Why the left needs to set its own questions and debates


4:00 pm - July 7th 2010

by Adam Ramsay    


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When Philip of Macedon – father of Alexander The Great – fought his opponents, he always won. His army had the longest spears. Until the Romans came along.

For unlike their previous opponents, the Romans didn’t attempt to beat Philip at his own game. They simply threw javelins to disable their shields, then walked between the spears to kill the Macedonians with their short swords. The lesson is obvious – you don’t beat your enemy on their own turf.

Today, the same lesson is famous among political hacks, and is most often expressed as: every election is a referendum, the winner is the person who sets the questions.

And this political rule applies every day. For the battle between left and right is not so much a contest of answers as a fight between questions. While we ask how to protect rights at work, they ask how to limit immigration. While we ask how to end poverty, they ask how to unleash business. While we ask how to cut crime, they focus on how to punish criminals.

One of the great mistakes of New Labour was to cede such rhetorical ground. Tony Blair seemed to believe that if you sound like a Tory, you can sneak through some Labour policies. So he switched from “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” to announcing initiatives to march ‘hoodies’ to cash machines.

And while these statements were Daily Mail fodder which never actually happened, a whole generation of people began to believe that attacking those who commit crime is the appropriate response, as no one led them to the evidence that such an obsession with enacting societal vengeance increases crime, and we must deal with causes.

And the same is true of the economy. Does the lack of concern about relative poverty, perhaps, correlate to the fact that there are precious few politicians today making the case against inequality?

And so every gain Labour sneaked through the back door – increased spending on public services, for example – is under immediate threat from this government, as no one remembers why we wanted them in the first place.

If “use the language of the right and you can deliver a manifesto of the left” was the idea, then the reality was “use the language of the right, and you make us a country of right”. Where Labour got things right, the problem was not so much the painfully slow progress along the road to a better world, as the failure to remind us all of the destination.

How the Tories set the debate
And now that the Conservatives have the Downing Street podium, they will not make the same mistake. They have already succeeded in turning the great crisis of capitalism into a problem of ‘profligate’ public spending. They have already shifted the goal posts from “how do we fight unemployment” to “how do we cut the deficit”.

And so it is through setting the terms of debate that the right is winning.

We waste our time refuting climate sceptics, and so the public shift to what they see as the middle ground – doubt. We accept some of their cuts in the hope of sounding moderate, rather than asking the real question – how do we create (green) jobs?

We talk about – and this is the most bizarre – a “left narrative on immigration”, rather than forcing the right to explain why we shouldn’t sue RBS’ executives for billions in lost earnings through the unemployment they created, and why we shouldn’t mutualise all the major banks.

And that is extraordinary – our national economy is destroyed by free market capitalism, and the best the British left can muster is a wet explanation of how immigrants shouldn’t be given all the blame?!

Where we agree on solutions, we should work together. But for me, it is in re-shaping the debate – choosing the debate – that the broad left can best co-operate. For we don’t agree on answers, and, no matter how many conference break out sessions we sit through, we will not agree on tactics. But while we don’t agree on how to tackle it, we can agree that poverty is a bigger problem than immigration. While we don’t share solutions, we can agree that achieving greater equality of income is a crucial goal for our society.

And if we can, in our battles with the Con-Dem government, ensure that political debate in this country focusses on our questions, then we will ensure that once more, Britain truly has a progressive majority. Because like the Romans, we won’t be caught on the political spears of arms races we can never win.


This is a cross post Broad Left Blogging, where there’s a longer version.

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About the author
Adam is a regular contributor. He also writes more frequently at: Bright Green Scotland.
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Reader comments


1. John Meredith

“We accept some of their cuts in the hope of sounding moderate, rather than asking the real question – how do we create (green) jobs?”

BP has just created a lot of ‘green jobs’ in the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of man hours spent in cleaning the environment. Are you sure this should be an objective of the left? Don’t you think a tiny bit of economic literacy might improve the left’s chances rather more? It might just be that the public has not been baffled by superior right wing spin but that they are astute enough to know that ‘creating jobs’ (for example) is a cost and not a benefit and that those who don’t are probably not all that serious.

Can I suggest debt as another topic? Wages vs GDP have fallen for nearly two decades in the UK (longer in the US). People still feel well off because of easy credit. Everybody does it, sleepwalking into wage slavery while borrowing to keep the cash flowing. Its so normal nobody cares.

How about suggesting that fairer distribution of our wealth means people can truly be homeowners and have decent lifestyles but won’t need to be afraid to tell the boss to fuck off?

I must have missed the “destruction” of our national economy.

GDP has fallen to the level it was four years ago, around 6% down from the peak of two years ago.

A level which is nonetheless double what it was 25 years ago thanks to, erm, free market capitalism…

But, please, by all means fight on this ground.

Wrong Philip – Alexander’s father was Philip II of Macedon; I believe it was Philip V the Romans beat this way. In the intervening couple of centuries, Philip II’s tactics had worked pretty well – because most enemies DID try to take on the Macedonians on their own terms. So the point still stands.

5. Adam Ramsay

John,

Economic literacy – I can give you a bevvy of Nobel winning economists, pretty much every economist who predicted this recession, and the chair of the Federal Reserve calling for increases in public spending. Who can you give me? A few dusty old neo-liberals who failed to make the biggest economic call of their lifetime.

Makhno

– see the orgiginal piece, which is about how most people tried to fight them using even longer spears – the intro has been cut, and doesn’t really make sense here…

cjcjc

If you want to measure progress in GDP alone, fine. I’d argue welfare, though harder to calculate, is a much better measure.

Adam
Yurrzem!

yup, easy access to credit has caused a problem, though I’d argue it is a bad solution to the problem of poverty, rather than a root problem in itself and I’m not sure that that problem – the aspiration without wealth created by a consumerist but unequal society, and unregulated monopolistic banking – is best expressed in terms of something people like – easy credit.

6. Adam Ramsay

Makhno

…and in the original, don’t explain that the two Philips I refer to are different ones, for the sake of brevity, but you’re right, they are. It is also slightly inaccurate, because everyone they fought was basically a Macedonian, as I understand it, because by that point they had pretty much conquered everywhere… (or so my elder, and wiser brother tells me)

Adam

7. John Meredith

“I can give you a bevvy of Nobel winning economists, pretty much every economist who predicted this recession”

I would be impressed if you could find even one economist who predicted this recession (I mean this one, rather than Krugmanish claims that a recession is on the way sometime).

But the accusation of economic illiteracy is in the idea of ‘job creation’ as a benefit instead of a cost. As the Gulf oil spill shows, creating jobs is not a good thing, it is a bad one.

8. Jimmy Hill

@5

Two points of clarification:

i) There are plenty of Austrian economists that predicted the recession that would certainly not back the call for greater fiscal spending. Whatever you think of the Austrain school, it certainly contradicts your claim. Scott Sumner: http://www.themoneyillusion.com/ has also been making some very interesting arguments about the ability of monetary policy to still be effective at the zero bound.

This post from Tyler Cowen sums up how little we really know about the efficacy of fiscal stimulus: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/01/dumping-on-robert-barro.html

ii) You do your cause little favour by using phrases like “unregulated monopolistic banking”. Argue what you want about regulation, but to pretend it didn’t exist is just silly. Try looking up Basel II.

to know that ‘creating jobs’ (for example) is a cost and not a benefit

In what terms? Do you mean the bottom line? As in if you create jobs then you take away profit? Paying a living wage means that profit is cut to the company? If so, then yes, in money terms jobs cost. I suppose that is why so many Chinese jobs were created to foster a great amount of imports because they are cheaper to buy then to employ anyone in the UK to makes so many trinkets.

What cost is it to society to have as many people employed as possible? What cost is it to the treasury with more people working so more people paying income tax and NI? What cost is it to the local economy and community whereby more people working means that crime – and the causes of crime, go down?

10. John Meredith

“What cost is it to society to have as many people employed as possible?”

Well, it depends. What if everything they were making was available for free? Wouldn’t you think society would be better off losing the jobs and just taking the free stuff? After all, those people might then be able to use their labour to make something else (while benefiting from the free stuff). That is why ‘creating jobs’ is economically illiterate.

11. Adam Ramsay

Jimmy,

yup, fair point – my point was really that it isn’t economically illiterate to argue for greater fiscal stimulus. It may turn out to be wrong, but there is a perfectly serious argument to be had.

John,

it’s pretty simplistic to say, in itself, that jobs are either a good or a bad. I agree that more leisure time is a good thing in itself. However, given that things are not free – and many things we like are not free, it’s better to have enough work for everyone to do some. I would agree that some of this should be achieved through re-distribution of hours rather than through the creation of additional work, but there is lots of work to be done.

As the Gulf oil spill shows, creating jobs is not a good thing, it is a bad one.

Huh? That’s like saying having babies is not a good thing because mass-murderers can also have them.

Good grief.

The history of progress is the history of jobs destroyed.

Once upon a time everyone worked on the land.
Now it is, what, 1%?

So now we can have food and loads of other things too.

Reversing that process is not a recipe for prosperity.

PS – yes, I know the Greens, Compass and other loons do want to reverse, or at least stop, the process.

But I don’t think you’ll find that idea will win many votes.

To address the broader point Adam:

For the battle between left and right is not so much a contest of answers as a fight between questions. While we ask how to protect rights at work, they ask how to limit immigration. While we ask how to end poverty, they ask how to unleash business. While we ask how to cut crime, they focus on how to punish criminals.

I think this is spot on.

But, it doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to understand how the public looks at an issue and then frame your arguments through that. One of the reasons the right lost the debate on a lot of issues including gay rights was because the right’s arguments simply did not relate to people.

Similarly, the Tories went big on immigration in 2005 but it didn’t relate enough to people to make them vote Tory in large numbers. Even now Cameron has an image problem with the Tories.

So my point is that sometimes lefties are so sure that their narrative is the right one, that the only people they end up convincing is themselves and their mates.

That isn’t good enough. If you want to win political battles then you have to map out where you want to get to, but you also have to convince people who won’t start from where you will. So you have to speak their language.

And this is where the left (and on various issues the right) fucks up. We are so sure that we’re right that we may not realise that certain key groups aren’t listening to us.

In that case it makes more sense to move the debate on in a different way, and then bring it back to your own territory. I don’t want to see immigrants demonised either. But unless you’re speaking the language of cohesion, job benefits and protecting people’s jobs – they won’t listen.

16. Luis Enrique

Will Rhodes

creating jobs is a benefit when it employs unemployed people, not when it simply re-allocates workers. we could “create jobs” by replacing traffic lights with policemen directing traffic, that wouldn’t be a benefit. If you can really bear to, there is a very long thread here in which I try to convince Tim Worstall that rather than being a pure cost, job creation has benefits to the extent it reduces unemployment.

Adam Ramsey

do you mean “increase public spending” or cut it later / less ? I don’t know of many economists recommending the former in the UK right now.

also, how do you distinguish a situation in which the left does choose what it wants to talk about and how (which is what you seem to be calling for), from the situation that we already have, today. Your very post says “we ask ….”. It seems to me that the left does choose what it wants to talk about, it just makes some questionable choices. Doesn’t what your saying just amount to (another) article saying “we ought to be talking about X”

And where does the right get its magic agenda setting power from? Just about the only thing I can see they have going for them that the left don’t is more right-leaning newspapers, but then you have to ask why the left can’t write newspapers people want to buy …

cjcjc still lying about his tory bias.

“They have already succeeded in turning the great crisis of capitalism into a problem of ‘profligate’ public spending. They have already shifted the goal posts from “how do we fight unemployment” to “how do we cut the deficit”.

It is not difficult to do when the tories control the right wing media. Attacking public services, and saying that capitalism is not to blame is standard fare for the wing nut media. The mistake Labour made was to try to appease the right wing. Like deregulation of the banks. Most people forget that 2 years before the banking crises went to shit Osborne was demanding more deregulation.

Labour tried to play nice with the brownshirt city and the Mail and got a kicking for it. You can’t appease the brown shirts. That is the lesson they need to learn.

Luis –

I try to convince Tim Worstall that rather than being a pure cost, job creation has benefits to the extent it reduces unemployment.

I agree with you.

John M –

“What cost is it to society to have as many people employed as possible?”

Well, it depends. What if everything they were making was available for free? Wouldn’t you think society would be better off losing the jobs and just taking the free stuff?

What are you talking about? It depends on what? You are here to defend the notion that having high unemployment is a good idea because “jobs are a cost”. Then defend high unemployment. You are jumping from the surreal to the ridiculous, free “stuff”? Explain that in the context premise that having huge numbers of people out of work is good for the country, good for society. How? Explain it.

20. Chaise Guevara

“So my point is that sometimes lefties are so sure that their narrative is the right one, that the only people they end up convincing is themselves and their mates.”

Well put, that. You should see me down the pub, skillfully gaining the support of people who agreed with me in the first place…

I think, when you’ve got humans doing busy-work, or work that’s automate-able, there’s some logic to seeing those jobs as a cost. If you can do it more efficiently without the jobs, then you should – union shrieks of indignation aside – since it then frees up those people to do some kind of worthier job that can’t be automated (yet).

In Real Life, of course, the motivation, cross-skilling and training just isn’t there. So people end up on benefits, paid for partly (some tiny proportion thereof) by taxing the increased profits of the companies who sacked them to save money.

I guess in the ideal capitalist world, everyone owns a factory or works in some service industry or another, and there are no irritating workers to strike or pay wages to. By itself, that’s not really a bad goal – but I can’t see us getting anywhere near there without ridiculously high human costs along the way.

Maybe. I dunno. I was thinking about checkout assistants and the self-serve machines earlier today, and it’s got me locked onto a train of thought that’s possibly only marginally relevant.

Well, yes, if the left *can* frame the popular discourse to reflect its own values, I think we could all agree it was winning.

I’m not sure how useful the delineation of ‘questions’ from ‘answers’ is as a way of thinking about influencing political debate. But I think the larger point of a more coherent base being more effective is quite right.

But I think the larger point of a more coherent base being more effective is quite right.

True, but sometimes this is also a problem.

for example, we all agree that our democracy is unrepresentative. Except:

1) some think vote reform is a marginal issue.

2) others think we should support piecemeal reform by going with AV

3) others think we should hold out for PR (which doesn’t have support across the spectrum anyway).

And so the infighting starts… no one is willing to compromise.

“….while these statements were Daily Mail fodder which never actually happened…

Thank you. I’ve been pointing this out for years.

…a whole generation of people began to believe that attacking those who commit crime is the appropriate response, as no one led them to the evidence …

That’s because there isn’t any.

Sunny,

yes, I agree completely – the reason I was out of communication last week was that I was in a field training student activists to “go to where people are, don’t make them come to you”. There is no point in shouting at people that they are wrong, and that they should care about x instead.

So I agree that a reminder to always try and frame the debate on your own terms is far too simplistic, but I also worry that we seem to be slipping into the political trap the Tories have set for us by accepting their terms in the debate.

Thanks for posting this by the way,

Adam

26. Charlie 2

Adam. German car workers can earn $41/hr. The problem is that our unskilled, semi-skilled and non technical workforce lack the skills to enter high value manufacturing. Recently there has been 2 documentaries on manufacturing: submarines at Barrow and Rolls Royce Aero Engines at Derby.

When Blair talked about “Education, Education Education ” it is a shame he ignored the education required for people to enter employment of companies such as Rolls Royce. When people talk about the inability of graduates to enter employment, it largely does not apply applied scientists and engineers from top 10 departments. Many employers have problems recruiting top engineers and scientist especially those in physics and chemistry in addition to staff who are worth training through apprenticeships. A major reason for immigration is the inability of a labour dominated education system to produce enough people at 16, 18 and early 20s to employ.

If we wish to design, construct and operate wave and tidal powered electrical generation; improve anaerobic digestion of waste, use GM to improve yields of crops ; then a country where more people take Media studies than Physics at A level is going to fail. Labour has spent he last 13 years increasing employment in the education sector; increasing the number of those taking A levels and degrees; yet we have a shortage of technically and scientifically trained people. I think Dyson has said ony 4% of graduates are engineers. What Labour has done is to greatly increase middle class employment of many academic staff and graduates in the arts and humanities, (probably two thirds of whom vote Labour ), yet fail to equip the UK with the technically trained workforce it needs and which will greatly reduce social inequality. The staff required to build and maintain off shore wind, wave and tidal electrical generation will need to be highly skilled and will probably be well paid( like N Sea sector), but will the UK school system produce enough people or will we have to use immigrants? Cannot see much use for arts graduates .

Labour demonstrates an ability to spend money yet an inability to obtain value for money and educate the technically skillled people needed to increase our industrial base away from S England.

Charlie: so the Germans are better at building and exporting cars, and we’re better at creating media. Awesome: we can use the money the Germans pay us for adverts, design, marketing consultancy, etc, to buy cars from the Germans. Win-win.

(alternatively, “anyone who thinks manufacturing is somehow better, more serious or more important than media/creative industries is an idiot living in the 1950s”)

28. Yurrzem!

@26 Charlie 2

Very well put.

@ Adam Ramsay 5

While its true that easy credit is attractive my point was about the consequences. Don’t you think there may be some traction in suggesting that by sharing GDP more equitably then people wouldn’t need to borrow so much with the consequent stresses? Isn’t there something to be argued about the massive interest rates credit cards charge?

@27 – while I take your point, we are also quite good at engineering (cf Rolls, BAe, etc.) and could be better were there more engineering graduates, for which there is clear demand.

Not many media studies graduates will (a) end up in media/advertising and (b) will earn $41/hour even if they do.

@4…yes, that struck me too. When Phillip II was bouncing about the Romans were trying to conquer bits 50 and 100 miles from Rome.

And yes, jobs really are a cost.

They may well be a cost we wish to bear of course, but they’re a cost all the same.

Forget the word “job” for a moment and just think about labour. You know, time spent having to work. Doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about society or an individual.

In order to get to a certain standard of living (doesn’t matter where we set that standard) in one example there is 80 hours of labour and 20 of leisure (no, doesn’t matter about the time period either) in the other there is 20 hours of labour and 80 hours of leisure.

For the same standard of living you recall.

So, which person/society do we consider richer? The one labouring 80 hours to get to our standard or the one labouring 20 hours to do so?

Yes, of course, the one with more leisure and less labour.

Labour is a cost, not a benefit. Labour is something we wish to minimise, for it’s a cost.

Now, none of that precludes all sorts of other interesting things. That there are those involuntarily at leisure who we might help into labour, that we might support those who wish to work but cannot find any, that we might support those who cannot work, etc etc.

But we have to start from the point that labour itself, human sweat being spent to produce things, is a cost of the production of those things.

Acknowledging this also doesn’t mean that we can’t go off and create jobs: it’s entirely possible that the production gained from employing unused labour (say, moving our lucky 20 hour people up to 30 hours) is more valuable than the leisure being enjoyed. We even have a term for when this would be true: when there’s a profit being made (however that is shared out).

But only by acknowledging that jobs, labour, are a cost of our schemes can we avoid the sort of idiocy that we see in the Green Party Manifesto:

http://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/resources/Manifesto_web_file.pdf

Our energy policy is not just the best for climate change –
it also produces the most jobs:
energy source jobs per year per terawatt hour
Wind 918–2400
Coal 370
Gas and oil 250–265
Nuclear 75

It’s entirely possible that wind is better than coal (we can argue about that another time) because of the externalities of CO2 emissions. Or not maybe. But to argue, as they do, that renewables are better solely and purely because they require more labour, more human effort, is insane.

Generate power by linking bicycles up to the grid: we could have 3 million jobs per TWh. Lots and lots of lovely jobs!

And damn near fuck all else as everyone peddles to keep the lights burning. That is, we’d be poorer, wouldn’t we?

31. Ken McKenzie

@Charlie 2

Do we have a shortage of technically skilled graduates? The answer is significantly more complicated than you make out, especially at the moment when engineering recruitment, particularly in civil engineering, has fallen very significantly.

At the moment it would be a rational economic act for a numerate young person to study geography rather than mechanical engineering at university on pure job prospects, and no amount of harking back to a non-existent golden age of training and education will stop that, and nor will a public parade of your ignorance of the value of arts qualifications.

Your analysis of the science and engineering labour markets, the qualifications and skills required by industry, higher education, higher education policy, higher education workers and immigration are all also severely lacking and where they are not unsupportable generalisations, are merely, at best, inaccurate.

32. Luis Enrique

Tim is mostly correct, in that Green-party-esque job creation claims are usually witless rubbish, because they’d primarily entail reallocating people from other jobs (into peddling for power, so to speak) and not in reducing unemployment.

Tim is making (I think) a theoretical mistake in his exposition above, in that the point of economics is not to maximize output (wealth) but it maximize welfare (Tim knows this). Tautologically, if the objective was to maximize output, then if having done so we still had unemployment, reducing unemployment would mean a net cost. But because we are interested in maximizing welfare then you have to think about the welfare costs of unemployment, which means that it can be optimal to “create jobs” to reduce unemployment even at the cost of lower output (“making us poorer”), in which case creating jobs has an entry on the “benefits” side of the equation (raising welfare) as well as the “costs” side (reducing output). This is what I try to convince him of, in that thread linked to above; it’s not always a “pure cost”.

One could try to argue that we are always effectively at the welfare-optimal level of unemployment, because in practice we (the government) lack the ability to identify and the instruments to achieve welfare-improving job creation. That’s because reducing unemployment is not always necessarily a net benefit – it can of course come at too great a cost (to large a reduction in output – too great an increase in poverty).

33. Richard W

Of course the less labour required for X amount of output is a benefit. That is how every generation since the Industrial Revolution is more prosperous than the last because we achieve more with less. However, it is a fallacy of composition to say because ‘ creating jobs ‘ at the micro level of the individual firm is a cost that must also apply at the macro level. It would be absurd to argue that the economies with low levels of employment and high levels of unemployment are more prosperous than the ones with high levels of employment and low levels of unemployment. Not as I understand prosperity. If we could achieve the same level of consumption with 10% employment and the other 90% in leisure well for the 90% that would be great. However, that is quite different from thinking of jobs at the macro level as a cost and the flip side unemployment as a benefit.

“creating jobs has an entry on the “benefits” side of the equation (raising welfare) as well as the “costs” side (reducing output). This is what I try to convince him of, in that thread linked to above; it’s not always a “pure cost”. ”

Fine, I’ve no problem with that.

My point is always that that isn’t that argument put forward. That only the welfare benefit gets mentioned, not the entry on the costs side. Amateur, not economist, I most certainly am but I’ve grasped enough to know that everything is a trade off, that there are costs and benefits to everything.

I get just as annoyed when the general conversation ignores the costs as you do when it ignores the benefits. My stridency on this issue is exactly because the political conversation is only looking at these benefits in the “creation of jobs” and not at the costs.

“and nor will a public parade of your ignorance of the value of arts qualifications”

Hmmmm….well since arts degrees add 35k to lifetime earnings versus 245k for engineering I think their relative value speaks for itself.

http://uk.biz.yahoo.com/14052010/389/best-worst-paying-college-degrees.html

36. Charlie 2

My comments were partly as a result of talking to directors of engineering consultancies about the difficulty of recruiting suitably numerate staff; the comments made by Dyson and the fact that a cousin with a mechanical engineering degree from a top 10 university has had several job offers in the last year. There is a major problem of comprehensive school recruiting maths, physics and chemsitry teachers from Russell Group universities. I think only 30% of pupils at comprehensives are taught maths, physis or chemistry by a teacher with a degree in that subject. If we then compare most comprehensives with grammar and and public schools very few have science teachers from Russell Group universities. Increasingly STEM subjects at Russell Group universities are being dominated by those from public and grammar schol because 3-4 Grade A “A “levels in maths, further maths, physics, chemistry and biology are needed for entry. Consequently many professions are being dominated by children from grammar and public schools and hence socal mobility is reduced. Historically most engineers and scientists came from working/lower middle class backgrounds who attended grammar school and a few more affluent, who attended the minor public schools.

Labour has done little to increase the numbers of maths, physis and chemistry graduates from Russell Group universities teaching at inner city comprehensives. Most science teachers with B.Ed or general science degrees from ex-polys do not have the ability to teach pupils for entry to STEM subjects at top 10 universities. Most public and grammar schools, and especially those with the best academic results ( check on the web sites ), have staff, some with masters or even doctorates from, top 10 universities, especially for teaching their “Oxbrige / IC/ Medical School” Stream. In addition, too many pupils at comprehensive take A levels with insufficient academic rigour which makes entry to top 10 universities , especially in STEM subjects and Law . If a top 10 university law department has to chose between a pupil with 3 As in English, History and Latin or English, Sociology and Media Studies who do you think they will select? If there are two pupils applying for Imperial, one with Maths, Physics and Chemistry and the other wth Further Maths as well, the latter is more likley to obtain entry. How many pupils at comprehensive pupils applyng to read a STEM subject at a top 10 university are obtaining grade A or B in Further Maths A level compared to those at public and grammar school?

a top 10 university law department has to chose between a pupil with 3 As in English, History and Latin or English, Sociology and Media Studies who do you think they will select? If there are two pupils applying for Imperial, one with Maths, Physics and Chemistry and the other wth Further Maths as well, the latter is more likley to obtain entry.

If the admissions tutor has read the literature on relative university performance between ex-independent-school kids and ex-state-school kids, then he should choose the latter in the first case and the former in the second (assuming that you’re suggesting that’s the reason why the kids are taking different subjects). If they haven’t, then they shouldn’t be in the job.

38. Tim Worstofall

@30

“For the same standard of living you recall.”

Ah, the Libertarian classic, the ceteris paribus fallacy.

John Band @ 37

If the admissions tutor has read the literature on relative university performance between ex-independent-school kids and ex-state-school kids, then he should choose the latter in the first case and the former in the second

I’d guess the latest might be the LSE/Sutton Trust report in March this year?

68% of independently schooled students go on to achieve first or second class degrees as opposed to 64% state schooled students.

30% of independent school educated university students were enrolled for a postgraduate degree course six months after
graduating in 2008 compared with 23% of state educated students.

40. Rhys Williams

Charlie,
Do you think the problem maybe the brightest kids don’t want to go into science or engineering because of personal choice.
More money in journalism, advertising and PR. The service industry in general. No dangerous chemicals and grease.
Most kids pick media studies/English over physics.
The trend will continue whatever government is in charge.
Also are we that short of scientists ?
As for engineers, the last government did bring in ideas that year 10’s should be able to pick more trade based options and even mini apprenticeships.
OND’s and HND’s were also very useful to engineers who still had to maintain a job. Are they still around ?
The biggest problem in regards to engineering was the end of the apprentice when manufacturing was devastated in the eighties. For many firms that was the first thing axed. So leaders of industry are not innocent when talking about the decline of enginners.
Also Charlie why should a top graduate of physics teach physics at A level. Surely that is a waste and he/she may not have the skills to communicate ideas to students.

“The biggest problem in regards to engineering was the end of the apprentice when manufacturing was devastated in the eighties.”

Erm, sorry, what devastation in the 80s? Manufacturing output in 1990 was higher than it had been in 1980. Indeed, manufacturing output in 1990 was higher than it had ever been before.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/22/manufacturing_figures/

I know everyone likes to have their little myths but can we please all get over this one?

42. Rhys Williams

Tim overall output was higher due the impact of the service and light engineering industry but heavy engineering was devastated and they were the ones who mainly employed apprentices. Many small firms did not employ apprentices.

43. Rhys Williams

Also your figures also show a higher level now than in 1990.
As you point out in the article, those figures don’t really show how many firms, especially large firms, and people involved in making things from 1980 to 1990. I think you will find there was a dramatic decrease.

“Also your figures also show a higher level now than in 1990.”

Sure, that’s my point. There has been no devastation of manufacturing.

“and people involved in making things from 1980 to 1990. I think you will find there was a dramatic decrease.”

I make that very point. Making more while requiring less labour to do so is known as “increasing productivity of labour”. This is also known as “a good thing”. It’s what makes civilisation itself possible.

45. Rhys Williams

Not to the poor sod who is put on the dole and he has to work in IKEA for 50% less.
To journalists who write about it yes, it is a good thing

“To journalists who write about it yes, it is a good thing”

No, to economists. Allow me to quote Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate and very definitely a lefty.

“Productivity isn’t everything but in the long run it’s pretty much everything”.

47. Rhys Williams

“Productivity isn’t everything but in the long run it’s pretty much everything”
Quantity not quality eh.
The story of my life

48. Rhys Williams

“That is why ‘creating jobs’ is economically illiterate”
The great deal seemed to have worked and pulled the US out of a depression.
I imagine your idea to create jobs is to cut taxes and deregulate.
I am interested to know how the left should be more economically literate without turning into the right.

In terms of what the purpose of employment is, it seems to have been ignored that work is a good in and of itself. Based on my own (brief) experiences of not working (immediately pre and post university) I know that unemployment would have a seriously negative impact on my well-being. The need for money aside, everyone needs a purpose in life, something that drives or inspires them. It can be family, or kids, or charitable work or in most cases a job, but far better to be working than not working.

As for the economic mix, the problem comes from asking people to make a rational choice about their direction in life. Like many people, I faced a direct choice, while I was at school. I was good at most subjects, I hadn’t over-specialised too early and I could have applied for degrees in either the sciences or humanities. The choice was to be average in the sciences or better in the humanities. The question is how to get people to do things which are of social value, but which don’t represent their own best option.

Jerry @39, erm, no, those statistics are meaningless. State school kids often end up having to drop out of university for financial reasons, whereas if your parents have been paying private school fees, it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself unable to afford university.

It’s been repeatedly shown that *among students from state school and private school backgrounds attending the same course at the same university*, state school students perform better, particularly in terms of getting firsts and 2:1s.


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