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We understand the claim about universalism but what’s the reality?

Summary:
A stirring rally call in the lead up to the election. Labour is just promising the return of universalism. There are certain things that all should have at a minimum standard and those things should be supplied by the state. We’d even agree with the base theory - all should have civil liberty for example. It the what as in, what things should all have provided by the state that we disagree with. At which point the justification of that universalism as Labour is insisting:But in the UK the arguments grounding this approach have to be made afresh. And they go like this: universal provision is more efficient, better quality, less stigmatising and builds social participation, while tackling poverty and hardship.It’s the efficiency and quality claims we would argue with. People do tend to be

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A stirring rally call in the lead up to the election. Labour is just promising the return of universalism. There are certain things that all should have at a minimum standard and those things should be supplied by the state. We’d even agree with the base theory - all should have civil liberty for example. It the what as in, what things should all have provided by the state that we disagree with.

At which point the justification of that universalism as Labour is insisting:

But in the UK the arguments grounding this approach have to be made afresh. And they go like this: universal provision is more efficient, better quality, less stigmatising and builds social participation, while tackling poverty and hardship.

It’s the efficiency and quality claims we would argue with. People do tend to be more efficient in their use of things that they must directly pay for after all. And quality?

The state schools are better quality than the private? The NHS is better quality than private health care? The GPO was better quality than BT and today’s competitors? A government food service would be better quality than private sector supermarkets? We’ve not tried that one in Britain but the evidence from the Soviet system wouldn’t lead us to think so.

So, no, the claim doesn’t stand. Further, there’s a slightly more subtle reason why it doesn’t. We know that it is competition which improves productivity and standards of output. The one universal system of provision is exactly what does not allow that competition thus everything becomes worse than it could be over time in such a one producer system.

After all, we do want the citizenry to have the best - which is exactly why we don’t want monopoly provision of it, whether that monopoly is being run by the state or anyone else.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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