I have a long and quite detailed piece in the new edition of Prospect, analysing the ups and downs of Gordon Brown's tax credit policies. The story is really one of the somewhat tragic follies encountered in the course of post-ideological politics. Brown's intentions with tax credits were really quite admirable, but the policy itself was constructed in a piecemeal and short-sighted fashion. It raises serious questions about the limits of economics as a tool of policy design, and about what other types of social science might be brought into complement it (focus groups would have been a start in this instance). As I conclude:
If there is a lesson it is that political ends and means cannot simply be jammed together through sheer force of political will, especially when the state is trying to do complex customised things for 6m households. Moreover, one has to wonder if a policy device that can be traced back to Milton Friedman could ever be that neatly adapted to the goals of the centre left, despite the Clinton precedent. Friedman imagined a minimalist, perhaps even brutalist, way of simplifying economic incentives across society. The more the Brownites sought to humanise that vision, the more complexity they added, until the system failed many of the people it was intended to help and gave a progressive policy a bad name.