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October 21, 2006


strange chris

"The legitimacy of government then falls into doubt"
Shouldn't this be:
"The legitimacy of government action then falls into doubt"?

A small government can exist to keep a few things that really need to be done socially ticking over (e.g. police and the justice) without needing to try (and fail) to social engineer.

Sorry to be a pendant.

james higham

Chris, I take the point: He doesn't ask the big question: is it humanly possible for any minister to possess sufficient judgment to control vast departments?

However, my Min has just returned from the London summit and their organization was such that they were invited to share their knowledge with the British side. I think some Mins can be good.


Is that "end" in the sense of 'purpose'?

Andrew Zalotocky

The fact that "central agencies often lack the knowledge to intervene in society" is certainly a strong argument for small government.

But if the government cannot have sufficient knowledge to "intervene in society" effectively, the opposition parties cannot have the knowledge to propose more effective interventions, and the public cannot have the knowledge to decide what the effects of each party's proposals would be. The blind vote for the blind and we all fall into the ditch.


Great article. Its also interesting the way that judgement has now become the central issue of politics as opposed to ideology- we are called to like our politicians not agree with them partly because they have to judge thousands of things that we never know about. Anyway good post.

Chris Purnell

The clearest demonstration of the inability of Govt to have sufficient knowledge to 'intervene in society' effectively was their "Jamie Oliver" moment last year. Feeding school children is hardly rocket science but school meals, apparently, were helping to create mental instability. Perhaps we should have a Maoist trust the people campaign? I therefore agree with Strange Chris.

Dave Petterson

My question it why are they making decisions anyway?

They are just there to impliment thing according to rules defined by parliament. What real decisions are they making? They are not deciding at what age can people smoke, drink or have sex. They are told it.

Maybe that is the problem. They actually think they are in control and making decisions where they shouldn't be.

It's bad enough thet we generate hundreds of new laws but we don't even inforce the ones we have had for decades. Thou should not steal has not been enforced because they are all chasing 13 year olds for slurs against Muslims.


Sorry Chris,

I don't get your argument. Are you saying that no minister can be any better than the rest? That the only type of minister is the autocrat that insists that all of the decisions emanate from their office?

That may be the kind of minister that hacks like to portray (and maybe because of this, they may be turning into that type) but there is still an orthodox view of how ministers should behave - and it's not that close to your sketch.


Paulie - the autocracy of the particular minister is largely irrelevant to my point. Even a minister who consulted colleagues and advisors widely can make poor judgment; see Irving Janis's Groupthink for a great discussion.
My point is simply that judgments on complex, uncertain matters are beyond most people.
Evidence for this does not come merely from politics; most fund managers under-perform the stock market.
Rather than rely upon judgment of individuals or small groups, we should either trust rules, or the wisdom of crowds, or simply not have government do so much.

Chris Williams

Let us know about the book when it comes out - I'd be interested in reading it. Also let me know if you want to be put in touch with some half-decent observers of NuLab's criminal justice policies.



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