Making Institutions Work

Vickers, Geoffrey
ISBN:
9780852270103

Everyone in Britain to day, as in most developed countries, entertains a host of expectations which no one held a hundred years ago. The most important of these concern the public 'order' for which we hold our government wholly or partly responsible. This now includes education to the limit of everyone's capacity, the best health care for everyone, employment in an occupation of one's own choice, insurance against unemployment, sickness and old age, a place to live in and a minimum income, whether at work or not. In each of these fields everyone has factual expectations of what will be available to him if he needs it and ethical expectations of what ought to be available. The disparity between the two generates protest and demand for change and keeps both sets of standards constantly on the move. A century ago, no one expected any of these things by right of political membership and scarcely anyone thought that they ought to be expected. We also still entertain all those liberal expectations which a century ago took the place of these positive assurances. We expect them for all and we have raised them to a higher power. They include the right to question, criticize and dissent from all received opinion and to deny the legitimacy of all authority but at the same time to enjoy protection from all coercion, intimidation and even direction from all organized power, especially public power, and also from all the unorganized power against which organizations are designed to protect us, including the killer, the robber, the racketeer, the blackmailer and the sadistic or predatory boss. A wider set of expectations concerns facilities which are expected to be available to individuals (in both the factual and the normative sense of expectation) even though the individual must personally choose and pay to use them. These include such familiar novelties as the expectations that pure water should be available everywhere for the turning of a tap; light, heat, power, information and entertainment for the turning of a switch; goods and services of all kinds at no serious distance from every door and abundant facilities for travel by land, sea and air. And although this infinitely more varied and accessible menu of facilities has to be chosen, as well as paid for, by individuals, most people have rising factual expectations of what they will be able to choose and even more have rising ethical expectations of what they ought to be able to choose. The right to equality of opportunity, itself a relative newcomer among our expectations, is being rapidly supplemented, if not supplanted by a newer right to equality of enjoyment, which is just what equality of opportunity does not provide. And this is associated with a number of other partly inconsistent standards of what ought to be the relative rewards for different kinds of work. These standards of what ought to be are neither mysterious immutable 'laws' nor mere cloaks for competing wants and not-wants. They arise whenever people argue about matters which seem to them to be even theoretically within human control, and they are the means by which we impose and change specific 'order' (or create disorder) within that field. There would today be no sense in arguing that there ought to be more or less rain; but there is plenty of sense in arguing that there ought to be more houses. And so soon as we come to control rainfall, we shall certainly begin to argue about how much ought to fall on whom. The greater the span of human power, the greater the field of human responsibility is deemed to be.

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