Mises Institute of Scotland - Austrian Economics & the Liberty of Man

The “Named Persons” Scheme – Making Scotland a National Panopticon

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 created the role of the named person; a state appointed guardian for every child. This is a state functionary charged with monitoring the child’s well-being and who is required by statute to organise rapid and very early intervention into family life by any and all branches of the state if that vital well-being is threatened, or even might conceivably be threatened in the future.

This might seem all a little bit “East German”, a sentiment expressed by the BBC’s Gordon Brewer at 10:39 into this interview with the minister responsible – Aileen Campbell MSP. That however should merely pique our curiosity regarding why such a totalitarian policy should be introduced into the land once home to the ideas of Adam Smith and The Scottish Common Sense school of Philosophy. Surely a common sense approach to family life is incompatible with universal monitoring of every child. From whence, we should therefore ask, did such an idea arise?

alieen campbell brewer

Looking at the underpinnings of the named person idea we meet at every turn the acronym “GIRFEC“, which stands for “Getting it Right for Every Child”, and which bears many similarities to the US Scheme “No Child Left Behind” and the English “Every Child Matters”. Of GIRFEC we are told:

Getting it right for every child is important because it improves outcomes for all children. It does this by creating a single system of service planning and delivery across children’s services…[it]….

…consistently identifies at an early stage children who need help

But, when pressed on the totalitarian and anti-liberal aspects of a compulsory scheme of data sharing and state over-sight of family life, the reassuring words morph into something else. Ultimately the justification rests on two key benefits:

  • Saving the cost to the public purse
  • Saving the lives of vulnerable children

Let us therefore examine these two bottom lines in the GIRFEC calculus

The public purse in a modern welfare state is greatly harmed if the citizens are not on the whole productive, healthy and law-adiding. The welfare state, however, is a system which subsidises idleness, illness and where the criminal justice system  is a huge financial drain on government coffers. Clearly, we have a problem. The GIRFEC solution is based on the belief that early years development is vital (3 years old is too late) and that by intervening in families at an early stage problems can be nipped in the bud. Social decay can be reversed, Prison populations can be slashed, Hospital wards can be emptied. All that is needed is a little more state involvement; a little more compliance form the populace. The cost of the named person scheme and of the early intervention that it entails will be repaid many times over in reduced welfare bills in the new, happier Scotland that will be created. It is the state version of:

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.(ecc 11:1)

Saving the vulnerable child plays upon the normal response of mankind to wish to care for and protect those too young to look after themselves and the common revulsion we feel at a report of an innocent child being harmed. However, as most children who are harmed are either in state care or are known to, and already “safeguarded” by government social workers and child protective services, this the appeal is not what it first seems.  To  reason that “if it saves just one child” the scheme is justified is not to demonstrate that the introduction of this system will, with any certainty save a child. Rather it relies on what many instinctively see; that abused children commonly live such disordered, chaotic, random and dangerous lives that any system, however illogical or oppressive could, with luck, perhaps make a difference on rare occasions. Who is to say it would not? Such is the gut reaction against child abuse this argument plays strongly. This however ignores the less obvious, but more certain effect of government intervention into family life – harm.

Harm can come in many forms:

  • Children and young people damaged by vaccines
  • Sick children  made worse by harmful medical intervention
  • Families broken under the pressure of unwarranted investigation
  • Children wrongly taken into care (and children in state care have the greatest risk of abuse and the poorest life chances)
  • The mis-use of power by state functionaries for their own ends
  • Paedophilia within state organisations dealing with children
  • Suicide by parents who have lost their children to wrongful state intervention

amongst a whole panoply of horrors inflicted daily on innocent families all across the country.

Thus, what is unsaid in this scheme, is that there is no guarantee the state will get it right for each child, for your child, the aim is to reduce costs and harm on a population-wide basis. That this is done by early intervention before problems become significant and with practitioners warned “doing nothing is not an option” is to admit that unwarranted and unnecessary state intervention in family life is part of the plan. It is simply that the state calculates that it will be to the state’s net benefit; the the harm will be outweighed by the good. There is a word for this philosophy; the word is utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism’s prophet was Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) who defined the fundamental axiom of his philosophy as:

it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong

jeremy bentham

This is named person in a single line. It even uses the same word “happiness” as the Scottish Government often  substitutes for well-being. However Bentam went further with his felicific calculus which measured the pleasure and pain felt by an individual or by groups. To assist in remembering the seven variables he invented the following little ditty:

Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure—

Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure.
Such pleasures seek if private be thy end:
If it be public, wide let them extend
Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view:

If pains must come, let them extend to few.

The Scottish government have gone one better with a 8-indicator approach and an acronym (there is always and acronym) SHANARRI – safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible, included. The message is the same however “If pains must come let them extend to few”

Murray Rothbard considered this pleasure pain calculus in volume II of his History of Economic Thought; significantly, he noted:

But one thing can be said for Bentham’s grotesque doctrine. At least Bentham attempted, no matter how fallaciously, to ground his cost-benefit analysis on an objective standard of benefit and cost. Later utilitarian theorists, along with the body of economics, eventually abandoned the pleasure-pain calculus. But in doing so, they also abandoned any attempt to provide a standard to ground ad hoc costs and benefits on some sort of intelligible basis. Since then, the appeal to cost and benefit, even on a personal level, has necessarily been vague, unsupported and arbitrary.

41tIr-VPbjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ MurrayBW

Thus we have a system in Scotland dedicated to well-being, a quality that the proponents of this policy cannot define, let alone measure. Vagueness is all around. A further insight from Rothbard is the concentration on outcomes.

…in addition to the problems of the pleasure-pain calculus, personal utilitarianism counsels that actions be judged not on their nature but on their consequences. But, in the non-Bethamite, mere cost-benefit (rather than ‘objective’ pleasure-pain) analysis, how is anyone to gauge the consequences of any action? And why is it considered easier, let alone more ‘scientific’, to judge consequences than to judge an act itself by its nature? Furthermore, it is often very difficult to figure out what the consequences of any contemplated action will be. How we are to find the secondary, tertiary, etc. consequences, let alone the more immediate ones? We suspect that Herbert Spencer, in his critique of utilitarianism, was correct: it is often easier to know what is right than what is expedient.

Wise words, yet the Scottish Government remains convinced that its functionaries will be able to use compulsion when intervening in family life before any problem escalates to be of major concern and that this patently unlawful conduct can be justified by the claimed future benefits.

How then should we sum up the plans of the Scottish Government to introduce a compulsory state guardian to oversee the happiness of every child whilst admitting that it will involve harm to some children, perhaps to your chlld, for the greater good? There is an architectural quality about this construction, so towering and vast is the scheme, so shiny the facade, so rotten the foundations, that suggests an architectural metaphor. And Bentham provided one – the panopticon. Returning to Rothbards’s description:

‘Panopticon’, in Greek, means ‘all-seeing’, and the name was highly suitable for the object in view. Another Benthamite synonym for the panopticon was ‘the Inspection House’. The idea was to maximize the supervision of prisoners/school children/paupers/employees by the all-seeing inspector, who would be seated at a tower in the centre of a circular spider-web able to spy on all the cells in the periphery. By mirrors and other devices, each of the spied upon could never know where the inspector was looking at any given time. Thus the panopticon would accomplish the goal of a 100 per cent inspected and supervised society without the means; since everyone could be under inspection at any time without knowing it. Bentham’s apologists have reduced his scheme to merely one of prison ‘reform’ , but Bentham tried to make it clear that all social institutions were to be encompassed by the panopticon; that it was to serve as a model for ‘houses of industry, workhouses, poorhouses, manufactories, mad-houses, lazrettos, hospitals, and schools’. An atheist hardly given to scriptural citation, Bentham nevertheless waxed rhapsodic about the social ideal of the panopticon, quoting from the Psalms: ‘Thou art about my path, and about my bed; and spies out all my ways … ‘ As Professor Himmelfarb aptly puts it: Bentham did not believe in God, but he did believe in the qualities apotheosized in God. The Panopticon was a realization of the divine ideal, spying out the ways of the transgressor…

What more more perfect metaphor for the named person scheme could be found than the Panopticon?

Comment ( 1 )

  1. ReplyPorfirio Bryum
    I thank you a lot for your precious time in writing this post.

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