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Tuesday, September 12, 2006



"“New Labour” stormed to power on the back of a brilliant marketing and communications effort, allied to a ruthlessly efficient campaigning style."

Well, how's that for a bit of journalistic exaggeration. Not bad, methinks.

How about citing Margaret T., who paved the way for Tony Blair by laying low Tony Benn and the other troglodyte Leftists. All Blair did is bring the British political pendulum back to center.

Will a Brit please explain this: You've had more than a decade of comparatively high growth - compared to, say, France. You have all expanded your personal wealth, whereas most French (and others on the continent) have seen theirs contract. (How do I know that? Because I've seen the Brits who sell their UK property and can afford to purchase another in France, which is far, far beyond what they had in the UK. And, some even bankrolled what was left over.)

Would you please tell me what there is - really - to complain about? A war in Iraq? Well, OK. A broke-down health system. OK, I'll grant that too. (But most of you who have done well have got the means to pay for private care.) The rest is feckless whining.

NB: Please tell us also how Gordon Brown, heir apparent, is going to do any better. Both are political hacks.

AC Mitchell

"Great leaders leave talented successors and a healthy organisation in place behind them"

I'd really like to know some examples of this (not necessarily from Stefan Stern, all) - it seems to have generally been the case that at least high profile leaders leave some kind of chaos behind them just because their stabilising force as a figurehead has been removed.

Perla, you speak about the health system - public services in general are not in great shape, and I think that part of the problem is that so much was promised when Labour came to power (specifically about education). Whilst maybe this should have been seen as the spin it largely seems to have been, I think that after 18 years of the same party in power the public were quite ready to believe that a change of party would effect a genuine change in the way the public services were run.

jon livesey

Well, this Brit thinks that partly the complaining is about false expectations that are inevitable, given how many on the left in the UK think about the world. Since I moved to the US, the main difference I have noticed is that Americans seem to have an informal intuitive grasp of basic economics. They pretty much know that you get what you pay for, that Government has no money of its own, and that eventually all debts must be paid. They also seem to understand that vast amounts of money can be wasted quite quickly by poor management and unmotivated administration.

By contrast, I grew up in a Britain where Labour pushed ideas that many people swallowed whole; the idea that Government can legislate equality and prosperity, the notion that the poor will prosper if you just soak the rich, that big government is a good thing, and that poor public services just need more spending to prosper.

Things are changing. Maggie's Big Bang created a new social mobility, Blair came into office promising to keep the best of her reforms, and it's now quite common to hear people say that throwing money at the NHS or the railways won't improve them without managers and staff doing their jobs.

But it's a slow process, and unfortunately it's still a badge of honour on the left to insist that Government ownership is preferable to private enterprise, and that any attempt to improve the efficiency of public services is a disguised attack on the unions. Equally unfortunately, although these economic dynosaurs are a relatively small fraction of the country as a whole, they are a larger proportion of the Unions on which the Labour Party depends for a good deal of its funding.

I just hope Brown knows what he's getting into. The unions knew Blair was out of their control from day one, but they will expect more obedience from a man who claims to be of the left himself.


Mitchel: "I think that after 18 years of the same party in power the public were quite ready to believe that a change of party would effect a genuine change in the way the public services were run."

Noble sentiment. But there is no example in history of this being the case. Nowhere that I know of, at least.

Health care is mostly a palliative for people who have not known how to care for themselves. If you look at the statistics of people sick, one can see clearly dietary habits that are responsible. This seems, actually, to be an improvement ... in the distant past it was mostly hygiene that determined one's lifespan.

Education is not that great a problem. There are countries far, far worse than the UK. Still, neither is this a reason to think that education cannot be bettered. I suggest that the "coupon system" should be tried. Pitting educational institutions, one against the other, will do for education what it does for commerce. The best tend to evolve and the rest change quickly or die. (It is the "Law of the jungle", yes, but, pray tell, why should it not apply?)

The risk of changing parties is great, particularly if the alternative has no real attraction (obvious political competence, new ideas, even charisma).

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." This applies in politics more than to any other activity of human endeavour.

And, if it is broke, then changing personalities is not likely to fix it. What could help is a referendum system as employed by the Swiss that allows direct, punctual feedback of the citizenry regarding laws that affect its destiny. It has worked for a 150 years now, and no one (in Switzerland) can point to an instance where it provoked a major internal conflict of the state and the citizenry.

The referendum is a limpid expression of the voters' will. Of course, it requires that people become far more aware of the political matters of the moment. But, that is the price to be paid for effective government.


Livesay: "They pretty much know that you get what you pay for, that Government has no money of its own, and that eventually all debts must be paid."

Much of what you say (of America) is true. Samuelson's book has had a profound impact upon American understanding of economics. The Economics 101 class where I attended university in the US was chock-a-block. The auditorium of 300 places was full - and that was a great many decades ago.

These were decidedly NOT all economics students. They were students curious about how economies work. I never found that same level of curiosity in Europe.

Still, the citation above struck me. America has known chronic deficits since ... well, since Kennedy passed the Interest Equalization Tax that did nothing to remedy the situation.

The Republicans (Cheney) said at the beginning of this administration that "Nixon proved that deficits don't matter". If he did, he took the proof to the grave with him.

American administrations do not care to touch the matter, except for railing that the countries responsible (China now, Japan in the past) should revalue their currencies. Why?

Because consumption is not only the prime generator of the economy but because it has a lot to do with the "Feel Good Factor". The FGF is something that is immeasurable. No statistic adequately depicts it. But, if Americans cannot "shop till they drop", then something is very wrong. The loss of a high rating in the FGF prompts government change. This lesson is what Bush-pere inculcated in Bush-fils (the Oil Nerd from Texas).

Anybody in his/her right mind cannot have too much of the consumer society mentality without also feeling some of its adverse side-effects. But, mankind is yet to devise an economic system of another kind that creates and assures employment for most (but not all) the workers in a country.

If anyone does, they should patent it. It's worth millions.

AC Mitchell

Perla : "Noble sentiment. But there is no example in history of this being the case. Nowhere that I know of, at least."

Well, I think it could be seen to be the case to some extent in Britain under the Conservatives in the 1980s; there was a move towards privatisation and reducing the power of the unions that did change the way public services were run and seemed to reflect the ideology of the Conservative party of the time. I'll agree that thinking a change in the opposite direction would occur under Blair was naivety to the point of delusion, since he explicity stated this was not his intention - but I think that Britain has had a history of the ruling party effecting change on the political landscape (starting, it could be argued, with the introduction of the NHS by the post-war Labour government)


Jon: "Maggie's Big Bang created a new social mobility"

It did? I'm sure there was a thread here about six months ago showing social mobility in the UK to be conspicuously low among comparable countries. It might interest you to read it.


Mitchell : "but I think that Britain has had a history of the ruling party effecting change on the political landscape"

That may be true, but I doubt that a change in personalities affects "national services".

Not unless the service is privatized. The problem with the NHS is that it is a state monolith that is underfunded. It is an "on demand" service supplied, as best possible, by an underfunded service structure.

Were it privatized, as a business, it would be run far more efficiently since the competition introduced might provoke a better service to those entities providing it. What would have to be assured, however, is coverage for those unable to afford the service. This is the great disservice of the American health care system - where at any given time between 15 and 20% of those working (which is about 95% of the population) have no coverage whatsoever.

Any developed nation, certainly as rich as America's or Britain's, must assure coverage for all. Frankly, it is not that expensive ... maybe worth one aircraft carrier per year?

jon livesey

Slight disconnect here. Suvi points out a study that suggests that social mobility, by one definition, is low in the UK and has actually fallen. That study concludes that the problem is Labour's abolition of Grammar Schools, which is post-Maggie, and which most people now consider to have been an error, including Labour, which is in the process of re-inventing the Grammar School under catchy new names. The report suggests that educational achievement is more closely tied to parental income for children born in the seventies than for children born in the fifties.

What I had in mind is something rather different, which is the way Maggie's financial big bang demolished the closed shop that then existed in the financial services industry, allowing many new people to enter and make good. I'd say that these are two different aspects of social mobility. In other words it's not an either-or. Both can be true.


If we accept the premise that higher education leads to better paid jobs, then social mobility (upwards) may indeed be the result.

The OECD published recently a report of the "through-put" of students obtaining advanced degrees at university. If Finland, as usual, comes out on top at about 48%, the UK is at 38% - a comparatively respectable showing ... given that the US is at 33% and Germany at 20%.

Really, I am not sure what the Brits are complaining about, unless it is a local perception of schooling inadequacy.

Anyway, if really interested, one should consult the PISA 2003 (OECD) compilation of results in science, the maths and reading ability of its world-wide scholarship study. It was conducted at the secondary school level.



The OECD noted statistical difficulties with the UK's PISA 2003 data:


There also appears to be difficulty with the 2006 data. However, it was only with the quantity this time, if what I'm reading is correct.


Jon: "That study concludes that the problem is Labour's abolition of Grammar Schools..."

Some publications concluded this, but not the study itself.

You may be interested in the opinion of one of the study's authors, who states that this interpretation misrepresents the research:



Suvi: "The OECD noted statistical difficulties with the UK's PISA 2003 data:"

I puttered around in the data for an hour and found just about every country EXCEPT the UK. I suspected that what you mention was the problem.

Then I went to see the bit about "participating countries" and, yep, there was the UK listed.

So, the UK participated in the study but not in the results. Right.

Anyway, the OECD could get around to putting up an Executive Résumé, such that their conclusions are not lost in the academic palaver. I’ve rarely seen so much printed word say so little to so many.

(Still, it’s better - I suppose - than the ILO or EU Statistics office where one must pay to read their nonsense.)

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