Iain Duncan Smith and the death of Right Keynesianism.


"When the facts change I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?"

John Maynard Keynes

Well, if you’re Iain Duncan Smith, you start to talk about your ‘beliefs’, whilst fudging the numbers, and introducing sleights-of-linguistic-hand like this into the regulations:

From October 2013, DWP will start to write to the following existing DLA claimants, inviting them to claim PIP. The invitation will explain how to make a claim, and the time limits for making a claim:

• claimants who choose to claim PIP (selfselectors) can do so from this date

• those DLA claimants who report a change in their care or mobility needs will be invited to claim PIP

However, in September the wording of the second bullet point was changed, so that it now states that amongst those who will be invited to claim PIP will be:

• those claimants where we receive information that there has been a change in their care or mobility needs

(Quote from: http://benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2416-claimants-to-lose-dla-permanently-if-falsely-accused-of-fraud-dwp-decides )

From the above it seems that the DWP are intending to use not only self-reporting, but reports from the National Benefit Hotline to decide whether someone needs their DLA or whether their situation has changed.

96% of such reports are wrong (source and related blogpost here: http://benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2416-claimants-to-lose-dla-permanently-if-falsely-accused-of-fraud-dwp-decides ). But whether the report is true or not, claimants will still lose their DLA, and be forced onto PIP.

Look again at that Keynes quote. How is the DWP’s proposal intellectually coherent, let alone just? Part of this issue is due to the Manichean tendency of modern politics, but I’d argue it goes deeper than that: IDS is a prime example of the move from ‘When the facts change, I change my mind’ to ‘When the facts change, I dispute them’.

Since the Crash/Crisis/Slight Detour on Capitalism’s Inevitable March to Victory, Keynes has been represented as a leftist, Keynesian arguments as essentially socialist, mostly by pro-Austerity politicians. This attribution is pretty recent, as it happens, dating only from the ascent of monetarism (sorry, Prof Ferguson), which arguably displaced Right Keynesianism in this country, (and with it the post-war broad consensus about economic policy).

With the loss of that consensus (most aristocratically embodied in Macmillan’s remark about not ‘selling off the family silver’ - God alone knows what he’d have made of last week’s Royal Mail float), came the birth of conviction politicians and the whole ‘My ideology trumps your dataset’ cesspit in which our elected politicians now frolic.

IDS cannot admit he is wrong, even after a rebuke from the ONS. He dare not admit he is wrong, because to do so would lead to the collapse of the house of cards on which his reforms are based. If there isn’t a real problem with claimants with eleven children getting a mansion in Kensington, then the need for the benefit cap falls away. If widespread fraud in DLA claims doesn’t exist, then why hand lovely contracts to ATOS et al. If the Work Programme is failing, why not admit that long-term unemployment is down to wider socio-economic conditions and act to do something about it through direct government initiative a la Keynes?

It’s the ideology, stupid. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but it does seem pretty clear that given the choice between (more-or-less powerful) individuals and (more-or-less) powerful corporate interests, this government which want to free us all from the dead hand of the state plumps for the latter, every time, and in the face of the evidence - the very definition of an ideological stance.

Keynes was an economist celebrated for his intellectual flexibility and openness, his ability to communicate and his commitment not to ‘welfarism’ but to the right to work, rather than poverty caused by conditions no one individual could change. It is quite the irony that the party whose mantra is ‘what works’ and ‘we need to be flexible’ has in IDS, a standard-bearer whose refrain in the face of a change in facts is to insist that they are wrong, and he is right, right, right.

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