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Category: Dave Brockington

The UK, the EU, Romania, and Bulgaria

[ 150 ] November 29, 2013 |

A few days ago the Prime Minister published an op-ed in the Financial Times (paywall) on the back of Government musings about placing restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants to the UK once the partial ban on these two most recent EU members expires on January 1.  I don’t subscribe to the FT, so what I know of it I’ve read about second hand or heard on Radio 4 that morning.

The FT piece offers the more fundamental proposals (as quoted in this Guardian piece):

“Cameron also called for a wider settlement on the free movement of workers, an issue that is bound to feature in any Conservative renegotiation of British EU membership.

In an article for the Financial Times, Cameron writes: “We need to face the fact that free movement has become a trigger for vast population movements caused by huge disparities in income. That is extracting talent out of countries that need to retain their best people and placing pressure on communities.

“It is time for a new settlement which recognises that free movement is a central principle of the EU, but it cannot be a completely unqualified one.

This suggests that the free movement of labor in the European Union needs to be restricted, which undermines one of the cardinal principles of the EU itself. Fundamentally, it likewise affords capital a greater advantage over labor. Capital is free to move within (and beyond) the EU, but labor, on the other hand, must be further constrained.

While it’s easy to fall into the trap of that simplistic cynical analysis (and I do to a degree), taken together, the benefits restrictions proposed for Romanians and Bulgarians combined with the proposal to restrict and re-negotiate British membership in the EU is more about domestic politics. The Tories are wary of the electoral threat posed by UKIP to their right. I think these fears are overstated for a variety of reasons which I don’t have the time to get into (but hope to soon), but while this poll of a seat UKIP covets does not make good reading for the Conservatives, the general election is still about a year and a half away, and responding to a poll that far in advance declaring support for a marginal party with no history of winning seats in Parliament is different than maintaining that view a month prior to the election, or actually making that decision on election day.

The Liberal Democrats equivocate on the policy, Labour suggests the Government is panicking, and it’s quite possibly illegal under European law regardless. Not surprisingly, the British are more concerned about the tsunami of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria than peer states, and the Adam Smith Institute (with such a name one has a pretty good idea about their inclinations) argues that for a pile of reasons we shouldn’t fear immigration from these member states, most tellingly that immigrants from EU members states are less likely to claim benefits from the government, including NHS services, than native Britons.

Of course, the humorous bit in this story is how Cameron argues that the EU needs to restrict the free movement of labor within the EU because of the drain on talent in the Bulgarias of the world, suggesting these are the best, brightest, most enterprising and skilled, yet stokes the fears that these talented go-getters are coming here simply to live off of our generous welfare state.

If you’re going to make a bad argument berift of empirical support, at least make sure your bad argument is internally consistent.

More here.


Minnesota and Wisconsin: a Natural Experiment

[ 25 ] November 28, 2013 |

One of the things I teach here at Plymouth is a MA seminar on methodology and research design (for the MA in International Relations, but that’s another story). I’m in my tenth year on it, and have always enjoyed it, because I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to tradeoffs inherent in any design choice, and especially the lengthy philosophical conversations we have surrounding epistemology and ontology early in the term. Yesterday’s philosophical conversation surrounded whether or not I was right to ignore Special Branch’s invitation at an airport a few years ago to essentially spy on my students, which was remarkably germane to the seminar. We were discussing the ethical considerations involved in covert participant observation contrasted with the issues of reliability and validity encountered by overt p.o., and we ended up there.

The classic experiment as research design is rare in the social sciences, though at least in political science this has been changing quite  impressively in the past ten years or so; I was fortunate enough to serve as a discussant at the MPSA a couple years back where all four of the papers relied on experimental research design.

This piece ran in the NYT five days ago, written by a political scientist at Minnesota, and received some play nationally. I’m sure most LGM readers are aware of it. As it’s written by a political scientist, I tend to give it more benefit of the doubt regarding the validity of the comparisons being made. It has the superficial appearances of a natural experiment: two upper midwest states, similar political cultures, recently history, and recent voting patterns (each have voted Democrat every Presidential election since 1988), yet have taken divergent paths recently at the state level. We all know about Wisconsin and Scott Walker, but less trumpeted is Minnesota. Minnesota appears to be kicking Wisconsin’s ass:

Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth. Mr. Walker’s defenders blame the higher spending and taxes of his Democratic predecessor for these disappointments, but according to Forbes’s annual list of best states for business, Wisconsin continues to rank in the bottom half.

Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business. Republicans deserve some of the credit, particularly for their commitment to education reform. They also argue that Minnesota’s new growth stems from the low taxes and reduced spending under Mr. Dayton’s Republican predecessor, Tim Pawlenty. But Minnesota’s job growth was subpar during Mr. Pawlenty’s eight-year tenure and recovered only under Mr. Dayton.

Ideally, this could be turned into a proper study (if it isn’t already by someone somewhere), with precision on demographic variables to ensure the suitability of the comparison (which of course makes the design more akin to a quasi experiment), and then the various outcome metrics. I’d tackle it if I had the time, but that’s a precious commodity at the moment (and I have two new papers I need to write by April, neither of which have so much as a word applied to them beyond the seemingly good ideas that generate impressive sounding conference proposals). I’m intrigued, however.

Incidentally, Wisconsin also incarcerates at a much higher rate:

So, here’s the essential story (as detailed in the chart that appears after the jump): Wisconsin incarcerates many more people than Minnesota, while Minnesota puts many more individuals on probation.  The two states have about equal levels of crime, and Minnesota actually has a larger percentage of its population under supervision (that is, either incarcerated or on probation or parole release).  However, because incarceration is so much more expensive than community supervision, Minnesota’s corrections budget is much smaller than Wisconsin’s (about $99 per resident, versus Wisconsin’s $234 per resident).  Given the similarity of the two states’ crime rates, it appears that Minnesota’s probation-based strategy is delivering more bang for the buck than Wisconsin’s.

Ah, and Happy Thanksgiving to our American-based readers, from the original Plymouth. This is the 13th Thanksgiving I’ve experienced abroad. I’ve replicated it here in England a couple of times, participated in the annual Plymouth festivities a couple of times (yes, Plymouth marks Thanksgiving in its way, including a thing down at the Mayflower Steps), and tonight I’m going to a Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the newish (American) Dean of Students here at the Enterprise University. So it’s almost the same. Without, you know, the four to five day weekend, or watching the Detroit Lions lose a football game.

So Why Hasn’t David Simon Made a Cool Series About Us?

[ 6 ] November 26, 2013 |

This has been making the rounds and is worth a read: How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang? It’s a slightly different take on the “academia as a dual labor market” argument we all know and love, with some illustrative empirical data, such as this:

How can we explain this trend? One of the underlying structural factors has been the massive expansion in the number of PhDs all across the OECD. Figure 1 shows the proportion of PhD holders as a proportion of the corresponding age cohort in a  number of OECD countries at two points in time, in 2000 and 2011. As you can see, this share has increased by about 60% in 11 years, and this increase has been particularly pronounced in countries such as Portugal or Greece, where it nearly tripled, however from a very low starting level. Even in countries with an already high share, the increase has been substantial: 60% in the UK, or nearly 40% in Germany. Since 2000 the number of OECD-area doctorates has increased at an average of 5% a year.

Basically, in my time in the United Kingdom, there are now 60% more Ph.D.s looking for jobs than when I arrived here. Plus, they’re cheaper and younger, even if they don’t have my c.v. Of course, the logic of the RAE/REF here in the UK dictates that anything I published before 2009 no longer has value, so the substantive effect of that variable in my favor (should I be on the job market) is eroded.

Some other observations. We do rely on our equivalent of adjunct staff here, but not at 40% of contact hours. As it has been several glorious years since I’ve been chair, I don’t have current numbers in front of me, but combined “zero hour” contract staff and graduate students were around 25%-30%.  In my time here (11th academic year) this figure has been stable, and if anything in my department, has declined marginally, as one of the zero-hour colleagues was converted into a partial permanent contract. Furthermore, permanent FTEs in the department has increased modestly in my time here.

A couple of the comments to the original linked above are worth highlighting as well:

This is a good start, but it is very incomplete unless you account for the bloated administrators who often outnumber the TT faculty, and the swollen ranks of support staff who may only tangentially offer services that support student instruction. Those are also the people who make a living telling TT faculty to do more with less, and who control the hiring of new lines and the replacement of old ones.

This has something we have seen anecdotally at my institution. Since we were rebranded as The Enterprise University (italics in the original) in 2008 or 2009, we have the perception of a marked increase of upper middle management, and now we have two structures in place to lead the university — the old “Senior Management Team” and a newer “Chief Executive Group”. That said, our front line support staff was dramatically downsized over a two year period, and these front line support staff at least perform a necessary function (and those that I know, do it admirably well). But the sense we get is that a larger share of income is siphoned off into management, and while I’ve been told of empirical evidence to support this theory, I’ve not seen any myself. This comes out when considering our own “business model”, as the overhead expected of us (i.e. profit at a departmental or school level) is shockingly high. Breaking even isn’t enough.

The following is quite accurate in my experience, and requires no further comment, especially as I’ve discussed it at some length before:

The lack of tenure in the UK is a game changer compared to other countries. And recently many universities have changed their statutes to weaken what was left of the idea of tenure. UK academics can be threatened with their jobs. It happens frequently. The level of bullying is, therefore, much higher – some good supporting evidence for that statement in the literature.


More Evidence of the Morale Draining Effect of Corporate Higher Ed

[ 77 ] November 25, 2013 |

The Guardian ran this a couple of days ago, written by an academic who finally grew frustrated enough to pack it in. The takeaway:

Universities in the 21st century no longer aspire to become beacons of knowledge, even though they would like to promote themselves as such. Instead, they are trying to turn into large corporations. Their customers are students, their product intellectual property.

As I’ve discussed in the past, in the UK we face constant employment insecurity. Programs and whole departments come and go, occasionally based on only one year’s worth of data, other times with no decision transparency at all. Additionally, continual institutional re-invention is the norm. Both have a predictably deleterious effect on faculty morale, so stories such as that linked above never surprise me. Indeed, I seriously considered it myself. The commercialization angle was a strong secondary motivation for considering the exit option, along with permanent institutional instability, but the primary motivation was cringe-inducing bad management above the level of our department.

When one considers the low rate of pay we receive compared to similar positions in the private sector, and the huge economic opportunity costs we pay during the years spent training for these positions (especially in the United States, where Ph.D. training is considerably more comprehensive, and as such takes significantly more time, than here in the UK) I’m surprised I haven’t witnessed more colleagues simply quit. If we’re going to face the pressures to justify our continued employment in profit and loss metrics, we might as well receive similar remuneration. That of course is not forthcoming; universities have offered us a 1% pay rise, which the union rejected. We went on strike once in November, and are scheduled to strike again on 3 December. Of course, if I were to apply a P&L analysis on going on strike, the marginal increase over the 1% offer would have to be quite high — it would need to at least double — for the money I’ve lost on strike to pay off in the end, but that’s an entirely different post.

Ultimately, I’m glad that I didn’t pull the trigger. Managers changed, and yet another institutional redesign landed my department in a new School of Government. The new school is led by an academic we hired externally, and one who is an excellent manager of people. We got lucky, and as we just started this new school, we should enjoy three, perhaps even four years of stability. And I still get paid cash money to do my hobby.

Nevertheless, I’m not at all surprised by the column in the Guardian. I’m surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.

Early Saturday Morning Sports Blogging

[ 17 ] November 23, 2013 |

I’m a little late to this wrap up, but both professional and personal obligations have occupied a great deal of my time over the past few weeks. The decks are mostly cleared now, so let’s talk soccer.

The lineup for Brazil 2014 is set, and while there are a few minor surprises (in terms of who qualified, who didn’t, and how close / not close some of the contests were) it’s largely the usual suspects.  Every team from 1st to 24th in the October 2013 FIFA rankings (which are a debatable measure) save for 20th ranked Ukraine qualified for the finals.  The remaining nine teams include 31 through 34, 44, 49, 56, 7 and 59.  I guess one could say the inclusion of atypically low ranked Cameroon (59th) is a surprise, but 2014 marks the seventh finals that they qualified for.  Iran at 49th could likewise be a pleasant surprise, yet they won a qualification group that included South Korea, giving up only two goals in eight group matches (and scoring only eight). If I had a clue how karma operated, I’d put money on Iran and the USA being in the same group in Brazil (shades of France ’98, and that was an ugly campaign for the USMNT).

There were some surprises in qualification. Mexico, for example, as we know qualified for the CONCACAF – OFC playoff courtesy of a US goal in stoppage time against Panama. To ensure that our rivals to the south indeed qualified for the finals, we added another. I’m not confident that Mexico will take those goals as late payment for a third of their country, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Bob Bradley’s Egypt got hammered in their final home and away against Ghana. The latter were always going to win that tie, but 6-1 in the first leg was a bit excessive. The UEFA second-place playoffs had the chance to surprise, but ultimately didn’t.  Portugal beat Sweden, and Greece knocked Romania out, both by 4-2 aggregate scores. Ukraine took a 2-0 lead over France into the second leg in Paris, where they lost 3-0. Everybody was pulling for Iceland (including, implicitly, Paul Campos), who held Croatia 0-0 at home, only to predictably lose 0-2 away.

One of the more interesting sides in the finals is Bosnia and Herzegovina, not only for the obvious reasons, but also it’s their first finals as an independent country having narrowly won their UEFA qualification group (over Greece on goal differential). I’m not going to expend the energy to measure this, but their group might have been the weakest of the nine: in addition to Greece, competition included Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Liechtenstein (who somehow drew twice at home, to Latvia and Slovakia).

The USMNT played a couple away friendlies during the international window where the final positions for Brazil were decided. They were unimpressive, drawing Scotland 0-0, and losing to Austria 1-0. Neither result bothered me, as they were missing both Dempsey and Donovan, and Klinsmann used those matches to evaluate some players on the fringe of the team. Perhaps the best impression was made by Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron, playing right back. While Scotland might have been considered a pushover, especially given the 5-1 devastation we meted out to them in 2012, ex-Celtic manager Gordon Strachan has the side playing atypically well.

Argyle Watch: yes, the local XI, who have narrowly avoided relegation from the Football League the past two seasons (and prior to that experienced two successive relegations from the second to fourth division of English football) are 18th in “League 2” after 16 matches, five points from the relegation zone. I’ll be at Home Park today to watch them likely draw against Dagenham & Redbridge who are sitting seventh. Dag & Red have only been in the Football League itself since 2007, and have only reached as high as the third division for one season, 2010-11, where they met Argyle for the first time in League football (and like Argyle, were relegated).

Finally, a different sport entirely, but the Ashes are back, and England are getting mauled at The Gabba in Brisbane.  Australia have an excellent record at The Gabba, so going in I figured the best England could hope for is a draw, but Australia have exposed and exploited England’s weakness against pace bowling. At the close of play today England are 24-2 (already) in their second innings, chasing a target set by Australia of a mere 561 runs following declaring their second innings on 401 for 7.

England will head into the second test of the series down 1-0 unless it rains a lot the next couple of days in Brisbane. But, they only need an aggregate draw of the five test matches to retain the Ashes, so while English cricket fans are not in the best of moods at present, it’s not as though the world has ended for them.

Requisite Conspiricay Post, Given the Anniversary

[ 102 ] November 22, 2013 |

Apparently, this past summer an “original documentary” aired somewhere in the depths of cable pushing a TWA 800 conspiracy, and this article critiques this “three missile theory”.  Conspiracy theories, by their nature, can be comforting to those who need to make sense of the world and seemingly irrational, random events. However, the overwhelming majority simply boggle the mind — to believe, you much conduct a very careful selection of the evidence to fit the theory while disregarding any evidence that supports the null hypothesis, and you have to have faith that of the sheer number of people involved in the conspiracy, not one credible source stepped forward and provided any evidence bringing it out into the open.

Ever since TWA 800, I’ve used it as an illustration of the iron triangle in American politics (dating back to when I taught policy for one quarter while a grad student in Seattle).  Ultimately, what near certainly brought that 747 down was its age. Wiring associated with the fuel gauge for the main center fuel tank had frayed to the point where a short circuit occurred, thus igniting the center fuel tank. If I recall correctly (and correct me if I’m wrong), this problem was known to Boeing, the airlines, and the FAA, but as it was considered a minimal risk, it was not acted upon with haste. While five months following TWA 800, the NTSB issued a series of recommendations on this issue (as they do), the Department of Transportation only finally got around to acting on it 2008. Furthermore, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the Civil Aeronautics Board issued a similar recommendation in December 1963 following the crash of Pan Am 214 (a Boeing 707).  (Ironically, as one who is technically afraid of flying, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of airline disasters. It won’t be comforting me as I fly to the US again in a little over three weeks. Airport bars, on the other hand, will.)

If there’s a conspiracy here, it’s the iron triangle in American governance, not a three missile theory.

Speaking of the anniversary in question, back in university, I was fascinated by that particular case, and bought every book I could get my hands on, including the Warren Report itself.

Globalization and Beer

[ 72 ] October 24, 2013 |

Last week I had a seven day early morning run on BBC Radio Devon. It turns out that the Monday through Friday spots are archived (but not the weekend spots) so I plan to link last week, and the run I had last Autumn here some point soon.  Last year every spot was all politics, as it was the week prior to the US election. This year, I was scrounging more for topics and material, so in the middle of an over-arching theme of identity and nationalism for the expatriate, I slipped one in about beer. The basis for this post is that script, with some outtake paragraphs added, other ideas thrown in, and general elaboration. The spots were only 2:30, which really isn’t that very many words (ideally 250 to 300). Given the pitch of the segment, that it’s the BBC (so needs to be balanced), and the sensibilities of the audience in question, these were surprisingly difficult pieces to write.

Before I became a full time professional academic, I was known for something else entirely — beer. Well, I was known for beer; people in my field in political science are vaguely aware that I exist somewhere, and have probably cited a couple of my papers. I was an award winning amateur brewer. I honestly don’t know how many awards I won during the 1990s, but I did have the advantage of competing in the 1990s, when all it took to win a ribbon was a modicum of proficiency, a decent recipe, all-grain brewing, good yeast and yeast management, and temperature controlled fermentation. The highlights of this run were the national gold medal for stout in 1993, a best of show for my AIPA in Canada, and how that IPA became something of a classic in the broader home brewing community. I remain active on a mailing list of a dozen or so beer geek friends from those early days, and on occasion someone will forward a link like the previous. My favorite is here, where it is suggested that this recipe “comes from the “dark ages”…..”. Rob, Scott L, and Dave might remember several occasions having this particular beer at my house back in grad school. Or not, as there was a lot of it.

This hobby branched out into beer writing. My first two published articles were about beer, and remain on my cv to this day. One defined the style of American Amber Ale (and many still ask me why to this day), while the other defined American IPA. The resulting BJCP recognition of these sub-styles and the guidelines followed the suggestions in those articles pretty closely. I also contributed reviews to on Usenet, when there were such things, and friends in the beer world invited me to begin publishing those on this new thing called the World Wide Web, which I did from 1994-2003. They’re, remarkably, still available here (and holy crap, it’s still averaging a couple hits per day even though I haven’t added anything there in ten years). I was also an occasional beer judge, and judged a few competitions / best of show rounds.

First firing up my kettle in 1990 placed me in a rare position: I was right in the midst of a beer revolution. In those early days, development was simple: move away from beers heavy in adjuncts common to industrial lagers of the United States (think corn or rice), and towards classic styles, typically German lagers and British ales. These early days of the revolution saw the odd juxtaposition that typifies periods of accelerated creativity: for example, applying the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot to every style, including British ales, a beer to which it was neither historically nor stylistically accurate. Or the particularly nefarious example of Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic, which most certainly wasn’t. To this day, especially on the west coast, brewpubs will take their biggest, hoppiest IPA and serve it as real ale in the British tradition, cask conditioned, cellar temperature, either dispensed by gravity or beer engine, and call it good. It’s not. The flavors in a huge AIPA are overpowering for the temperature and serving method, which are better suited for nuanced, subtle ales common to this island.

But, largely left to their own devices taking guidance from Britain, Germany, and the Czech Republic (back when it was still known as Czechoslovakia), American brewers pioneered styles with the ingredients most convenient to them, which in turn put the distinct flavors of hops grown in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. in the spotlight.These beers were different from British ales. Not only did the domestic hops have a wonderful citrus note not found in Europe, but they could be stronger. Taxation of beer in the UK was, if not still is, based on alcohol percentage; thus the brewer has an incentive to make beers lower in alcohol. This is one reason why Greene King gets away with an IPA that has little resemblance to the historical origin of the style, let alone the American adaptation on the west coast of the US. Of course, the rampant creativity of the American brewer has turned that lovely style into a bit of a monster in the past decade. Yet, while many old timers like myself on occasion rant about kids and their over-hopped, 12% IPAs these days (give me something around 6.5% and 90-110 IBUs, please), and their box-ticking mentality, the reality is that we helped create this, and the beer world in the US is a much more interesting place than it was 30 years ago.

When I first moved to England ten years ago, it was common to encounter British people who bought into the stereotypes of American beer, reflecting an understanding of the beer culture in my home country more accurate to the 1960s or 1970s. That seems to be changing now, which is refreshing from my point of view. Indeed, when I was walking from the BBC studios to my office at 645am after doing that piece on beer (and as I think it was the same morning after the shutdown ended, an interview on a different show) I walked past a JD Weatherspoon in the neighborhood I had called home for nine years. While they do a terrific real ale selection and have low prices, I typically avoid them as the low prices are partially a function of light staffing, and the venues have all the soul of an airport bar. But this one had a string of American flags on a rail opposite along the sidewalk, which prompted a “what the hell?” It turns out that they’re advertising an ale festival “featuring 50 ales, including 10 guest craft breweries from the USA”. Right here in little old Plymouth.

During the Great British Beer Festival this past August, The Guardian published an article denoting its top ten favorite beers at the festival. While all are ales (perhaps some habits are difficult to break), three are directly influenced by the now 30 year-old American brewing revolution, one is brewed by an American in Somerset, and one an AIPA from California itself: Sierra Nevada Torpedo. This reminds me of a Dutch brewery which specifically sought to replicate west coast American beers (to the point where all their hops were imported from the PNW) and remained a going concern throughout the three years I lived in Holland, and I’ve heard a story courtesy of the beer geek mailing list I mentioned above about one or two craft breweries in Franconia that are, gasp, brewing American-inspired ales.

I should also note that the West Country is represented by four entries, and two alone in Devon and Cornwall. I’ve been pretty harsh on the beers down here in Devon and Cornwall over the years (a sentiment that of course did not get broadcast to the coffee and toast set here on Radio Devon last week). While there are a couple standout beers — Summerskills Bitter for one, and South Hams occasionally will release a porter that is just sublime — overall the regional stylistic tendency is “eh”. However, I clearly need to revisit the local beers with a fresh perspective if they’re starting to garner some positive press.

When I started in the beer world, the influence only went to the west from the east, across the Atlantic. It’s nice to see the favor returned, and the side effect that is having on old world appreciation of our new world beers and brewing culture. Globalisation often gets unfairly criticized – I teach an entire class that to some (if they’re not paying attention) might appear to be an assault on this phenomenon. But if its helping bring us all better beer, isn’t that a point in the win column?

The Commercialization of Academia in Britain: A Big Picture View

[ 29 ] October 23, 2013 |

In March, I posted “The Commericalization of Academia: A Case Study” to LGM. This past weekend, Rob drew my attention to this review essay by Christopher Newfield published in the Los Angeles Review of Books. The subject of the review is The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets, and the Future of Higher Education by Andrew McGettigan. I’ve not read the book, but you can rest assured it’s on my list for the next time I find myself in my local branch of Amazon.

Newfield addresses many of the same themes I did in March, only he does so without the anecdotal specificity, but rather from a broader perspective. I concentrated on how my institution, and actors within my institution, react to shifting incentive structures initially imposed exogenously (and then trickle down through the structure of the institution itself). His excellent essay examines where this is coming from, and more critically, why.

The reasons addressing the why question for public consumption are first, universities had to shoulder their fair share of the necessary austerity budget introduced after the coalition victory in 2010, thus the teaching grants from the central government that universities had relied upon for the foundation of their budget were largely zeroed out and replaced with tuition fees allowed to treble in one big bang, themselves funded by a state run loan system. Second, the marketization of higher education in England and Wales would result in an improvement in the quality of education. Because that’s what markets always do.

Newfield dispenses with both of these explanations with efficient ease. Instead, he suggests a different motivation:

This larger project is rarely admitted but easy to state: it is to turn the United Kingdom’s public university system into a commercial business sector with a right to public subsidies.

But that still doesn’t fully answer the question:

(W)hy privatize? The Tories seek to transform public higher education into a market-driven and financialized business, but why? Is it mostly for the immediate financial benefit of Tory-favored industries? Is it the sheer force of neoliberal belief — privatization for its own sake? Both of these? Something else?

A full answer is beyond the scope of both McGettigan’s book and this review, but I can at least point in what I am sure is the right direction, one confirmed by McGettigan’s analysis. The deeper purpose of the Tory changes is to end the post-World War II reformation of universities in the West, which created mass access to university studies roughly equal in quality to those elites enjoyed. We could call this the Great Democratization, and its genius, particularly in the United States, was to build an infrastructure for delivering mass quality — cutting-edge teaching and research, the latest in scientific, social, and cultural developments — to the children of doctors, construction workers, corporate executives, cash register salesmen, film stars, department store clerks, truck drivers, computer scientists, and migrant farm workers, that is, to the entirety of society in accordance with their motivation and preparation. Certainly there were whole populations that had to fight their way into this system, and that still must fight. But the regulative ideal was that even if you couldn’t get into the most selective universities — Harvard, Oxford, et al. — you could receive an education of quality similar to what you’d have received there. The United States had an abundance of immersive liberal arts colleges and public research universities as good as any university in the world, signaled by then-UC President Clark Kerr’s pleasure in the fact that a 1964 review found more top-ranked departments at UC Berkeley than at Harvard. Importantly, the quality of the public universities did not depend on their selectivity, which was then low at Berkeley and everywhere else. In the United Kingdom, students at Sussex could study with the world’s pioneers in science policy studies, or at Birmingham with their equivalents in cultural studies, without feeling like rejection from Cambridge had put a cap on the development of their creative capabilities. Massive public funding enabled this rough equalization, this evolving democratization, of academic quality.

And that’s where we have the true target:

The Tory counterreformation takes aim at all of these postwar democratizing features. The government’s 2011 white paper affirms that universities are in some part public goods, but then zeros out the public good of social and cultural fields by cutting their teaching grants to zero. The public funds for non-cost-benefited enrollments, for remedial, experimental, or innovative programs, will in the new system be available only if they point toward future revenue growth. The independence of academic governance from financial management is greatly reduced. If Thatcher once famously remarked, “there is no such thing as society,” Cameron has operationalized this as the somewhat less resonant, “there is no such thing as a public good.” For these latter-day Tories, even educational goods are private, and so the arbitrator is the market, which grants presiding authority to the business structure and to the leading figures and firms in the relevant sectors.

Newfield outlines three ramifications of this counter-reformation. First, the traditional model of leaving academic governance to academics is eroded (at best in my decade at my present institution, it’s been limited anyway) instead replaced by the logic of the market economy. I noted an anti-intellectual bias in the administration at my institution in my March post; this is perhaps best illustrated by remarks made by one in a leadership position a couple tiers above me at a departmental meeting immediately following the awkward Saturday closure of the Politics major (May 2010). We were informed that the shutdown would not be on the agenda for the meeting, but we placed it there anyway. He opened by acknowledging the intellectual contribution our department of (a bunch of muddled words strung together which seemed to imply some nebulous form of critical post-modernism as he only vaguely understood it), but that what we, and our students, really need here is a more objective business-oriented approach to scholarship. I interrupted with a comment along the lines of “wow, if you only had any idea who we are, you’d know that description doesn’t fit” (there are no post-modernists in my department, for example).

Second, instead of a progressive expansion in enrolment, erosion in student numbers will now occur. While I can only speak to my experience at my institution (and my program), this is precisely what happened. We had a spike in numbers for the 2011/12 cohort, the last admitted under the old tuition regime. They get to pay the old £3200 per year through their three years of study. One ramification of this spike is that my final year class is oversubscribed by 40%. It then cratered in 2012/13, and hasn’t recovered.

Finally, Newfield suggests that a polarisation of quality will only increase, and that universities in the “mass of mass higher education” will face financial challenges that, it is implied, will force us to make cutbacks. We’re fortunate in that we’re not feeling this heat just yet, but it’s impossible to say how this will play out in the near future. And, of course, I’ve reduced my administrative responsibilities over the past few years, resigning as department chair in 2010, and stepping down as undergraduate “programme manager” this past August, so I no longer have direct access to the same level of data I sued to have.

One advantage of the centralised, unitary of government here in Britain is that this can be undone by the next government if it so desired in one act. The Liberal Democrats are going to lose about half of their support, partially due to reneging on the pledge made in their 2010 manifesto to not increase tuition fees (which of course they proceeded to ignore once they received a seat at the big kids table). If they find themselves in a coalition with Labour, undoing this damage should be at the top of a Lib Dem agenda as a means to right the wrongs they’re committing in the present government. Or a Labour majority government can re-orient higher education in the United Kingdom from the commercialised morass it is, and return it to the public good it is better understood to be, allowing for equality of opportunity, aspiration, and upward mobility. Or at least the perception of those things.

Sadly, given the track record of the last Labour government (1997-2010) in undoing the neoliberal agenda of the previous Conservative government (1979-1997), I’m not confident that such an approach will be adopted.

Seemingly Random Links: Elliott, Obamacare, Congress, and Chris Christie

[ 16 ] October 22, 2013 |

Elliott Smith.  Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of his death, and to mark the occasion, SPIN released an article originally published in December 2004 marking the last few years of his life. I saw him live back in the day two or three times (as well as Heatmeiser at least once). Elliott is one of my go-to artists when feeling, erm, particularly contemplative with a whiskey in hand.   If you’re a fan of Elliott, the linked article is well worth a read.

Obamacare is popular. When the question is asked correctly, it turns out to be well above water. According to a new CNN poll (yesterday), 12% of those opposed don’t like it because it’s not liberal enough, for a top line of 53%/38%.  In those surveys where the question is asked dichotomously, I’d like to get a sense of how many in this 12% respond with approval, and how many stick to their guns and disapprove, even though the measure itself is too rough to capture the nuance of their particular disapproval.

Congress isn’t. Noteworthy about this new ABC/WaPo poll, however, is that for the first time in 24 years of asking the question, incumbents are underwater as well: 43% approval, 47% disapproval. Anti-incumbency is also at record levels, with 25% reporting that they’ll vote for their incumbent, and 66% willing to play the field “look around”. Of course, most will return home in the end, but at first blush these numbers are not encouraging for Republicans. However, when reviewing the full results of this poll, it’s difficult to assess clear patterns in the data that point towards November 2014.

Chris Christie. Turns out that withdrawing his appeal to the New Jersey State Supreme Court on a basic civil right has muddied his chances towards receiving the Republican nomination in 2016. It’s probably a good thing, for him, that he had New Jersey hold the Cory Booker coronation in October, rather than when he’s facing re-election in November, to bump up his numbers. It only cost the state around $24 million. But he’ll be able to claim popularity in a very blue state, and proudly wear the badge of America’s last moderate Republican, with pride. At least until Iowa in 2016.

2014 House Prospects, Shutdown Edition, Volume 2

[ 77 ] October 16, 2013 |

Even though I’m a bit addled from waking each morning around 0400 to do the daily radio spots this week, I’m not addled enough to dramatically shift my viewpoint on this: the tactical mistakes and near anarchy exhibited by House Republicans will not lead to the rainbows and unicorns of a Democratic House following the 2014 elections.  Silver, at his temporary new site, has a typically solid rundown here.  There are some minor flaws in his reasoning, specifically Benghazi, the IRS, et al., are not issues equitable to holding the global economy hostage while demonstrating no clarity of thought or leadership, but his broader points are worth taking into consideration before drinking the kool aid.  (Several of these minor critiques can be found both in this post by Sam Wang, and the comments).

Of specific interest in the Silver post is his third point: “Democrats face extremely unfavorable conditions in trying to regain the House.”  The one thing I’ll add to that is what I’ve said repeatedly before: it’s near certainly going to be a qualitatively different electorate in demographic terms than 2012, or 2008, and one that tends to favor Republican candidates.

That said, some evidence is coming to light that has me examining my assessment.  Not a dramatic shift, but I have moved from “No bloody way!” to “Huh. Nearly certainly not, but, huh.”  Wang has written several posts, each worth a read, that lend support to a narrative counter to my trotting out conventional political science wisdom. Especially intriguing is evidence (more substantive than just the theory / hypothesis, mind) suggesting that gerrymandering has created a bunch of suddenly vulnerable Republican incumbents. Indeed, it appears that the swing against Republicans is significantly stronger in gerrymandered districts.

However, two weaknesses in the data prevent me from inviting all my friends down to Guyana for some crisp liquid refreshment in the sunshine. First, these polls are all predicated on generic matchups. As I linked last week, there’s concern that real live candidates have quality weaknesses that can (and certainly will) be exploited in a real live campaign. Second, the election is still over a year away. While all the numbers showing a fantastic collapse in Republican support could hold over the next 12 months, a lot will happen between now and then. Especially if the House actually passes the deal just announced in the Senate (no sure thing, of course, given the current lunacy), and the Republicans don’t hold a gun to their own heads yet again when this temporary agreement expires on January 15 (for the whole running the government part) and February 7 (for the whole avoiding economic collapse part), the past three weeks very well will recede into the background as other issues / events occur.

I still believe it will take a wave election in 2014 to flip the House, and given the composition of the electorate, one that would require a lot of typically Republican voters in heretofore Republican districts to either stay home, or switch parties, on top of gaining a significant margin among independents. I’ve been considering methods to do a proper empirical comparison of 2006 and a potential 2014, but one variable keeps intruding: 2006 was a wave against the incumbent president’s party (as was 1994 and 2010).

Thus, I’m still not optimistic, but the recent posts by Wang captured my attention.  And, most evidence, both empirical and theoretical, suggest that a Democratic Senate is increasingly a safer proposition.

Sublime Irrationality, or Something More Sinister?

[ 143 ] October 9, 2013 |

Like many people, I’m struggling to find evidence of rationality in the suicide caucus strategy and end game here. I get that they’re willing to destroy tacit norms of legislative behavior, and even ignore normative assumptions about the meaning of elections and the legislative process (i.e. once passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President, and when relevant passes Constitutional muster with the Supremes, it’s the law; don’t like it, undo it the way it was done blah blah blah) in order to achieve a policy objective denied them through acceptable means. But most of this just isn’t conforming to rational behavior, as pointed out by Krugman on Sunday:

It has been obvious for years that the modern Republican Party is no longer capable of thinking seriously about policy. Whether the issue is climate change or inflation, party members believe what they want to believe, and any contrary evidence is dismissed as ahoax, the product of vast liberal conspiracies.

For a while the party was able to compartmentalize, to remain savvy and realistic about politics even as it rejected objectivity everywhere else. But this wasn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, the party’s attitude toward policy — we listen only to people who tell us what we want to hear, and attack the bearers of uncomfortable news — was bound to infect political strategy, too.

Is it me, or is Krugman becoming progressively more pissed off with each day?

I paraphrased from someone last week that we’re trying to understand a group of people who don’t believe in (human caused) climate change, don’t understand or accept basic economics, and don’t believe in evolution. Fair enough. But then there’s this: “A surprisingly broad section of the Republican Party is convinced that a threat once taken as economic fact may not exist — or at least may not be so serious.”

The only card they hold in this game is the threat global economic collapse. They’re willing to use this threat as leverage in order to achieve policy objectives they were unable to win through traditional legislative or electoral paths. Yet, here they are explaining that it’s really not that bad, it’s blown out of proportion, defaulting on our debt only has minimal impact?

They’re arguing that the leverage that they have isn’t leverage at all if the consequences are minimal.

Can they really be that stupid?

The only quote that makes any rational sense is chilling.  Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina:

“We always have enough money to pay our debt service,” said Mr. Burr, who pointed to a stream of tax revenue flowing into the Treasury as he shrugged off fears of a cascading financial crisis. “You’ve had the federal government out of work for close to two weeks; that’s about $24 billion a month. Every month, you have enough saved in salaries alone that you’re covering three-fifths, four-fifths of the total debt service, about $35 billion a month. That’s manageable for some time.”

He’s suggesting that we can (mostly) finance existing obligations by keeping the government shut in the event that the debt ceiling is not increased, “for some time”.

“If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English.”

[ 62 ] October 9, 2013 |

So states Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere in his sober reflection on who ought to qualify for the English national soccer football team. I should ask him if ten years counts for anything?

The issue at hand is the national team status of Manchester United’s 18 year-old Belgian / Serbian / Turkish / Albanian (yes, he qualifies for all four) midfielder Adnan Januzaj, and that the English national team manager is “monitoring his progress”. There’s several potential soccer topics here, such as the bit where Januzaj has thus far made only three first team appearances for United; England, while generally desperate for quality players, aren’t yet Scotland desperate. Or his observation on what distinguishes true “Englishness” from teams that, you know, win major tournaments:

“We are English. We tackle hard, are tough on the pitch and are hard to beat. We have great characters.”

So, to translate, the English are rough, like to fight, yet are laid back enough to enjoy a bit of a laugh. Unlike the Spanish, as when “you think of Spain and you think technical but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that.”  “The only people who should play for England are English people.”

I don’t know.  When I think of Spain, I think of fluid, flowing football that’s lovely to watch. And winning stuff. As for the rest, he’s describing his own club 25 years in the past; he only left out the binge drinking.

For my more immediate purposes, Wilshere’s ill-advised commentary on both football and nationalism is splendidly timed. I have a run on BBC Radio Devon seven straight mornings from Monday. I did this last year immediately before the American election, and might have discussed it on LGM. The format is different from a five minute interview. Instead of responding to questions that I’ve hopefully anticipated in advance [*], I have around three minutes of clear airtime to opine on a topic of my choice. Last year’s topics and scripts were easy to arrive at — given the immediacy of the US election, they were all political sciency oriented (yet pitched to the audience in question vaguely within the model of the segment). This year’s different, and my ideas are more eclectic.  Hence, Wilshere to the rescue.

This very English midfielder, ironically of that most cosmopolitan of English clubs, serves as a launching pad of sorts to briefly explore notions of nationality and identity. It fits in well thematically with one script I’ve already written and another I’ve outlined (one on immigration, one on muddled expatriate identity) while subtly calling Wilshere out on the bullshit, all wrapped up in an approachable package of soccer. Two of the past four managers of the English national team weren’t, you know, English. If there is a distinctly English cultural approach to soccer, shouldn’t one who understands that culture on a genetic level manage the side? How is it that every nation-state on the planet is allowed only one national side under FIFA rules, but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland get four? Had Ryan Giggs been eligible to play for England (he wasn’t), would you have cheered him on as England somehow managed to win Euro 1996? And what about the composition of the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, or Republic national sides? Over the years all four have had many players who weren’t born in those “countries”. Then there’s the USMNT. We wisely have a policy that disregards Wilshere’s progressive viewpoint on nationality. Hell, our national team manager once played for Spurs, and yet we still embraced his appointment.

I’ll also slip in a reference to Wilshere in the already written piece on immigration, where I make the risky suggestion that it might be easier to “become American” than it is to “become British” (or many European countries) for several reasons of equal speculative veracity.

And I’ll briefly discuss my seven year-old daughter. She’s quite proud of being “half English and half American”. Should she ever show an interest in playing soccer competitively, and possess both the incredible levels of talent, skill and drive required to qualify for an international side, does she follow Wilshere’s preference for brave, hard tacklers who are characters and play for England, or will she follow her father’s sage advice to play for the United States, because winning things like World Cups and the Olympics trumps “tough on the pitch”.

I can guess that Wenger is unimpressed with Wilshere’s past couple of weeks and might have another chat with the lad. In addition to the above, last Tuesday night he was pictured outside of a nightclub with a cigarette following Arsenal’s defeat of Napoli. He claims to not be a smoker, it was only a mistake.

Before I go sit on my balcony overlooking Plymouth Sound not being a smoker, I’ll let Wilshere have the last word on the matter:

“If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I’m not going to play for Spain.”

[*] I was interviewed live on the local BBC on Monday or Tuesday evening last week, about the shutdown. I was ready with polling data, comparative explanations of co-equal branches of government vs. unitary systems, etc. I didn’t anticipate the obvious question, however: how long will this last? I might have said no more than a few days, because the debt ceiling is the bigger stick Congressional Republicans will use. This is only a dress rehearsal. Man, did I get that one wrong.

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