It takes a long time to make changes in public institutions. You have to get enough of the public interested to make it an issue, you might need to get into the media which itself is a hell of a job and even if you do rouse some attention the best most people can hope for is to vote, and they need to vote for one of the package deals on offer. Even if your reform is quite modest and sensible and its benefit is uncontroversial, it may be adopted by a party who have several other ideas on your mind that you disagree with. There is another path, and that is to get a small concentrated number of people who already have a lot of influence to get on board with your ideal and push it through as a bill but even then the matter is not settled; it needs to go through levels of bureaucrats, managers and administrators before the change enters into the system at large and even then many employees will resist the change because they resent being told what to do by central planners.

If we take the example of our education system there has been no small amount of evidence on how to improve it since the 60s when a wave of intellectual idealists from the flower power generation began discussing how “getting things right” when it came to government could change the world. Some of this data has been around for over fifty years, some of it is still coming out. Have these reforms not been adopted for a lack of political will? Yes to a degree but also because of the insurmountable obstacles to mustering the political will. The largest is the simple fact that most people are more comfortable doing what they have always done than doing something new. Doing things differently is anxiety-provoking and it is very irritating to be told or forced to do it by an authority figure, even one who has the evidence on their side, when you think, “Well I have been on the front lines doing it this way my whole life, this is how I was taught to do it in four years of university I think you’ll find I know how its done thank you very much you government busy body.”

One of the reasons why markets are so important, and why products adapt to user preferences far quicker is because only one person needs to be bothered enough to accept a new innovation in order to force all the other providers in their sector to step up and do a better job. They can do that by matching the innovation, by implementing one that is equally valuable, by providing an inferior service but at a lower price, or in numerous other ways – but the fact is they have to step up and serve customers or on average over time they will be out of business. This means people don’t even need to all be receiving the same service or a one-size-fits-all but it does mean that services that are way behind the times will fall out of favour. Public institutions are not under the same pressure to adapt to the times because people cannot divest from them easily since they are funded through the tax system rather than voluntary contributions that can be withdrawn if the service is poor, and also because they have a relative monopoly on the provision of services in their sector which means that people can’t compare their performance to those of competitors who are trying different approaches which may have their own advantages or drawbacks.

People need to have a choice when it comes to services if the quality of services is to increase and not stagnate or fall behind the times. This is not because “ruthless tooth n’ nail capitalist competition drives innovation” but simply without the petri-dish of trial and error which is a multitude of entrepreneurs with different information and ideas trying to sell them to a skeptical public there is really no way of discovering the best way of doing things. No one has all the answers, but many people have some of the answers, and by constantly turning over the soil society learns to combine the best ideas and discard the worst ones over time. The soil of government turns very very slowly and that’s why innovation in the private sector continues (despite various government restrictions on who can innovate) while public institutions stagnate and become more expensive each year while providing poorer standards to the people.

Source: Seeing the Unseen

Antony Sammeroff

Antony Sammeroff

Antony Sammeroff is a therapist, libertarian, and passionate economics writer. Antony is a member of the Scottish Libertarian Party, and co-hosts the Scottish Liberty Podcast.
Antony Sammeroff

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Author: Antony Sammeroff

Antony Sammeroff is a therapist, libertarian, and passionate economics writer. Antony is a member of the Scottish Libertarian Party, and co-hosts the Scottish Liberty Podcast.

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