Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Money for no rope

Apart from reminding us yet again of his vile crimes, the recent death of Ian Brady raises a wider issue.

Capital punishment for murder was suspended in Great Britain in 1965 and abolished in 1969. The likely motive was to remove it from the political stage, but another effect has been to monetise murder. Governments have done this kind of thing forever, they monetise certain social issues and in so doing they build inertia into the status quo. In doing that they build acceptance.

For example. Recently Mrs H and I were discussing how personal interests might subtly affect the activities of publicly funded bodies such drug enforcement agencies. It has been said before but has not been said often enough – where is the enforcement agent’s personal motive to reduce the scale of the drugs problem?

This is not to claim that the problem is resolvable or that enforcement is lax, but if drug abuse were to vanish with the wave of a magic wand then jobs would vanish too. Jobs which pay the mortgage, buy food, clothes, fuel, holidays, car and a hundred other consumer goodies. For enforcement agencies, perpetuating the status quo is rational behaviour. If the drugs situation worsens, government may be forced to try another approach. If the situation improves, budgets may be cut and fewer enforcement agents required.

In this respect whole swathes of publicly funded activity are much the same. Money is spent on a social issue and that spending benefits the agency tasked with keeping the issue below the political radar. As long as it suits the agency to keep it there of course. On occasions it may not.

The environment is another example. Natural waters in the UK are generally in a better condition than they have been for several centuries. Pollution from the industrial revolution is mostly under control and rivers are not the open sewers they often were in the past.

So what? So new environmental problems have to be found if controlling agencies are to keep their budgets. Climate change, air pollution, endocrine disrupters, dioxins, landfill, fly tipping, recycling. Some of these problems are more legitimate than others and looking after our environment is the right thing to do but those budgets are a key driver to what is done and why. They lead to the exaggerations, the overblown rhetoric, the dubious links to cancer and other health horrors. It’s the way government does these things.

Governments know all this because they are run by senior bureaucrats who need to maintain their budgets and their slice of the status quo. They have their personal incomes and index-linked pensions to protect. There is no great imperative to make things radically better - where would the imperative come from?

And so we return to the Ian Brady abomination. Leaving aside arguments for and against capital punishment, many incomes are linked to keeping people such as Brady incarcerated for decades. Lawyers, bureaucrats, prison officers, doctors, psychiatrists, administrators, publishers and the media. Paltry amounts of money in the overall scheme of government spending, but this is how governments do these things. 


Sam Vega said...

In the early 1980s I had a friend whose role was to find work for the long-term unemployed. One day he said to me "I've just realised that if they ever managed to get rid of unemployment, I'd be out of a job!"

A fine article, AKH. Running such agencies must be a finely-judged performance of managing supply and demand. Too little work, and you lobby to expand your remit. Too much, and you lobby for more resources. All that lobbying is hard work, though, so one needs to develop the knack of just keeping things ticking over. That keeps you popular with your staff and with your political bosses, and leads to gongs at the end of the career...

The Jannie said...

I read somewhere that money was the reason for various US states abolishing the death penalty. It's cheaper to keep a crim for the rest of his life than to pay the lawyers bills for never-ending appeals.

Henry Kaye said...

Almost all of those people with some degree of influence are motivated by self interest.

wiggiatlarge said...

"Paltry amounts of money in the overall scheme of government spending,"

But is it, we are often fobbed off when government is questioned about the amount of money spent on health tourism as being "insignificant" on the ground personnel say very different things.
That is just one example and there are endless examples of so called small amounts spent by public sector bodies on items and personnel that would never be considered necessary outside of that sector, the total, I doubt anyone really knows it has all become the norm.

Sackerson said...
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Sackerson said...

At some point in jail, Brady ceased wanting to live, and from then on was force fed daily. But I'm not sure capital punishment would have deterred him from committing his crimes, either, bearing in mind he started long before its abolition.

A K Haart said...

Sam - yes that's how it works. Maybe the recent NHS computer debacle was not as serious as we were told, but was used as an opportunity to apply political pressure during the election.

Jannie - probably so - some states seem to have opted for the worst of both worlds.

Henry - and always were, but it is not widely acknowledged because of that same self interest.

Wiggia - I agree, it probably adds up to stupendous sums. I was merely writing about incarcerating murderers.

Sackers - I don't think it would have deterred him either.