Magazine article The Spectator

Money Down the Drain

Magazine article The Spectator

Money Down the Drain

Article excerpt

The polls show that the majority of Tory voters approve of Gordon Brown's tax increases to pay for improvements to the National Health Service. The Tory party should ignore the polls, and attack both increases in tax and expenditure. It should do so because they are wrong, both in theory and in practice.

Half a century is long enough for a healthcare system to prove itself. The NHS, far from being the envy of the world, is now the laughing-stock of Europe; for no other country of comparable wealth needs to export its patients to its neighbours so that they may have their hernias repaired. By increasing the funds for the NHS, and continuing to treat it as holy, the government is acting like an alcoholic who blames everything but his consumption of alcohol for his woes.

There is absolutely no doubt about the ability of a state-run monopoly to absorb huge quantities of funds without producing any improvement whatever in the service offered. We now spend four times as much per child on education as we did in 1950: but the level of basic literacy and numeracy has fallen rather than risen. The nurses have already indicated that they will demand a large share of Mr Brown's pot of gold, and no doubt other sectors of the workforce will follow suit in the sacred name of parity. The first fruit of Mr Brown's 'generosity' with our money will therefore be strikes and industrial upheaval, as the workers struggle nobly to get their hands on the loot.

The second fruit of Mr Brown's generosity will be increased bureaucracy, because ostensibly he wants to ensure that the increased funds are not wasted. He has already proposed yet more structures to monitor and audit the use of these extra funds. In a state monopoly such as the NHS, however, all attempts to reduce waste and inefficiency increase them, because bureaucracies do not abolish themselves but seek to increase their size and powera fact by now so sufficiently clear that even Mr Brown must know it. In effect, therefore, his tax increases represent a transfer of resources from the productive part of the economy to the state bureaucracy, a sector of society that has the great advantage, from Mr Brown's point of view, of supporting the Labour party at elections. In the name of trying to bring our cancer treatment up to the level of Greece's, he is practising the politics of patronage, just as surely as any corrupt Latin American dictator.

To give bureaucrats charge of large sums of money is in itself an open invitation to waste, because modern bureaucrats and their political masters do not understand that to give away other people's money without their consent is not so much generosity as a combination of theft and profligacy. …

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