Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fleashing out Liberal musings 

Its not easy being Liberal, and we have to struggle on with public debates that ignore or travesty our views. So we should celebrate columnists like the Observers Simon Caulkin who often raise and illuminate arguments that resonate with us. Take this for example:

….the public sector is in the grip of a central planning regime of a rigidity and incompetence not seen since Gosplan wrote Stalin's Five-Year Plans…name another government since Leonid Brezhnev's that prescribes 198 targets for local government, numbers and postings of junior doctors, reading methods for teachers in primary schools, cleaning techniques used in hospitals
and how GPs should organise their appointment diaries.

(198 reasons we are in this terrible mess. Observer, 9 March 2008)

But there is more. Caulkin is also scathing about a private sector where

…market rules are so degraded that it has become the role of companies in the real economy, some built up over decades, to act as chips tossed around by high rollers in the City supercasino.

The central point of the column is to discuss a theory put out by the late great Jane Jacobs on two approaches to economic and social organisation. Each is upheld by a distinct ‘moral syndrome’.

commerce thrives on a syndrome of honesty, competition, respect for contracts, initiative and enterprise, optimism, thrift, willingness to collaborate and agree, and avoidance of force.
The other syndrome, which Jacobs dubs the 'guardian' syndrome because it derives from territorial protection, by contrast emphasises loyalty, honour, tradition, prowess, exclusivity and the distribution of largesse. Trading is anathema to it.

We need both Caulkin says, agreeing with Jacobs,

…the disastrous results of the GP contract can be traced directly to the government's determination to turn an essentially guardian organisation into a commercial one….The point about the syndromes is that one isn't better than, or replaceable by, the other: they're symbiotic. It follows that the ability to navigate between them, maintaining their integrity but knowing when to switch, is vital. If, as Jacobs suggests, such a capability is a mark of civilisation, we can only conclude we are going in the opposite direction to what New Labour intended: backwards.

The whole thing needs to be read. Interesting to do so while digesting the points made in Nick Clegg’s latest Conference speech…

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A very thoughtful analysis of great value.

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