Looking back at those early years, I am amazed at my youthful innocence. I watched Britain at the beginning of its experiment with the welfare state; the Atlee government started to build a society that attempted to look after its citizens from cradle to grave. I was so impressed after the introduction of the National Health Service when I went to collect my pair of new glasses from my opticians in Cambridge to be told that no payment was due. All I had to do was to sign a form. What a civilised society, I thought to myself. The same thing happened at the dentist and the doctor.
I did not understand what a cosseted life would do to the spirit of enterprise of a pe ople, diminishing their desire to achieve and succeed. I believed that wealth came naturally from wheat growing in the fields, orchards bearing fruit every summer, and factories turning out all that was needed to maintain a comfortable life.
Only two decades later when I had to make an outdated entrepot economy feed a people did I realise we needed to create the wealth before we can share it. And to create wealth, high motivation and incentives are crucial to drive a people to achieve, to take risks for profit or there will be nothing to share.
It is remarkable that powerful minds like Sir William Beveridge's, who thought out this egalitarian welfare system, did not foresee its unintended consequences. It took more than three decades of gradual decline in performance before Margaret Thatcher set out to reverse it, to restore individual incentives and the motivation to succeed, to encourage risk-taking, necessary for a successful entrepreneurial economy.
h/t: Haseltine, William A. Affordable Excellence: The Singapore Health System. Brookings Institution Press with the National University of Singapore Press, Apr 2013
The most interesting this, to me is that this once was the norm:
Perhaps the most impressive sight I came upon was when I emerged from the tube station at Piccadilly Circus. I found a little table with a pile of newspapers and a box of coins and notes with nobody in attendance. You take your newspaper, toss in your coin or put in your 10-shilling note and take your change. I took a deep breath - this was a truly civilised people.
But, as he added:
Five decades ago, London was a grimy, sooty, bomb-scarred city, with less food, fewer cars, and deprived of the conveniences of the consumer society. But the people, then homogeneous, white, and Christians, were admirable, self-confident and courteous.
From that well-mannered Britain to the yobs and football hooligans of the 1990s took only 40 years. I learned that civilised living does not come about naturally.