But it has not been a pointless exercise. Two-thirds of ideas come from public servants themselves, who may not suggest abolishing their own jobs, but do come forward with good practical savings drawn from experience: water cooler and paper savings, IT procurement, modifications to telephone exchanges, making people pay for frivolous freedom of information requests to deter time wasted on costing the flying of flags. A councillor calls for his allowances to be cut, a police officer for short cuts to charging people with minor offences. What\’s striking is their sincerity and earnestness. These are not \”sod the government\” responses from a workforce about to have a million members brutally sacked, but a reminder that large numbers of public servants care about doing their jobs well.
That tallies with my own experience, taking low-paid jobs while researching my book Hard Work. I was struck time and again at how even agency workers – outsourced and not a part of the schools, hospitals, nurseries or nursing homes where they worked – strove to do their best, often against the odds, with the wrong equipment, inept managers or rules that were obstacles to kindness. They were more frustrated by waste or hindrances to good work than by their own rotten terms and conditions. Most took a pride in their jobs that went under-recognised: a strong flavour of that pride emerges in these ideas.
I don\’t doubt a single word of it. However, it is important to point out what this means.
Hayek was right.
Knowledge is local, the bits and pieces of information we need to make things work better (in the economists\’ jargon, what we need to know so that we can improve productivity) reside with those actually doing the things that are being done.
Those bits and pieces of knowledge do not reside with the planners in their offices in Whitehall. They are dispersed, distributed, among the toilers at the coal face.
Which means that Hayek was right.
We cannot plan our public services in the centralised manner that we do: or rather, we cannot plan them as we do and have any hope if having said public services efficiently delivered nor with that efficiency increasing. For the knowledge we would need to be able to plan such is not held centrally, cannot be held centrally, so we cannot plan centrally.
Thus Hayek was right.
If such central planning is not possible, as Polly has pointed out to us, then we are forced to fall back to the only other method of economic organisation we have, that of markets.
So Hayek really was right.
The amusement of course comes from it being Polly Toynbee who provides us (absolutely correctly) with the evidence with which to prove this contention. It is the little people who know how to run things better. So Polly has just proven that Hayek was right while she would insist to her last breath that of course Hayek was wrong.