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Thoughts about The Myth of Meritocracy by James Bloodworth

I read James Bloodworth’s The Myth of Meritocracy (which I highly recommend) and had some thoughts:

  1. A liberal order needs social mobility. Firms need access to the best workers. And support for a market economy relies on the faith of people in their ability to better themselves.
  2. Success depends on a mix of social circumstance (e.g. privilege), talent (i.e. merit), and luck (let’s include risk taking in this).
  3. Bloodworth argues that social mobility has fallen in the last few decades, and that people are increasingly aware of it. Lots of people have cited it as an important cause of the Brexit vote.
  4. But he also argues that policies to boost social mobility by establishing a meritocracy (policies largely focused on education) have failed to do so and have in fact cemented class divisions. More people go to university, but poor people are still locked out of the best universities. Etc.
  5. We can’t do much about luck.
  6. That leaves social circumstance. Well, we could have more affirmative action based on social class rather than just ethnicity, gender or sexuality. The problem with that is that we would see more social mobility – downwards, as middle class people lose out to working class counterparts. That’s one reason why Bloodworth argues we shouldn’t pursue social mobility as an overriding aim of policy – it should be a positive side effect.
  7. So that means improving the socioeconomic lot of the working class. But that has sort of happened – income inequality as measured by the Gini coefficient has fallen to its lowest level for 25 years, driven largely by wealth redistribution through the welfare system. If wealth redistribution isn’t the answer, what is?
  8. I think this gets to the big gap we are facing in social policy. It probably means looking harder at things like employee ownership, new routes into home ownership, properly incentivising entrepreneurship and business creation, and looking at ways to harness the value of big data for everyone, not just business. We have to look at things beyond wealth transfers (which will become increasingly difficult anyway with years of fiscal constraint ahead) to readjust the balance between privilege, merit and luck.
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When League One was everything

When Neil Gregory scored against Doncaster in a chaotic game at Belle Vue to send us to the play-offs. When his brother David scored a lucky penalty at Wembley to put us into Division Two for the first time in 17 years. When our biggest hope was to stay at that level and we were all happy as long as that happened.

When Lomana Tresor Lua Lua scored on his debut at Chesterfield and we’d never seen anyone like him before. When no-one had heard of Phil Parkinson but he led us to the Championship and we all got to feel like Leicester fans do this season.

When we inevitably came down again but finally moved to a stadium we’d waited our entire history for.When we beat Norwich 7-1 away. When Adam Barrett scuffed the ball into his own net to complete a double over Southend and help relegate them. When we beat Norwich 7-1 away. When Tom Eastman scored in Carlisle on the last day of the season to keep us up. When Preston expected to seal promotion on the last day of the season and George Moncur scored to keep us up again and it felt like the spirit of Layer Road was back.

When we were relegated yesterday to League Two, for the first time in 18 years, and a generation of U’s fans realised that League One is our league.

 

When I stole an idea for a blog.

 

 

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Economic migrants aren’t refugees

Blogger Left Outside has published an interesting piece arguing against drawing a distinction between refugees and economic migrants:

Every refugee finds themselves thinking “how do I improve my situation?” and the answer usually concerns safety, but often also concern economics.

It’s right to point out the multitude of complex reasons behind migration. As far as they choose the country in which they seek sanctuary, refugees often base their decision on things like language, family ties and economics, and I agree that there’s nothing wrong with this.

Similarly, refugees aren’t uniformly destitute or likely to put their lives in the hands of people traffickers. Many of the Syrians who have claimed asylum in the UK have been able to do so because they could afford to fly here; and many others were able to flee to neighbouring countries where they owned properties.

But it is wrong to suggest that, because economic migrants and refugees share some motivations, they are the same. After all, the primary reason a refugee leaves a country is due to war or persecution – the same cannot be said for any other type of migration. We don’t need a UN agency to identify tailors in Senegal and help them resettle in Italy. Economic migrants aren’t refugees and our approach to them should be different.

In a world without open borders, the refugee-economic migrant distinction is needed: the notion of refugeehood is not (just) an ideal, as Left Outside states, but a legal classification that gives those fleeing persecution some protection from the whims of European immigration policy.

What blurs the distinction is that we see both refugees and economic migrants on the boats sinking in the Med – so we need to be more tolerant and have a more open approach to both. For one thing, that means allowing safe and legal ways for people – regardless of their reason for migrating – to get to Europe.

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What do the manifestos say about immigration detention?

Last month, the report of the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention was published. After an eight month inquiry the panel, made up of MPs and peers of all parties, recommended that there should be a 28 day time limit on the length of time anyone can be held in immigration detention. They also called for a presumption in favour of community-based alternatives to detention. The full report is available here.

This week has seen the publication of all the major parties’ manifestos, so it’s a good opportunity to see what each party would do about indefinite detention:

Conservatives

There is no mention of detention in the Conservatives’ manifesto.

Theresa May did announce a review, led by Stephen Shaw, of detainees’ welfare and conditions in detention in February. She has also asked Shaw to consider the inquiry’s recommendations. Conservative panel member David Burrowes also wrote this piece for ConservativeHome.

Greens

The Greens say they would:

Ensure that no prospective immigrant is held in detention. As a matter of urgency, the administrative detention of children and pregnant women should end immediately.

This appears to suggest they would not use detention at all. It’s not clear if failed asylum seekers or foreign national offenders are covered by the term “prospective immigrant”.

Labour

Labour have pledged to end indefinite detention. Their manifesto states:

We will end the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system, ending detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual abuse or trafficking.

This was announced by Yvette Cooper last month. The Guardian at the time reported that the time limit would not apply to “those who have committed criminal offences and were being deported because of their criminal behaviour, or those who posed a threat to UK national security or public safety.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats say in their manifesto that they would ‘end unnecessary detention’:

Liberal Democrats would end indefinite detention for immigration purposes, and use community-based alternatives instead.

It’s right to deport people who don’t have the right to be in the UK, and sometimes that requires holding them temporarily in a detention centre first. But locking people up has gone too far. Routinely detaining immigrants and asylum seekers indefinitely is a waste of time, resources and taxpayers’ money, and has a terrible effect on the physical and mental health of those detained.

Plaid Cymru

Nothing in their manifesto. In February, the BBC reported that Plaid Cymru would “lobby the Westminster government to ensure that they shut ‘detention’ centres.”

Scottish National Party

The SNP manifesto has not yet been published.

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Do search and rescue operations encourage more people to cross the Mediterranean?

Standing on a tiny North African fishing boat – known as TO6411 – in London’s South Docks Marina a couple of years ago, I tried to imagine what it had been like for the 36 migrants who had travelled in it across the Mediterranean to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Only a few of us could stand on the deck before it started taking on water, and UK authorities decided it could only safely hold eight people. It wasn’t too hard to imagine the Mediterranean swallowing up this rickety vessel and all those onboard. That this hadn’t happened, and that artist Lucy Wood had subsequently sailed it all the way to London, was astonishing.

I thought about TO6411 when the Government announced last year that it would no longer support search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. They had created an “unintended ‘pull factor'”, one minister said, encouraging more migrants and refugees to risk their lives to get to Europe.

On the face of it, that made sense – 3,500 migrants died crossing the Med in 2014, compared to around 700 in 2013. James Brokenshire, the Immigration Minister, was right to point out that Italy’s Mare Nostrum rescue teams – introduced after the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy that claimed 359 lives – were being called nearer and nearer to Libyan waters. Libya is the main point of departure for those fleeing conflict and persecution in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and, increasingly, Libya itself. This trend indicated that the introduction of the Mare Nostrum operation at the end of 2013 had encouraged more people to risk their lives.

There is significant uncertainty here, and the Government’s explanation – that the promise of likely rescue was incentivising behaviour we would want to discourage – sounded plausible. But it failed to account for the escalation of conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the increasingly precarious situation for the millions of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. So far no-one has been able to provide a conclusive causal delineation for Med migration, allowing this kind of explanation to take root. At best, the Government looked like it was groping around in the dark; at worst, that it was willing to allow migrants to drown to put others off.

Even with Mare Nostrum in place, thousands drowned last year. We can therefore reasonably assume those making the crossing are willing to risk their lives to get to Europe.

What’s happened since the withdrawal of Mare Nostrum sadly reflects this: in the first quarter of 2015, nearly 500 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean. This weekend alone, nearly 6,000 people were rescued. Since the Government stopped support for search and rescue, more migrants have tried to cross the Mediterranean, and more have died doing so. 2015 is on course to see a record number of people drown in the Med.

In contrast to Mare Nostrum (which had one purpose – to prevent death), the EU’s new Triton border patrol has fewer vessels and only acts when there is immediate danger close to Europe’s coast. It’s becoming clear that many more of the 200,000 rescued last year would have drowned had it not been for Mare Nostrum. That’s why Médecins Sans Frontières have announced they are funding a new search and rescue mission to fill some of the gap that has been left.

Ultimately, politicians in the UK and EU alike are trying to solve a problem having ruled out the solution: the provision of safe and legal routes into Europe. The UK has offered resettlement to just 143 Syrians. Last month, the European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, tried and failed to get agreement from EU ministers to establish centres in North Africa and the Middle East to apply for refugee status and resettlement in Europe from third countries.

With no end to the conflicts and violence in Syria and Iraq in sight, and instability increasing in other parts of the Middle East and Africa, the pursuit of policies to maintain ‘Fortress Europe’ by limiting resettlement opportunities and minimising rescue missions in the Mediterranean will only end one way.

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Responding to Simon Griffiths: What can the left learn from Friedrich Hayek?

Simon Griffiths, author of Engaging Enemies: Hayek and the left, has written a post on the LSE Politics and Policy blog asking what the left can learn from Hayek.

Motivated by an article by a group of Occupy activists in the FT, which argues that Hayek can inform a left-wing critique of capitalism, Griffiths outlines three lessons for the left. His points are interesting, and in my view he correctly identifies a key flaw in Hayek’s thought. Ultimately, however, any attempt to appropriate Hayek’s thought in this way quickly runs into problems.

Overall, I believe Griffiths makes a dubious contribution to post-Hayekian thought. The lessons Griffiths think the left can learn from Hayek require a ‘pick and choose’ approach that does little to further our understanding of Hayek. Nor can much be learnt from the fragments of Hayek’s thought Griffiths isolates to support his position.

The problem for the authors of the Occupy article is that there is nothing in Hayek’s work to justify the kind of statism they imagine it does. Either social-democrats and social-liberals must pick out pieces of Hayek’s thought so isolated from it in its entirety that they are not at all useful, or we adjust what we mean by social-democracy and social-liberalism to such an extent that they become indistinct from Hayek’s liberalism.

Despite his references to Hayek’s social theory and concern with knowledge, Griffiths also runs into problems in framing Hayek’s concern as solely with the market, and trying to extrapolate from this lessons for those who see a much bigger role for the state than Hayek ever did.

Griffiths’ first point is that the market is not the sole institutional mechanism we have to solve the dispersal of knowledge:

Understood socially, knowledge can be shared by people taking action to overcome the limits of their individual perspectives. [Founding editor of Red Pepper magazine Hilary] Wainwright’s work is full of examples of organisations – trade unions, women’s groups and co-ops – that have come together to pool knowledge in order to solve collective problems that cannot be solved by the market or by remote bureaucrats.

This is a straw man – Hayek may have viewed price signals rather than central state planning as the basis of spontaneous economic order, but his conception of spontaneous order encompassed the economy and society as whole. He therefore places value on other institutions and third sector groups within the social catallaxy. Another problem is that Wainwright’s concern – the pursuit of social justice – is for Hayek at best misguided and intellectually incoherent, and at worst a serious threat to spontaneous social order.

Griffiths’ second point is that the state has a role to play in guiding and shaping spontaneous orders. There are three possibilities here, all of which are problematic.

First, the left could see a role for the state in directing spontaneous orders towards particular goals. But Hayek’s philosophy is firmly not teleological – moreover, Hayek’s is an argument against the ability of the state to set particular end goals in advance. So it would be inconsistent to accept Hayek’s social theory but hold that the state is able to direct spontaneous orders. Second, the direction the left would go in – towards a socially-just order – undermines the notion of spontaneous orders entirely. Third, the “framework” Griffiths refers to could simply require state institutions to uphold the rule of law, within which spontaneous orders can develop and flourish. But it’s not clear why this offers any support to the left. Hayek’s repeatedly argues that social order is not designed by one mind of group of minds, which rules out it being much more substantial and prescriptive than that.

The most useful point – and one that Hayek accepted – was that the state can act where it is subject to competition, such as in the provision of public services. But in referencing Gamble’s focus on trial and error processes, the left may be able to learn more from Karl Popper than Hayek.

Griffiths’ third point, which relates to Hayek’s views on freedom, is the one I find most interesting:

For some on the left, however, while Hayek was right about the importance of these freedoms, his views are incomplete because he never explained why freedom is valuable to us. This must be because of our desire to act autonomously. In order to do this, we need certain resources – food, shelter, and education, for example. The state is crucial in providing these. Market freedoms are important, but so is the autonomy needed to pursue them. Hayek’s argument for freedom can end, not simply with a case for the free market, but with an account of those resources needed to make freedom valuable to us.

This has long been my problem with Hayek’s thought – the answer is that freedom’s value is probably limited to its role in supporting and sustaining social order, but he doesn’t offer a cogent and clear account of it. One consequence of this is that Hayek gives no explanation for why individuals should follow the social rules and inherited social traditions upon which his ‘catallaxy’ is based.

But while Griffiths’ point here is at first persuasive, he inserts into a gap in Hayek’s thought something that simply isn’t there. Asserting that Hayek must have viewed “our desire to act autonomously” as the reason to value liberty, he extrapolates an argument for the state to provide housing, education and welfare. The lack of a basis for this means there is little the left can learn from Hayek in this regard.

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