Do as I say, not as I do: the ‘Big Society’ is a sham
On both sides of the Atlantic politicians want to see the state cut back and society take over its responsibilities. In the US Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan dreams of a wizened rump of a federal government. Ryan’s economic plans involve the near evisceration of the state, except – somewhat inevitably for a Republican – the amount it spends on defence. Ryan’s plans include cutting Medicaid by $800 billion. In the UK the Coalition government is busy shrinking back the state. For example, on average government departments are facing cuts of 19%. In the US and the UK right-wing politicians hope that charities and volunteers will fill the gap left by a diminishing government.
As Andrew Sullivan writes:
“A critical element in the GOP’s attempt to unravel the 20th century’s welfare state is the argument that individual charity will step in to help those in need… This is also behind David Cameron’s much more modest attempt to move from Big Government to what he has called Big Society.”
Sullivan assesses how much Paul Ryan has given in charity and the difference between how much he and Barack Obama gives. In 2010 Paul Ryan gave 1.2% of his income to charity whereas Obama gave 14.2%. It is also worth pointing out that those in the lowest fifth of incomes bracket gave an average of 4.3% of their incomes to charities. Andrew Sullivan points out:
“But it’s Ryan who is the most prominent advocate of replacing state care with private charity. It’s just that others will have to supply the charity. Judging by his past, he sure won’t.”
I think Ryan’s economic policies are callous, but it’s even more disgusting when he personally doesn’t do that much to help those he would hurt with his governmental cutbacks.
In the UK we don’t have neo-liberals of the Ayn Rand maximum madness variety teetering on the brink of power. Instead we have David Cameron and the Coalition government who claim that it’s the necessity of destroying debt that’s driving them to cut back government. You might be tempted to believe that isn’t the sole reason considering so many of them worship at the altar of Thatcher, the deity of shrinking the state.
The Conservatives have put forward their vision of a country in which the state does less work but society does more. The Big Society is the idea that the British public volunteer their time to charitable causes. Volunteering and charities are undeniably important and do brilliant work, but I do not think we can expect them to take over many of the responsibilities the state is giving up. This is especially the case when a large bulk of the finances of charities are made up of grants from the government.
The problem for proponents of the Big Society is that their own actions betray its weaknesses. A study by the website www.the-big-society.co.uk shows that, of those who replied, only 8% of Coalition MPs do voluntary work. As the website tartly remarks, ‘Are we really all in this together? Only time will tell.’
When politicians on both sides of the Atlantic cut the state and hope to see society pick up the pieces you would expect them to do as much as they can to volunteer and help charities. Instead we see people loving the big society, but from a distance.Tagged in: big society, big state, david cameron, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan
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