THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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Compare and contrast

Sir David Nicholson admits failings over Mid Staffs but refuses to resign - Telegraph.
Sir David Nicholson, were our society organised as the defunct British Communist Party to which he once belonged might desire, would now be put up against a wall and shot. In our wet British version of Soviet Healthcare, however, he avoids all responsibility for the NHS's lethal failures. After all, there are plenty more patients where those came from.

Compare and contrast with one Andrew Mason, who wrote to his staff before leaving;
After four-and-a-half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I've decided that I'd like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding, I was fired today ... As CEO I'm accountable.
I rather suspect that Mason has put more efficient and vigorous effort into the success of Groupon than Nicholson has to that of the NHS. Yet he was held accountable by his board on behalf of his shareholders and accepted it with grace. Good for him. He failed this time, but with an attitude like that, I am sure he will yet do great things. I would hire him, if I owned a suitable company. I wouldn't employ Nicholson to clean my boots.

So is the success or failure of a company that organises online discounts more important than that of a whole nation's healthcare system? Should the bosses of an internet start-up be stricter with their CEO than Parliament is with the head of the NHS? What other conclusion, exactly, could a man from Mars infer from these two items of news?

Incidentally, Nicholson claimed expenses of over £50,000 a year on top of a basic salary of £200,000 and benefits in kind of £37,600 at a time when he was in charge of health service "cuts". His current wife, twenty years his junior and a former graduate intern in his office, is the £155,000 a year chief executive of Birmingham Children's Hospital. He wrote references for her during her meteoric rise through the NHS management ranks. Ain't life grand in the public service?

The NHS may not have adopted the iron discipline of the Soviet system, but it seems to have all the other elements. Generally, I prefer gentler market systems of accountability, but for aparatchiks like Nicholson, I could make an exception.

The people who should be our puppets use their puppets to make puppets of us

Euro Puppets: The European Commission’s remaking of civil society | Institute of Economic Affairs.

Tell a statist that the government spends too much of GDP; that the state should be scaled down and taxes reduced and the response is highly predictable. He will start talking about doctors and nurses, teachers and policemen. Within minutes, unless we are battle-hardened by many years of political debate, he will have established an apparent moral ascendency. Onlookers will wonder how we could be so cruel.

But that's not just, or even mainly, how tax money gets spent. For example, I was horrified to learn from Chris Snowden's linked report for the Institute of Economic Affairs that an estimated €1 billion of the EU's budget is handed over to "sock puppet" charities, NGOs and other fake "civil society" actors in order to promote the political objectives of the EU Commission.

Most of these "civil society" organisations would not exist at all if it were not for EU funding. So far from being genuine expressions of voluntary, non-governmental and non-corporate opinion, they are mere political creatures. It is astro-turfing on a massive scale. The table below (from Chris's report) takes the list of the EU Civil Society Contact Group's members from its own site and shows both the income each receives from the European taxpayer and the percentage of its funding that represents. 

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Nota bene that much of the remaining funding for supposedly independent "civil society" groups is received from taxpayers at the national level! For example
Women in Europe for a Common Future received an EC grant of €1,219,213 in 2011, with a further €135,247 coming from national governments. This statutory funding made up 93 per cent of its total income while private donations contributed €2,441 (0.2 per cent) and member contributions just €825 (0.06 per cent). 
In what universe can even the most dewy-eyed believer in the essential goodness of the state justify such a monstrous lie? If an organisation raises just 0.06% of its funding from its membership dues, it is not independent. If it gets 93% of its money from the state, it is the state's creature. This is taking money by force from the masses to tell them what to think - most notably about money being taken from them by force!

This is not about being pro- or anti-EU. It is not even on this occasion about being pro- or anti-state. Democracy is supposed to be about the people agreeing what they want done by state bodies and appointing public servants to get on with it. The servants are not supposed to steal their masters' money in order to promote their own objectives. That they do so is corruption, pure and simple.

Come on, statist readers. Justify this gangsterism if you can. And spare us the "doctors and nurses" bullshit for once.

Tories appointing Labourites to public jobs?

In the last year five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories The Tory Diary.

The Tories over at Conservative Home are in a tizzy about dilettante Dave's failure to be as ruthless about political patronage as New Labour was. I can see their point. The Civil Service used to be, at least in theory, impartial but Blair and Brown packed its highest echelons with their people. Indeed my one contact within the judiciary tells me they were similarly ruthless there, which - as judicial impartiality is a keystone of civilisation - is even more worrying.

Perhaps the problem is more fundamental? Is the British state simply now too enormous to be staffed by competent, conservative-minded individuals? Most such people would anyway presumably prefer, because of their world-view, to be in profit-driven ventures? Labour-minded individuals, on the other hand, can presumably be relied upon not to give a damn about whether their lives are economically productive, as long as they get to boss people about, indoctrinate their children and conduct socialist agitprop at the taxpayers' expense?

The BBC is a worker's co-operative

A-JIMMY-SAVILE-640x468I applaud the BBC's decision to allow Panorama to investigate what it knew about Jimmy Savile's misconduct and why the Newsnight story about his alleged paedophilia was pulled. The video is available for a while to UK residents on the BBC iPlayer here:

Any organisation that is not dependent upon its customers, whether a state or private monopoly, will eventually become self-serving. During my career I was party to many conversations about how to maximise profit for the owners of our businesses and provide attractive employment terms for our staff, but they all turned in the end to what our customers would want, or at least accept. We spent much more time worrying how to please customers than please ourselves. Satisfied customers who choose to come back are the only guarantee for owners, managers and workers in the private sector that they can achieve their personal goals.

As will all state enterprises funded by taxation, the BBC has become, in effect, a worker's co-operative. The "customers" have to pay regardless, so they become irrelevant and the focus turns to the interests of its own people. No private business would survive the shit storm that is heading the BBC's way. The share price would now be collapsing as investors tried to get out before the lawsuits begin. I confidently and sadly predict however that the BBC will survive. It has the coercive power of the state behind it and will simply take your money to settle the cases. It is the left establishment's propaganda arm and they will rally to restore its reputation.

We are about to have an instructive, but depressing, demonstration of the realities of modern Britain. We will be able to compare and contrast the BBC news and current affairs teams' handling of this story with their campaign against News International. Just imagine if the phone-hackers had worked for Newsnight and Savile had worked for Sky News!

Predictable though it all was, it was still disturbing to follow Panorama's account of the decision-making process within the Corporation. There was lots of high-falutin' stuff about editorial independence and a clear concern for the BBC's reputation. There was also some po-faced nonsense about depending on the trust of a public that, trusting or not, it will continue to plunder by use of state force. Not one person (apart from those making official statements once the story was out and the lady reporter from Newsnight who will no doubt pay for it when the storm has passed) expressed any convincing concern for their customers-by-force. Some of whom have, it seems, been abused by members of the collective and friends under their protection.

I watched the faces of the people making the allegations and it brought back another memory from the days of watching Jim'll Fix It. I found a girl from my school in a drunken heap at the side of the road on my way home from a date with my girlfriend one night. I tried to help her to go home. It turned out she was in social services care and lived in a nearby childrens' home. When I offered to take her there she begged me not to. She offered sex if I would take her somewhere, anywhere, else. Indeed, "offered" is something of a euphemism. If I had a victim mentality, I would say she attempted rape. I was able to restrain her and decline her offer.

I asked if she had relatives and she told me about an uncle who lived in the area. In retrospect, I worry that she made him up or that her relationship with him was rather different, but I was a naive teenager. I took her to a nearby pub and gave her the money to call him. I left her in the care of the publican, once assured her uncle was on his way.

I later found out that she lived in one of the homes at the centre of a notorious scandal. It rather explained both her reluctance to go there and her use of sex as a currency. I now dread to think what she was going through while I was enjoying a safe and happy childhood. I am ashamed to have ever thought myself hard done to by my strict parents, when I consider what that girl had been put through by the "caring" state professionals paid to look after her.

Here is the fatal flaw in all collectivist thinking; the reason why public service organisations are all more or less corrupt and can never fully be trusted. Here is the reason why Britain's public intellectuals are not merely gullible, idealistic, fools but a serious threat to our welfare.

All organisations funded by force are essentially immoral.

In their detachment from the relentless reality of having to satisfy customers and in their assurance that livelihoods do not depend upon that satisfaction, selfish, abusive behaviours will grow among their staff. Whether in care homes for the elderly, childrens homes, the Parliamentary expenses office, army barracks or police stations bad things will happen not by accident but flawed design. To be clear, I am not saying that public sector workers are all, or even mostly, evil or ill-intentioned. I am just saying that a disproportionate number of the lazy, greedy and wicked in any society will be attracted, as Savile was, to positions they are able to abuse. Nor am I saying there should be no public sector. I am not an anarchist. I accept the need for a state. But here is a strong argument for it to be kept to an absolute minimum.

There is a reason socialist states have always had to resort to prison camps and shootings to maintain discipline and reduce corruption in the ranks. At least, that is, within limits that don't threaten the corrupt gains of their ruling elites. In the absence of Stalinist discipline, what happened at the BBC - the way the collective closed ranks to protect an insider - is not a sad exception to the rule. It is the rule.


Learning to love public servants

Should Romney Seek the Public Sector Vote? — The American Magazine.

This is one of the more interesting posts I have read on the US elections and I wonder how similar the statistics would be in the UK. Libertarians and small state conservatives tend to generalise about public servants in negative terms, but the author Pete Peterson makes the point that:
...it might serve Republicans better to take a “don’t hate the player, hate the game” approach to their attacks on government spending. The attention should move from the personal to the systemic—to bureaucracy—and its naturally problematic qualities.
It's fair enough to complain about useless, pointless jobs in the public sector, and even more so about "public service" jobs that actually harm the public. That doesn't mean our fellow-citizens who do them are themselves useless, pointless or deliberately harmful.

Some public sector jobs actually attract people with conservative, if not libertarian, values. Think of policemen, soldiers and - well there must be a third category even if it doesn't immediately spring to mind. While joining the judiciary sadly appeals to some busybodies and even authoritarians, the role of judge is - especially in a Common Law system where the law did not originate as a tool of government - a public service job that suits libertarians. Indeed the role of the judges in upholding the Rule of Law against the over-mighty in government and business should attract them.

The statistics in the linked post even suggest that American public servants are not as pro-Big Government as their own self-interest might seem to dictate.
61 percent of the government employees surveyed ... agreed with the statement that “the federal government has become a special interest group that looks out primarily for its own interests.” While not as high as the response by private sector respondents (74 percent agreed) this is still a revealing admission.
Even more encouragingly:
...more than half of both public and private sector workers “believe government and big business work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.” And 59 percent of government employees surveyed agreed that they “trust the judgment of the American people over political leaders.”
What results would a similar poll in Britain produce?

Less surprisingly, American public servants are more likely to vote than their private sector counterparts. Some of this can be accounted for by demographics. Public servants there tend (wastefully) to be better educated than the general population and the more educated an American is, the more likely he is to vote. The rest may be accounted for by a desire to influence government to spend more, but America's public sector vote at least is not uniformly leftist. President Obama's lead among the 21.7 million American public servants is only one million. If Romney stopped bashing bureaucrats, who knows how that might change?

When the glad day dawns on which the state begins to downsize, we can confidently expect the attitudes of public servants to harden. Until the benefits for employment of setting the people free become clear, people will be understandably afraid of losing their jobs. Still, if we are to persuade our fellow-citizens along that path (and as libertarians we have no resort to our opponents' beloved violence, so persuasion is our only weapon) we might do well to play the ball not the man when it comes to discussing the public sector.

Protect your Freedom – Please retweet and respond!

Protect your Freedom – Please retweet and respond! — Anna Raccoon.

I refer my gentle readers to Anna's linked post today. It is important. The state is seeking extended powers to interfere in personal relationships between citizens with legal capacity to make their own decisions. Telling social workers to "get lost" will result, if such powers are granted, in actions incompatible with a free society. Telling self-selected statist busybodies to "get lost" is often, of course, the first duty of a free citizen.

Most responses to the Department of Health's consultation will be, in the natural course of things, from the aforementioned self-selected statist busybodies - either those serving the state or their political cheerleaders.

Please therefore consider following the links in Anna's post or this one to obtain the consultation questions and then file your own responses by email or post. I have reproduced my own responses (submitted in my real name) below but please respond in your own words. You might like to consider not picking up the civil servants' poor use of English, for example, as I failed to resist doing. Your objective is to persuade, after all. Good luck with that.

Question 1: Do you agree that there is a gap in the proposed legislative framework for people with mental capacity, which this power would address?

No

Question 2: What are your views on the proposal that there should be a new power of entry, enabling the local authority to speak to someone with mental capacity who they think could be at risk of abuse and neglect, if a third party prevents them from doing so?

I strenuously object to the creation of any such power. In fact I would welcome the abolition of most existing such powers.

Question 3 (for care and support professionals working in adult safeguarding): How many times in the last 12 months, have you been aware of a situation where, had this power existed, it would have been appropriate to use it? What were the circumstances?

N/A

Question 4: What safeguards would we need to ensure local authorities use such a power effectively and appropriately?

Any such safeguards would merely raise the question "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" There is no appropriate use of such a power. A person with legal capacity should never have his or her choices second-guessed by the state. This is a dangerous, immoral (perhaps even amoral) proposal incapable of being ameliorated by safeguards.

For example, would the following provide adequate safeguards?

• A warrant would be applied for from a Circuit Judge (e.g. a nominated judge of the Court of Protection).

This would only help if the legislation granting the powers was clear (as it could not by definition be) that the state has no right to interfere in the life choices of those with legal capacity. Since the intent of the proposed legislation is precisely to create such a right, the judge would have no ability to restrict such action and the warrant would merely use the judiciary as camouflage, further soiling its reputation for independence in the process.

• The local authority would present the court with evidence of the need for the warrant.

See above.

• The local authority would ensure that there is a process by which the occupiers of the premises understand that they can complain about the way in which a power has been used. The local authority would have to verbally inform the affected persons how they might access that process

See above. There is no point in a right to complain about such a loss of liberty, if it is backed by law. One wonders, by the way, how they would inform anyone other than "verbally". Draw them a picture, perhaps?

Question 5: Do you have any other comments?

The British State is too powerful. After decades of growth to the point where it now consumes the majority of national resources and is strangling to economic death the nation it purports to serve, it is unsurprising that it attracts employees who have no sympathy with personal liberty. In my view, no-one who respects our right to live life as we please would wish to be part of such an aggressive apparatus. Once the state is staffed by substantial numbers of such people, proposals like these are to be expected and it is the job of government, as the people's representative, to oppose not promote them.

No further extension of the state's already-excessive power can possibly be justified. Any government worthy of the names "conservative" or "liberal" or "democrat" would be slashing its powers in order to set the British people free not listening to calls to authorise meddling in the lives of those with legal capacity.


Informed Democracy?

Nobody Important: Democrasy. Is it working?.

Our regular commenter Moggsy is a blogger herself, posting at our mutual friend JMB's site, Nobody Important. Today she considers the problems of democracy. She proposes, controversially, that the votes of different categories of voters should carry different weights. Even more controversially, she suggests that voters be licensed like motorists.

One man, one vote is such an established principle that to challenge it is almost unthinkable. Yet this model of democracy seems to tend to economic collapse. Majorities or decisive minorities of financially illiterate or irresponsible voters demand ever more from the state. Governments (or more precisely politicians who want to remain in government) are forced to tax or borrow from the prudent in order to deliver. Holding down interest rates while inflating the currency with Quantitative Easing is merely one current example of the state impoverishing the prudent to bail out the feckless. If interest rates returned to their historical average (so that the prudent earned from their capital) millions of over-borrowed voters would be bankrupt and house prices would collapse to sensible levels.

So democracy requires that economic justice be denied.

Harvard Professor of Economics, Martin Feldstein, recently wrote in the FT that a mere 3% cut in Italy's public spending would solve its financial problems. I am sure he's right but will Italy's state 'payroll vote' permit it? After all our public sector workers are out on the streets in 'righteous' indignation when our feeble government is not (contrary to their claims) making any cuts at all. Government expenditure in Britain continues to rise. The hated 'cuts' are merely a reduction in the rate of increase. It's as if the massively-indebted British nation was on its way to buy a Bugatti, but 'prudently' decided to buy a mere Ferrari instead. The National Debt continues to rise apace (see the debt clock now in my sidebar). Yet such is their sense of entitlement that our cocky 'servants' demand even more.

It has been said that;

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing.

Could a reform of our democracy prevent that collapse? My own preference would be rather to scale down the state and prevent its re-expansion by an entrenched constitution permanently limiting its scope. We could then safely continue with 'one man, one vote' as, while it's a terrible way to choose a master, it's a perfectly adequate way to choose a servant. But whether you favour my approach, Moggsy's suggested electoral handicapping or some pipe dream of your own, how can any reform ever be achieved when the state payroll vote is now decisive?

Unless a truly charismatic leader emerges to explain patiently, relentlessly and - most of all - convincingly that we can't keep spending more than we earn, our model seems doomed to collapse. Every state's credit has a limit and its cheques will eventually bounce so that its dependents starve. Yes, a small state might then be built on the impoverished ruins of the old, but at what terrible human cost?


Maybe we still need a bigger navy than Belgium?

Argentina launches naval campaign to isolate Falkland Islands - Telegraph.

The three state services libertarians all support are defence of the realm, policing and provision of an independent judiciary. That's one of the things that differentiates us from anarchists. The irony is that modern governments have focussed so hard on redistributive policies designed to buy votes from the masses by providing non-jobs in non-services with stolen money, that they have become really bad at the basics.

How long do you give it before the Falkland Islands are lost? Even if the boy David was half the man that Margaret Thatcher was; even if President Obama was half the friend that Ronald Reagan was, we simply don't have the military assets to defend them. Perhaps that's why we are deploying the sainted Diana's look-alike boy? Surely no-one is so cruel as to attack the son of the Princess of Hearts?

It's a plan, though not one Nelson would have applauded. Some fully-equipped aircraft carriers might be a more reliable one. But, while we fund a bigger civil service than we had to run half the planet, we don't have the money for that, do we?

h/t The Englishman


Incompetence is not a bug, it's a feature

Dead federal retirees paid $120 million yearly, report says - The Federal Eye - The Washington Post.

Just to hammer home my point that it's not the character or intelligence of public sector employees that - for the most part - I question. It's the whole concept of big government itself and all the Milton Friedman Category IV spending it involves. The good old US of A is (of course) no better in this respect - for all its entrenched religiosity and superior financial education;

In one dramatic case, a deceased annuitant’s son continued receiving federal benefits until 2008 — 37 years after his father’s death. OPM [the federal government's Office of Personnel Management] learned of the improper payments — which exceeded $515,000 — only after the son also died. The agency never recovered the payments.

I do not seek to detract from the son's crime. The government might have sent him the cheques in error, but he cashed them in sin. But seriously. If it were your money, would you have kept paying without ever checking?

Of course, if you are an American taxpayer, it was your money and (by the agency of your public servants) you did. Just like British taxpayers bought six billion pounds' worth of military equipment which our public servants (at best) lost, (at worst) sold to the enemy or (most likely) some combination of the two.

I am sorry, but this kind of thing is not a glitch to be ironed out in the model. It is the model. Big government trashes lives by locking good people into unproductive work financed by extortion from the productive work of others. How many decades of this nonsense will it take before belief in the intrinsic moral superiority of government action dies?


Who pays? What a naive question.

Has any one lost their job over half-billion pound waste? | Grassroots | The TaxPayers' Alliance.

This is so naive. Of course the answer is 'No.' It's not even a sensible question. The job objectives of public 'servants' are so much more complex than in the private sector, as is their relationship with their bosses. No doubt some politician signed off this scheme; probably to make political capital by publicly 'caring' about such popular front-liners as firemen.

Perhaps the civil servants knew from the outset the project would fail, but did their level best? Perhaps. Or perhaps they didn't give a damn. After all, why should they?

Even to discuss it is to make the false assumption that efficient government is possible. Even in the private sector, when all economic interests are aligned, humans find ways to foul up. But spending limitless supplies of other people's money obtained by force on 'services' no-one would choose to pay for guarantees it. Why do we continue to be (or pretend to be) outraged when the inevitable happens? After all, this particular failure is quite minor compared to the £6 billion of materiel lost by the Ministry of Defence. Yet that story passed in minutes, with no political (or employment) consequences.

For these are failures only in the banal terms by which those of those of us outside public 'service' live our lives. Neither of these massive cock-ups was a 'failure' for the civil servants or their bosses. The former got their salaries, pensions and honours. The politicians remained focussed on the only thing they care about; winning a popularity contest in the next 1-5 years to allow them to get money the market would never pay them. To hope for different outcomes is to assume there is a 'right' form of this legalised, but still evil, gangsterism.

The state is inherently inefficient. The only way to avoid such colossal waste (both of taxpayers' money and of lives in politics and the public sector that might otherwise have been productive) is to scale it down. All else is dangerous delusion.