Is it more efficent to privatize?

One big debate that I have never really engaged with in politics is privatization. I’m sure that all my readers are familiar with the broad strokes of the debate, with the argument being over whether services should be owned privately or publicly. The argument in favour of privatization is usually that it will improve efficiency, the argument against is that private ownership may not deliver good outcomes for citizens. Recently, however, I have been exposed to the topic through some of my work, and I am therefore writing this piece to explore the question of whether privatization is really more efficient than public services.

It seems to me that privatization has two forms. Governments can either privatize by contracting services out, or by simply not delivering services. To illustrate, consider the following example. You may have a publicly owned hospital, where the employees are directly employed by the government. You can have a privately owned hospital, perhaps more tightly regulated by government but otherwise a private business like any other. And then you can have a privately staffed/run/owned hospital which receives some or all of its funding from the government. The theory behind both kinds of privatization, as I understand it, is efficiency through competition, either directly in the open market or in competition over the contract. In this piece the kind of privatization I really want to talk about is that which is achieved through procurement.

So, does contracting out services make them more efficient? I propose there are at least two reasons that this is not the case.

First, contracting out services requires strong procurement and oversight capabilities (procurement being the process by which an organization or government
may contract out work to private companies, often through some kind of
bidding process). Something that I have realized is how difficult it is to do a procurement process well. Procurement is really a perennial issue, when you think about it. How do you predict whether a company will deliver promised goods and services at an affordable rate? How do you monitor whether they are adhering to the terms of an agreement? These two challenges can easily eat into any savings that might have been made by contracting the service out in the first place.

Second, and I think this is the more traditional critique, the incentive structures for government organizations are different from that of private organizations. The goal of private companies is usually to make money, while public services are more closely tied to the goals and objectives of politicians. By this I do not mean that democratic incentives are always great, but they are importantly different from private incentives, and they more directly pertain to public opinion.

It is important to note that the issue I have explored here is very narrow: does contracting out public services make them more efficient? I have cursorily explored reasons why they may not be more efficient. I have not tackled the problem of whether privatization is better or worse, to which the answer is probably just ‘it depends’. As pointed out by my partner, contracting services out can have many upsides, such as if a government does not have the resources to develop and deliver a service, or if the government desires something like independent out-of-house evaluation.

Let me know what you think,

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Trump’s communication techniques, frames of analysis, and democracy

Several months ago I said that I would do some analysis of Trump and the American election. Up until now I have refrained from doing any kind of analysis or reflection, primarily because I feel the conversation is so saturated that nothing I had to say would be particularly interesting or novel. But now I have an idea, so here it goes.

Recently I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Charisma on Command. Basically the channel breaks down ways in which you can be charismatic and persuasive (including analysis of why certain Game of Throne characters do well and others do not, if your into that sort of thing). In May 2016 the channel posted a video predicting that Donald Trump would win the American election, and proceeded to break down the communication techniques and strategies that Trump was using and why they were beating those techniques being used by Hillary. The analysis is quite interesting, but what struck me was that technique is not something I have seen much discussed in public dialogue as to why Trump beat Hillary. Most analysis that I have seen has been primarily ideological/economic, proposing that Trump won because of disenfranchised rust-belt voters, democrat hubris, and various other accounts. There just has not been much talk about the idea that Trump won and Hillary lost because Trump was a better communicator who successfully controlled the election agenda. I think that there are two interesting things to take away from this. First, I think it shows how theory/frame sets the ways in which events are interpreted and explained. Second, it is possibly the case that the ‘technique’ frame is avoided because it undermines the democratic frame.

I am using the term ‘frame’ here pretty loosely to refer to the broad assumptions that are being made about how the world works. In the American election, I suggest that the assumptions that have been made are something like this: beliefs and economic circumstances are the important factors that determine an election. Candidate’s win or lose based on their moral characteristics and the degree to which they represent the public.

Contrast this with the frame that captures Charisma on Command’s interest. The primary ethos of the channel is that charisma can be captured through teachable techniques (this being how the channel makes its money). The primary focus of the video on Trump is breaking down the methods through which he succeeds. This kind of explanation is almost a-historical – Trump won because he was a good public speaker and tactician, shifting tactics and ideology to suit the different audiences he needed to win. This is potentially anti-democratic because it seems to undermine the democratic assumption that voting places authority in the hands of the people – if elections are won on the back of rhetoric and technique, than democracy entails rule by the rhetorician, not the public. I said before that this frame is possibly avoided because it undermines the democratic frame. By this I do not mean that it is inconceivable that both technique and ideology play a role in democratic life. However, trust is a keystone in democracy – the system functions in part because people believe in it. I therefore think it is unsurprising that the technique frame is rarely explored in public channels.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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Should the police have more discretion?

Police discretion is a contentious issue, particularly around the topic of racial discrimination. The issue is usually framed in terms of equality before the law vs. police effectiveness (I.e. should police have the discretion to employ questionable tactics if those tactics are effective). While this is an important conversation  In this paper I want to explore a radically different interpretation of the significance of police discretion explored in a very interesting paper called ‘Better living through police discretion’, written by Harold E. Pepinsky and published in1984 (download link).

Pepinsky proposes five features of police discretion that he thinks are generally overlooked. The five features are:
1 – police accountability requires discretion
2 – discretion consists of unexplained variation in police decision making
3 – it does not contribute to the already existing class bias in policing
4 – discretion is increased by the imposition of laws, regulations, and rules that set out to curtail discretion
5 – Creating police discretion is necessary for reducing the injustice of policing

I will explore these points in order.

1 – Police accountability requires discretion
Pepinsky’s point here is quite simple: people can only be responsible if they have choices (which he defines as having the ability to do otherwise). Otherwise they are being held responsible for the decisions of those others who regulate their behaviour. The police therefore cannot be responsible to the public if they do not have options in their conduct.

2 – Discretion consists of unexplained variation in police decision making
Some may find Pepinsky’s claim here controversial. The key argument that he is making is that the police only have discretion if their actions are not readily explainable. He provides an example of officers dispatched to instigate a report. Supposedly it was up to officer discretion as to whether an incident required a report. What the investigation found, however, was that the vast majority of officers would only file a report if the dispatch had identified a specific crime. Pepinsky therefore concluded that these officers did not have discretion.

3 – Discretion does not contribute to the already existing class bias in policing
The key to this claim is that the police as an institution are already heavily class biased. This is true in a number of ways, but the most interesting one is probably Pepinsky’s critique of who gets policed in society. The key factual claim he makes is to contest the generally accepted belief that poverty causes crime, and that lower class crime causes more harm than upper class crime. If these assumptions are false, then there is a great deal of explained variation when it comes to the policing of the wealthy and the poor – the poor are policed because the wealthy are in power. Further, Pepinsky thinks that it is a political impossibility that the police will be regulated so as to police the rich and poor equally. It is therefore benecial to increase police discretion (as he has defined it) because that entails reducing the explanatory power of race and class when it comes to police conduct.

4 – Discretion is increased by the imposition of laws, regulations, and rules
This is probably Pepinsky’s oddest point. The basic claim is that introducing new laws makes it harder to predict police behavior. The reason this is the case is because customs (our habitual modes of conduct) make it easy for others to predict how people will behave (or at least agree upon how people should behave). When rules are introduced to regulate police behaviour, this disrupts previously established customs and standards. For a notable period of time after the introduction of new regulation, police discretion is increased due to uncertainty on the parts of both police and those responsible for enforcing regulation on the police.

4.5 – Increasing policing does not increase safety
Before getting into point 5, I want to quickly outline a crucial sub-point. Pepinsky proposes that increasing law enforcement does not significantly increase the safety of citizens. This point rests on A) the vast well of unaddressed crime that the police can never hope to address, and B) the highly harmful acts of high class criminals that are likely never to be prosecuted however many officers we put on the streets. Note, however, that this does not mean that we can simply decrease law enforcement. For though the increase of law enforcement may not have increased safety, its removal will increase the perceived opportunity for crime and disorder.

5 – Creating police discretion is necessary for reducing the injustice of policing
The above four points ultimately feed into Pepinsky’s argument that the way to reduce the injustice of policing is to increase police discretion. The shape of the argument is essentially this: given that police enforcement is almost inevitably unequally distributed, and increasing it does not generally increase the safety of society, we should increase police discretion to not enforce the law. In practice, Pepinsky proposes this would entail giving police the discretion to negotiate standards of conduct locally. Crucially, this means giving citizens the right to decide when to call upon police power. The ultimate goal would be to increase the degree to which problems can be solved without hard law enforcement, and to gradually ease citizens into managing situations without calling upon law enforcement so that it later becomes possible to decrease levels of enforcement without leaving a void.

Reflection

It is evident, on this review, that Pepinsky’s argument does not purely pertain to discretion – his argument crucially rests on the assumption that policing is inevitably class-biased and he is primarily oriented towards decreasing enforcement for this reason. That being said, he constructs a very interesting account of what police discretion entails, and how expanding it (in certain ways) could lead to the improvement of society. I do wonder whether discrimination would just be shifted from central government to local powers, but I am inclined to agree with his argument that the notion that increasing enforcement will necessarily decrease crime is fallacious, and also agree that policing is heavily class-biased.

Let me know what you think!

CreativePhilo

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