MBFBlog Review: An occasional series of reviews on exhibitions, books, films of interest to MailBigFile clients and readers. This one is a new book by Douglas Carswell MP, The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy.
Conservative Member of Parliament Douglas Carswell (Clacton) has caused a rumpus as to be expected by publishing a book (Oct 2012) about the size of the state and how technology will be the saving of us all.
There’s been lots of reaction from people who think he has missed the point about the vulnerable and weak in society and is only looking out for himself in an ambitious, self-seeking way that is often common in the political classes.
The point for MBF is that Carswell is articulating a growing feeling that the social model we live under is about to give way to a whole new one, just as almost all aspects of daily life have already been transformed by our technology.
Setting the Scene
He starts by reminding readers how officialdom oversees every waking minute of our lives. Take a typical male citizen: the energy he uses is from a market supervised by the state; his clothes are imported according to official trade quotas; his breakfast cereal is controlled by quotas, his house is designed to fit council dictat and if he works, it’s a 1-in-5 chance he will work for the government.
The largest part of his expenditure is for officialdom, £46 out of every £100. Just a generation ago, Carswell says that the size of today’s government would have been ‘unthinkable’. The global financial crisis is a western one ‘caused by the fact that Western governments have lived beyond the ability of the rest of us to pay for them’.
Public debt grows faster than it can be paid back. Faced with that, governments appropriate even more wealth from its citizens.
What went wrong?
His premiss is that we are ‘bust financially because we are bankrupt politically.’ The power of the people through democracy used to keep government small and affordable, because people recognised they were paying for it.
He quoted French King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, that taxation is the art of ‘plucking the goose to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the smallest amount of hissing’. Nowadays, hissing makes no difference; more must be paid.
The three pillars on which our society’s economics stand – excessive borrowing, unequal taxation and manipulation of the money – ‘are starting to crack’. As if that’s not bad enough, we have an unaccountable ‘governing elite’, civil servants,bankers, academics and technocrats’. Hence, his view that existing systems are for the chop.
Digital Solutions Ahead
Carswell argues that we should not despair, ‘at the precise moment that big government becomes unaffordable, the digital revolution makes it possible to do without it.’
He says that using Google, for instance, harnesses the wisdom and knowledge of millions, ‘a collective endeavour’ without central directing authority on a scale that was once impossible.
This is ‘collectivism without the state’ and ‘the dream of every anarchist in history’.
Now everyone can have his or her own personalised radio station, TV channels, showing personalised advertisements … so what if ‘you could commission services bought in your name for yourself’ instead of the Government spending £30,000 per family per year for you?
Things you could order yourselves include a personalised health account with your own medical records on your own app. Or, instead of a national curriculum, why not a tailor-made one made for your child, paid for out of a personalised learning account?
His rallying cry is ‘the digital revolution will reinvigorate the West, lifting us out of our big-government-induced stupor’. We are about to be set free from central plans and their planners through technology!
People with special needs are beginning to be allocated personalised budgets to buy services they prefer, so in a sense this revolution has already got under way, although it’s not yet shaking every corner of our lives.
The End of politics and the Birth of iDemocracy is published by Biteback Publishing, Oct 2012.
Image: Steve Punter