And so to a question that vexes every vicar addressing a congregation under a leaky church roof, all community groups peering into a long dark tunnel of grant cuts: how do you get the sods to give? To reach into those bulging pockets and hand over their shrapnel?
There\’s more to this problem than the loneliness of the long-distance fete-organiser. For one thing, it lies behind those gripes about the west\’s tight-fisted response to the floods in Pakistan. And the answer is also directly relevant to David Cameron and his ministers.
One way of characterising Cameron\’s grand plan for plugging the hole left by its spending cuts, and for improving schools and other public services is this: just add compassion. In those areas where the state is being cut back, the new government is gambling, fellow-feeling will fill the gap. Or, as now-culture secretary Jeremy Hunt put it to this paper before the election: \”We want to persuade people that giving is not just a duty, but one of life\’s pleasures. It chimes with David Cameron\’s ideas on social responsibility: if you have been successful, you should give something back.\”
When Tory ministers sing such lines, they don\’t just mean endowing a museum with a swanky extra wing, but also setting up a new school or helping to run local amenities. You might call this the Cameron compassion strategy – and a lot is riding on its success.
It depends what you mean by \”success\” really.
Let\’s assume that we really do want those things which people want to be funded to be funded….and we don\’t want those things which people do not want to be funded to be funded. At the one end we\’ve got the yes, of course, absolutely, we want the starving child to be fed, at the other perhaps there\’s not quite so much support for the outreach diversity advisor for one legged lesbian dancers (please do insert your own jocular prejudices here).
So, how would we define \”success\”?
We could say that because even only some people want the ODAfoLLD to be funded, then it is only successful if all of these desires, the entire spectrum are funded.
Another way would be to try and use some system of allowing people to decide what they would fund. Instead of handing over a wodge of cash for the insiders to allocate, people decide upon and allocate their own cash.
If sufficient people decide to fund the starving children, all well and good, just as if sufficient people decide to fund the ODAfoLLD. Excellent, we have revealed preferences, en masse, the population wishes both the kiddies and the advisor to be funded.
However, it might be that we\’re all entirely selfish bastards and that neither get funded….or more likely, that the babbies get fed and the ODAfoLLD is sent hopping.
But any and all of these results can be defined as a \”success\”. Our desire is to find out what people will willingly pay for: being willing to pay for it being the sign that it increases your utility, increases your happiness, by paying for it. So a system which allows people, by allocating their own money, to express what does maximise their personal utility will maximise said utility, make us as a population as happy as we can be.
Which, if we\’re honest about it, is really a rather successful outcome, isn\’t it?
Meaning that the failure of someone\’s pet scheme to get funding is just as much a success as the success of someone else\’s at getting funding: both the failure and the success increase human happiness in aggregate.