Home » David Cameron: The Next Age of Government (Full Transcript)

David Cameron: The Next Age of Government (Full Transcript)

David Cameron at TED Talks

David Cameron – TED Talk TRANSCRIPT

Someone once said that politics is, of course, “showbiz for ugly people.” So, on that basis, I feel like I’ve really arrived.

The other thing to think of is what an honor it is, as a politician, to give a TED talk, particularly here in the U.K., where the reputation of politics, with the expenses scandal, has sunk so low.

There was even a story recently that scientists had thought about actually replacing rats in their experiments with politicians. And someone asked, “Why?” and they said, “Well, there’s no shortage of politicians, no one really minds what happens to them and, after all, there are some things that rats just won’t do.”

Now, I know you all love data, so I’m starting with a data-rich slide. This, I think, is the most important fact to bear in mind in British politics or American politics, and that is: We have run out of money. We have vast budget deficits. This is my global public debt clock, and, as you can see, it’s 32 trillion and counting.

And I think what this leads to is a very simple recognition, that there’s one question in politics at the moment above all other, and it’s this one: How do we make things better without spending more money? Because there isn’t going to be a lot of money to improve public services, or to improve government, or to improve so many of the things that politicians talk about.

So what follows from that is that if you think it’s all about money — you can only measure success in public services in health care and education and policing by spending more money, you can only measure progress by spending money — you’re going to have a pretty miserable time.

But if you think a whole lot of other things matter that lead up to well being — things like your family relationships, friendship, community, values — then, actually, this is an incredibly exciting time to be in politics.

And the really simple argument I want to make tonight, the really straightforward argument is this: That if we combine the right political philosophy, the right political thinking, with the incredible information revolution that has taken place, and that all of you know so much more about than I do, I think there’s an incredible opportunity to actually remake politics, remake government, remake public services, and achieve what’s up on that slide, which is a big increase in our well-being.

That’s the argument I want to make tonight.

So, starting with the political philosophy. Now I’m not saying for a minute that British Conservatives have all the answers. Of course, we don’t. But there are two things at heart that I think drive a conservative philosophy that are really relevant to this whole debate.

The first is this: We believe that if you give people more power and control over their lives, if you give people more choice, if you put them in the driving seat, then actually, you can create a stronger and better society.

And if you marry this fact with the incredible abundance of information that we have in our world today, I think you can completely, as I’ve said, remake politics, remake government, remake your public services.

The second thing we believe is we believe in going with the grain of human nature. Politics and politicians will only succeed if they actually try and treat with people as they are, rather than as they would like them to be.

Now, if you combine this very simple, very conservative thought — go with the grain of human nature — with all the advances in behavioral economics, some of which we were just hearing about, again, I think we can achieve a real increase in well-being, in happiness, in a stronger society without necessarily having to spend a whole lot more money.


Well, I’m afraid you’re going to suffer a short, condensed history lesson about what I would say are the three passages of history: the pre-bureaucratic age, the bureaucratic age and what we now live in, which I think is a post-bureaucratic age.

A simpler way of thinking of it is that we have gone from a world of local control, then we went to a world of central control, and now we’re in a world of people control. Local power, central power, now, people power.

Now, here is King Cnut, king a thousand years ago. Thought he could turn back the waves; couldn’t turn back the waves. Couldn’t actually turn back very much, because if you were king a thousand years ago, while it still took hours and hours and weeks and weeks to traverse your own country, there wasn’t much you were in charge of.

You weren’t in charge of policing, justice, education, health, welfare. You could just about go to war and that was about it. This was the pre-bureaucratic age, an age in which everything had to be local.

You had to have local control because there was no nationally-available information because travel was so restricted. So this was the pre-bureaucratic age.

Next part of the cold history lesson, the lovely picture of the British Industrial Revolution. Suddenly, all sorts of transport, travel information were possible, and this gave birth to, what I like to call, the bureaucratic age. And hopefully this slide is going to morph beautifully. There we are.

Suddenly, you have the big, strong, central state. It was able — but only it was able — to organize health care, education, policing, justice. And it was a world of, as I say, not local power, but now central power. It had sucked all that power up from the localities. It was able to do that itself.

The next great stage, which all of you are so familiar with: the massive information revolution. Just consider this one fact: One hundred years ago, sending these 10 words cost 50 dollars. Right now, here we are linked up to Long Beach and everywhere else, and all these secret locations for a fraction of that cost, and we can send and receive huge quantities of information without it costing anything.

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