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Disability services - efficient, standardised, impersonal

By Peter Gibilisco - posted Thursday, 16 August 2007

The dominant ideas about economic policy owe much to the influence of the Public Choice school of thought, and to the general neoclassical belief that competitive market forces, driven by individual self-interest, are capable of running the most efficient and socially fair economy. Self-interest is thus altruistic!

This belief is ascribed to Adam Smith by those who take his book The Wealth of Nations as arguing that individuals acting in their own self-interest as economic agents would tend to do whatever brought them the greatest material reward, be it in the form of wages, rent or profit. The work that earns those rewards also contributes to the economic well-being of society.

At least two things are wrong with that reasoning.


First, Adam Smith never suggested that all individual interests are selfish. His first book, Theory of Moral Sentiments, explored the range and variety of our human feelings for one another: selfish and unselfish, hostile and indifferent, and actively helpful, for people we know and more generally for human kind.

The interests that prompt our economic activities can include joy in the work we do and pride in doing it well and in its value to others. Adam Smith knew much more than neoliberal economists do about the range of selfish, unselfish, shared and generous interests that motivate our economic activities. But neither he nor they give much attention to the possibility of society being inclusive for people with severe disabilities. For example, most people with severe disabilities need particular kinds of government intervention to help their efforts to cope with the hardships and human problems created by disability, and exacerbated by various kinds of market failure.

American disability author and activist Marta Russell believes that neoclassical economists see the free market as an equaliser, in that when it expands the economy, all will share in its prosperity. Its rising inequality is indifferent; as a natural phase of the business cycle it is good for the market and society at large, promoting efficiency through standardisation.

Compare the use of public policies that can directly affect social inclusiveness. Leon Falkins acknowledges of late that the delivery of adequate social policy is interrupted by the political use of similar policy that creates social dilemmas. (A dilemma is best defined as a catch22, quandary or paradox.) Therefore social dilemmas are those that are created under the current government agendas, stating:

Specifically, if government is invoked to solve the social dilemma, then government, being a public good itself, provides a new social dilemma possibly much worse than the original!

While Falkins is a public choice theorist it does not diminish his concern for problems; however, there are concerns about the prescriptions for solutions, especially where these have an impact on the disability sector. This points to the political dilemmas that are encouraged through current government public policy, creating a situation where another social policy problem is developed to cover up the original.


This outlines a problem for social policy developed by governments that are developed by using methods to increase efficiencies, despite not necessarily being effective. Stretton would dodge such problems by insisting that we don’t need more or less government, we just need better government. The fact that the recent government approach to reform is to reduce its size, by means which impact on social policy, tends to favour the government production of social dilemmas.

My personal dealings with Disability Services and their stated goals under the State Disability Plan suggest that people with severe physical disabilities receive no more than social rhetoric, and a form of social dilemma.

As I noted in a previous On Line Opinion article:

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About the Author

Peter Gibilisco was diagnosed with the progressive neurological condition called Friedreich's Ataxia, at age 14. The disability has made his life painful and challenging. He rocks the boat substantially in the formation of needed attributes to succeed in life. For example, he successfully completed a PhD at the University of Melbourne, this was achieved late into the disability's progression. However, he still performs research with the university, as an honorary fellow. Please read about his new book The Politics of Disability.

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