Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Money, Power & Freedom

I write mainly about liberty. I don't stray much into such issues as government expenditure. That is done brilliantly by the excellent Wat Tyler at his blog "Burning our Money". I recommend him highly.

Recently, a few things made me think about these matters. In the press, I read that "low paid" civil servants have been supplementing their income by selling confidential data "on an industrial scale" to identity thieves, primarily for use in benefit and tax credit fraud. I read that the estimates of tax credit fraud (£490 million last year) are to be "revised upwards".

I learned today (from Wat again ) that you have a greater chance of being a victim of crime in Britain than in any other developed country except Australia. I learned that the cost of crime is about £100 billion in Britain. This figure (derived from official statistics) is certainly an underestimate. Even so, in the unlikely event that crime could be eliminated, the savings would be enough to buy each family health insurance. Coincidentally, the hopelessly inefficient NHS costs about the same percentage of GDP as crime (I am tempted to say "other crime" - see below).

My godson, recently graduated, wrote to me about his hopes for the future. He has an engineering degree and cannot find relevant employment. He is planning to gain experience in another "softer" field with a view to starting a business of his own in due course. He tells me he wants to focus on international services in the hope that he can, as he put it, "escape to somewhere with more freedom". When I was his age, I never imagined I would live to find myself in Russia receiving such a letter from a young Englishman.

A science student we know, about to graduate, has been harassed by "animal rights" demonstrators as he goes to his lab each day for the last year. His daily routine now involves wearing disguises and varying his travel route, rather as if he were in the Mob rather than a victim of a mob. He has just accepted a job in America, to start as soon as he graduates. He does not want to leave his family and friends, but he feels that his skills are not valued in Britain. For that matter, he feels that science itself is not valued in Britain. He is right. Intelligent people in Britain are prisoners of the ignorant, irrational and religiously fanatical whose half-baked opinions are routinely pandered to by Government, media and police. That is not leadership, but followership.

His mother tells another story. Her daughter broke a leg a while ago and was provided with crutches. When she recovered, her mother - a "true believer" in the NHS - dutifully returned the crutches to the hospital. No-one there knew what to do. There were no procedures for accepting them back. She was told that "it just doesn't happen". She was shocked. I wasn't. I remember my late grandfather's garage being full of wheelchairs. When he complained that one was unsuitable or defective, another was brought. No-one would take the old ones away, however. Why bother? They had been bought with "someone else's money". Ironically, he never did get a usable NHS wheelchair and splashed out his own money on the best available model to bring him some comfort in his last months. Wouldn't it have been better for him to do that in the first place, and for the taxpayers to have been spared the expense of his garage full of scrap?

A late friend of my wife's family had what seemed like the contents of an entire pharmacy at home. Many old people do. The drugs are "free" and who wants to keep going back for repeat prescriptions? He died in possession of enough drugs to have served his needs for twenty years (if they had not all been out of date).

What do all these little stories have in common? Waste. Waste of human resources and waste of capital. Compare and contrast the care any supermarket takes with its shopping trolleys, with the attitude of the NHS to its wheelchairs. Compare and contrast any private company's fear of lawsuits if its employees sold client information to organised crime with the Government's fear - of bad publicity.

Whatever the Government touches, turns to waste. The bigger the State, the greater the waste. The more a government believes - as this one does - that it represents mainly the people standing under this torrent of waste, the more inclined it will be to try to buy their votes by being "generous". Yet the supermarkets, for all their grim insistence on profit, are probably better loved institutions in Britain than the caring-sharing NHS.

Barry Goldwater said it well. "Any Government that is big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take it all away." No Government as big as Britain's can ever be run efficiently or honestly. To come back to my subject of liberty, there is a real danger that exposing sleaze, corruption and waste will have to be criminalised in order for government to function. Already, I suspect that editors are rewarded for keeping things quiet. One can only imagine what has been done to the once proudly-independent BBC to turn it into the degraded lap dog that it is today.

Reducing public spending is not a matter of greedy taxpayers wanting more to waste in the pub, as Socialists seem to think. Whatever Polly Toynbee may say (or perhaps even think), tax is not "good value". By all means let's have a safety net for the poor and incapable. But please let's recognise that anything which belongs to the public might as well belong to no-one. Even the greatest extremes of violence in former totalitarian states did not stop people stealing from the Government. In Communist Poland they had a proverb that "If you don't steal from the State, you steal from your family." The more the Government believes that property is theft, the more theft there seems to be - inside and outside the ranks of its army of employees.

1 comment:

dearieme said...

I was on Invalidity Benefir once. When I got well and returned to work I phoned Personnel to tell them how much IB I'd received: that's what you were meant to do, to let them subtract it from the pay you'd received while ill. Goodness, said the girl, no-one's ever done that before.