Rose Friedman - defender of liberty


Yesterday Rose Friedman passed away peacefully at her home in California. The wife of Milton Friedman, she co-authored many publications with him, most notably Free To Choose in 1980 which was followed by a successful TV Series on PBS. She and her husband were champions of free market economics and liberty, highlighting how intrusive government held back progress and hampered human development. Advocates of choice they supported voucher schemes in education establishing The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in 1996 to further promote this idea. She will be as sorely missed as her husband of 68 years is.

You can read the NY Times Obituary here. And the Friedman Foundation's announcement here.

Soft' A-Levels


The Conservatives’ new exam shake-up plans are all very well and good for gaining support from a public where the general consensus is that exams just aren’t the same as they were in the good old days (and who mostly haven’t sat an exam in over a decade and never will again) but in practice will only cause more problems. Schools pushing pupils into ‘soft’ A-Levels to inflate their league table position will push pupils towards whatever raises their scores, be it maths or media studies. Worse, the plans may pressure pupils into taking ‘hard’ subjects simply because they believe it’s what’s expected of them, rather than because they enjoy them. Ironically this will see further grade inflation with weaker students taking up these subjects, pushing those stronger candidates who would have taken the subject regardless further into the top grades.

Besides, while PPE at Oxford may suit Mr. Cameron, he fails to realise that not everyone is suited to, nor wants, the kind of classical education he got. The world works because people, rather than being united by desires of further education and a multi-million pound job, are good at and want different things. I note that none of the top unis are offering me a degree in plumbing (nor do I want one). Need I worry? No: my plumber, Tom, who did not go to Oxbridge or study quantum mechanics, but who is a proud possessor of several vocational qualifications (a big Conservative no-no), knows pipes like the back of his hand. Yes, we need trained scientists and doctors, but we also need people in those ‘less academic’ trades. Besides, we’ve got enough unemployed graduates as it is.

One last word on the ‘hard’/’soft’ debate: does academically undemanding translate as easy? Cameron seems to think so – so, if the results of the next general election swing in their favour, I would like to make them getting the legislation through conditional on one thing: that every single Conservative party member get an A in A-Level Dance. And then post the results on YouTube.

Promises, promises, promises


Over the past decade we have all felt New Labour’s grip tightening around our lives, but perhaps one of the most adversely impacted demographics from their time in power are the young adults who will have to face the New Labour legacy.

Throughout its time in power, New Labour has made a series of empty promises to young people in Britain putting them in an increasingly disadvantaged position. Instead of leaving them free to grow up in a more prosperous society, they are now subject to live with falling standards in youth health, rising youth crime and non-existent community cohesion. Despite Tony Blair’s promise of ‘education, education, education’, young people now find themselves with fewer opportunities than when he came to power.

New Labour’s ‘solutions’ have impacted on the young. They failed in education, so grades have been inflated to spin themselves out of trouble. In failing to maintain cohesive, safe communities they have let many violent offenders go free, while slapping ASBOs on thousands of teenagers in order to be seen to be tough on crime.

Alistair Darling has now announced that the government is going to come to the rescue of thousands of 18-24year old NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training) who have been affected by the recession. He plans to ‘create’ jobs and training opportunities for all. Of course, many young people have been affected by the recession, but this is mainly because NEETS are under-trained and inexperienced. This latest promise cannot be realized in the current economic climate and is more about political maneuvering than real and hard facts.

When it comes to the youth – this government’s record is one of failure.

The world's biggest employers


We often here the phrase, "the third biggest employer behind the People's Liberation Army and the Indian Railways" with regard to the NHS. And even if you go to the jobs section of the NHS website they seem proud of the fact that they employ over 1.3 million people, 'the biggest in Europe'. They are indeed one of the biggest employers in the world, but who are ahead of them?

1. Wal Mart 2.1m
2. People's Army Liberation 1.6m
3. China National Petroleum 1.6m
4. State Grid 1.5m
5. Indian Railways 1.4m (2007)
6. NHS 1.3m


The uninsured numbers


Much of the debate relating to the American healthcare system revolves around the 'uninsured'. Even President Obama seems to be struggling, unable to get his figures straight: claiming 47 million, or is it 46 million are uninsured. Perhaps the best annual report is the US Census Bureau's Income, Poverty and Health Insurance (the 2008 survey will be out later this month). They give a headline figure of 45.657m uninsured Americans, or 15.3%.

We'll forgive the President's discrepancy of 343,000 but we'll examine who exactly constitutes this uninsured mass. For example 9.737m, 21.3% are not US citizens. But what of the remaining 35.920m. Overall 32.118 million people are in households that earn more than $25,000 per year (including 9.115m uninsured people in households that earn $75,000 or more). Insurance plans to individuals are costly but would not take much from an annual income of over $25,000. Obviously there is some overlap and we can't remove 32.118m from the overall figure based on their average annual earnings, but it does beg the question as to why they feel they can't afford insurance? Even if we lean to the extreme and exclude those earning over $50,000 it removes some 17.503 million dragging the total excluding non-citizens to 18.417m.

But what of the age breakdown? There are only 686,000 over the age of 65 who aren't covered. This compares to the 18.320 million between 18-34. who are the least likely to fall ill, which could explain why many choose not to take coverage. The picture of uninsured in America is a clouded affair. It has to be said that the real number 'in need' of health insurance falls some way off the 45.657m that is misquoted by those seeking to overhaul healthcare.

Stop smoking the easy way


Liverpool Council would like to consult with organisations and members of the public upon a proposal to revise its licensing policy that would mean an "18" classification would be given to new release films exhibited in Liverpool if they depict images of tobacco smoking and do not already carry an "18" classification.

The lunacy of this proposal is beyond argument, but is further evidenced in the details. Apparently smoking will be permitted if it shows “a real historical figure (not an historical era) who actually smoked" and/or shows “clearly and unambiguously, the dangers of smoking, tobacco use or second-hand smoke." Imagine the jobsworths who will judge this; they would have had to make Saving Private Ryan an “18" . Under such circumstances this of course could have been avoided: Steven Spielberg could had also pointed out the dangers of smoking while telling the story of the Omaha beachhead assault of June 6, 1944.

If Liverpool Council really wants to stop people smoking I have found the solution and it also makes use of an underused recourse, namely civil servants. Sitting as I do, opposite the colossal Department for Children Families and Schools, nothing ruins the unequalled pleasure of the early cigarette more than the sight of four score civil servants sucking away on rotation throughout the day.

As such, I suggest the government moves civil servants to smoking hotspots around the country, located squarely opposite schools. If the glamour of watching the stars of Hollywood smoke encourages the habit, the solution is not to hide it behind the mystique of prohibition, but to replace it with the future that a depressingly high number of these state educated children have to look forward to.

Click here to let Liverpool Council know what you think.

Sophie Shawdon joins the ASI


This summer I took AS-Levels in Politics, French and Spanish and an A-Level in Maths all of which will be graded under the new A* system. Around me, politicians are talking about how exams are getting easier and it seems like the general consensus from the press, employers and the public is that they just aren't as useful as they were in the Good Old Days. The Conservatives are talking about changing the value of a Media Studies A-Level in comparison to one in Physics, and I'm well aware that by the time I apply to university in December, the value of the subjects I chose over a year ago may well have changed: in a few years, the qualifications I gain now may be redundant and the meaning of the grades completely different. I'm therefore particularly concerned about education reform and the policies of the Government and other parties.

I'm also interested in the use of free market principles in recovering from the current economic crisis, and how this has led to calls for less Government intervention in other areas coupled, ironically, with calls for the Government to legislate against the multi-million pound bonuses. At a time like this, therefore, when the Government is being challenged on practically every front and the public is calling for reform, it is fascinating to be able to spend two weeks working with a think tank as prestigious and influential as the Adam Smith Institute.

In what little free time I spend not panicking about the future, I can be found acting, writing, or playing underwater hockey.

Which health care system is the best?


At first blush you might think this is an easy question to answer: which is the best health care system? The American? Our own dearly beloved NHS? The French, Swedish, German, Canadian systems?

Then the real problem kicks in: best according to what criteria? Do we want a system which provides startlingly good care, like the US one, but patchily? One like ours that is a bureaucratic monstrosity but provides not all that terribly bad care to all? Do we go further with equality like the Canadians and near ban anyone at all from getting more than the government is willing to provide? Do we get the counties to run it, like the Swedes and the Danes?

We might even go further: part of the huge cost of the American system is that for those insured they've squeezed almost all of the waiting out of the system. The Rational Planner might not think that this cost is worth it but the Americans themselves seem very attatched to that part of their system. Is not having to wait a sufficiently desirable part of a health care system that huge amounts should be spent upon achieving that goal?

Your guess is as good as mine quite frankly: the criteria by which you judge these systems will depend upon your extant prejudices, little else.

But how are those international comparisons of health systems done then? What criteria do they use? The WHO for example, telling us that France is top, the UK 18 and the US 37? Glenn Whitman has done the work here. Only 37.5% of the index comes from actually measuring health care itself. The rest is one or another measure of how that care is distributed (ie, equally or unequally) and how it is financed.

When 62.5% of the weighting is given to the things we know that the US system is specifically bad at it's a surprise to see it quite as high as 37 th actually. The level of treatment must be pretty good to get it that high.

But much more than that, when 62.5% of the weightings are given to the things that the NHS is supposed to be good at, was specifically designed to offer: financial fairness and equal care for all and still it only comes 18th? Well, it must actually be pretty bad at providing the actual health care, the health level and responsiveness, mustn't it?

This might be a clue as to why no one has ever bothered to copy the British health care system for all we've been told for decades that it is the wonder of the world.