The Welfare State We're In, The website of the book by James Bartholomew
November 12, 2010
Spend, spend, spend

Martin Durkin's programme on Channel 4 last night certainly did not hold back. It was dramatic and powerful. It had some clever footage at the beginning with politicians repeatedly saying they were going to "spend", "spend" and "spend". This was followed by analysts and former chancellors drily saying that government did not have any money of its own. It was all the public's money.

I particularly enjoyed some of the visual demonstations of otherwise dry figures. There was a tall, transparent tube. Its total height represented all public servants - said to be seven and a half million. Then along came people dressed as representatives of the different front line services: a nurse, a policeman and so on. Each came with a bucket of liquid representing how many of them there are. After all of the liquid representing the front line services had been poured in, the measure had only reached just under two million people - and that included those employed in the private sector.

"So what do the other five and half million people do?" asked Durkin. There was then a mock quiz show based on "what's my line?" in which a panel tried to work out what jobs people did - often involving words like "consultant" and "coordinator".

Added 12th November 2010. It seems one can catch up on the this programme for nearly a month on this link:

Posted by James Bartholomew • Indexed in Waste in public services

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The programme, though shot in an MTV style, was riveting nonetheless. It has already been described as a televisual paean to Adam Smith, but as I watched I was thinking of Fredéric Bastiat in equal measure, though he was not mentioned. State spending is all about that which is seen versus that which is unseen. That which is unseen is the destruction of the means and incentives the underlie wealth creation. Durkin was relentless. The head of the TUC and Alistair Darling did not stand a chance. Durkin covered everything that matters with aplomb, if only briefly: state spending, welfarism, private versus public, counterproductive taxation, centralised versus localised, and historical example. Durkin's handling may be crude and simplistic but it is undeniably effective. The knife went in deep, and it needed to.

Posted by: cybn at November 12, 2010 12:57 PM

It was a good programme and well argued. Personally I don't have much time for illustrations using stacks of £10 notes - dividing up the debt and giving a 'per person' figure would have been more effective.

My only real criticism is that the programme laid itself open to easy refutation by the repeated assertion that only the private sector creates wealth and that the public sector only consumes it. This is clearly untrue, much as I feel that the private sector is a much more efficient generator of wealth and that the public sector is much less so (or even a net destroyer of wealth). Do independent schools create wealth but public sector schools only consume it? Independent schools may be better, but that doesn't make public sector schools worthless. In fact, many activities are largely arbitrarily in the public sector and could (and would) exist (albeit in different form) were the public sector to withdraw (schools and medicine/hospitals being the obvious examples) - so you can't say that they would produce wealth in the private sector but don't in the public sector. More wealth, perhaps.

Incidentally, James, I think you made your point very well about the public sector not needing to be a direct provider of important services in order to ensure that everyone has access to them.

Posted by: HJ at November 12, 2010 09:51 PM

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