Lord (Gus) O’Donnell, former Cabinet Secretary, will be giving the John Donne Lecture on Friday 15th March at 5.15 pm in the Sheldonian Theatre.
The lecture is open to all but we do ask those wishing to attend to sign up.
Hertford current members can sign up using WebLearn All other guests can sign up by emailing development [dot] office [at] hertford [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk.
If no man or woman are islands, what are they?
I am presenting two Radio 4 programmes on In Defence of Bureaucracy on 5th and 12th March. In them I will be interviewing people likeTony Blair, John Major, Michael Heseltine, and various senior officials, including the head of MI5. This lecture follows on from these ideas in that it is my attempt to build the foundations for a better bureaucracy.
I spent over three decades advising ministers on public policy decisions: should we join the euro, how do we reform pensions, how can we stop the health bill taking over the whole of public spending, should we intervene in Libya, Syria…? Public policy decisions are classic examples of decision making under uncertainty and we are a long way from having a simple scientific way of handling such problems. However, I believe we could improve the process dramatically if we started from a different place.
The necessary radical transformation is to start from John Donne’s understanding that individuals are interrelated; they are human, with all the foibles that entails. In the standard neo-classical world, public policy doesn’t get much of a look in. Governments supply public goods and may try to sort out some large externalities or market failures but that’s about it. The market will maximise GDP and individuals will sort themselves out.
The ‘real’ world I want to explore involves a rather more subtle but more pervasive role for government. First we need to decide what government is for. I am clear that it should be there to maximise the wellbeing of society, allowing for the distribution of wellbeing as well as its total. In this lecture I want to explain the first tentative steps about understanding how individuals make choices. I will use current policy problems to explain how the new behavioural approach would result in a very different way of analysing and deciding the key decisions we face today.