Efficiency for Citizenship

Greater efficiency comes from putting the right money in the hands of citizens directly.

Efficiency is not just technical, it is political. What is seen as waste depends upon your perspective. If we are powerful we tend to think that any money spent on us is money well spent. But if we look at services from the perspective of the citizen then it is clear that the current welfare state is very inefficient.

Public services are organised according to the Professional Gift Model. Government directs taxes towards distinct public services, commissioners further contract with services and those services are then delivered as a gift for people who need them. 

But this process brings with it a series of major risks:

It is interesting to note that this citizen-perspective is often absent from economic discussions. Instead there is a tendency to treat given blocks of public services: schools, day centres, hospitals or whatever as inherently good. If the question of efficiency arises at all it is framed in terms of the cost of the input necessary to achieve the given service. 

However there are three different ways of achieving increased efficiency:

All these forms of efficiency are relevant to a discussion of efficiency in public services and there are strong reasons to believe that a shift towards increased levels of self-direction will tend to increase efficiency. In fact one of the most useful ways of thinking about the shift towards self-direction is provided by the idea of pull economics - instead of pushing resources into goods or services which we hope people will get value from we enable people to pull multiple resources together to create greater social value:

None of this means that there are not better and worse ways of enabling people to be in control and of getting increased social value. However these considerations provide reason to demand a strong explanation from any shift of power and resources away from people themselves. We cannot blithely assume that other people are capable of bring the same energy, expertise or commitment to someone else’s life as that person would bring themselves. And where people may lack some capacity to act in their own best interests we must take immense care to ensure that their representatives will have the most energy, motivation and relevant knowledge.

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Efficiency for Citizenship © Simon Duffy 2011.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.

Inspiration | 01.08.10

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