Progressive conservatism – or how to combine the worst bits of two worldviews

Understatement is perhaps not Phillip Blond’s forte. The director of the “progressive conservatism” project aims at nothing less than ushering in a new era in British post-war politics. First came “state-sponsored Keynesianism” (1945-1979), then came “neoliberalism” (1979-2008), and now comes “progressive conservatism” (2009 – ?). 

In a nutshell, progressive conservatism is a belief that both the big state and the free market only serve small elites – bureaucrats and oligopolists respectively – and disempower “ordinary people”. The alternative to both consists of two (intertwined) pillars, “a full-blooded new localism” and a reborn civil society.

Surely localism means Swiss-style competitive federalism? Unfortunately not. For Phillip Blond, localism appears to mean that the central government (!) should break up supermarkets and other big players, who are “strangling local commerce” and destroying distinct local identities. 

But if Tesco, for example, rides roughshod over local cultures, then why do so many people buy there? Would you buy in a place that you feel is trampling on your values all the time? The answer must be that people either do not believe that their local identity is defined by where they buy their milk and toothpaste, or that they do have a preference for stores and products with a local character, but not at any price. 

So why not state the case like this: “Most people’s willingness to pay a mark-up at a store with a specific ‘local’ image is not high enough to offset Tesco’s price advantage. Therefore, Tesco’s prices must be artificially raised by depriving the company of economies of scale, to push consumers back on the high street, and bring their buying behaviour in line with Phillip Blond’s personal preferences.”

As far as the “civil society” pillar is concerned, the progressive conservatism project presents a variant of a social democratic fallacy which has been refuted by two IEA authors, namely, that the government can deliberately create “social capital”. While for social democrats “creating social capital” means handing out taxpayers’ money to organisations promoting leftist values, for progressive conservatives it would mean handing out taxpayers’ money to conservative-minded organisations like the “conservative co-operative movement“. 

The writer Gotthold E. Lessing is alleged to have said about a book he reviewed that it “contains many new and good things; but the good things are not new, and the new things are not good.” The same is true of progressive conservatism.

There are two ironies in Blond’s analysis (as well as many other problems). The first is that he would claim to want a less materialistic way of living, yet he also claims that so much of local culture is defined by where we shop. Secondly, he wants the big state to create the local institutions of civil society in order to make the state smaller. On a slightly different point, there are no constraints on the growth and centralisation of the state in Blond’s world. He may want a decentralised state, but the mechanisms he suggests are inherently unstable.

This gives a whole new slant to the term “PC”!Perhaps he ought to go and do some research on economies and diseconomies of scale. Some businesses (supermarkets, banks, white goods retailers) tend to be big and other (dry cleaners, hairdressers, newsagents) tend to be small. If you want to run a small business, then don’t try opening a supermarket – do something that is either not in direct competition with, or even better, complementary to, the nearest supermarket and Bob’s your uncle.This basic concept appears to have escaped David Cameron as well (click my name for rant).

A bit of localism can be charming. But if a local tradition is so feeble that it cannot cope with a bit of competition, in other words if it can only survive when alternatives are shut out, then it’s probably not worth preserving it.
But I don’t know what the ProgCons are so afraid of anyway. It is possible without any problems to buy in a big supermarket chain, and still feel part of a distinct local culture. Go to any Bavarian village fair to see a proof.

This is the guy who wrote the Red Tories article in Prospect, isn’t it. That article was so full of flaws I did not know where to begin. If he really is gaining ground among the Cameronistas then perhaps I should have devoted time and keystrokes to it.As I noted on the ASI blog,“Fans of free markets and liberty will find no solace [in the current Conservative Party]. It is old fashioned Tory paternalism wearing new clothes, a sort of moralising mutton dressed up as lamb. …Both party’s, remember, like to spend in equal measure; they just spend on different things.”http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/regulation-and-industry/hitting-your-wallets-200905273586/

good work, hope you make more related posts! will keep an eye on this blog

There are two ironies in Blond’s analysis (as well as many other problems). The first is that he would claim to want a less materialistic way of living, yet he also claims that so much of local culture is defined by where we shop. Secondly, he wants the big state to create the local institutions of civil society in order to make the state smaller. On a slightly different point, there are no constraints on the growth and centralisation of the state in Blond’s world. He may want a decentralised state, but the mechanisms he suggests are inherently unstable.

This gives a whole new slant to the term “PC”!Perhaps he ought to go and do some research on economies and diseconomies of scale. Some businesses (supermarkets, banks, white goods retailers) tend to be big and other (dry cleaners, hairdressers, newsagents) tend to be small. If you want to run a small business, then don’t try opening a supermarket – do something that is either not in direct competition with, or even better, complementary to, the nearest supermarket and Bob’s your uncle.This basic concept appears to have escaped David Cameron as well (click my name for rant).

A bit of localism can be charming. But if a local tradition is so feeble that it cannot cope with a bit of competition, in other words if it can only survive when alternatives are shut out, then it’s probably not worth preserving it.
But I don’t know what the ProgCons are so afraid of anyway. It is possible without any problems to buy in a big supermarket chain, and still feel part of a distinct local culture. Go to any Bavarian village fair to see a proof.

This is the guy who wrote the Red Tories article in Prospect, isn’t it. That article was so full of flaws I did not know where to begin. If he really is gaining ground among the Cameronistas then perhaps I should have devoted time and keystrokes to it.As I noted on the ASI blog,“Fans of free markets and liberty will find no solace [in the current Conservative Party]. It is old fashioned Tory paternalism wearing new clothes, a sort of moralising mutton dressed up as lamb. …Both party’s, remember, like to spend in equal measure; they just spend on different things.”http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/regulation-and-industry/hitting-your-wallets-200905273586/

good work, hope you make more related posts! will keep an eye on this blog

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