The Lonely Robot

Film zkoumá naše pojetí svobody. Konkrétně, jak k dnešním představám o svobodě vedl zjednodušený model lidských bytostí jako sobeckých stvoření, podobných robotům.

Adam Curtis, autor seriálu The Century of the Self a The Power of Nightmares natočil třídílný film The Trap: Whatever Happened to our Dream of Freedom (přeloženo jako Past: Copak se stalo s naším snem o svobodě).


The second episode reiterates many of the ideas of the first, but develops the theme that the drugs such as Prozac and lists of psychological symptoms which might indicate anxiety or depression were being used to normalize behavior and make humans behave more predictably, like machines. This was not presented as a conspiracy theory, but as a logical (although unpredicted) outcome of market-driven self-diagnosis by checklist, discussed in the previous program.

The program shows that people with standard mood fluctuations diagnose themselves as abnormal. They then present themselves at psychiatrist’s offices, fulfilled the diagnostic criteria without offering personal histories, and were medicated. The alleged result was that vast numbers of Western people have had their behavior modified by SSRI drugs without any strict medical necessity.

Curtis explains how, with the „robotic“ description of humankind apparently validated by geneticists, the game theory systems gained even more hold over society’s engineers.

Game theory worked its way into civil service and the belief came about that those stating they are working in government to help public good should be fired as they must be lying. Only those who worked based on meeting targets with incentives should be rewarded. But people cheated the faulty system sometimes at the expense of safety of others as in the case of hospitals.

The program describes how the Clinton administration gave in to market theorists in the U.S. and how New Labour in the UK decided to measure and provide targets for everything it could including several things that are unmeasurable. This created a government that was sacrificing the greater good to appease immediate and often trivial desires of focus groups.

The Lonely Robot

The ultimate political goal at the heart of our age, is the idea of individual freedom. I believe that freedom is the future of all humanity. In Britain, our government has set out to create a revolution that will free individuals from the control of old elites and bureaucracies. A new world, where we are free to choose our lives, not be trapped by class or income into a pre-destined role. To liberate Britain from all the old class divisions, old structures, old prejudices. To liberate the individual. And abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain and America have set out to liberate individuals from tyranny.

For those leading it, it is just a first step in a global revolution for democracy. But if one steps back and looks at what has resulted, it is a very strange kind of freedom. The attempt to liberate people from the dead hand of bureaucracy has led to the rise of a new, and increasingly controlling, system of management, driven by targets and numbers. While governments, committed to creating freedom of choice in all areas, have actually presided over a rise of inequalities and a dramatic collapse in social mobility. The consequence has been a return of the power of class and privilege. And abroad, the attempt to create democracy has led not just to bloody mayhem, but to a rejection of the american-led campaign to bring freedom.


And it has summoned up an anti-democratic, authoritarian islamism. This in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain itself. In response, the government has dismantled long-standing laws designed to protect our freedom. This is a series of films about how this strange, paradoxical world came to be created. This episode tells the story of how, in the 1990s, politicians from both the right and the left, tried to extend an idea of freedom, modeled on the freedom of the market to all other areas of society.

This was something that previously no-one, not even the high-priest of capitalism, Adam Smith, had thought possible or appropriate. But now, it was seen as inevitable, because underlying it was a scientific model of ourselves, as simplified robots. Rational, calculating beings, whose behavior and even feelings, could be analysed and managed by numbers. But what resulted, was the very opposite of freedom. The numbers took on a power of their own, which began to create new forms of control, greater inequalities, and a return of a rigid class structure, based on the power of money.

Second part: – The Lonely Robot –

In 1991, the new leader of the Conservative Party, John Major, was searching for what his advisors called „the vision thing“. A policy that would define his time in office. „Can we turn left into Atlantic Road in a moment please?“ „I think I’d like to go down there and have a look.“ „Is it still there?“ „It is, it is…“ „It’s still there. It’s still there…“ The pattern was set, and the world divided. Not into male and female, oh no no no… That’s just mere superficial division, of minor importance. No, gentleman… There is another division… Another dichotomy… More basic, more profound…

At that fateful moment, the world was divided into winners and losers. Top men, and underdogs. In a word, the one up, and the one down. And in July, John Major announced that he was going to make Britain a fairer and more equal society. And he was going to start with the public services. The arrogant bureaucrats who had ruled Britain for so long, were now going to be made to serve the public. There would be no „them and us“ andy longer. „Nothing less than a revolution in the way in which public services are delivered.

It will be the most comprehensive quality initiative ever launched. New and tougher standards of services will be set. The wide range of mechanisms to ensure that they are met to the citizens satisfaction. – „WAIT THERE!“ Behind John Major’s vision was a radical new political theory, which had been borne out of the strategic thinking of the Cold War. As last week’s programme showed, it argued that the idea of public duty, which had underpinned British public life for generations, was an illusion. In reality, public servants were motivated only by self interest.

When they talked proudly of serving the public good, it was hypocrisy. What they were actually doing was scheming to build up their empires. John Major was setting out to create an alternative system, that tried to mimic the self-interested drive of the free market. This would harness the true individualism of public servants in a productive way. The management consultants who designed the systems, explained that this was liberation. Once public servants were set performance targets, they could achieve them in any way they wanted.

The old bureaucratic rules could be thrown away, and they would become heroic entrepreneurs. „Dispel for good our notions of bureaucratic inefficiency and complacency. These people have visions, they set goals, they constantly seek customer feedback, they beat budgets and pursue innovations with zeal.“ „Right…“ The bureaucracy-bashing revolution is underway. It’s no longer management by the book. And in fact, the book has been rewritten, and in some cases literally thrown out. „And anybody that deals with the public, you can never win.

You can never win when you deal with the public. Never.“ But this radical new theory had an inexorable logic at its heart. It wasn’t just going to attack the old bureaucratic institutions, it was going to go much further. It would undermine the very ideals of democratic politics, and the politicians belief that they could change the world. The man who did most to drive through this logic, was one of the most influential economists in the world: James Buchanan. His ideas had fundamentally shaped the conservative revolution in both Britain and America.

He argued that politicians, just like the civil servants, were hypocrites. The idea they promoted – that they were serving the public – was a fiction. In reality, they too followed their self-interest. The illusion would be that politicians are out there, really seeking to do good for us. Not for themselves, but doing good for us. A kind of an optimistic illusion, that he is doing good for the public – Whereas you believe..? – believe that, for the most part, he’s after his own interest. I mean, that’s where we model his behaviours. – What about idealism?

Well, I don’t know what you mean, you’d have to tell me more about what you mean by that word. – The idea that you’re in politics for a greater public good than something you gain for yourself. Well I don’t think that meaningful. I don’t know how to put any handles on that. „“…your Labour candidate speaking to you.. „I ask you to support the Labour Party on March the twenty….“ What Buchanan argued, was that all politicians followed their self-interest, because the idea that they could interpret and express the general will of the people, was logically impossible.

Behind this view, lay not just right-wing ideology, but a scientific theory called Game Theory. As last week’s programme showed, game theory had been used in the 1950s by nuclear strategists, but the idea had then been developed by the mathematical genius John Nash, as a way of looking at all social interaction. Individuals lived their lives as a game, in which they pursued only their own self-interest, constantly adjusting to each other’s strategies. If this were true, the economist argued, then the very idea of collective peoples will, was mathematically impossible.

You simply cannot add up the millions of competing individual desires into one coherent goal. They called it „The Impossibility Theorem“. And the only system they said that could respond to what people really wanted in such an atomised world, was the free market, not politics. In this game theory view of the world, everyone is out for their own personal advantage, and then if you take that as given, then all those individuals want to maximise their pleasure, in this very simplified scheme, and that’s what the Impossibility Theorem says, it says they actually do that in the market, but they don’t do that in political situations, like voting situations. – It’s a very narrow view of politics…

Very narrow view of politics, but of course it has to be, because it’s a narrow view of the human being. But what it does, is it reduces what it means to be a human being to a few relatively mechanical principles. That individuals are little information processors, the market is the best information processor, and voting, or democracy is a weak information processor. – Inefficient. – Inefficient, yes. By the early 90s, this argument had come to dominate not just economics, but the thinking of those who ran the markets.

In 1992 Walter Riston, the head of CityCorp, the largest bank in the world, wrote a best-seller called „The Twilight of Sovereignty“ in it, he predicted the coming triumph of a new market democracy, where the market would take over responsibility for running much of society from the politicians. „Markets“, he said, „are the only true voting machines. If they are left untouched by politicians and regulation, they will truly come to act out the peoples will for the first time in modern history“. And the bankers are about to find a way of making this happen.

Ohio wants change. America wants change. And Ohio cast 144 votes for the next president. In 1992, Bill Clinton was running for president. Under George Bush senior, America had slid into depression, and Clinton promised that he would use the political power of the presidency to rescue the nation. „It’s time to change America. George Bush, if you won’t use your power to help America, step aside, I will. There is no „them“, there is only „us“.“ Clinton promised to use the power of the state to reform America’s healthcare, extend welfare, and invest in jobs.

And above all, reduce the inequalities that had risen up under president Reagan. And at the end of 1992 he was triumphantly elected. But in January, a few days before his inauguration, two leading members of the financial world, came to see Clinton in Washington. One was Alan Greenspan, the head of the Federal Reserve. The other was Clinton’s new economic advisor, Robert Rubin, the head of Goldmann-Sachs. What they told the president was dramatic. His political plans were impossible. He was inheriting a huge government deficit, and if he borrowed any more money to pay for his promises, interest rates would rise, people would stop borrowing and spending, and there would be an economic disaster.

The single most critical meeting with president Clinton, with respect to the economic strategy of the Clinton administration, was in early January during the transition, about two weeks before the inauguration. And it was that meeting – what we were saying to the president was that we needed a dramatic change in policy, and it has to be accomplished as much as possible by cutting spending, even though that is very difficult politically. – It was a dramatic message though for a democratic president, wasn’t it?

I think any president would have found it a dramatic message, whether Democrat or Republican, to have to start his administration by both reducing programmes, and cutting spending, and that’s very difficult for any politician. But what both Rubin and Greenspan told Clinton, was that there was an alternative way to build a better society. He should let the market do it. Instead of seeing the markets as a dangerous force, that politics had to control, he should give away power, and let them flourish unrestricted The markets, they said were now so intertwined with people’s lives, that they could respond democratically to people’s needs, in all aspects of their lives, in a way that politics couldn’t.

Alan Greenspan communicated a very clear message to Bill Clinton: that the economy, and people’s appetites as expressed in the economy – their buying – their ability to buy – what they buy – what they prefer – is a better gauge of public sentiment than any other. The economy, to that extent, is superior to democracy. In a democracy, it’s less tidy. People can express their preferences only indirectly, through their representatives and their representatives have to express the preferences of a lot of people, and, sometimes want to express their own preferences rather than their constituents.

So, in that way of viewing the world, an economy is preferable to a democracy. Faced with the banker’s arguments, Clinton agreed. And on taking office, began to cut back on his reforms. During his first term, he dismantled much of the welfare structure that had been put in place in the 1930s. He abandoned all his healthcare reforms, and cut government regulation of business. It was what the markets wanted. As Greenspan had promised, the economy began to boom. And in 1996, Clinton made a speech that announced the end of the vision of liberal politics that one could use the power of big government to change the world.

„We know big government does not have all the answers.“ „And we have worked to give the American people a smaller, less bureaucratic government in Washington.“ „And we have to give the American people one that lives within its means.“ „The era of big government is over.“ It was the triumph of market democracy: a belief that anyone who gave the public what they wanted was democratic, and thus good. As opposed to the old political elites, who believed that they knew what was best for „us“ and imposed their idea of what society should be.

In the process, business-men became transformed: They might be greedy and selfish, but they were also engineers of a new kind of freedom. By responding to the needs and desires of individuals, they were interpreting the will of the people, in a way that politicians couldn’t. If markets are in fact democracy, if markets are a means of consent, a medium of consent, you know, which all of these people believe that they are, there’s a very very commonplace view in the United States these days, in fact this is a consensus view it’s hard to find someone at the upper reaches of broadcasting, journalism, business, whatever, who doesn’t think this.

If markets, in fact, are a medium of consent, then you’ve got all sorts of funny things come out – then CEOs are the people whom the market have chosen above all others are in fact „men of the people“. They’re not some kind of bloodthirsty robber-baron, like Americans thought they were in the 1930s. When they speak to us, they say „you speak, we listen“, or, Fox News – what is it – „we report, you decide“, you know, or any of these slogans. The promoters of this idea of market democracy portrayed it as a glorious return to a golden age.

A time in the 18th or 19th centuries when laissez-faire capitalism, not politics, had ordered society. But this was a myth. The political philosophers of that time had made a distinction between the self-interest of the marketplace, and other areas of social and political life, that involved what Adam Smith called: „moral sentiments“. These were sympathy and understanding for others, which were just as important in the ordering of society. What was happening at the end of the 20th century was something that had never been tried before.

The idea of democracy was being taken over by a simplified economic model of human beings. And in the process, freedom was redefined to mean nothing more than the ability of individuals to get whatever they wanted. If you go back to the 18th and 19th centuries, most political philosophers and most economists understood that there was a certain social contract. People were bound together, not as individuals expressing themselves only through the marketplace, but as citizens. We had obligations to one another. We were not simply self-interested individuals purchasing things for ourselves, but we were a community.

Our very identities, our moral values, came from our relationships in these communities. The view that the market was preferable to politics, as a means of giving people exactly what they wanted that notion – that notion – is a rather new idea. Behind these new ideas about how society should be managed, was a model of the individual as a rational calculating machine, whose self-interested behaviour could be analysed by numbers. This simplified version of us had been created back in the Cold War by Game Theorists.

They had made an assumption that we were like that, simply in order to make their equations and their models work. But what was now rising up was a powerful scientific proof that this was not just an assumption. It really did describe the very roots of our nature that everything human beings did and felt, had been programmed into us by our genes. And all our actions were the result of rational calculations by that genetic programme: that we really were computing machines guided by numbers. The roots of this idea go back to the 1970s, when geneticists who were studying the behaviour of animals, made a conceptual shift.

They started to look at the animals behaviour from what was called the gene’s point of view. They realised that from this perspective, the animals were simply machines that were being used by the genes, to survive and replicate themselves. In effect, we can picture the body of the chicken as being a machine, a device, constructed by the gene, to ensure the production of more genes. Now, this may seem a perverse way of looking at things… You may think of reproduction as your method of producing children like yourself.

And I’m asking you to look at it in a very different light. The human body is simply the genes device for producing more genes like itself. Behind this new way of seeing animals was, yet again, game theory. Game theory had inspired the geneticists because it gave a powerful framework for understanding how the genes dictated behaviour. Game theorists looked at society as a system of self-interested individuals, competing and strategising against one another. And the geneticists applied exactly the same model to genes.

They developed complicated equations to show how all animal behaviour, from violence to altruism, were actually rational strategies played by the genes in a game of survival. The geneticists asserted that the same must be true for human beings. And one scientist did an extraordinary experiment to see whether our genes did control our behaviour in the same rational, mathematical, way. It took place deep within the Amazon rain forest. The Yanamamo people were famous for being one of the most violent societies on earth.

An anthropologist studying them, decided to see whether behind the chaos of the fighting, there was a hidden genetic pattern, guiding it in a mathematical way. He was called Napoleon Chagnon, and his first step was to try and find out the names of everyone, and who was related to whom. I assumed at the outset that the natives would be excited and eager and thrilled and flattered that I was interested in their culture and their society and their families and genealogies. And so, I would innocently ask what the name of so-and-so was, and they would give me a name, and I would write it down.

And it turned out that they tricked me, that all of the names of the people in the village I was living in, were not only incorrect, but they were derogatory, vulgar, false not all of them were vulgar and derogatory, but a lot of them were. – Like what? Like „fart-breath“, „hairy-c***“, „long dong“, things of that sort. „Hairy pussy“ – there’s the name of the wife of the head man. But Chagnon persisted. He spent months checking and cross-checking names and relationships. He also gave out western goods, above all the prized machete, in return for information, Hasta que llegó el momento en que, a su parecer, until he built up what he believed which he then stored on a computer at his university.

Chagnon then returned with a film crew, and recorded in great detail, a fight in the village. „Bring your camera over here“ – ‚The Ax Fight‘, 1975 – Chagnon returned to America, and went through the film frame by frame identifying all the participants. On the surface there seemed no meaning to the fight, often individuals who appeared closely related, attacked each other. But when Chagnon fed their details into the computer, and cross-checked them with his database, another reality emerged. Because of the Yanomamis complex history of intermarriage, individuals were related to each other in the most surprising ways.

What the computer showed was that individuals who took risks for each other in the fight were always more closely genetically related than those they attacked. There was a hidden pattern in the film and it was the computer that proved and demonstrated that the pattern was there, because you can’t possibly remember everybody’s genealogical relatedness to everybody else in the village. So underneath all of this chaos and confusion what meets the eye, there were people who shared genes with each other and chose sides to defend on the basis of their relatedness to each other…

Yeah, there is kind of a hidden mathematical dimension there to the whole thing that you have to really dig for to discover. Chagnon’s experiment caused a sensation within the human sciences. Because it seemed to offer precise mathematical proof that genes played a powerful role in guiding human behaviour. It became one of the fundamental pieces of evidence underpinning a new powerful model of human beings. They were machines, whose actions and feelings were driven by coded instructions, implanted deep inside them millions of years ago, of which they were unaware.

It was an image that began to permeate deep into our culture. The image of the organism, including ourselves, as a machine for passing on genes, to shift the focus away from the idea of the organism as being the agent in life, to the immortal replicator. Our DNA is a coded description of the worlds in which our ancestors survived. DNA it’s the computer recipe for life itself. Unravelling like a reel of magnetic tape on some giant computer. Back in the dark and frightening days of the Cold War, mathematicians had developed a simplified, machine-like model of human beings, whose behaviours could be analysed and predicted by numbers.

They had done this to try to understand and control the terrifying uncertainties of that time. Now in the 1990s, the Cold War was over, and its giant defenses lay empty. But that simplified model had risen up and triumphed as an explanation of what we truly are as human beings on every level. Politically, economically, and now, biologically. We no longer see this theory as having historical inspiration in the Cold War, instead what we see is a quasi-natural-social-science theory of everything. It applies to something as small as a gene, or something as medium-sized as a human being, or something as large as a nation-state.

The human being sort of dissolves in this social theory, that it isn’t about necessarily, human beings anymore. It’s about these little entities that are constantly questing to reproduce themselves, and also to find their maximum advantage. And with the rise of this machine model of human beings, a new idea about how to change society began to emerge. Not through politics any longer, but by adjusting how well the individual machines function. The technicians of this new idea would be the psychiatrists and the drug companies, who would free people from the terrible anxieties inside themselves.

But what it would lead to would be a new form of order and control, not defined by the old political elites, but by the objective power of numbers. „I just found myself constantly worrying… I couldn’t.. I just couldn’t stop.“ „My hands were shaking, and I was sure that people were looking at me and watching my hands.“ These college students didn’t know it then, but they were each experiencing the symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

This year 23 million Americans will suffer from one of these anxiety disorders, they’re the most common mental illness in the country, and they can attack anyone at any time. In the early nineties, an epidemic of mental disorder was sweeping America and Britain. As last week’s programme showed, it had been uncovered by a new system for identifying disorders. Psychiatry had been attacked for relying on the personal and fallible judgement of psychiatrists. But instead, a new objective method based on checklists had been invented.

These listed only the objective symptoms, and deliberately did not enquire into why and individual felt an anxiety. In the late 80s, nationwide surveys had revealed an incredible picture: more than 50% of Americans suffered from mental disorders. – How are you feeling? – I don’t know, I’m just sad… But at the very same, the drug companies had announced that they had created a new type of drug, called an SSRI, which they claimed, targeted the circuits inside the brain that were causing these malfunctions. The SSRIs were marketed under names like „Prozac“.

What they did was alter the amounts of serotonin that flowed across the circuit connections within the brain, and they readjusted the chemicals to normal levels. And all of a sudden, here comes somebody that says „OK, now try these on, try this Prozac on“, and I tried it on, and for the first time in my life I went – woah – is this the way reality really is? This pill could solve all of your problems. It’s called Prozac, and it may mean the end of depression as we know it. – I’ve been taking Prozac for two years. – And what difference has that made? – Brilliant. – Oh, she’s smiling!

Eyes lighting up! – And I feel as if I’m back to normal. – You feel normal? – Yeah. – You feel a better person? – Yeah. Through treatment, I learned to function with my disorder, and now life is so much more enjoyable. life is so much better now that I’ve gotten treatment, and I feel like I’ve got my OCD under control, and it feels really great. A better life is waiting. What now began to happen, was that millions of people who had been diagnosed by the checklist as disordered, went to psychiatrists to be medicated.

The result was liberation from anxiety on a wide scale. But in the process, the checklist became a powerful, and seemingly objective guide for people, as to what should be their normal feelings, and what was abnormal. And a number of leading psychiatrists began to argue that what they were actually doing was creating a static society, in which human beings were adjusted by the medication, so that they fitted to an agreed normal type, defined by the checklist. – People come to me all the time asking me to medicate them.

The implication behind that was that human beings, like all other animals, have a particular ideal model. It had a machine-like quality to it. We know what the model should be, and they ask the medications they ask of me, to give them medications that would push them back to this particular model they have… An unrealistic model, but a very static model, of man as machine. – Has it worked? You look very dubious my friend! – Apparently it has. I can’t help being suspicious of it. – I don’t think she’s the woman I married. – Why? – I think she’s changed. – In what way? -I don’t know.

I don’t know, but there’s something there that is different. – OK, she’s not the woman you married… Is she a better woman? -No. She’s different. They imagined that they might live in a world where there would never be a worry, not even a grief, where never did a conflict, concern, debate, worry over alternatives, make possible the kinds of progress that we’ve seen in the past. But then, the man who had created the checklists admitted that it might actually be leading millions of people to believe that they were disordered when they were not.

The checklist added up only observable symptoms. They deliberately excluded any understanding of a patients life. Because of this, he said, it confused genuine psychological disorder with normal human feelings of sadness and anxiety, and that this was happening on a wide scale. All this was being said by one of America’s most powerful psychiatrists, Dr. Robert Spitzer. What happened is that we made estimates of prevalence of mental disorders totally descriptively, without considering that many of these conditions might be normal reactions which are not really disorders.

That’s the problem. Because we were not looking at the context within which those conditions developed. – You have effectively medicalised much of ordinary human sadness, fear, ordinary experiences, you’ve medicalised them. – I think we have, to some extent. How serious a problem it is, is not known. I don’t know if it’s twenty percent, thirty percent, I don’t know. But that’s a considerable amount if it is twenty or thirty percent. What was happening was that large parts of normal human experience grief, disappointment, loneliness, were all being reclassified as medical disorders.

In the process, a new system of management was emerging. The drugs took away those complex and difficult feelings, and made the individuals happier. But they also made them simpler beings, more easy to predict and manage. And closer to the machine-like creatures at the heart of the economic models. By using checklists of symptoms about emotions, you have gone out and confused normal human responses to life, with mental disorder, and therefore created an illusion of a vast epidemic. A medicalised illusion. And, obviously a situation where you medicalise, a situation where your focus, will not be on social change, it will be on controlling individuals to fit in properly.

That’s the subtle and overall danger here. That it could serve our social economic systems needs in a way in which we become more efficient, but less human. What the psychiatrists had discovered, was that an objective system based on numbers had led them into a trap. The numbers had imposed their own narrow logic on how we thought and felt about ourselves. And the politicians were about to find that their attempts to manage society by using numbers would also have the strangest consequences. Far from helping them achieve their progressive vision, they would actually make society more rigid, and even harder to change.

In 1997, New Labour was elected. What it promised was a society free of the arrogance and prejudices of the old elites, who had dominated Britain’s class system for so long. It is us, the new radicals, a Labour party modernised, that must undertake this historic mission: To liberate Britain from all the old class divisions, old structures, old prejudices, old ways of working and of doing things that will not do in this world of change. Throughout their campaign, New Labour had modeled themselves on the Clinton Democrats.

And now in power, they did exactly what Clinton had done. They gave power away to the banks and the markets. Gordon Brown’s first announcement was to abandon politicians final lever of control over the economy. The new Chancellor, Gordon Brown, announces a revolution in economic policy. From now on, the Chancellor will hand control of interest rates to an independent Bank of England. And in the management of society, New Labour turned to the mathematical systems that John Major had brought it, but on a scale never seen before.

They believed that people actually behaved in the way described by the simplified economic model. Performance targets and incentives would be set for everything and everyone. Even cabinet ministers would have to fulfill their performance targets, or be punished. Three hundred or so performance targets, over 150 efficiency targets, each public service agreement will have a named minister who is responsible for delivering and achieving those targets. They may not have to resign, but they will have to explain why they haven’t been able to meet their targets.

If a department fails to meet those targets, then it’s only right and proper that government will look seriously at their ability to deliver. The Treasury, under Gordon Brown, created a vast mathematical system. They invented ways of giving numerical values to thing that, previously, no-one thought could be measured. Hunger in sub-saharan Africa was to be reduced to below 48%, while world conflict was to be reduced by 6%. And all the towns and villages in Britain were to be measured, for a Community Vibrancy Index.

And even the quality of life in the countryside was broken down into a series of indices, one of which measured how much bird-song there should be. – We want a barometer of the indicators of the quality of life, and they’re not simply the economic ones… half of the skylarks have gone since 1970. Now if you want to measure the quality of the life, one of the things is that dawn chorus. It’s about indices that affect everybody, in a quality of life barometer. The original idea behind the mathematical system was that it would liberate public servants from old forms of bureaucratic control.

Once they were given the targets, they were free to achieve them any way they wanted. But almost immediately, New Labour began to discover that people were more complex and more devious than the simple model allowed. Public servants began to find the most ingenious ways of hitting their targets. It’s that the pressure to meet these targets is causing some NHS managers to „game“ the system. Hospital managers proved to be particularly devious. When they were set targets to cut waiting lists, they ordered consultants to do the easiest operations first, like bunions and vasectomies.

Complicated ones like cancers were no longer prioritised. And they found other clever ways of getting people off the list. What happened at this hospital is truly shocking. Administrators wrote to patients asking them when they would be on holiday. They then used that information to set the timing of the operation, knowing that the patients would be away. As a result, the patients did not get their operations, but the hospital managed to cut its waiting lists. And when the managers were set a target to reduce waiting times in casualty, they came up with more, clever strategies.

A new job was invented, called the „hello nurse“, who did nothing to treat the patient, but simply greeting them meant they had been seen, and were off the list. When the government then tried to set a target to reduce the number of patients waiting on trolleys, the managers took the wheels off the trolleys, and reclassified them as beds. And they redefined the corridors as wards. And yet again, the patients were off the list. The police were also under pressure to meet their targets. One of the main ones was to reduce the rate of recorded crime.

Again, inventive strategies were found. Lothian police announced the most successful crime figures in over 25 years. But it was later found that they had reclassified hundreds of crimes, including assaults, robbery, and fire-raising as simply „suspicious occurrences“, which wouldn’t be included in the figures. We are passionate about meeting these targets …Fiddling… …By the management… …Altered their records… …But that’s a bit odd… I mean you’re the consultant… …And started to amend some of the answers that some of the youngsters had given… …Trolley waits – none… …Targets… …Three levels of targets… …Clear targets… Targets… Those targets… And focus on those targets… Why they’re targets… Targets…

The government tried to dismiss these reports as just a few bad examples. But report after report came out which revealed that this inventive gaming of the system was now endemic throughout the public services What was supposed to be a rational system, was instead creating a strange world, in which no-one knew whether to believe the numbers or not. The government’s response was to introduce even more mathematical levels of management. Complex systems of auditing were created to monitor workers, and make sure they fulfilled the targets in the correct way.

What had begun has a system of liberation was turning into a powerful system of control. If I don’t hit those targets, then I don’t get a pay increase. It’s as simple as that. – They withhold your increment? – They withhold my increment. – Not meeting the targets is really not an option. – It’s such an important target, that I get to keep my job this month, because there’s no red on the screen. – If they don’t reach the targets they’re axed, and if they speak out against them, they’re axed, here you have a catch-22 situation. – If you get zero star rated, you are being watched like a hawk. – I think you should go.

But the numbers were also having a strange and perverse effect on New Labour’s vision of a freer and more open Britain. They were in fact creating a more rigid and stratified society. At the heart of this was education, and the league tables for schools. The tables showed parents which were the best performing schools, and which were the worst ones. The government said that this would incentivise the less successful ones to compete, and improve their services, and standards would then rise across the country.

In fact, the very opposite happened. Rich parents moved into the areas with the best schools, which then caused house prices to spiral, keeping the poor out. And nearly all schools taught pupils only those narrow facts they would need to answer in exams, and so would help the schools rise up the league tables. What was lost was the wider education that would help the poorer children rise up in society. In 2006, a series of reports made it clear that there was a definite link between the government’s policies in education, and the rise of social segregation based on wealth.

This has contributed to a much wider problem. Social mobility in Britain has now ground to a halt. The stark fact is that the children of rich families in Britain today are much more likely to live and die rich, than in the recent past. While children in poor families are more likely to live and die poor. The country has become more rigid and stratified than at any time since the second world war. New Labour had adopted the market model of freedom, believing that there would be a trade-off. They gave up their old political role of intervening in the market to reduce inequality but what was supposed to follow was a new openness and fluidity in society.

In fact, they now have the worst of both worlds. Society has become more rigid, while the inequalities have become more extreme. Under New Labour, the country is even more unequal than it was under Mrs Thatcher. With an ever-increasing share of the wealth going to a tiny 1% at the top of society. And the inequalities not only affect how you live, but also when you will die Across the country, differences in life expectancy have increased since 1997. And inequalities in child mortality by class have also increased.

A baby born in Hackney is now twice as likely to die in its first year as a baby born in Bexley. Beneath the meritocratic surface, social class divisions in Britain are hardening and deepening. And in America, throughout the 1990s, the economic model of democracy was leading not just to the rise of inequality, but to financial and political corruption on a huge scale. America had experienced a spectacular market boom. But those running the market had realised that the numbers were not telling the truth, because the giant accounting firms had become corrupted.

There was a new element of FUD, the very foundation of the market, the numbers that represented the sanctity of the market, the reliability of the market, were becoming unreliable because the accountants had violated the trust the government had placed in them. I knew that the great accounting firms of America had engaged in practices that were very very questionable. And very often fraudulent – we were seeing more and more and more of these cases. – How widespread did it become? – Extremely widespread. Those who ran many of America’s corporations were faking profits on an enormous scale.

They did this because it would then increase their personal bonuses. „Come on“, they would say, „isn’t there another way of looking at those numbers?“, „Can we compromise?“ „Can we spread, for example, this misrepresentation over a number of years?“ In all of these cases the effect is one of corruption. We were trusted. We had a rational system, based on numbers that could not be disputed. We ended up now with a fictitious, irrational system. The officials, whose job was to regulate the market, tried to persuade politicians in Congress to act and expose this.

But they were blocked at every turn. They found that all the key politicians were being given millions of dollars in campaign contributions by both the corporations and the accounting firms. I mean massive amounts of money were spent in lobbying committees of Congress. I knew they were motivated by concern for business interests. – You mean they’d been bribed? – No. I wouldn’t use that word. That’s your word. – What word would you use? „Seduced.“ Despite the growing evidence of corruption, the Clinton administration portrayed the boom as something revolutionary.

It was a genuine democracy of the marketplace, in which everyone, at all levels of society was benefitting. But this was completely untrue. If one compares the incomes of Americans in real terms, between the end of the 1970s and the end of the 1990s, those at the bottom of society saw their income actually fall. Those in the middle saw a slight increase, while those at the top increased by an extraordinary amount. If you take income after taxes, you find that the average household cash income in the bottom fifth of Americans went from $9300 a year to $8700.

You find that the average household cash income in the middle fifth – the median – went from about $31,800 to $33,200. You take the top one percent in the same time period, you go from $256,000 a year to $644,000 a year. That’s to me is the simplest set of numbers I can use to sum it all up. I have many variations, but those just eat right out of the box at you. It’s just incredible how you can have something like that. Underlying the political experiments of the 1990s had been a simplified idea of human beings, that at heart they were just self-seeking individuals, whose needs could be best met through the marketplace, not politics.

If left unregulated, the markets would benefit everyone. In the face of this simple, irresistible argument, politicians had given away much of their power. But what had actually happened was the return of inequalities and social injustices not seen for a hundred years. The very thing politicians were supposed to prevent. Politicians now found themselves weakened and corrupted. And without the power to change society. And millions of individuals were left without representation, and even less control over their lives.

Here is the ultimate irony. Because as people began to believe they are just self seeking acquisitive individuals, that the democratic systems are fundamentally not nearly as good as the market for fulfilling whatever it is you want, people allowed elites to takeover politics. And politics to be distorted, and corrupted, so that politics became even less capable of fulfilling people’s needs. And meanwhile, the market did not give people good jobs, secure jobs, and so ultimately the individual cannot be fulfilled either through politics or through the market.

What had given this simplified view of human beings much of its power had been ideas drawn from both mathematics and biology. As this programme has shown, it underpinned a powerful model of ourselves as almost computer-like machines, whose instincts had largely been encoded within them, millions of years before. But now, questions were beginning to be asked in the scientific world about whether this was too simple a view of human beings. In genetics, the idea that the DNA is the all-controlling set of instructions for life, has been replaced by a more complex idea.

Scientists have shown that a cell actually chooses and edits which parts of the DNA to use, depending on the environmental forces acting on it. One of the key experiments that showed that the self-interested actions of genes controlled behavior, has also been questioned. Anthropologists looked into the history of the Yanamamo tribes, and discovered a pattern to their violence, that could be explained by very different causes than genes. It only seemed to happen when the Yanamamo came into contact with Westerners who gave them goods.

The tribes then fought with each other for access to those goods. What I discovered was that there was pattern, in which the warfare became more intense, or happened at all, during times of greater Western penetration into the area. You’re not going to get any help by looking at their reproductive striving. I think what will explain that for you, is what is the historical interactions with the powerful outside forces. That explains when and where they fight. – And those powerful outside forces are what? The powerful outside forces are predominantly the Westerners who come in who were sources of these much desired goods.

Anthropologists have looked again at the film of „The Ax Fight“. They argue that what one actually sees is a struggle between two factions: One, a group who have been given machetes by the film maker, Napoleon Chagnon. The other, a group of visitors to the village, who are refusing to leave, because they too want access to these precious gifts. The real cause of the fight, they say, is not the genes, but a struggle of politics and power, aggravated by the film maker himself. But Chagnon completely disagrees, and stands by his experiment.

No, I don’t think the ax fight happened because I was there. – Are you sure? Well, are you sure your father’s your father? I think it would be a reasonable presumption that this ax fight would have happened whether or not I was there, and the very fact that I was there and documented it was not the cause of it. Ax fights or club fights happen in many other villages when I’m not there, and I’ve documented these as well through informants who describe them. So I don’t think this particular fight was anything extraordinary and out of the pattern of Yanamomo violence. – You don’t think a film crew in the middle of a fight in a village has an effect? – No I don’t. That’s the end of my interview.

And in mathematics, the man who had created the equations that lay behind the simplified economic model of society was also expressing doubts about the assumptions on which his work had been based. He was the mathematician John Nash. Nash, who has now recovered from paranoid schizophrenia, and still works at Princeton, has come to believe that the purely rational, calculating creatures in his model, what he calls „the human as businessman“, have little connection with the complexity of real human beings. I have had some trouble myself on the psychological level, I’ve been in mental hospitals, and so I have, I may be developing a pattern of rationally I’ve realised that what I had said at some time may have over emphasised rationality or some type of thinking, and I don’t want to over emphasise rational thinking on the part of humans.

Human beings are much more complicated, like, than the human being as a businessman. Human behavior is not entirely motivated by self interest of each human. – But the underlying assumption of Game Theory is that it is? Game theory works in terms of self interest. But it was like the viewpoint that some game theory concepts could be unsound there’s over-dependence on rationality. That is my enlightenment. And Nash is not alone. In economics, the whole idea that the free market is an efficient system is coming under serious attack. Over the past five years, many of the Nobel prizes for economics have been awarded for research that shows that markets do not create stability or order.

That what Adam Smith called „The Invisible Hand“, is invisible because it isn’t actually there. And politicians do have a powerful role to play in controlling the markets. And a new discipline, called Behavioural Economics, has been studying whether people really do behave as the simplified model says they do. Their studies show that only two groups in society actually behave in a rational self interested way in all experimental situations. One is economists themselves, the other is psychopaths.