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Motivation, Agency and Public Policy: of knights and knaves, pawns and queens

Julian Le Grand|
Oxford University Press (23 September 2003)

Can we rely on the public service ethos to deliver high quality public services? Are professionals such as doctors and teachers really public-spirited altruists - knights - or self-interested egoists - knaves? And how should the recipients of those services, patients, parents and pupils, be treated? As passive recipients - pawns - or as active consumers - queens?

This book offers answers to these questions. It argues that the original welfare state was designed on the assumptions that those who worked within it were basically altruists or knights and that the beneficiaries were passive recipients or pawns. In consequence services were often of low quality, delivered in a patronising fashion and inequitable in outcome. However, services designed on an opposite set of assumptions - that public service professionals are knaves and that users should be queens - also face problems: exploitation by unscrupulous professionals, and over-use by demanding consumers, especially middle class ones.

The book draws on evidence from Britain and abroad to show that, in fact, public policies designed on the basis that professionals are a mixture of knight and knave and recipients a mixture of pawn and queen deliver better quality and greater social justice than policies based on more simplistic assumptions about motivation and agency. In particular, contrary to popular mythology, the book shows that policies that offer choice and competition within public services such as education and health care can deliver both excellence and equity. And policies aimed at building up individual assets and wealth ownership can empower the poor and powerless more effectively than those aimed simply at bolstering their current income.

In the light of the analysis, the book evaluates recent government policies in health services, education, social security and taxation. Specifically, it examines some policy reforms with which the author has been closely associated (and which in some cases he actually originated): the baby bond or child trust fund, internal or quasi-markets in education and health, government matching grants for savings for old age, and an NHS tax.

Ends

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Notes:

Richard Titmuss: commemmorative conference
Julian Le Grand, Richard Titmuss Professor of Social Policy at LSE, will launching this publication, as well as speaking at a commemorative conference for Richard Titmuss at LSE, on Tuesday 23 September.

Richard Titmuss was Professor of Social Administration at LSE from 1950 until his death in 1973. The conference will focus on his intellectual and personal legacy and bring together friends, colleagues and those interested in his ideas and his tradition. There will also be information on the ways that the support and scholarship funds which bear his name are being used and extended.

Speakers include: Julian Le Grand, Howard Davies, Baroness Blackstone, David Donnison, Ann Oakley, Eileen Munro, Howard Glennerster. Full details of the conference, speakers and a registration form can be found at www.lse.u-net.com| This conference is open to all with a fee of £10.

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