Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Folly of Choice

Folly care of the Sham Castle, Bath.

Mark Ravenhill makes an interesting point today:

What I want is a nice politician who'll say: "I'll offer you one school, one hospital, one justice system - and it'll be well-funded and well-run. And we'll fund the service by cutting all that admin bollocks it takes to offer you choice."

He's quite right of course. Ask a group of people if they would rather have a choice or not have a choice, most of them will say they prefer choice. But if you ask the more relevant question, from the perspective of the Blairite public services agenda, of whether you would prefer one good alternative or the choice between three or four or five inadequate ones, not many people will say 'Yes Mr. Tony, we choose choice'. And choice costs. It costs in administration, in duplication, in measuring the alternatives so you can provide statistics to guide the choice, in marketing, in all sorts of crap that is totally irrelevant to actually providing health care or education or a legal system. I wonder how much it costs, and how much better the system could be without that spending?

The problem with a lack of choice is that things can sometimes go wrong. If you offered a choice, it was the chooser's fault they picked a surgeon who didn't know their pancreas from their prick, or a school run by a group of 13 year old hooligans, or a lawyer who thinks Tort is a kind of Austrian cake. Nothing is ever the government's fault. That is why Mr. Tony liked it: no accountability. But that does not make it a good idea. Next time some idealogue from the left or right offers you a choice, ask how much offering it costs.

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