James Governor's Monkchips

What, or who, Changed My/Your Mind Most in 2006

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I tend to be quite fluid in my thinking. An ability to parse scenarios and see opposing viewpoints in all their richness is a very useful trait in an analyst. Relativity can go too far- but I also try and maintain a coherent worldview where I can.

One of my touchstones is that tax is not a bad thing per se, government provided services are not all evil, the public sector can do well in some circumstances (especially when locally dispensed). In short I am a bit of a leftie. I believe in shared ownership and the cornucopia of the commons (of course if you believe in Linux so do you). That is not to say that I believe public sector provision is always better than private delivery (I am not insane, after all) but neither is it intrinsicly evil nor always a failure.

But when Richard Brown of IBM sent me a book called The Welfare State We’re In by James Bartholomew I had no idea of the impact it would have on my thinking.

It might as well as have been written to annoy me. A book starting with a quiz is nearly as bad as a novel starting with a hugely complex family tree. The picture on the sleeve of sullen hoodies summed up everything bad I expected from the book, and the litany of negativity made me begin to just glaze over and think I might as well read Friedman (either of them…). But then something unexpected happened: The author turned to history and his arguments started to sing. For example- London’s teaching hospitals, which used to be world class, but were created hundreds of years before the NHS was imagined, let alone created, are now evidently second tier. If you’re not clean you’re not world class…

Reading transcripts of the arguments for and against welfare, before the Welfare State proper was created, its amazing just how well the arguments were understood. We didn’t sleepwalk into this- the State pushed us with a sustained program of nationalisation. Understand that today we have almost no “third way” provision in the UK. The voluntary sectors in the UK used to provide a lot of services; notably Friendly Societies, which enabled local bootstrapping, rather than top down national insurance contributions and provision.

What am I talking about? Lets use tech as a model. Linux is a fairly good example of third way approaches. Ownership is shared, but all kinds of people contribute and benefit. Can you imagine if Linux was government owned? Just as I thought. Community assets in the private sector however can enable powerful effects (share and share alike, for example). In the UK though throughout the 20th century the government appropriated third way organisations and assets. Can you imagine if the government nationalised Linux? Again- just as I thought.

Unlike Bartholomew I wouldn’t blame all the country’s ills on welfare. However I do think he has some useful insights if you can get through his rather ugly Daily Mail-style rhetoric. The current government has evidently internalised a lot of thinking – New Labour is surprisingly Bartholomew-thinking friendly.
The book changed my thinking, or at least bootstrapped on my own belief in the need for self-sufficiency and making a contribution. Its a work about motivation, which is almost certainly the most important topic we face. What makes us do things? What makes us work for others? I read many books last year, some of which I expected epiphanies from. But Welfare State was the one that really forced me to reappraise my prejudices. Thanks Richard. Thanks James.

I have found that when I ask a direct question here, few people comment, which is disappointing. But let me try again- What, or who, Changed Your Mind Most in 2006? Not who did you agree with the most, but who changed your mind about something? I would really like to know.


  1. Wow… I had no idea it had had such an impact on you; thanks for the link.

    I moved into WebSphere Tech Sales this year… if I could only extend my political influence into technical influence with my clients, I’d be doing well 🙂

  2. Q: What, or who, Changed Your Mind Most in 2006?
    A: Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion.

    Actually I was already halfway there. Where? Read the book.

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