Eric Hobsbawm speaks out!


This would be amusing if it wasn't so sad. Eric Hobsbawm tells us that the mixture of current events and those of the late eighties show us that both communism and capitalism have failed. No, really, a shudder in capitalism, as has happened in the past (oooh, 1930s, 1920 ish, early 1890s, 1873....) is a disproof of the system so absolute that it ranks up there with with the results of communism. That economic system so appalling that not even the Russians would put up with it, that economic system so appalling that, in PJ O'Rourke's words, it even managed to make Germans poor?

We have lived through two practical attempts to realise these in their pure form: the centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type and the totally unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist economy.

It is to giggle, isn't it? "Totally unrestricted"? I think the only place we could say that has been true of in recent decades is parts of Somalia and while the results have not been all that wonderful they've not been noticeably worse than the semi-Marxist kleptocracy that preceeded it.

The future, like the present and the past, belongs to mixed economies in which public and private are braided together in one way or another.

Well of course. This isn't that much of a revelation. What the argument is all about though is which parts are to be private, which to be public?

It's been said before but it bears repeating, that there are three different sorts of things to think about. There are those things that only government can do and which government must do. National defence, the criminal justice system and so on. There are things that government most definitely should not be doing, like deciding what we all have for dinner each night or what consenting adults decide to consent to in the gonad playtime moments (and no, these things should not be decided democratically nor collectively either).

And then there are those either way things. Where we might rationally differ on whether something should be provided using the machinery of State. Or perhaps financed using the powers of tax compulsion. Or privately: education might be a test case here. There are entirely respectable arguments for the State financing of at least a certain level of education (as being part of a literate population is probably a public good). There are many fewer for State provision of that education. There are also decent arguments in favour of having a purely private education system: most notably that it cannot be captured by those who would teach obedience to their vision of the State.

But there's absolutely nobody outside of a very small indeed anarchist fringe who is saying that the future does not belongs to mixed economies. The argument is over what the mix is.