Monday, April 11, 2005

Not quite, Ken

Ken's contribution to the ongoing taxation debate between the Englishman In Philly and me has been long-expected, and as I had always suspected, didn't differ from what I thought I thought as much Ken thought it differed from what he thought I thought. Whether this is due to poverty of clarity and experession on my part, or a difference in language and tone (for I come from an unashamedly social democratic direction, while Ken was rooted in conservative ideas), I'm not sure. If we are different in our view, then perhaps I can at least clarify my position on this issue, which is the crux of the debate.

To address his key criticism of my argument:

I still believe it, but Richard has gone away from this argument in this debate that suggests more spending is always desirable to achieve better services. Simply put, too much investment eventually leads to the law of diminshing returns.

In the first sentence Ken performs a sleight-of-hand; I do think that more spending always delivers better public services, but not that the service-for-spending realisation is such to make the increase desirable. I want each pound to be worth more and to squeeze every penny of value out of it. At the same time, I want the NHS to be as good as it can-- and we could pay however much we want towards it, ultimately, with there being no limit how high taxation reaches. The bar on this is, of course, a toleration limit-- what our social consensus agrees is a tolerable level, and what allows the workhorse of economic progress to continue with no significant diminuation. Now, in the second sentence, Ken argues that too much investment leads to the law of diminishing returns, and on this I can agree, but would it be adiminishing return to reduce prescription costs?

Ultimately, I am hesitant to agree with Ken that we should use an assessment of what we want the NHS to do to be the only basis of its funding. I can imagine wanting the NHS to reach a gold standard, but that must be tempered by the economic concerns I have always conceded. Surely the real moderate position here is to keep an eye on both our set standards and the economic realities? And to my mind, that leads to the inexoriable conclusion that the current level of spending is about right but that we should stretch its delivery-power out further, in reaching the unreachable gold standard.