I was impressed that the libertarian press was sticking the boot into the mainstream media, Labour and the NHS in an apparently co-ordinated effort today. The City AM editorial made the point nicely and Guido backed it. It is vital to ask why one story – Libor or horse meat – is getting more press than another – the large scale failure of NHS hospitals. This is how bias is revealed.
The question is powerfully raised, but I don’t like the answers. Guido simply highlights that the difference exists, and points to the equine story as a distraction, and so made no contribution on this point. Heath gets it wrong by highlighting “double standards”, but there is a totally consistent standard that is being applied.
The NHS is set up to help the poor get healthcare. The poor, having better things to worry about, tend not to be the people doing all the shouting. For that we have Polly-Toynbee-style trustifarians with smart houses and cushy jobs writing daily columns, not filling sandwiches nightly in factories.
What the shouting in favour of the NHS is usually about is that the NHS helps others. Not the speaker. Everyone except the speaker who is alright-actually thanks-for-asking. That the NHS failed to care for 1200 people, resulting in their deaths is regrettable but the NHS was trying to do good. It was trying to help others, not the speaker and not the NHS either. The fact that the NHS is a lose-win deal makes it virtuous. The NHS and everyone who pays for it lose and the patients win; that’s the point. Were NHS staff greedy, self-absorbed, evasive and dishonest? Almost certainly, but they are part of a larger project aiming for a lose-win outcome.
Meanwhile, meat manufacturers and bankers exist to help customers. Customers who pay them money. Their normal mode of operation is rationally self interested: a win-win. Such sustainable trades are morally neutral at best, but eyed with suspicion. Are those win-win outcomes really fair? How come one party has more buildings and employees?… hmnn…. In this context the greedy, self-absorbed, evasive, and dishonest minority tip the scale and the result is an anger which is unmitigated by any appreciation for a larger virtue.
The standard then, to spell it out, is nasty unpleasantness on one side balanced with lose-win altruistic contributions; and the NHS is seen as a massive charitable program. It might very well be avoiding criticism due to bias and short-termist point scoring by the left, but the NHS is supposed to be forgiven, it’s trying and that is good enough. That it might be trying something unsustainable and foolish is not part of the analysis. The problem is that the whole moral analysis is flawed, and that is why this blog keeps returning to the point that to win we must change the terms of the moral analysis.