The Perfect System

Thursday 31st March

Many people have dreamed up the perfect system, from Adam Smith to Karl Marx.  However all of them have come unstuck because of one basic problem; people. In fact almost every Act of Parliament passed by whichever Government comes unstuck because of unforeseen consequences caused by…you guessed; people.  You see, people do not behave the way that Governments expect them to, in fact they often behave quite irrationally but in surprising numbers too.  So, when a Government Minister says that there is no shortage of petrol, immediately queues start forming; when the Chancellor stands up and declares that personal debt is too high, we all reach for our credit cards and book a holiday.

But human behaviour is even worse than that.  We almost always resort to a combination of personal greed and laziness, which overrides our better nature.  So, when we try to create a system where people are paid when they are sick, some people are sick at the merest symptom and are off for months with a bad back or some other ailment when they are perfectly capable of working.  I am not advocating getting rid of sick pay at all, but there is no doubting the fact that many employees take advantage of this generosity.  In fact statistically the more generous an employer’s sick pay policy then the more sick days are taken.  Of course at the other end of the scale many poor employees working for a bad employer who pays the absolute minimum (or sometimes nothing at all) drag themselves to work when they are really very ill. There seems to be no perfect system.

And when we come to macro-economics it is even worse. Communism failed because a select cadre at the top enriched themselves at the expense of the masses.  But likewise Capitalism fails because of the greed of many business people who take far too much profit for themselves and do not reward their workers.  No system is perfect, and yet we have a political divide which more or less either believes in ‘Private’ or ‘Public’.  Trade Unions have long defended worker’s rights and without them we might all have been forced to work far longer hours with no paid holidays and lower pay, but again there are many incidences of Trade Unions abusing their monopoly power.  And we seem, in Britain at least, to be constantly seeing the pendulum swinging between bashing the public system and Privatisation and then when the public feels the pendulum has swung too far we start re-investing in state schools and paying teachers and nurses more.

Maybe we will never get ‘the Perfect System’ but it seems stupid that we are spending so much of our time reforming and then repealing those reforms which are driven far more by dogma than logic. I can recall the sixties and seventies when the Steel Industry was Nationalised and then de-Nationalised and re-Nationalised and eventually Privatised, only for the situation today where Tata (an Indian company) are desperately trying to sell what is left, or of course just closing it down in the end.