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Saturday, October 22, 2005


It's the Envy of the World - at least, it makes the World turn green

ISTR there is a Chinese proverb about the frog in the shallow well that thought he was in heaven because he'd never known anything better.

I always think of this when I hear Brits boasting about how one of their peculiar institutions (typically, the BBC, or perhaps the NHS) is the Envy of the World. I want to grab them by the shoulders and shake a clue into them while yelling: "Then why has none of the rest of the World been dumb enough to copy it, fucktard!"

via Tim Worstall comes this story of the way the NHS is really run.

We know a few things about large organisations: principally, that the way to get them to actually work is to make them small organisations. Or when that is unfeasible, make them virtually small by delegating decision-making down to the lowest possible level (decentralised command in the military being the prime example).

Large organisations with overly-centralised command and control are dysfunctional for three reasons:
1. Organisations exist to suppress the price mechanism and replace it with an internal command microeconomy. Consider Selfridges. You could run Selfridges as a collection of self-contained businesses - say, the girls who are selling the perfumes don't rent their sales desk from the store, buy the perfumes from the various suppliers and then keep any resulting profits - but that would be dumb, because they would spend all their time fretting over the accounts of Weird-Smelling Shit Inc, and would have no time left over to try and sucker in the dude who's wandering past their sales desk en route for the Overpriced Garish Metrosexual Shirts Department. Suppressing the price mechanism is efficient for small organisations that don't need much in the way of, erm, organisation - but as the organisation grows larger and more complex it starts to badly need the signals that the price mechanism sends, in order to efficiently allocate resources. Much of the problems with the NHS arise from the complete suppression of the price mechanism, which is a feature rather than a bug, admittedly, but the sort of feature that's hard to distinguish from a genuine, bone-headed, fatal, Blue-Screen-Of-Death-inducing Mother Of All Bugs.
2. Lacking the price mechanism, the guys controlling the organisation are forced to rely on other forms of communication from the grunts at the coal-face. Basically, reports. Forms. Endless reams of forms. Bureaucracy. Even when this system works properly, filling in these damn forms is a colossal drag on the effective's time. There is also the fact that low-level effectives will lie and spin as much as they can get away with (Wilson's SNAFU Principle).
3. Shooting the messenger. The previous two features can't be avoided. This one can, and is, by any manager with the slightest ability. It's tough enough getting any kind of signal out of the self-serving noise of underlings when you actively reward the bearer of bad news. Shooting the messenger is something Evil Overlords do in bad movies.

Gordon Brown, the Right Honourable Chimpanzee, dishonestly raised my taxes and those of every working person in Britain, so he could spend more money on this clusterfuck called the NHS. The world being what it is, most of that money went on hiring clowns like the ones that TW rightly savages in the above link. Do you feel proud, Gordo? The sad thing is, that thieving socialist Neanderthal probably does.

(There is a certain grim irony in this disgraceful story's taking place in Thatcher's home town of Grantham. The NHS was one of those ghastly edifices of English Socialism that she never quite got around to. We're all paying the price for that now).

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