Nanny state & class warfare
April 14, 2016
The nanny state is alive and well in Australia… not just with the recent government crackdown on drinking, and the ongoing attack on smokers, but also with the long-standing war on drugs, and a hundred and one smaller things like compulsory bicycle helmets.
Many people complain that these restrictions take away individual freedom and give too much power to politicians… and they are right, but these arguments are unconvincing for the paternalists, because they don’t think most people should have too much freedom anyway, and they trust political power. But even if we ignore the “freedom argument” and “public choice argument” there is another problem with paternalism that should not be ignored… the behavioural argument. The nanny state leads to worse decisions.
By not letting each person make their own decisions, many people don’t learn important lessons about responsibility. Some people implicitly learn that they can always lean on an authority figure, who already knows how everybody should behave, so people don’t have to worry about working things out for themselves… and to make matters worse they also learn that they don’t have to worry about the consequences of their actions, because the same authority will take responsibility for that too.
The lesson is that we can just concentrate on doing whatever we want — an authority figure is watching over us to keep us safe and will bail us out if we get in trouble, leaving us free to just have fun today. This leads to a higher time value.
This might not sound very important, but higher time value has serious consequences — it is associated with substance abuse, being unreliable, being selfish, refusing hard work, lower education, inability to accurately consider risk, lack of saving, bad parenting (making the problem intergenerational), and generally being anti-social & self-destructive.
The nanny state creates a society of children. But even that analogy doesn’t quite work, because parents know that at some point they need to allow their children to make their own decisions (and make their own mistakes) or else their child will never develop the responsibility to be an adult. As they grow older, children learn to factor in the future consequences and develop a lower time value. In contrast, parents of severely mentally disabled children know that they can never give over control to their child, because their child is never going to grow up. It’s not a perfect analogy, but the ruling class in Australia believes that the general public are like retarded children.
I say the “ruling class” because this is a class issue.
The new ruling class are the technocrats, bureaucrats & specialists who are responsible for thousands of new laws & regulations every year. They are well educated and have above-average intelligence, see themselves as generous and thoughtful, they want to build a better world, and they look down on lower class people as racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, sexist, bigoted bogans. They claim to be embarrassed that Australia (meaning the “common people”) is racist… with the implication that they and their ruling class friends are in a separate category. For lack of a better word, I will call these people the “trendies”.
The ruling class trendies will hate the accusation of classism, because they desperately want to see themselves as the “good guys”. A quick rebuttal of three likely objections from trendies. (1) They will claim that they are fighting against upper class business tycoons, and that might be true, but upper class is different from the ruling class. (2) They will claim that they often lose out in policy fights, and that is true in the short term, but in the longer term the trendy agenda has done very well, and it is normal to hear politicians (from both sides) invoking the advice of technocrats or specialists to justify some new regulation or restriction. (3) And they will claim that they are actually fighting for the lower class, and they may actually believe that in some part of their mind, but you don’t have to scratch the surface very far to find a deep loathing of bogans as uneducated bigots, and implicit in nearly all of their arguments is the idea that bogans are inferior and so they need to be controlled by benevolent technocrats. Charles Murray has written in more detail about the contrast between trendies and bogans.
To their credit, for the most part the new trendy ruling class aren’t trying to exploit the lower class. Instead, the ruling class wants to force lower class people to live “properly”, and they justify their control of other people by pointing to their own intelligence and the stupidity & mistakes of bogans.
In 19th century Britain there was the White Man’s Burden… in 21st century Australia we now have the Trendy People’s Burden, where trendy technocrats feel obliged to control the lower classes “for their own good”.
The sad thing is that the ruling class trendies create a self-fulfilling prophecy with their nanny state and welfare state policies… dumbing down the bogan-class, who are now even less able to make responsible decisions, which justifies even more micro-management from the technocrats. The paternalism isn’t just a harmless attempt to help other people… it may be done with good intentions, but there is significant harm. People with a high time value can be trapped in a cycle of bad decisions, and relearning responsibility as an adult is very difficult.
Unfortunately, while the ruling class trendies might be smarter than average, they aren’t smart enough to understand the damage they are doing. And the ruling class trendies might care about other people to some degree, but they don’t care enough to challenge their assumptions and look for new answers. The trendies are half-smart and they half-care, which can be a dangerous mix. When they see the destructive cycle of bad decisions coming from the bogans, they see it as justification for their control over the lower classes. The trendies conclude that they are the saviours of the lower class, benevolent rules of the bogans for their own good, heroes who took on the burden of fixing the world by taking on the role of national parent… and then they bask in the glory of their social (and generally financial) superiority.
The new class war is not a war of exploitation, but it can be just as destructive.
Instead, it is a culture war, with bogans on one side and trendies on the other… the trendies have the power, but the bogans have the numbers, and occasionally (for example, with Donald Trump) the “silent majority” try to fight back. But I doubt they will succeed. The trendies are simply too good at maintaining and manipulating power, and the bogans don’t have a coherent alternative. If they knew what was good for them, the bogans would not try to battle for a share of political power, but rather would fight to decrease political power, but I also doubt that will happen, and most bogan movements are are just as bad as the trendy agenda.
Meanwhile, the trendies continue their unintentional assault on the bogan class… ruining lives and undermining communities with their nanny state policies of mass destruction. They aren’t evil, but the trendies will never be able to do any better until they at least admit they are the ones with a problem.