You don’t have to look far to find those who think we should have more government. It’s perhaps only the last 10% of the Tory Party hanging on to the fringe which argues that perhaps we’ be better off with fewer grand plans. Everyone else is arguing not whether there should be more government but just which particular plan that power of the state should thrust upon us. Much the same is true elsewhere too. We seem caught in a politics which has given up on the basic questions and is stuck in a how d’we spend the loot rather than is it ours to spend loop.
Quite why this is so is somewhat puzzling. We’ve had the recent report into the home insulation schemes which tell us what we should have known already:
But much more than theory or haggling over technical details, we have excellent empirical evidence that a Green New Deal just does not work. It’s been tried, twice, on different sides of the world and it didn’t work either time.
The first time it was Australia. The global recession hits, so as a nice bit of Keynesian pump-priming they figured: Why not insulate the houses of the nation and thereby protect, or even limit, climate change? This plan from the central government meant that every bodger, crook, and incompetent got grants and tax money to ruin houses. They even had a Royal Commissionto tell us all what a disaster it was. It is not a usual belief that either Britain or the U.S. have fewer chancers than Australia.
Despite this report, the British government decided to do the same thing. A central plan, with targets, disbursing rivers of tax money, to insulate the houses of the nation. This was then done so badly that there are fears that as many as a million houses have been ruined, and certainly thousands have been turned into entirely useful mushroom farms and not useful dwellings.
Government simply doesn’t work at this level of detail would be a useful conclusion. And yet people do still insist on ever more such plans:
Consumers face paying half a billion pounds more than expected for the rollout of smart meters and the programme has no chance of hitting its deadline, the UK’s spending watchdog has warned.
The National Audit Office said that with 39m old-fashioned meters yet to be replaced, there is “no realistic prospect” of meeting a goal of all homes and businesses being offered one by the end of 2020 as planned.
In a damning report on the £11bn infrastructure project, the group said that energy suppliers were expecting just 70-75% of households and small businesses to have a smart meter by then.
It’s not actually that difficult a task. We know exactly where every electricity meter in the country is. We’ve even got wires leading from central points to each and every one of them allowing a Theseus and Minotaur search process. And yet a simple rolling process of replacement is beyond government to plan, undertake or even design so implementation is possible.
The report was strongly critical of the government allowing 12.5m first-generation smart meters, known as SMETS1, to be installed – more than twice as many had been expected by this point.
Yep, they even insisted upon the installation of things they knew would need to be replaced stat. One of the more hilarious idiocies is that this is all about being Green, saving power, the bright new dawn of renewables. These meters not being able to take account of home generated power from solar cells. Seriously, go figure.
Certainly, there are some things that must be done, some that can only be done by government. There’s even a select class that both must be done and can only be done by government. But as we can see, government’s not very good at doing things.
Another way to put this is sure, there are some things that markets unadorned don’t do well. But that’s not sufficient to then conclude that government must do this or these things. For our choice is between how markets do it not very well and which manner governments will screw it up. There is no platonic ideal process of government which is the alternative to messy reality.
Or to put it simply, given how badly government cocks things up why do people want more of it?