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Student Viewpoint: Liberalism

27th March 2017

Student Viewpoint2

In the Defence of Liberalism

Brexit, the election of Donald Tump and The Great British Bake Off moving to Channel 4… All these shocking events occurred in 2016 and (other than the Bake Off) have caused political earthquakes with globe-spanning consequences. These events have also led to some declaring that Liberalism is dead and that the age of Liberalism is over. I want to stand up for Liberalism, or, at least, my interpretation of it.

Liberalism itself has many definitions and interpretations but at its core includes ideals such as Freedom of Speech, the Press and Religion as well as belief in Free Markets, Civil Rights and Democracy. Other ideas in Liberalism are somewhat fragmented beyond this point; how much should the government interfere with the economy? How much should the government try to influence the publics’ thinking? These questions mean that Liberals get split into different parties with names like “The Conservatives”, “Labour” and “The Liberal Democrats” who all give different views on what the government should and shouldn’t do.

“But!” I hear you cry “Conservatism is an entirely different philosophy, and isn’t Labour a Socialist party?”. Well, I don’t hear you because no-one will have asked that question at this point in the article (you’re probably wondering when this will end). I’ll answer the question anyway. All of the parties I outlined above, support and encourage the Freedoms that I mentioned earlier! Yes, the Conservatives want fewer regulations and lower taxes while Labour wants to tighten up regulations and increase taxes. However, I haven’t heard any of them saying “we want to abolish Free Markets”. So, whether you like it or not, you’re voting for a Liberal party at elections.

What about Freedom of Speech? You may argue that we don’t really have total Freedom of Speech because of Political Correctness. However, I would argue that what this Freedom really means is ‘Freedom not to be nasty’ because spouting xenophobic nonsense makes everybody’s lives more miserable. What have these people done to you? Oh, and don’t answer “stolen my job”… nobody “steals” jobs. If there’s a position on offer and several people apply but you lose out to an EU citizen then they haven’t “stolen” that job, they’ve got that job because they’re either more highly qualified than you are or they made a better impression of themselves at the interview. They haven’t “stolen” that job! (Got that? Good).

I would sum up my view of Liberalism as this; you can say and do what you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, because if you do, there will be consequences. To illustrate, if you’re a politician and you give anti-EU speeches (*cough* Nigel Farage *cough*) then don’t be surprised if people push back and say you’re racist, or boo you when on stage.

Now, I’m not saying I’m Liberal to the core, some people would say that decriminalising drugs is a Liberal idea. I disagree with this one, strongly. Some people say that the removal of nuclear weapons is a Liberal ideal and while I believe that nuclear weapons should be disarmed, I don’t think this country should do it unilaterally, that is, to decommission Trident without other nuclear countries doing the same. This highlights the difficulty with defending Liberalism, there are so many interpretations of it, that even Liberals will not agree with each other.

But in some ways, this is Liberalisms’ greatest strength. We debate with each other and that means we get to see lots of points of view, not just one, narrow, dictatorial view. This also improves accountability because people questioning actions and motives can reveal deficiencies or fraud within systems. This article doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what Liberalism is, it’s such a vast ideological area that you’d be reading this for hours if I tried to cover everything! Is Liberalism dead? I don’t think so, it’s just being shouted down by the voices of intolerance at the moment. Fine, when their policies don’t work, Liberalism will be waiting.

If you could give your thoughts about what I’ve discussed in this article, please send your comments to sbsedo@soton.ac.uk

Please note that all views expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect official policy of Southampton Business School or The University of Southampton.

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Student Viewpoint: The Budget

10th March 2017

Student Viewpoint

Recently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond gave his first ever, and his last ever, Spring Budget. For those of you who are concerned when I say “last ever”, don’t worry! The Budget is being moved to the autumn so your highlight of the year is merely happening at a different time.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about when I say “The Budget”, I am referring to the yearly statement that the government produces outlining what tax revenues are expected, what the economic growth forecasts are, projections on the size of the deficit and national debt along with plans for government expenditure in the coming years. Presently, the focus has been on austerity measures – spending cuts – to reduce Britain’s deficit which is forecast to be £51.7 billion in the current financial year. These austerity measures are being enacted in the hope that the government will be able to start paying off the huge national debt mountain that currently stands at around £1.6 trillion.

Anyway, on to the content of this year’s budget. The biggest (and most controversial) announcement came with changes to the amount of National Insurance Contributions that the self-employed pay which will increase by 2% by the end of this Parliament. The press have been very quick to point out that this breaks a Conservative Party manifesto pledge to not raise National Insurance over the course of this Parliament and while this is indeed the case, I can’t help but think that a 2% rise is a) very small and b) means that it reduces the gap between the amount employees of a company pay and the amount the self-employed pay. It’s a measure designed to reduce the incentives of going self-employed purely for the benefits of paying less tax, which, in effect, means that the government is closing a loophole which people could use to avoid tax.

In another measure to reduce the gap between employees and the self-employed, the Chancellor also announced that the tax-free dividend allowance will be decreasing which is primarily aimed at Director-Shareholders of small, private companies. Once again, I think this is a good move because it means that people exploiting legitimate ways to reduce their tax burden are now going to have to cough up. Of course, others have accused the government of wanting to stifle entrepreneurship but I don’t buy this argument. If someone has a great business idea and then sets up a company, all it means is that they’re going to pay a little more tax. That won’t affect whether they succeed or fail because the amount of tax you pay is calculated on the amount you earn. If your business earns very little, you pay little to no tax. If it earns a lot of money, you pay more tax. It’s a sensible move given the fact we have a large deficit to reduce and even more national debt to pay off.

In other tax announcements made, there were the standard rises on “de-merit” goods such as alcohol and tobacco and the new “Sugar Tax” has been confirmed to come into effect from April 2018 to tackle childhood obesity. While this is a welcome measure, the tax only covers fizzy drinks and misses the vast amount of chocolate and confectionary that children also consume. Maybe the government are leaving that open for future consideration but it would seem to me like that’s a missed opportunity to discourage high sugar intake among children.

The Budget is not just about taxes however and the government announced that over the next 3 years there will be an extra £2 billion of spending for social care which is much welcomed, especially considering the pressure that the system is under with regards to the U.K.’s ageing population. While I think this is a good thing, I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen after those 3 years are up… Is that the end of central government funding for social care, meaning that all the money for it will have to come from Council Tax, or is that a permanent increase in the social care budget? The government never likes to be too specific on such matters meaning we’ll probably have to wait and see what happens at the next General Election.

Another large announcement made was about education, because apparently, that’s a big Budget item now… Anyway, the new policy refers to technical skills which our current education system has failed to address for many years. With the introduction of T-Levels (like A-Levels but for technical skills rather than academic) the government wants to give parity to subjects which will help students get jobs in high-tech manufacturing rather than professional services firms. This is a good move because it would seem that the government has finally realised that not everyone is a maths genius and we can’t have an economy purely based on management consultants. Especially, with Brexit around the corner and new export markets which will (hopefully) open up, Britain needs to have a diverse economy that gets income from manufacturing as well as services.

Finally, there’s the boring (because it was all interesting up to this point, right?) addition of spending on infrastructure to provide a quick boost to the economy with roads, 5G tech and broadband being on the receiving end of the funding. There’s also money for robotics and driverless cars as well as more funding to build schools, upgrade old ones and fund 1,000 more PhD places in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. All good and all sure-fire ways to make people happy.

Overall, this budget has been a fairly quiet affair. With impending negotiations with the E.U. as to our exit, this budget needed to be low-key. The Chancellor has made some spending commitments but has more than covered them with spending cuts in other departments and tax rises in some places. With the future so uncertain, the government has some headroom in spending to cover any unexpected events that may occur over the next 2 years because, to be honest, no-one knows what’s going to happen. We’re in unchartered waters, uncertain of where we’re going (other than knowing we’re heading towards an exit) so the best thing that we can do in times like these is provide some certainty and not make huge, surprising spending or tax commitments.

After all, The Budget covers one of the 3 certainties. Life, Death and Taxes.

More information about The Budget is available on the BBC website  and on Management Today

Also, if you could give your thoughts about what I’ve discussed in this article, or anything else about this years Budget, please leave a comment!

Please note that all views expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect official policy of Southampton Business School or The University of Southampton.

– William Fowler, Second Year Accounting and Finance Student

 

 

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