A useful line of inquiry is, when considering whether we desire more government, to consider how well government does what it already does. We can thus get an idea of whether we’d like more of this excellence, possibly less of this incompetence. Obviously, we’re all all for the more excellence and less incompetence option. The important question being whether that’s what more government would bring us. It’s not obvious that it would:
The Home Office has admitted that the number of Windrush people known to have been wrongly deported or detained is likely to rise from the figure of 164, because officials have misclassified a number of affected people as criminals and excluded them from the count.
The admission prompted Labour’s Harriet Harman to accuse the Home Office of “blundering in their attempt to sort out a Home Office blunder”.
As part of its response to the Windrush crisis, the government conducted an official review of 11,800 cases of Caribbean-born people who have been detained or removed since 2002 to assess how many might have been mistakenly targeted despite being legally in the UK.
The home secretary, Sajid Javid, took the decision in August to exclude from that review anyone with a criminal conviction, and announced that there were 164 people who were likely to have been wrongly detained or removed from the UK. However there was unease about the decision not to count those classified as “criminal case types” and confusion about what that classification meant.
The Home Office has now conceded that its “criminal case type” category wrongly included people who had no criminal convictions, and has agreed to revise its calculation of the total number of people mistakenly removed or detained.
The original problem is that government could not, at the level of granularity required, competently work out who should be allowed to stay in the country and who could not. It quite obviously being devastating to individual lives to have the right but not the ability because of said incompetence.
The thing is, well, is this all to do with just having evil people in government? Or we’ve not paid proper attention to the competence of those we elect? Despite the attraction of those explanations – they accord with our general despair at competence of those who go into politics – they’re not actually the correct ones. It’s worse than that. Or better, for the truth gives us the solution:
Thus we should be looking at these grand plans, the Green Deal, the carbon army to climate proof the nation’s housing stock, with more than a slightly jaundiced eye. Not because climate change isn’t real – leave that argument for another day – nor because we shouldn’t be doing anything about it. Not even because better homes might not be a bad idea. But because having the grand plan directed from the centre isn’t the way to do anything.
We’ve direct experience of — proper empirical proof of — the idea that an airy wave of the hand plus an open chequebook from Whitehall just isn’t the way to do it.
The theory is well enough known, if not always agreed with. As economist F.A. Hayek pointed out, government simply never can have the information required to make detailed plans for anything at all. Broad brush stokes of policy are the best that can be achieved, and even then we’ve got to be careful about the consequences of them.
Yes, that’s to leap from immigration to climate change but then that’s the point. Whatever the point or problem government is simply not capable of being accurate to fine levels of granularity. Therefore we’ve got to stop using government to deal with problems that require that fine level of granularity. That is, the way to have more competent government, less incompetence, is simply to have less government. And there is no other method either.
Even a quick look at how well government works tells us that we’d benefit from having less of it. Which is some 95% at least of current political proposals ready for the round filing cabinet under the desk. Useful metric that.