The Truss Fiasco: Various Takes
Francisco Toro; Andrew Sullivan; Joanna Williams; Theodore Dalrymple; Matt Goodwin; Gerard Baker; John Cochrane
Britons are finding out quickly what many political scientists have concluded over several decades: reforms that disempower professional politicians in favor of the grassroots may sound good in theory, but in practice they lead to disaster with distressing regularity.
It will always be politically awkward for politicians to redirect power from the voters back to themselves. But if they want to strengthen democracy, it’s a step they need to take.
This is a very Rauchian view of things.
On the other hand, Andrew Sullivan sees Truss as committing political suicide by swallowing an elitist capsule.
these three major policy themes — tax cuts, increased immigration and interventionism abroad — are all precisely what the new conservatism was supposed to be against. It’s zombie neoliberalism, just in time for Halloween.
More ominously, Sullivan adds,
Can the Anglo-American right really restrict immigration when push comes to shove? (It has yet to happen in either country outside the Covid emergency.) Can they really spend much money on poor families without raising taxes? (Ditto.) Are they capable of moderating globalization and mass migration when it drives so much of the corporate bottom-line? (Not so far.) Can they draw the line at woke excesses without retreating to religious doctrine or bigotry? (Not so much in the US, alas.) And can they really run a serious country without some buy-in from the elites they constantly demonize and rail against?
Two things are happening at once. A cultural elite, and the institutions it operates within, is becoming more powerful. And politicians have relinquished the power that comes from representing a majority of the population by distancing themselves from traditional party voters. Instead of trying to win ideological arguments, they have opted for technocratic solutions to social or economic problems. And they have handed policymaking capacity to non-governmental or supranational organizations. Having given up so much power, politicians are left representing no one and standing for nothing.
The wrong lessons will be drawn, of course, from the Truss debacle. If lower taxes (even if only in prospect) do not work, then higher ones must. The solution to Britain’s deep-seated problems now offered by almost the entire political class is to turn the country into a giant version of the National Health Service, the country’s socialized health-care system that has made paupers of almost the whole population, which is obliged to accept what it is given whether good, bad, or indifferent.
What exactly is the purpose of post-Brexit conservatism? What do today’s conservatives believe? Where do they want to take the country? And how do they plan to hold and expand their new electoral coalition? Sunak, a Brexit supporter, will now have to answer these questions. To do so, he would be wise to avoid the mistakes of his two main predecessors by surrounding himself with serious thinkers and strategists. The Conservative Party does not need only to renew its leadership; it needs to renew its entire intellectual infrastructure.
Having delivered Brexit by cleverly channeling the modern populist demand for more national self-determination, the Conservatives are split on how to make it work. One vision is of a dynamic neoliberal nirvana, “Singapore on Thames,” in which Britain regains its global competitiveness by cutting taxes, shrinking government, opening itself to immigration. This was the short-lived Truss experiment. It collapsed on collision with market reality, but it is also at odds with the sentiments of many Brexit and Conservative voters. These are working-class former Labour supporters who in their vision of an independent Britain seek the security of a strong state defined by a more powerful sense of community, in which the government provides a strong welfare safety net and public services.
she was right that the United Kingdom needs growth. Her downfall is tragic, because growth is the only path out of the country’s economic dilemma.
…Truss’s critics have no counterproposal that has any chance of reigniting growth. The stage is set for further high-tax, high-subsidy, over-regulated decline.
…The US, too, is a high-tax, over-regulated, over-subsidized, high-debt, slow-growth economy. For us, too, supply-side reforms are the only way out. Yet many of our conservative voices now pander to voters by advocating big-government big-tax nationalism, protectionism, subsidies, and crony capitalism, albeit directed in different directions than the left.
Have a nice day.
Some of these takes make too much of the left wing - right wing divide. British voters aren;t like that. The man on the street is very very often way to the left of the far left of the Labour Party on things like banker bonuses and corporate taxes, and way to the right of the extremes of the Conservative Party on law and order, defence, asylum, issues relating to wokery etc.
I'm not sure there is much more to this story that Truss being a duff whose basic competence was not able to be trusted. She is a very, very odd character who was very plainly grotesquely overpromoted and who only got the job because she told the Party membership (which is about 160,000 wealthy, elderly rural type-people) what they wanted to hear about tax cuts.
The only person worth reading about how the British state operates, if that's the word, is Dominic Cummings. In particular his observation that the government does not control the government. Singapore on Thames is impossible, even if it were to be the headline policy of a government with a massive mandate because the deep state does not exist to do what it is told by ministers. There are umpteen officials who wield more power than any politician, arguably minus the Prime Minister. Truss' planned policies were quite mundane, really. She didn't try to halve tax, or abolish any meaningful taxes, or bring a flat income tax rate in, or anything even remotely akin. And still everything melted down.
We have big problems in the UK, but not any worse than comparator nations in Europe. The biggest missed opportunity has been that the deep state, with a couple of exceptions, has seen Brexit as a threat to doing things the same old way, rather than as Cummings did/does as a necessary but not sufficient step towards total re-wiring as a means of doing everything much, much better. Personally I hope specifically for the Conservative Party to cease to exist. I would prefer this fate for Labour as well but that's less necessary.
No one mentions austerity -- prudent cuts in inefficient, outdated, unwarranted, or corrupt government expenditures -- as a necessary element to improvement UK public finance.