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June 30, 2005


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I understand that there are people in the University of Oxford who don't think much of the intentions of their new Vice-Chancellor. I don't know much about it, but I'd have my suspicions. He has declared his desire to "modernize" the place; not reform or improve: modernize. Perhaps it's my age; when I was young, to "modernize" meant to vandalise the woodwork and cover it with layers of formica.

Angry Economist

Well for the Conservative Party to "modernise", a good point would be to 'modernise' their values and ideas about government, the economy, society, education (the list goes on) from the 19th Century into the 20th Century. And then they could make a leap to the 21st Century in 20 years time!

Whereas the labour party seems to be regressing from 20th Century to 19th Century what with asbos, vastly inflating GB's place on the world stage beyond its means or abilities!

As for the liberals - they just cluck out nice things people wanna hear. They're never nasty to anyone.

As for evidence-based policy - I work in the area of producing evidence. The big challenge is getting policy to recognise and respond to the evidence. Economists and researchers bear some responsibility here in terms of telling politicians what the implications of evidence are on terms they can understand.

Generally among the hoardes of public sector executives and bureaucrats actually delivering stuff there is a receptiveness to evidence actually, and people want to do their jobs well. Honest. Good news from the grass roots.

However one last sour note - us public sector bods sometimes get hit with the "modernising" agendas from the cabinet etc that are ill-formed and anecdotal, and waste a lot of our time trying to cope with this stuff.

James Fletcher Baxter

"...the creative process is a choicemaking process."

The missing element in every human 'solution' is an
accurate definition of the creature. The way we define
'human' determines our view of self, others, relationships,
institutions, life, and future. Important? Only the Creator
who made us in His own image is qualified to define us
accurately. Choose wisely...there are results.

Human is earth's Choicemaker. Psalm 25:12 He is by nature
and nature's God a creature of Choice - and of Criteria.
Psalm 119:30,173 His unique and definitive characteristic
is, and of Right ought to be, the natural foundation of his
environments, institutions, and respectful relations to his
fellow-man. Thus, he is oriented to a Freedom whose roots
are in the Order of the universe.

Andrew Ian Dodge

I was there too, it was a bit of nothing imo. Too bad he could not have hung around for longer I was keen to ask him about what he would do about Music Videos. (Which he mentioned in his speech.) I was wondering if he was keen on censorship. Of course, there was no mention of ID cards or any other efforts of the Labour goverment to restrict freedoms.

NB: JFB the god-squad loon strikes. I was going to IP ban him for spamming but his drivel is actually rather amusing.


You mean it wasn't taking the mick?


JFB even spam-mailed me the other day. I acted as choicemaker and didn't bother reading.

Obviously, I find Cameron's brand of OE Blue Labour managerialism grotesquely vapid, but to take issue on a few points...

"Shared responsibility for shared future." Badly, platitudinously expressed this might be, but it is the basis of politics. Anybody who believes in some kind of collective action - whether for mercantilist, moralist or egalitarian purposes, must believe in us taking a shared responsibility, surely?

"Evidence-based policy" is, as much as a laudable ideal, a managerialist trope. Real positivist stuff - "facts" completely divorced from "values," so that there is only one clear way to go (the managerialist conventional wisdom), and no light is permitted to enter.

The truest evidence of Cameron's managerialism is surely the way he talks in visionary terms, but with a vision that has no substance whatsoever. He doesn't accept that there are choices to be made over how our society develops, or that we need to prioritise between the values we seek. So much for that "shared responsibility for our shared future" - it is pretty much just a matter of administration, really.

"Conservatives, traditionally have had only one good idea – a scepticism about the state." Conservatives are not so much sceptical about the state as plain sceptical. (Our lack of other good ideas is balanced by our taking a lesser share of the bad ones inflicted upon western civilisation by every other lot.)

Angry Economist

Positivism, evidence - its just one part of the decision-making process and shouldn't be the only part. Values should be applied too. Sometimes the facts and values conflict of course - I think of issues such as immigration or 'fear of crime' as a good case in point - emotive areas where politicians sometimes overreact or values override the facts. In this case politicians say they matter more than factually they do.

Mind you - people come to me with wild, whacky ideas everyday and as a technocrat I have bounce some of them back as a bit impractical or needing further clarification, or just plain bonkers. That's my job. Is that being managerialist I wonder?

I have seen so much mention of "evidence based policy", but little actualy instances of the politicians bothering to take any notice of the evidence! What about the mantras of "joined up thinking" the "third way" etc. Are these no longer on the buzzword bingo card?

Back to earlier discussions - perhaps we could spam JFB with the marxist tracts on religion
"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature... the opium of the people etc etc." Spamming secularism - it would be fun, no?


You're even less likely to get me to secularise than to spam, but another day on that.

"Evidence-based policy" is a defensive rhetorical pose for managerialism, isn't it? After all, managerialists deny that there are value questions as such (not values, but questions over them - trade-offs, etc), and so "what works" is all they profess to care about.

The problem is, facts and values are not separate. We understand our facts through our values (even positing something as 'fact' is a value judgement) and our values are shaped by our understanding of reality.

Re immigration issues - "politicians say they matter more than factually they do" is a statement riddled with highly subjective assumptions about values (what 'matters'). To take an extreme case, if the vast majority of Britons did value absolute racial purity, then any immigration would 'matter' - wrongly, yes, but it would certainly matter.

Angry Economist

Aww you saying a bit of evidence isn't helpful to stop you making an *rse of something your values tell you to do, but in fact, is not relevant or practical to everyone else?!

If not, how do you test your relevance and practicality? this does matter.

I go back to fear of crime. All evidence from the past 20 years points to the fear of crime being significantly different to actual reported levels of crime. The problem people get is they are scared in their homes and to let their kids out to play, rather than the world being a more dangerous place.

So you try and crack down on crime - does this impact the fear of crime? probably not - you need to also tackle the fear of crime at the same time in some way.

So evidence is irrelevant?

I am not saying that values do not matter, but that factual analysis can tell you about the values that will not make a difference, or will have a negative effect.


I never said that evidence is irrelevant - I said quite the opposite. What I did say was that the idea of "evidence-based policy" in its pure form is false, because it assumes away the values questions and makes facts alone sovereign. But facts are meaningless without values - to suggest that facts alone can tell us what to do is to miss the most important choices we can make, by assuming away value questions.

Nobody EVER makes policy purely on the basis of facts, because you have to take a view on what you want to achieve and therefore what matters first. People who claim only to be driven by facts and facts alone, and never by an 'agenda' are either liars or simply following conventional assumptions without reflection - not sure which is preferable.

Re your crime example - yes, fear and levels have a very spotty relationship, although this is to be expected in part (fear tracks only with a lag, for one). And yes, fear has perhaps expanded ahead of the level of crime over the past 20 years (don't know the evidence myself, although it is true that the level was growing significantly for the first half of that period). But that doesn't mean that this was irrational.

Maybe the cultural values shifted during that time. And here's where facts and values interplay. Think, for example, of how much more 'special' children have become this past 20 or 30 years - fewer and fewer of them, relative to population, with an extended childhood and typically greater indulgence (certainly most of the young children I have some ties with get spoilt rotten).

Add to that the much greater affluence and security-in-affluence achieved since the 1970s, and the consequences of the death of the old working class. As we hear about interminably, people have been shifting their priorities away from the workplace and towards their non-market existence.

Take these two trends together, and you can see why values might have changed, and why the impact of a child abduction might well be felt much more greatly today. (Remember, the probability of crime isn't the only factor driving fear - there's also the scale of impact.) Further, how do we know that the previous level of fear was 'rational', and not somehow linked to high ignorance over the possibility - just because the worry has increased, it doesn't mean that the higher level is wrong.

And don't forget here, too, the Law of Unintended Consequenes. Maybe, again on child abductions, the incidence of crime is reduced by the level of fear - so Government might work hard to make people feel at ease and that in turn leads to an increase in those abductions. (Granted, cost/benefits might say this is a net gain; although telling that to the parents concerned...)

When you say "factual analysis can tell you about the values that will not make a difference..." maybe you're confusing ends and means here? Values do make a difference, if we can advance them. Factual analysis will tell you whether it's possible or costly (etc) to advance values, but not whether they themselves will make a difference. Factual analysis might also force you to reflect on those values - but that's not telling you about making a difference, that's trying to convince you to change priorities.

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