In his recent article in The Spectator, David Cameron tells us that “the public must be given a core reason to vote not just against Labour but for the Conservative Party.” He goes on to provide one central idea which provides such a core: the Conservatives will “usher in a new post-bureaucratic age” – made possible by the “information revolution”, which enables “a massive transfer of power from central government agencies to individuals and local communities.”
But the word “bureaucratic” refers to management in government and the public sector. (Profit management, the whole basis of economic calculation and efficiency, is available only in the private sector.) In fact the “post-bureaucratic age”, at least in the West, came about during the 18th century, propelled in particular by Adam Smith. Hobbled as it now is, Smith’s “invisible hand” is the most powerful information system the world has ever seen, bar none. The internet is a mere sideshow which enhances knowledge of whatever market signals are allowed by the bureaucrats. And as government grows, the internet is increasingly likely to become a tool for officials to achieve their own objectives.
To be truly post-bureaucratic and move “from state to society” (another of Cameron’s favourite phrases) Cameron needs only to dismantle the former, abolishing or selling it piece by piece, aiming to cut both spending and taxes by say 50% in his first term and the same again in his second. This will allow an explosion in the division of labour and genuine market prices – prices which people can act upon (rather than just vaguely talk about in their “communities”). In this way the “society” bit will look after itself.
Instead, he talks about redistributing the proceeds of taxes at current levels (or worse) amongst the aforementioned “communities” – which in practice would naturally be taken over by local government or other bully boys such as Jack in The Lord of the Flies, or Napoleon in Animal Farm.
Terry Arthur is the author of Crap: A Guide to Politics.