As our government is trying to be more “European” in asserting government control over the economy, Europe is going in the other direction. Earlier, we looked at what Germany has done to prosper economically while the United States flounders. Now Great Britain, in a coalition government of conservatives and moderates, is launching on a great experiment to shrink government and empower individuals. From The Washington Post:
The Obama administration might be reasserting the government’s place in American life. But on this side of the Atlantic, the so-called Big Society vision of Britain’s new Conservative prime minister is of a nation with minimal state interference.
David Cameron’s 100-day-old ruling coalition is launching an effort to reduce the role of government, seeking to vest communities and individuals with fresh powers and peddling a new era of volunteerism to replace the state in running museums, parks and other public facilities. Supporters and opponents describe the campaign as the biggest assault on government here since the wave of privatizations by Conservative firebrand Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.
The idea, one with distant echoes of the “tea party” movement in the United States, is to pluck decision making out of the hands of bureaucrats. Groups of like-minded parents and teachers, for instance, are being invited to open their own taxpayer-funded schools. The groups — not government school boards — will be able to determine the curriculum at these “free schools,” using their own discretion to make some subjects compulsory while omitting others they find objectionable or unnecessary, such as lessons on multiculturalism.
But the government’s push is also about pinching pennies in an age of austerity in Britain, which, like many nations including the United States, is heavily indebted and increasingly broke. Through the toughest budget cuts in generations, the new coalition is moving quickly to shrink the size of the state, with some estimates indicating as many as 600,000 public-sector job losses — or one in 10 — by 2015. At the same time, Cameron is backing legislation that would allow communities to take over, for instance, post office branches, staffing them with volunteers instead of paid workers.
“The Big Society is about a huge culture change, where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their workplace, don’t always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face,” Cameron said last month in a keynote speech on the issue.
In what it calls a “radical extension of direct democracy,” the new government is moving to give citizens the right to veto property-tax increases above certain limits. In an effort to hold the public sector more accountable, it is also pressing forward with plans to have communities directly elect police commissioners while forcing the publication of more-detailed crime statistics to give residents a better picture of how local forces are doing.
The new coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is set to present legislation to dissolve the government health boards that once determined needs at public hospitals, which would allow doctors to become the ultimate deciders.