European intellectuals often view the “Anglo-Saxon” neoliberal model as an extreme form of market fundamentalism. But just how neoliberal are the British? Unlike on the continent, where universal health care is often provided through a decentralized set of insurance companies, the British government actually owns and manages the health care system. Doctors are government employees.
And consider this item from a recent article on school choice in The Economist:
Will it work? The evidence from other countries is broadly positive. Swedes in general approve of their new schools, and the parents who patronise them are satisfied too: nine in ten say they are happy with their children’s education, compared with under two-thirds of parents with children at state-run schools. Studies have found that they have better results, and also spur improvements in nearby state-run schools. The system as a whole responds better to parents’ wishes, too: if local authorities try to close a much-loved small rural school, parents simply apply to open their own one. When officials realise that the hoped-for efficiency savings will not materialise, they back down.
It is hard to draw general conclusions about America’s charter schools because laws differ so much from state to state, but Caroline Hoxby, an economist at Stanford University, has found a similar positive “competition effect”. And the Netherlands, where 70% of children attend independent state-funded schools, comes well above average in the OECD’s ranking.
. . .
Kunskapsskolan, a Swedish for-profit company that runs more than 30 free schools, is also interested, even though the Tories would not allow schools to be run for profit.
So it seems that the Swedish system is simply too right-wing for the British conservatives. Profit is something of a dirty word in Britain, whether applied to health care or education. So who are the real neoliberals?
Size of government? Under Labour it increased sharply (even discounting the recent spike to 50% of GDP, which was partly reflective of the recession.) Under the Labour government the top MTR in Britain was 40%. It is expected to be 50% under the Conservatives.
I don’t deny that there are some areas where Britain is more laissez-faire than the typical eurozone country, but I don’t see how the crude stereotypes held on the Continent can be justified.
Part 2. Does it matter who wins?
I was dining with some Oxford people when news came that Cameron would be the new PM. There was a bit of excitement among the people at the table, indeed for one of them this news meant a job in the economic policy team. I am skeptical about how much difference a new British PM can make, but perhaps those closer to the issues see some important advantages.
Is this the near/far distinction Robin Hanson keeps referring to? Do we think our own elections are important (“Reagan’s America”, etc) and yet instinctively think that Switzerland will always be Switzerland, regardless of who’s elected to lead their country? I was reminded of this when I saw a Drudge headline trying to blame Obama for the oil disaster. (In fairness, the Dems also blamed Bush for Katrina.) In contrast, when foreign governments badly mishandle crises (i.e. the Naples and Kobe earthquakes, we don’t tend to examine who was leader of Italy or Japan at the time, but rather assume that the incompetent response reflected the political realities of those countries. (BTW, the Drudge headline linked to this article.)
In the case of Katrina, how many would have been killed if the people in Louisiana had been culturally identical to the people of Minnesota? Prior to the hurricane, would New Orleans’ well-known unpreparedness for a major hurricane have been treated as a big joke? Just so you don’t peg me as a cultural determinist, I think cultures can change. Indeed I believe that after Katrina, the Louisiana voters looked in the mirror and realized that they were to blame. After years of electing charismatic governors like the one who joked that he could never be defeated unless caught in bed with a live boy or dead girl, they turned to a boring but effective technocrat.
[BTW, I wrote a long piece on Krugman’s recent use of the oil spill to refute libertarianism, but deleted it when I saw that Alex Tabarrok beat me to it, and did a much more thorough job.]
So maybe disaster prevention doesn’t much depend on who’s elected. But what about health care, or civil liberties? Surely there is a huge gap between the parties on those issues. Well, take a look at the health care plan Romney implemented in Massachusetts. Last time I looked Romney was the Republican frontrunner for 2012. And here’s Matt Yglesias on Obama’s decision to buy into the Bush stance on civil liberties (or lack there of) in the war on terror.
people who want to halt the erosion of civil liberties need to do a better job of persuading people that the erosion of civil liberties would be a bad thing. If you have an incumbent administration being urged by the opposition to seize more power, and the public wants the administration to seize more power, then you get what we have today. People on the good team are sometimes in denial about opinion on this subject, but read the numbers“”the public wants Guantanamo Bay open, wants suspects tried in military courts, and thinks we should give up more civil liberties in order to enhance security.
So how much does it matter who gets elected? I’ll grant you that Obama’s space exploration policy is much more free market than Bush’s. And Obama does favor higher taxes. From up close the differences are significant. But from far away?
PS. OK, Hitler made a big difference. But I’ve found that roughly 99.9% of political, philosophical and/or foreign policy arguments that refer to the Nazi example are fallacious.
PPS. Just to be clear, I think Bush deserved some criticism for Katrina. My fatalism doesn’t mean that I give policymakers a pass. If we ever stop failing to hold the government accountable then all is lost.