The Economics of Social Services

James Duffy (Nov.27/14) bids me to write some “inviting words” about The Economics of Social Services which appears as one of the essays in the series Economics’ New Standard Model. I will do this here –  as to how inviting the words will be, I am not the best judge of that.


One inviting aspect of this little paper is its length – my copy is 6 pages; the electronic copy for the blog may be a little longer. (I need to say now that Eileen de Neeve’s book Decoding The Economy: Understanding Change with Bernard Lonergan (2008) also helped me in preparing this little paper. For some reason I overlooked giving some reference to this short work. Having returned to her book recently, I believe it to be also an important reference in this effort to understand.)


To begin with, I simply assume the validity of the analogical relationship with Lonergan’s theory. Most who have read my little paper carefully think the analogy has at least a “qualified” validity. I recognize that this analogy brings with it, its own peculiar challenges. Terry Quinn pointed this out to me some time ago.


However, I do not examine or reflect upon this situation in New Brunswick, affecting some 9000 workers and some 12000 people depending more or less upon community based health and social services, only as an academic or as a (minor) scholar. This is because I live this situation now and have since 1980, and I suffer its pains and joys, though I no longer do front line work everyday as I did once.


Lonergan’s theory has helped me to better see and understand this situation unlike any other theory has, not only in terms of what is wrong, i.e., the systems tendency to dysfunction but also in terms of what is right or could again be put right (or made better).


At a systems level, it does have to do with a balancing of the two flows or circuits as they apply analogously to this community based health and social services delivery system. The technical aspects of the problem are presented summarily in the paper. The needed project is briefly identified and outlined in fn 6, p. 6 in my copy.


Until such a project is undertaken, we rely on fragments of data and anecdotal evidence which nonetheless is extensive as I indicate. I provided Phil with some data our Coalition gathered and organized that covers a ten year period and that applies to our sector. He quickly went to the heart of the technical problem of the application of the equations to the dynamics of production and exchange of this system.


And yet, it can be done in an analogous way, I am convinced. When Michael Shute and I met with high level government officials two years ago, the most fruitful comment by one of the most attentive and engaged participants from the Dept. of Finance was that “this is a new way of accounting.” Yes, indeed! We know that the former government has employed the multi-national accounting firm of Ernst and Young to examine government operations and to recommend efficiencies. We can only imagine the expenditure in this effort and what the prospects might have been if these efforts would have been guided by a proper theory with a firm commitment to implementation. Nevertheless, the outcomes of this present venture in “reinventing” government will be sought out along with the expenditures.


I must also speak of a twofold resistance because it has its source in both ignorance and bias. But this resistance is twofold in another way – for as it applies to the political leaders and to the civil servants whom we as a Coalition must meet and negotiate with over and over again, it also applies to me and my associates/comrades in the Coalition as well.


And so I try seriously to grasp Lonergan’s theory more thoroughly, for there is no short cut around this. I also must search out my own biases, and we will need to do this together soon as a Coalition leadership group.


There has been some gains or headway in this struggle (patience is essential along with a firm and intelligent resolve). There has just been an election in the province and a change in government. We have no illusions about the nature of the change but without going into details, we can say it is not unreasonable to say the Coalition had some influence on the outcomes of this election. However, it is prudent not to exaggerate any such claim.


Now much depends upon what we do next and soon as a Coalition, for we can see some political openings and opportunities that may assist us in addressing the problem for the theory’s analogical implementation to this community based sector in New Brunswick referred to above. Here I am speaking in very general terms of a direction. For the theory does this at least – it gives a sense of the proper direction for one’s longer term efforts, along with a sense of when the discourse and thinking is going seriously astray. This alone has great value in my estimation.


It is a slow process of gradual change of self, others, and systems and it has definite undercurrents of revolution just as the Antigonish movement did so many years ago. It was a Maritime phenomenon for a period. Sadly, we have to say that its vigour has faded and that it never developed an adequate theory of economy to go with its activism and to strengthen and sustain its commitment to social change. And yet Lonergan, I’m told, referred to this local movement for “new hope and vigour to local life” as one of his inspirations for his serious turn to economy. I like very much the idea that we have these roots and tradition in common.


In solidarity


Hugh Williams


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