Picking Losers

Educayshon, Educayshon, Educayshon

As the education dumbing down debate continues where one side argues that exams are getting easier while the other suggests that teaching is getting better, it seems that the Joint Council for Qualifications is looking to resolve the debate once and for all. They are going to dumb down science papers. There, no more need to quarrel over the state of our education and examination system - it is crap. Official. The JCQ says that, from next year, exam papers should consist of 70 per cent “low-demand questions”, requiring simpler or multiple-choice answers. These currently make up just 55 per cent of the paper. This is all in the name of getting more kids to take up science - i.e. bribe them with a good grade. What a brilliant way to get the new generation of scientists, hand over top grades to a bunch halfwits.

This comes with the news that in the past five years, the proportion of students gaining a grade D or better in one of the combined science papers has leapt from 39.6 to 46.7 per cent. So now they are official going to get easier, it seems there won't even be a need for a D grade anymore - which is just as well because most of the students taking science probably won't be able to get that far in the alphabet anyway.

Take this example questions from a GCSE paper (from today's Times):

Many people observe the stars using:

A a telescope

B a microscope

C an x ray tube

D a synthesiser

I am not kidding. That is a genuine question from a GCSE paper. It's like some sort of Richard and Judy phone in quiz.

How about ruining the economy and taxing the hell out of everyone?

Why don't the Tories just shut up about the environment? Probably because it was only thing that they haven't been absolutely panned for talking about so far. They have been falling apart at the mere suggestion of education and Europe is traditionally a sore spot for them; they have given health a shot but it didn't really make any difference. They tried taxation but then realised they didn't actually have a policy and as far as I can tell they don't have an energy or transport policy either. So back to green politics it is.

This is what they call research in the public sector...

What better way for our council workers to spend our council tax than to clock up 200,000 miles around the world to pick up tips on increasing bills for homeowners!  At least the trip will pay for itself - though I think I'd rather they'd just stayed at home.  The fact that they have visited Europe, North America, Asia and Australia not only suggest there are a disproportionate amount of bureaucrats with free suntans lying around our council buildings this summer but also that we should expect some pretty hefty and sneaky tax increasing in the coming months or years. 

Cap-and... oops-nothing-to-trade

Cap-and-trade mechanisms scored early successes when deployed within national boundaries against pollutants like SO2 and NOx. That success led politicians and economists to think that the approach could be extended to all emissions, and to international arrangements. In particular, they hoped it would provide a relatively pain-free way of tackling carbon emissions. They should have consulted sports scientists: no pain, no gain.

We have seen recently the failure of the most high-profile of the carbon cap-and-trade mechanisms - Phase 1 of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS). This was, apparently, unpredictable, and anyway Phase 1 was just a trial period. Phase 2 will be much better, we are told.

Except EU-ETS wasn't the first, and it isn't the last. In July 2006, two economists (David A. Evans and Joseph A. Kruger) published a paper titled "Taking up the Slack Cap: Lessons from a Cap-and-Trade Program in Chicago", looking at Chicago's Emissions Reduction Market System (ERMS), and its lessons for larger mechanisms like the EU-ETS. They summarize its performance thus:

"ERMS is particularly relevant to the questions outlined above because the first years of its operation reveal a curious outcome. Despite expectations to the contrary, emissions have been significantly below the annual allocation of emission allowances, and allowance prices have been much lower than predicted. Trading has been limited and many allowances have expired unused. Essentially, it appears that a fundamental prerequisite for a tradable allowance program is missing - there is no scarcity of allowances."

Sound familiar? Now we hear that the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), "the United States' first foray into cap-and-trade programs for greenhouse gases", is "over-allocated by 24 million short tons or 13 per cent of the cap in 2009".

Three cap-and-trade mechanisms that were all over-allocated, leading to a collapse of prices in the market. And all of these were a surprise? Or did we need three trials, because no one could work out beforehand that if the cap was set higher than the level of emissions that industry could easily achieve, the market would collapse?

Government target horror story

Government targets are often classic examples of picking losers.  The intentions are almost always spot on, but the result is aiming for a target for all the wrong incentives.  For example, crime is too high - set the police a target to get it down, the measure is often number of arrests; the result is a number of easy targets are hit while the real problem remains.  Or take this example - and this one is a depressingly good example.  The government had concerns over the lack of child care leading to adoption.  Therefore the government introduced policy for more children in care to be adopt

The real lesson of the Tories' campaign on hospital closures

The Times reports that the Tories' hospital campaign "was in disarray last night". One can pontificate on whether the campaign was the right point of attack (no), whether the mistakes are serious (in credibility terms, yes), and whether the media's reporting is biased (maybe, but it didn't half invite the criticism). But those aren't the main points. The main lesson is that the Tories are sadly lacking in critical faculties. Whether it's the activists, who militate for policies that owe more to instinct and prejudice than reason (even if many of those instincts are sound), or the researchers, who seem unable to provide coherent material for the many points of attack left gaping by an incompetent government, or the political representatives, who are unable to point the researchers in the right direction and to sort the wheat from the chaff of the material provided to them, there seems to be a general dearth of smarts on the right.

Is it the left-wing bias of the universities, which means that the part of our population most inclined to go into politics receives a thorough schooling in interventionism and socialism? Or that the smarter people on the right can earn a better living in careers outside politics, whereas politics is the pinnacle of ambition for many of the intelligentsia of the left? Or that politics is now a career to be embarked on straight from university, which means that the right can no longer rely on the real-world experience that would once have been their trump card? If you don't have extensive experience of life outside politics, it is hard to understand the damage that well-meaning intervention can do, which makes it hard to put together a convincing case against such interventionism.

There will be smart people there, as there are anywhere. But are they being allowed to rise to the top? Or are they being dragged down by political triangulation, which judges the merits of a proposal on the basis of whether it is an acceptable compromise between the opinions of the dumb and the not so dumb, and the merits of a person by how well they can justify such semi-dumb compromises?

A real classical-liberal party would be about encouraging quality to prosper, whether in the economy or within its own ranks. Chances are, this can't be done in a party that likes to think of itself as a broad church welcoming uncritically a range of perspectives. If everyone's opinion is equally valid, how will you distinguish between them?

UPDATE: I wrote this before I saw the other article in the Times, on the comments of Sayeeda Warsi. QED.

You have two choice: Tax & Spend or a another version of Tax & Spend

Conservative Home today reports an interview that David Cameron gave to the Yorkshire Post.  The interview is based on where Cameron will position his party at the next election.  He tells the Yorkshire Post that the next election will be fought on social issues as opposed to economic ones.  It seems the Tories have all but given up on the idea that genuine tax cuts

The anti-social sausage thrower. Aged 12.

From the BBC-

A 12-year-old boy was charged with assault and taken before the courts - for throwing a cocktail sausage.

The boy was accused of throwing the pork snack at a 74-year-old man in Woodhouse Park, south Manchester.

"Greater Manchester Police takes all incidents of anti-social behaviour very seriously and they are investigated thoroughly."

And the MTAS fiasco continues too...

Despite former secretary for Health, Patricia Hewitt, saying that while MTAS was about no doctor would be jobless, more than 10,000 trainee doctors could find themselves without posts within weeks. In order to hand out as many jobs as possible, the government shifted the deadline to fill the 22,000 NHS training posts until Oct 31, but with 33,000 applicants. A further 1000 posts will be created after the deadline for those who are particularly qualified, but that still leaves a massive shortfall.

Blundering on with HIPs...

The latest HIPs calamity is reported today.  It is becoming apparent that some mortgage lenders are refusing to accept a crucial part of the reports.  Solicitors, mortgage lenders and even some HIPs providers warned that many homebuyers would have to pay at least another £200 for their own local authority searches because those provided in the home sellers' pack cannot be trusted.  That is addition to the cost of getting the pack in the first place.  Now, obviously it is the seller that pays for the pack (CA.