Monday, June 7, 2010

Allan Peachey: Bigger Government Not the Answer

In a recent Economist (23-29 January 2010 page 23) there was a statement which might have been staggering to some people but which came as no surprise at all to me: “…perverse incentives mean that governments can frequently spend lots of money without producing any improvement in public services. Britain’s government doubled spending on education between fiscal 1999 and fiscal 2007, but the spending splurge coincided with a dramatic decline in Britain’s position in the OECD’S ranking of educational performance.”

When I visited Britain recently I was struck by the talk that I heard about ever-improving examination results. Such talk was, of course, necessary to justify the Government’s education policies and spending (ever-increasing) for over a decade now. And yet the evidence is there for all to see; Britain is beginning to slide down the international league tables of educational attainment.

There are major issues that countries like New Zealand are facing with their schooling system. These issues don’t just relate to educational attainment or whether schools are giving youngsters the knowledge (yes, that word knowledge, much under-used and misunderstood in today’s education environment) and skills needed to get useful employment in global market economies. They also relate to schooling youngsters in appropriate social behaviours. Too often modern government thinks that all it has to do is throw more taxpayer money at education issues and by some miracle problems will be solved. Too often government and opposition parties argue about how much of the taxpayer dollar each has or will spend on education. Too often being able to boast about spending more taxpayer dollars than the other side is seen as justification in itself. The debate that should be occurring needs to be around not how much is being spent but the quality of that spending.

And the best debate of all needs to be around the question as to whether the answer to the problems that worry us actually lie in big government and its spending. Can we, for example, solve bullying in schools by spending lots more taxpayer dollars on anti-bullying programmes, which also involves setting up new, ever-expanding bureaucracies which take on lives of their own to select, monitor, evaluate and report on programmes? And suddenly the priority becomes not the debate over the effectiveness of a particular programme but a justification about why we need to keep the bureaucracy and expand it further. You have heard the story. If only we could have even more taxpayer money, if only we could have some more bureaucrats and some more office space and more money to travel to seminars with, and higher wages to retain public servants, and if only the teacher would listen to us more etc and etc then we could solve the problem. To put it simply – government departments are good at expanding their empires.

I am of the view that the solution to a lot of the problems that worry us does not lie with big government. The solutions do not lie hidden in the depth of Wellington-based bureaucracies or lost in the dusty world of academia. They often lie within the resources of local communities and the taxpayer would get much better value out of minimal tax investment in local programmes with proven track records of success than will ever come from squandering money building bureaucratic empires.

I think for example of a programme that I was introduced to recently called Konfident Kidz, which receives no government funding and which is run by two tutors on fees that they can attract by selling their programme to schools. At present the tutors are working without salaries to get the programme established. It is basically a programme to give children the resilience to deal with threatening or unsafe situations with confidence. It includes a focus on dealing with the bullying but it is actually much more than this. As well as learning how to deal with bullies, youngsters also learn about personal boundary awareness, body language, how to use speech and language, and how to manage challenging situations.

I loved the comment of one youngster who had just been through the programme. “I now feel confident walking down the street. I am also moving to intermediate next year so catching the bus will never be a problem.”

This is an effective programme achieving good results. And there are others like it around the country. And not one per cent of government money.


Anonymous said...

Bigger government is not the answer? That sort of talk will not get you onside with the boss Allan. He is steadily working at growing the Labour one.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Jefferson said...."A government big enough to give you all that you want, is big enough to take everything that you have."

Anonymous said...

Thanks Allan, Konfident Kidz is still working hard to reach it's goals and doing well with new schools' coming on board. Still NO gov funding...... we will keep going!! The new website is Thanks again - Konfident Kidz