What makes people happy more than any other phenomenon?
According to a poll commissioned by Radio 5 Live, the answer is 'family'.
What has happened to families in the past fifty years?
They are more dismembered than at any time in Britain's history. There is less marriage and more divorce. There are many more people living alone.
It follows that what appears to be the most profound source of happiness in people's lives has been seriously damaged.
I argue in The Welfare State We're In that the welfare state is a major cause of 'broken families'. And through this mechanism, the welfare state has indirectly undermined the greatest source of human happiness.
Here is an article about what the tea partyists really want. It is useful because it is a coherent analysis of feelings that normally are not explained so articulately.
Basically, the author is saying that Tea Party people feel a sense of injustice (which the author - rather unsatisfactorily to my mind - refers to as offences against 'karma'). They feel it is unfair or unjust that some people get cash and other kinds of benefit or consideration for behaving badly or not working or not working hard. The feel it is unjust that many banks were bailed out.
The article is also interesting for dividing people into three political groups: liberals, libertarians and conservatives. This provides more precision than the usual divide in Britain between simply those who are right-wing and those who are left-wing.
"The decisive question is not 'What is socially just?'It is 'What works?' Because something that does not work cannot be just."
Robert Nef in The Welfare State Destroys Welfare and Destroys the State (p5)published by the Liberales Institut, Zurich.
Here is a link to the Liberales Institut website page on its publications.
"The welfare state is too serious matter to be left to the socialists, but equally its radical critics should be taken seriously only if they succeed in pointing up alternatives."
Another quote from The Welfare State against welfare and the state by Robert Nef, published by the Liberales Institut in Zurich.
Here is a link to the Liberales Institut website page on its publications.
(Based on a talk at the Liberales Institut, Zurich 10/6/10)
The England team was preparing recently for the football World Cup championship and had a ‘friendly’ game. During the game, one of England’s outstanding players, Wayne Rooney, disagreed with the referee and told him so in foul language. The local referee was disgusted. He gave Rooney a yellow card and took the unusual step of revealing that Rooney had said to him ‘f--- you!’
The British press was appalled. But not appalled at the fact that Rooney was criticising and insulting the referee. No, that did not bother them at all. They were concerned, rather, that Rooney’s fits of temper made the England team vulnerable. Several former players and managers voiced their opinion that opposing teams would be well advised to ‘wind him up’ and thus get him to commit a foul or an assault which would cause him to be sent off.
Terry Butcher, a former played quoted in the Sun, suggested
...that the manager of the USA team, which was to play England first in the championship, should tell his backs to insult Rooney and even punch him. Even for British culture, it is unusual for a newspaper to quote someone recommending a totally unprovoked assault. This is what sportsmanship has come to in Britain today. It is shameful and a complete contrast to the values that existed fifty years ago.
The attitudes of Rooney and Butcher contrast starkly with those of players in the past. A former senior referee, Mervyn Griffiths, was the referee at a particularly celebrated cup final in England in 1953. He wrote about football at that time, “Players were better behaved. There was more sportsmanship than gamesmanship in those days… There were not big arguments and demonstrations when I had the whistle. It makes my hair stand on end when I see players today surrounding a referee, hurling abuse and even laying hands on him. Such a thing was unheard of.”
This is just one example – and there are many – of how behaviour has changed in Britain in the past 50 years. The deterioration has been extraordinary.
And here is another recent experience in which I have seen a big contrast in behaviour.
When Poland joined the European Union, the British government, unlike most in the European Union, allowed unlimited entry of workers. Hundreds of thousands came. I met a lot of them. A large number worked in the building trade. In my home I had Polish carpenters, electricians, stoneworkers, general labourers and so on and on. It was an astonishing experience. Why? Because they were so polite. They turned up at 8am exactly. I could sometimes see them waiting outside so that they would not inconvenience me by being early. They worked solidly and well, taking only short breaks before leaving at 4pm. They never demanded tea or coffee. They never played radios. This was a huge contrast to the British and Irish workers I had known in the previous decades. They would often not arrive on the day they had promised and they turned up at any time that suited them. The played their radios and took offence if you asked them to turn the radios off. They would leave at any time, saying they would be back the next day but then they were not.
This huge contrast was striking but I drew no particular conclusions. But then I began to a day, a few years later, when I was rung by a radio station in Poland. The caller said, “Our government is planning to introduce a welfare state. Would you like to comment?”
I had already written my book about the welfare state in Britain but it took me a while to realise the implications of his question. We think of the communist states as the ultimate in left-wing rule. But actually, many of them did not have a welfare states anything like the British one. They therefore avoided some of our welfare state’s effect on behaviour. Poland, though Communist, had not had a welfare state like that of Britain. Could that be why the behaviour of its tradesmen was so superior to that of the British equivalents?
At this point, ideally, I would move on from a couple of anecdotes to give you undeniable proof that welfare states tend to damage behaviour. I would then explain exactly how and why the process happens. Finally I would describe what the policies are that would be accepted in a democratic country and would put everything right. Unfortunately I can’t manage this ideal. In Britain, at least, we are still at the foothills of the mountain in examining and explaining these things. Our academic community has been spectacularly slow and unenterprising in making any study at all. Perhaps that is because academic life in Britain has been nationalised.
All I can do – certainly in the time I have – is suggest the sort of way in which I believe the process works – how moral and decent behaviour can be undermined by welfare states.
I believe that it is in the nature of human beings for their characters to be strongly influenced by the circumstances in which they find themselves. Welfare states change our circumstances. They change the pre-existing state of affairs in which people’s characters develop. I suggest that in the circumstances prior to the welfare state, people were, in general, encouraged or obliged to behave in certain ways we which consider moral, kind or decent. The welfare state changed this.
To see how this works, I ask you to imagine you are living in 1890. You are neither rich nor terribly poor. You are working class. You are one of the majority.
You are in work but naturally you are aware that if you lost your job or became ill, you would not be able to work and get an income. You might become penniless. You, your wife and family might not have enough food. If the worst came to the worst, there would be the workhouse but you would not want to end up there. So what do you do? You, like the vast majority of industrial workers, join one or more of the many Friendly Societies that existed at that time. These Friendly Societies were an extraordinary phenomenon of 19th century Britain. They grew from a small base into the most widespread form of welfare provision prior to the welfare state. Other countries had different arrangements, some of them based on the church.
The British friendly society was a remarkable kind of organisation. You paid your monthly subscription and for this you were insured against unemployment and illness. In many of them you also would get the services of a doctor and/or a hospital if need be.
OK, let’s pretend you get sick. Members of the local branch of your Friendly Society come round to see you. If you are genuinely ill, they will sympathise. They will let you have the money you are entitled to. They may even help your wife in looking after you or looking after your children. These are men whom you see every month at the meetings of the friendly society. But if they see that you are in fact in fine health, looking after your garden or mending your bicycle, they will be outraged. They will not give you the money and your reputation will be shattered. You may even be expelled from the society.
You have a good reputation and it is extremely important to you to keep it.
Your job is also extremely important to you, too. Without it, you are in a very bad way. So again, your reputation is important to you. You need to have a good reference so that if you are not needed in your current work, you will be able to get another job. Gertrude Himmelfarb in one of her books on 19th century thinking and behaviour describes how working class men used to carry a reference in their pockets. They were proud of a good reference and would produce it as needed.
Again, without a generous welfare state, you really wanted to have savings built up in case of need. During the 19th century, saving developed at a fantastic rate. You saved to be rich enough to be able to afford to marry. You saved to help pay for the school fees or contributions which the thousands of private and charitable schools might require.
Since you know, from your own experience, how life can be uncertain, you also give to charity. According to one survey, half of the working and artisan class gave to charity on a regular basis.
I must say, I am beginning to like and admire you.
You are a man who works hard, who tries to ensure he behaves properly to keep his good reputation. You take responsibility for your family. And you give to charity.
Of course there were some awful people, too. But I can certainly provide some evidence that people were much better behaved in the late Victorian times and particularly in the first half of the 20th century.
The welfare state changed all this.
For a start, they destroyed the friendly societies. These were crowded out by compulsory contributions to national unemployment insurance and later by the creation of the national health service.
So what happens to you now – or at least in the recent past - if you lose your job? You might go onto a benefit for the unemployed for a while. But you might be advised by a friend or even the government agency that you would be better off going onto a benefit for incapacity. There has been a vast increase in the numbers claiming they have bad backs or suffer from depression. Whichever benefit you go onto, you will not be monitored carefully. No one in your area may know which benefit you are on even whether you are on a benefit at all. No one will care if you work on the side. The money will not be coming out of their pockets.
Let us say that a little later you become physically well and also able to find work, though the job would be low-paid. You may take the work and conscientiously inform the benefit office. But many do not. Some do not take the work. Some take the work but fail to mention it to the benefits office. This is called ‘working and claiming’.
It is very easy and because of this, you are tempted to take this route. You are tempted, in other words, to be dishonest. You may also, in order to justify to yourself your behaviour, develop a great sense of entitlement. “I deserve this money. I paid my national insurance when I was working. I even pay taxes when I buy things in the shops!” The tendency is to become, instead of like the late 19th century man, someone who takes responsibility for himself, to become instead someone who demands that the state take responsibility for you and yours.
Through this kind of process, the welfare state has created unemployment. Worse that this, it has created permanent mass unemployment. This permanent unemployment on a mass scale never existed prior to the welfare state.
Unemployment, in turn, has its effect on the psychology and behaviour of human beings. It is immensely depressing. Unlike divorce, from which one gradually may recover, the depression and alienation from unemployment tends to get worse, the longer it goes on.
One aspect of this depression – especially for young males – is a sense of alienation. This can lead to anger and willingness to damage things. Perhaps it can also lead to not caring what others think and being rude. There is some evidence it can even lead to crime among the young.
In Britain, there is another way in which the welfare state has damaged behaviour. Special subsidies in money and housing have been offered to those people who have children outside marriage. Not surprising to an economist is the idea that if you give people extra money for something, more people do it. So it is that Britain has become the European capital for children being born outside marriage.
This has damaging effects on the women involved, the men and also the children. Not in every case, of course. There are many individuals who manage very well. But on average, lone mothers tend to be more depressed than those who are married. Government figures show among the other disadvantages the women endure are that that they are more likely to hurt or injured than married mothers.
The men, finding they can get away with it, are more likely to go on being promiscuous and fathering other children whom they will also not look after. The men therefore go without the socialising effect of marriage and of caring for a family.
But the children are the worst affected. There are many figures to show this. Here is just one: the sons of lone parents are 2.7 times more likely to truant from school. That is after adjustment for the socio-economic status of the parents. They are also more likely to become delinquents.
So the intervention of the welfare state in parenting has, in sum, caused underachievement, incivility - including crime -, alienation and irresponsibility.
One further factor has been the mass creation in Britain of what is caused social housing. This used to mean the creation of vast housing estates, many of which still exist though fewer than originally because a remarkable number have had to be destroyed because they became so awful no one wanted to live in them. This social housing may have caused bad social effects in many ways. Initially at least, and perhaps still, they have disrupted families. People may be given accommodation a long way from their parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. They lost a close support network which surely was socialising in its effect.
In addition, the large council blocks were ones in which no one owned large parts of the property and so felt no responsibility to maintain it in a good state. Many blocks became places that were frightening at night and even in the day time. The maintenance was poor, leading to broken lifts. They became ideal places for gangs to roam.
To this list you might like to add a few more factors that are more speculative. Now that people feel that healthcare and education are free, the importance of earning a good wage and being careful with your money has automatically been reduced. Similarly, for women, when choosing who will be their mate and keep the finances going when they are bearing children, the importance of finding a mate who appears reliable and hard-working has gone down. It does not matter so much if the man is a ne’er-do-well. The key issue may just be whether she fancies him. So there is less advantage for a man who wishes to attract a female in being a reliable earner.
So what have we got, in summary?
Prior to the welfare state, the circumstances of life created a lot of pressure to be responsible and to work , to have a good reputation and to save.
After the welfare state – or the British one at least – benefits allowed the creation of mass unemployment, which is alienating. It made mass fraud in unemployment very tempting and easy which encouraged dishonesty as a matter of routine. It possibly encouraged crime as well. The benefits in Britain also encouraged lone parenting which caused further alienation for all three parties – the mother, father and child and there is data to support the idea that the children are more likely to become delinquent and then criminal.
Then it created social housing which broke up the social support and civilising effects of family. They also created places where nobody was responsible for shared areas and these became havens for gangs and places of intimidation.
Put all these together and you have a recipe for the de-civilisation of a country. This is what has been happening in Britain, I believe. Other countries have their welfare states, but few have gone as far as Britain – or perhaps have done it so badly. Few have suffered effects as serious as Britain. Other countries should take Britain as a warning and hope they do not create a culture which gives rise to footballing ‘stars’ whose behaviour is like that of Wayne Rooney and whose newspapers quoted former players suggesting that punching an opponent would be a sensible thing to do.
(Some of the material in this entry was taken from The Welfare State We're In.)
Alongside the printed article in the previous posting is a box comparing British and French healthcare. It refers to the expression "from the cradle to the grave" - a term which I think was created by Winston Churchill and referred to the welfare state in general. These days the phrase might be adapted to read, "from the possibly fatherless cradle perhaps to a second-rate education, to a high risk of unemployment via an uncivil society to a miserable state pension with an increased risk of MRSA and thus an early grave".
Here are ten pretty dramatic assertions about how Labour has affected the welfare of the poor during its twelve years in power. They are extracted from an article by Fraser Nelson in the The Spectator:
1. "Even by Labour’s favourite measure, the Gini index, which measures income gaps across various countries, inequality is at a record high — towering above the levels seen in the Thatcher years."
2. "Scandalously, the poorest 10 per cent now have a disposable income of £87 a week, down from £96 a week eight years ago."
3. "Foreign-born workers account for all net job creation in the private sector since 1997. That is to say, strip out the public sector and there are fewer British-born people in work now than in 1997."
4. "As for youth unemployment, that is now a third higher than when Labour took office."
5. "At no point since Labour came to power has the number on out- of-work benefits fallen below five million."
6. "Of these working-age people, 1.1 million — equivalent to the population of a city the size of Birmingham — have never worked a day in the Labour years."
7. "International surveys show school standards are declining, with the poorest hit worst."
8. "Studies set up in the early Labour years to track progress have in fact tracked decline."
9. "Infant mortality gaps between the rich and poor have — quite extraordinarily — widened under Labour."
10. "Ditto the gulf in life expectancy."
These points are mentioned almost casually in his article. But each is powerful. Assuming they are true, should be far better known. Television and radio interviewers should all be sent a copy to put the points to Labour ministers when they are crowing about their supposed successes. Tory shadows should repeat them frequently.
I would be glad if it were possible to have links to the sources of the data supporting these assertions. Fraser Nelson says in his article: "none of the above figures have [sic] been published by the government - this magazine lodged a request for their release".
It would be good if he would put the sources up online so the assertions could be repeated with confidence.
But the big point, which he makes well, is this: "The Prime Minister's greatest contribution to convervatism... has been to test to destruction the idea that money solves social problems."
And again, "Mr Brown's government spent like no other, and was socially regressive."
Last week I gave a talk about the book at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. It is available to view on the Cato website here.
I have just been listening to a Radio 4 programme on India. One person, perhaps the finance minister, asserted that one in four primary school teachers in India does not turn up for work. This is an extreme measure of just how bad and corrupt the state can be in providing education. James Tooley, of course, has done much research in this area in developing countries before, but to hear the words said on Radio 4, which is traditionally so much in favour of state welfare provision, was interesting. The fact that this is evidence, to put it mildly, that the state has been incompetent in providing education in India was not, of course, drawn out or developed.
It was definitely the current Finance Minister who said on the programme that, on the basis of improvements over the past 10 to 15 years, it was likely that "abject poverty" in India would be "wiped out" by 2020 or 2025. In these past years, of course, India finally turned away from the socialism it had adopted since the Second World War and moved towards the market economy.
It seems likely that it will be capitalism that saves the abject poor in India, not socialism. It was good to hear a man in such a powerful position politely asserting this.
Recently I took part in a debate at the Royal Society for Arts about what are the greatest social evils of our time. I was welcomed by Matthew Taylor as I went in and he called me a 'token right-winger' which gives an idea of the views of most of the other participants. The main speech was by Julia Unwin. There was, perhaps surprisingly, some agreement about the worst social evils such as cultural impoverishment. However, even here I am sure we had wholly different views about the causes of that impoverishment.
The RSA website has an audio recording of the debate. The actual recording is here: http://www.thersa.org/audio/lecture190707.mp3
My main contribution starts just after a third of the way through. I also commented on the notion that the market economy has increased avarice in modern society at the beginning of the last eighth of the recording.
In my comments I mistakenly referred to a market in Rome having been created by Tiberius. I think the one I was thinking of was actually created by Trajan. I should also have mentioned that in late Victorian times, when charitable giving was vastly higher than it is now and behaviour was better, there was lower tax and Britain had much more of a market economy.
The page leading to the recording is here: http://www.rsa.org.uk/index.asp
Incidentally, the idea of the Julia Unwin that climate change should be regarded as a major social evil seemed to me quite extraodinary. It may or may not be an evil, but it is surely not a social evil. I am dismayed by the way that she - and perhaps the Royal Society of Arts, too - have turned old charities to address their own interests instead of the views and intentions of those who founded them.
My 10-year-old daughter explained something to me a few days ago. It went something like this:
"When I was on holiday with mummy in Spain, when mummy was paying I didn't mind what I bought! But then she gave me 50 euros of my own to spend and then I didn't buy things in case, later on, I found something I liked better."
This is the short course in why capitalism works and socialism doesn't. It is a short course in why public services tend to be wasteful (ministers and the rest are spending other people's money).
When it is your own money, you don't waste it.
Why did the 'magnificent five' (as the KGB called them) spy for the Soviet Union and betray their own country? Professor Christopher Andrew, the secret services historian, said last night that he used to think this was a very difficult question. Why should these people - generally of greatly superior intelligence, especially 'the fifth man', Cairncross - want to work for such an evil person as Stalin?
But he has changed his view and now thinks this is quite an easy question. He thinks they were idealists and that their intelligence did little or nothing to stop them being attracted to what he called the "myth image" of the Soviet Union. He told how Malcolm Muggeridge reported in the 1930s that visitors came from the capitalist West to the Soviet Union wanting to believe that it was wonderful. They were, of course, told by the Soviet officials that it was wonderful and they were doubtless shown the best of what was there. They wanted to fall for the "myth image" and they did.
I think Peregrine Worsthorne reported something similar when he was with other journalists on a guided visit to communist China. The lack of scepticism was remarkable.
I was struck by this phrase: "the myth image". It is precisely what the welfare state has. People want to believe in the myth that the welfare state is marvellous. So they do. High intelligence is no bar to self-deception.
There is a danger that, as time passes, people will begin to think that the communist states were not so bad after all.
Gradually the generation that lived through the last few decades of European communism will become a minority. New generations will grow up who never heard the many anecdotes of deprivation, misery and political oppression that were widespread in those years. I have already heard one BBC radio programme in which Russian communists lamented the passing the 'good old days'.
It is, of course, a reflection of the political bias at the BBC that this programme idea was selected from the thousands that which are constantly being submitted. The way in which the programme was done - giving credence to the idea of 'good old days' - also reflected this bias. But this kind of thing is likely to become more common, not less.
Last night I heard another story of just how bad things were in the Soviet Union. Professor Christopher Andrew, the historian of secret services, gave a talk in which he mentioned in passing that mothers to be 'fled' from hospitals in Moscow and Leningrad. They went to the country to have their babies because they were terrified of having them in City state hospitals where the cross-infection rates were so dreadful.
Later, Mary Kenny, who was in the audience, told me that when she stayed with the Irish ambassador in Moscow in the 1980s, she learned that an American anti-abortion film sent to the Soviet Union had not had the effect intended. An American lobby group had wanted to shock Soviet women with pictures of how dreadful is the reality of abortion. Instead, Soviet women seeing the film were ecstatic by how wonderful - particularly how clean - were American hospitals.
I asked Professor Andrew if he knew of any book which documented the terrible state of the Soviet Union prior to its collapse. He did not. Surely someone has written about this. If not, someone should gather together and verify the stories and the data. The disaster that was communism should not be forgotten. Otherwise it could well be repeated.
Visiting Siena I came to learn that opposite the wonderful cathedral is a charitable hospital called Santa Maria della Scala that was founded, if I remember rightly, some 800 years ago. It was a charitable venture like St Bart's in London. And like St Bart's, it has some wonderful art in it. It was, also like the British charitable hospitals, taken over by the government. The last ward was apparently only closed quite recently. The ill found themselves surrounded with early renaissance frescoes.
Wherever one goes, if one's eyes are open, one comes across welfare provision before welfare states took over.
This does not prove this kind of provision (alongside the family, mutual organisations, friendly societies and self-support) was better. But many people are not aware at all that, prior to government welfare, that there was any welfare provision at all.
Below is a little more about it:
It is called della Scala because of its location, opposite the steps at the front of the Duomo. Inside, the most notable room is the pilgrims' great hall which, until the 1970s, was used as an infirmary. The frescoes covering this spacious room are mainly by Sienese artists from the 15th century. The best known of these are Lorenzo di Pietro, il Vecchietta, and more interestingly Domenico di Bartolo whose paintings show how the hospital functioned and the importance it had for the people of Sienna of the time.From here.
Santa Maria della ScalaFrom a site called Nozio.
The building Santa Maria della Scala takes up an area of about 350,000 square meters and was originally built as a city hospital, one of the first to be built in Italy. Today, many parts of the building have been recovered thanks to a massive restoration program, and exhibition spaces for Siena and international artists are now available. Inside the building it is possible to see three chapels, the Cappella del Manto, the Cappella della Madonna, the Cappella del Sacro Chiodo and the Church of the Santissima Annunziata.
I am sad to learn of the death of the great Milton Friedman. I was very honoured that he endorsed my book. The idea of asking him only came late. Certain other, far less significant people had been asked but, for one reason or another, most had not been able to oblige. Then - I forget who or why - someone had the idea of asking Milton Friedman. The contact was through Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute.
We were short of time and so we asked if he could make his comment quite soon, so we could use it for the first edition. The reply came back that Mr Friedman would not have time to read the book in time for first publication and he never endorsed a book without reading it from cover to cover. A friend in San Francisco who met Mr Friedman socially at that time reported back that he did not seem particularly interested.
So, the book came out with no mention of Milton Friedman at all. I gave up hope that we would get any comment from him. Then, out of the blue, came an email from Eamonn Butler with comments from Milton Friedman that I would never have dared dream of. I was thrilled and luckily the hardback was selling well enough that there were several re-prints. So the dustjacket was re-designed to incorporate just a few of his kind remarks. And I had the pleasure of knowing that this remarkable and highly influential man had read The Welfare State We're In from cover to cover.
I have recently been interviewed on behalf of a magazine called Human Givens. Ivan Tyrrell,who has also co-written a book by the same name, was very interested in The Welfare State We're In from a completely unexpected point of view.
The basis of the Human Givens approach is that all human beings have certain well-recognised needs. These include the need to socialise, to have some status and to be stretched. People cannot readily be content without these needs being met.
Ivan was interested in The Welfare State We're In because in it I argue that the welfare state has made people less happy. He fully agrees and sees this as being because it takes away from people - in many ways - the need to stretch themselves, the context in which to socialise and a sense of status.
It is easy to think of examples of this. People who are discouraged by benefits from seeking work get demoralised staying at home. They would be happier being stretched in a job. They would be happier having the sense of achievement in putting food on the table for their families. They would be happier having the status of a job and soicalising at work. Doctors and teachers would be more satisfied if they were more in control of their work instead of being dictated to so much by commandments from government or managers.
We live now in a society where the government controls more and more of our lives. It robs us of a sense that we are the ones who run our own lives. It takes away a certain dignity and, through that, it takes away some of our contentment.
The psychological impact (not to mention the cultural impact) of the welfare state has been enormous. It deserves far more study than the academic world has yet given it.
How did "capitalism" become a dirty word? Hostility has slipped by, unopposed, and become pervasive.
It has even reached sport. Yesterday, a correspondent on Radio 4's Today programme described a proposal coming from the European Union to put a cap on the salaries of footballers. He treated this as though it were probably a good thing. Not the merest hint was there that this was interference with a market and therefore likely - like most interferences in markets - to have unintended, damaging effects.
The Church of England on Monday joined in the anti-capitalist zeitgeist with particular enthusiasm. It issued a report called Faithful Cities in which it questioned "our reliance on market-driven capitalism". The report referred to how capitalism "promotes inequality".
The authors felt no need to provide evidence for it. They just took it as read. The report went on to say that the gap between the rich and those "in poverty" should be reduced. So in the Church's eyes, capitalism produces inequality and this inequality is bad. It is hard to conclude anything other than that the Church of England now regards capitalism generally as bad.
We need a culture check here. A society that widely regards capitalism as bad will, in due course, destroy it. Incredibly, it seems necessary to assert afresh that capitalism is the goose that lays the golden eggs - the foundation of the extraordinary wealth we now enjoy, compared with all previous eras of world history.
I was going to say, "Let's take a revision course in why capitalism is good." But few of us had an initial lesson. I don't suggest that every school should have been teaching the virtues of capitalism, but right now they do precisely the opposite.
They teach that capitalists destroy rainforests, insidiously control American foreign policy and spread the human vices of greed and selfishness. Anti-capitalism is now the subtext of history and geography lessons, as well as politics, economics and sociology. Capitalism is said to have given rise to slavery. The state is depicted as a hero that has tempered the cruelty of the beast with laws, regulations and interventions.
If you have children at school - state or private - he or she will be getting another little dose of anti-capitalist propaganda today. It is absurdly lopsided, of course, and it puts our society on a self-destructive path.
What is the biggest benefit that the relatively poor have experienced over the past two centuries? It is surely the terrific reduction in the cost of food. Two centuries ago, food was the biggest part in a family's budget. It was hard for a poor family to get enough to eat. If there was a shortage, there could be a famine, resulting in thousands of deaths. Even in the 1920s, people on average spent a third of their income on food.
Now they spend only a tenth. Look at any chart of the price of the basic foodstuffs, such as wheat, barley and milk, and you will see almost continuous and deep falls. What has caused this massive benefit to the poor? A series of government regulations? A good-looking politician with an easy smile and a "vision"? No. Capitalism.
No single individual did it. Thousands, or millions, did it. They were not directed by any central agency. They just operated in a capitalist system. They invented farm machinery that replaced many men and therefore made food much cheaper. Farmers deployed these machines. Others created ships that could carry grain cheaply, quickly from faraway lands where food was grown more cheaply. Others still distributed the food in ever more cost-efficient ways, by rail and by road on newly created and deployed trains and lorries.
They did this, each of them living his own separate life in his own undirected way. They transformed the situation. The poor were given food in abundance. They were given it at a price they could easily afford. Shortages, hunger and famine became history. That is what capitalism did. To sneer at it is to sneer at the abolition of hunger in this country.
This is from my article in today's Daily Telegraph. The rest of it can be found here.
I am appearing at an event next month which is open to the public. It is being hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs and is being advertised thus:
The launch of the revised and updated paperback edition of James Bartholomew's best-seller "The Welfare State We're In" at which the author confronts his critics:
Date: Tuesday 13 June 2006
Time: 6.40pm book signing; 7.00pm James confronts his critics; 8.00pm reception & book signing
Venue: The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 12 Great George Street, Parliament Square, London SW1P 3AD
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive, King's Fund
Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP, Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden
Prof Patricia Thane, Leverhulme Professor of Contemporary British History, School of Advanced Study, University of London
Moderator: John Blundell, Director General, IEA
RSVP (Acceptances only) to IEA Reception either by email to: email@example.com or by fax (020 7799 2137) or phone (020 7799 8900.
What the advertisement does not mention is that Peter Lilley was, of course, Secretary of State for Social Security when the Conservatives were in power. He was in that position for far longer than most and became very knowledgeable about the subject. He instituted some valuable research, did a great deal to reform welfare benefits and tried to get the public and, even more difficult, members of parliament to understand how the system was going wrong.
I am delighted that, finally, I have written a piece for the Guardian. Right from the outset, I have wanted to bring my arguments to those who are Left-wing. It is not good enough to persuade those who are already devotees of free market economics. If many on the Left accept that the welfare state has - at a minimum - caused all sorts of unintended and unwanted consequences, there is a far better chance of meaningful and lasting reform.
Here is the beginning of my article for the Guardian:
When I first proposed writing a critique of the welfare state, my publisher screamed at me: "You can't believe that!" It took 11 years to find a publisher willing to commission it, most of them being appalled by the ideas in it. When, finally, The Welfare State We're In came out, in 2004, I was slightly disappointed by how little attention it got. But since then interest in the book has grown: it seems to have progressed from being regarded as "mad and bad" to "controversial". This seems like progress of a sort. I could be wrong, but I sense that the welfare state is like a religion in which faith is no longer quite so firm as it once was. People generally still pay it respect and regard anything said against it as sacrilege. But genuine conviction that the welfare state has been a terrific success is getting to be rare.
The full article is here.
Professor Len Shackleton, of Westminster University, shocked me with his disclosure that there are now 80 laws governing employment contracts. He adds that 100,000 employment tribunals are held each year. The increasingly complex web of obligations, all of blamelessly kindly intent, have created conditions that make it ever more difficult for buyers to bargain with sellers.
Shackleton detects another way to measure the excess volume of regulation. In 1979, when Callaghan’s Labour government lost out to Mrs Thatcher, there were 12,000 personnel managers. Now there are 120,000 such folk. I think this is a vivid piece of evidence that we are quietly strangulating employment, except for those in HR of course.
From an article in The Business by John Blundell, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs.
During my appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live this evening, one of the panelists argued that we should be "incredibly proud" of the welfare state and referred to its creation after the war.
One misconception about the welfare state which I hope is corrected in The Welfare State We're In (as it is in any book that touches on the history of the welfare state), is it was created in one big revolution by the 1945-50 Labour Government. There was council housing, national unemployment insurance, free state education and national health insurance all before 1945. What is true is that the Labour government took it a big step further.
But what struck me more was the panellist saying we should be 'incredibly proud' of creating it. He was reflecting another misconception which appears less important but actually is more so: the idea that the welfare state is a uniquely British 'achievement'.
It is extraordinary that many British people believe this.
I suppose the idea has been repeated here and there and no one has thought to challenge it. But a moment's reflection tells us that it is absurd. Name the advanced economy with a democratic system which does not have a welfare state. Every country in western Europe has a welfare state. Even the USA, whom many in the media in Britain assume is capitalist in tooth and claw, provides government education and has welfare benefits for the unemployed and the ill. Some forty per cent of healthcare in the USA is paid for by government, too. Yes, all the welfare state from Sweden to Australia vary, but virtually all comparable countries have them. The welfare state is not a special British achievement.
Why is the idea that it is especially British dangerous? Because it calls in patriotism as a reason for believing that the welfare state is a 'good thing'. The linking of patriotism and the welfare state is inappropriate and misleading.
One other historical note: our national unemployment insurance was created explicitly in imitation of the system in Germany. Lloyd George visited Germany to find out about the system there. Some of the details of his strange trip are in the book.
There has been one drawback to the collapse of communism at the end of the 20th century. It means that there are very few communist countries left to remind each successive generation just how disastrous, both economically and politically, the system is. Without reminders, there is the danger that future generations may come to think that perhaps it was not such a bad idea. That is why we should treasure and popularise those works which explain and dramatise just how horrible it was. They should be part of every child's education.
My own favorite is....
....The Truth That Killed by Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian who was assassinated. I have written here before about I Chose Freedom by Victor Kravchenko which includes a fine, but necessarily grim, first-hand account of the collectivisation of farms. Goerge Orwell's Animal Farm is superb. Those who read it should, of course, be informed that it was a satire on communism under Stalin. Now I see in the obituary column of the Daily Telegraph mention of a book that clearly is worth looking at, though I have yet to do so myself. It is The Yawning Heights by Alexander Zinoviev. Perhaps visitors to this site will be able to suggest other books to read on communism and its effects 'lest we forget'.
This is from the obituary:
A Professor of Logic at Moscow State University, Zinoviev had already acquired a troublesome reputation by the time he wrote The Yawning Heights, the allegorical satire that was to lead him into exile. Published in Russian in Lausanne in 1976, it portrayed the Soviet Union as Ibansk ("f***town"), where the inhabitants obey the Soviet imperative that only mediocrity shall prosper; that those who stand out should be cut down, and that moral worth must be persecuted.
The town is ruled by The Boss (Stalin), who rose to the top only because he was a complete nonentity. He is displaced by Hog (Krushchev), who repudiates the boss only in order to hold on to power. The leaders are decorated for being leaders, then decorated again for being decorated. The only reason there is no unemployment is that people are engaged in an imitation of work; everything is deliberately kept inefficient.
In one episode, flying instructors who are not allowed to fail anyone take on a trainee with slow reflexes and get him through by giving him his orders well in advance. Sent to the front, he does not drop his bombs until he gets back to base. "Life in Ibansk has improved noticeably," Zinoviev wrote. "Here are the facts. Only smoked sausage has disappeared. The other kind has remained. The price of meat has not risen by five times, as was expected, but only by three and a half." Few protest because nearly all are involved in sustaining the lies on which Ibansk is built. Soviet society, Zinoviev seemed to suggest, had not fallen short of its own ideals. It embodied them.
The Yawning Heights created a greater stir among Russians in the Soviet Union (where it was circulated on the samizdat network) and in the West than anything written by Solzhenitsyn; and it presented the Soviet authorities with something of a dilemma. If they prosecuted Zinoviev it would have been a tacit admission that Ibansk depicted the Soviet Union. But to leave him alone would be to admit that they were powerless to react to the bitterest satirical attack on the system to appear in Russian. They therefore compromised by "persuading" Zinoviev's colleagues to dismiss him from his university post and strip him of his membership of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, his war-time medals and all his degrees and titles.
He was finally expelled from the Soviet Union ( for "behaviour damaging to Soviet prestige") after his next novel, Radiant Future, satirising Leonid Brezhnev, was published in the West in 1978.
The full obituary is here.
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!
I was given a remarkably sympathetic interview by Michael Duffy on ABC Radio National in Australia on Sunday night. I cannot imagine any part of the BBC giving me such a friendly hearing. It might be possible to hear the broadcast here. The interview with me starts after 21 minutes of the programme.
It is still possible to hear the BBC Radio 4 programme in which I argued that 'the welfare state was a mistake'. A visitor to this site kindly tells me one can, for the time being, download the programme here.
This brings up a website which offers three links to the recording. I have used the second one, starting 'megaupload' recently with success. You have to wait while the programme downloads. It seems as if nothing is happening but it is. See the top right hand corner of the website to see how many more seconds before the download is completed. When the download is completed, you can listen. Don't be put off by the fact that the broadcast starts with some brief news before the programme gets under way.
In the programme, I was 'heckled' by Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King's Fund, Professor Nicholas Barr, Professor Pat Thane and the Liberal Democrat MP and shadow spokesman on education, Edward Davey.
A Dutch professor has recently published a paper indicating that people in Britain are 21st equal in their happiness ranking out of 90. Well above us are people in much less rich, less equal countries where there is less personal freedom.
In researching the work of this professor, Ruut Veenhoven of Erasmus University in Rotterdam - the only Professor whose subject is happiness in the world it seems - I came across mention of a paper he wrote on how welfare states affect levels of happiness.
I don't think it is possible to access this paper in its entirety for free, but an abstract of it he states that there is no relationship between health and happiness and the existence of a large welfare state.
Of course I believe that he is wrong. I believe there is a negative correlation between a large welfare state and the health and happiness of a people. But it is perhaps doubly telling that a man who appears to have expected to show that a welfare state causes happiness has been obliged by the evidence not to make such a conclusion.
Here is the abstract:
The terms well-being and welfare are often bracketed together, especially well-being and state welfare. The level of well-being is believed to be higher in welfare states, and its distribution more equitable. This theory is tested here in a comparative study of 41 nations from 1980 to 1990. The size of state welfare is measured by social security expenditures. The well-being of citizens is measured in terms of the degree to which they lead healthy and happy lives.
Contrary to expectation, there appears to be no link between the size of the welfare state and the level of well-being within it. In countries with generous social security schemes, people are not healthier or happier than in equally affluent countries where the state is less open-handed. Increases or reductions in social security expenditure are not related to a rise or fall in the level of health and happiness either.
There also appears to be no connection between the size of state welfare and equality in well-being among citizens of the state. In countries where social security expenditure is high, the dispersion of health and happiness is not smaller than in equally prosperous countries with less social insurance spending. Again, increases and reductions in social security expenditure are not linked with equality in health and happiness among citizens.
This counterintuitive result raises five questions: (1) Is this really true? (2) If so, what could explain this lack of effect? (3) Why is it so difficult to believe this result? (4) How should this information affect social policy? (5) What can we learn from further research?
This is an article about the professor's research.
This is the professor's own website about happiness.
Below is an outburst of feeling from a friend in the USA. I cite it because it reflects some of my own frustration about the way my opponents think it reasonable and fair to compare 21st century standards now we have the welfare state with circumstances in the 19th century. The implicit suggestion is that no improvement would have taken place without the welfare state.
Very well done. You scored a number of very good points and came across very well. Your opponents were the same old tired-and-familiar establishment.
These types of debates tend to degenerate into the comparisons of the shortcomings of voluntarism in 1906 with the shortcomings of state welfare in 2006. It is so important to emphasize how rapid and dynamic the rate of improvement would have been under voluntarism over the past century. For example, from the same starting point in Germany forty five years of progress produced in the west the Volkswagen Golf as well as a full range of Audis, BMWs and Mercedes, and in the East a state monopoly on automobile production produced ...the Trabant.
Virtually any western German who wanted one could buy a car on demand, but the Trabant was like the British National Health Service, only available through rationing and a long waiting list. Doesn't that make people stop and think, just perhaps there is something systemic, endemic, about compulsion versus voluntarism (These words reshape the debate away from government versus private, by calling the government by its true distinguishing characteristic.) which makes the former fail?
Also the old canard that these days everything is too complicated and sophisticated for the private sector to handle. A moments reflection will reveal that in fact it is the free market which handles complexity and variety best, the government can only do big stupid clumsy things. In particular, governments grew out of the need/desire to wage war.
I don't think I could handle living in England any more. The ruling class would drive me nuts. They are so goddarn naive - and smug with it.
I have just listened to the broadcast. For a week, at least, it will be possible to listen to it by clicking on 'Hecklers' in the 'Listen again' part of the BBC Radio 4 website. Click here to get to the right place. Then under 'Hecklers' click 'Listen'.
Quite a lot of the original was edited out. It had to be, to fit into the time allocated.
In general, I don't think I suffered too badly in the editing but there were certain things that I regret were not heard on radio. In particular I regretted the removal of my brief description of how benefit dependency can lead to moral and cultural degeneration. Also, since much of what I and the panellists said was cut, the words of Evan Davies assumed a bigger role than they did on the actual occasion at the LSE. This gave it a different atmosphere and it felt in the broadcast almost as if he were providing an overall judgement - a judgement which probably neither I nor the panellists would wholly agree with.
I should emphasise, though, that I thought he was an excellent chairman.
I noticed that one of Neil Dixon's challenges was removed. He asked me if I was using the Eurocare III figures or the Eurocare II figures. He was no doubt trying to suggest that I was out of date. I assured him that I was indeed using the Eurocare III figures.
Overall, I think the format served me well. If I had just given a lecture, it would have been boring. I listened on the internet in Malta and we gathered around the PC. My extended family here enjoyed the show even though I know they do not all agree with me. But they were happy to listen all the way through in a way which would not have applied if I had had the floor entirely to myself.
CORRECTION, 29/12/05: I have been told by the producer that my comments about benefit dependency leading to moral and cultural decline were not in fact removed. It seems I got that wrong and I apologise to him. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank him for creating the programme. People, including myself, often enjoy taking potshots at the BBC. However it does consist of individuals not robots. This individual, Michael Blastland, put the show on national radio. Thankyou.
Tonight is the night when the programme is broadcast in which I put the argument 'The welfare state was a mistake' on Radio 4. The programme is called 'Hecklers' because four people, including two LSE professors, interrupt and object to my arguments. It goes out at 8pm.
Some supporters have been concerned that I have four 'lefties' against me and that the odds are stacked in their favour. But I have to say, in defence of the BBC, that this is the formula used for this series and was used in the programme the previous week in which someone argued that specific anti-terrorism laws were unnecessary and unhelpful.
Yes, it is possible to object that, in this format, my point of view is implicitly treated as 'way out' or, at the least, 'controversial'. But I think it is fair to suggest that the idea is, indeed, still controversial in British society. In fact it is a mark of a significant change in the thinking of the British governing class elite (in which I include the BBC) that the status of the idea has moved from being 'mad' a decade ago, to only 'controversial' today. That is progress. Slow progress, yes. But still progress.
It will - or would - be a further mammoth step if we get to the point that it becomes commonplace to think that the state is generally not good at running things.
On radio and television, there is an endless assumption that if there is a problem the state can and should sort it out. The state, implicitly, can be trusted to do the job once it decides to.
Meanwhile there is similarly a perennial drip, drip of adverse comment about pension mis-selling by commercial companies and how such companies are always out to rip you off and are surely in need of evermore regulation.
This assumption that the state is to be trusted and commerce is to be regarded with suspicion often seems normal and widespread in the population as well as in the broadcast media. Yet there is a double-think going on somewhere. For every now and again, there is a poll which reveals that confidence in the state is not so great after all when people are asked concrete questions.
A year or more ago, Ian Duncan Smith's organisation had a polling company ask people how they would use money to do good work. Only a tiny minority thought that handing the money to the government would mean the job was well done. Now there comes a poll by the Association of British Insurers. It asked people whether they trusted the Government to deliver on its pension promises. Only 23 per cent did.
When people were asked if they trusted their company pension schemes, the trust level soared to 74 per cent.
This is part of the ABI press release:
the ABI’s research shows that trust in the Government to deliver on their pensions promises is very low, with only 23% of working people saying that they trust the Government in relation to state pensions. Conversely, 74% of people in work-based pensions do trust their employer to deliver on their private pensions.
I am now told the talk will be broadcast on 28th December at 8pm (not the 21st December).
Jonathan Pearce has written about the talk last night on the Samizdata blog.
See also a comment on my previous entry.
John Wilden, in the audience, made a good point at the end of the evening. He said that the government outlaws monopolies in commercial life. But at the same time, it operates one in healthcare [and education, too, one might add]. This is inconsistent. If monopolies damage the interests of consumers, then monopolies in healthcare and education must also, logically, damage consumers.
I have just returned after giving a talk at the London School of Economics which will be broadcasting on BBC Radio 4 on 21st December at 8pm. I think it went all right. There were even a few laught. My voice held out, thank goodness - or rather thanks to a strong dose of a cough-suppressing drug. I started cautiously, in case my voice started to break, but then I became more confident as I realised it was not going to.
In each section of the three sections of my argument I was barely able to get past the first quarter or third of what I intended to say because the objections of the four 'hecklers' were so long and extended. So it was really half-way between a talk and a debate.
Whether or not my attempts briefly to fill in the argument will make it through the editing, I don't know. As ever, one is in the hands of the editor. The playing time will be about 45 minutes, I think, but at least an hour and 10 minutes was recorded, so there will be plenty of opportunity to shape the programme through the editing.
But I have no reason to think that I will be 'edited against'. I look forward to hearing it. I had a drink with the producer afterwards who told me the audience should be about half a million.
Also having a drink with us afterwards was a neuro-surgeon who told me that as young British doctors are to be limited to 48 hours on duty each week whereas young American doctors will be on duty for - if I heard him right - 80 hours, the difference in experience between the two will become very marked.
I asked where in the world he would want to be treated if he had a serious illness. He wanted to know which disease was involved. I said, 'let's pretend you don't know the disease'. He opted by the Massuchusetts General in Boston.
If it had to be in Britain, he said he would go for the London Clinic.
Tonight is the night of my talk at the LSE which will be recorded by the BBC. It could be touch and go: after a long cold, I currently tend to start coughing after about 10 minutes. I am due to talk this evening for 33 minutes.
On Wednesday, coughs and colds permitting, I will give a talk at the London School of Economics. Four well-qualified people will have licensed to interrupt. Entry is free.
At the end, members of the audience will be invited to make comments, some of which will be used when it is broadcast.
I would be delighted if those who visit this site and agree with some of the ideas come and give their support.
The link to the details of the event is here.
The programme will be broadcast on 21st December on Radio 4 at 8.00pm.
Since 1997, the British armed forces have been 'slashed'.
Soon the Navy will have lost ten thousand men, the Army nine thousand an sixteen thousand from the RAF. A fifth of our tanks gone, 130 of our aircraft and a quarter of our surface ships too.
This is from Michal Ancram's speech at the Conservative Party Conference.
The reduction is British forces is despite being involved in wars in Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
All this is not directly relevant to the welfare state. However it is a reaction to the pressure on government funds which, in turn, is a symptom of this administration desperately trying to make the NHS and state education work better by devoting ever increasing amounts of money to them. The government has to cut everything else to try to raise the money without increasing taxes too much.
I have come across across a good little booklet about the tendency of governments to become more and more centralised. Despite occasional infelicities in the translation from the original, it is a concise description and analysis of this tendency. For example, I liked this part of the conclusion:
At the bottom-line of all centralist tendencies rests the paternalistic vision of society, which denies man's ability to organise his life according to his own plans. The observed tendency towards bureaucratic centralisation is a salient expression of the widespread belief in a bureaucratic version of the Platonian two-class society: at the top a small and enlightened bureacracy, at the bottom the dumb rest of society. In combination with a prevailing totalitarian notion of equality, centralisation is perceived as the hallmark of social progress. Any critique of the bureaucracy must therefore rest on the basic insight that no two classes of men exist and that hence everybody is responsive to incentives.
The authors go on to refer to the incentive for a bureaucracy towards centralisation.
So what controls can resist this tendency?
Many people are comforted by the idea that in any democracy, the voice of the people will limit and direct the centre. But
this is "naive" for several reasons.
For one thing, in the long-run, competition between parties tends to be replaced by a kind of 'political cartel'. The booklet quotes Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer arguing that: "The previous outsiders quickly realise that many advantage are to be gained by tolerating the politicians' cartel, and even more by participating in it".
In current politics, this brings to mind David Cameron in his current bid to lead the Conservative Party. He has, like Tony Blair before him, put himself at the political centre. Much of the media, including the BBC, likes this, having previously itself responded to incentives to be centrist (or left of centre). So there we have a kind of political cartel of media, New Labour and New Conservative - each of them covertly supporting the other to a surprising degree. (The thing that it really new about this New Conservatism, incidentally, seems to be that, while being very charming and aspirational in tone, it avoids suggesting any radical change whatsoever - to taxation, to education, to the NHS or anything else.) The Liberal Democrats are so much a part of this 'political cartel' that it is only just seems worth mentioning the fact.
What is the real solution to the centralising (even totalitarian) tendency? The one which has most credibility with the authors of the booklet is competition between central and local government. A key part of this is the possibility of 'exit' - that is the chance that a part of a country (or union) could entirely depart from the control of the central authority. Canada is cited as an example of a place where there is this competition between the central and local powers. The possibility of the secession of Quebec has helped to bring this about. Spain has a similar situation.
The relevance of this to the European Union is obvious. The authors wold contend that the only effective check to continuously growing power for the centre would be strong subsidiarity and the possibility to leave without cost or penalty.
The authors conclude:
The most effective counterweight to any centralist tendency is of course the option to ignore the centre as a region, city, or - most effectively - an individual.
The booklet is rather misleadingly called The Regulation Race . It is really about central government, not regulation. It is by Rahim Taghizadegan and Grego Hochreiter and published by the Research Centre Free Europe, PK 4231, Tallinna Peaspostkontor, Tallinn 10510, Estonia. The website is http://liberty.li. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The booklet is published in association with the Democracy Movement as part of "Vision Europe", for which the website is www.visioneurope.ee.
I picked up the booklet at the Conservative Party Conference last month. It could have been at the meeting of the Freedom Association where I spoke.
The following was submitted as a comment on 'about James Bartholomew'. It was not really suitable for that spot but I think it is interesting and raises a point that is always likely to put up in objection to the arguments in the book, so here it is. The comment was submitted by J. Wallis Martin:
I agree with many of the points you raised in 'The Welfare State We're In', but cannot see an alternative to the Welfare State.
My great-grandmother appealed for help from a church based charity in Warrington. She had been widowed, and had two children, a disabled aunt, and her own mother to care for. They were starving. When she explained her circumstances to Mrs. Broadbent (whose family were prominent in Warrington at that time), she was provided with a recipe for making soup from potato peelings.
My great grandmother was regarded one of the 'deserving' poor. I cannot imagine how she would have been treated had she been regarded one of the 'criminally' poor.
It is a point with power than deserves an answer. I could write at length in reply but I will only mention one point:
The argument of the book is not that everything was perfect before the welfare state. Clearly it was not. There were people who suffered terribly. There were people who died needlessly. There were people who were treated incompetently or inadequately in hospital. Children were generally only being educated up to the age of 11 or not much more. (Only a tiny proportion even of the middle class went to university.) And so on and on.
This is all true and the book does not suggest otherwise. What the book suggests is simply this: that the self-provision, family support, mutual provision, charity and minimal state support of the second half of the 19th century provided substantial and fast-developing welfare. The progress of education, for example, over the 19th century was astonishing. The hospitals were world leaders. Many poor people received free or subsidised healthcare from private doctors, charitable dispensaries, charitable hospitals and other sources. There was very little unemployment. The vast majority of industrial workers were protected by Friendly Societies which were forces for social good.
If these things had been allowed to develop and continue, then, I argue, the result would be better than what we have today. Again, I do not suggest it would have been perfect. There would still have been people who suffered, who were badly treated and who were hungry. But there would have been dramatically fewer than there are now, under in our state welfare system. This is a country, right now, in which 10,000 people a year die unnecessary deaths from cancer every year because the NHS provides medical care so much inferior to the average provision on the Continent (see the estimate by Professor Karol Sikora in the NHS chapter). This is a country, right now, in which a fifth of adults have been so badly educated that they are functionally illiterate. This a country, right now, with mass unemployment - a country where crime has risen to a frightening extent and where people in some council estates literally cower behind multi-locked doors in fear of their neighbours.
We are comparing imperfect systems. My argument is that non-state welfare, if it had been allowed to develop, would have been vastly less imperfect than our current state welfare.
If any visitor to this site is going to the Conservative party Conference, please note that I will be talking there on Tuesday at 1pm (see the box on forthcoming engagements). I will also be signing copies of the book at the Politico's stand at 3pm. I would be glad to see any of you at either event.
In Victor Kravchenko's book, I Chose Freedom, he becomes a keen member of the Communist Party and is outspoken in criticising inefficiency in production. His writing and reputation comes to interest people higher up the hierarchy to the point where Sergo Ordshonikidze, an intimate of Stalin, gets to hear of him and is introduced to him at the plant.
Ordshonikidze asks him how the work is going. Kravchenko replies, "Good, though it could be better."
Ordshonikidze asks what he means but Kravchenko says he can't express it in a few words. Ordshonikidze encourages him to talk on. This is what Kravchenko says:
"Well, it's like this, Comrade Commissar. There's too much apparatus, too many people checking on each other. I've looked into the record of pre-revolutionary years in this very plant and I find that our administrative staff have gone up almost 35 per cent. That seems to me wrong. People are in each other's way. Everybody is responsible for results which means that nobody is responsible. We work badly and spend too much. Why is that capitalists made profits in this plant, and we show only losses? After all, the workers work as well as in the past, so the trouble much be in ourselves."
His very reminiscent of what happens in state industries in the here and now. There is widescale administrative overmanning in the NHS and education. Kravchenko struggles to understand exactly how a state run system comes to be so much less efficient than a capitalist one. It is a very important subject. It should be studied in schools and universities.
(Incidentally, it emerges further on that some of the people 'checking on each other' are trade union and Communist Party officials.)
There used to be a time when being middle class meant you had worked hard and done well. You established your financial independence and achieved what Tony Blair would like more of : some respect.
But now it seems to be a different matter. The middle class seems more and more put upon.
The latest example comes from the government commission on pensions which has come up with the bright idea that people who go to university - typically from the middle class - should have a later retirement age than everyone else. They would be expected to work an extra five years before getting a state pension. Meanwhile the government has announced a new scheme to use taxpayers' money - raised largely from the middle class, of course - for the state to part-own properties alongside first-time buyers.
Being middle class is still preferable, of course, to being poor. But one has an increasing sense of life becoming more difficult for its members. It starts from early in life.
Yobbery among the young has increased and - despite its claims to the contrary - the government has a policy of discouraging the expulsion of disruptive children. So at schools, middle class children, too, are more likely to be bullied and have their study disrupted.
Those who make the sacrifices to pay for full-time private education have long had to pay for education twice: once through their taxes and again through their fees. Now the government, in the Queen's Speech, has revived a plan to make them pay a third time, by forcing private schools to do more charitable work or else be taxed more heavily.
We grow up and get a job. Before we know it, we are paying a third of our income in tax and national insurance. If, in our efforts to get on, we succeed in earning more than £36,000, we are quickly into the top rate of tax. More people pay the top rate now than ever before.
The next step could be to buy a car. That's fine except that the tax on petrol is so high that a litre is not far short of a £1. Oh, and the Labour Government virtually stopped improving roads when it came to power in 1997, so they are more jams than before. The car - as Tony Blair once recognised - is the modern symbol of middle class life and it has come up against an anti-car culture, wholly in contrast with that in France or America.
Many of us then get married and have children. It is a quaint old tradition that survives among the middle class. Unfortunately the tax system is now loaded against you if you would like to split your roles with, say, the wife looking after childen and home and the husband going out to work. There is no married couples allowance or children's tax allowance any more. After the second world war a married man on average earnings with a wife looking after their two childen paid no income tax at all. Now they pay plenty.
At least we all have far more holidays than we used to. Unfortunately, the Euro has been strong in the last few years so holidays in Europe are pretty expensive. And it is not exactly cheap if we stay at home, either. A recent survey suggested that London is the second most expensive city in the world in which to live.
Still, we plough on. At least the middle class does not get the worst of rising crime, although we endure an increasing amount of rudeness and theft. There comes a point where we begin to think more about saving for a pension. Unfortunately we find that Gordon Brown has been thinking about pensions, too, and has been taxing them. Mr Brown has introduced an anti-savings tendency in government - a direct hit at the middle class. And if that was not bad enough, the stockmarket, into which most pension money is invested, has performed miserably since 1997.
Some of the middle class are doctors, teachers and policemen. They increasingly find that their role in life is being told what to do. Their independence and judgement have been replaced with instructions. And then, when the government-dominated system fails, who gets the blame? The government points the finger at precisely these middle class professionals whom it has disempowered.
Other members of the middle class run their own businesses. If they do well, they want to employ more people. That's a pity because there is a big tax on employment called employer's national insurance. Then they have to comply with a massive raft of laws. They must master the terrible complexities of the working tax credit, comply with the new religion of health 'n' safety and be ready to defend themselves in court if they have the temerity to sack anyone.
Even when we die - and probably would like to pass on our hard-won assets to our children - we are obliged to hand over 40 per cent of anything over £275,000 to that non-relative of ours, Mr Brown.
We keep going, but it seems like an uphill struggle. It feels as though the government does not want us to succeed and, instead, is piling extra weights on our backs.
All of which may explain the rising emigration from Britain. A record 191,000 Britons packed up and left last year. That was more than fifty per cent more than in 1994. The number going to Australia has doubled in the past two years.
Has the increasing burden on the middle class at least done some good to the rest of society? Have the poor benefited? Sadly, even that does not seem to be the case. The poor are almost as highly taxed as the middle class - mostly through indirect taxes. On top of that, they get the worst of state education and medical care.
So it is all for nothing. Being a member of the British middle class is still better than most fates. But it is no longer the great privilege it once used to be.
(This is an unedited version of an article that appears in today's Daily Express. The surprise in the research I did for it was the major rise in the rate of emigration. 125,000 Britons left the country in 1994. 191,000 left in 2003.)
If course we already knew that Radio 4 has a profound Left-wing bias and tends to be sympathetic to trade unions rather than business. But further confirmation came today with the news that whereas most programming could go ahead with over 60 per cent of staff turning up for work, John Humphrys, the best-known presenter of the Today programme, was told not to bother coming in since so many of the staff on the Today programme were joining the strike.
John Humphrys anyway expressed sympathy with the strike, saying that he had been a father of an NUJ chapel. He talks as if strikes were tribal (or perhaps a kind of class warfare in which he, ludicrously, might like to associate himself with the oppressed working men and women of the BBC). Such tribalism is what he refers to, rather than the rights and wrongs of the strike.
This strike does appear to be just a matter of a union trying to prevent a management from reducing the workforce. It is a union merely pursuing its producer interest through blackmail and trying to prevent managers from managing.
As in all government-run businesses, there is undoubtedly vast amounts of waste in the BBC. Thank good for at least one member of the BBC, Declan Curry, who was quoted as saying,
"I don't support the strike at all. The management have made a very strong case in my view as to why these cuts are necessary. It's other people's money that we are spending and we have to use it as wisely as we can.
"Whatever differences we may have with management, it is up to us to resolve them in a way that does not leave the viewer or the listener suffering."
The Guardian online coverage is here.
The NHS is the world's third-largest employer with a million people on its books, second only to the Chinese Army and Indian railways. We spend some £80 billion a year on the NHS, equating to £1,400 annually for every man, woman and child. Despite this the number of NHS beds in England has halved in the past 25 years.
The average British woman will have 2.2 healthy pregnancies in her lifetime - almost enough to keep the UK population stable - but will give birth to only 1.7 children. The difference is accounted for by the number of abortions.
The number of people working in the public sector has increased by 10 per cent since 1998, accounting for some half a million of the new jobs created since Labour came to power.
Total public sector employment in 5.29 million, up from 4.71 million in 1997.
In 1981, 600,000 people claimed incapacity benefit. Now it is 2.2 million.
The greatest increases in recorded crime since 1997 have been in drug offences (509 per cent) and violence against the person (281 per cent) and there has been a drop in burglaries by nearly a fifth.
More than half the households in Britain have less than £1,500 in savings, and a quarter have no savings at all.
Teenage birth rates in Britain are twice as high as in Germany, and five times as high as in Holland.
150,000 children are educated at home, and the figure is rising. Bullying, harrassment and religion are the reasons most cited by parents for taking their children out of school.
From Britain in Numbers published by Politico's and serialised in today's Daily Mail.
I am in Miami and about to go to see a private school which takes children with state education vouchers and then a Catholic hospital which takes the poor.
It has been stimulating here. I have been reminded how big is the cultural gap between Britain and America in the way people talk, dress and relate to each other as well as in the landscape.
The most interesting part of the Heritage Foundation 'Resource Bank' (which seems to mean 'conference') was the session in which Patricia Levesque, a very personable, friendly, intelligent, senior woman of a sort we don't see much in the Britain, from the office of the Governor, Jeb Bush, explained the Florida programme for offering choice for school children. It became clear that the choice programme so far is tiny and yet has encountered fierce opposition. A man called Jay Green, from the Manhattan Institute, went through the testing of the success or otherwise of this same choice programme. The data he supplied appeared to be overwhelming. Not only did the children benefit but the children in the schools that were 'left behind' benefitted too.
There are many different programmes, but the biggest one allows handicapped children to move from the local government schools to other local government schools or to private schools (with the benefit of local government funding). You could call this a voucher scheme.
It was fascinating that the Manhattan Institute had actually gone to the lengths of testing what was the effect on the local government schools of having some children leaving. The effect was actually positive. He reckoned this was because of the incentive to perform that was placed on the local government school.
More soon. I have to go.
...belief in restoring people to 'self-respect and self-support' has led compassionate conservatives to reject the de-humanising 'feed-and-forget' philosophy that has come to characterises the welfare state's attitude to its dependent clients. Compassionate conservatives want to see 'help-to-change' charities becoming an increasing feature of society's response to poverty.
Compassionate conservatives are then faced with something of a dilemma.
They want 'help-to-change' charities to receive more resources but they fear that they will lose their salty distinctiveness if they become too close to government. The most dynamic charities have always feared becoming dependent on a funding stream that is controlled by a bureaucracy. Experience teaches that the money may come with few strings in the first year but by years three, four and five, the conditions have begun to re-shape the charity's original mission. Catholic Chareities USA is held up as an example of a religious charity that has become little more than a 'government programme wearing a clerical collar'.
This is from Whatever happened to compassionate conservatism? by Tim Montgomerie, published by the Centre for Social Justice.
The corruption of charities by the state is something that has happened in a big way in Britain. The state originally was going to fund church schools but leave them pretty independent. That independence has since been so thoroughly eroded that there is not much left. Charitable hospitals were simply expropriated by the state in 1948. The King's Fund was meant to fund charitable hospitals. But after the charitable hospitals were taken over by the state, the King's Fund became a think-tank for the NHS. It receives government funding and generally takes a pro-NHS line. An organisation that was meant to fund charitable hospitals, now does not do so. I know of no reason why it should not, even now, help to establish and then support charitable hospitals.
Tim Montgomerie edits his own website now called conservativehome.com.
Who said this:
I leave you with this challenge: serve a neighbour in need, because a life of service is a life of significance. Because materialism ultimately is boring, and consumerism can build a prison of wants. Because a person who is not responsible for others is a person who is truly alone. Because there are few better ways to express our love for America than to care for other Americans. And because the same God who endows us with individual rights also calls us to social obligations.
Was it Martin Luther King? Or Lyndon Johnson? No, it was
George Bush in a speech to students at Notre Dame University in 2001. The passage is quoted admiringly in Tim Montgomerie's pamphlet Whatever happened to compassionate conservatism? published by the Centre for Social Justice. It is an interesting read for anyone concerned with public policy on welfare and other related matters.
I will be flying to Florida today to give a short talk at a conference in Miami organised by the Heritage Foundation. I will be on a panel alongside Jason Turner, a man who has been there and done it - he reformed welfare benefits in Wisconsin and then was hired by Rudolph Giuliani to do the same in New York.
On Monday, I will be visiting the Mercy Hospital in Miami - a 483 bed Catholic hospital which offers subsidised and sometimes free treatment to the poor. This is the section of the hospital's website dealing with this aspect of its activities.
A visitor to this site, emailed me the following:
I have been reading your book “The Welfare State We’re In” with much interest.
Whenever I present the ideas in your book (to friends and colleagues) almost inevitably the reply comes “It didn’t work with the railways,” how do you best counter this argument?
This was my reply:
Of course, the railways were not and are not a part of the welfare state. Nevertheless, the more general point might be that private or market provision does not work.
In which case, presumably those who say 'what about the railways?' can think mainly, or only, of the railways as an example of private supply 'not working'. They appear to accept that the vast array of other products and services provided by the private sector are fine (to just start a very long list: house-building, supermarkets, manufacture of computers, manufacture of digital cameras, clothes shops, development and printing of photographs...). Presumably they also accept that the many other industries that were privatised have gone well, such as provision of gas, electricity and water, air transport, telephone services and road haulage.
If so, their argument must consist of saying, "Look, out of hundreds of industries, here is one which did not go well. That proves that private supply is no good." The argument only needs to be stated to demonstrate its absurdity.
They would also have to go on to argue that state provision, in contrast, has never gone wrong. They would have to maintain that - in admirable contrast to private provision - there is not a single state-supplied service which has failed. They would therefore have to say that state provision of dental services, council housing, care for those with cancer, postal services and, in the days, the state provided them, telephone, gas, electricity and water services, are and were absolutely fine. In fact, of course, all those services are or were bad.
So the mention of railways by no means invalidates the argument that private, charitable and market provision of services and products has a vastly better record than that of the state. Private provision is not perfect. Marks and Spencer is not perfect. Privately manufactured computers are not perfect. It is folly to to expect perfection in human affairs. But private provision is demonstrably much better than state provision.
All the above is without even beginning to contest the assumption that privatisation of the railways was an unarguable example of a privatisation failing. It is indeed possible to contest that assumption. I won't put the argument here at full length, but here are a few points:
First and most important, the railways were never fully privatised. They were only semi-privatised. This mattered in certain important ways. One was that the contracts with the train operating companies were for a maximum of seven years at the outset. This was too short a period to make it clearly worth the while of the companies to make major capital investment in new trains and other capital equipment. In Sweden, of all places, where I understand a more wholesale privatisation of rail took place, the record of the privatisation has been far better. In Switzerland, where there are some private railways, they work very well and reliably. In Norway, recently, I travelled on a superb private railway line.
Second, even the semi-privatisation of British Rail resulted in massive investment and many improvements such as far better provision of booking services. I remember in the days of British Rail, one could spend half an hour trying to get through to an office which would tell you the times of trains. After privatisation the information service become very fast and efficient. It is true there were some serious and fatal accidents in the semi-privatised years, but the safety record - as measured in the way most used in the industry - was better than previously. Fatal accidents in rail travel - measured over one or even five years - do not happen in a consistent way that accurately reflects the underlying safety level.
Look at the semi-privatised years from another angle, it was a curious kind of 'failure' that resulted in an increase of passenger numbers of some 27 per cent, if memory serves. That was unprecedented in the post-war years. During the decades in which British Rail operated the railways, there was a steady trend of falling passenger numbers.
With best wishes, James Bartholomew
Sweden is important because so many people believe it to be an example of how you can have everything: a huge state sector, high taxes, the ultimate in a welfare state and yet also prosperity and good, well-educated citizens.
Previously I have written about how women who work do relatively badly in Sweden because of the legal rights they have been given. In The Welfare State We're In, I looked at the modest rate of economic growth in Sweden. I have now come across a French website called Liberte (forgive me for not knowing how to put an acute accent on the final 'e') which has a long posting about Sweden.
If my limited French does not deceive me, the posting says that there was a crisis in Sweden in 1990-93 during which the state came to account for 67 per cent of GDP, the government budget deficit reached 12 per cent and unemployment reached 12 per cent, too. As a result of this crisis, Sweden reduced the scope of the state and it has now come down to a few points above 50 per cent of economic activity.
The site suggests that modern Sweden - partly because of the pullback in the state's role no doubt - is not quite as Socialist as is widely thought. The railways have been fully and successfully privatised.
There are private postal services. In education, the money follows the student, so that there is competition among schools. Electricity production is largely privatised.
There is also some private provision of healthcare (see some details of 'the Stockholm experiment' in the chapter on the NHS in The Welfare State We're In)
So there are two strands here:
1. Sweden is not quite as socialist as people think.
2. Sweden is not as successful as people think.
One other element of the latter is that crime rose very substantially in Sweden after it became a socialist paradise.
Sweden was once an outstandingly law-abiding place. It has witnessed "a widespread increase in law-breaking". Also, "in 1987, the underground economy was estimated to make up 20 per cent of Sweden's gross national product". There has also been an "enormous increase in juvenile delinquency". These quotations are from Disturbing the Nest, by David Popenoe, an excellent book mainly about family breakdown but with a special emphasis on the Swedish example. (If you are interested to buy it, try Abebooks.com. Unfortunately Amazon.co.uk does not have it at a good price.)
How demands for governments to 'do something about it' work:
With a few exceptions contemporary commentators on economic problems are advocating economic intervention. This unanimity does not necessarily mean that they approve of interventionistic measures by government or other coercive powers. Authors of economics books, essays, articles, and political platforms demand interventionistic measures before they are taken, but once they have been imposed no one likes them. Then everyone - usually even the authorities responsible for them — call them insufficient and unsatisfactory. Generally the demand then arises for the replacement of unsatisfactory interventions by other, more suitable measures. And once the new demands have been met, the same scenario begins all over again. The universal desire for the interventionist system is matched by the rejection of all concrete measures of the interventionist policy.
This is from Kritik des Interventionismus, 1929, republished in 1976 as A Critique of Interventionism, Translation copyright 1977 by Margit von Mises. It appears in full on the Ludwig Von Mises website here.
A key issue for those of us who believe the state is bad at looking after people, is whether or not individuals are any good at it either.
This is Tim Congdon in the Telegraph today on the competence or otherwise of people in saving:
Much of economic theory is concerned to establish that people are rational. But theoreticians and practitioners do not always see eye to eye. When confronted with real-world problems, economists are inclined to forget that they live in a world of rational agents.
Indeed, they are quite unembarrassed about offering recommendations to politicians which make sense only if people are rather silly. A good example is the recent report from the Pensions Commission, under the chairmanship of Adair Turner.
It says flatly: "Most people do not make rational decisions about long-term savings without encouragement and advice.'' The report proceeds from this patronising remark to recommend increased state involvement in pension provision, with a consequent enlargement of the government's role in the economy and a rise in taxation.
Professor Congdon goes on to look at the overall savings people make including saving that is not labelled "pension saving" but which nonetheless can be used for that purpose. He concludes that people are perfectly rational. His analysis may be open to challenge. But I want to mention another area in which the rationality of people in looking after themselves may be in doubt.
In America, people have to pay for their own healthcare. But in the same country, the incidence of obesity is very high. Why, when they must know that being fat increases their chances of premature death and early use of expensive healthcare, do so many Americans allow themselves to become fat? It does not seem sensible or rational.
One possible answer may be that American laws - particular tax laws - incentivise people to have company healthcare plans which apply to everyone in the company in similar ways, regardless of their lifestyles and obesity. So although American healthcare is mostly privately paid-for, it is far from operating in a free market. In a free market, health insurance premiums would be lower for those who were not fat and so being thin would be financially rewarded. The same would go for those who have no insurance and pay for healthcare as and when they need it. On this basis, people are still perfectly rational. Their behaviour has just been distorted by government interference.
A second possible answer is that people just can't help themselves. The lure of salt, sugar and fat are just too great for human beings after millions of years of evolution in which our bodies were trained to go for sweetness and fat at any opportunity.
I have not done enough work on this to have a strong view and would welcome comments on this and also other areas in which individuals have or have not shown themselves to be capable of looking after themselves.
Admirable ideas from John Redwood:
The Conservatives have also thrown their weight behind a campaign to maintain the availability of hundreds of vitamins and food supplements that are threatened by an EU directive.
A Conservative government would opt out of the directive, which comes into force on Aug 1. In the health service, 686 performance targets, which had distorted clinical priorities, would go.
Britain's opt-out from the EU's social chapter would be revived and Labour's plans for people wanting to sell their homes to pay for "seller's packs" would be scrapped.
Current rules to prevent money laundering by terrorists and drug dealers were too onerous on law-abiding citizens. When he went into his bank to deposit money, even though the staff knew him as their MP he still had to produce evidence of his identity. He said the system could be streamlined for everyday banking without compromising national security.
The full story is in the Daily Telegraph today.
In today's Daily Mail, Quentin Letts describes one of the 'masochism sessions' which Tony Blair is going in for in the run-up to the coming election. He was on Sky News and was criticised by one voter after another regarding public services.
He waffled and made handsome noises of sympathy, with some Bill Clinton-style eye narrowing and shakes of the head.
The problem with these TV whip-fests he is suddenly doing is that no one ever says 'tax us less'.
The impetus, by the very nature of live TV, goes to the 'something must be done' brigade, with their lurid demands for more state spending. This suits Labour's philosophy but it underplays personal responsibility.
So when a whiny ex-con started bleating that the state was not doing enough to help him, no one told him to pull himself together. How one ached for a Norman Tebbit to tell the miserable little so-and-son to pull out his finger rather than making the rest of us pay.
Sadly it appears to be part of the nature of democratic government that appeals for the state to 'do something about it' get more of a hearing than objections that state interference in the past has done more harm than good.
One of the greatest problems in persuading people that the welfare state is damaging is the difference in reporting experienced by the private and public sectors. When something goes wrong in the private sector, the fact that it is the private sector is particularly drawn to the attention of the audience. But when something goes wrong in the public sector, the same does not apply. You would never have a story starting, "A prisoner found hanged in his cell at a state-run Warwickshire jail...". But you would get the following, as revealed on the Biased-BBC website:
This evening BBC News Online's news ticker flashed up: "Prisoner found hanged in his cell at a privately-run Warwickshire jail", which linked to Prisoner found hanged in his cell, which reads:
A prisoner has been found hanged in his cell at a Warwickshire jail.
Michael Bailey, 23, was serving a four-year sentence at the privately-run HMP Rye Hill for supplying drugs.
He arrived at the prison in December after being convicted at Birmingham Crown Court.
There will be an investigation by the prison and probation service ombudsman Stephen Shaw, a Prison Service spokeswoman said.
She added: "Every death in custody is a tragedy and we offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr Bailey."
On the face of the evidence thus presented, the private ownership of the prison is irrelevant to the story. So why mention it? If the ownership of the prison is germane, then by all means explain why it matters, but until then it should be left out - unless of course the BBC intends to point out the ownership of every prison and other public service when reporting incidents within those services, complete with the implication that the incident is in some way related to the ownership of the service.
In a similar vein of public good, private bad, we've recently had a rash of right-on BBC hidden camera Inside Story exposés, including The Secret Policeman, the BNP, a privately run prison, privately run immigration detention centres and transport, privately run airport security, Yes Car Credit, etc. etc.
While almost all of these have been interesting and informative, they also tend to breathlessly emphasise the private ownership of privately run services, as if that is the sole or main cause of any lax management, inefficiency or abuse that is uncovered. Perish the thought that a publicly owned and run service could ever be lax, inefficient or abusive!
I look forward, in the interests of justice and fearless investigative journalism, to future exposés. Here are a few suggestions for the BBC to turn it's fly-on-the-wall attention to:
Local Government - an investigation into inefficiency, fraud, maladministration and corruption in local government - at least two full programmes worth here: 1) Housing benefit administration - how much fraud really goes on? 2) Planning officers and committees - how easy is it for corrupt officers and developers to subvert the planning process against the interests of local residents?
The Police service and the Home Office - investigating the effect of government targets and bureaucracy in the fight against crime;
The Immigration Service - how effective and efficient is the immigration service? Why does it take so long to process immigration cases? Are the rules always followed? How easily can the system be abused?
The NHS and the Dept. of Health - investigating the effect of government targets and bureaucracy in the health service;
The Far Left - an inside view of the kaleidoscopic splinter world of Britain's far left activists, exposing, for example, the involvement of the SWP in the establishment and operation of the Stop the War Coalition. Does the hard left still plan and theorise about how best to foment revolution in the UK, do they engage in entryism and agitation, and so forth;
The Fire Service - just what do firemen get up to when they're on duty but not on call? How much moonlighting (second jobs) goes on, and how does it affect their ability to perform their public duties?
HM Customs & Excise - an exposé of the zeal with which Customs & Excise meet their collection targets even where it involves bankrupting otherwise viable businesses (employers) with short-term cash-flow problems, at greater cost to the state than delaying or temporarily foregoing tax collection;
For the rest of the excellent posting on Biased-BBC, go to the second posting of March 25th, 2005, starting here.
For more about the phenomenon of 'public good, private bad' reporting and why it happens, see chapter 10: of The Welfare State We're In entitled "If the welfare state is so bad, why don't we get rid of it?"
From the latest Adam Smith Institute email newsletter:
My friend John Hughes, CE of Cygnet Health Care, has sent me a neat little squib mocking the tide of jargon in so many government services. It's basically just three columns, and you pick one word from each and string them together. He calculates it can generate up to 91,125 authoritative buzz phrases. Saves so much time writing reports to ministries. Here's a sample:
Proactive Performance Strategies
Collaborative Partnership Process
Developmental Community Potential
Resource-rich Governance Approaches
Interactive Organizational Pathways
Intensive Consumer-led Modifiers
So from that you can generate "proactive consumer-led approaches" or
"developmental community strategies" or pretty much anything you like. If only some of it actually delivered any service to the public!
From the latest Adam Smith Institute email newsletter:
My friend John Hughes, CE of Cygnet Health Care, has sent me a neat little squib mocking the tide of jargon in so many government services. It's basically just three columns, and you pick one word from each and string them together. He calculates it can generate up to 91,125 authoritative buzz phrases. Saves so much time writing reports to ministries. Here's a sample:
Proactive Performance Strategies
Collaborative Partnership Process
Developmental Community Potential
Resource-rich Governance Approaches
Interactive Organizational Pathways
Intensive Consumer-led Modifiers
So from that you can generate "proactive consumer-led approaches" or
"developmental community strategies" or pretty much anything you like. If only some of it actually delivered any service to the public!
Some commonly believed myths:
That the pay of women in Sweden is closer to that of men than in other societies.
In fact, their pay is lower compared to men than it is for women in other countries. The reason is that they have more rights to maternity leave and that commercial employers therefore avoid employing women, particularly in responsible positions. The pay of women in the USA, relative to that of men, is higher.
That women all wish to combine full-time careers with having children.
In fact, in the view of Catherine Hakim, the academic at the London Schools of Economics on whose research this posting is based, women can be more realistically divided into three sorts, with different attitudes: 1.Home-centred women, 2. Adaptive women (who want a mix of home life, part-time work and full-time work) and 3. Work-centred women. Women do not all want to have full-time careers. On the contrary, that sort of woman is in the minority. This is one of those 'The emperor has no clothes' observations. The moment the words are said, most of us recognise from our own experience that they are true.
That women have lower salaries because we live in a sexist country which discriminates against women.
There is certainly some discrimination. But those women who are work-centred have shown that they are well able to reach senior positions. The main reasons for the generally lower pay of women are that a) they dip in and out of the job market and/or work part time and b) that they are entitled to maternity leave which means they are less attractive to employers.
Catherine Hakim's book, Work-Lifestyle Choices in the 21st Century, is a serious academic work and by no means a light read. However it has plenty of meat in it, plenty of surprising information based on solid reserach. It is important as a de-bunking of the lazy assumptions of the politically correct. Here is one excerpt:
Some scholare are now concluding that Nordic egalitarian polices have failed, that the aim of complete gender symmetry is probably unattainable, and that policies acknowledging women's greater involvement in child-rearing would be preferable (Hoem 19995: 295). Family-friendly policies certainly help adaptive women to combine employment with family work. But it appears that they cannot, as some have hoped, also produce complete equality of men and women in the labour market, and apparently not even in the family either. This second objective is feasible, but only for work-centred women, an entirely different group. In sum, the policy failed to distinguish between adaptive and work-centred women. The achievements of the two groups differ because adaptive women have divided loyalties that cannot be resolved by time flexibility alone.
One of many interesting facts in her book is that "a study of women in the top jobs of the British National Health Service found that half were childless, althought the majority had married at some point".
And again, "Virtually all women who are eligible for job-protected maternity leave in Britian tell their employer that they want to return to the their job after childbirth, but only about half do so in practice....Only a minority of mothers of small children return to full-time work."
The book can be bought by clicking on any of the Amazon links in the left column or by clicking here.
"People now have a tendency...to feel that they are virtuous on the basis of what they believe rather than on the basis of what they do. They think that if they are outraged and if they think that the government ought to 'do something' about whatever outrages them, that they are one of the good people and that meanwhile others - perhaps greedy corporations or rich people - are the bad people. This is not really a system of morality. It is vanity, laziness and self-delusion."
Excerpt from an interview I gave to James Hamilton for his blog.
Some people treat the word 'privatisation' as if it was akin to fascism or racism. In healthcare, the Government has apparently promised that it will not use the private sector for more than 15 per cent of what it does. That reflects the horror that core Labour supporters would feel if any higher percentage were contemplated.
But those who are appalled by the word miss the difference between good privatisation and bad privatisation. They are poles apart and the argument is impoverished and confused by not recognising the fact.
Good privatisation has the following ingredients:
- Consumers, not governments, do the buying
- Choice for the consumer
- Competition between providers
- Little or no regulation
- Low costs of entry for new competitors
Privatisation becomes less advantageous according to the extent to which:
- The Government or a state agency is doing the buying
- The Government is writing the contract under which the work is done
- The Government is regulating the company(ies) doing the work
- Regulation is heavy
- No choice for consumers
- No competition between providers
- The barriers to entry to new competitors are high.
What is frustrating is when there is a privatisation of the bad sort which goes wrong and gives privatisation as a whole a bad name. Rail privatisation, for example, was heavily regulated. The contracts to run railway lines were written by the Government. The Government chose which companies would get the contracts. And Railtrack was a monopoly.
Privatisation of telephone services, freight transport and car manufacture, in contrast, have been far more successful. In all these cases, the consumer has been the buyer and has had choice. Only in telephones was there heavy regulation and even that has been reduced.
For short, you might call privatisation of the better sort 'Triple C Privatisation' - because it has the elements of Consumer buying, Choice and Competition.
Why do the differences between good and bad privatisation matter?
Because if there is choice and competition, the providers have a powerful incentive to provide the best possible service (or product) at the lowest possible price. Consumers will choose providers on the basis of some trade-off between quality and price. No one will choose an expensive, low-quality product. They will go for the opposite. Tesco comes to mind.
Meanwhile the Government is a bad buyer. Look at how it buys computers. Look at how it does major projects (the Dome comes to mind). Look at how it buys cleaning services in hospitals - often without even consulting the anti-infection team.
Now that the Government is putting money into private 'treatment centres' and trying to set up neo-markets within the NHS, one should apply the good/bad tests. It seems, at present, that this privatisation is not 'Triple C' by any means. It is heavily Government controlled and regulated. With treatment centres, of course, the Government is to a large extent the real buyer.
Some of the use of the private sector in healthcare will almost certainly work better than what the NHS does. But it is worrying that the state is so much in the driving seat. It would really be a pity if the private sector was so badly deployed that it added yet more bad publicity to privatisation as a whole.