A blog by Patrick Crozier

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June 13, 2003

100 State Failures

Over recent days I have got involved in an argument with Iain Coleman, of Mr Happy?, over at Conservative Commentary. He believes that the state has the power to do good and cites the example of a rough sleepers initiative that he has been involved in, which has been, according to him, successful.

I thought it was rather strange that he chose as his example a case that none of the rest of us know anything about... because if he had chosen an example that some of the rest of us do know something about, well, he might have got a rather bumpier ride. After all, I thought, there are huge numbers of state failures and started to compile a list. And here it is:

  1. Osbourne Judgement
  2. Window Tax
  3. R101
  4. California Electricity Regulation
  5. Prices and incomes policies
  6. Currency controls
  7. Concorde
  8. British Leyland
  9. British Steel
  10. British Airways
  11. British Coal
  12. British Telecom
  13. British Gas
  14. British rail nationalisation
  15. British rail fragmentation
  16. Dutch rail fragmentation
  17. Linwood
  18. Unleaded petrol
  19. CFC ban
  20. DDT ban
  21. Bank of England
  22. Concentration camps
  23. Extermination camps
  24. National Lard Council
  25. State education
  26. National Health Service
  27. Japanese Bullet trains
  28. Dangerous Dogs Act
  29. Royal Mail
  30. Comprehensive schools
  31. Nationalised examinations
  32. Gas regulation
  33. Russian collectivisation of agriculture
  34. Cultural Revolution
  35. North Korea
  36. Cambodia
  37. Import controls
  38. Drug War
  39. Elizabethan monopolies
  40. Londonderry Plantation
  41. Council housing
  42. Town planning
  43. High-rise council housing
  44. Cigarette warnings
  45. US Witholding Tax
  46. Interstate Commerce Commission
  47. Belgium
  48. Gulags
  49. University funding
  50. The Dome
  51. British movies of recent times
  52. Sunday closing
  53. Race relations industry
  54. National debt
  55. SA80
  56. Great Leap Forward
  57. Eurofighter
  58. EU budget
  59. Common Agriculture Policy
  60. Common Fisheries Policy
  61. Gold plating
  62. Decimalisation
  63. Metrication
  64. Sheep dips (organo-phosphate style)
  65. Ground Nut Scheme
  66. Savings and Loans disaster
  67. State pension
  68. London Underground
  69. Portuguese rent control
  70. National Theatre
  71. Bull Ring
  72. Milton Keynes
  73. Green Belt
  74. Planning/Zoning
  75. Building regulation
  76. Tobacco advertising bans
  77. Gun bans
  78. Knife bans
  79. Mace bans
  80. Jitney bans
  81. Double decker-with-roofs bans
  82. ERTMS
  83. The Hatfield crash aftermath
  84. German labour laws
  85. Legal tender
  86. Pub licencing laws
  87. British Shipbuilders
  88. British Rail Modernisation
  89. BBC
  90. Marriage
  91. Exploding Russian televisions
  92. The Hungry Forties
  93. Speenhamland system
  94. Amtrak
  95. Roads
  96. Nationalised self-defence
  97. Health and Safety Executive
  98. Trabant cars
  99. 1952 London Smog
Only 99. Damn, there goes my argument.

Update 09/05/04

It seems that someone doesn't like my list and is threatening to give me a throughly good fisking. Promises, promises.


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100. Scottish Water
101. Scottish Parliament

Posted by Andy Wood on June 13, 2003

The trouble is, Patrick, that each item should have a link embedded in it where you can read the full story.

Market failure, peut-etre?

If the government had been in charge of CrozierVision, this omission would surely not have occurred.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on June 13, 2003

So, Brian, you want me to burn the midnight oil backing up my case, eh? Presumably you'd also have me reading stuff and looking up references.

Oh the Tyranny of the Facts!

Posted by Patrick Crozier on June 13, 2003

I chose that particular example for two reasons. One was that I happened to be reading the report on it at the time, so all the details were handy. The other was that Mr Cuthbertson's, um, impassioned essay contained this particularly virile section:

Handouts to the homeless are a sign of a decent society, they will tell you. But morality for such people is a totally collectivised concept. If a good cause exists, it should be funded by the state, not rely on the charity of individuals. If any person or country deserves help, it should again be government which does it. Individual morality doesn't come into it, and it cannot.

I had hoped, by citing our own homelessness strategy which is firmly based on working with private charitable and voluntary groups, to convince him that he was factually wrong on this point. Sadly, there are no signs that this happened.

Successful as our homelessness strategy is, I'm keen to improve it further. If anyone has any ideas that they think might be useful, I'd be grateful if they dropped me an email.

Posted by Iain J Coleman on June 16, 2003


You are wrong. You may, on occasion, have brought up the example of your project to refute something that Peter Cuthbertson wrote but you also brought it up in an attempt to refute what I wrote. What follows, in case you'd forgotten, is an extract from a comment you wrote (you start by quoting my words):

The second thing that strikes me is: how likely is the state to succeed even on its own terms? The state seems to be pretty unsuccesful at achieving anything else (whether it be running an effective railway or law and order). It seems at best unlikely that it will succeed here.

Let's take an example I mentioned earlier: the homelessness strategy in Cambridge...

It is fairly obvious that that is what I was referring to in the introduction to this posting.

Anyway, nothing in what you wrote alters the suspicion that you believe that the state has the power to do good.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on June 17, 2003


Fair point. The specific point about homelessness, in relation to what you were saying in that debate, is that the issue highlights the inadequacy of the libertarian account of freedom.

Anyway, it's manifestly obvious that the state has the power to do good, insofar as there are state activities which achieve good ends. Organising a universal garbage collection system, for example. Now, you might think that a non-state solution would be better in some particular case, but that's a point you have to make in detail, on a case-by-case basis.

I'm not interested in having the state doing things just for the sake of it. If there's another, better solution to a particular problem, great. Show it to me. In detail. Don't just wave a rolled-up newspaper and shout "Bad state! Bad state!" That's not serious politics.

Posted by Iain J Coleman on June 17, 2003