Friday, February 22, 2008

David Willetts & Civic Conservatism

David Willetts (UK Conservative MP) in the Oakshott Lecture (20 Feb) at the London School of Economics said that ‘reciprocal altruism’ between people is more likely to happen if people are regularly coming into contact in some way. The challenge for governments is to foster this human response and encourage the maintenance of such co-operation through the good habits and customs engendered by it. He says government should be protective of those institutions that encourage co-operative attitudes and should find ways of maximizing the effect. He points out that small schools are far more effective over discipline and behaviour than large ones. He quotes a figure of 150 as an optimum group size. The challenge is to reduce massiveness everywhere, then the positive effects that everyone can experience as part of small groups might start to affect attitudes in the larger networks that make up the whole.

Many of David Willetts' ideas mirror those in The Free Lunch – Fairness with Freedom. In the book ‘love you neighbour as yourself’ has a direct resonance with his ‘reciprocal altruism’. The theme of the book is to show how the socio-economic and political guidelines that accompanied ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ might be fulfilled by practical political measures today. The idea of a Citizens Royalty for everyone is one such. Such an unconditional regular payment would foster a new common bond between all citizens.

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