How About Efficiencyarchy in the U.K.?


The Conservative Party is expected to take power in the United Queendom Kingdom this May, and we're starting to get glimpses of Tory leader David Cameron's plan to reinvent government.

The Guardian explains how the British red team plans to restore fiscal discipline and "protect frontline public services" by reducing waste:

Philip Hammond, the shadow chief secretary, said "high-performing public sector businesses" such as the Passport Agency would be allowed to bid for work from other government departments where its proven IT skills were essential.

But there will be carrots as well as sticks for public sector managers. Whereas past governments have often confiscated gains made by efficient public bodies, a David Cameron government would provide incentives for innovation by allowing them to keep the bulk of what they saved, Hammond said.

Central to the Tory strategy is the calculation that Labour has wasted £60bn during two successive public spending sprees – neither connected with the global recession – by failing to achieve the same productivity gains as the private sector managed in the decade after 1997.

Reuters notes that Hammond uses phrases that roughly translates into American as best practices and good to great:

On Friday, Hammond will say that if productivity growth in the public sector had kept pace with the private sector over a decade of Labour rule between 1997 and 2007, the state could have saved some 60 billion pounds.

"If efficiency gain is going to yield year-on-year savings and become a central part of what public sector bodies do, it has to become embedded within them, not imposed upon them." according to extracts of his speech.

The efficiency comparison is apt given Cameron's professed identification with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger also came into office promising greater effiency, waste reduction, and so on. He went on to grow Golden State spending by 40 percent over five years. Dig Reason's Adam Summers giving celebrity rehab to the Spendinator.

Cameron's preference for compromise with big government did not originate with Cameron. The Thatcher and the Reagan revolutions were both founded on such a compromise, and this is one of the main reasons that the U.K. now faces a staggering deficit and the United States a paralyzing one. However you define the common nature of British and American governance (i.e., representative government in the English common law tradition), in both countries there is a self-described small-government party that is clearly in favor of big government (and I believe Cameron's definition of "frontline public services" includes National Health).

This creates a utilitarian problem. California's example argues that if you come into office promising more efficient government that will deliver the same level of service, you will leave office with a much larger government. Even a government purged of waste fraud and abuse will continue to grow itself.

It also creates a problem of principle. The Guardian says, "Tories want prisons, schools, civil servants and hospitals to raise their game or risk losing results-based funding." Who wants the government to raise its game? To the extent that living under the U.S. government is still preferable to living under any other government, it's preferable for all those areas where the government is least efficient: that it is hard to make new laws, that the IRS does not make every possible effort to seize your money (unless you're the star of a classic libertarian film and they decide to make an example of you), that the courts have enough belief in the superstition of individual rights to tie up the will of the majority for years. These are conservative ideas, rooted in the fallen nature of the world, the non-perfectibility of human beings and the need to preserve free will as the precursor to true salvation.

So what does the conservative compromise with big government get you, except a promise of public savings that has never been fulfilled in history?

Also, is "raise your game" a British or American idiom? With even decent Americans talking about the "run-up" to this and the "spot on" nature of that, I can't tell anymore. Cheerio!