As we can all observe these days there’s one of those regular upsurges in the idea that we can plan our way to economic wealth. If we just put all the bright people – self-defined bright, naturally – into offices where they can tell the rest of us what to do then everything will be better. We’ll do away with that chaos and inefficiency of markets and competition.
No, really, just look at the things people say about the NHS. A national, coordinated service is more efficient than one which contains markets. So we’re told at least. And that is those people insisting that central planning is more efficient than markets. We did actually try this of course. Scientific socialism was, from perhaps the turn of the 19th century onwards, regarded as being more efficient, because of that planning, than the waste of markets. Then we got to 1989 and that idea rather died the death. We’ve now an entire generation who’ve grown up after that explosive disproof of the contention. So, we’ve an entire generation of rubes willing to believe that planning works, haven’t we?
At which point this fun little story about British Summer Time:
When the clocks go forward next weekend, it will bring not only lighter evenings, but a general sense of wellbeing and fewer accidents on the roads.
Yet researchers have discovered British Summer Time is having an unexpectedly negative and costly impact for the NHS.
Psychologists at Lancaster and York Universities have found that when the clocks go forward more people miss their hospital appointments.
In fact, patients are five per cent more likely to fail to turn up than on a usual week. Although the figure may seem small, there are around 150,000 missed NHS appointments each week, so even a small increase could see an extra 1,000 missed appointments.
Lead author Dr David Ellis said: “We have been doing a lot of research looking at what makes people miss appointments. We’ve looked a the effects of different days of the week, or different socioeconomic groups and now we have found a new reason.
“We found more people missed their appointments after the clocks moved forward in spring.
“It could be that people are simply mixing up times and turning up too late. Or it could actually be the extra sleepiness makes it more difficult to attend appointments.
“Missed appointments represent a significant financial issue for healthcare systems and have an adverse impact on patient care. It may help to schedule fewer appointments in the week after the clocks go forward.”
No, don’t get fixated upon the details here, just regard the concept. An important part of which is:
Each hospital outpatient appointment costs £120 so missed sessions represent a significant financial issue for the NHS and have a negative impact on patient care. In the last financial year, there were eight million missed appointments.
There is a financial loss – a pure economic loss that is – from BST. There are also benefits – peeps like longer evenings even if nothing else happens. But note the important point here.
We’ve been having BST for just over a century. We’ve been having the NHS for 70 odd years. And we’re only just finding out about this effect of BST on the NHS just now. A 70 year delay upon information is a bit of a bugger for attempts to plan, isn’t it?
Note also that we’re still not really sure what the net effect is. An economic gain or an economic loss? How many other little ripples of effect are there through the economy from the time change? Both positive and negative, of course.
That is, Hayek was right. The centre just never can have enough information to be able to plan the economy in anything close to real time. That we’re 70 years late in even spotting this cost is a good enough example of that. Economic planning in any form of detail simply doesn’t work just because we cannot know what the detail is.