August 05, 2010

Big State BS

There’s so much wrong with the Paul Sagar's nonsense argument against the “Big Society” it’s hard to know where to begin. But let’s try anyway. His first point was simply to show that he does not understand that there is something called civil society that this is not the same as the state.

His second point is the only point with an actual argument in it. However it is an argument that rapidly falls apart when confronted with evidence rather than ideological assertion. The RNLI provides a very good example of how wrong the argument is.

Voluntary groups are staffed by volunteers, who are by definition amateurs.

This is completely untrue, as the RNLI proves. Last year, the RNLI spent £53 million on staff salaries, including a dozen people who each earned more than £100,000. The crews are volunteers but they are backed up by professionals were they need it, so obviously voluntary groups do not have to be staffed entirely by volunteers. Nor is it true that volunteers are by definition amateurs as most of the RNLI volunteers will be professional seamen.

Take away the centralised finances allowing these volunteers to organise and how will volunteer amateurs be able to provide anything, lacking as they will the finances required for service-provision?

The RNLI receives nothing from government at all. It raises all of its funds itself, and yet it is able to raise all the funds it needs to provide a 24/7 service proving that without centralised funding even very large and expensive organisations can still get the funding they need. If fact it did try taking the state's shilling at one point but this had such a disasterous effect on their regular funding that they stopped.

The fantasy that services provided by trained professionals can be replaced with spontaneous volunteer groups, and without significant falls in quality or reliability

The RNLI crews who perform the actual rescues are made up of volunteer amateurs, and they deliver their service with complete reliability no matter the extreme conditions that they face. Which is rather more than can be said for many professionals in the public sector.

The RNLI is a very large sucessful voluntary organisation but RNLI does not operate everywhere since it does not consider certain places a good use of its resources. Were it does not and the locals disagree other voluntary groups have sprung up to cover their local area: such as the Sidmouth Lifeboat.

Another example would be the National Coastwatch Institute. This charity is an example of what Cameron is calling the Big Society in action, something that Paul says it is impossible. The state decided that it nolonger wanted to mount a visual watch of the coast for people in distress as it was not cost effective for it to do so. What happened next was a group of people decided to restore this service and have built or restored watch towers along the coast which are manned on a voluntary basis, all funded by charitable donation. The government withdrew, but because it was still felt needed the service was replaced spontaniously by a voluntary group.

Point three has no argument other than attributing bad motives to those that are not statist in their outlook.

His fourth point is so bad that it needs exposing. Apparently gay people should praise the big state for not being persecuted. This is bollocks. It was the state that was persecuting us. Oscar Wilde was not thrown into Pentonville Prison by the Marquess of Queensberry. He was thrown in jail by the state. Alan Turing wasn't forced to take hormone therapy because of a nagging mother. He was forced to take it because otherwise he would have been thrown in jail by the state. All the bad things that have been done to gay people pale into insignificance when compared to the bad things that prejudiced people backed by the power of the state have done. However if you look at small communities from the same period where gay people could be open such as in the merchant navy you will find remarkable tolerance of them. Once the state stopped actively persecuting gay people we could, and did, reveal ourselves as deeply embedded in every aspect of of civil society and were therefore able to start breaking down people's prejudices; something that is happening with remarkable speed.


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