A Step Too Far?
Jarrett, H. R., Contemporary Review
WHEN I was an undergraduate I used to do what thousands of other undergraduates have always done; I worked during the long vacation to earn some money to supplement my meagre store of that valuable commodity. In those days there were no mandatory grants and I borrowed from my Local Authority to enable me to pursue my course which is why I find the financial expectations and the demands of undergraduates today singularly unappealing. What you have to struggle for you value; what comes easily is frequently undervalued.
One summer I worked for some weeks on a building site as a junior assistant to the quantity surveyor. I helped him with his measurements after which we calculated how much material we would need to order for this job or for that. I found the work congenial and it was a refreshing experience to mix with men of a totally different stamp from those among whom I moved at university. But there was one fly in this structural ointment: the site manager. He was hopeless at his job. He dithered and vacillated and generally caused mayhem. It sometimes required the greatest efforts on the part of the departmental heads such as my boss, the quantity surveyor, to keep things on an even keel.
For some time I puzzled over this. How on earth had such a man ever been appointed to such a responsible post? The question was quickly answered when I asked one of my seniors about it. |As Clerk of Works'. came the reply, |he was excellent. He knew the job thoroughly and was a great success. It was not surprising that he was moved up a notch to become Site Manager. Unfortunately this proved to be a step too far for him up the ladder and he has never managed to make a success of his promotion'.
The moral is clear. We all have our ceilings of attainment. Below these ceilings we may make a great success of whatever we do, but if circumstances raise us above our particular ceiling disaster strikes. We are out of our depth and strive as we may we just cannot cope. Many lives of great apparent promise have been ruined in this way.
What was true on that building site is true in our social and political life. Even the ablest politician has his ceiling and if he rises above it disaster for himself and possibly for his country may well follow. This is why I have always been against socialism which, by its very nature, involves the greater participation in, or interference with (choose your term according to taste) the life of a country. This in turn leads to the assumption of responsibility for a wide range of public affairs and gives rise to the further assumption that the Government is in control of these affairs. The fact is that generally it is not and cannot be, but after a few decades of such indoctrinisation people generally come to believe that it is, and their expectations of government powers and responsibility are raised to impossibly high levels.
This has been demonstrated very clearly in the case of the depression, or recession if you prefer the politer word, out of which we are slowly climbing. Any competent economist knows that cycles of booms and slumps, or recessions, have occurred throughout modern times in the western world and there is little that governments can do to avoid them. It is probably fair to say that whenever governments have tried to shape economic events, situations have worsened and recessions have become deeper and longer. This was the case, for instance, when Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, took this country back on to the gold standard in 1925. Unfortunately, he set the rate of exchange between sterling and gold too high and this was undoubtedly a contributory cause leading to the great depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. A comparable recent example was the dogged adherence of Mr. Major's government to participation in the rackety ERM which again had the effect of deepening and prolonging the present depression unnecessarily. The course of twentieth century history is littered with similar examples.
This kind of calamity is to be expected whenever politicians over-reach themselves, a failing to which parliamentarians are particularly prone. If a small businessman makes a mistake in running his business the effects are very limited. Serious they may be to himself and his family but probably to no one else. If the manager of a chain store makes a mistake, the results are likely to be far reaching and can affect the lives of hundreds. But if a government minister makes a mistake the lives of almost everyone in the country can be adversely affected. In fact it is unlikely that any government today or in the future in this country is likely to command general satisfaction as long as these governments are saddled with such a wide range of responsibilities and politicians continue to over-reach themselves.
Probably we shall never know to what extent contemporary domestic bureaucracy has bettered or worsened the lot of citizens subject to its powers. I have grave doubts, for example, about the value of the contribution made to our well-being by the Welfare State, heretical as such a thought may be. Some Years ago, to take one example, Professor Milton Friedman, in a book written jointly with his wife, Free to Choose, argued that |The main effect (of the NHS) has been simply to raise the costs of medical and health services without any corresponding improvement in the quality of medical care'. This assessment certainly agrees with my own experience for in the days before the NHS my mother insured the whole family for the princely sum of three pence a week (3d in old money would be 1 1/4 pence today!). For this amount we were all. fully covered. One effect of the NHS has been to produce a service which most people are quite unable to opt out of because of the heavy cost of private insurance; the service which was within the reach of almost everyone has gone.
Yet the simple lesson demonstrated in this example seems to be beyond our reasoning and despite the fact that thus far few politicians have shown any great aptitude in running the affairs of their own countries efficiently, they now with staggering confidence are engaged in the creation of a European supra-national government with powers far exceeding those of any previous administration. The lives of millions are now subject to the dictates of an irresponsible (in the sense that it is responsible to no one but itself) body which ceaselessly seeks to promulgate more and more laws designed to constrain the freedom of action of all citizens subject to its jurisdiction. This is why I voted against participation in Europe in the referendum held before we actually joined the Community. Such participation delivered us into the thrall of a bureaucracy and bureaucracies by their very nature seek to pass restrictive laws, many of which in the case of Europe are enacted in the sacred name of |level playing fields' or |harmonisation'.
Have we really become such a nation of deaf mutes that we have forgotten that the whole point of harmony is that it results from a combination of different notes? Without tonal variation there is no harmony. What our bureaucrats and planners are aiming at is a dreary series of cultural monotones which will destroy large segments of life's variety and richness. Anyone who believes that this process can be halted as long as bureaucracy remains is sadly deluding himself for the passing of new legislation is the sole reason for the bureaucrats' existence. They must be seen to be busy simply to justify their existence. We have come a long way from the days of Trollope's Palliser novels when the Duke of Omnium, the Prime Minister of the day, remarked to one of his colleagues that his government had not passed a law for a very long time, and to reassure the electorate that they still were actually governing they had better pass one before Parliament went into recess. Today we have forgotten those liberally minded times and we have likewise forgotten the warning given by another of Trollope's characters in Phineas Finn, that |A faineant government is not the worst government that England can have. It has been the great fault of our politicians that they have all wanted to do something'.
In 1931 Professor Macneile Dixon wrote an essay on |The English Genius' which included the following description of what he considered to be the typical Englishman. |. . . government of any kind irks him. He may grumblingly and good-naturedly submit to it, but it irks him ... Governments are interfering bodies and are hateful to us ... We rejected the Papacy, we rejected the Stuarts ... we rejected Cromwell's autocracy, all for the same reason. Probably we are more docile than of old, but if democracy becomes tyrannical we may turn upon democracy'.
Perhaps there is hope here for the future, but time is short. So far the European Colossus has succeeded in doing what Hitler never did; it is slowly crushing the life out of our ability to govern ourselves and is taking control of the destiny of this country. Where are the Englishmen who will stand up and be counted and deliver us from this wrangling monster before the whole ramshackle edifice which it inhabits comes crashing down in disaster? Or are we doomed to become like Greece, yesterday's men inhabiting yesterday's country because politicians cannot see that they have gone a step too far?…
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Publication information: Article title: A Step Too Far?. Contributors: Jarrett, H. R. - Author. Magazine title: Contemporary Review. Volume: 263. Issue: 1532 Publication date: September 1993. Page number: 150+. © 1999 Contemporary Review Company Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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