Saturday, March 18, 2006

A rant on the nature of education

There have been some interesting comments on my last post about education. There are a couple of comments that I would like to respond to.

Firstly, Katy Newton commented.
I went to a public school for three years and then moved to a comprehensive. The comprehensive was a good one. I was in the top stream for classes that were streamed and I can honestly say that I didn't register a difference between the quality of teaching in the top stream at the comprehensive and that at the public school. Of course, that was a while ago now.

I have talked about this before. As far as I am concerned, the great value of public schools (I don't know about grammars) is the opportunities that one has for doing and learning thinks that are not on the curriculum.
But, why was the Eton education so valuable (not for my A-level results which were, due to my extreme laziness and inability to grasp the more complex points of organic chemistry, not particularly good)? It was because whilst there I could do almost anything that I wanted in terms of... well... hobbies. I took part in theatre, both acting and producing; I am sitting in my flat, in Edinburgh, right now, surrounded by my metal sculptures (my primary passion at school); others played sport, or did fencing, or swam, or built working aeroplanes, or... Well, you get the idea.

The attitude of the best public schools was that simply doing well at exams simply was not good enough. You had to contribute to the community, whether that of the school or that of the local community. I know that, for instance, expulsion decisions—or "sacking" as it was known—often rested on whether you actively participated in the life of the school or not.

The philosophy of Eton, at the time (I suspect that it has changed now), was that if you had qualified to get in, then you were clever enough to get good exam results: the academic teaching was, as far as I am concerned, not that great. There were, like any other school, good teachers and bad teachers. What was important was the "rounded man", someone who had many skills. This is at least one of the reasons for the preponderance of Etonians in high places; the old school tie is, these days certainly, not enough: it was, however, an advantage to have gone there because people knew that you were not simply an exam-passing machine.

Katy pointed out that it was the attitude of the comprehensive, as opposed to her previous public school, that was problematic.
At the public school we were all encouraged to compete to give the right answer first. At the comprehensive I was taken aside by a teacher and asked if I could stop raising my hand to answer questions because it might be intimidating those students who needed more time to think than I did.

To which Jim replied,
I went to a comprehensive, and never felt I was being "held back" through some PC desire to let everybody learn at the same pace.

I went to a state primary until the age of eight and, whilst I did not meet the same active repression as Katy, I was bored to tears, as were the other bright kids. There is no doubt that some sort of streaming is needed. As a result of my boredom (and my brother, who is a fucking genius, had it worse) I became utterly disengaged; my grades slipped, and I went from being a good student to being a one of the worst. Few people really remember much from when they were very young, but I can still recall the terrible, crushing boredom of the time (a feeling which has recurred in the last few years; thank fuck for blogging: it's the only thing that keeps me sane!).

Jim then sets up a wee bit of a straw man.
That's where DK's argument falls down - he doesn't accept that both comprehensive and grammer schools have committed and motivated teachers (despite Blunkett/Clarke/Kelly's interventions), and these teachers will do whatever they can to help the kids in their classrooms.

I don't think that I ever said that the teachers were uncommitted, and thus my argument stands; there are committed and uncommitted teachers in all schools. But sometimes they just don't have the facilities to help (more on that in a second), and sometimes they are swamped with paperwork. Three of my good friends are teachers, in various age groups, and I know the frustration that they often feel; and I also know how exhausted they are most of the time.

Other commenters, including MatGB, felt that 11 was too young to select, and that 13 was a better age.
The streaming system you described from Eton souned about right Chris, not selection based on one exam at 11.

He was referring to this explanation of the Eton system which is a neat and practical way of streaming. It is not perfect, but it is flexible and doesn't require timetabling each individual for each subject, which would be a nightmare.

It is interesting how many comments I get when I post about education (and how few are of the "what the fuck would you know about it, you posh, upper-middle-class fuckwit" type, which is nice); it is obviously a topic that many people care about deeply. Princess Toni obviously realised this when he made his "Education, education, education" speech, the incompetent, lying tosspot.

One thing is certain: thousands, if not millions, of people in this country are being failed by our shitty education system. One of the main problems with state funded schools, in your humble Devil's opinion, is the lack of facilities; by "facilities" I mean the funding to allow students to do their own chemistry experiments, to explore art, particularly pottery and sculture, in any meaningful way, to create Design and Technology projects, to play team sports, to put on plays, to have their own books.

And a really good way of starting to sort out this situation, in the short term at least, would be for the fucking Local Education Authorities to stop taking a fucking third (in Scotland at least) of the fucking education budget to keep themselves in stationery and jobs. A fucking third! A cunting third of the Scottish Education budget never reaches the fucking schools! Think about that: doesn't it get you fucking raging? Don't you want to go and kill every last LEA employee and burn down the no-doubt plush sodding offices? I do. Oh, and a good way of getting those team sports—desperately important for so many obvious reasons—would be for selfish, greedy cunt councillors to stop selling off the fucking playing fields and actually getting people to play bastard, fucking sports in the afternoons rather than sending the little fuckers out of school at half-two in the afternoon so that they can go drink White Lightning and fuck in an alley until their parents get back from work.

Anything that isn't directly linked to the fucking joke known as the academic curriculum is denied to many; the opportunities that I had to explore and express my creativity are denied to thousands. Amongst other things, those who are not academically inclined are denied the chance to find something else that they are good at. This attitude—that some sodding piss GCSEs in fucking Spice Girl studies, or whatever, is the be all and end all of education—is leading directly to our shortage of practical tradesmen, such as the, sadly not, ubiquitous plumber. Furthermore, it stifles creative thinking with the result that the country that was once the creative powerhouse of the world is becoming a piss-poor backwater which is so fucking desperate that it even considers shackling itself to an obvious fucking piece-of-crap economic, administrative and cultural basketcase like the EU. The fucking piece of crap that this country's governments have called "education policy" has led directly to the decline of this once-almost-omnipotent union.

It must not—should not—be tolerated. The education policy pursued by so many governments, both Labour and—yes, Neil—Tory, is not only failing this country economically, but it is also failing people: individuals about whom we profess to care. [You will have to imagine me shouting at the screen now.] FUCKING SORT IT OUT! PEOPLE, INDIVIDUALS ARE LIVING LIVES OF DESPAIR AND MISERY, LACKING HOPE, BECAUSE SOME CUNTS IN GOVERNMENT WILL NOT SORT OUT THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE IN THIS COUNTRY.

Balls to all this liberty crap; worthy though Liberty Central is, it is utterly pointless unless one can mobilise the masses. And unless you can teach the masses to think for themselves, rather than regurgitating Mel B.'s tit size in a pointless exam, then it will fail. Furthermore, if you taught people to think for themselves and actually understand their economic, political and social situation then you wouldn't need things like Liberty Central. Successive government have merely created robots, easily manipulated drones, whose sole purpose in life is to work in order to give money to the government. We wouldn't want people to actually consider their situation, eh?

Education should be a priority; it helps us as a country and it helps people as individuals. The very fact that we are churning out thousands of people who are functionally fucking illiterate is a fucking disgrace. And when I rule this country, education will be the first thing to sort out (well, after executing Blair, Brown, Byers, Jowell, Hewitt and the rest of those utter cunts. They have failed the people of this country, and lined their own pockets and they should fucking be killed and have their heads stuck on sodding spikes to remind the people of what demons look like) and then we will be great.

We can dump the EU, we can negotiate our own trade deals with the US, we can open up our markets to the Developing Nations, we can start to innovate again. I might be the angriest, and arguably only, dictator that this country has had but—in the name of all that is unholy—I would be the most uncorruptible person to run it and, in the name of fuck, I'd think of something other than the fullness of my back pocket. This is, you see, because I have great plans, great ideas and I'm not a total and utter cunt, unlike every other politician in this benighted isle.

God, this makes me angry. Does it show?

27 comments:

MatGB said...

As you've mentioned me; I dislike the idea of selection for a school at any age. But, rereading it as you link, I really like the Eton system as you describe it; it groups like subjects that have similar ethos, and individually streams those subjects we know peoples talents vary in.

The big issue is of course apathy and lack of competetiveness within the system; any time you hear reports (including Katy's) of people being discouraged from competing I fume.

I'm good at things, and bad at things; if I know I'm bad at something I ask someone that is; took the car to the mechanic yesterday to fix the damn lightbulbs FFS.

If you can't compete, you can't learn what you're bad at. The teacher that bored Katy would have bored me, it's utterly daft to think it discourages. I did like that 'no hands up' idea one school was trying though; the teacher picks a kid at random, if the kid doesn't know, then those that do put their hands up and the kid picks the most likely right, and gets praised for picking someone that knew.

Essentially, Liberty Central is aiming at complete reform of the system. My usual; systemic problem creates "playing politics", change the system, the playing politics element can be reduced or negated.

Eton, BTW, works because it selects by wealth, not ability. Ability selection is wrong, regardless, and I dislike wealth selection for entirely different reasons.

Grammar schools are wrong; the damage and create a false sense of 'acheivement'.

I am, of course, utterly opposed to any sort of dictatorship; the masses may be ignorant, that doesn't make them stupid. I blame the media more than anything else, palitives and distractions to keep 'em complacent.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Eton, BTW, works because it selects by wealth, not ability. Ability selection is wrong, regardless,

Wrong, Mat, sorry. Eton selects on the basis of ability amongst those who apply. Yes, one must assume that those who apply have enough wealth to afford the fees (other than those who are going for scholarships or bursaries, of which there are a huge number), but since there were (when I went there, and I have no reason to believe that it has changed) 7 people going for each place it has to select by ability.

The first test is at 11. If you don't do well enough in that, you cannot apply. At 13 you then take either the scholarship exam or the Common Entrance. Believe me, the Scholarship exam which, unlike Common Entrance, is set by the school, is no walk in the park.

Setting or streaming or whatever, is selection by ability. You are selecting people for sets based on their ability in a subject. It works, even from the anecdotal evidence we have on the comments on the previous thread, far better than lumping everyone in together.

Whether you stream within a school, or partially do that streaming between other schools is immaterial, and may, in fact, be beneficial. For instance, within a school, those in top sets can still be open to being bullied for being "swots", or less clever people being bullied for being "thickies" (or whatever the equivalent words might be these days).

Having aversions to things on principle is what we call "reactionary". One should consider all aspects and with children one has to consider that they can be total bastards.

and I dislike wealth selection for entirely different reasons.

I don't mind wealth selection. I believe that people should be free to spend their money precisely as they like. If they wish to spend their money on private school fees for their children, so be it.

What we have to ensure is that everybody has a decent standard of education (and I mean all-round education). If you dislike private schools, this should be something that you support, if only because that will mean that there should be less incentive for people to send their children to such schools. But, if people want to spend money to get the extras (and there will inevitably be extras), then fine.

DK

MatGB said...

OK, I stand corrected about Eton entrance; pretty much everything I know is what you've told me y'see.

My objection to private schooling generally is a believe in equality of opportunity; a meritocracy should mean everyone gets an equal start, and then makes their own way as an adult; it's the same as my objection to inheritance; it's not my money, its my parents and grandparents. However, not relevent to this discussion (although it's something I plan to write about somewhere at some point).

The bullying problem is an issue, but it happened at my grammar; the way to get around it is not to try and separate kids, but to ensure that all understand each has equal value for their own talents; not going to be easy, but education is never going to be easy.

I want all schools to be good, and all kids to have a decent start in life; I'd not outlaw private schools, but I would work to marginalise them to non-existence, by improving state schools and trying to get them back into the system.

That's going to take a huge amount of effort. No idea if we'll get there, and the politiking over the current bill is a bad sign; I suspect Cameron will dump Blair right in it near the end, too big an open goal to resist.

Katy Newton said...

Just been out on the lash with Shameless so am not going to attempt a reasoned post at this time, but I agree with DK that extracurricular opportunities are important as well and often overlooked. This may not be a state/private thing: funnily enough my comp was better than the public school on that one. The public school was top of the league tables whilst I was there (although it has since sunk like a lead balloon; that'll teach them to exclude me) and so was far more concerned with staying at the top than it was with creating well-rounded, adjusted students, which may account for the anorexia epidemic which raged from the Upper Second onwards. On the other hand, I had to teach myself most of the German A-level syllabus at the comp because I was the only person who wanted to do German and they could only spare a teacher for two of the necessary four hours of teaching per week.

For various reasons I'm not sorry I left the public school - most of my friends are friends I made at the comprehensive - but one of the few things I really missed about it was teachers who enjoyed the fact that I wanted to stretch myself beyond the curriculum. I felt that the teachers at the comprehensive actively disliked me for it. It didn't affect the quality of their teaching of the curriculum, but teachers shouldn't feel that way.

Devil's Kitchen said...

My objection to private schooling generally is a believe in equality of opportunity; a meritocracy should mean everyone gets an equal start, and then makes their own way as an adult;

Wishful thinking, I suspect. Given a market, the private schools will always attempt to offer something extra to retain customers. Although, as the PG has pointed out, were the LEAs not snaffling all that cash, the amount that is spent on children in the state sector would be enough to send them all, as dayboys, to a private school. With more people there prices would drop. Which is why I support Worstall's drive to privatise all schools or, at the very, very least, to allow them autonomy.

it's the same as my objection to inheritance; it's not my money, its my parents and grandparents.

And if they choose to give it to you, are you going to disrespect their wishes and give it away? Or refuse to accept it? Comes back to the The Selfish Gene idea here, you see; organisms want to propagate their genes and give them the best possible hope of survival. In any case, they cannot use it when they are dead, and are you saying that the government has more right to their money than you do? Do you think that the government will spend that moeny better than you would? Seriously?

Besides, why save if it will all be taken from you? At the crudest capitalist level, businesses require capital to survive and expand (believe me, I know. To my cost!), and where is that capital to come from? It is lack of capital that keeps the poorest in society at the bottom. It stops them starting businesses, it stops them buying property. You, like all other socialists, look at this from entirely the wrong viewpoint: you should not want to deprive the few of capital, you should want to ensure that the many have it.

Socialism, as I have said many times, is an evil religion founded on spite and envy. If all the socialists in the world, instead of saying "we must remove money from these people because they have it", said something like, "we must ensure that the poorest can retain their money so that they too can become like those few" then the world would be a far happier place.

For instance, a personal allowance that, at the very fucking least, kept up with wage inflation might be a step towards that. Even better, a personal allowance of, say, £10,000, a CBI and a flat tax. You can see what I would like to do in my manifesto of a little while back (I don't know if you were reading me then).

DK

P.S. As for Cameron, he reminds me of that bit in the Princess Bride: "I give you my word as a Spaniard." "No good, I've known too many Spaniards." Substitute Etonians for Spaniards, and you have my opinion of Mr Cameron. No one is thinking radically at all. And, indeed, no political party can while we are still dragging our dead comrade along, in the form of the EU, because he is still shackled to us. The EU must go, or we must leave it. There is no other option for radical reform in this country, which it so desperately needs, while we are still attached to that stagnant, corrupt, pointless, piece of shit organisation.

I know that you have a soft spot for the ideal, but your ideal will not happen in a hundred years so now it is time to look at the reality and the possibilities that leaving would promise.

Katy Newton said...

Trying and failing to think of an amusing way to link in Cameron, education and Rodents of Unusual Size.

I know it can be done. I'm just not quite sure how.

Devil's Kitchen said...

ROUSes? Oh, I don't think that they... aaaaaaargh!

DK

Jim said...

I don't think that I ever said that the teachers were uncommitted, and thus my argument stands; there are committed and uncommitted teachers in all schools. But sometimes they just don't have the facilities to help (more on that in a second), and sometimes they are swamped with paperwork. Three of my good friends are teachers, in various age groups, and I know the frustration that they often feel; and I also know how exhausted they are most of the time.

Fair dos. I also know all about what teachers have to put up with: my mum is a modern languanges teacher, and one bit of career advice she gave me was simply "never teach". This is a matter of perspective - she's been teaching for a long time, and can see the state education is in right now. It's not just lack of money and resources - it's the bureaucratc, box-ticking mentality imposed on schools from on high, leaving less time for pupils to develop themselves, to discover something they like doing. To my mind, that's one ofthe major principles of education, and it's a crime and a tragedy that this is being thrown away.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Jim,

I am sure that Doc Crippen would say that it is much the same problem that is destroying the effectiveness of the NHS.

DK

Neil Harding said...

DK: I despair at the inefficiencies in LEAs as well (or any other bureaucratic structure - you mention the NHS but you forget it is more efficient than the US private health system), but giving a privileged few better education at the expense of the rest is not the answer.

You are spot on when you suggest that school is more than just grades and that a whole range of 'hobby' activities must be encouraged.

And you also hit the nail on the head - funding.

"One of the main problems with state funded schools, in your humble Devil's opinion, is the lack of facilities; by "facilities" I mean the funding to allow students to do their own chemistry experiments, to explore art, particularly pottery and sculture, in any meaningful way, to create Design and Technology projects, to play team sports, to put on plays, to have their own books."

But you don't answer why MY parents (who never earned more than 17k a year (combined) in their entire life) should subsidise YOUR parents (who can afford to send their children to Eton)?

Devil's Kitchen said...

*sigh*

They don't, Neil. My parents actually subsidised your parents by paying considerably more tax, not proportionately but in terms of pounds paid to the Treasury, than yours. That extra money that they have paid must now amount to ten of thousands of pounds, certainly more than enough to have paid for your entire education by the state. This money was used to pay for your education, not mine; they paid extra for that and it was their choice to do so.

If your parents really have never earned more than £17,000 combined then they have been subsidised all of their lives by the extra tax that my parents have paid.

My parents decided - using that gift of modern man: forethought - and when they were still on relatively low pay, to take out medical insurance and - yes, it does exist - school fees insurance. Having both worked in the public sector at various times they were pretty fucking determined that neither they nor their children would ever have to rely on its depredations.

Oh, and my mother was from a very large and pretty poor family (her father was a statistician at the MOD. And Welsh. And a wifebeater, but I digress) who went to a grammar school (and university, where my parents met) and is a vociferous defender of grammars. Whereas her brother, who went to the comp, thinks that they are the fucking pits; he was held back for years. He now has a PhD in microbiology and is an expert in foot and mouth disease at the Purbright Centre (you should have heard him spitting blood over Labour's handling of that affair); it took him years to get over his shitty schooling.

What you are proposing, presumably, is that my parents should pay proportionately more for services that they do not and have not used (bar a few brief and unsuccessful years in my case)? Why the fuck should they? If your parents wanted to get a better deal for you, then they should have looked for better jobs. They have the freedom to do so.

When anyone is spending your money on something, you should ask yourself, "Is that the way in which I would spend my money?" If it is not, then you should not let them spend your money. Right now, the spending on each child in this country would be enough to sent each one to a private school (on dayboy fees): yet what children in state education get is so far below the private school standard that it is barely comparable. It is the system which runs those schools, i.e. central government planning, which is fucking up the funding. It is not that sufficient money is not there.

Furthermore, were you to abolish private schools, you would flood the state system and there would be even less to spend per child. Something like 45% of children in Edinburgh are in private education: how would you fund an overnight near-doubling of capacity? OK, it's an extreme example, but the point is that funding is stretched as it is, and the solution is not to steal more of people's money because it will, as it is now, get pissed up the fucking wall. A total reform of the education system is needed.

DK

Neil Harding said...

"If your parents wanted to get a better deal for you, then they should have looked for better jobs. They have the freedom to do so."

Do I really need to tell you, it isn't always as easy as that. Leaving school at 14 my dad was barely literate. It would have been impossible for him to get even such a 'pretty poor' MIDDLE CLASS job as a statistician in the civil service.

You are living in a different world if you think that a job that secured middle class status for your GRANDPARENTS!!! is a 'pretty poor' job. It just goes to show that your privileged life is INHERITED, which is why you can't understand what it is like not having the advantages in life that you have had (which you take for granted and think that everyone has). People are not as lucky as you. If the shoe was on the other foot, you would think differently.

"Right now, the spending on each child in this country would be enough to sent each one to a private school"

This is verifiably false, spending per pupil at private schools is TWICE the state school level.

"If your parents really have never earned more than £17,000 combined then they have been subsidised all of their lives by the extra tax that my parents have paid."

Have you ever though that a system that pays a public sector administrator or boardroom director more than people who slave in manual labour jobs might be a bit distorted? (Like for instance, boardroom directors setting their own pay despite poor results).

As you admit, my parents paid a much higher proportion of their income in taxes than yours (and probably received far less in return). They also probably worked far harder and made a much bigger contribution to the economy and society in general. The difference being they were paid far less for it.

Have you ever thought just for a minute that your thinking might be skewed, that it could just possibly be the monopolistic market (controlled by a few at the top) that is at fault, rather than a government trying to remedy its worst distortions?

Devil's Kitchen said...

Leaving school at 14 my dad was barely literate. It would have been impossible for him to get even such a 'pretty poor' MIDDLE CLASS job as a statistician in the civil service.

Whose fault was that Neil? Was that the abysmal government schooling? Or your father's lack of interest? Or both? Either way, the fact that he left school barely literate is stuff all to do with me or my family. Furthermore, my maternal grandfather was from a mining family from LLanelli; he did exactly what I assume you have done, i.e. made an attempt to better yourself, but he did it a couple of generations earlier is all.

You are living in a different world if you think that a job that secured middle class status for your GRANDPARENTS!!! is a 'pretty poor' job

I didn't say that; he loved his job. I said that the family, with six kids on an MOD statistician's wages, were pretty fucking poor. And they were still pretty fucking poor on an MOD statitician's pension too.

It just goes to show that your privileged life is INHERITED, which is why you can't understand what it is like not having the advantages in life that you have had (which you take for granted and think that everyone has). People are not as lucky as you.

Your solution, i.e. dragging everyone down to the same level of poverty and misery, is far more evil than anything that I have proposed. In fact, it is far more evil since you claim to come from that background (and presumably didn't enjoy it). The government has consistently failed you and your family, and yet you continue to look to it for your salvation and the salvation of others. How many times must poor people be fucked over by the state before you acknowledge that governments can't run a toy trainset, let alone an education system?

If the shoe was on the other foot, you would think differently.

Possibly, although I would like to think that I could see past my bigotry.

Have you ever though that a system that pays a public sector administrator or boardroom director more than people who slave in manual labour jobs might be a bit distorted? (Like for instance, boardroom directors setting their own pay despite poor results).

Will you stops comparing oranges with lemons here, please. It just makes you look foolish. Boardroom directors' pay is - in theory, at least - approved by the shareholders. But this is, in any case, immaterial; what happens in a private company is stuff all to do with the government. And if the directors get more pay, well, the government gets more tax.

The pay rates of public sector administrators is in the control of the government and, yes, the fact that they are paid more - often much more - than nurses is a disgrace. It is also a position that I have never defended. The fact is that if the NHS, for instance, were controlled by the market then nurses' pay would be much higher because there is a massive shortage of them. Unfortunately, government is not affected by the market. The same applies to teachers, etc. It is central management that has created these distrotions, not the market.

As you admit, my parents paid a much higher proportion of their income in taxes than yours (and probably received far less in return).

Really? They had you educated for free. Presumably, any medical treatment they have had is through the NHS. Do they have a council house, or tax subsidies or benefits of any kind?

They also probably worked far harder and made a much bigger contribution to the economy and society in general.

You're on dangerous ground here, sonny. You have absolutely no basis in fact for saying that, since you are utterly unaware of what my parents do. Nor can you measure the "contribution" in such a sweeping manner. It is, for instance, pointless making a product if you cannot sell it; if that happens, you end up with the product - the produce of blood, sweat and tears - and bankruptcy (something that I have definitely learned over the last 18 months!).

The difference being they were paid far less for it.

The market controls the value of what someone is worth. You may think that it's skewed, I disagree.

Have you ever thought just for a minute that your thinking might be skewed,

All the time, Neil. I try to think about things from different points of view, only I always come up with the same answers. Have you ever thought that your thinking is skewed?

that it could just possibly be the monopolistic market (controlled by a few at the top) that is at fault, rather than a government trying to remedy its worst distortions?

What monopolistic market, Neil? The whole point of the market is that it is not a monopoly; in fact, the only true and unbreakable monopolies are those created by governments. What would you suggest? Soviet-style central planning? Communism has not worked very well anywhere ever, has it?

Neil, we broadly agree on many things. I, for one, support the CBI; I support a high Personal Allowance: both of these are policies which will make the poor very much better off, returning their money to them so that they may spend it in the way that they see fit. Yet still you persist in painting me as some kind of right-wing toff who wishes nothing more than to grind the poor into the dust: can't you, just for a little while, lay down your bitterness and bigotry and look at the world in a slightly less jaundiced light?

Markets, on the whole, work: government planning never, ever works. You can look throughout history and see that this is fact. I recommend that you look out All The Trouble In The World by P J O'Rourke and, laying aside your distaste, actually digest the information. It's not a difficult read - he's a witty writer - but it is an eye-openener. All of your arguments are exploded therein.

DK

Tim Worstall said...

"monopolistic market (controlled by a few at the top)"

Neil, do you ever actually proof read what you write? Are you aware of quite how silly that line sounds? How absurdly out of whack with htereal world it is?

How many major supermarket chains are there? 4 perhaps? Tesco, Morrisson’s, Asda and Sainsbury’s? Plus Waitrose, the Co Op, all those convenience stores, the thousands upon thousands of independent retailers. That isn’t a monopoly.

How many governments are there in the UK? One (devolved ones don’t count as they can be over ruled). That’s a monopoly.

How many car firms? Majors, selling here? 20 odd? Not a monopoly now is it. How many governments? One.

Are there, in fact, any monopolies in the market part of the UK economy? There are a few yes, and heavily regulated they are as they should be. Water provision in a specific area is a natural monopoly. Regulating them is what OFWat does. The National Grid, also a natural monopoly, regulated again.

Which are the areas of the UK economy that are total crap? The planning system? A government monopoly. State education? Isn’t that where we came in in this discussion? The police? Criminal law? All of these are the things controlled by that one great big fat monopoly that we do have. Westminster.

If you even understood what a monopoly was properly then you’d be a libertarian like the rest of us sensible people. There are, unfortunately, always going to be what are known as natural monopolies. We deal with them by regulating them, taking away as much of their power as we can, sighing mightily that while we’d love to destroy them we can’t. So we accept them, make them as pitifully weak as we can and accept that we’re not in a perfect world. This also clearly applies to that granddaddy monopoly of them all, government.

Katy Newton said...

Neil's habit of judging people and their views by their background and financial position - a habit which he would find utterly unacceptable if applied in reverse - is typical of the Left, and one of the reasons why I no longer class myself as left wing.

I come fron a family with no inherited wealth whatsoever. My father was an intelligent working class boy who made a thriving business out of a particular skill. Having been relatively comfortable until the age of 11, a technological advance meant that my father's skill became effectively obsolete and we had no money from then on. Things were very, very difficult. The reason I left my public school was because my parents could no longer afford the fees and when you can no longer afford to buy something you have to do without it. (The story is a little longer and more complicated than that, but for these purposes it will do.) I supported myself from the age of 16 onwards by working 20-30 hours a week on top of my studies. I was able to go to university because I got the grades for it and there were no fees in those days; those were brought in by the Labour government which I foolishly and misguidedly voted for in 1997. I made a place for myself in a profession in which it is said to be impossible to succeed without wealth or connections - I managed with neither.

Now I am taxed at the top rate. I don't mind paying taxes in theory, because in theory it should go to support those who really keep our society going (nurses, teachers, road sweepers, toilet cleaners, labourers), and the NHS, and education, and those people who through no fault of their own can't support themselves. I passionately believe in all of those causes. But what I see is that none of those problems are being solved at all. My 40% is being creamed off into the pockets of bureaucrats, red tape merchants and an underclass which could work but makes no effort to do so because it knows that the state will be handing it my money on a weekly basis with no questions asked. Don't expect me to be thrilled about that. And don't come to me with excuses about monopolies and inherited wealth holding you back. Anyone can get further ahead in life if they want it badly enough and are prepared to make sacrifices to do it. It's just that most people aren't, or make other choices. I'm not knocking them for it, but I don't owe them for it either.

Devil's Kitchen said...

*claps loudly*

Well done, Katy. My philosophy summed up very neatly. Although I'm not taxed at top rate. Yet...

DK

Katy Newton said...

It can't be far away, I'm sure, DK.

It's not the rate of tax I have a problem with, although if it got any higher I think I would. It's where the money is going.

Devil's Kitchen said...

The point is that, were massive amounts of our cash being pissed up the wall, we wouldn't have to pay so much tax. Unfortunately, it is endemic in government organisations that money does get thrown away.

DK

Neil Harding said...

"the fact that he left school barely literate is stuff all to do with me or my family."

This gets to the heart of the difference between you and me. I think what happens to people in our society is the concern of all of us, you don't! Where is your compassion and empathy?

"Whose fault was that Neil? Was that the abysmal government schooling? Or your father's lack of interest? Or both?"

Schooling for my dad's generation and class was very tough and of a low standard. There were many in my dad's position. We are talking pre-comprehensive, do I need to say more?

The reason I had a better education was entirely because of Labour govts, something your lot have opposed all the way for short sighted selfish reasons. So the government does make a difference despite what you say.

"Furthermore, my maternal grandfather was from a mining family from LLanelli"

Specifically doing what, a foreman, in administration or actually going down the mines and digging?

"I said that the family, with six kids on an MOD statistician's wages, were pretty fucking poor. And they were still pretty fucking poor on an MOD statitician's pension too."

You just don't know what 'poor' was like. I hate to turn this into a bidding match but...six children in your grandparents day was not a lot, it was common to have much more than that. My dad had 9 siblings and my mom 11. I'm not quite sure how many my grandparents had, they were long dead before I was born but I know they had quite a lot.

"You have absolutely no basis in fact for saying that [parents worked harder etc.], since you are utterly unaware of what my parents do."

Did your parents have to work outside in the winter, even getting soaked to the skin when it rained or in freezing conditions?

Did your parents have no sick pay, holiday pay or private pensions?

Did your parents never have a car?

Did your parents have to get up at 4.30am, ride a moped or walk/cycle in all weathers to get to work and then get home at 7 in the evening after hard physical work?

I don't want to turn this into a sob story (mainly because I had a very good upbringing, I am not even claiming to have come from a poor background, there were far worse backgrounds (I will explain below)), but this is why I suspect my parents worked harder than yours.

"The market controls the value of what someone is worth. You may think that it's skewed, I disagree."

The situation (in this country) is not as bad as the past because a lot of the capitalists' slave labour has been moved to Asia. But wages and conditions in all sorts of areas, particularly retail, care, and in the building trade are still disgraceful. Even the minimum wage (which we wouldn't have without a Labour govt) is still not enough to live on (though Labour is increasing it faster than average earnings).

"They [parents] had you educated for free. Presumably, any medical treatment they have had is through the NHS. Do they have a council house, or tax subsidies or benefits of any kind?"

They did have me educated for free, they have used the NHS recently (and excellent it was) and they do get state pensions. And which party do my parents have to thank for this?

My parents never earned very much in their lives but they saved and were never unemployed and lived an extraordinarily frugal existence that I doubt you are going to believe (looking back I barely believe it myself) which enabled them to give me and my brothers a good upbringing and they got a mortgage on a small house for 1700 pounds back in the late 1960's after sharing with family for 10 years or so of first being together.

They don't smoke, and were virtually tee-total (maybe a drop of whisky in their tea at christmas).

As I have already said we never had a car, (the first time I was passenger in a car, I was about 13, I still remember the experience, that's how amazing it was for me).

We had one week's holiday a year to (North Wales) by coach.

We had ONE two bar electric fire that had to heat the ENTIRE house. I still remember scraping ice off the INSIDE of my bedroom windows in the winters (it was colder winters then). I remember when I was a kid, the biting cold and having to wear my coat in the living room and pulling the settee towards the only electric fire we had to keep warm.

Saying all that, we weren't poor (they always managed to pay the bills although sometimes it was an immense struggle) and were never in debt because my mom and dad wouldn't spend any money on anything but essentials (my mom even cut my dad's hair). A fridge or TV or furniture etc. would have to last 20+ years.

Like most working class people of his generation, my dad was racist ('Enoch was right and Hitler was bad but he did some good things') and believed a lot of what the press told him about how bad this country is under Labour governments and has voted for every party including the BNP('as a protest') and the Tories (once, because 'Thatcher promised a tax break for self employed but she lied'). He does though have a deep suspicion of the establishment and he knows the establishment is dominated by the Tories, he doesn't like unions either.

So I make my opinions having considered a wide range of evidence, it is not just a viewpoint I have inherited like you have.

On the point about monolopies that both you and Tim make.

I'm sure you both will acknowledge that perfect competition is impossible. There are distortions in every market that lead to concentrations of ownership, barriers to entry, etc.

When a single company becomes dominant, they can over time control wage and price levels and even who is elected into govt. To be dominant doesn't mean they have to have all the market share. In some cases as little as 20% is enough to exert massive control. There are many companies which have more than 20% market share in the UK. Examples of companies that manipulate prices and wages are McDonalds, Starbucks, Tesco, News International, etc. etc. in fact any major company in the UK. There are unsaid cartels going on as well where major players co-operate to keep wages down, as it is in ALL companies interests in terms of profit. This is why we need proper regulation from govts.

Katy Newton said...

Well, darn it all to heck. Looks like the Monty Python Lick The Road Clean award for the poorest parents has slipped through my fingers yet again.

Katy Newton said...

(I'm not sneering at Neil's parents. I know what he's talking about. The competition is much closer than he knows. I just get very annoyed when people think they can produce their parents' financial hardships as a trump card in a political debate.)

Devil's Kitchen said...

Neil, what pisses me right off is that I am trying to see things from your perspective. In the end, I don't give two shits how deprived you or your parents were. What concerns me is to ensure that the working poor get a better break in life, if only so you poor fuckers will stop badgering us rich toffs.

Our policy ideas are not that different; unfortunately, you are utterly unable to leave your bigotry at the door. I think that is sad because, ultimately, it will stymie your chances to progress. Everyone hates a sanctimonious cunt; posh employers will hate you because you show contempt for them, common employers will hate you because you blame your deficiencies on your upbringing and they - by definition - will have worked harder to get higher.

Think for yourself, boy.

DK

MatGB said...

(I'm not sneering at Neil's parents. I know what he's talking about. The competition is much closer than he knows. I just get very annoyed when people think they can produce their parents' financial hardships as a trump card in a political debate.)

Agree completely. Neil, you're doing so badly in this debate I'm thinking of switching sides, as being on the same side as some of the tripe you're spouting is embarassing. Buck up lad, put some effort in.

(says the grandson of the poorest lad in the village, whose father was lucky enough to get a training course on day release for the council that got him a professional qualification and thus grew up "middle class", but who ended up a shopworker due to the dismal grammar school until paying his own way through university).

Neil, part of your problem is that "it isn't always that easy"; very true. But it is always possible. Likely? No, but possible.

Of course, the best sort of socialism is competition driven and exists within a functioning market. Indeed, a succesful socialist company has been named in this very discussion as an example by that nice Mr Tim...

Devil's Kitchen said...

The real point here is that capitalism allows people like MatGB and, presumably, Neil the opportunity to do better than their antecedents.

Something that I was thinking about the other day was that everyone goes on about the wonderful camaraderie of the mining villages. Mining was a shitty job, in cramped conditions and exposed to unpleasant diseases like black lung, etc. And if you were the son of a miner, then you were going to be a miner: the opportunity for advancement was fucking minimal.

A free schooling system did help to mitigate that sentence and, yes, Neil, it was introduced by a Labour government. But, alas, the social circumstances have changed; amongst other things, people in those days were awfully fucking eager not to have to go and work down the bastard mines...

DK

MatGB said...

No no no.

Markets allow us the opportunity. Capitalism isn't always a method for helping people improve; look at S. America for a lot of the 20th Century for example; the authoritarian Right were oligopolistic, etc.

Markets are the solution, competition in the system of distribution and exchange. System of ownership isn't relevent as long as competition is encouraged and there are no monopolies .

My fist of flounce said...

Phillipe Van Parijs says "Capitalism grows the pie, socialism distributes it. Neither is very good at the other."

Neil Harding said...

I was lucky to have parents who didn't have vices, didn't divorce, didn't have poor health, weren't unemployed and didn't mistreat their children. I was immensely LUCKY! That was my point. I am not trying to justify any shortcomings I may have. On the contrary, I should have done better than I have, though I am undisputedly a member of the middle class white collar brigade now.

My point is that, poverty puts immense strain on people's health and relationships and can drive the most saintly person to vices and despair.

I wasn't trying to turn this into a pythonesque bidding match or score cheap points about background, which I was trying (but probably failed) to make clear.

Is it ok for middle class people like you to criticise poor people when you have had much better circumstances in life and don't understand what deprivation leads people to?

Think of it scientifically; if a car breaks down, you look for a reason and try to fix it. When a person breaks down, you assume is is solely their fault and punish them even more. Inequality needs to be addressed, even the Tories now belatedly acknowledge that, except their methods have always made matters worse and it is only a Labour govt that has given opportunites to people like my parents and their children.

DK, you are right to say that we agree abour a lot of things, the citizen's income appeals to both of us because we both like the efficiency of it and we both believe in complete freedom of speech.

The reason I call you right wing and a fascist is your attitude to immigrants and those less fortunate than yourselves. You do a lot of complaining on here but I rarely see you put forward suggestions that take your logic to its conclusion.

For example, you believe in zero Muslim immigration, but the biggest increase in the number of Muslims is through the birth rate of those born here. You never say what should be done with them. You object to their 'cultural difference', but you admit you have no Muslim friends. They are into indie, rock, rap, hollywood and drink culture almost as much as the rest of us. That is our dominant culture. You forget that immigrants are people just like us. I know ex-Muslim, ex-Sikh and ex-Hindus who are gay or atheist or into drinking and indie, rock music etc. with good jobs, and who are more English than me. People change, you can't label them like you do.