I’m an Augustinian Digger and a Left-Hegelian Tory – which I never knew.
That’s thanks to Phil’s great test of political identity.
But does this put as much distance between me and Blair or Cameron as I'd like?
At risk of sounding obsessive, Clarke’s statement on the release of foreign prisoners reveals several aspects of managerialist ideology.
1. Partial and misleading statistics.
A thorough search of police, prison and probation records has to date revealed five cases where an individual has been convicted of a further offence.
This is 5 of the 79 imprisoned for more serious offences. He makes no reference to the other 944 released prisoners (pdf). If we assume these have the same recidivism rate as the 79, released prisoners committed another 60 offences. If we assume they have the same recidivism rate as prisoners generally – 70% re-offend in the following two years, then the 1024 prisoners would, without intervention, commit over 700 offences.
Six have been detained pending deportation or removal Which means (as of now) that 73 haven’t been, even though many should have been subject to probationary supervision.
Six have been detained pending deportation or removal
Which means (as of now) that 73 haven’t been, even though many should have been subject to probationary supervision.
2. A faith in technology.
Seventy-nine offenders were originally imprisoned for more serious offences…All of these 79 were and are on the Police National Computer.
So what? I’ve got decent-looking women on my computer.
3. The belief that change is the solution, not the problem.
The Home Office is in the process of dramatic change to enable us to meet the challenges of the modern world effectively.
This is an aspect of the New Labour myth - that the world is new and requires new institutions to control it.
There’s no awareness of the possibility that change can weaken organizations. We know from company management that big changes (such as happen after takeovers) often reduce efficiency, because they destroy tacit knowledge, weaken employee morale, encourage office politicking as staff protect their interests, and cause managers to focus on managing change rather than their core competences.
Real and profound change does take time and often reveals matters that have been hidden or lain dormant in an organisation.
What this omits is the possibility that profound change causes “matters.”
4. A belief that intentions matter.
We are focusing ruthlessly…I am committed…
No-one cares how hard you’re trying. What matters are results, not intent.
Clarke’s doing two managerialist tricks here. First, he’s trying to deflect attention away from hard, quantifiable evidence towards untestable things – how hard he’s working.
Second, he’s claiming that personality – commitment, effort – matters more than organizational issues. Richard Sennett hit this nail on the head:
We see society itself as ‘meaningful’ only by converting it into a grand psychic system. We may understand that a politician’s job is to draft or execute legislation, but that work does not interest us until we perceive the play of personality in political struggle. A political leader running for office is spoken of as ‘credible’ or legitimate’ in terms of what kind of man he is, rather than in terms of the actions or progammes he espouses. The obsession with persons at the expense of more impersonal social relations is like a filter which discolours our rational understanding of society. (The Fall of Public Man, p4)
5. The leadership illusion.
In each area we are making profound changes with new leadership to meet the challenges we face.
Here we have it – the presumption that all an organization needs is the right people at the top of the hierarchy. This presumption is, of course, widespread, but no less wrong for that.
The question that hasn’t occurred to Clarke is: how exactly does leadership matter? As I’ve said, hierarchy can have a precise economic function. And he utterly failed to exercise this.
But then New Labour’s managerialism is about a faith in leadership, not an analysis of it.
Respect stands in a tradition whereby parties nominally of the Left can on occasion cross over to their supposed ideological opposite.
All this shows that the terms "left" and "right" are nonsense. They are just boo words. Tebbit hates the BNP, so he wants to call it "left." Kamm hates Respect, so he wants to call it "right".
Can I suggest a couple of more meaningful divisions, along the line of two questions:
1. Is the state the solution to problems or the cause? The BNP and Respect are both statist (or, if you like, collectivist) parties. They believe the state should control the economy and/or our country's ethnic composition.
2. When interests clash (as they do) who do you support? Rich or poor?
Talk of left and right avoid these interesting questions in favour of tribalism. This is worse than moronic. It has the effect of removing admirable views - such as classical liberalism - from popular attention. And this is wholly pernicious.
Here’s a story about someone roughly my age. He (call him a he) grew up in a close family whose parents and family friends were fascinated by politics, both academically and practically. He inherited this love of politics, and read the subject at university. To him, a political career was a vocation, just as someone born into a musical family might become a musician.
He also inherited his parents’ strong sense of social justice, and support for the underdog. And he grew up in an inner city whose economy was ravaged by the Thatcher recession of 1980-81, where the police recklessly attacked innocent people, and whose democratically elected council was shut by Thatcher. He naturally joined the Labour party at a young age, and found his friends there.
But by the time he became an MP, the party had changed. The party he joined was that of the underdog and civil liberties. It became the illiberal mouthpiece of plutocrats.
What should he do? Should he abandon the vocation he’s had since childhood? Leave the party he’s loved for over 20 years? Should he speak against the trend the party’s taking?
These would be self-indulgent egotistical gestures - which would be out of character. They wouldn’t improve the life-chances of any of the people he joined the Labour party to help. They wouldn’t, in themselves, change the party’s course.
So, he bides his time, suppresses his true opinion, and works with the party. He might, he figures, be able to ameliorate, at the edges, some of the party’s worst excesses. And he signals his distance from the party, by, for example, publicly worrying about the growing gap between politicians and people, or by drawing attention to the convention of cabinet collective responsibility, thus showing that he’s bound by rules he hasn’t internalized.
I don’t know if this story describes any New Labour minister, or several. But it could.
What it does describe, but for details, are eastern European communist regimes. Even quite senior figures repressed their doubts about the system, preferring to work within it. Such preference falsification, says Timur Kuran, helped to sustain communism. As everyone repressed their true opinion, everyone thought that everyone else supported the system, when in fact few did.
But this could not last. Eventually, some tipping point caused the doubts to surface. And once everyone knew it was safe to speak the truth, Communism collapsed amazingly quickly.
Maybe there is a parallel here with New Labour. Maybe it’s sustained by the preference falsification of quite senior figures. If so, it too could, like Communism, collapse suddenly and unexpectedly.
I’m not making a forecast here. I’m making three points.
1. Power doesn’t merely corrupt. It enslaves. Many rulers are not as free as we think. This, in a different context, is one message of Xenophon’s Hiero.
2. What matters in politics is not the particular individual occupying any office. Office determines character more than character determines office.
3. There’s something deeply dysfunctional about political institutions. The great thing about markets is that they cause bad people, acting for bad motives, to do good things. Our political institutions cause good people, acting for good motives, to do bad things.
My iPod is sexist. I put it onto shuffle the other day, and of the first 10 songs, three were by Johnny Cash, but not one by one of the many women singer-songwriters I like. The chances of this happening by accident are amazingly remote.
Of the 4513 songs on my iPod, 133 are by the Man in Black. So the chances of three being in the first 10 are just 1.8 per cent.
What’s more, 361 songs are by five women singers: Gillian, Emmylou, Dar and the Kates Campbell and Rusby. Not one was in the first 10. There’s only a one-in-five chance of this happening.
The chance of the conjunction of these two events is 0.2 x 0.018 = 0.36%, or 1 in 278.
Such a chance is way beyond any standard of statistical significance.
So, my iPod is sexist.
What’s wrong with this reasoning? Three things.
1. I’ve mis-specified the data. Had I put the question: what are the chances of three songs in the first 10 by a male country singer, the odds would be much higher than they are for Johnny Cash alone. – sufficiently high to be quite normal.
2. I’ve omitted any mechanism whereby the iPod might be sexist.
3. I’ve ignored a basic fact – that random events produce odd patterns. Other shuffles would produce other strange patterns.
And here’s the point. This is not a post about my iPod. It’s about the social sciences.
To fix ideas, take this great paper (pdf) on sexism in the labour market. It claims that women earn 87p per hour less than men simply by being women.
Does this prove that women are discriminated against by 87p per hour? No. All three of my iPod errors come into play.
1. Mis-specification. Feminists can argue that 87p per hour under-states discrimination, because some of the other explanations for wage differences are in fact indirect forms of discrimination; for example, women are less likely to work n large firms where pay is higher. Anti-feminists can argue that it over-states discrimination, because it ignores women’s greater preference for fulfilling rather than remunerative work.
2. The paper tells us nothing about mechanisms whereby women are discriminated against. There’s no evidence that an employer, faced with two otherwise equal workers, pays the man more. And no evidence that he either can do so or wants to. But outcomes alone are often uninformative. It’s processes and mechanisms that matter.
3. There is a teeny chance that even such a huge gap could have arisen through chance. In this case, it’s only around 0.01%. But as we’ve seen, rare chances can crop up in single samples of data. What is really powerful evidence for sexism is that women are paid less than men in different societies; Germany, Italy, the US , and so on. The chances of such a conjuncture of gender differences happening by chance are truly negligible.
My message here is simply that purely statistical evidence in the social sciences is rarely clear-cut.
Put it this way. Has there been a single controversial issue in any of the social sciences which has been settled by the statistical evidence alone? I’m not sure there has.
Daniel Finkelstein reckons the Euston Manifesto is "a gigantic waste of time and energy." I think he's both right and wrong.
He's right, because the manifesto's signatories will not change the minds of the egomaniacs and childish pseudo-revolutionaries who support tyranny and bigotry.
He wrong, because there is something admirable about working in a futile cause.
A great example of this is Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai. He set about building the eponymous bridge even though he knew that doing so would help the enemy. He did so partly to symbolize what the British stood for:
We can teach these barbarians a lesson in Western methods and efficiency that will put them to shame. We'll show them what the British soldier is capable of doing...It's going to be a proper bridge.
Not everything is worth doing merely for extrinsic purposes. Some things we do to signal who we are. People give to charity even if they suspect the money's just a drop in the ocean. They protest, though they know they won't change the government's mind. They vote, though their vote won't make a difference. They even die for their country and their friends.
Instrumental rationality is not the only rationality. There's also, as Robert Nozick argued in his best book, symbolic rationality - the effort to show who we are.
But it's not just this distinction that Daniel's missing. He's also missing the distinction made by Alasdair MacIntyre, between the goods of effectiveness and those of excellence.
The Euston signatories, as I see it (but almost certainly not them), are not pursuing the goods of effectiveness, in the sense of aiming to win converts. Instead, they are pursuing the goods of excellence. They are trying to advance a particular practice, of expressing a left-liberal tradition. This is worth doing in itself, whatever the consequences.
Now, I write as a non-signatory to the Manifesto. But this is because I think the (futile) goods of excellence, of expressing a left-liberal tradition, are best pursued by ignoring village idiots, not by engaging with them.
But this is a second-order difference in this context. Where I agree with them is in thinking some things worth doing even if failure is assured.
The failure to deport foreign criminals after their release from prison is yet more evidence that Clarke is a contemptible little turd.
To see why, think about Tesco in Hampstead. It owns a shop in England's Lane and one in Heath Street. Why should these two assets be owned by the same firm? Because it's more efficient if the two work together. They can get their goods from a single warehouse, rather than two. Their combined buying power can help reduce costs, and some administrative functions, such as hiring workers, can be shared between the two stores.
The England's Lane and Heath Street shops are, in economic jargon, complementary assets. They work better together than separately.
However, to reap these efficiencies, the England's Lane and Heath Street shops need a common boss who can co-ordinate buying and adminstration functions. Hence there is sometimes a good economic justification for hierarchy, as Oliver Hart explains in this pdf.
The parallel here with the Home Office should be obvious. In the treatment of foreign criminals, the prisons and immigration departments should have been complementary assets; the prisons should have told the immigration department: "There's a scrote here that needs booting out."
This seems not to have happened. The potential asset complementarity between prisons and immigration was not reaped. They acted as separate departments.
This is a plain management failure. One proper function of management is to co-ordinate activities so as to reap synergies. Clarke failed to do this.
Of course, everyone makes mistakes. But this is a particularly contemptible one, in two ways.
1. It raises the question: what is the point of the head of the Home Office, if he doesn't co-ordinate departments? It's not as if this is the first management error in the Home Office: it can't even construct meaningful accounts. Maybe Alex is right. It not just Clarke that should go - so should the whole Home Office.
2. It exposes the sheer dishonesty of New Labour's managerialist ideology. It claims to be able to run government like a business. And yet Clarke fails to perform the basic functions of company management.
What Clarke seems to want, then, are the advantages of hierarchy - the power and prestige it gives him - without the responsibilities.
As I said, never mind that he’s unfit to be Home Secretary. It’s unacceptable that Clarke should even be alive.
According to Guido, Polly Toynbee gets £140,000 a year at the Guardian. That's roughly four times my wage. But why does she get more than me? We both work in the dead tree business, and churn out roughly the same number of words each week.
Neoclassical economics says it's because her marginal product is higher - she brings in more revenue for the Guardian than I do for the Investors Chronicle.
So I asked my boss what my marginal product was. She just laughed.
She was right. Marginal product in the dead tree industry cannot be measured precisely. But there's one reason to think Polly's might be lower than mine. You can read her columns for free. But if you want to read my stuff (I can't think why you would), you've got to pay.
This suggests there might be some more unorthodox explanations for the inequality between Polly and me.
1. Size. The Guardian's bigger than the IC. And it's a well-established fact that wages are higher (pdf) in large firms than small ones, as revenues are shared with workers. If stand near where money's flying, some will stick.
2. Tournament effects. Young people don't become journalists because they want to earn £17,000 a year on Local Authority Plant and Vehicle or Pig World. They do so because they hope to become a star columnist. Paying star columnists big money can therefore be a way of attracting cheap enthusiastic labour into the dead tree business. Given that people over-estimate their chances of success, paying big money to a handful of stars might be a cheaper way of attracting and motivating people than giving decent wages to all journalists. This is especially true as the incentive effect of a pay rise fades away after a few months.
3. The superstar effect. People need icons that symbolize aspects of our culture. Such icons are paid hugely more than others even if their productivity advantage is small or non-existent. And Polly is just such an icon - just as, in their different ways, Jade Goody or Bruce Forsyth are.
4. Adverse signaling. if Polly were to leave the Groan, it could signal publicly to outsiders that the Guardian is a less attractive place to work. To prevent this, the G. pays Polly enough to stop here leaving. If I were to leave the IC, no such signal would be sent. So there's no need to pay me a premium.
5. Portable skills. Polly could take here skills elsewhere, to the Times or Independent. I couldn't. My human capital is more job-specific than hers. This reduces my bargaining power relative to hers.
6. Compensating advantages. Adam Smith said that wage inequalities reflect the "agreeableness or disagreeableness of the employments themselves." (Ch X here). And Polly's employment is more disagreeable than mine. Her columns are decried by right-thinking and intelligent people. Mine are criticized - if at all - mainly by imbeciles and fund managers (but I repeat myself). Although there's the odd good bloke* at the Groan, Polly is surrounded , I guess, by smug ponces. My colleagues, whilst leaving something to be desired, are less disagreeable. And at the Groan, bosses (and liberals are terrible bosses) think good writing and human interest anecdotes are acceptable substitutes for clear thinking and statistics. Mine aren't so stupid.
The lesson I take from this? Inequalities can sometimes be justified. And I guess this is a rare occasion where Polly would agree.
* Despite his support for one of the most evil organizations in the world.
I find this new NBER paper depressing:
Does media bias affect voting? We address this question by looking at the entry of Fox News in cable markets and its impact on voting….We find a significant effect of the introduction of Fox News on the vote share in Presidential elections between 1996 and 2000. Republicans gain 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points in the towns which broadcast Fox News….Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican.
Full paper here (pdf).
I have long suspected that the MSM isn’t as important as it thinks. Maybe this was just wishful thinking.
Meanwhile, Bryan Appleyard shares my view that TV news is unwatchable. Let's hope this opinion spreads.
It’s not an original view, I know – but Polly Toynbee writes some rubbish, doesn’t she? Here she is telling us we should respect MPs more.
In my experience, most politicians are surprisingly decent people. And I include those of all parties whose views I strongly disagree with.
But wouldn’t MPs be on their best behaviour when meeting a journalist? And why do motives matter anyway? The essence of social science is the law of unintended consequences – good people, acting for good motives, can do bad things. Is the proportion of decent people among MPs higher or lower than the proportion of decent people within the general public? And what makes Polly think she’s a good judge of character?
I’ll grant that the two MPs I’ve known tolerably well – Ruth Kelly and David Miliband – have been good people. But I wouldn’t draw inferences from a biased sample of 0.3% of a population. And there's a world of difference - which Polly ignores - between liking someone and giving them power. And neither ever gave me a good reason why they wanted to be MPs; “it’s just an urge you have” was the best Ruth could do.
Most of those who reach ministerial rank are clever and energetic people who would have done far better for themselves in any other profession.
What’s the evidence? Sure, ex-ministers have gone on to make a few bob. But that’s only trading on their contacts. The only recent minister to have done very well for himself before becoming a minister was Geoffrey Robinson. Follow link for evidence of his surprising decency.
Even if they are lucky enough to get a ministry, they discover how hard it is to change anything or make anything happen. Where is power? Even prime ministers arriving at the very summit find power elusive, and events hard to control.
Welcome to the real world, Polly. We anti-managerialists have been saying for years that central government doesn’t have the know-how or power to improve society. But doesn’t this just show that people who say they become MPs to improve the world are either idiots or liars?
Moments of gratification of pride or vanity are far outstripped by wearisome committees and, worst of all, having to vote for things they don't agree with because democracy demands a measure of party solidarity.
Eh? At the last election New Labour won the support of 21.6% of the electorate. Why does democracy require that its diktats be obeyed? And should we really feel sorry for grown adults who haven’t got the spine to stand up for what they believe?
It certainly behoves those of us who write about them to pause for a moment now and then, adopt a little humility and remember they are the ones out there trying to get things done, while we just shoot them down and carp at them from our extremely secure, non-risk-taking perches in the comfortable press gallery of life.
Has she lost her mind? It’s us tax-payers who are taking the risks. It’s us who pick up the bills for the failure of almost any IT project you care to name*. It’s us whose freedoms are at risk. And it’s MPs who retire on a generous, safe pension.
Most politicians are not venal - and we need them.
Only up to a point. Many political decisions that need to be taken – which are only a subset of those that are taken - can be done through referenda. Why does Polly not have the imagination to see this?
What’s going on here is something typical of Polly’s mindset – a cringing deference for the state and those who aspire to control it.
And the real tragedy is – she is considered to be on the “left”.
* Thanks Justin.