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September 10th, 2006

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05:39 pm - My political philosophy
I am safely back in Middlesbrough, happy and well. More, relatively short, posts will follow, rather than fewer longer ones.

Sometimes the National Lottery in the UK comes in for criticism because of the way it redistributes 28% of players' entrance fees to a number of charitable causes. Most notably, some media sources who could reasonably be called economically conservative object to some of the projects that the National Lottery (or, more specifically, the funding bodies that the National Lottery supports) has handed out considerable grants to causes of which they did not approve. This article from the Daily Telegraph, making particular example of the award of £340,000 to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns, is reasonably representative.

It seems reasonable to me to draw parallels to people who object to other forms of government spending, particularly at the local level, suggesting that they do not like some of the destinations of public spending that their tax payments went to. I have seen some attempts, possibly in jest, to suggest which government services people were happy to pay for and which they weren't happy to pay for.

As more of a fan of big government than most, I support relatively high public spending and I support big institutional good-cause support rather than many instances of individual small-scale expenditure simply because I think that I do not have, and never can have, a truly informed viewpoint as to where public money should be spent. I particularly welcome the fact that the National Lottery chooses to fund unpopular projects, simply because I do not consider popularity an accurate reflection of a project's worth. This devil's advocacy column points out people who have been given funding for some apparently unusual cultural projects; while I would have been unlikely to choose them as causes to fund, I am happy to defer to experts who are able to see the value of projects where I cannot.

I recognise there are many areas in life where I am not, and never will be, an expert. I would rather leave many decisions to experts, with appropriate oversight, than take them myself; I regard the value of having better decisions taken on my behalf as well worth the cost of any loss of freedom I suffer.

While all of the following hold:
1) I don't want to take this to an extreme,
2) I don't think the current situation is perfect,
3) I do recognise that checks and balances are essential,
4) I recognise that experts can be inappropriately selected, often for partisan reasons, and
5) I recognise that experts can either fail to disagree for good reasons or make sensible-seeming decisions which turn out to be wrong,
I still firmly agree with the principle that experts can know better than me and make better decisions than me in many areas of life, so I am happy to trust public spending and charity fund redistribution to the experts. Accordingly, I regard the viewpoint that "I can spend my money better than the experts" as usually (but not always) being unqualified and therefore arrogant; the unrelated viewpoint of "I may or may not be able to spend my money better than the experts but it's my money so I should get to do so" is so far from my own that I find it hard to have an opinion on it.

In a similar vein, I tend to believe there are many areas of law and public policy where expert opinion can make for far better outcomes than mass individual decision. While I recognise the inherent flaws of both the public sector and the private sector and recognise that the views of experts are often not put into practice for political reasons, I consider the inherent drawbacks of the public sector a smaller price to pay and so would broadly welcome increases in the extent, in many (though not all) fields, to which expert opinion dictates my life at the cost of decreasing the extent to which my inexpert decision dictates it.

Unrelatedly: happy birthday to tobymalfoy and mr_babbage. Pertaining to the latter, I learnt today that ukgameshows.com has its own Wikipedia entry, referencing my very old UK game show web pages. Blimey O'Reilly O'Rourke!
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(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 10th, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC)
Saw the first line somewhere and thought: I only know one person on Boro who isn't a relative (and so it turned out. I hope all is well with you. Sadly I have to report that it isn't with me- spent most of the summer being seriously ill after a stroke.Probably ought to write up a summary for my LJ, but am currently spending a lot of time asleep.
[User Picture]
Date:September 10th, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)
Oh no; I'm so sorry to hear it. Mother had a stroke in about 1990. South Tees Hospital (as was - the old grounds on Ayresome Green Lane) treated her very well, but the NHS never did much follow-up work. These days James Cook University Hospital is so much better than South Tees and the NHS can afford to check up on people, so I feel confident that you should get (and have got, and continue to get) much better treatment. All the same, as a local, if there's anything I can do or bring to help, do let me know.
[User Picture]
Date:September 10th, 2006 09:16 pm (UTC)
Thank You! :D
[User Picture]
Date:September 11th, 2006 11:23 am (UTC)
Your argument all sounds very sound and sensible to me. Unfortunately not so many headlines in taking a moderate position on these sorts of things.
Date:September 12th, 2006 07:22 am (UTC)

Semi Agree

I agree that experts in their field are more likely to make sensible spending decisions than any given non-expert. However, those decisions that they make will be based upon their own personal world views, political positions, ethical and religious beliefs, etc.

Therefore where I disagree with you is where I differ in paradigm from the experts. I don't believe I would be as good at making the right decisions based on my paradigm than they would from theirs, but surely it is reasonable that my decisions are likely to be better than theirs based solely on my paradigm?

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

As an example (and I don't wish to start a debate on this here), I'm firmly against medical research involving the use of animals. Therefore I won't sponsor anyone for a charity event supporting a medical research charity (except, say, The Doctor Hadwen Trust. I don't think it's therefore arrogant of me to want the experts not to choose to spend money on my behalf supporting these charities. Or is it?

[User Picture]
Date:January 27th, 2007 03:15 am (UTC)

Re: Semi Agree

I was going to make more-or-less this point.

Unless you're the kind of utilitarian who believes that there is one true, actual, overall Right Answer, it takes more than an expert to act on your behalf. It's not just about some people being closer to the Right Answer than others, with the experts being closest.

Even if I accept that "the experts" can spend my money better than I can, I will probably have different ideas from you who the best experts are, and what criteria should be used in determining someone's suitability to be declared an expert.

Hence, politics.

Obviously, if I want to know how much it will cost to run a hospital to a certain standard, or how to best run a hospital on a given budget, I will leave most of the thinking to experts. They'll still disagree - one will think that heart care is more valuable than cancer care, and the another will think the opposite. This is not necessarily because one of them is mistaken. And once you look at the trade-off between health and education, rather than different kinds of health, it's not at all clear that there's any such thing as an expert view.

So when it comes to questions like, "how much in total should be spent on health care in the UK?", or "what kinds of causes should be supported with public money?", you can't delegate to an expert to figure out "the right answer". You have a responsibility, if you care about the answer, to take part in the political (not expert) process by which society to debate and decide such issues, and inform the experts what the end results are that they're supposed to be expertly achieving.

At least with the lottery, if you don't like the way the funds are allocated you can donate your quid to the charity of your choice rather than buy a ticket. So, since I don't play anyway, I don't really give a tinker's cuss how lottery funds are spent, provided it isn't out-and-out immoral (e.g. when funding out of taxation is cut from community projects on grounds that the lottery will make it up. And if the government bails itself out of an underestimate on the cost of the Olympics by plundering the lottery I'll raise an eyebrow: not because the lottery money should be used for something else but because of the dishonesty and/or incompetence of committing to fund the Olympics and then suborning supposedly non-government money to do so). But I digress.

The point is that I don't have that luxury of happily leaving to the experts with taxation, since there's no alternative funding in sight for the NHS, or the benefits system, or the armed forces, or education, and I do have opinions about the government's role in running all those things. So I have to have opinions about the expert's decisions when they stray outside the scope of technical expertise, and into what is more properly a decision to be taken about society's subjective priorities.

I think the important point really is where the ultimate authority lies. Provided that your expert is, at the end of the day, answerable to the political process (perhaps via a politician, perhaps through the law) there is at least a chance that the reins can stay in the correct hands.

Of course in practice, individual politicians hold all the power all the time, except one day every 4 years when you pick the next bunch of nigh-on-dictators. But that's an implementation detail.
[User Picture]
Date:September 15th, 2006 12:40 pm (UTC)
Oo I was on your ukgameshows site today looking for info on 'Wanted' after a bizarre co-incidence with an online friend today (turns out we possibly chatted 9 years ago in ye olde channel 4 Wanted chat room). Google led me there and also to your LJ - a post you made in 2003ish I think it was.

And then I recognised your name from the channel 4 chatroom too...

Small World.

Myrtle (used to be HB from Tyne and Wear in the olden days)
[User Picture]
Date:September 19th, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC)
Blimey! Nice to encounter you again.

There's only one other person I know on LJ from the Wanted bulletin board Channel 4 days; Sea is hawkida. Oh, and the chaps I dragged down to the tapings from Oxford are on as well. Here is a list of people who have listed "wanted" as an interest (looking at the list might be a paid-user-only facility...?) but it's hard to tell at a glance whether they refer to the same Wanted as us or not. :-)

Are you still in T&W? Looking at your journal and seeing mention of Beamish, I guess so. :-)

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