From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!’ Karl Marx
Could this idealist and unworkable Marxist mantra summarise a substantial part of the behaviour of the European Union (EU)? If so, what then are the implications for our country and us individually?
Within the economic and political ‘Big Picture’ in the EU and this country there is a noticeable emphasis on the redistribution of existing material wealth, which is eclipsing the creation of new per capita wealth (wealth for each person). Rather than concentrate on the harder task of making the future cake bigger for everyone, the existing smaller cake is being divided up, by the ruling elite in the EU and here, into somewhat arbitrary or even questionable portions. Sometimes this is done disingenuously or with deception. This redistribution also undermines our ability to make the cake bigger; resources or funding are not available to be used where they could help create future wealth. Unfortunately, new per capita wealth creation is also proving difficult to achieve in the EU and this country, and obvious metrics (in the UK) such as individual discretionary spending power or productivity have shown little improvement for years, whilst youth unemployment has worsened.
With wealth redistribution, winners are gaining at the expense or loss of others or of exacerbating existing problems. For example, the wealth creating part of the economy is heavily taxed to fund government and EU largesse and bureaucracy of limited economic value (such as foreign aid and EU grants subsidising corruption, waste and countries living beyond their means); poorer countries are losing their brightest and best skilled, and are charged more for products and services thereby helping to fill the public (government) coffers of richer countries and the EU; public debts are piled on future generations; higher prices are paid by consumers to monopolies or EU and government sponsored overpricing (such as with energy); corporatism (crony capitalism of large organisations) gain at the loss of smaller or more innovative enterprises; interest rates are artificially low penalising savers whilst enabling borrowers (including governments) to borrow and spend more extravagantly; large organisations are providing rich pickings for underperforming senior executives. These activities could be described as larceny or looting on a grand scale (the Gravy Train) and why not take part if you are from a tradition of corruption or of using privileged positions of monopoly or authority (in government) to loot others?
Redistribution of existing wealth is inherently incompatible with the sanctity or protection of ownership rights to individual wealth and property; although the takers (of others’ property or possessions) tend to exempt their own wealth and privileges and, especially politicians or bureaucrats, often claim moral superiority for their actions. Yet this is a slippery slope; without the moral or ideological imperative to minimise such redistribution of wealth, it can grow with little restraint, as with the EU Commission’s budget even during times of recession and hardship. Also any existing ownership rights are eroded with the result that other forms of national or individual wealth (generally anything present that improves the quality of life) and property are then unprotected and potentially “up for grabs” or of being attacked and trashed. And so there can be destruction of: traditional freedoms (including freedom from fear or persecution); democracy; justice; national sovereignty, culture and heritage; treasured national or social institutions; amnesia towards historical achievements etc.
Inviolability of Ownership Rights
In this country we have a long tradition of the inviolability of ownership rights to individual wealth and property, safeguarded by the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament. John Locke in Two Treatises of Government, 1689, was a notable early advocate who defined property to include life, liberty and possessions, and considered governments had a responsibility for protecting these. Such rights have indeed benefitted us over the years including providing a powerful incentive to create new per capita wealth, for example, in goods and services, which add value for customers and users.
Such ownership rights also provide a powerful incentive to conserve or protect our existing wealth in its multifarious forms inherited from early generations and pass it on enriched and improved to future generations. Such conservatism provides a justification for limited existing wealth redistribution, for example, for the security and defence of the Realm and the People. However, conservatism is generally incompatible with wealth redistribution, its undermining of ownership rights and where this can lead. This raises a contradiction in “Conservatives” supporting continued membership of an existing heavily wealth redistributing EU without inherent restraint against the destruction of much of what they purport to hold dear. The EU’s behaviour to date does not provide confidence that when “push comes to shove”, anything is protected, including personal property and liberty; EU laws are enacted for autocratic, ideological or institutional purposes, not as part of a long tradition (from Magna Carta, 1215) to protect the People against the state.
The EU appears poorly suited to facilitating new per capita wealth creation in developed predominately service economies, such as the UK, and in the modern Internet Age. Such creation needs more than trade or access to potential customers; these tend to emerge anyway when suitable products exist, which usually needs innovation, risk taking and productivity improvement to make attractive to customers and viable. The EU’s particular handicaps, include: its top down autocratic, ideological, institutionalised and bureaucratic nature leading to misconceived policies; its slowness to react or correct mistakes; its poor communications with “the coal face” where its policies have or need to have an impact; its corporatism (favouritism towards big government, big business and big other organisations). At best, the EU can take “pot shots” at science or technology “winners” with its largesse (taxpayers’ money). Yet much innovation is developed by users and through collaboration moves back along the supply chain to suppliers (see Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel). At worst the EU can make it unviable for businesses or individuals to proceed by redistributing their existing wealth to itself and others.
Whilst some limited and strictly controlled, wealth redistribution is necessary or even desirable, it can be taken too far making us all poorer in material and many other ways. If we cannot break the EU’s voracious wealth redistribution and other unhelpful habits, and create new per capita wealth, we cannot be generous or compassionate. Also, we cannot improve living standards for others here or improve conditions in other countries. Yet our forefathers, without the EU or political interference, had a very good track record of creating new wealth and its facilitators — Parliamentary democracy, the Common Law, property ownership rights and the Industrial Revolution — here and spreading them outwards, often globally.