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May 16, 2006

La Polla


Labour's only reason for existing is to stand for fairness, protect the underdog and know that money doesn't buy as much happiness as common social goods. Taxes are good value: health, education, the arts, parks or sports are more precious and pleasurable than anything bought in a shop.

Obviously Polly has yet to be introduced to parts of the Anne Summers catalogue. "More pleasurable" indeed.

The actual argument is not that common social goods are important or not. Of course, they are. But do they have to be provided via taxation? No, they don’t. Can they be provided privately? Well, some cannot, or not without hugely deleterious side effects. Think national defense or criminal legal system here. We can indeed have multiple, competing, armed forces and indeed we have done. Feudalism was an example and we think that having the State with a monopoly of legitimate violence is a rather better solution than private armies with a penchant for taking over the country rather than defending it.

But are health, education, the arts, parks and sports such common social goods that can only be provided by the State. Or even more effectively provided by the State? Obviously not as shown by the list there. Sport is privately provided. The others can be and are privately (in part) provided and amazingly, the standards provided by that private provision seem to be higher than that via taxation.

The error in Polly’s thinking is exactly that. That common social goods can only be provided via taxation. Profoundly nonsensical.

May 16, 2006 in Politics | Permalink


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I suspect when Toynbee says sports, she isn't thinking of going and watching Arsenal, more a case of doing sport yourself. Plenty of facilities for the public are at least part funded by the state. There's a lot of Sports council money sloshing around, some of it actually gets spent on sport. That and exploiting people's gambling addictions supplies a lot of the money needed.

Private education being better standard - state costs per child is £6,382 per pupil (according to the Centre for Policy Studies). Average fees per day school are at around £8,000. So it damn well better be a better standard.

Posted by: Dr Cynic | May 16, 2006 11:56:33 AM

Dr C: those figures do allow, do they, for different proportions in 6th forms, different proportions doing science, the private day schools' need to cover both capital and running costs? I ask because most figures quoted don't.

Posted by: dearieme | May 16, 2006 2:23:39 PM

Just let people opt out of non-core (core being property rights i.e. army, police & judiciary) parts of the state that are exortion funded and see how much people value the things Polly loves.

I have a feeling the revealed demand won't be that high.

Posted by: AntiCitizenOne | May 16, 2006 4:05:27 PM

If you have a park provided by private enterprise, people will have to pay to get in.
So it's excludable, and not a common good.

"Knows economics and can write" my foot.

Or are you implying that the private sector would run free-entry parks solely for the PR? In which case, you are right, they would be common goods; but I have to say I don't think that's very likely.

Tim adds: National Trust?

Posted by: ajay | May 16, 2006 5:51:39 PM

National Trust properties tend to charge for admission, don't they? So not really a common good any more than the Odeon Leicester Square.

Posted by: ajay | May 16, 2006 6:27:29 PM

I find browsing round my local shops, stumbling on a new food find, bearing it triumphantly home and cooking it to be vastly more pleasurable than paying taxes to support some avant-garde Spart in putting on another sodding play about how evil Bush is. I loathe most sport with the exception of cricket and rugby which you can't get here anyway. Polly can go screw herself (or Gordon 'Gobblin' King' Brown).

Ajay: you still have to pay to get into 'free' parks, except you do it involuntarily and if you say 'no thanks, I hate trees' and decline to pay the State will send the wallopers out to make you. Why shouldn't you pay directly and at a flat rate to enjoy a good or service? It's not like Tesco's means-tests you and adjusts your shopping bill accordingly (although no doubt Bloody Stupid Polly thinks they should).

Posted by: David Gillies | May 16, 2006 7:15:04 PM


Were any of the London parks, for example, set up with government funding?

Name a famous hospital in the UK that was set up with government money? You can't because there isn't one they all pre-dated the NHS.

Has the adult literacy rate in this country increased since the state took over most of the eduction system? No, it hasn't.

Posted by: HJHJ | May 17, 2006 7:57:06 AM

I'm not saying whether parks and so on should or shouldn't be common goods (and yes, I know that the government is supported by taxes, thank you). I'm just saying that, if you want parks to be common goods, it's unlikely that the private sector will supply them. It's very good at supplying excludable goods, like cinemas, bicycles, crescent wrenches and textbooks, but not always the best at supplying common goods like national defence.

By the way, the state started funding schools for poor children in England in 1833. I rather think literacy has improved a bit since then.

Posted by: ajay | May 17, 2006 11:26:59 AM


You are wrong about state schooling. For a start, I was talking about state provision, as opposed to state funding. There was no state schooling whatsoever before 1870 and it was introduced by parliament explicitly only to fill in the gaps in independent provision, not to supplant it - over 95% of children received at least 5 years of schooling at this time and the proportion and number of years was increasing.

There is no evidence that literacy rates have increased since then.

Posted by: HJHJ | May 17, 2006 12:58:52 PM