Despite the utterly disastrous state of the UK's national finances, the current political consensus is that “it's wrong to cut public spending in a recession” and that we must wait until “the recovery” before doing anything effective to get public borrowing under control.
Medawar sees two problems with that:
1/ Without resort to state-sponsored astrology, we do not know how long the recovery will be in coming. (The photograph is a striking example of state-sponsored astrology at Hampton Court.)
2/ It will become imperative to make massive cuts the moment the Treasury decrees a "recovery" is underway. Like waiting for chicks to hatch before starting an omelette. Medawar fears the consequences of this even more than he fears the recession.
The reason why all three of the UK's main political parties agree on this, as do America's Democrats, if not entirely the Republicans, is that they know that they lack the competence and wit required to correctly identify what can be cut without worsening the recession. The political consensus is actually a collective admission of inability. Unfortunately, although the Republicans believe that they are competent to make massive spending cuts without cutting America's throat, they probably aren't.
Debt is the cause of the whole thing: we cannot simply let the debts run on out of control “until the recovery comes” because the recovery cannot occur under those conditions. Neither has any economy ever recovered from anything, let alone a record-breaking recession, without something being done about corruption. We cannot simply mark time: we must have a crackdown on corruption in public life and on all actual crime -and we must look for intelligent and immediate economies, rather than allowing debts and unsolved problems to pile up like snow on a mountainside, waiting for spring and a lethal avalanche.
The last time global economic conditions were in anything like their present state, the American government poured huge sums of money into public works, the British government did not, but it did keep up spending on technological research and scientific progress. About the only “science” which America spent significant public funds on during this period, was Eugenics. As if the Potomac somehow flowed into the Rhine. Whilst most of the present generation of British politicians, bizarrely, go misty-eyed over Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal -and variously ignore or despise Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, the latter's policies got the British economy into recovery, FIVE YEARS earlier than Roosevelt's New Deal and the often-stultifying bureaucracy that went with it. If Chamberlain had retired from his position as Chancellor without becoming Prime Minister, he would be in the history books as the greatest British Chancellor. He did spend money, but only on the new.
Historians now know that Churchill ordered British scientists, during the most dangerous years of the Second World War, to simply give the United States dozens of ground-breaking inventions and discoveries, free, gratis and for nothing. Rather fewer realize that America's economic prosperity during the last years of the war and thereafter owed far more to this than to the New Deal, and only a tiny handful of people know that Chamberlain's policies during the thirties directly or indirectly paved the way for just about all of those inventions and discoveries. All of the British aircraft designs, which fought for civilization in Churchill's “finest hour,” were commissioned when Chamberlain was Chancellor.
The key to increasing spending during a recession, therefore, is not to “spend your way out of recession” but to spend on preparing the ground for after the recession. The key to constructively cutting spending during a recession and interwoven debt crisis, is likewise to cut those things that will get in the way of the progress you want to make afterwards. And if you aspire to drive actual crime down, whilst protecting civil liberties and even restoring them, the discipline of a “crudely economic” motive stops you from oppressing the innocent, because that's a pure waste of money!
The Eugenics of the early twenty-first century is “Social Control”. That is, a babbling pseudo-science that's touted as a panacea for every ill, costs (and gets) huge amounts of public money and is completely negative and largely criminal in its application. Eugenics was eagerly seized on by many up and coming politicians, all round the world, in the twenties and thirties; those who were still holding onto it in the late forties ended up facing war crimes tribunals and the gallows!
Cutting the money we spend on social control not only saves us money: it concentrates the attention of law-enforcement officers on actual crime, which is currently being controlled and driven down only by government statisticians. The often-covert social control agenda, not just of the Blair/Brown government, but of the Major and Thatcher governments, too, has resulted in law enforcement now spending a lot more than half its time -and budget- on things which are nothing to do with actual crime. Every time a policeman interacts in a coercive way with someone who has not committed a crime, civil liberties are eroded -and money is wasted! But every time a policeman interacts effectively with someone who has committed an actual crime, money is saved that would otherwise be drained from the economy -and, more importantly still, the opportunities for legitimate enterprise and expression are protected and expanded. We will never recover from the recession, if innovators and entrepreneurs fear, with reason, that their efforts will be vandalised as soon as they begin, or the fruits of their labour and genius will be stolen.
And social control starts, rather than ends, with the police. It continues across every area of public life, and public spending! There are even non-profit groups and “charities”, such as “Common Purpose” which train public servants in social control. Herein lies both a problem and a golden opportunity for the reconstruction of public finances.
One of the key phrases of the social control movement, and it's a movement of the nature of messianic idolatry, is “Constructive Discomfort” (so far as Medawar knows, the credit for this invention rests on the guileless shoulders of Mister Alistair Campbell). Constructive Discomfort means, in essence, that members of the social control movement within public service (and that's where they tend to be), knowingly and deliberately make things more difficult for other public servants and the public, in the belief that change, and therefore “good”, will come out of the inevitable fear and frustration. It is self-evident that not only is any taxpayer's money spent on such an endeavour wasted, but that every active proponent of the philosophy is placing other public servants under stress and preventing them working in a smooth and efficient way, exercising their own initiative and reason, whilst systematically and routinely preventing the public from doing things which they have a perfect right to do.
That's the problem, the golden opportunity is that the most urgent need in public finance is to limit public sector pensions liability -and none of the social control movement members are on low, or even average, pay! It is inherent in their activities that sacking them will make public services work better instead of worse -and the training that they have received in the techniques of social control and constructive discomfort, all at public expense, means that they can all be quickly and conclusively identified. In effect, the social control movement, exemplified by self-styled “graduates” of Common Purpose and other shadowy training groups, are self-defining candidates for redundancy, whose departure will actually improve the function of public services and, in doing so, raise the morale of the public servants who remain to actually serve the public. It is soul-destroying not to be allowed to do what is obviously necessary and which you are willing and equipped to do!
Recessions like this one aren't just followed by economic recovery, they are usually followed by perceived opportunities for military and political aggression. So, the one thing that should not be cut, either during the recession or afterwards, is defence. Besides, if we cut the fifth column now, we will be under far less pressure to cut defence or any other real service, in years to come.