Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Big Problems need Big State Solutions

I am struck over and over again that some country’s governments take great delight in the concept of “Small Government”, whilst we face big problems requiring the sort of big solutions that only “Big Government” (and sometimes international cooperation) can solve.

For example:

Immigration

Free movement of people (either across Europe by the likes of Easyjet, or within the country by white transit) can mean that large numbers of people arrive in local authority areas with housing, health and education needs. Individual local authorities cannot quickly “ramp up” their ability to provide these social goods. If a “small government” administration declines to help saying “the market will provide”, the result will be social strain and unrest.

To “address the problems of immigration” (Conservative speak), or “to take advantage of the opportunities of immigration” (Labour speak), we need to recognise that large inflows of people relative to small local host communities will overwhelm public services. The market will not solve this problem, but the state could. It could

  • support those local communities with additional money going into Social Housing, Education and the NHS, and
  • attempt to spread economic growth across a much wider area (i.e. not just the Greater South East), and
  • enforcing labour market regulation (Working Time Directive, Minimum Wage, Health and Safety etc).

But this government finds such thoughts totally outside its “world view” and is incapable of addressing them – so they just stir up hatred backed by dodgy statistics.

Flooding / Climate Change

Our volatile weather has shown that flooding is fairly indiscriminate – although an article in the Guardian reports Oxfam making the case that less well off areas suffer more –

Almost one in five of the poorest third of neighbourhoods in England suffered floods between 1990 and 2013, compared with just one in 18 of the richest 10% of areas
Guardian 25 March 2014: Poorer areas in England at greatest flooding risk, Oxfam says

The solution to our flooding problems partly depends on your view of climate change. Whatever your view there is a need for flood defences or river management and such actions cannot be managed by individuals or even by “big society” type groups. If you believe that climate change is partly responsible, the solution has to lie in governments getting together and then taking action.

Pollution and Air Quality

Recent pollution and air quality issues show that we cannot be isolationist; nor can we claim that it is just a freak weather event about which nothing can be done.

David Cameron has come under withering attack from the European Commission, accused of failing to get to grips with the levels of air pollution in Britain after he labelled the smog afflicting parts of the country a “naturally occurring weather phenomenon”.
Guardian 3 April 2014: UK smog: David Cameron accused of misunderstanding air pollution crisis

Cameron and Co will never accept that these are real and international problems, because solving them requires government action on a large, sustained and international scale.

To even think that way sets off all his intellectual overload protections. His “world” view is one of tiny government, laissez-faire, short-termism and narrow “national sovereignty”. Such a view just does not compute when faced with problems like air pollution, climate change, global poverty, nuclear proliferation, resource security and super-power annexation of parts of smaller states.

I despair.

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3 thoughts on “Big Problems need Big State Solutions

  1. Peter on said:

    I don’t suppose Oxfam considered other factors such as people in poorer areas might throw more rubbish on the floor and clog up the drains. Sounds crazy but every possibility should be looked at, rather than constantly trying to find ‘victims’.

    • The Oxfam report was referring to flooded neighbourhoods rather than flooded homes, so I very much doubt if “flooding” refers to the sort of household flooding you get if you accidentally block your domestic drains. Blocking of mains drains can occur for many reasons not necessarily connected with the neighbourhood concerned (my council for instance does not regularly clear road drains meaning we are at risk of surface flooding of local roads). The flooding that Oxfam appear to refer to is such as in Morpeth, Hull, Carlisle, Cockermouth and other such places – caused by rivers overflowing or tidal surges.

      While anecdotally many of the homes hit by the latest winter floods were not in the most deprived areas, the analysis indicates that this was in contrast to the bigger picture. It shows that almost one in five of the poorest third of neighbourhoods in England were hit by floods between 1990 and 2013. This compares to just one in 18 of the top 10 per cent.
      Oxfam 25 March 2014: England’s most deprived areas three times more likely to have been flooded than most well-off

      Flooding in poorer areas does not cause as much damage in financial terms as say flooding of riverside homes in Berkshire, so probably gets less coverage.

  2. I should add to the list major structural reform of the country to address the dominance of the Golden Corner whose problems cascade out over the rest of the country as a sort of metastatic disease that will consume those parts of the country that stay within the union.

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