Respect to Steve Hilton, the mysterious genius behind David Cameron\’s \”big society\”: his widely ridiculed vision has already lasted a good year longer than any of its critics predicted. Few thought it would make it past the election campaign, during which the power of this phrase to send voters into a state of catatonic indifference was so resoundingly demonstrated that there was speculation among lifelong insomniacs that a cure might finally be in sight.
Yet to judge by the energy with which Cameron instantly began promulgating the new Hiltonia, you would think every one of the coalition\’s inadvertent supporters had spent the election campaign pleading for the right to take over libraries, post offices, buses and all the other services whose new, amateur-run status will, according to the big society\’s prophets, transform our blighted land into a place of universal philanthropy.
For all of these things which are so valued, the libraries, buses, yes, even the post offices, did in fact start out as things voluntarily done by private individuals. As did unemployment insurance, pensions, sickness insurance, building societies, schools and….well, the list goes on.
And so of course did armies, police forces and criminal law.
That we\’ve found out by trial and error that giving the State a monopoly of that latter set is a good idea is one thing. But to then go on to say that everything which the State does currently do/monopolise is thus also a good idea is another.
What actually is wrong with attempting to rerun a few of these decisions? On things which may or may not be better done by the little platoons and those which must be done with the coercive powers of taxation?
After all, if we find that people are not willing to do certain thing voluntarily, that they must be coerced into them, this is evidence that people do not value these things sufficiently to have them done. And if people do not value them suficiently to have them done then perhaps they shouldn\’t be done at all?
And yes, I would extend this to armies: if a State cannot convince, without coercion, enough of its people to fight for it then perhaps that State should indeed fall. Conscription being the evidence that not enough people will risk their lives for that way of life.
Perhaps the same should be true of libraries? If not enough people will voluntarily contribute to them, run them, then why should people be involuntarily taxed in order to provide them?
Both Boots and Andrew Carnegie showed that there are alternative and viable models.