UK tainted blood scandal exposes British elites

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The political landscape in the UK has been rocked once again by yet another scandal, that of tainted blood being given to unsuspecting patients and making them permanently ill. This scandal is unlike other more recent scandals; it has been known to happen for decades, yet nothing has been done about it by successive governments on all sides of the political spectrum. As libertarians, we know why this is so, but it is no surprise that it has completely escaped the minds of those in the British political mainstream.

Original article by Owen Ashworth in the Mises Institute.

The response of the media and elected officials to this crisis is a real eye-opener, which is why I want to focus on it in this article. The lack of thought that has gone into analyzing the reasons for the scandal has confirmed everything I already knew about our political elites. There comes a time when I should no longer be surprised, but they continue to surprise me.

The report caused a stir in the political arena, having a huge impact on hundreds of people and exposing the extent to which successive governments have acted maliciously. The reactions give a good insight into how this happened.

Let’s start with the comments on Politics Live. Host Jo Coburn responded to Reem Ibrahim, who tried to argue that the size and bureaucracy of the state gave politicians an incentive to cover up the scandal, by saying:

“The shocking thing is that this happened… Whether they’re private or public, these things shouldn’t be happening, and yet they keep happening.”

This is a case where the mainstream actors are technically correct but completely lacking in substance. The point of the discussion is why it happened. Reem offered the right answer, that the incentives for state actors to cover up embarrassing and incredibly damaging scandals are at levels that would never be seen in the private sector, but Jo Coburn avoided this conversation altogether. The mainstream is completely allergic to any discussion that might lead to criticism of the state and its many principal organs.

Furthermore, it became clear that the Labour leader of the House of Lords was also uncomfortable with Reem’s answer and tried to interrupt her by saying: “The water companies have covered things up… Private companies are failing too.”

This remark is intriguing because had she understood Reem’s point, she would have realised that her answer was completely redundant. Libertarians will never claim that private companies never fail, or that they are entirely altruistic, but the state apparatus has an entirely different framework with incentives that lead to cover-ups that, if they occurred in a private company, would force it to close down. To compare the incentive structure of the state with that of a private company is to mix apples and oranges. The Labour leader of the House of Lords has fully demonstrated his ignorance of this fact.

The Guardian, a member of the panel, noted that it was quite refreshing that the two main political parties were working together on the response to the scandal, and on the compensation that the victims deserve, saying: “You can get a lot more consensus, a lot more agreement” between the two main parties that they will work together to do the right thing. He went on to suggest that both parties feel collective guilt and therefore demonstrate a form of collective responsibility, which implies that this is a good outcome. Nothing can be analysed more lightly.

What has been one of the major shocks of this scandal? The fact that both political parties have sought to avoid blushes and to evade responsibility. This fact alone should inspire in all serious analysts a healthy dose of scepticism about the existence of a consensus between the two political parties on the response.

The responsibility for the actions committed in this scandal should fall squarely on those charged, but the burden will fall squarely on taxpayers who bear no responsibility. The victims will receive financial compensation for the horrors they have endured, but that money will come from taxes, so the perpetrators of the scandal have managed to escape any responsibility.

The reality of the Guardian member’s comments is that he is pleased that both major parties are apologising while having the taxpayer cover the cost of compensation. That is refreshing. The problem is that it probably will not have occurred to him what that means, which is why the response to this scandal is revealing.

The lack of intellectual reflection of the mainstream has been fully exposed. The emperor has no clothes.

The scandal has revealed much more. The victims are being told that they will receive compensation from the state for the damage done; in other words, the state will take responsibility. As the Guardian’s analysis has shown, the real responsibility will lie with the taxpayer. So when state actors say that the state will take responsibility, they are in effect singling out all other actors except those who should bear full responsibility for the affair. This is noteworthy because it shows so clearly that the public has accepted this framework as normal and appropriate. The fact that the public has accepted this logic means that the effort by public intellectuals to convince people that the state and the people it governs are somehow the same thing has worked incredibly well. Listening to the responses of those in the political mainstream is (in moderation) extremely edifying, because it tells you a lot about how they think about political, economic and philosophical issues.

Sadly, it has revealed that the mountain that liberals have to climb to change minds is truly enormous.

The details of the scandal have been horrific. Many families have been affected in ways that we cannot even begin to comprehend. If we do not learn the right lessons from these events, we are doomed to repeat them. I fear that this type of scandal will be repeated in the future. The public reaction has exposed the lack of reflection of those in positions of power, our so-called public intellectuals.

It has also exposed the almost psychotic need of both major parties to defend the National Health Service (NHS), stopping all criticism to vigorously defend the bravery and courage of NHS workers. But the problem is that no one has ever questioned the fact that most criticism of the NHS is accompanied by endless warnings that it is not directed at the people who work in it. The fact is that state bureaucracy breeds corruption and the NHS is one of the largest bureaucracies in the UK. If the NHS is immune to criticism, the scandals will continue to come. Furthermore, there will be no progress as long as the mainstream refuses to think properly about how this scandal happened.

This article is originally published on contrepoints.org

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