Contrepoints: Political and economic crises are an argument for a smaller, not bigger, state

This article was published in French on Contrepoints. Below is an English translation of the piece.

Political and economic crises are an argument for a smaller, not bigger, state

According to many, there is an ancient Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times’.

Right now, we are all living through interesting times. Historians concerned with politics, economics and international relations will look back on the early 2020s with great interest. First, we were hit by a novel virus and global pandemic, something which last happened over a century ago. Now, the international political order has taken a big hit thanks to war breaking out in Europe for the first time since 1945.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, it exacerbated a cost of living crisis which was already brewing. Inflation and energy prices were both soaring, even before the war. As a result, many families in western nations like France and the UK are in the appalling position of having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families, because both energy and food have become so expensive.

Naturally, the political class wants to take these issues onto its own shoulders. Politicians want to be able to stride in during our time of suffering and save us from our strife, lauded for their heroism. While they are no doubt well-intentioned, there are countless problems with using state apparatus to try to solve socio-economic issues like that. Perhaps most importantly of all, it never works.

Those who are in favour of expanding the state through higher taxes and new regulations in an attempt to improve all our lives seem resistant to learning the lessons of recent history. Quite simply, growing the state in this way makes life more difficult and expensive for the rest of us. Time and time again, we learn that a free market approach to policy issues provides the best outcomes for consumers – and yet, without fail, a majority of our politicians insist that they cannot allow the market to do its thing but instead, the government must intervene.

As the energy crisis unfolds with fuel prices rocketing and western governments determined to stop importing oil and gas from Russia, there is a danger that this phenomenon will take place again, on a very large scale. While it is heart-wrenching to see people living on the breadline, struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table, statism is not the answer.

If we want to help people, we must do so in a sustainable way. Growing the state, in this case perhaps by subsidising energy costs or toughening cost caps, will only make the situation worse because while it may provide some brief relief in the immediate future, it will always come a cropper in the longer term. As Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘the problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money.’

The risk of politicians worsening the current crises with their ill-judged interferences is even more pronounced because it comes so hot on the heels of the Covid crisis. In 2020 and 2021, we saw the normalisation of huge state power. The state was expanded much further than we could have previously imagined in order to deal with the coronavirus emergency, with lockdowns granting politicians a feeling of great power which they have been reluctant to give up.

In the eyes of many on the statist side of the debate, what happened during the Covid pandemic set precedents. The rest of us who believe in the importance of liberty should find that profoundly concerning. There is a perception that enormous state intervention to deal with problems in society has become destigmatised. It is imperative that we do not allow our politicians to begin to feel comfortable with the new levels of power they have assigned themselves.

We are already seeing the ways they are weaponizing the precedents set by Covid responses, especially in lifestyle policy. When it comes to obesity, alcohol, tobacco and gambling, for instance, it is already becoming clear how the political class which fetishizes state interventionism is using public health norms set by Covid to justify myopic new taxes and regulations.

When it comes to energy, lifestyle and countless other policy areas, we are at an important crossroads in policy direction. It is absolutely vital that we do not sit back and allow politicians to become accustomed to this level of power. We must make clear that the powers they enjoyed during the Covid pandemic were the result of a once-in-a-lifetime surprise emergency event, not a new playbook for governing a large western democracy.

Jason Reed is the UK Lead at Young Voices, which has recently launched a pro-liberty project in France. To find out more, email info@young-voices.com or visit lesjeunesvoix.fr

https://www.contrepoints.org/author/jason-reed

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