Friday, December 23, 2005

Future Politics

Globalisation and free trade are the best engines of wealth creation the world has ever seen. There is no more real argument about this. Alternative economic models have been tried, variations on Communism, Nationalism and the like, and they have all failed slowly or failed quickly. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a nation should just throw open its borders and let the entire world in. Trade is complex and short-term competition into a relatively undeveloped economy can have catastrophic effects on some sectors, which translates into people ruined and out of work. That is what trade negotiations in all their intricacy are about.

Some people still cling to old, failed systems from the 20th century. Some people want to go even further back to some mythical pastoral past, as if that could even feed the world’s population never mind raise people out of poverty. What there doesn’t seem to be much debate about is what lies ahead. It has taken recent hikes in the oil price to put future energy supply to the forefront of politics and technological effort. Global Warming certainly didn’t do that. There are other things though. Advances in robotics will probably push the cost of manufacturing down even further, and maybe eliminate the comparative advantage of developing nations. Cheap labour means nothing when that labour isn’t paid anything. The continuing advances in computing will change advanced nations out of all recognition over the coming decades, especially if Artificial Intelligence in the true sense of the word becomes available.

What principles and politics will sustain us in 2025? What should we be doing now?

BT Technology Timeline 2006-2051

Monday, December 19, 2005

Class education

John Prescott wants a class war. His reaction to Eton-educated David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative party has nothing to do with issues and everything to do with background. Because Cameron went to a good school he is the enemy, never mind that the Labour cabinet is filled with men and women who went to selective schools. Prescott thinks he can rally the Labour party as the party of workers against the middle-class. It would be interesting to see him try it, but the Labour party collectively are not idiots. Supposed class divisions have limited traction among British voters and Labour’s strategists know it. Issues are want count, and there is a serious issue in all of this.

Education has come full circle, from the abolition of Grant-Maintained schools in 1997 back to the proposal for Self-Governing Trust schools today. The government has finally recognised that it is better for schools to run themselves than to be branch offices of a monolithic education authority. Enter Prescott and his cronies stage left, with their cries of a two-tier education system and their terror of academic selection. Their instinct is to level down education, so that it is equal for all even if it is equally bad. The last thing they want is for schools to be free to improve themselves because some would end up better than others. That might end up benefiting the middle-class and they cannot have that.

Hang on a moment though, isn’t Prescott a Cabinet Minister? Doesn’t he have a duty to support government policy? In the midst of the class war it appears that the Prime Minister’s authority is the first casualty.

Class war: Prescott attacks Blair's education reforms and Cameron's 'Eton Mafia'