The Welfare State We're In, The website of the book by James Bartholomew
May 10, 2006
Baroness Thatcher gives me my instructions

Much to my surprise, I found myself being introduced to Lady Thatcher this afternoon. I was the Institute of Economic Affairs for a lunchtime talk on productivity in the NHS. Afterwards there was a reception for Vaclav Klaus. Lady Thatcher arrived to see and talk to him. After that, she was introduced around the other guests, including myself.

John Blundell, the director of the IEA encouraged me to tell her about The Welfare State We're In, which I did. I told her that the book argues that we would be better off if the previous welfare systems had been allowed to develop instead of being replaced by the welfare state.

She announced, "You must suggest an alternative. If you say the welfare state is no good, you must suggest an alternative."

I have agonised about this before in a previous entry on this website. I said to her that it would be a big job, requiring a lot of research and I doubted people would want to read my particular blueprint. She was having none of that, saying words to the effect: "If you can't think of a good way of communicating it, then you must find a way of communicating it."

I felt like a junior minister being given his instructions. I could see the logic of what she said - all too clearly. Politically, it must be right.

But there are so many problems associated with doing it. The research would cost a great deal of time and money in order to arrive at conclusions worth hearing. Any ideal solution would probably be politically impossible. Any politically possible solution would probably be riddled with faults. I think. But perhaps the great Lady T is right, as so many time before. Of course there are problems, but perhaps I should go ahead anyway.

John Blundell got a copy of the book and I signed it and gave it to her. I said, "Shall I give it to your chauffeur to take?"

She replied, "I am a grocer's daughter." She somehow implied that she understood the importance of advertising and announced, "I will carry it." So I now am delighted to have a picture, not only of myself talking with Lady T but of her carrying The Welfare State We're In. What a woman!

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in General

Comments (11) TrackBack (33)



As for the proposal, don't let yourself influenced by contemporary political concerns and particulars. Try to write a book about the best welfare system you can think of... if it's really good, sooner or later it will be pheasable.

I'd rather read something great but not suitable for a particular administration than something too specific about particular circumstances.

Posted by: Gabriel Mihalache at May 10, 2006 06:49 PM

Well, what about considering Charles Murray's new book from a UK perspective? He offers a way out of welfare (though not big governemnt) for America by payments to every citizen without considering need. That might be a place to start, even if you want to reject his 'Plan'.

Posted by: Sancho's Ass at May 10, 2006 09:13 PM

I think your caution wiser than Mrs Thatcher's enthusiasm. The story TWSWI tells so well is that of unintended consequences from good intentions. That would apply in full force to any blueprint drawn from the book just as much as it does to the 45-51 government. In most respects I think the closing chapters of your book say all that can be said - that the mistake of the left was to nationalise welfare, not to mismanage it afterwards, and that form of pre-'45 welfare wasn't really given its chance in the favourable economic conditions of the post-war boom. What the modern equivalents are is hard to say - because they will be made by individuals in their own modern contexts - and blueprints aren't necessarily going to have any influence on that, beneficial or otherwise.

Posted by: James Hamilton at May 11, 2006 10:07 AM

If Mrs T enjoys the book, why not put a proposal to her, setting out the funding, timescale, research facilities, etc. you imagine will be needed to bring your paper to fruition.

Surely she has contacts with some pretty rich backers who might be interested in sponsoring you, if all else fails..?

Posted by: JT at May 11, 2006 01:46 PM

I am with Lady T on this.

If you consider the fact that a welfare replacement may not NEED a detailed blueprint, then we has a chance. Why not detailed? Because it would be formed and created to a large extent from individual and voluntary energy and thus self-renewing and evolving.

To me the biggest challenge is not deciding where we will end up, but migrating from where we are now, to wean people off the State teat. Now THAT needs a detailed blueprint.

When you decide what we MUST do, then there is no option but to go ahead and do it.

I am tempted to augment my Roger's Manifesto (linked) to incorporate migration plans.

Posted by: Tim at May 11, 2006 02:03 PM

If you are looking for alternatives I would suggest seeing how other succesful countries do it. Apart from being less work that starting from scratch you will find that in any science a working model is much more useful than the most beautiful theory.

In those terms Singapore has a very well functioniing welfare ssystem. I'm not sure what Hong Kong has but it clearly works. They place 4th & 5th (1st & 2nd of sizeable countries) for life expectancy

Posted by: Neil Craig at May 11, 2006 02:55 PM

It must have been a great moment meeting Lady T. I share your pessimism concerning your chances of chaging things, but I'm sure that her advisors were equally pessimistic when she grabbed the UK by the scruff of its neck and put it back on its feet again.

Go for it.

Write a sequel outlining the way forwards. You may not succeed in changing the world, but the royalties might go some way to easing your disappointment.

Posted by: John East at May 11, 2006 08:05 PM

I greatly enjoyed your book and was pleased to Lady Thatcher also appreciated it. However I was surprised by your comment regarding an alternative that "it would be a big job, requiring a lot of research." In the book you often describe how services were as well or even better provided by the market and private enterprise before the introduction of state control. Isn't the idea then that we don't replace the Welfare State with an alternative but instead simply reduce state involvemnet and leave these services to be provided by the market?

Posted by: Simon Cranshaw at May 12, 2006 03:45 AM

If people like yourself, do not set out some kind of alternative, then the politicians have noone from whom to take a lead.

I found your book very convincing and I'm sure another would take the argument much further.

Posted by: Serf at May 12, 2006 06:07 PM

There is a genuine problem in that the welfare state has crowded out alternatives, and created dependants who will resist any changes. However, you might be interested in my Social Policy Bond idea. Essentially it would mean that government defines the broad welfare goals it wants to achieve: these would probably be safety-net type measures of education, health, and poverty. Then it would issue on the open market non-interest bearing bonds redeemable for a fixed sum once the objectives had been achieved. Bondholders would have incentives to achieve social (and environmental) goals efficiently, and to explore diverse, adaptive approaches. Human ingenity and self-interest would be channelled into public benefit. I would happily collaborate with you on this if you are interested.

Posted by: Ronnie Horesh at May 13, 2006 08:34 AM

I'll reserve comments on Mrs T: that's another field altogether. However - as to alternatives to the present mess called the welfare state: I'm sure that you're more than familiar with Charles Murray's proposals for a citzen's minimum income / social wage. This seems to provide a starting point for discussion. It certainly addresses the issue of providing a safety net without stifling choice & removing individual responsiblity.

Posted by: Merlin at February 10, 2010 05:32 PM

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