Friday, May 27, 2005

A Thought Experiment

The Guardian reports that Blair hits out over 'absurd' EU rules. Our great leader has decreed that the compensation culture has created an aversion to risk in the public sector. I thought it might be interesting to read the PMs speech while thinking about only one of our great leaders proposals. I decided to go for the National Identity Register and ID Card Bill. Please do try to play along at home. Do you have the bill in your mind? You do?. Then we are ready to read selected highlights of:
Tony Blair's speech on compensation culture.
It is what I call a sensible debate about risk in public policy making. In my view, we are in danger of having a wholly disproportionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a normal part of life.
Well, I agree, we wouldn't want to get our risks out of proportion. Because if we do:
...The result is a plethora of rules, guidelines, responses to "scandals" of one nature or another that ends up having utterly perverse consequences.
No-one wants that. The PM is really talking sense.
...A natural but wrong response is to retreat in the face of this change. To regulate to eliminate risk. To restrict rather than enable. But we pay a price if we react like this.
I don't want to pay a price for a disproportionate judgement of risk. Well said.
...We seek protection from risks that are exaggerated or even imagined. We allow the conspiracy theorists to dictate the argument without a basis in fact. Likewise in more mundane areas of public service the idea that it is the job of government to eliminate risk can lead to the elimination of common sense.
Quite right. I'm glad the government doesn't want to eliminate common sense on the basis of exaggerated threats and without basis in fact.
... We cannot guarantee a risk-free life. So what to do? First, recognise the problem. Some public discussion of it helps engender a more sensible debate. Instead of the "something must be done" cry that goes up every time there is a problem or a "scandal", we make it clear we will reflect first and regulate only after reflection.
Reflect first. Good plan.
...We also need a far more rational, balanced and intelligent debate as to how "risk" is debated. Not every "scandal" requires a regulatory response. Bad people will find a way round the law no matter how good the law is.
It's true, those bad people will find a way round any law. A little plastic card isn't going to be much help.
Spending hundreds of millions of pounds to reduce the risk to zero may be a foolish way of prioritising expenditure.
Brilliant. I couldn't have put it better.
... There is usually a seductive logic to any new regulation. There is almost always a case that can be made for each specific instrument. The problem is cumulative. All these good intentions can add up to a large expense, with suffocating effects. Sometimes, we need to pause for a moment and think whether we will not do more damage with a hasty response than was done by the problem itself.
That is exactly what I think. The man is clearly a genius, how did we ever come to doubt him? The hugely expensive, intrusive, and unworkable national identity register and ID card bill is being kicked into the long grass. Huzzah!

Sorry, I didn't quite catch that. What...what do you mean? Did you read his speech? He's still going to force it through, you say? No, you must have misunderstood, go and check again...

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