We tend to regard Paul Mason as being akin to Polly Toynbee, a reliable indicator of exactly what not to do in any particular circumstance. If either tell us that our glasses are on the end of our nose then that’s the one place we know absolutely that they aren’t. It’s therefore somewhat discomfiting to find that we at least half agree with Mason here:
When they finally noticed the discontent raging in places like this, people with power assumed it could be put right using money. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did it through welfare payments. Even now, as she flails around over Brexit, Theresa May wants to do it through a billion-pound bribe to former mining towns. I propose putting it right by giving them power. What’s missing is the power to take decisions about the most important things in their lives: whether a local hospital should close; how often the bins should be emptied; whether a school should be under the control of the local authority or a faceless corporation; where the infrastructure should go that might – just might- attract investment in something other than vape shops and slave-driving sports-goods empires.
What form of constitutional change is best suited to delivering power to English towns such as Wigan? In this part of England – which has seen power drain towards London, wealth flow upwards into the hands of asset holders and technological change driven mainly from abroad – we are going to need something close to regime change to flatten the socio-economic divide between north and south.
That might be a bit more colourful than the language we would normally use but yes, devolution of power to those who actually do things, have skin in the game being played, makes sense to us. So much so that we’ve been suggesting it for many decades now. Some powers do indeed have to be national and concentrated - we’d prefer that Berwick not be able to declare war unilaterally again. Or be left out of a peace treaty. But to us the test is what absolutely must be done nationally and in that concentrated manner? Everything else should be done at whatever lower level makes sense. So, yes, the devolution of economic power, why not?
The first building block has to be a national industrial strategy.
Ah, Mason’s normal service is resumed. That’s absolutely what there shouldn’t be. For having national strategies is what got us here in the first place. Devolution of economic power should be to those who do indeed have skin in the game - to those who are participating in the economy. Rather than a bureaucracy directing and strategising the national economy we want, consistent with a rule of law and the keeping of the public peace, as much of a laissez faire regime as possible. Precisely because this does devolve economic power down to that level where it is useful and righteous - to the market participants who are that economy.
Mason’s just suggesting a change in who tells us all what to do. Perhaps, if we’re kind about it, a change in what it is that we’re told to do. We insist that the solution is that we get to do as we wish. That actually being what an economy is, voluntary interaction so why don’t we return to that voluntary form of it?