Monday, July 19, 2010

Layer 332 . . . Duncan Smith, Tory Economics, Gove, Education, Sugata Mitra and TEDGlobal

Iain Duncan Smith at loggerheads with Treasury over benefit cuts

So says the headline over an article in the Observer. I've written about this previously, and about my support for Duncan Smith's proposals.

Duncan Smith's central idea is to increase the "work incentive" by ensuring that there is enough of a financial gain for people on benefits to work. The difficulty is that the way to address the issue is either to increase payments to those in work – which would cost billions – or to withdraw benefits to those out of work or in the lowest paid jobs – hurting the most vulnerable in society.

Before the election, the Centre for Social Justice thinktank came up with proposals that carried a price tag of £3.7bn a year, claiming that the money would be clawed back over time and eventually result in savings.

Sources say officials at [IDS's] DWP [Deparment for Work and Pensions] are "frustrated" that the Treasury will not take into account the potential income raised from income tax and VAT as more people move into work.

Kayte Lawton, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said it was inevitable there would be tensions between the DWP and the Treasury because Duncan Smith's ideas depended on spending money in the short term that could be regained in the long term.

Or, putting it more simply, IDS and his DWP are saying that the key task is to get people who are living on welfare back into work, or into self-employment, and in order to do that we need to continue to pay them their unemployment and housing benefits during their first weeks of work - both as a 'reward' and as an 'assurance' that it will be worth their while to take on the available jobs.

Not surprisingly the bastards at the Treasury - the stupid bean counters and dull accountants - can only see the short-term numbers and can't see the long-term sense of what Duncan Smith is proposing.

The key to this lies with Cameron, and if he doesn't support IDS's enlightened proposals then the mystery will be why on earth he ever appointed him to the job, knowing full well, we presume, that he knew what IDS stood for and what his philosophy would be for getting people back into work. Indeed, we're entitled to assume that this is why he gave him the job in the first place. - this one from way before the General Election


Further to the favourable comments about Cameron in Layer 330 - there was another article praising him and the Coalition in the Observer:

This coalition is proving to be a champion of common sense

Of course Henry Porter is mainly interested in issues centering on liberty and human rights, on policing, surveillance, civil liberties, etc. And he claims that

"these [government] actions should be given more than a grudging welcome by those who argue that cuts are the only way to assess the coalition. Let's remember that there is just 1% difference between Labour and coalition proposals on cuts."

Personally I doubt this figure. Tory economics are the opposite of enlightened and wise, as is their determination to privatise everything in sight, including health and education.

Even Jackie Ashley points out that Cameron is cutting whereas Obama understands that creating a recession or another depression is unnecessary and evil. It's making the poor pay for the excesses of the rich.

So what is the kernel of the ["Special"] relationship now? What makes it so special?

Certainly not economics or domestic policy. Obama's strategy is going in almost exactly the opposite direction from Cameron's. He has been spending heavily, creating a fairer healthcare system, and regulating Wall Street with a toughness the UK government has so far shrunk from. He is worried about the depth of European spending cuts, and Cameron's are as deep as any. In most key areas, Obama has been behaving more like Brown than Cameron.

Gary Younge, as ever, also gets it:

The coalition doesn't want to heal Britain's broken leg, but amputate it

The left must show this for the elective surgery it is: cuts born of ideology, where the many pay for a crisis created by the rich

The first point is that this situation was not brought about by excessive public sector spending in Britain, but by an almighty binge in the private sector that sparked an international banking crisis. Far from government getting in the way of business, at the point of collapse it was governments – across the world – that rescued business from itself through massive bank bailouts. Indeed, the crisis was made possible not by too much state intervention in capitalism but too little.

Given its global nature, it defies logic to blame any one government or even country for this crisis, let alone a single party. And while it can be argued that Labour made the country vulnerable to the fallout through its deficits, it is not an argument David Cameron can honestly make. For most of the time he was opposition leader he was committed to matching Labour's spending plans. Only when the crisis was in full swing did he abandon them.

In their place he has introduced an agenda that is, by any standards, extreme. Osborne has floated cuts averaging 25% across almost all departments. In Germany, the eurozone's primary deficit hawk, the government department taking the steepest hit will suffer an 8% cut.

Far from being economically necessary, these particular cuts represent an ideological choice. The Conservatives want to shrink the state to a lower proportion of the economy than Margaret Thatcher did. Not even the markets are demanding austerity on this scale, or at this pace.

This is elective surgery. The trouble is that the country didn't choose this. True, Labour lost. But no party won. There is simply no mandate for such an extreme agenda. Opposition to this agenda represents not the reflexive response of malcontents but the considered appraisal of a broad swath of the economic community. The US, France, the Financial Times and the Economist have all argued against such a scale of fiscal tightening at this stage. Even the IMF earlier this year said: "For most advanced countries, some fiscal and monetary stimulus may need to be maintained well into 2010."

It is also widely acknowledged and easily proven that, for all the talk of fairness, these measures will have a disproportionate effect on the poor. "The looming cuts to public services are likely to hit poorer households significantly harder than richer households," said Robert Chote, the director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies the day after the budget.

Not only are these measures not necessary, there is every chance they will make matters far worse. "The historical precedent," argues John Philpott, chief adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, "would suggest that the application of stronger fiscal discipline to an economy in too weak a state to bear it will both slow the rate of economic growth and stem the pace of job creation."

It was not those with low-paid final salary pensions who got us here, but those raking in multimillion dollar bonuses. The wealthy created this crisis, and now the coalition is making ordinary working people pay for it by playing politics with the livelihoods of millions. These are cuts of choice from a government we didn't choose. A softer landing is possible; a crash landing is imminent.

Even Ed Balls has something sensible to say on the subject:

Don't repeat the 30s folly

Those rushing to cut the deficit have not learned from the past. Labour has to set out the alternative


Gove was back on the radio this morning, sounding as chipper as ever. Clearly ministerial life and the trappings of power agree with him.

Of course he's rushing to legislate to get all schools turning into 'Academies' (bloody hateful word) and effectively abolish local authority governance and responsibility - also known as interference -  which, as I've said before, many times, many of them thoroughly deserve, and good riddance to all their useless bureaucrats. It's not difficult to make the case for giving schools the money and letting them employ their own advisers and 'consultants'. LMS in the early '90's effectively started this trend, and it's only in the New Labour years that bureaucrats have again grown in numbers and fat-cat salaries.

What's still not completely clear is whether Gove really does want to liberate schools from outside interference and imposition, or whether he simply wants control of schools to be effectively direct from Westminster.

A couple of weeks ago he took part in a radio discussion about the merits of 'reviving' the art of 'deep thought', which seems to suggest we used to have it but somehow lost it.

In terms of curriculum reform, there was general agreement that narrowness and specialisation in the curriculum does not promote creativity and originality - and in fact tends to work against these things. We can't make connections between disparate things if we're not aware of disparate things.


Back in March Oxzen picked up on an article in the Guardian about the work of Sugata Mitra:

In yesterday's Observer there was another reference to him in a two-page article about TEDGlobal:

TEDGlobal conference: where ideas have sex

What happens when one idea meets another idea? They have idea sex. And, when the conditions are right, they conceive and spawn little baby ideas, which go on to have ideas of their own. Or at least that was the theory proposed by science writer Matt Ridley, speaking at TEDGlobal in Oxford last week.

Given that TEDGlobal is a conference at which 60 speakers have 18 minutes each to explain their big idea to an audience of 750 individuals, all of whom have had to apply and provide evidence that they are ideas-type people . . .

One of the most stunning presentations came from the educationist Sugata Mitra, who has discovered that children are capable of teaching themselves almost anything, up to and including biotechnology, in a language they cannot even speak.

Education, he says, is a self-organising system and learning is an emergent phenomenon. What Mitra has so brilliantly demonstrated is that children actually like to learn. If they can figure out how to do it among themselves. And adults, too, it turns out. They're having idea sex online. With an Oxford professor in quantum physics. The net's dirtiest secret yet.

See also this piece from the BBC:

Using computers to teach children with no teachers

It really is about learning . . .

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