Thursday, November 06, 2008

Land Of Make Believe

At least they won the Eurovision Song Contest

With the Prog Con messiah now safely installed in the White House, let's take a closer look at that government social mobility paper we blogged on Monday.

As you will recall, the BBC and the rest of the lib media span it as proving that mobility has improved under Labour. Which was very surprising, given that all previous analysis had shown mobility diminishing over the last 30 years with no sign of improvement.

On Tuesday, David Aaronovitch revealed precisely why he and the rest of the Prog Con have latched on to this report. Under the headline "Be patient. Britain is gradually getting fairer", he sought to assure us that Labour's multi-billion social mobility programme (Sure Start, ending child poverty etc etc) is working - even if dim people like taxpayers can't see any sign of it.

Aaronovitch claims he's read the entire 95 page report. Frankly, we doubt that: our first two attempts ended in lengthy periods of unconsciousness. But we pressed on, and stripping away the sociologicalmanagementconsultancyspeak waffle, we discovered that the nub of the argument really is what we blogged on Monday:

  • Social mobility - as measured by inter-generational moves between occupational "classes" and/or relative income levels - was pretty static between 1970 and 2000 (so, er... where does that leave the Evil Thatch narrative?)

  • We can't actually measure it for the period since Labour's spending splurge started, since the measurements depend on comparing where kids end up in their own economic lives, relative to where their parents were

  • We can see that low class kids are now getting many more GCSEs under Labour, so in adult life they must be going to move up economically

  • QED

Here's the crucial chart:

And here's the accompanying blurb (p36):

  • Data are available on the GCSE attainment of a group of children born in 1990/91 who took their exams in 2006

  • These suggest a statistically significant decline in the importance of family background on educational attainment compared to children born in 1970

  • These findings, therefore, suggest that family background will have less of an impact on the income of these children when they reach adulthood, than those born in 1970 they are likely to experience higher social mobility

And that's it. Everything depends on the assumption that today's dumbed-down ten-a-penny GCSEs will have the same economic and career value as the GCSEs taken by kids 20-30 years ago.

On that flimsy top-down arm-waving basis, we taxpayers are being milked for billions. Even though when we look at the nitty-gritty of the individual programmes we find a picture of unmitigated failure (eg see this blog on the failure of Sure Start, and this one on the failure of the early learning programme).

This is the high-cost, low-achievement Land of Prog Con Make Believe. And it's right next-door to the Promised Land.

PS The report also has a ton of stuff about the real facts on social mobility, which concern structural change in the economy. In particular, as the economy has shifted from manufacturing to service industries, there are fewer manual jobs and many more office jobs. So if you define class in terms of occupation - which lefties always do - then, surprise, surprise, you find a huge increase in upward mobility over the last 70 years. Here's a chart:

Of course, if you're Tyler Senior - who was born in the 1920s and spent his entire working life in manufacturing - you look at your children and your grandchildren, all working in services, and you ask who's going to grow the lettuce when the kredit krunches and all those Romanians finally go home? Or better still, how do you get at least one grandchild to train as a name-your-own-price-I'm-desperate plumber? "Higher quality" is a somewhat elastic concept.


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