When railways, toilets, telephones, television, air travel and automobiles were all first invented, only the very wealthy could afford them. A politician back then could have seen this as an evil and decided that with one great concerted coerced effort these bounties could be given immediately to everyone. Yet such a great leap forward could only have been achieved by tearing individuals away from their own priorities and forcing them instead to work for the politician’s fancy. This is exactly what Hitler did with his four-year plans, and Stalin and Mao did with their five-year plans. In each case millions died horrific deaths and untold suffering and backwardness was thrust upon vast tracts of humanity.

Such impatience is also shown, albeit on a less dramatic scale, in democratic socialist countries. In the United States under the New Deal they wanted immediate electrification. That noble goal, along with countless other ill-judged meddling caused the Great Depression to linger for a decade. In Britain, after World War II, they wanted immediate affordable housing for all; instead they got de-humanizing concrete tower blocks. They wanted immediate affordable health care for all; instead they got the third-rate, depressing, monolithic, inefficient National Health Service. They wanted fair shares for all and instead got austerity that lasted until 1979. Those politicians in the 1990s who wanted immediately a computer for every child saddled their constituents with huge debt. They only needed to wait a few years; the price of computers has come down so low that today the poorest family can afford one, notebook computers being now almost a disposable item. Today socialist politicians want immediate broadband for rich and poor alike and they are rolling out expensive national networks that will almost instantly become obsolete and achieve nothing, except to add to the debt heaped upon the next generation.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove