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March 24, 2010

Impoverishment will be our well-merited collective fate - argues Theodore Dalrymple

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

The UK has a vast and growing state sector - but it has not become a more equal society. Inequality has in fact grown. What then has the increase in the state sector achieved? Theodore Dalrymple argues that it has brought into being a British nomenklatura and turned us into a nation of special pleaders who are on the take.

According to the Daily Telegraph of 22 March, the state sector in Britain is now larger in aggregate than the private sector. A margin of error must surely attach to all such calculations, but no one seriously doubts that the state sector has increased greatly in size, both relatively and absolutely, in the last few years. The National Health Service alone now employs 400,000 more people than it did in 1997. Not surprisingly, the general tax burden has also increased: though not by enough to cover expenditures, very far from it, of course.

The most interesting thing about this increase in the size of the state sector is that it has been quite unaccompanied by any increase in social equality. Britain is no more equal a society than it was before the return of the state preponderance that is welcome to some and unwelcome to others; furthermore social mobility has declined.

Why should this be the subject of any comment? The reason is surely this: that the principal ethical, and indeed practical, justification of increased state intervention is that it brings about more equality (I leave aside altogether the question of whether more equality is itself desirable). Without state intervention, it is often supposed, many of the least fortunately-born or less well-endowed, mentally or physically, would be left in a condition of near destitution: destitution being defined relative to standards prevailing in society. More state intervention therefore means more equality.

There are some societies in which increased state expenditure has undoubtedly been accompanied by increased equality: Scandinavian societies spring to mind. They are patently more egalitarian than our own society, and the importance of the state in them is also beyond dispute. Again, for the purposes of this piece, I make no global judgement as to whether this is a good or a bad thing, in the Sellar and Yeatman sense: that is to say, whether the Scandinavian are better or worse societies than ours.

But it is an elementary error of logic to suppose that if all egalitarian societies have a large state sector, then all societies that have a large state sector must be egalitarian, and that therefore egalitarianism can be approached by public expenditure alone. (Again, I do not want to examine the truth of the premise that all egalitarian societies have large state sectors, let alone whether egalitarianism is desirable.) From the fact that many rich people drink champagne it does not follow - unless you are given to magical thinking - that drinking champagne will make you rich.

What conclusion should we draw from the fact that, while public expenditure is at the very least compatible with an egalitarian society, our society has such public expenditure without being in the least egalitarian? I am afraid that I do not think that the conclusion is very flattering to our national amour propre.

It means that we have a deeply, profoundly corrupt state, a state that is rotten to its core, and whose rottenness is now its very raison d'etre. The corruption is not of the vulgar, money-under-the-table variety, of the kind that increases efficiency where over-regulation is happily tempered by the monetary dishonesty of officialdom; it is far worse and more damaging than that, for there is nothing whatever to be said in its favour.

If the enormous increase in public expenditure has not brought about social equality, what has it brought about? The answer, I think, is a Nomenklatura state, in which the highest ranks have been encouraged to arrogate to themselves huge rewards from the public purse.

I do not mean by this that there is a crude dichotomy between those who are paid fabulous sums, and their underlings who are paid very little by comparison. As in the Soviet Union, the Nomenklatura has many grades; those at the bottom are only too aware that they are nevertheless privileged by comparison with people of their own calibre who have not joined the Nomenklatura. A pension of 10,000 may be a small one, but if it is granted not only independently of the savings a man has made, but is linked to the cost of living so that it never decreases in value, a privilege is accorded to the pensioner that is beyond the wildest dreams of a man who has laboriously saved 200,000 from his income over the years to produce a pension that starts off at the same level, but might very well soon halve in real value. Thus the man on the bottom rung of the Nomenklatura is unlikely to oppose the man at the top in any very fundamental way; no one clings on to anything as tightly as to a small privilege.

It is possible that the British Nomenklatura was originally called into being because it was thought by certain politicians that only thus could the public service be modernised and made efficient; while it was thought by other politicians that only a public service could bring about increased social equality. Be that as it may, the Nomenklatura now has a life and power of its own. Its ostensible purposes - health, education, even defence - are the most feeble or transparent of pretexts; its real purpose is personal enrichment and institutional aggrandisement.

Unfortunately, Nomenklaturas not only flourish best, but actively bring about, zero-sum games. Their wealth really is the poverty of others - precisely the charge long, but quite erroneously, brought against economically open societies.

The public service in Scandinavian societies has not been transformed into a Nomenklatura, unlike the British. Why there should have been this difference is an interesting and important question, and I do not pretend to have the definitive answer (in any case, there can be no "final" explanation, without a yet deeper, or at any rate more remote, one). What seems to me clear is that the level of honesty - moral, intellectual and financial - of the population in Britain has declined drastically. We are now a nation of special pleaders who are on the take.

To put it another way, Britain is a country in which equality of opportunity has been the politico-bureaucratic pretext for perpetuating inequality while destroying opportunity. Impoverishment will be our well-merited fate.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor. He is the author of the author of Junk Medicine: Doctors, Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy and In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas.

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I believe a similar argument was fleshed out more fully by Christopher Lasch in Revolt of the Elites which was published in 1995 here in the U.S. We call them New Class not nomenklatura. Here's a somewhat pretentious but still interesting article from Telos discussing New Class.

Posted by: Stacy M. Garvey at March 26, 2010 04:49 AM

Roll on the revolution.

Posted by: MrJones at March 26, 2010 01:26 PM

If the scoundrel hides behind patriotism, then the British Nomenklatura hides behind women.

Dr. Goebbels knew the importance of winning over the gentler fascist, and ZanuLabour has implemented that policy in broad daylight.

If the public sector is approaching 50% of the working population, and it employs about 75% women, then Zanulabour has paid 'Dame-geld' from the public purse, to ensure that women are state dependent.

From pre-emptive policing of 'bad men', to nurseries taking their children hostage, women are being frightened into the belief that any other government will pull the rug from under their soviet feet.

Women will ensure that Labour wins.

Posted by: JimmyGiro at March 26, 2010 10:34 PM

Have any other EU members become Nomenklatura states?

Posted by: HedgehogFive at March 27, 2010 12:38 PM
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