Here is the kind of terrifying piece we’re going to see a lot more of in the coming weeks and months.
It’s published today in an allegedly conservative newspaper, the Daily Telegraph and the headline is: ‘There is no alternative: we are all socialists now in the fight against coronavirus.’
Really? Says who, exactly?
Oh, guess what. Turns out that the author Tom Harris is a former Labour MP.
Isn’t it extraordinary how handy the coronavirus is proving towards those of a big government persuasion? Apparently — so they claim — the pandemic is just so obviously a problem that can only be solved by massive state intervention that it justifies their entire leftist belief system and forces the rest of us to do so too.
Here is a taste of Harris’s drivel:
But in the words of one of Mr Johnson’s predecessors, there is no alternative. Yes, he will suffer criticism for loosening the purse strings after the fashion of Gordon Brown in 2008. But Johnson has already proved himself comfortable with the reputation of being a born-again Keynesian: spending on capital projects to create jobs and boost the economy in targeted regions may be, at first glance, a Labour policy. But Johnson doesn’t care so long as the policy works.
Don’t you just love the arrogance of that ‘so long as the policy works’? Harris is not even attempting to persuade us — just stating ex cathedra – that a successful outcome for a massive Keynesian spending splurge is a given, something we no longer need even to bother questioning any more.
Economist Kristian Niemitz’s satirical point is well made:
Coronavirus proves that we URGENTLY need to do X.
X, as it happens, is one of my hobbyhorses that I've been banging on about since 1986.
But that's not the point.
— Kristian Niemietz shamelessly politicises stuff (@K_Niemietz) March 11, 2020
And it’s not just leftists who are coming up with this statist guff.
Here’s a tweet from a former senior UKIP politician:
I'm in favour of massive state (taxpayer) intervention to save the economy. It's a must. But it will be the 2nd time in 12 yrs. So I hope what emerges afterwards is a greater respect for the public realm and an end to dumb jibes about Govt always being the bane of wealth-creation
— Patrick O'Flynn (@oflynnsocial) March 17, 2020
“It’s a must”.
Oh well, if you say it like that, guess it must be.
Here is another egregious example, this time from a notionally Conservative commentator. Nick Timothy was, of course, the chief advisor to the Theresa May government. (And remember how well that turned out…)
This paragraph made me particularly nauseous. It’s essentially a riff on Barack Obama’s similarly revolting, disingenuous, overweeningly statist ‘You didn’t build that’ slogan on the 2012 campaign trail.
From a leftist like Obama it was bad enough. But from someone wearing the conservative label — what was Timothy thinking when he wrote this bilge?
No business has ever built its success alone. Their goods are transported by road, their workers are educated in schools, and their customers are part of sophisticated networks that include the private sector, public sector and charities. Often firms’ intellectual property originated in public institutions. Far from operating in a vacuum, all businesses rely on a strong society, with good government and moral virtues, like honesty and integrity.
These siren voices urging expanded government — and more reckless spending of OUR money — are dangerous, really dangerous. Coronavirus will pass. Our economies will recover. Pump-priming them now is just insane, especially when we’re all physically incapable of going out and actually spending money. But we will as soon as we can.
I agree entirely with this very sensible piece by economist Ryan Bourne:
This, though, is no ordinary downturn. Economists and commentators who talk about it as such, pushing the same-old “fiscal stimulus” arguments for encouraging spending to “protect the economy,” are not just wrong right now, but dangerous.
The first implication of coronavirus economics is that a sharp slowdown in activity is necessary to contain the virus, because it represents the social distancing required to reduce its spread. While usually a reasonable proxy for economic health then, GDP is temporarily useless as a metric of social welfare. We should ignore it.
Second, ensuring this pause in activity does not do longer-lasting damage should be our key objective. We want this to play out like a bad agricultural season, or an extended “Christmas week” – with a Nike-tick recovery or, given some spending will never occur, a V-shaped rebound that redistributes activity over time.
Both these points mean policy success should be judged not by short-run GDP, but ability to mitigate distress among vulnerable households and businesses, preventing business failures or mass layoffs in viable firms, or severe hardship for those without significant savings or employer benefits. We can judge longer success by assessing the path of GDP over 1-2 years.
Again, Coronavirus will pass. But the damage done by excessive government meddling in the markets and elsewhere could last generations. This is what we should most fear; and it’s what we should fight most hard to resist.