Monday, 8 August 2011

Das Kapital

Sometimes, especially in a wired world, where people are snarky just for their own amusement, it pays for us to take a step back and remember just what it is we are arguing about. Watching the 'debate' over the US budget deficit over the past couple of weeks, especially since it was occurring in a country that is deliberately polarised between Right and Left, and where the Right has a new Fundamentalist Libertarian wing to make it sound even shriller, it sounded like there was some major point of principle at stake. I ended up recalling a lot of online discussions I'd had with Americans of various political stripes - some had gone so far as to suggest that even a public education system was somehow symptomatic of a slippery slope to Socialism (not that Americans generally have much of an idea of what Socialism actually is).

The acrimonious debate prompted me to take a look at some figures, and they're interesting reading. Let's say, for sake of argument, that the proportion of a country's GDP that is controlled by the government is roughly proportional to how 'socialised' its system is. Now let's take a look at what kind of variation there is out there in the real world. The developed country with the lowest tax take in terms of proportion of GDP is the United States, with 24%. The one with the highest is Denmark, at 48%. That's it - just 24% between them.

So that 24% range - just under one quarter of GDP - actually covers everything from 'hire-em-and-fire-em capitalism red in tooth and claw' to 'Scandianvian nanny state socialist utopia'. The big reveal is: everyone actually agrees on 76% of everything - even Obama and the Tea Party. The acrimony of the budget debate has only served to obscure just to what extent there is actually a very broad consensus on how to run a modern state. Maybe Francis Fukuyama was right all along. We all seem to agree that a dynamic economy needs space for private enterprise, but that some things - like defence and policing, fire services and probably most schooling - are best provided by the state. After that, we're only arguing over one quarter of the cake.

And when you put it like that, do we really have to stoop to calling each other Nazis and Communists?

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