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Learning from David Cameron

In an interesting experiment that’s certain to ruffle some feathers among left-leaning reformers, the ruling Conservative Party is set to announce a program of incentives to help improve the efficiency of UK’s private prisons:

Owners of private prisons who fail to stop prisoners re-offending will be fined, under new plans to be announced by David Cameron.

Under the slogan ‘Tough But Intelligent’, the Prime Minister will signal a tougher approach to law and order by declaring “retribution is not a dirty word”.


Under a scheme that has been trialled in Doncaster prison, contractors such as G4S and Serco will only receive their full fee if reconviction rates fall with a year of release by five per cent.

Via Meadia is not sure how this can work in practice, but the idea of pushing those who provide government services to do a better job at it makes a lot of sense.

While bureaucracies have existed from time immemorial—indeed we may owe the invention of writing to early bureaucrats who wanted better record keeping—the modern state with its huge payrolls and vast, diverse responsibilities dates back only a couple of hundred years—and it vastly expanded after World War 2.

It’s likely that later generations will look back in astonishment on the crude and unproductive methods of managing bureaucracy and delivering government services we put up with. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, is sure to be a laughingstock for generations to come.

Enhancing the productivity and quality of the services provided largely by government bureaucracy is one of the most important tasks American society faces. Governors and state legislators as well as congressmen and DC cabinet officers should be looking around the world for promising experiments, and should be boldly imagining new methods of getting important jobs done.

The UK liberal-conservative coalition government has been coming under a lot of fire lately, but innovative social policy experiments have been its strong suit. Let’s hope they continue.

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