All Hail Tractor Production!

We\’ve all heard the stories about how the Soviet planning targets were reached…..if they said 10,000 tonnes of shoes then you got one large concrete one. Slightly less exaggerated is this true story….at least, the person who told it to me, Richard Layard, insists it was true and as he was working on statistics in the Ministry of Foreign Trade at the time, I\’ll take him at his word.

At the end of the Soviet period the Ministry in charge of tractor production (yes, there really was one) didn\’t know how many tractors were being produced. They knew the tonnage, yes, but they didn\’t know whether the 430,000 tonnes (that\’s just a number sticking in my mind) was made up of 100,000 4.3 tonne ones, 430,000 1 tonne ones or 1,290,000 1/3 of a tonne ones. Targets were set by tonnage and by Lenin that\’s what was going to be met.

Officers are having to put Home Office targets before serving the public and are becoming increasingly alienated from ordinary people as a result.

The public find officers to be "rude" and accuse them of neglecting their duties and failing to respond to reports of crime.

The report, by the think-tank Civitas, said political interference meant incidents that might previously have been regarded as innocuous were now treated as crimes.

Police performance is measured in “sanction detections” which means officers have detected or cleared a case by charging someone, issuing a penalty notice or giving a caution. Many officers are expected to complete a certain number each month.

Arresting or fining a normally law-abiding person for a trivial offence is a good way of achieving the target and pleasing the Home Office.

There\’s a certain similarity there, isn\’t there? Set a target for "sanction detections" and that\’s what you\’ll get, and the incentives for the people meeting the targets is to sanction or detect the things which it is easiest to do. I\’ve said before that I don\’t think Brown and the other New Labourites really understand microeconomics….they simply don\’t get the point that incentives matter and it\’s important to have said incentives aligned with the actual product or output desired.

What\’s so annoying about targetting the police in this manner is that we\’re not actually interested in the number of crimes either sanctioned or detected: we\’re interested in the number prevented by police presence or the actions of the criminal justice system. We actually want the incentive to be for a policeman to go out wandering about for 8 hours, sup tea, chew doughnuts, chat to people, help old ladies across the road and arrest, charge or caution nobody. For no crimes have been committed.

Yes, of course, that too is a fantasy of a world that never was and never will be but that is the situation we want to be in, our goal, and so our incentives need to be aimed at coaxing at least an attempt to reach it out of the police themselves. So we\’ve got the incentives entirely misaligned.

But to the larger point about targets. How did we end up with a group of politicians who looked around the world, searching for models for action, who then alighted upon the very worst system, the Soviet one?

Just as an exercise, they could for example have looked at another strand of domestic Labour thinking….the communitarian one perhaps? Coming from the same roots as the friendly societies, the idea that a community both aided its memebers, joined together to provide insurance to each other, even, (again, it never really quite like this) policed itself. But that would require that the police are run by said community, something anathema to the centralisers we have in power now, isn\’t it?

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