The fundamental problem of the Labour Party in this country and the Democratic Party in America is that they still cannot accept that competition is the very basis of life. In our particular case, as the most evolved of . . . the social mammals, competition within our species has become the most sophisticated. Most competition is not so much between one group, or culture, or nation and another — though those rather crude and damaging contests are still much in evidence around the world — but of much more subtle social rankings within the group, culture of nation. In modern times this is most accurately expressed in terms of different incomes, though income is not always the main arbiter in the way we accord social ranking to others..
Because the Labour or Democratic Parties can’t accept the basic premise of instinctual social ranking they then assume that poverty can be eliminated or at least alleviated — that the state can somehow bring about more equal outcomes by means of dispersing welfare grants or by giving preferential treatment to some. Never mind that, by defining poverty as falling below a percentage of the average income of the population, they are accepting that poverty is relative.
There is no state of absolute poverty unless one considers a country in which a constant percentage of poorest people are actually dying of starvation all the time. If, however, a government is into trying to subsidise even a proportion of the population by comparing it against the average then, in fact, the more it succeeds the less it is subsequently able to because the average income also moves up. It is Zeno’s Paradox of the tortoise and the hare all over again — but in reverse. And this excludes the possibility that if the poorest start getting close to the average then the average income groups and those above them will take active steps themselves to redefine their protective barriers which inevitably have the result of improving their incomes, too.
There are two sorts of poverty. One is due to the accidental knocks of life when a previously competent person, able to earn a living and play a role at a certain social level above poverty is then reduced to penury through no fault of their own. State welfare or private charity, if wisely delivered in sufficient quantity can sometimes help to re-set those poor people onto a road to recovering their former status. But it very much depends on circumstances just how much restorative help can be given. In pre-modern eras, a drought, or a succession of droughts, could preempt this. In modern pro-welfare times in advanced countries, the government itself may run out of money in adverse economic times and the charities themselves may start to run dry.
The other is due to genetic handicap or through dysfunctional childhood upbringing or, in adulthood, what we might call foolish or irresponsible decision-making. In pre-modern times, nothing could be done for these people and the culture generally allowed this to happen without anybody feeling a sense of guilt. In modern pro-welfare times a little can be done by medical science in the case of the genetically handicapped but little else otherwise. Seriously handicapped children, perhaps dependent on others for life will need enormous parental attention even when there’s state help and, unfortunately, modern culture imposes huge guilt on normal parents if they contemplate giving up their burden and living their own lives.
Being English, I cannot say much about the Democratic Party in America except that it appears to be in much the same malaise as the Labour Party in this country. In any case, even even though they are both in opposition, sometimes intemperately, facing the Republican and Tory Parties respectively, their policies with regard to welfarism are very similar to their opposite number. The only difference is that Socialists and Democrats both want to extend the welfare state — even though both governments are already deeply in debt — whereas Tories and Republicans, while assenting in principle to welfarism, are reluctant to try to do much about poverty. But, in any case, as argued above, instinctual rank ordering will always reassert itself even if both governments were prospering.
Because of this, both sorts of governments — constitutionally very different but, in practice, having the same two-party adversarial set-up — with merging policies manifestos are vulnerable to new vigorous third parties. In America there has recently been the Tea Party phenomenon. It died down quickly enough because it didn’t produce an altogether suitable leader, but something similar is bound to recur.
In this country, the Scottish National Party, with suitably articulate leaders, has been successful in displacing both Labour and Tory MPs in Scottish constituencies and it is only a matter of time before an English National party arises with the arrival of a sufficiently forceful leader. The likelihood of an English Parliament is already being talked about by politicians as a response to the development of an increasingly introverted London as one of the new types of world-city-states.
If the Labour Party and the Democratic Party continue to weaken because they cannot respond quickly enough to what evolutionary biology is telling them about the essential rank ordering nature of society, then it is probable that they will merge with their oppositie numbers in due course under the pressure of new forces in both countries. One irony at the present time is that President Obama is urging the UK to remain in the EU, and for the EU to be more united when, in fact, the EU itself is suffering from the same tensions as the UK and America, though much more confusedly because of the different constituent cultures. America seems to need companionship in a world in which China is coming along fast on the outside and threatening to economically overtake in a few years.