In the Daily Telegraph last month, Melissa Kite wrote an amusing article about Gordon Brown’s most recent Tsars – Martha Lane Fox as “champion for digital inclusion” and Sir Alan Sugar as “enterprise Tsar”. She points out that we’ve also had Tsars for dealing with drugs, respect, fuel poverty, films and emergencies.
However in suggesting that “these jobs should be done by ministers” as opposed to unelected and unaccountable policy-makers, I hope that Melissa is still in fun mode, because such “jobs” shouldn’t be done by anybody. A Tsar (I prefer Czar, more in line with the original Caesar) is essentially a dictator or a would-be-dictator in the relevant field, whereas private enterprise is a permanent discovery process within a genuinely free market – as Martha Lane Fox at least must surely know.
A list of Czars I kept whilst writing my book includes David Arculus (Red Tape), Kate Barker (Planning), Sir Liam Donaldson (Medicine), Peter Gershon (Waste), Sir Michael Lyons (Local Taxes), Paul Myners (Pension Schemes), Ron Sandler (Investment), Lord Stern (Global Warming), Lord Turner (Pensions Policy) and Derek Wanless (NHS). Several of these have received knighthoods or other honours for their efforts and several have been called to arms (the military invocation is apt) at least twice.
Nearly all of these worthies were or are businessmen or women who should have known better than to succumb to political temptation. I can’t think of any of their reports/recommendations which have proved to be in any way worthwhile. Those who conducted reviews in fields where I have specialist knowledge, such as pensions and investment, committed some real schoolboy howlers.
Yet politicians, accountable or otherwise, would have been far worse. “Policy-makers” select areas for policy making with no thought whatsoever that they might be better left alone. A good current example is Czar Peter Mandelson.
But the Czar to beat all Czars in terms of carnage wrought is surely John Maynard Keynes, an economics Czar who wasn’t even an economist! One of his contemporaries, F. A. Hayek, was spot on in his article “The Use of Knowledge in Society“, in which he showed that much knowledge is diffused across all society and accessible only via the market prices such knowledge conveys.