Send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance


A Sequence of Lines Traced by Five Hundred Individuals from clement valla on Vimeo.

This is an interesting example of why planning, at least centralised planning, has such difficulty in working. If the video doesn't appear here, you can see it here. 500 individuals were asked to trace over a line. But each person got to see only the tracing made by hte person before. So the 100th only saw the 99th, the 300 th the 299 th etc. As you can see, by the end there's almost no connection at all to the original idea of a straight line.

All rather reminiscent of the game of Chinese Whispers ("Telephone" to Americans) where the order "send reinforcements, we're going to advance" becomes, after transmission through a number of phone/radio operators, becomes (allegedly) "send three and fourpence, we're going to a dance".

The analogy to the centralised planning of the economy is obvious. By the time the word has moved from the Prime Minister's sofa, to The Treasury, through the civil service, through the layers of management, of rule making and target setting, to those who actually do things, what was originally said has been lost. This could be how we get outreach diversity advisors for example. The original request "Who can advise me on how to reach out to the diverse people's of the nation" from that Number 10 sofa becomes an employment programme for the dimmer outputs of sociologist factories.

And the lesson is similarly obvious. The things that need to be done should be decided by those close to what needs to be done: localism in short. That this might lead to different things being done in different places should not scare us. After all, what needs to be done might vary from place to place and even if it doesn't, the result will still be better than the doing of what no one wants to be done as a result of the instructions being garbled as above.

Telling everyone what to do from the centre just doesn't work for what is being said never turns out to be what is being heard.