Talking to a diehard Marxist can be infuriating. This is not because their opinions are always wrong: most people accept Marx had a number of brilliant insights, and that we can learn a lot from reading him. Certain Marxists can, though, be totally impervious to evidence, and that's what's infuriating.
You sometimes get the feeling that whatever you say, and whatever happens out there in the real world, nothing could ever disprove their arguments about society. For example, if you went out to meet workers who should feel oppressed according to Marx, and they happen to not feel that way, we can simply ignore this evidence because it's just the result of bourgeois indoctrination taking root. Any historical events which seem to favour of Marxist explanations can be gleefully accepted, but anything questioning the thesis is dismissed. There's something wrong with a belief that material conditions determine history if it just dismisses out of hand cases where culture and beliefs seem to shape events too.
You can find a similar attitude in less rational religious belief. Cases where God answers prayer are evidence for believing in him, but cases where he doesn't seem to are just a test of our faith- they don't disprove anything. I was reminded of these attitudes by listening to George Osborne and his colleagues this over the past few weeks.
When unemployment rose slightly, out there in the real world, we heard from Lord Freud (Welfare Minister) that "we're not out of the woods yet", as if the people losing their jobs might somehow be at risk of thinking everything's going too well if he didn't caution them against complacency. When Moody's put the UK on "negative watch", citing a lack of growth in the economy as one reason why deficit reduction may well falter, George Osborne, the High Priest of Austerity, didn't stop to question his own plans, which are failing even in their own terms. Instead, he told us all that it was "a wakeup call" for us all to sit up and realise that his plans to reduce the deficit are even more correct and important than we thought.
What a brilliant argument- how could it ever be wrong?! Presumably if the deficit goes up, it will be further evidence that our High Priest's plans to reduce the deficit are beyond question. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) forecasts the U.K. economy will shrink 0.1% this year, but this doesn't deter faithful George. If economic plans deserve any credit at all, then there must be some evidence that would at least support or diminish them. My point isn't that the deficit isn't a problem, or that efforts to reduce it shouldn't take place.
We need an honest argument with evidence though. There's not much point in having beliefs, Marxist or otherwise, if real world events (and crucial ones like people losing their jobs) have no impact. It's difficult for a Chancellor to spell out what evidence would disprove his beliefs because the markets would interpret this as weakness. Somewhere behind the bluster and complacency though, I hope there's some sense of what could disprove the "austerity view". If there isn't, then the Chancellor's disciples might as well give up altogether on pretending to think for themselves.
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