Money talks: a response to David Boyle

I very much welcome the challenge laid down by David Boyle to the Social Liberal Forum. Indeed, there is very little in it with which I can disagree. In particular, I share the view held by David that the view that ‘everything can be solved by tax and spending’ is mistaken. I strongly believe that we need a revolution in the way that decisions are made in this country, and that we need to take a totally different approach, a sustainable approach, to our day to day lives. We need a more local, more democratic and greener way of approaching politics. That would mean a paradigm shift in the way that we think of power and economics, and these are issues which will be at the heart of the SLF’s work.

Much of David’s article is about the causes of inequality. He rightly cites centralisation, education, snobbery and passivity. In the way that David describes them, none of them are about ‘tax and spending’. I would add another to this list, which crosses over with at least two in David’s list (snobbery and education): the persistence of social class, which leads to generation on generation holding on to power that it has, and perpetuating it through networks which outsiders can seldom access. The persistence of class is sometimes about money, but it is just as often about family connections and schooling, both of which can have an enormous impact on the kinds of informal opportunities and feet-in-the-door that are so often life-defining.

However, we must be clear that there are many problems which can only be tackled if money is spent on them, as David recognises in his article, especially in the short term. I think we also have to recognise that there are clear examples of where more money works, most notably in tackling problems like long waiting times in the NHS, and in providing resources (books, buildings and teachers) for schools. In these areas, extra spending by Labour since 2001 has made a difference, and improvements would have been very hard indeed without extra spending.

Moreover, huge challenges remain which have money as part of the answer. If you are living in poverty, then one of the greatest problems you have is a lack of money. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his short story ‘The Rich Boy’, ‘Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.’ A response to this, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, was ‘Yes, they have more money’. For all that the wealthy have so many advantages and opportunities, we must not forget that fundamentally their advantages are driven by money. If we want to tackle that, then investing in public services so that all can have access to the best, regardless of their money, must be a priority. We must also not forget the people who need help now because they do not have warm decent homes, good food, clothing, and other basics which many of us take for granted. Here, the state can step in and it will take money. Moreover, let us not forget the ‘R Word’ – redistribution, which I believe should be central to any programme which seeks to tackle poverty. The Liberal Democrats are stronger on this than we ever have been, but there is more that can be done.

So the SLF must and will talk about money in relation to some policies. But we will also be addressing the many other issues that lead us to have a socially unjust and unsustainable society. We will be putting forward new ideas on decentralisaton, democracy and sustainability. It is in these, that the long-term solutions which go beyond money, can be found. A look at the many proposals in our ‘Ideas Factory’ shows how much fertile ground there already is.

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5 comments on “Money talks: a response to David Boyle
  1. David Heigham says:

    Money talks, true; but Richard Grayson shows signs of falling into the error of thinking that pouring money into the public services also works. It usually does little more than feed flatulent political speaking.

    Pouring money into education does not work. It produces very little improvemnt in education. What does work is good teaching; classes and neighbourhoods not segregated so that some schools have very few children of educated parents; effective early eduction; effective school organisation and rising educational expectations. Improvements in education need both time – you can expect little visible effect for five to seven years – and moderate amounts of money.

    Health needs more money because doctors and nurses keep on inventing new ways to spend extra money to good effect. So far that has outweighed their equally constant succes in finding ways to get better health care value for money spent. But what produce the overall improvement in health care is reasonable amounts of money available when needed. Turning the cash tap on and off, Labour/Tory fashion, is counter-productive. Paying constant attention to good organisation that does not get in the way of people who know what they are doing, that responds to them quickly and locally, that knows what standards it is and should be working to, and to value for money, is the proper job of those who organise health care. Good organisation can and should significantly enhance what the doctors and nurses would achieve without it.

    Being fooled by money talking is a route to taking our eyes off what really makes the difference. Money matters, vitally. Money wasted means lives frustrated; just as money not applied where it should be applied means lives impoverished. But one point on which some of the very rich are very different from most of us is that they have learnt that it is very difficult to spend large amounts of money effecvtively. Andrew Carnegie, the Rothschild family, Joseph Rowntree, Bill and Melanie Gates and Warren Buffet are examples.

    Gordon Brown is an example of the mass of politicians who have not understood how difficult and how important it is to get worthwhile results from our spending. The Fabian Society is a think tank which never took in the two lessons – the difficlty of spending wisely and the importance of what people actually want.

  2. Richard Grayson says:

    Thanks for your comments David, but I must say that nowhere in my piece did I talk about ‘pouring money into the public services’. What I did say was ‘that there are many problems which can only be tackled if money is spent on them’. In education, I would include the things I listed (more books, better buildings, and more teachers with lighter workloads) and also the party’s policy of a pupil premium, as things that have made a difference or could do so based on the experience of other countries. If you think none of these things work, then we can have a debate about that, but I don’t want anybody to think I am simply talking about ‘pouring money’ into a system without thinking about how it is used.

  3. Matthew Huntbach says:

    Pouring money into education does not work. It produces very little improvemnt in education. What does work is good teaching;

    Get better people into doing it by paying more?

    classes and neighbourhoods not segregated so that some schools have very few children of educated parents;

    How? Giving poor people lots of money so they can buy houses in the nice places?

    effective early eduction;

    Obtained by? Paying more so we can have more of it?

    effective school organisation

    Paying more money to get better people to do it?

    and rising educational expectations.

    Now this is a difficult one, how can we get people to change their attitudes? Especially when we’re liberals, i.e. we don’t believe in telling people what they should think and do.

    Improvements in education need both time – you can expect little visible effect for five to seven years – and moderate amounts of money.

    While I agree indiscriminately throwing money at it won’t work, it seems to me that most of the things that would work do involve quite substantial amounts of money.

  4. David Heigham says:

    Forgive the late reply. I have been cursing the failings of computers for 49 years, and last week I was cursing them again.

    I think we all agree that simply opening the spending tap (as Gordon Brown did after his earlier cautious years) makes no sense. We need to think, to experiment and to learn how to spend effectively; and the specifically LibDem aspect is learning from, and thinking with the many people who are doing it well and effectively, locally now.

    Picking up the specific points on education – as examples, not as policy proposals:

    Buildings need to be kept in reasonably good repair and to be fitted out for today’s users. But on the evidence I have seen, the expected educational effect of disrupting a school to replace its buildings is some worsening of the educational prospects of the year groups directly effected; and no later improvement in education performance.

    More teachers and lower class sizes in general may improve pupils’ education a little. The evidence only shows that whatever effect there is, is weak. More staff in nursery education does have a worthwhile effect. So does more nursery education. I suspect that there are effective ways of spending more on staff to do the different things which each school and college needs; but that can
    only be effective in the context of good organisation.

    Paying more money to get better people to organise? The banks are our most recent champions at that sport, but the US car manufacturers are probably the people who have been doing it longest. In schools, what is needed is mostly spreading existing good practice in ways that help head teachers and their teams to adapt the examples.

    Neighbourhoods and classes with mixed educational backgrounds? The Housing Associations, and I think, some Councils are doing rather a good job at that. It will seem to take forever, but it will slowly have a big effect. One of my hopes is that the Pupil Premium will work as an accelerator in mixing pupil backgrounds.

    Rising educational expectations? See above on organisation. The key is for people to take in what is being done already in some schools.

    More books? As compared to extra teachers and new buildings books are cheap- especially now so many are available on line.

    Pay good teachers more? Not many people are in teaching for the money, anywhere. I have heard of many programmes in different countries for selectively giving good teachers higher salaries; but no reports of educational standards rising as a result. Most tellingly, the few people who are in the organisation of education for the money, and have made an educational success of it, don’t use high salaries as good teacher bait. It is probably much more important to ensure that the best teachers are recognised and respected for the job they do; and that other teachers have every opportunity to learn from how these rare people get such extraordinary results.

    I am very much in favour of a LibDem Governemnt spending and enabling local bodies to spend very substantial amounts of money, wherever there is good reason to think it will truly enrich people’s lives. But the easy ways to spend big amounts have wasted most of the money, and will waste more. As sure as you cannot have your cake and eat it, massive waste has and will mean impoverished, needlessly frustrated lives for a lot of people. That the Fabian tradition ignores; and that a LibDem Governemnt must not be guilty of.

  5. Monkee says:

    “I am very much in favour of a LibDem Governemnt spending and enabling local bodies to spend very substantial amounts of money”

    why not just give money to poor people, not to local bodies?

    cut government and just give people the money directly

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