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Tony Judt, talking to Kristina Boži? in the LRB:

In Britain the most striking abuse of language is the redefinition of private, for-profit economic activities as services provided by the state. A concrete example is the way private entrepreneurs were given the right to run old people’s homes. However, no one wants to spell that out, which is why they are described as ‘delivering’ the service, as if they were the milkman bringing milk to old people. It prevents people from fully grasping that the state has handed over its mandate of responsibility to a private actor, whose motivation is to provide the cheapest possible service and make the most money. ((Thanks to Tawfiq Chahboune.))

Quite. One might add that to speak of delivering a service also helps to imply that, regardless of who is doing the delivering, the service does not change, just as a parcel would be the same whether it was DHL or Royal Mail who took it to the recipient; though this is obviously untrue for privatized social services.

It is a further irony, I suppose, that such widespread usage of delivering seeks to add to more or less complex or abstract activities (also: delivering “shareholder value”, delivering “growth”, in general delivering deliverables) a connotation of direct, dynamic physicality (the honest work of moving stuff from one place to another) at a time when people who do actually deliver physical objects are under attack from all sides — indeed, as Roy Mayall has explained, you can even be a private postal company without ever actually delivering anything, because Royal Mail will take it to the letterbox while you take the profit.

From what would you like to be delivered, readers?

  1. 1  john c. halasz  March 23, 2010, 10:36 pm 

    In some contexts/usages, to be “delivered” is synonymous with being emancipated or redeemed. Hence the state/public is being “delivered” from its obligations and revenues.

  2. 2  UnfitImproper  March 24, 2010, 8:50 am 

    There ‘s too much policy delivery (as opposed to the delivery of what the policy was supposed to, you know, do). Makes me think of parturition rather than achievement: here you are, a beautiful, healthy policy. Now, take it away and make something useful out of it. If it becomes a screeching, shaming banshee rather than what I suggested it might grow into, well that’s your fault.

  3. 3  resistor  March 24, 2010, 5:15 pm 

    Have you not heard of the new religion of Deliverology and its High Priest ‘Sir’ Michael Barber?


  4. 4  We Are Symbionese, If You Please  March 24, 2010, 10:09 pm 

    From evil, natch.

  5. 5  JC  April 30, 2010, 3:37 am 

    Deliverology destroys service: Professor John Seddon addresses the faculty of California State University

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