Thursday, 25 June 2015

Pretending to See the Future

A Tory MP wants a law committing the Government to assign 2% of spending to defence, in perpetuity.

This comes hot on the heels of George Osborne's plan to make all Governments balance their budgets in good times.

Now, I reckon it's generally a good idea to balance the books in good times. To borrow a Biblical analogy, if Gordon Brown had been chancellor to Pharaoh instead of Joseph, by the end of the 7 bad years the Egyptians would have been pretending they had grain - after giving everybody double rations during the good years, and handing out free craft beer to the masses. But passing a law about it is a bit stupid.

Stupidity isn't a sin, though I sometimes think it should be one. A moment's thought would show you can't bind the hands of future governments like this. At least, not unless someone got enthusiastic about a Constitution. In which case I refer you to the problems America has with guns.

And even if you are stupid, a bit of observation would help. Like the fact that the Tories are currently planning to revoke the law committing Governments to limiting child poverty.

Or not child poverty. Children in relative poverty. That was a stupid law, however well-meaning. If you want to reduce the number of children in relative poverty, just stop paying State pension. The number of children in relative poverty will plummet in very short order, because it's all relative and all the pensioners will now be poorer than the kids.

But never mind that. Labour passed a law to bind a future Government, and the Tories can revoke it. That's my point.

Unlike stupidity, pride actually is a sin. And the attempt to hold the future to your own standards is pride on a grand scale. It says that we, the people of the current day, are able to decide what the correct response will be to situations of which we can know nothing. We're like somebody in 1890, passing a law in perpetuity to say you can't take phones on trains, because people would trip over the leads.

It's thinking like the people that the Prophet Isaiah satirises: "Tomorrow will be just like today - or even better. " And then deciding that, despite our weird belief in human progress, nobody can have a better view of how the future should work than we ourselves.

We don't know what the future will hold. We don't know whether the spending on defence will be zero, as we enter a world of peace and blessing, or 100 percent as we fight off an invasion from the Faroe Islands. We have no idea what priorities will be. We couldn't imagine. If somebody 20 years ago had said the World Wide Web would mostly be used for sharing pictures of drunk people and cats, so people on buses and at the world's great landmarks could see on their phones what drunk people and cats look like - who would have believed them?

We already have too much power over the future. The poison we pump, the plastic we discard, the animals we're wiping out - these are all forms of control. We're limiting the diversity, the health of the future. Let's concentrate on getting the world cleaned up and safe. And let the future pass its own laws.

1 comment :

  1. AFAIK, each UK Parliament starts its term with a completely clean slate. That is, it can repeal, revoke, overwrite, any Act passed by a predecessor. This is called "Parliamentary Sovereignty".

    Unfortunately, this means that each Parliament can do whatever the f*** it likes, restrained only by wisdom, common sense and decency. I wish.

    For example, it was held to be a principle that no law could be passed to apply retrospectively. Until IDS and his munchkins discovered that one of his bright benefits ideas could be successfully challenged, leading to massive compensation claims by the unjustly and illegally disadvantaged, whereat he/they promptly rewrote the offending portions of the law to prevent any such outcome. So there!


Drop a thoughtful pebble in the comments bowl