Under Nu Labour,
right across government, agencies, ngo’s, public funded projects, hundreds of
thousands of people are employed to perform tasks that are not merely useless
but actually obstructive of real work and economically counterproductive.
insinuates itself into the smallest cracks of daily life. The failure has been institutionalised
has to pay for all this activity, supposedly carried out on behalf of the
population, somehow. It is simultaneously committed to huge public expenditure
and apparent, though not real, control of the public debt.
It reconciles the
irreconcilable by not including the extravagantly generous pension obligations
of the public service in its debt calculations—pension obligations that,
properly accounted for, now amount to nearly 56 percent of GDP. Also not included is the government’s
increasing resort to private finance of government institutions, which involves
huge future expenditure obligations without the capital costs having to appear
in the national accounts.
article first appeared in The City Journal, in
its Winter 2007 edition, and explains why your public services are failing, but
the stats say they are great, why you are going to have to pay again for the
services you have already paid for with your taxes, why failure has been institutionalised
by design, and why you will be paying for this for the rest of your lives, not
just in cash terms, but with your very freedom.
How Not to Do It
works in the omni competent state.
week, the British government announced—because the opposition in Parliament
forced it to announce—that 70 prisoners, including three murderers and an
unspecified number of burglars, drug dealers, and holders of false passports,
had escaped from a single minimum-security prison this year alone. Twenty-eight
of them were still at large.
so many of them absconded suggested that they were not quite the reformed
characters that justified lower levels of security in the first place; but as
usual in Britain, temporary embarrassment soon subsides into deep amnesia. The
fact is that the whole episode is precisely what we have come to expect of our
public administration and was nothing out of the ordinary.
the same week, my former colleagues, senior doctors in the hospital that I
worked in until my recent retirement, received a leaflet with their monthly pay
stubs. It offered them, along with all other employees, literacy training: a
little late in their careers as doctors, one might have thought.
senior doctors could take up to 30 hours of free courses to improve their
literacy and numeracy skills, all in working time, of course. In these courses,
they could learn to spell at least some words, to punctuate, to add and do
fractions, and to read a graph.
you have a SPIKEY [sic] profile?” asked the leaflet, and went on to
explain: “A spikey profile is when a person is good at literacy but not at
mathematics or visa [sic] versa.” The reader could address himself to
one of no fewer than four members of the hospital staff who were “contact
persons” for the courses, among them the Vocational Training Coordinator and
the Non-Vocational Training Coordinator. In case none was available to answer
the telephone or reply to e-mails, the reader could contact one of three
central government agencies that deal with the problem of illiterate and
truly, was a case of the lunatics taking over the asylum; but there is more to
the ignorance and incompetence pervading the leaflet than meets the eye. Such
ignorance and incompetence are now so systematic and widespread in the British
public service that if they are not the result of deliberate policy, they might
as well be.
In fact, there is now a profoundly catalytic relationship between
the intellectual, moral, and economic corruption of the British public service
and the degeneration of the national character.
Which among all the various
factors came first and is therefore ultimately causative is not easy to say; as
usual, I suspect that intellectual error is at the root of most evil. But why
such error should have found so ready an acceptance raises the specter of an
infinite regress of explanation, which perhaps we can avoid only by invoking a
new books give us an insight into the nature of the corruption that has sprung
from the ever-wider extension of self-arrogated government responsibility in Britain, and they shed light as well
on the effect that government expansion has upon the population.
By the time
you have finished reading them, you are unsure as to whether Gogol, Kafka, or
Orwell offers the best insight into contemporary British reality. Gogol
captures the absurdity all right, and Kafka the anxiety caused by an awareness
of sinister but unidentifiable forces behind what is happening; but you also
need Orwell to appreciate, and sometimes even to admire, the brazenness with
which officialdom twists language to mean the opposite of what it would once
ordinarily have meant.
of the books are by men who work in the front line of the public service, one
in law enforcement and the other in education. Like me, they write
pseudonymously. By describing their day-to-day routine, Police Constable David
Copperfield and teacher Frank Chalk show how the British state now works, or
rather operates, with devastating effect on the British character.
whose website is so
annoying to politicians in power that they feel obliged to denigrate it in
Parliament, and whose book is titled Wasting Police Time, is an ordinary
constable in an ordinary British town.
he makes clear in his book, very little of his time at work is spent in
activity that could deter crime, discover those who commit it, or bring them to
justice. His induction into the culture of politically correct bureaucratic
incompetence was immediate on joining up: he had naively supposed that the main
purpose of his job was the protection of the public by the suppression of
malefaction, instead of which he discovered that it was to “set about changing
the racist, homophobic and male-dominated world in which we lived.”
first three days of his training were about prejudice and discrimination—in
short, “diversity training.” There never was to be any training in the mere
investigation of crimes, a minor and secondary part of modern police work in Britain.
mandated, politically inspired obsession with racism is on view in the
crawlingly embarrassing and condescending speech that the deputy chief
constable (deputy police chief) of North Wales, Clive Wolfendale, gave to
the inaugural meeting of the North Wales Black Police Association.
Copperfield reports, to speak to the black officers in rap verse, which is
about as tactful as addressing Nelson Mandela in pidgin. Here is an extract
from Wolfendale’s speech:
Put away your cameras and
your notepads for a spell.
I got a story that I really need to tell.
Bein’ in the dibble [police] is no cakewalk when you’re black.
If you don’t get fitted, then you’ll prob’ly get the sack.
You’re better chillin’ lie down and just be passive.
No place for us just yet in the Colwyn Bay Massive
must have encouraged the black officers no end: if the (white) deputy chief
constable, in his maladroit attempt to demonstrate sympathy with them, had
called them a bunch of jungle bunnies, he could hardly have made his feelings
clearer. His speech reveals what I have long suspected: that antiracism is the
is also, and simultaneously, a job opportunity and work-avoidance scheme.
Copperfield recounts how, in 1999, a police officer said to a black motorist,
who did not answer a question, “Okay, so you’re deaf as well as black.”
report of the official inquiry into the subsequent complaint had 62 pages of
attachments, 20 pages of witness statements, and 172 pages of interview
transcripts. Legal and disciplinary proceedings took 19 months to complete.
as the police devote vast energies (and expenditures) to such incidents, crimes
such as street robbery and assault continue their inexorable rise and turn much
of the country into a no-go area for all but the drunk or the violently inclined.
who joined the police full of idealism, soon notices (as how could he not?)
that the completion of bureaucratic procedure is now more important to the
police than anything else.
is in order if the forms are filled in correctly. A single arrest takes up to
six hours to process, so many and various are the forms. He notices that there
are more nonpolice employed in his police station than uniformed officers; and
of the latter, the majority are deskbound.
The station parking lot is full, 9
Monday through Friday, but the whole town has only three or four officers to
patrol the streets—in cars, of course, not on foot.
author describes the intellectual and moral corruption that all this
bureaucracy brings in its wake. Take, for example, the so-called Administrative
Detection, which allows the police and their political masters to mislead the
public about the seriousness and efficiency with which the authorities tackle
works something like this: someone calls the police about a trifling
dispute—one neighbor accuses the other of threatening behavior, say, and the
accused then in turn accuses the accuser. The cops record the two complaints as
crimes and take statements from every possible witness.
This, of course, can
take a very long time, because by the time cops arrive, the witnesses will
probably have dispersed. They have to be traced and contacted, and—because the
police are now so touchingly-feelingly sensitive to the wishes of the
public—mutually convenient times have to be arranged for the taking of
finally the police have gathered all the information, they write it up; but of
course, no prosecution follows, because by then the complainants have withdrawn
their complaint, and in any case the prosecuting authorities would regard the
whole business as too trivial to be worth a trial.
the two crimes go into the records as having been solved. And since the
politicians in charge judge police performance by the proportion of crimes the
force solves, cops do not devote attention to most real crimes, in which
detection is difficult and very uncertain of success.
uselessness of a police force that once excited the admiration of the world is
now taken for granted by every Briton who calls the police only to obtain a
crime number for insurance purposes, not in the expectation or even hope of any
effort at detection.
is not because the individual policeman is lazy, ill-intentioned, corrupt, or
stupid, though in the present system he might just as well be: for the system
in which he works imposes upon him all the effects (or defects) of precisely
Copperfield is clearly a man who wants to do a good job, like most of the
policemen I have met, but the system actively and deliberately prevents him
from doing so.
happened, while waiting to interview a man in prison, to be reading
Copperfield’s book, and two plainclothes policemen in the waiting room saw it.
They had read the work, and I asked them whether what Copperfield wrote was
true. “Every word,” they replied.
Chalk’s book, It’s Your Time You’re Wasting, tells essentially the same
story, this time with regard to education. It surely requires some explanation
that, in a country that expends $5,200 a year for 11 years on each child’s
education, a fifth of children leave school virtually unable to read or write,
let alone do simple arithmetic.
takes considerable organization to achieve so little, especially when the means
by which practically all children can be taught to read to a high standard are
perfectly well-known. A small local educational authority in Scotland, for example, West Dumbarton, has virtually eliminated
illiteracy in children, despite the fact that its population is among the
poorest in Scotland, by using simple teaching
methods and at an additional cost of precisely $25 per pupil.
intellectual corruption of the English education system is near complete (the
Scottish system is rather better). For example, there is a government
inspectorate of schools, charged with the maintenance of standards.
it gives each school it visits several weeks’ warning of an impending
inspection, ample time for even the dullest-witted school administrators to
construct a Potemkin village. And then it criticizes all the wrong things: the
inspectors criticized Frank Chalk, for example, for having imposed discipline
upon his class and thereby having impeded the spontaneity and creativity of the
children—which, in the circumstances of the slum school in which he teaches,
they principally express in vandalism.
school inspectorate therefore appears to believe in the truth of the anarchist
Bakunin’s dictum—that the destructive urge is also creative.
an epigraph to his book, Chalk quotes the British deputy prime minister, John
Prescott. In that great man’s immortal words, which tell you everything about
the caliber of the British government that you really need to know, “If you set
up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone
wants to go there.” And that would never do.
the looking-glass world of modern British public administration, nothing
succeeds like failure, because failure provides work for yet more functionaries
and confers an ever more providential role upon the government.
who does not learn to read properly often behaves badly in school and thus
becomes the subject (or is it object?) of inquiries by educational
psychologists and social workers. As Chalk describes, they always find that the
child in question lacks self-esteem and therefore should be allowed to attend
only those classes that he feels he can cope with.
so-called Senior Management Team in the school—teachers who have retired into a
largely administrative role—deals with all disciplinary problems by means of
appeasement, for lack of any other permissible method available to them.
perverse ideology reigns, in which truth and probity play no part.
marking the children’s work, Chalk is expected to make only favorable comments,
designed to boost egos rather than to improve performance. Public examinations
are no longer intended to test educational attainment against an invariant
standard but to provide the government with statistics that provide evidence of
pursuit of such excellence, not only do examinations require ever less of the
children, but so-called course work, which may actually be done by the
children’s parents or even by the teachers themselves, plays an important part
in the marks the children receive—and it is marked by the very teachers whose
performance is judged by the marks that their pupils achieve.
The result, of
course, is a swamp of corruption, to wade through which teachers become utterly
cynical, time-serving, and without self-respect.
perfect emblem of the Gogolian, Kafkaesque, and Orwellian nature of the British
public administration is the term “social inclusion” as applied in the
educational field. Schools may no longer exclude disruptive children—that would
be the very opposite of social inclusion—so a handful of such children may
render quite pointless hundreds or even thousands of hours of schooling for
scores or even hundreds of their peers who, as a result, are less likely to
succeed in life.
such as Chalk are forced to teach mixed-ability classes, which can include the
mentally handicapped (their special schools having been closed in the name of
social inclusion). The most intelligent children in the class fidget with
boredom while the teacher persistently struggles to instill understanding in
the minds of the least intelligent children of what the intelligent pupils long
intelligent are not taught what they could learn, while the unintelligent are
taught what they cannot learn. The result is chaos, resentment, disaffection, and
despair all round.
Britain now has more educational
bureaucrats than teachers, as well as more health-service administrators than
self-evident or entirely predictable failure, no catastrophe they have brought
about at the behest of their political masters, ever affects their careers, in
part because they move from post to post so quickly that none of them ever gets
held responsible for anything.
public hospital in which my wife worked as a doctor before her recent
retirement built a $28 million extension, but what had been imperatively
necessary for the health of the town’s population six years ago became equally
superfluous four years later and had to be closed down with great urgency,
though with the public assurances of the bureaucrats then in charge that they
were “passionately” committed to the townspeople’s welfare.
one, of course, was ever held responsible for this expensive fiasco, which
fully partook of the absurdity Gogol portrays, the menace Kafka evokes
(employees were, on the whole, too frightened for their careers to speak out),
and the mendacity Orwell dramatizes.
into why expensive failure is so vitally necessary to the British government—or
indeed, to any government once it arrogates responsibility for almost
everything, from the national diet to the way people think—glimmers out from
management consultant David Craig’s recent book, Plundering the Public
catalogs what at first sight seems the almost incredible incompetence of the
British government in its efforts to “modernize” the public administration.
example, not a single large-scale information technology project instituted by
the government has worked. The National Health Service has spent $60 billion on
a unified information technology system, no part of which actually functions.
Projects routinely get canceled after $400– $500 million has been spent on
them. Modernization in Britain’s public sector means delay
and inefficiency procured at colossal expense.
is this to be explained? I learned a very good lesson when, 20 years ago, I
worked in Tanzania. This well-endowed and
beautiful country was broken-down and economically destitute to a shocking
degree. A shard of mirror was a treasured possession; a day’s wages bought a
man one egg on the open market. It was quicker to go to Europe than to telephone it.
Nothing, not even the most basic commodity such as soap or salt, was available
to most of the population.
first I considered that the president, Julius Nyerere, who was so revered in
“progressive” circles as being halfway between Jesus Christ and Mao Tse Tung,
was a total incompetent.
could he reconcile the state of the country with his rhetoric of economic
development and prosperity for everyone? Had he no eyes to see, no ears to
then the thought dawned on me, admittedly with embarrassing slowness, that a
man who had been in power virtually unopposed for nearly a quarter of a century
could not be called incompetent, once one abandons the preposterous premise that
he was trying to achieve what he said he was trying to achieve.
means of remaining in power, what method could be better than to have an
all-powerful single political party distribute economic favours in conditions of
general shortage? That explained how, and why, in a country of the
involuntarily slender, the party officials were fat. This was not incompetence;
it was competence of a very high order. Unfortunately, it was very bad for the
population as a whole.
scheme in Britain is, of course, rather
different. (It is not necessary to believe that such schemes have been
consciously elaborated, incidentally; rather, they are inherent in the statism
that comes naturally to so many politicians because of their self-importance.)
hoops that bind the government to the consultants who advise it in its
perennially failing schemes of modernization are those of gold.
demonstrates (though without understanding all the implications), the
consultants need failure in Britain to perpetuate the contracts that allow them
to charge so outrageously and virtually ad libitum (Craig suggests that $140
billion has disappeared so far, with no end in sight); and, in turn, the
government benefits from having this rich but utterly dependent clientèle.
beauty of the system is that dependence on expensive failure reaches quite low
levels of the administration: for example, all those “civilians” (as nonpolice
workers for the police are called) in P.C. Copperfield’s police station, as
well as the educational psychologists whom Frank Chalk derides.
state has become a vast and intricate system of patronage, whose influence very
few can entirely escape. It is essentially corporatist: the central government,
avid for power, sets itself up as an authority on everything and claims to be
omnicompetent both morally and in practice; and by means of taxation,
licensing, regulation, and bureaucracy, it destroys the independence of all
organizations that intervene between it and the individual citizen.
it can draw enough citizens into dependence on it, the central government can
remain in power, if not forever, then for a very long time, at least until a
crisis or cataclysm forces change.
the very end of the chain of patronage in the British state is the underclass, who
(to change the metaphor slightly) form the scavengers or bottom-feeders of the
whole corporatist ecosystem.
and degraded as they might be, they are nonetheless essential to the whole
system, for their existence provides an ideological proof of the necessity of
providential government in the first place, as well as justifying many
employment opportunities in themselves.
Copperfield and Chalk describe with great eloquence precisely what I have seen
myself in this most wretched stratum of society: large numbers of people
corrupted to the very fiber of their being by having been deprived of
responsibility, purpose, and self-respect, void of hope and fear alike, living
in as near to purgatory as anywhere in modern society can come.
course, the corporatist system, at least in its British incarnation, is a house
of cards, or perhaps a better analogy would be with a pyramid scheme.
of thousands of people are employed to perform tasks that are not merely
useless but actually obstructive of real work and economically
bureaucracy insinuates itself into the smallest cracks of daily life.
out a house recently, I learned from a real-estate agent that the government
sends inspectors, in the guise of prospective tenants, to check that the
upholstery on chairs is fire-retardant. The inspectors have no other function.
regulations shift like one of those speeded-up meteorological maps on
television, creating the need for yet more inspections and inspectors. Recent
new regulations for landlords exceed 1,000 pages of close print; in the
meantime, Britain does not remain short of
decaying housing stock, while rents are among the highest in the world.
government has to pay for all this activity, supposedly carried out on behalf
of the population, somehow.
is simultaneously committed to huge public expenditure and apparent, though not
real, control of the public debt.
reconciles the irreconcilable by not including the extravagantly generous
pension obligations of the public service in its debt calculations—pension
obligations that, properly accounted for, now amount to nearly 56 percent of GDP.
not included is the government’s increasing resort to private finance of
government institutions, which involves huge future expenditure obligations
without the capital costs having to appear in the national accounts.
other words, the government has turned the cynical last words of an
eighteenth-century absolute monarch, Louis XV, into the guiding principle of its
policy: après nous, le déluge.