Major political parties in the United Kingdom are so far divorced from market anarchism as to render them a homogeneous mass of irrelevance. That said, it’s worth examining the policy announcements in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement by Chancellor George Osborne, if only to clarify the anarchist position and provide a critique of what many Brits incorrectly perceive to be “free-market” policies.
Realistically, anarchists cannot expect much from the Coalition government. Reducing the size of the state occurs only rarely, and usually as a means to election victory rather than as a statement of sound ideological intent.
Nonetheless, perhaps one cheer may be given to several reforms in the Autumn Statement. In the wake of the Thatcherite fetishisation of home ownership, Osborne’s overhaul of stamp duty (changing stamp duty tax bands from absolute to marginal) will rejig state intervention in the British housing market to benefit less well-off buyers. It’s even been lukewarmly welcomed by the staunchly anti-Tory Guardian. Of course, the Chancellor has completely ignored the most pressing issue for the housing market: Government strangling supply.
Other measures introduced by Osborne include a further rise in the tax-free allowance, which follows increases in previous budgets to provide an important boost to the incomes of the poorest. Another freeze in fuel duty will translate into a real fall in costs for motorists, but enthusiasm needs to be tempered with considerations of how privileging car culture in the taxation system may not send the right message.
There’s plenty in the Autumn Statement that’s incontrovertibly bad news too. The Coalition has unsurprisingly continued to fatten Britain’s sacred cow — dedicating an extra £2 billion per year to NHS spending. As Kate Andrews from the Adam Smith Institute commented, “no one is willing to have a serious conversation about the reforms that could make the NHS financially viable for the next ten years, let alone for future generations; like charging small fees for non-emergency visits.”
Meanwhile, a new “Google Tax” on multinationals diverting profits away from the UK is also cause for concern. It will most likely be ineffective at raising revenue, harmful to business investment and above all a distraction from the reasons why these firms are so powerful and prevalent in the first place: such as intellectual property law and state-sponsored gigantism.
Unsurprisingly, Osborne heavily emphasised progress on reducing the structural deficit during his speech. His deficit reduction program does at least put spending under greater scrutiny, but a sovereign default on national debt would be preferable: Removing our reliance on intergenerational theft to finance a bloated government.
Some of the aforementioned concrete changes are to be welcomed with muted, apathetic applause. But for the radical free marketer, Osborne’s political gambits are little more than a distraction from the need for more fundamental structural change. This is unlikely to come from politicians. Organic, grassroots changes in civil society are ultimately going to be more effective at moving towards anarchism than piecemeal state reform.