Saturday, April 9, 2011

Taming Leviathan

From The Economist on public sector unions:
Despite all that rhetoric from the tea-partiers, big government is not just the fault of self-interested bureaucrats and leftist politicians. Conservative voters, even if they don’t like taxes, have kept on demanding that the state does more. Just as the left has built hospitals, announced endless programmes to help the poor and indulged the teachers’ unions, the right has built prisons, announced wars on drugs and terror, and indulged generals, farmers and policemen. And there are also two structural causes of big government. First, productivity in the state sector, especially in fields like education and health, has lagged behind the private sector. And second, there has been a huge increase in “social transfers”, especially benefits for the middle classes and the elderly. …
Merely bringing the useless bits of the public sector up to something close to average would save a fortune and improve services dramatically. And there are also common themes that emerge time and again: pay good staff well; make performance transparent; simplify taxes (see article); and move towards a small core civil service with a lot of competing suppliers for services. …
Benefits that were originally designed for the poor have become sops for the middle class; others are going to the elderly for longer than anyone expected. The “all you can eat” buffet nature of European welfare states not only prompts overconsumption; it also means that even those who do well out of the state have little idea how much it is costing overall. Again, the more transparent and modern the state is, the easier it will be to talk about means-testing currently universal benefits.

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