Thursday, 22 June 2017
Young people are neoliberals - they just don't realise it yet so let's help them.
It seems to me that the real issue young people have is feeling excluded from the benefits of our capitalist, neoliberal society not that capitalist, neoliberal society itself. And this seems a reasonable gripe to me. Here's a tweet from lefty journalist John Elledge:
This - perhaps not all that considered - comment tells us a great deal. Mostly that the real irritation of the emerging graduate generation is that they feel unable to afford investment assets like houses. For me this is one of the essential failures of UK government over the last thirty years - the idea of a property owning democracy was ignored as we got ever more excited about the seemingly endless rise in house prices.
Some people want to blame all this on my generation - the boomers - who took advantage of cheap asset prices in the 1970s and 1980s and rode the bubble to the point where the house my Dad bought for £3,250 in 1963 in now 'worth' over £400,000 (Dad sold the house in 1975 for about £14,000). I am absolutely with all those people who feel that they're outside this bubblicious world - not just the young or poor but a whole load of people from 'Up North' who've not seen anything like the gains those 'Down South' have seen.
Add to this that we told young people that the way to get into this bubble world was to get a good degree (in fact any old degree as Blair's enthusiasm for book-learning led to the numbers going to university getting up towards half of 18 and 19 year olds). And because these degrees were the gateway to a world of wealth and power, we told young people they could have a load of (cheap) borrowing that they'd spend half their life paying off so as to get the degree.
Young people don't want to be socialists, they want the entrance fee to our neoliberal world of valuable assets, to that property-owning democracy we were all promised. And this is why they've dumped the capitalists, the people who they think are stopping them from joining the glorious free market rat race. "Have free university tuition". "Here's a subsidised mortgage". "How about a big pay rise". "Or a higher minimum wage". "Free child care". "Discounted rail travel"...
It doesn't matter how much others ask where all this cash is coming from, people aren't listening. Or rather they see those telephone number house prices and say, "y'all can afford to pay for this stuff, get on with it". And Labour offered them everything they were asking for and some things they weren't - no questions asked. Is it any surprise that folk who are outside that wealth bubble flocked to this banner?
Young people - and plenty of the not-so-young - want to know when it's their turn to play the free market, asset-owning, property-speculating game. They don't want socialism, they want what their parents and grandparents had - the chance to have a real cash stake in their society, the thing that Margaret Thatcher promised to my generation (and largely delivered). This isn't about nationalisation for all that people tell you the government should run stuff (they always have done by the way even at the height of Maggie's pomp). No, it's about us renewing the promise we made to the post-war generation and to late boomers like me - play your part, work hard, be a good citizen and we'll make sure you can have that real cash stake in Britain.
Right now we're still telling people to play their part, to work hard, to borrow to fund education and to be a good citizen but government has reneged on its side of the bargain, that cash stake in Britain. And the single-minded focus of any new government should be to renew that offer and make it work. Those young people really aren't baby ideologues desperate for some sort of socialist New Jerusalem. They're just like you and I were 30, 40, 50 or 60 years ago - bothered about our own futures, the things we care about, in that thing Adam Smith saw as the driver of a better, richer society: self-interest.
So let's start offering people that chance. Let's free up the planning system so more houses get built were people want to live. Let's revisit the idea of tax relief or other support that backs individual, personal investment in our society. Let's liberate the innovative instincts of property and finance people to meet the aspirations of today's ambitious young people - 21st century capitalists, budding neoliberals every one. And let's do this knowing that the alternative, Labour's market-fixing, price-controlling, 'magic money tree' programme carries in it the seeds of disaster, the crash that socialism always brings.
I'm with you if you want to bash at those folk farming grants and corporate welfare. I'm on your side if you want to try and stop well-funded lobbyists getting government to fix a market or a system to suit their clients. I'm right there if what you want is to stop rent-seekers freeloading on free health, welfare and education. And I agree with you when you say people should pay the taxes they owe - on the nail not just after a long-winded and expensive investigation.
But this isn't about socialism just about getting a free market that works for all of us. It's about setting economic liberty - the idea that, more than anything else, is responsible for the health and wealth nearly all of us enjoy today (even if we can't afford a house) - at the heart of government policy. The more we try to control the market the less liberty we have and the more power we hand to the commissioners, the lobbyists and the corporations protected by the government fix.
What we all want is a real stake in the nation we're a part of - not just a vague notion of citizenship but a real sense of being a part of the place, of having roots. And that means renewing that promise made by Harold MacMillan in the 1950s, by Ted Heath in 1970 and by Margaret Thatcher in 1983 - Britain isn't just land and institutions but its people, all of them. And all of them should have the chance to take a real, solid, tangible stake in their nation.