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BS Britain

Sunday, January 8, 2017 3:17
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From this afternoon we will see the latest strikes by hard-line unions on public transport. This time on the state-owned Tube network. The RMT is cross that its members can no longer hide behind counters in stations and have to actually interact with staff, and do roles other than selling tickets. That we no longer really need ticket-sellers seems to be ignored. In a normal industry, the workforce would re-shape, with roles lost where they are no longer appropriate and – most likely – boosted in other areas. For example, banks no longer need so many staff at branches, but need more at the end of phone lines to deal with problems when they arise. In my own industry, we have lost secretaries but gained admin and other support roles. Times change, but in BS Britain customers and – inevitably – the overall economy is able to be held to ransom by those resisting the inevitable.

We are back in the 1970s, make no mistake. The Thatcher counter-revolution has largely been undone. We have Butskellists in charge at all levels. The “centre ground” is coveted by all except those on the very fringes (such as Jezza). Nobody should be upset, if at all possible: in this world a minor tweak here to this policy or a change to that tax rule there will solve everything. A morale-boosting speech is worth a thousand actions.

Politicians make promises they know cannot be delivered, whether a “fare freeze” and “no strikes” in London, or getting the Mexican taxpayer to pay for a wall to protect the US border. Any upfront challenge is batted away, but as soon as the election is won the promise is diluted so much that even a homeopath would balk.

You can see why voters get frustrated. You can see why people lose faith in The System. It is basically impossible for everyone to be pleased at the same time. That is why we have elections and democracy in the first place. When one faction loses support, it is time for the other faction to take its turn in power. Except the system is broken: each faction in the UK tries to garner the support of the other faction’s natural supporters. But in the end it does not work, and we just end up with a bigger state, more taxes, more economic friction and more frustration.

I should in no way feel “hard done by”. I earn a good salary (somewhere above the 90th percentile, if the official numbers are to be believed), my mortgage is cheap, I have money left over to save at the end of the month; and yet I do not feel prosperous. I have – on paper – a healthy net position, but that money does not buy me very much. I save a lot of my income into a pension and even if I continue to do so until I am 70+ it will give me very little in retirement income. My flat has nearly doubled in value since I bought it yet, if I move, most of my cash savings will be wiped out in transaction costs. Despite my good salary and savings ethic, I cannot even really buy anywhere significantly nicer to live if I stay in London. I know people on much higher incomes who have the same problem. I spend a small fortune on public transport, which frequently lets me down. 

If people in my situation (highly educated, highly skilled, well paid, healthy) are frustrated, what hope is there for everyone else?

It is time for firm action on the BS. Let’s call things out where they clearly aren’t working properly: whether it is overstaffed public transport systems or a completely dysfunctional housing market. Let’s accept that sorting this stuff out means that for any particular action about half the electorate will be disappointed or angry – whether it is NIMBYs, those in public-sector unions or Soft-Brexiters. Let’s stop trying to appeal to everyone, and crack on with clearing up this malaise. And quickly, before too many of the highly-educated, highly-skilled, well-paid and healthy decide to look for better-functioning, lower-taxed, sunnier climes.


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