Response from Terry Arthur to Brian Moore’s Article of 9th December 2010 (Daily Telegraph)
I hold no brief for Michael Gove, but I suggest that if more politicians used the “language of an accountant” as opposed to that of a vested interest group with regard to a range of issues (school sport, tuition fees, the World Cup, the Olympics, child benefits…) then taxpayers, and indeed the typical citizen, would be far better off.
Mr Moore accuses Mr Gove of flawed reasoning, selective statistics, and disingenuous behaviour, all of which are the stock-in-trade of most politicians, no doubt including Mr Gove. Yet the same qualities are clear in Mr Moore’s comment that the “idiocy” of ending ring-fencing should “be reversed before it wrecks the Olympic legacy and school sport in general”. Which Olympic legacy may that be? Almost without exception, the only legacies from the Olympic Games (in their modern form) have been white elephants, and I happily challenge Mr Moore to prove otherwise. White elephants are the one sure result of nearly all government projects, sporting or otherwise, where vested interests and the desire for grand gestures amongst other motivations determine the allocation of resources.
What is unseen here are the gains from other projects and activities which would have been available had SSPs never existed. For my son, most Olympic events leave him cold, whilst modern international rugby is anathema to him and many others – not least to plenty of mothers around the world who are scared for their sons’ safety even in school rugby. Why should these people have to pay taxes to finance other people’s boondoggles? Come on Brian; you’re a bright chap, and surely you are above the throngs of vested interests who live by stealing from taxpayers. Even within education, there are plenty of other causes which could easily be ranked as equally important to SSPs. How about music and orchestras, debating societies, smaller classes, better teachers (hardly difficult) special educators for children with genuine learning difficulties, and so on? And that’s without touching the almost unbelievable non-education scandals, such as the squalor and dreadful care in many NHS hospitals.
Removing ring-fencing is a step forward because it allows people on the ground running public services (headteachers and so on) to control their own budgets and use their own localised knowledge which is better than central planning. However, we do even better by reducing funding altogether and reducing taxes.
If private sector activities are displaced for new public sector activities, which has been the exception rather than the rule in the last 100 years, the situation is enormously worse.
As I have repeatedly pointed out in several articles over the last decade* an increase in taxes (any taxes) has deleterious net effects on general living standards, because it weakens the division of labour. Just as tariffs on international trade reduce such trade, so do home grown taxes (any such taxes) reduce internal trading, which means a loss of productivity all round. (Under today’s taxes in the UK I estimate this loss to be at least two thirds of the tax involved – straight down the plughole!)
Yet today, with nothing “off limits” from voters, elections are quite simply unseemly advance auctions of stolen goods. The only winners in this auction are those operating scams (like many in the welfare state) and those who are the flavour of the month, SSP or otherwise. And in the long term everybody is a big loser.
* For example my article in Economic Affairs, the Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs, March 2003, Vol. 23.1