Friday, March 18, 2011


The UN has voted 10 to zero in favour of intervention. China and Russia have not used their veto as permanent members and prior to this the Arab League gave their support.

Slow and possibly too late - but fast by UN standards. So now the die is cast, the planes should be in the air now. Not a decision that was as obviously easy as some have suggested it should have been - and the outcome is uncertain. But that this is so doesn't mean we shouldn't conclude that the UN is on the right side of this one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On being 'appropriate'

Unsure whether it is necessary in the world of Facebook and Twitter to point to someone else's stuff but this by Chris Dillow on Jamie Oliver's 'Dream School' contains an observation that is so true it hurts:
"The use of [the] word (inappropriate) is a hallmark of a particular character that thrived under New Labour. It’s someone who is enough of a moral relativist not to want to use the terms “right” and “wrong”, but not so much of a relativist that they are prepared to forego the power and wealth that comes from passing judgment upon others. Egalitarianism only goes so far."
Sounds familiar. I'd like to modify the observation just a smidgen. It is indeed a term for people unwilling to take the step of placing their criticism on an objective level on which one could then take issue with on a rational basis.

But it is also for those too pusillanimous to claim responsibility for what are usually subjective, and aesthetic, preferences. These people, it goes without saying, are usually management - or management wannabes*. That way they avoid conversations like this:
"Do you think that was appropriate? I don't approve of what you did there, Mr McGlumpher."

"Thanks for sharing, Mr/Ms Repetition of Meaningless Jargon, but I'm not looking for your approval. Now run along; unlike yourself, I've got work to do."
Isn't difficult to see how the semantic Third Way developed when you see it in these terms...

*Imagine having such a dismal ambition - and then failing...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Saving the EMA

There's arguments one could make for this but there are two that don't particularly appeal to me - both of which can he found here.

One is an argument from authority, which is even less convincing than usual because it is 'leading economists' whose authority is being invoked.

The other is an ad hominem argument about the background of the Coalition ministers responsible for this measure:
"We have a cabinet of privately educated politicians who do not understand how ordinary families in the 21st century need support to get on in life."
I assume we are being expected to believe the 'leading economists', in contrast, are horny handed sons of toil who went to comprehensives?

I doubt this but it is irrelevant. What matters is whether what is being said in favour of retaining the EMA makes any sense.

Some of it doesn't. Like all this stuff about increasing 'participation rates'. The increase doesn't strike me as being particularly impressive. According to the IFS it's 4% for 16 year olds, 7% for those aged 17. But the most important point is that 'participation' here just means they turn up, which isn't a good in itself. What matters is whether any learning is happening when they get there. Here the evidence doesn't overwhelm either:
"This (IFS) study was not able to examine the impact of the EMA on the likelihood of getting qualifications, but a subsequent report by IFS researchers found that in areas where EMA was available, students as a whole were around 2 percentage points more likely to reach the thresholds for Levels 2 and 3 of the National Qualifications Framework."
So why not make more straightforward, less bullshit arguments for EMA? Here's two:

1) While it might be difficult to identify much in the way of concrete gains, EMA is a more progressive and efficient way of maintaining 16-18 year olds in education than child benefit, which is paid to families regardless of their incomes.

2) In the grand scheme of things, in the War on the Deficit, savings of around £560 million mean slightly less than fuck all. I can't help wondering whether arguing the toss about this level of spending at all doesn't rather concede some of the territory that those who profess to be opposed to the cuts are claiming to occupy?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Saudi Arabian troops enter Bahrain

But everyone was too busy venting about the hypothetical intervention in Libya to notice, let alone comment on and condemn, this actual foreign intervention.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the US does not consider this an invasion and has urged 'restraint' - like they did in relation to Egypt, like they did in relation to Libya.

Much of the aforementioned commentary from the laptop anti-imperialists seems to have been based on the assumptions that Western intervention in the affairs of Libya would either be the incarnation of oil-interests or the relatively more charitable interpretation that it would be merely a very stupid knee-jerk response to the impulse that 'something must be done'.

The possibility that it is inaction that might be motivated by oil-interests or 'geo-political' concerns doesn't seem to have occurred to them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

AV, preferences and likely outcomes

I'm inclined to agree with Norm when he argues that the twenty-nine historians who have written to the Times opposing AV on the grounds that it violates the principle of one person, one vote, are rather overstating their case.

However, I think Norm overstates his own case by using an argument I've heard for AV before. This is that it is like the ballot system as used in French Presidential elections and formerly used by the Conservative Party in leadership elections, which does elections in rounds that knock out contenders who come last, only AV does this automatically:
"Every voter got to express their full preference-ordering and it's as if two ballots took place, in which each voter got to have their say. In the first round, they all voted with three candidates standing; and in the second round they all voted with two candidates standing. Each voter had the same two 'turns'."
It doesn't help that Norm uses as an analogy some vote about which country singer is the least excruciating best out of Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Lyle Lovett. I wouldn't know but I would have thought the outcome of this contest would be less certain than, say, a by-election in Glasgow.

I could be wrong about this but in any event it doesn't affect my point, which is that people will order their preferences according to their perception of likely outcomes. If people's perceptions proved to be wrong, they have the opportunity to change their preferences in the ballot system, as they did, for example, in the French Presidential election that saw Jospin pushed into third place behind Chirac and Le Pen. In this situation, left-leaning voters held their noses and voted Chirac in the second round to stop Le Pen. It would be unwise to assume AV would always be able to deal with a situation like this automatically.

It isn't difficult to see how this could become a problem in UK elections. If we get AV, where I live I would assume that my vote for Labour will never result in my vote being considered in terms of my second preference so I am unlikely to give much consideration to my second or third preferences. But a Tory voter would be reasonable to assume this would be fairly likely so would give their choices more consideration. In these circumstances, it isn't too far-fetched to talk about some people's votes carrying more weight than others. And if we were both wrong, it gives rise to different problems. If, for example, the BNP turned out to be stronger than we imagined possible, we probably wouldn't have ordered our preferences in the way we did. With the ballot system, we could change our minds to accommodate the new situation; with AV we can't.

AV represents the death of one person, one vote? Well, no - but I fail to see why people think this would be a vast improvement on what we have now. I have to say I'm getting a little tired of people saying AV isn't PR 'strictly speaking'. There are two kinds of voting systems: majoritarian and proportional; AV isn't proportional at all - not even a little bit. I've yet to read a convincing argument to support the notion that it's a staging post to PR and even more sceptical about the notion that AV is an obviously superior majoritarian mechanism to the system of plurality we have now.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

IDS on unemployment

Ian Duncan Smith argues that, "It's not the absence of jobs that's the problem. It's the failure to match the unemployed to the jobs there are."

But according to the government's own statistics, even if the problem of matching workers to jobs was overcome and every single vacancy in the UK were filled, there would still be rather a lot of people unemployed.

Supply-side enthusiasts would argue that this is because workers are pricing themselves out of the labour market. Leaving aside the minimum wage, in the UK there were 5.2 people unemployed for every vacancy in Dec 2010. Does anyone seriously imagine it is possible for people to absorb the sort of pay cut that firms getting five workers for the price of one would entail?

If I'm missing something please explain in the comments below.

Via: FR

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