Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Give a man a fish - a political examination.

OK, so this isn't at all tongue in cheek at all, honest guv! Well, maybe just a little bit (!). The old adage of 'Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime' seems obvious enough, but I thought I'd take a look through the early morning mists on the water to see how it might work according to the core elements and usual practical manifestations of a few different basic political ideologies.

Let's start with Conservatism, and their customary Neo-Liberal economic strategies and maintenance of 'the old order' of power and influence. Obviously, the starting point for that has to be 'Why should we give a man anything - it's up to him to fish for himself, and if he can't that's his problem!'. Teach him to fish??!! Well perhaps, in a moderate Conservative scenario, a little 'help' may be available with the basics of fishing, at a suitable fee, as long as he pays it back (with interest) once he has managed to catch something for himself.

What then, though? Well he is, of course free to fish as much as he likes, in theory, but first he needs a rod and tackle. They are available to buy, and it is us and our friends (the already accomplished and wealthy in fishing terms) who happen to own all of the tackle shops and fishing supply companies. Finance can be used, since you don't have any fish to sell to start off with, so you now have that debt added to your debt from tuition (with appropriate interest fees, calculated to safely cover our all of our risks and exposures to any potential fishing failures). Once you have your rod and stuff, though, away you go....except that we and our wealthy friends obviously also own all of the rivers and fishing grounds, so you will need to pay us a fee - we may allow you to do a limited amount of fishing then (perhaps with finance to start off with, again with a suitable interest fee), but most of the fish is ours, of course. We can fish as much as we like, even if there's none left for you - it's your fault for not having already owned the fishing grounds yourself. How could that be our problem? We have to have control of the fish so that we can sell them to those who are, in our opinion, 'too lazy' to fish for themselves (even if that is because they have got into so much financial trouble that they've had to sell their rod to feed their kids, or simply because there aren't any fish left!).

So the end result is that our man has had to take on bundles of spiralling debt in order to get started, and can only fish a limited amount in order to make it back - he's always going to be running just to stand still, and those already in control of the fishing grounds and tackle shops (and finance companies) are going to do very nicely from him, thank you very much. As are the governing party in the scenario, of course, since they get the benefit of the 'donations' from those with an interest in making absolutely sure that those with the majority of fish and fishing rights keep them. There's a theoretical 'free market' for fishing, but a small number of privileged people/companies seem to be able to control it all, and there's no regulation to stop them because it is the fault of everyone else for not doing better for themselves.

It's not as hard as you might thing to sell the idea to 'the people', of course, since they also have friends in the press who can feed a constant stream of 'look at this lazy guy who won't fish and just expects us to give him fish' scare stories to those who are just about scraping buy with enough to eat (and are afraid of what might happen if there's any change in the system). And that's not to mention the 'them immigrants are going to steal our fish' kind of stories!

To me that doesn't seem like an attractive result, somehow!

So let's try the the Socialist alternative, then - that must be more fair, surely?! 'Redistribution of fish' and all that - sounds good! Now they are obviously starting from a basic point of 'No need for you to learn to fish, we'll do all the fishing for you and just give you the fish that you need anyway'. Of course, you may be able to get a government-sponsored fishing job to enhance your fish supply somewhat, but those in power remain firmly in control of everything remotely scaly, and they decide what fish everyone else might 'deserve'. It's still a kind of 'Give a man a fish every day and he doesn't need to fish for himself' approach.

But what if our man wants to work a bit harder to get more fish, and what if he's a particularly talented fisherman? That doesn't really matter - it's a matter of us deciding what you need, and you being given it. Everyone gets the same amount of fish - you may be able to supplement it by fishing for yourself too, but if anybody somehow gets too much we'll take it off them and give it to those with the least. Sounds fair enough at first, but then it rapidly becomes apparent that lots of people really are getting their fish without putting much effort in, while others who are trying to get more fish for their families are getting slammed for it at every turn. There's no real incentive to fish - quite the opposite, really. That's not really great for anyone, since overall fishing production will inevitably progressively spiral downwards.

So who is doing well out of this system? Somehow or other it seems to work out that there's a group in charge of dishing out the fish who, from top to bottom of the system, manage to cream off a little extra for themselves. The higher up the chain of command they are, the more fish they seem to get - those at the top have it coming out of their ears, so to speak. It's all theoretically nice and 'equal' through the 'redistribution of fish;, but since those who want to do well for themselves are effectively limited by the system, they seem to have worked out that the best approach for them is to actually be the people running the system (either by being in charge of fishing or by being in charge of negotiating terms with those who are in charge of fishing). Strange how it always seems to work out that way, sooner or later. And as the fish stocks get depleted over time, and they dish out less and less fish to everyone else, they take tighter and tighter control of the system (and society as a whole) to prevent anyone from threatening their position.

So one powerful group ultimately ends up in control of the fish - that sounds hauntingly familiar!

So, on to Liberalism, then.

Where do we start? How about the most obvious solution, by just 'teaching a man to fish', and giving him some help to get his first fishing rod so that he can get on with it. Of course, there are always some limits to resources, some of that might be through funding to be paid back (especially if he wants a really swanky rod with all the best gear!), but only at a very low rate of interest at most, and only to be paid back at a slow rate once he's getting enough fish that he can do so reasonably comfortably (and if he never manages to do quite well enough to pay it off fully, so be it).

It's up to him how much fishing he decides to do after that, of course - he's best placed to decide how much fish he needs, and whether he wants to catch extra fish to sell to others who might prefer to buy it than do so much of their own fishing. What of the 'big boys', though? Well of course there's no problem with people forming companies and working together to do fishing and provide fish to sell - that's fine, and they should be able to make a decent living out of it, if they do it well, and without being punished for their efforts. They do need to pay their fair share towards society, of course, to help with the costs of future fishing-learners, those who have fallen on temporary hard times, and those who are genuinely unable to fish for themselves. That's only right, but it shouldn't be at a punitive level for anybody.

There has to be some regulation of the fishing grounds, though, so that they can't keep anybody else from doing their own reasonable personal fishing, or even from forming their own competitor fishing companies to challenge the existing ones. That keeps the whole business of fishing fair and competitive for everyone (and at a realistic and affordable level for the fish consumers) - those who work hard and do well can do well for themselves, but not by manipulating the fishing grounds and preventing anybody else from doing the same. There also, of course, have to be some regulations to ensure that there isn't any over-fishing by anybody, so that the fish stock is maintained for everyone, and their children and grandchildren. We have to take a long-term view of the whole fishing system, and do so according to the evidence of what fishing levels are sustainable (while obviously exploring other food alternatives in a similar way).

So what's the problem, then - isn't that the obvious best solution for everyone? You'd think so, but those who do best out of the alternative systems obviously don't, and since those are the people who inevitably tend to have powerful and influential friends who would also do well from the alternatives they're going to do their utmost to discredit such a system at every turn to try to put people off from choosing it. They are always going to want to muddy the fishing waters, so to speak, so that everyone thinks they are best served by serving their preferred alternative.  It's probably made somewhat easier by always presenting a simplistic 'either/or' narrative between the two 'radical' systems, and painting the third way as some kind of 'wishy-washy' compromise that is neither one thing nor the other. It's always in the interest of both 'sides' to squeeze what they paint as 'the middle' so that people don't really understand what their solution to the problem is, and that is something the 'teach a man to fish' brigade are going to need to overcome somehow.

Oh, and a final word about a fourth group - those who want to separate their fishing grounds from everybody else's fishing grounds, and keep all the fish of their local fishing grounds entirely for their local people and away from anybody else's waters. Umm.....fish can swim! 'Nuff said, I think.

So there we have it. An honest, serious and evidence-based assessment of the old proverb, without any hint of any kind of bias at all, honest. Judge for yourselves which version you prefer!

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