford could assure us of growing prosperity in a world with no barriers to free trade, while Michael Gove promised steel workers that after Brexit we'd be free to protect Port Talbot.

cjcjc

"Bad policy, beautifully implemented" - assuming the latter phrase means "turned out well" as opposed to "paved the way to hell perfectly" - shows the corollary of your original assertion i.e. that it can't have been that bad a policy in the first place.
I agree that examples are not easy to come up with if only because people would likely have changed their minds about the policy's "badness".

FDUK

Just a few thoughts.

Tax credits were badly implemented. Any policy that can leave a family tens of thousands in debt through no fault of there own must be poorly implemented.

Iraq could be seen as a good policy badly implemented. You might not agree with the justification for the invasion, but it certainly could have worked if the implementation had been thought through, in the sense that there could be a functioning government and state of Iraq.

As for a bad policy brilliantly implemented I give you austerity or the Right to Buy.

I also think that Marxists are lumbered with the failure of the Soviet Union, and possibly quite rightly.

Blissex

«ERM is exactly an example of a good policy badly implemented - if the UK had entered the ERM at a sensible rate instead of DM 2.95,»

ERM and the Euro were and are, from a strictly economic point of view, a bad policy without "convergence" or fiscal transfers to fix the lack of "convergence". It was also indeed inanely pursued at a ridiculous exchange rate, "because glory of the pound sterling". Curiously nowadays the exchange rate of the pound is no longer a symbol of the power of England.

«the 90s property bubble is why Major won the 1992 election,»

It was a landslide, with more voters than ever M Thatcher got, never mind electorally toxic T Blair.

«so perhaps the policy wasn't so bad after all from the purely selfish view of those implementing it)»

The Lawson property debt boom and the Barber consumer debt boom have been the core economic policy of every government since 1992, such was the electoral power they demonstrated.

Blissex

«Tax credits were badly implemented. Any policy that can leave a family tens of thousands in debt through no fault of there own»

Every policy has corner cases, there is no such thing as an effective system that has a zero error rate. The question is how frequently, and for the vast majority of tax credit receivers they made a big difference.
The argument then becomes what happens when a corner case happens; if it is hard to fix then the implementation is partially flawed.

Keith

Every country has an economic plan, it is called the budget. Large corporations as has been pointed out above also do a lot of often very centralised planning. Monetary policy by the central bank is a form of planning. May be the USSR was a good idea badly implemented? It clearly is the case that planning and markets as usually contrasted by the right and left are not really mutually exclusive at all. They can and do exist side by side and often complement each other. Trying to centrally plan every single aspect of the economy may have been a mistake, but there are many different levels of planning in between no plan and total plan. So this kind of debate needs to be conducted more carefully with qualifications; the details as you said matter a lot.

I would like to point out that the fall of the USSR seems to have been as much a result of nationalism and the hostility of different people to being run by Russians in moscow as economic failure. It would have been possible to revise the purely economic aspect of the system, but for the fact the political system was based on a total control of all aspects of society.It was the fear of the political effects of reform to the economy which prevented any practical change and the related paranoia about the west which kept every thing on a permanent war footing. So in the context of a actual historical state the reasons for the problems of the soviet economy cannot be understood in isolation from the other features of the political entity and the people running it.

Most of the laws and policies adopted since 1992 seem to show the UK ruling class is as authoritarian and addicted to condescending manipulation as the soviet elite but without the excuse of a world changing communist faith!

Keith

By the way, how do you square the goal of equality on which communism is based with market mechanisms?

The use of even highly regulated markets leads to unequal outcomes and so does central planning ironically. Planning or market means some people are better off or worse off. While you can reduce the disparity it cannot be removed entirely. Power inequalities remain as property and hierarchy and specialisation are irrevocable. So is this not just a form of mixed economy, and does that not mean we all are social democrats in practice rather than marxists? Flexible marxism looks a lot like the reformism traditionally denounced by sectarian marxist parties as traitorous abandonment of class struggle.

Guano

FDUK

"Iraq could be seen as a good policy badly implemented ...... it certainly could have worked if the implementation had been thought through, in the sense that there could be a functioning government and state of Iraq."

I disagree strongly. If the implementation (of the occupation) had been thought through, it would have become clear that building a new regime is a very complex and difficult task and it probably wouldn't have been done. Regime change (destroying a regime and creating a new one) only appeals to people who have never thought about what it involves, and therefore have never confronted the difficulties (and the severe risks if it goes wrong).

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