We’re a bit stuffed: what has gone wrong with the UK?
Considering the historical industrial powerhouse that Britain used to be, what went wrong? After the decline of Britain as that powerhouse, it transitioned from the “nation of shopkeepers” to what we have now: a nation of consumers. Judging by appearances, it seems these consumers consume excessively.
The term ‘Broken Britain’ is commonly used, and for good reason. Nearly all the responsibilities held by the state seem to be poorly managed. To underscore the underlying problem, let’s examine the state of the roads: they are in poor condition, while the cars using them are becoming increasingly expensive.
Most solutions proposed by the government revolve around either increasing or decreasing expenditures on various matters. Even when things are not functioning, the common response is, “We’ve invested a record amount in X or Y.” Simply pouring money into a situation or withdrawing it doesn’t yield optimal results. Doing more of the same also tends to be ineffective.
This approach falls short because it attempts to address the issue at the wrong level. I am frustrated by the substantial waste of public funds on ineffective schemes, while private companies implementing those schemes profit handsomely. Ironically, it seems that addressing the problem isn’t in the interest of these private companies, as they would then be called upon to rectify or alter the unsuccessful schemes.
Consider the case of fly-tipping. Is the solution more fines or increased CCTV surveillance? Such coercive measures have rarely produced positive outcomes. While they benefit the companies supplying the technology, they fail to significantly alter the behavior of those littering the country. Instead, these measures tend to shift the problem to areas without CCTV, thus expanding opportunities for technology suppliers.
The significant rise in mental health issues is a pressing concern in the UK. Simply pouring more money into treating the consequences has proven inadequate for preventing the issues from arising in the first place. Is increasing the budget for anti-depressants the solution? A manufacturer of such drugs could easily persuade budget holders of its merits.
Obesity, deteriorating mental health, the exodus of teachers, nurses resigning, poorly maintained roads riddled with subpar pothole repairs, fly-tipping, the necessity for police presence to prevent altercations during social gatherings—do we desire such an environment? Can we genuinely expect increased spending to resolve these issues? It has never worked before and is unlikely to do so now because it addresses the problem at the wrong level.
Let’s examine the unsightly litter problem around us. Someone consciously chooses to discard that waste. This person comes from a culture that deems such behavior acceptable as long as there are no repercussions. This culture is rooted in a set of values, which, in turn, stems from a foundational belief system or worldview.
Outcomes are the result of a culture.
Cultures are built upon values.
Values are derived from worldviews.
Deep-seated issues are seldom resolved by manipulating outcomes. They are effectively tackled by addressing the root problem at the appropriate level, whether it involves addressing cultural problems or the underlying values that culture is founded upon.
The ease of misjudgment
Manipulating outcomes is straightforward. It gives the impression that progress has been made toward a solution. More police, increased spending, more investment in education—this is the favored approach of most politicians, driven by a culture that believes in resolving issues by intensifying or diminishing certain actions. Yet, this approach falls short.
Addressing problems at the appropriate level is challenging, as it requires identifying the level at which the issue originates. In British culture, the initial reaction is often to assign blame. In a culture heavily influenced by the concept of safety, locating a failure is easy. It’s simple to attribute a compliance problem and place blame there. The cry “They didn’t ensure my safety” is common, but it disregards the fact that the individual may not have been paying attention before falling into the hole.
Outcomes like this emanate from a culture.
This culture is founded on values.
In this scenario, these values derive from the utopian ‘worldview’ that prioritizes safety. Until this utopian situation is achieved (which is unlikely), the responsibility for keeping ‘me’ safe falls on someone else. Failure to do so within the current culture keeps no-win no-fee solicitors busy. Ultimately, safety can only be a priority if you you strip any freedom from someone’s personal choice.
In a culture shaped by this mindset, demanding answers at the wrong level consistently results in costly chaos. Money is poured into solutions that prove ineffective, and the primary beneficiaries are those profiting from the allocated funds. The issue worsens until funds are depleted, at which point the meager benefits of the approach are withdrawn due to lack of resources.
A friend who was seriously ill had to spend some time in hospital. 6 weeks later she came out and recounted how she was shocked to see how many obese people being treated for obesity related problems. Yet what really shocked her was the complaints being made by these people about the volume of food on offer and the poor smoking facilities. It’s hard to believe we live in a culture like this.
So potholes continue to be inadequately filled. The spending on training therapists and mental health nurses increases, yet more individuals suffer from mental health problems and staff leave. While people emphasize tolerance of specific groups, intolerance, anger, and frustration escalate in the broader community.
Clearly, the current approach isn’t effective, and the solution isn’t to intensify it. This strategy has consistently failed, so why anticipate success now?
Walking through Norwich on Friday or Saturday night reveals a startling police presence, ensuring safety from personal moral choices. Interestingly, other countries display minimal police presence, and societal interactions seem harmonious. The levels of intoxication and violence that necessitate police intervention are markedly lower, and there isn’t a clamor for increased police presence.
The youth (and older individuals) engaging in drunken violence on the streets represent an outcome. The demand for police intervention seeks to manipulate this outcome. However, this approach proves ineffective. The ultimate goal should be to eliminate the need for police presence in the first place.
Attempting to solve problems by manipulating outcomes seldom succeeds in any context. It’s a costly misstep. Furthermore, when this approach fails, the public tends to point fingers at the responsible parties. In response, councils and governments announce increased expenditures on certain issues, often without substantial success. It’s no wonder that the UK is burdened by debt and decaying infrastructure, while a minority continues to amass wealth.
In summary, the UK’s capitalistic worldview has fostered values centered on material wealth. This has led to a culture driven by self-interest, with an expectation that the state will clean up the mess left behind. This mess, evident in British society, manifests as the unsatisfactory outcomes we observe.
Lastly, there is much discourse about dissatisfaction with the Tory government. However, the selection of government itself is an outcome of a culture built on specific values. Altering a government is akin to manipulating an outcome. It won’t yield significant change unless the underlying culture is transformed. I hope the winning party in the election in 2024 can address this issue and refrain from perpetuating the same ineffective strategies.