You might see less cause for blame than praise when you learn what sort of computerized administration the coalition has been building. But the diagnosis is pain: painful decisions, painful truths. It has been building a digital remedy, but that may itself be a cause for concern: it suggests the organismic harmony of a fascist utopia. So blame, surely. Blame.
The computer systems our government has been putting in place at HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Word and Pensions in particular are turning the government administration into the nerve centre of an organismic nation state. But drop for a moment the fascist associations from this analogy of nation state as organism that is currently in vogue, so we can diagnose the pain clearly.
Those computer systems – HMRC’s Real Time Information system and DWP’s Universal Credit – are bringing the nation’s employers, banks, exchequer and social security system into harmonious combination.
Almost entirely automated, it is coming to resemble a circulatory system: the nation’s blood its money, its nerves as data, the parts made greater in their whole by the computer systems that unite them. Complexity theorists call it emergence. Puritans called it God. Fascists called it glory. The coalition government calls it efficiency.
You might think this nothing new. The nation does circulate money and data already, but only as well as it circulates venereal diseases or gossip. With HMRC’s Real Time Information System cranking up, it’s about to get ship-shape, shiny boots and step-in-time. RTI is getting links to the payroll systems of companies and the payment systems of banks, so it can get their data and money in real-time.
The circulatory flow is depicted in the concept diagram for Universal Credit, which you can get in a pop-up from this article >here<. It shows how money and data will flow from employers, banks, HMRC, DWP and back round into people’s wage packets. The idea is that government regulates the flow to sustain the working poor in the lower limbs of the national organism. So HMRC’s nerve system gets updates about individual people’s income, day-to-day, from their employer’s payroll systems. It gets updates about who gets paid what similarly from the banks. The systems extract the money itself from people’s pay. The money flows to the exchequer. The data and some of the money then flow round to the Department for Word and Pensions. DWP checks which employers don’t pay their staff properly. And then its Universal Credit system, the beating heart of the national weal, is supposed to make up the difference. When it’s all up and running, tuning the economy will just be a matter of tweaking the algorithm that controls the flow of money between rich and poor, roughly speaking.
So when Boss Hog, say, pays himself so much that he doesn’t have enough left to pay a living wage to his skivvies, DWP is supposed to correct his wrong by snatching money out of his pay packet and tucking it in theirs. That’s the shape computer-age social harmony is supposed to be. And how glorious this is, surely. But this beast’s got a serious circulation problem.
The circulation has got clogged somewhere between the point at which HMRC’s algorithm was tuned with rules that determine how much money it should snatch out of Boss Hog’s wage packet and the point where DWP’s Universal Credit was tuned with rules that determine how much money should be tucked back into the pay packets of his skivvies. The system’s initial settings are not getting money and data to flow round to the working poor.
The clot wot caused the blockage is otherwise known as parliament. A diagnosis will show it is a classic case of arteriosclerotic vascular disease. It is in other words a build up of fatty deposits that have stemmed the flow of blood to the lower limbs. The beast’s muscles are so starved of blood that manual labour induces pain. Its arteries are so clogged that it is in serious risk of a heart attack.
The problem can be corrected easily enough. Parliament just needs to tweak the algorithm so the flow of blood resumes and the country can start moving easily again.
That would be no end for the pain though. It wouldn’t be an end even if the state didn’t take this power to micro-manage people’s finances, their comms, perhaps their medical records, their genetic constituencies, and use it to pile privileges on those who fate has already advantaged and visa versa, creating a final solution to all social ills by putting each in their allotted place, thus leading the meritocracy to its techno-bureaucratic conclusion, it <parp> .. excuse me ..
It will creep up while you are unaware. Even if things didn’t turn out so bad that the technocratic state had socially sorted you into some job you were deemed physiologically, psychologically, algorithmically suited to do, you will at least, thanks to the circulatory flow of blood and money or money and nerve or whatever it is the HMRC has established with its realtime information, be apportioned some wage deemed appropriate for a person of your humble position and the health of the nation, and befitting the pride and the charity of your superiors, and their representatives in parliament, both who will sit ever so much more snugly in their high chairs for all the justification the algorithm gives them. Because they won’t tune the economy for the sake equality. They will tune it for efficiency at the bottom and luxury at the top. For the sake of the nation.
What will hurt the most is the realisation that your subservience has been entered into the national economic equation as one of its constants: yours and many other whole lives of menial work and meagre rewards at last liberated from the false hope that they might find some kind of meritocratic salvation through striving. Losers in the game of snakes and ladders will accept their place in the organismic hierarchy. Fools will pick up bad dice and roll them again. It will be like everyone worked for John Lewis. Give a little curtsey, stand in line with your hat in your hands, get a penny for your labours: thank you, Mr Lewis.