28 July 2011

Jam today, Jam tomorrow.. (Part one)

Time for a summary of events on what is for me, this side of the Atlantic, but for most readers the other side. At the moment the world is watching as the prospect of the United States defaulting on its debt for the first time in its history next Tuesday (2nd August). As I write this, the two sides are currently engaged in negotiations which seem by turns to break down or involve competing plans all of which seem to be rejected by the hardliners on both sides. As Telegraph business columnist Ambrose Evans- Pritchard puts it:

'I adamantly refuse to take sides in this dispute. Both parties have played their part over the past 50 years in bringing America to this pass. A plague on both their houses'

The sides, such as they are basically comprise President Obama (and the US treasury department), hero of the British Left and the Guardian/BBC/Compass contributors whose influence seems to be at its apogee following the 'phone hacking' scandal and the Republicans in Congress, whose Leader, John Boehner (pronounced Bay - ner rather oddly) is arguably less familiar than the 44th president to British readers, although sufficiently well studied for the co-contributor on this blog to style him and the GOP 'evil and incompetent' on Twitter. Basically the 'News' such as it is stateside, and very much dependent on your perspective (if you watch Fox you won't really get much blame attached to the Republicans - on most of the other networks, the blame is all theirs) consists of attempts at compromise from both sides being pretty much furloughed by extremists, more, I have to say, on the Republican side than the Democratic. Even Boehner's latest plan, hardcore though it is, is being stymied by Tea Party supported Representatives arguing it does not go far enough. Thus the politicians continue to bicker as a potential 'financial armageddon' looms, with surely greater impact for the world beyond the USA.

In a thoughtful article yesterday in the New York Times (The US equivalent to the Guardian) economist/columnist Thomas L. Friedman points out the defects in both sides of the argument, and its this article which has relevance for the UK. As I pointed out, somewhat uncomfortably for supporters of 'UK uncut' and others opposed to the Coalition's plans, Public spending continues to rise under this government although Local authorities are, admittedly choosing to cut items like Libraries and services for the elderly rather than look at the renumeration of Senior executives - in that sense I have some sympathy for the 'anti Cuts' protestors. Thus the UK's own moment of truth cannot long be delayed, especially as this government has continued the baleful legacy of the last one, in refusing to place items such as PFI spending on to the balance sheet. It's worth, therefore looking at the Friedman article, as it's perhaps a more thought-provoking assault on the need for cuts than one from a movement featuring Chinese agent Bob Crow (living in a Council House despite a seven figure income) as a poster boy.

His five prescriptions are summarised in the paragraph below:

'Yes, we have developed such a formula over the course of American history, and it is built on five pillars, educating the workforce up to and beyond whatever technology demands; building the world's best infrastructure of ports, roads and telecommunications; attracting the world's most dynamic and High- IQ immigrants to enrich our universities and start new businesses, putting together the best regulations to incentivise risk-taking while curbing recklessness, and then let American innovators and Venture Capitalists pick off the most promising ideas for new businesses.'

which I would take as good advice for any sovereign nation, including the UK, although I might quibble with some of these suggestions at least in the details, let's look at their prospects under the 'pantomime horse' of the Coalition, or the genuine government by Talking horse should the unthinkable happen and opposition Leader Miliband E prevails in the next election.

1/ 'educating the workforce up to and beyond whatever technology demands'

This would seem, on the face of it to be an unarguable point - we need to better equip the young people of today for a future which is likely to be somewhat technologically different than now. However, before we do that, we have to recognise, I believe that the goal of putting 50% of young people through higher education is, at the minute, unaffordable. Nor have the Willetts reforms on Higher Education had the desired effect. Despite the advantage of having 'Two Brains' these appear to have come from an acephalous being - their net upshot being that such centres of scholarly excellence as Central Lancashire and Leeds Metropolitan University have taken to charging £9000 for some courses. In the meantime, we have a situation where approximately 50% of the workforce in an industry such as construction or 33% in Retail Distribution (in the South East) are imported, primarily from the former COMECON countries. These people (and I speak from personal experience here) are, with some exceptions significantly better educated, more motivated and, crucially able to be paid much less than people from the UK with a similar level of qualification. It is hard to overstate how much London's prosperity has been dependent on this since 2004. In the case of the largest country to join the EC from that region, Poland, the emigration boom has also helped solve some potential social problems
back in that country . Based on my own now fairly numerous Polish friends, whether they will all be content to continue doing relatively low paid work is open to question.

However, even assuming the desirability of the goal, whether the British education system is capable of equipping the workforce to meet the challenges of the 21st century is open to serious question. I recalled it will be August in less than a week so shortly we will be subject to the ritual pantomime, played out annually wherein the publication both of GCSE and 'A' Level results will show an inexorable rise in the number of Top Grades handed out. This has become as intrinsic a part of the British summer as 'The Last night of the proms'. On both sides of the divide, Educationalists will point to superior teaching, whilst columinsts such as Melanie Phillips and rentaquote Max Hastings (to use only two examples), neither of whom have been to a classroom in the better part of several decades will point to the 'exams getting easier', and declining standards'. Both are wrong or oversimplifying the issue.

The truth is exams now cover a much narrower frame of reference, with the result that students perform better in tests but their breadth of knowledge is much less. This is attributed to the dominance of the annual League tables, which is again true but only tells half the story. League tables were introduced to try and subvert the Hard Left Teaching Unions who were using education as a 'political football'. These people, sadly , haven't gone away and are normally seen at the annual Teachers conferences prading their idiocy to general applause. I have never understood why a teacher is legally barred from being a member of a far-right group such as the BNP and EDL yet is able to act as effectively an 'unconscious fifth columnist' through membership of such groups as the Revolutionary Communist Party or Socialist Worker's Party, all of which had links with the USSR and are believed to have current links, even if only as 'Useful Idiots' with both the PR China and in some cases the DPR Korea. Surely neither is an especially desirable association?

Thus we have the quandary, a number of elements within the teaching profession (and I speak here again from personal experience) have no interest in improving the educational standards of poorer children. the reason behind this is two fold - firstly, to Educate such people might 'deprive the proletariat of Leaders in the coming class struggle' - this from people whose own offpsring I might add, are usuaally educated in the finest state schools or privately (Diane Abbott, Harriet Harperson, Anthony Blair esq) and secondly the entire raison d'etre of Compass/ Labour is the profusion of ever greater state largesse, which requires a continuing stream of state supplicants, else the entire apparatus of the welfare state has no justification beyond providing continuing employment for its workforce. Hence if you educate poorer people, the odds are they may start their own business or at the very least be able to see the desirability, from a social perspective of paid employment rather than subsistence on welfare. this would pull the rug from under the Labour party's base, and can on no account be allowed to happen.

So, either way, the education system seems likely to be churning out a workforce that is, oddly , significantly inferior to those of even the Korea DPR in terms of literacy and numeracy, let alone the PR China. Again, why these countries should have so much less trouble in their schools is perhaps explained by a more authoritarian tradition, but nevertheless, the argument that cuts need to be avoided for fear of jeopardising our ability to educate the future workforce is somewhat blunted by the evidence that ever increasing expenditure on education in the UK has had a deleterious effect on standards, at least according to surveys conducted amongst business Leaders from the CBI and FSB.

2/ 'building the world's best infrastructure of ports, roads and telecommunications'

Again this would seem an unarguable goal - and indeed is central to the 'Anti Cuts' lobby's message - that to reverse the growing possibility of a 'Double Dip recession' we need to invest in infrastructure, specifically relating to transport, although encompassing wider fields of housing and public services. I would again argue that this might be useful, if we had the necessary workforce. As already mentioned, much of the Labour involved in construction has to be imported from abroad, due to school Leavers being unable to hold down even Labouring jobs due to poor attitude and attendance. Again I speak as someone with experience ( mostly lacking from Labour supporters I find!) of environments in the Construction, Retail and Production industries. Jobs in such spheres, whilst not especially intellectual do require a level of discipline and a willingness to endure sometimes less than ideal conditions which is beyond the remit, in many cases, of products of the English state education, especially those with lower qualifications.

Thus we are again facing the issue of how we obtain the workforce for these projects. Also, (and more on this later in Part 2 of the post) even were we to put these projects into place, much current expenditure would be on such frivolities as 'Climate Change co-ordinators' , 'LBGT strategy directors', 'Lesbian outreach Equality workers' and suchlike - I doubt these people are likely to be putting scaffolding up or laying bricks, even had they the skills to do so. Moreover, Labour's policies of encouraging unlimited immigration for political reasons (to 'rub the right's nose in diversity') has meant the south East is now the most densely populated area in Europe. Whilst I, like many other commuters, present or former, bemoan the length of time taken on roadworks or the issues caused by Overground maintenance or works on the Tube, I have some sympathy for the Project Directors of such maintenance. Because of the volume of passengers (check out the Eastern end of the JLE or Southern end of the Northern line for a graphic illustration) any work has to be carred out in a two day weekend window. (thus putting Labour costs up by 50% immediately)Furthermore, the sheer density of the housing means you struggle to work overnight due to potential disturbance to the number of residents nearby! (this even on the M25!) The coalition's failure to repeal the Human Rights Act and put limits on immigration as a matter of some urgency have not helped stem the flow in. Furthermore, 2012 sees the ghastly spectre of the most evil man in British Politics, Ken Livingstone (Hal Berstram's favourite - don't notice you keen on moving back to London, though, Hal) coming back from the political dead like some scene from a Hammer horror movie - last time he called for 2 million more people in the city. Who knows what four years out of office have done to this most devious of minds? Given his relations with Network Rail and London Underground in his previous adminstrations, getting increased spending on infrastructure to actually yield anything other than cost overruns is likely to be tricky.

In short, though I would not question that expenditure on infrastructure is desirable, I would question the current administration's ability to deliver it, let alone Miliband E's. Also, it in no way precludes an examination of significant amount of current expenditure, especially relating to fields of political correctness.

I had originally intended a much shorter post - but this is now becoming so long, I'll need to return to it later......


Hal Berstram said...

Along with a few insights, there is (sadly) too much craziness in this post to really get a handle on in a comment without writing a full-scale post - so I will just confine myself to a few observations:

1. Public spending is only rising under this govt because of "automatic stabilisers" - increased benefit expenditure because more people out of work, and debt interest because debt is still going up. Take that out of the equation and it's going to fall massively. THAT - not the "outreach coordinators" or what-have-you - is the reason spending will continue to rise.

2. with a few (significant) exceptions the return on investments in venture capital funds, both here and in the US, is abysmal (I can send you some research on this if you like)

3. Revolutionary Communist party isn't an extreme left group it's a far-right libertarian group. Read Spiked Online if you don't believe me.

4. While I am not a supporter of SWP, I think the BNP/EDL represents a threat to British civilisation in a way that SWP doesn't. If I had kids I'd be quite happy to have them taught by people from SWP but not by people from BNP/EDL. In fact I'd have more qualms about my kids being taught by someone who was in the Tory Party than someone was in the SWP.

Van Patten said...

In response to point two - quickly, I'd not yet addressed it (it was Friedman's fifth point) - that'll be in part two. I'm well aware having been asked to invest in some VCT or Investment Trusts that primarily focus on new ventures that returns, even in the medium term, have been woeful over the last decade. I think that's something that needs to change as its only through innovation that a lasting recovery can be contemplated.

The SWP are straight North Korean collaborators who want to install a police state - that you'd want such beings anywhere near the education system is a matter of serious concern, though at least, based on 'the Dear Leader's reputed golfing prowess we might continue our success in major championships.

I see no fall in public expenditure and indeed a number of blogs point out that Osborne is not being aggressive enough, especially in attacking the Compass/Labour Party base, although, encouragingly the Guardian's 'society' section was down to seven pages a month ago - so at least the tap seems to be being turned off- it's tackling the people that are already there. If we do see a big fall in Public exxpenditure as you suggest that can only, IMO, be a good thing.

Hal Berstram said...

On the SWP point - sorry to come back to this but you're simply wrong. It's Trotskyist not Marxist/Leninist. If you'd said CPGB (Marxist/Leninist) you'd be right, but I know people who have been in the SWP at various points and they would be horrified by the idea that they wanted to collaborate with North Korea.

The party that wants to install a police state in this country (and has done to a large extent, building on Nu Labor's "achievements" is the Conservative Party. Which leads me to repeat my belief that teachers in the SWP are more desirable - or perhaps less undesirable - than Tory teachers.