Linky Love: 20th January 2010

  • Next Left – Fact checking Social Mobility: We will hear a lot about social mobility in the next few months, as Gordon Brown’s speech on Saturday to the Fabians and David Cameron’s response on education today suggested. More broadly, it is probably a good thing that worrying about ‘low social mobility’ offers a polite and socially acceptable way for almost everybody to express a concern about how much class structures British society, even if some seem at times unaware that this is what they are saying. But more nonsense is talked about the facts of social mobility than perhaps any other public issue. So Next Left today begins a modest “social mobility fact-checking” service, aimed at politicians, campaigners and public commentators, and would welcome other bloggers and commentators joining a push to name and shame the public discourse into a more accurate discussion of mobility in British society.
  • Political Scrapbook – Sarah Teather playing it by the book: Thanks to the source who emailed to draw Scrapbook’s attention to the fact that, in relation to this week’s expenses revelations, Sarah Teather has in fact been “playing it by the book”. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the book concerned isn’t Parliament’s Green Book on the appropriate use of expenses but the Liberal Democrats’ internal manual on fiddling the system, which was leaked to The Telegraph last autumn. The presentation describes “grey areas” in regulations, encouraging its MPs to “be imaginative” with public money and “spend to the limit” (click to enlarge):
  • Paul Sagar – Continued Tory Tax Nonsense: Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome has responded to my accusation that his pronouncements at the Fabian Conference on inheritance tax were both ignorant and incoherent. Isaby doesn’t actually mount any counter-arguments to my original post, but just repeats Tory mantra about being able to pass on enormous amounts of property and wealth tax-free to those who’ve done nothing to earn it.
  • InMyHumbleEtc – Climate Change, Get Real: I don’t reckon the recent snowy weather has been kind on the Heresiarch’s standards. In particular, the recent Guest Post by the Pedant General was so wrong-headed that I couldn’t let it rest. What follows is mainly my original response, with some extra detail addressing the longer post on Devil’s Kitchen by the General. For me the General’s post is a horrible example of how little Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt the climate change deniers need to spread in order to stymie public action on complex scientific matters. I am sure it took me longer to counter it (lacking, as I do, immediate access to the correct scientific data, and only a passing knowledge of proper climate science blogs) than it did for it to be written in the first place.
  • Carl Packman – France and the Burqa: Most would recognise that the burqa is a symbol of oppression, and therefore, morally, there is no reason on this world to extend respect for it, but if this is so, then why are coward governments attacking the symbol, and not the oppression itself. It is this dilemma that should be put to the French parliament, now that the plans for a public ban have been put back.
  • Chris Dillow – Happiness and productivity: The old cliché is true – a happy worker is indeed a productive worker. This paper by Andrew Oswald and colleagues finds that “happiness has powerful causal effects on labor productivity.” They established this through a couple of experiments, in which subjects were asked to add up series of 2-digit numbers, with small payment by results. In one experiment, subjects were split into two groups, with one being shown a short comedy film and the other not. Subjects shown the film were 10% more productive than those who weren’t. This productivity boost was confined to those who actually enjoyed the film. What’s more, subjects did not realize that this effect was happening; only 31% felt that watching the clip had improved their skill on the test.  In another experiment, subjects were asked before the test  whether they had suffered a family bereavement or parental divorce in the last two years. Those who said they had were about 10% less productive than those who said they hadn’t. All this suggests that happiness can actually cause greater productivity.
  • Hopi Sen – The Rise of the Bolicy: There’s a new beast stalking Westminster.  The Bolicy. – so dubbed because it is barely a policy, and ends up being total… well, you can do the rest. The Bolicy is born out of  the political urge to do things that sound progressive and nice, but the fiscal inconvienence of not having any money to spend. It has a fine political lineage. It is the step child of the “Aspiration”, and close related to the “medium term goal”. It even has an economic justification, in “nudge” theory, which conviently allows penurious politicians to believe they can solve the worlds problems by painting flies on urinals. What marks  out the Bolicy as a unique species of political nonsense is that it looks exactly like a real policy. It has costings, and specifics, and footnotes. It sounds authoritive.  It just doesn’t do much of anything. So how can journalists and voters tell when they’re being sold a Bolicy instead of the real thing? Here’s a handy guide.
  • Left Foot Forward – Do the public want a cap on migration: Crucially, people want the government to be in control of migration.  But control does not mean a drastic limit on net migration – it’s perfectly possible for the government to be in control of a migration system that is flexible and responsive to the needs of the economy.  In fact, what often gives the public the impression that migration is out of control is politicians making promises to ‘clamp down’ on immigration that they then cannot deliver.  It might be tempting to promise a cap on immigration, but it isn’t necessarily what the public wants, and risks becoming a hostage to fortune. The Government need to resist pressure from Migration Watch and others, and stand up for the systems that they have put in place; demonstrating that they are in control by being confident about their policies, not by constantly changing them in response to the vocal migration lobby groups.
  • Lenin’s Tomb – “There is no security situation”: Once again, just for emphasis and instruction, the security crisis is fabricated:

    One thing that I think is really important for people to understand is that misinformation and rumors and, I think at the bottom of the issue, racism has slowed the recovery efforts of this hospital. Security issues over the last forty-eight hours have been our—quote “security issues” over the last forty-eight hours have been our leading concern. And there are no security issues. I’ve been with my Haitian colleagues. I’m staying at a friend’s house in Port-au-Prince. We’re working for the Ministry of Public Health for the direction of this hospital as volunteers. But I’m living and moving with friends. We’ve been circulating throughout the city until 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning every night, evacuating patients, moving materials. There’s no UN guards. There’s no US military presence. There’s no Haitian police presence. And there’s also no violence. There is no insecurity.