Monday, June 23, 2008

Broken Brown Blithering

Hurrah! We're top of the league... oh... it's the OECD's social immobility league*

So why has social mobility in Britain collapsed?

Altogether now - because Labour abolished our state grammar schools. Surely everybody knows that.

Well, no. They don't. According to Gordo:

"In the 1970s and 1980s, this rise in social mobility stalled. Skilled manufacturing jobs were lost. The opportunities for social mobility narrowed. Inequality and child poverty worsened.

As unemployment rose to 3 million, the sons and daughters of many families missed out on many of the new educational opportunities that were being created.

At a time when many of their fathers were hit by unemployment, many of the generation that some have called Thatcher's children - the lost generation - were sadly denied the chance to progress."

So according to the Brown version, it's nothing to do with Labour's dumbed down social engineering factories; it's down to Thatcher grinding the faces of the poor. Again.

So far so predictable. Yet he then goes on to quote straight from the Thoughts of Maggie T:

"Social mobility starts with parents wanting their children to do better than they did themselves. But this cannot be achieved without people themselves adopting the work ethic, the learning ethic and aiming high.''

Well, yes. We agree with that 100%. But that's because he's saying personal reponsibility is key, which is what we "right-wingers" have always believed. It's why we oppose socialism, which says society is to blame. It's why we want governments like his to go away and leave us to make our own decisions.

Doesn't he realise that? Doesn't he understand he's rejecting socialism?

Ah. Well, he hasn't quite done that. Because his concept of personal responsibility is pretty tortured. It says that government still tells you what to do, but uses carrots rather than sticks to make you do it.

What that means is stuff like paying people to stop smoking (£150 for three months smoke-free), or paying them £200 to access Sure Start services (yes, that Sure Start - the one that's already wasted about £5bn). So yet more taxpayers money chucked away chasing the elusive butterfly of socialism.

Even more broadly, this seems to be part of something called "choice architecture", which is the subject of a new book published this week. Written by two well-known US academics, Nudge reportedly explains how behavioural factors (eg peer group pressure and cognitive weaknesses) can be used to nudge us into making "socially reponsible" decisions.

And who decides what's socially reponsible? Ah.

Sounds like that's where we came in...

PS Actually Tyler is a big fan of Richard Thaler's work on behavioural finance, and will definitely read the Nudge website later. But right now, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and Tyler's motoring down to Hampshire for a leisurely lunch with an old colleague in a pub garden beside the River Test. Soon Gordo will be motoring to meet other old age pensioners from Fife in a pub garden near you - look out for him.

*Footnote: the OECD reckons we're pretty well at the top of the international social immobility league. Their chart above "shows the intergenerational earnings elasticities as estimated in various studies. The higher the parameter, the higher is the persistence of earnings across generations and thus the lower is mobility". Source: D’Addio, A.C. (2007), “Intergenerational Transmission of Disadvantage”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 52."

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