There is a sentiment that goes back to at least the 1700s that says that if you're not a socialist when you're young, then you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative when you're old, then you have no head. The idea of 'voting with your head' in reference to voting for the Conservatives is one I've heard at least once in the run-up to this year's general election and it surprised me when I did. Then it surprised me that I was surprised.
That adage is centuries-old so why, in the face of the upcoming vote, do I feel that it no longer applies, at least from an economic point of view? I think the answer lies in the application of 'austerity economics' that was brought in by George Osborne shortly after appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2010.
Austerity means that essential public services are defunded in the name of saving money in order to reduce the national debt. The idea was roundly debunked by economists at the time but the surest proof that this is a terrible economic idea is that the Conservative government has been running a record-high deficit since the end of 2013.
To put that in context, the deficit hit a record £17million in the aftermath of 2008's financial crisis - the largest financial disaster since 1929. Since mid-2013, however, the national deficit has been consistently at or above this level every single quarter bar one with it surpassing £25million in at least 4 separate quarters and, unlike with the period immediately after the financial crisis, there's no obvious external reason for it. What is especially egregious is that, in their recent election campaign, the Conservatives have suggested that Labour would increase the national debt. With the data at hand, I find this to be disrespectful to and borderline contemptuous of the electorate.
We are faced with a government whose economic policy has systematically defunded essential public services while doing the exact opposite to the national purse than the policy's intended effect. It is both cruel and decisively economically ineffective. So why would someone vote for the Conservatives?
After studying behavioural economics for 6 years, I am convinced that the vast majority of people in this world do not intend to be bad people - however, there are a number of cognitive biases that people are subject to that can lead to seemingly cruel behaviour.
In this particular example, I refer to cognitive dissonance. This phenomenon describes the effect whereby someone makes a decision that ultimately contradicts a belief, idea, or value, that they think they have. The result is that the individual convinces themselves that it was indeed the correct decision because to think otherwise would be to contradict their own internal view.
In the example of the Conservatives' economic policy, the essential idea is that "I don't want to defund essential public services but it is important to do so because it is more important that we have a robust economy". When it is revealed that defunding essential public services leads to a less robust economy, this leads to a doubling down of the original idea because to admit otherwise would be a contradiction of the individual's internal consistency, beliefs, and values.
Numbers don't lie and it's clear that when it comes to the economy, 'austerity' doesn't benefit anybody. I sincerely believe that in 2017's UK general election, an elected Conservative government would result in a continuation of this cognitive dissonance and a continued degradation of the UK economy.
This post refers only to the Conservative party and economics. I'll accept that there are many factors in play and different parties may encounter similar problems should they take power in June. However, I would argue that the old adage that voting Conservative implies voting with your head does not apply in this election.