Wednesday, 11 May 2016

More Human, by Steve Hilton

Steve Hilton was director of strategy for David Cameron during the coalition days, when he was best known for his habit of walking about the office in his socks (I do that sometimes too). He was the architect of the 'Big Society' concept. This was a well intentioned idea, but it was an idea for the wrong time. Introducing it after the 2010 election only gave the impression that it was an attempt to put a positive spin on the cuts to public spending. In this book, Hilton repeats one of the worst ideas of the Big Society, which was that local government could be partly administered by volunteers. Such a policy would have enabled corruption on a huge scale.

More Human argues that government, as well as much of society has become too bureaucratic and impersonal. In Hilton's view, we need society too take more account of individual needs. In many ways, he has a point, but I think the bureaucratic ordering of society is an inevitable sociological trend that cannot be easily reversed. Hilton offers a shopping list of ideas for how to improve outcomes in the areas of government, education, health, agriculture and commerce. The impression we get is that he is a man with a solution for every problem. Unfortunately, the law of unintended consequences means that clever solutions to problems can often make matters worse.

Our author shows his middle-class credentials on the subject of agriculture, with his conviction that factory farming is a great moral evil and that we should eat more organic food. Unfortunately, he fails to offer any convincing argument that this would not massively increase food prices and severely hurt the poor. He also makes the ludicrous suggestion that food packaging should be required to feature a photograph of the facility in which the food has been produced. The idea that a single photograph could give an informative impression of the quality of food production is extremely naive.

On the subject of poverty, Hilton objects to tax credits and their American equivalent, earned income credit. He seems to have a moral objection to the idea of giving working people welfare handouts. My view is the exact opposite; I would like to see everyone receive handouts through a universal basic income scheme. Hilton favours a minimum living wage, dismissing economic arguments against it.

Our author is deeply concerned about the harms of children being exposed to pornography. He makes the interesting suggestion that children under 16 should be banned from owning mobile internet enabled devices. It's not one of his worst ideas, but I am not sure it would be practical. It would hardly be popular. I can't imagine parents enjoying the responsibility of taking away their 14 -year old sons and daughters' ipads and tablets away. I am not sure if it would be enforceable either, as one cannot tell from a distance whether a mobile phone is internet enabled or not.

This is an interesting book with lots of ideas, most of which are not terribly practical.

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