The value of education

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the-value-of-education

educationpic1From deep in the cavern of bad policy ideas, the National Union of Students (NUS) have pulled out a cracker: former students should pay up to 2.5 per cent of their salary for 20 years after graduating to fund higher education. The tax would be levied depending on earnings.

The NUS’ policy is essentially a tax upon success. Those students who have worked and sacrificed to get into a top university, who while at university studied a demanding subject and focused more on study than the pub, who came out with the grades and skills to get a decent job that demands yet more work and sacrifice, will be paying for the education of the of lazy students ‘studying’ in third-rate universities. This is not meritocracy, quite the opposite in fact.

The impact of this tax would certainly send the top students abroad to study and or work. Many of the best and the brightest would prefer to pay an upfront payment for their education abroad instead of having their salary jacked by the government for twenty years; else they will take the benefits of a British education, only to work abroad, no doubt avoiding repayments entirely.

Only when education is truly liberalized will we see a meritocratic system emerge. Of course, those young people with no financial means who fail to qualify for a bursary will indeed have to borrow in order to be educated and the better the education the more the cost. But crucially it will then be their decision as to whether or not the education is worth that level of investment. This would be a meritocracy. If the students do not consider the education to be worth getting into debt over, they can and will choose to spend their productive energy in another direction.

Blog Review 991

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Yes, governments really are more expensive at doing just about everything for there's a deadweight cost to the taxation with which they do things.

How the internet has dispensed with the gatekeepers and thus reversed the burden of proof.

Making an error does not mean that the erree should never do anything again.

Would the mooted change in the electoral system really lead to this?

Fake charities spouting fake statistics: couldn't we change that part of the political system instead?

This is bizarre even for Polly Toynbee.

And finally, pilots do have a sense of humour, don't they?

(Netsmith would like to apologise for the somewhat random numbering of the blog review over the past few days. Some light brain spasm to blame, no doubt.)

The database state

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the-database-state

dataConnectivity is a company which has just launched a new mobile phone directory service. They claim to have 16m of mobile phone numbers in their database. They won't give them out to you, but you call 118800 or go onto their website and say who you want to call, and for £1 they will send that person a text asking if they'll take your call.

The interesting question is where Connectivity laid its hands on 16m of our numbers. It's coy, but the answer is market research companies, online businesses that we buy things from, and brokers who sell lists of numbers.

Actually, I'll find it quite useful to be able to look up people's mobile numbers. But grasping the obvious benefits is how we lose our liberties. Most people want more CCTV, for example, because they think it prevents crime. But when you have millions of them tracking your every move, what it starts to prevent is free movement. And the worrying thing about this 118800 initiative is just how easily new databases of our information can be compiled. Click a mouse, text a friend, use your credit cards, sign up for a storecard, pay your car tax or buy a TV licence, walk in the street under the gaze of CCTV, apply for social benefits, forget to tick the box on that says 'we'd like to share your information with...' and your ID cat is out of the bag, floating around between – well, who knows who?

That's why the proposed National Identity Register is so dangerous. And the NHS patient records system too. Tens of millions of our records, all accessible to whichever of 400,000 civil servants happens to have the right security code. The late lamented Jacqui Smith wanted to keep a note of all our email and phone chats, while the lamentable Jack Straw wanted to share all our information between government departments. They both had to publicly backtrack. But I'm under no illusion that these things are going to happen, or are happening, anyway.

Germany’s European election results: A threat to UK new nuclear-build?

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nuclearIn the UK, Labour’s disastrous European Election results, allied to a good performance by UKIP, dominated headlines domestically.

But for those presiding over UK energy policy, the results in Germany were seriously disconcerting.

The combined vote of the CDU and the Bavarian-based CSU was just below 38%. Moreover, the FDP secured a 10% share so that this trio fell just short of 50%. The main left-wing party, the SPD, polled less than 21%.

Germany is currently governed by a Grand Coalition led by Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, whose own standing remains impressive. Hence, she is well-placed to secure an overall majority – in league with the CSU and the FDP – in September’s general election.

A CDU-led government, especially with a decent majority, may well decide to scrap Germany’s nuclear phase-out policy that was controversially enacted in 2001.

Germany’s top two energy companies, E.On and RWE, strongly support such a marked policy shift. Undoubtedly, it would materially boost their cash flows: most of their nuclear stations could continue generating power - at low marginal cost - for many years.

E.On and RWE may also undertake upgrades to their existing nuclear plants. And, in time, new nuclear-build may become feasible in Germany, which would require massive investment by both E.On and RWE.

Along with France’s EdF, where net debt reduction is now a priority, E.On and RWE are key to new nuclear-build in the UK. However, a major change in the German energy landscape may cause their investment focus to become more domestically-orientated.

In any event, with nearly £40 billion of net debt, E.On’s own investment plans are being cut back.

Worrying times then for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) – a reversal of Germany’s nuclear phase-out policy would certainly not be helpful for the prospects of new nuclear-build in the UK.

Battling the BNP

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Yesterday dozens of protesters from the group ‘Unite Against Fascism’ swarmed on Nick Griffin’s European Election victory speech outside the House of Lords. They threw eggs, hit him and his supporters with placards and umbrellas and kicked his car as he drove away. As a result of the protest two people were taken to hospital.

Clearly there should be no place for the likes of the BNP and Nick Griffin in British politics – he’s a racist and a holocaust deniers. But they are now in a democratically elected public office and we cannot ‘blame’ or punish Nick Griffin for being democratically elected.

‘Unite Against Fascism’ are not a credible force to combat extremism in Britain. They seem to undermine themselves. The protest organiser is quoted as saying ‘I support freedom of speech but not for fascists’. Something doesn’t quite add up. You cannot support freedom of speech only when it suits you, and by campaigning to stump the free speech of the BNP, ‘Unite Against Fascism’ are becoming slightly fascist themselves.

If we are really to stop this rise in fascism we need to look at the root causes of its growth. People are voting for the BNP because they feel disenfranchised by the major political parties. They feel the BNP will be more responsive to their individual needs.

There are two ways to start to reverse the growth of the BNP. Firstly, we need to bring people like Griffin into the open. Let him give news interviews in the mainstream media. This way people will see what he a fool he is with his claims that he can ‘just see if somebody is British’. We also need a reform of Westminster that emphasises MPs and parties working for the people rather than themselves, a point the BNP played on with their focus on local tensions.

Blog Review 878

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Just how much money is it that we owe given Gordon's financial inventiveness?

Quite why there was all that excitement over Gordon's possible resignation is difficult to understand. There's almost no way of forcing him to.

It just isn't true that train travel is necessarily less carbon emittive than car travel.

Are there limits to the amount of wealth that we can create?

Hey, maybe it's all over! Paul Krugman seems to think so.

A very weird idea of how to make the political system work better. Weird, but perhaps sufficiently so to actually work.

And finally, what we've escaped with the sexual revolution.

The pathetic nature of British politics

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the-pathetic-nature-of-british-politics

westminster_at_nightThe irony of ironies was delivered over the weekend, sixty five years after the brave men and women of the Allied armies successfully breached the Atlantic Wall to fight national socialism, the UK decided the time was right to send national socialists to represent them in the European Parliament. The two regions, Yorkshire & Humber, and the North West, were those that 'successfully' elected MEPs from the British National Party despite the party actually losing voters in these two regions. (In Yorkshire & Humber their vote fell by 5.1% and in the North West by 2.1%). They were of course supported via a substantial drop in core Labour voters who decided that their non-appearance in the booths would show the party leadership in Westminster exactly what they thought of them.

The whole political system is to blame for this debacle. The destruction that has been wrought throughout the latter part of the 20th century by Westminster and Strasbourg/Brussels has allowed for the BNP to establish a firm foothold on the political ladder. The creation of the nationalized industries, the centralization of power firstly in Westminster and then to a lesser extent in the European parliament, the stripping of power at the local level and the end to oppositional politics has meant that the rise of smaller parties was inevitable. This has lead to apathetic voters who wish to protest at how they feel forgotten by those they traditionally vote for and also to political minorities across the whole spectrum choosing to vote for seemingly extreme/single issue political organizations.

The rise of groups such as UKIP, BNP, Plaid Cymru, SNP and the Greens is merely reflective of how out of touch Westminster and the parties have become. The fault for the election of the BNP lies squarely with the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems. Voters may not fully understand what/who they vote for but they will vote for someone who listens to them. That is all the BNP did in this campaign. In these enlightened times it is difficult to believe that there are nearly 3 million racists in Great Britain, as this Channel 4 survey shows .

Mr Right

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buckleyThere is an excellent program on Radio four narrated by Michael Portillo on the late and great ‘Mr Right’: Bill Buckley. It is worth an hour of your time and in between the wit of Buckley, Michael Portillo throws up some interesting points about the difference between the Conservative movements in the US and the UK.

There are some great archival highlights, such as a few snippets of his famous 1965 Cambridge debate with the novelist and civil right’s activist James Baldwin, as well as many other peaks into the plethora of his adversarial battles on the iconic Firing Line, a show that was to run for thirty-three years.

A key point for Portillo is his argument that US Conservatism as influenced by Buckley is more ideological as distinct from its UK variety. Here Portillo uses the word ideological precluding the often negative connotations that surround the word, instead taking it to mean the thought necessary to construct the ideas. This was Buckley’s genius, to be the voice of thoughtful Conservativism, with power enough through the arguments contained in The National Review to convert Ronald Reagan from an instinctive Democrat to a Republican bibliophage.

As the right sorely misses the ideas of Buckley in the US, we are the worse for having lacked the public intellectuals with the spirit and brilliance to ignite a similar passion in this country. Listening to the Reith Lectures yesterday morning with the engaging statist political philosopher Michael Sandel discuss markets and morality, one can only imagine the battle Buckley would have fought with him over Sandel's ideas, which as things stand would sit so comfortably in the unthinking minds and unchallenged mouths of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians of this country.