Time for a new revolution?

There are only 97 days until the Scottish independence referendum. You might not care much, but I think you will still find my interview with Angus Tulloch on the matter worth reading. The points he touches on to make his case go far beyond Scotland’s borders.

He mentions rising demands from voters for local accountability and responsibility – that’s something people are calling for all over Europe. But he also mentions that it is time to step away from our current political systems before we are crushed beneath the weight of our bloated welfare states. That’s something he reckons will be a lot easier to do in a small state than in a larger one.

It is a theme picked up in The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, a new book from John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. The authors argue that the Western state has been through “three and a half great revolutions” in modern times.

The first came in the 17th century as Europe’s princes created centralised states that turned into trading empires. The second began with the French and American revolutions, and replaced “regal patronage systems with more meritocratic and accountable government”.

Next came “the invention of the modern welfare state”, which, in the West at least, has ruled unchallenged since World War II, bar the half-revolution of the Thatcher and Reagan attempts to limit its growth.

The result of all this revolution? State spending has risen from an average of 10% in the West to more like 47% as politicians have given us more of what they think we keep demanding – “more education, more healthcare, more prisons, more pensions, more security, more benefits”.

But there’s a problem. Not only is it unaffordable, but it cultivates dependence on the state, lack of self-reliance and over-use of services: when people believe things are free, they “gorge” on them. The answer is “a new revolution” in government in the West, one that removes the drag of entitlement and “revives the spirit of democracy by lightening the burden on the state”.

We agree entirely with these sentiments in the same way that we love Tulloch’s vision of Scotland as a small, wealthy nation – who wouldn’t? We just can’t see how we get from here to there.

On a happier note you might want to read our cover story on European money printing and David Stevenson’s column on the best funds to play Japan. These are exciting times in our favourite markets: Japanese quantitative easing (QE) is well underway, with inflation being the clear result (Uniqlo has just announced a 5% price rise across the board) and the European Central Bank has now embraced unconventional monetary policy.

You may not approve of the economics of all this (or the politics – no stepping back from bloated welfare states here). But if the last few years have taught us anything, it is that when any central bank starts printing, we should usually judge less and buy more.

  • forward thinker

    I strongly disagee with the editor. We need more education of the right kind, such as in economics, science, engineering, medical matters etc. We also badly need better health care. Germany, for instance, does both things better and is economically much more successful than Britain. Germany, like most other European countries. also has proportionally fewer people languishing in prisons. It the great disparity of incomes that is a feature of both the UK and USA that breeds crime. A better educated and more productive society would also obviate the need for much of the welfare payments. Private “funded” pensions with their high administrative aand other charges are notoriously inefficient. If they replaced state pensions they would create asset inflation, as there is only a limited number of shares available for investment.