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Recess Monkey & the wisdom of crowds

Amidst all the hilarity over Recess Monkey's "Maggie Dead" post, the question was put of whether this discredited bloggers. Certainly Iain Dale commenting on the Blogger TV show on 18 Doughty Street thought so.

I must say that anyone who thinks this is missing the fundamental point about the blogosphere. Wisdom is found in the crowd as a whole, not in any particular member of it. For every sloppy blogger claiming that Margaret Thatcher is dead, there is another fool saying that she will live for ever. Both are wrong but their errors cancel each other out. The crowd as a whole moves quickly to the more accurate position that she is alive, but she's getting on a bit. 

So as I commented on Blogger TV, the blogosphere did exactly what it is supposed to do. We shouldn't expect any more from it. 


Labour's a barrier to growth

The Small Business Research Trust has issued the results of its regular survey of small businesses. The results are a pretty damning indictment of the cul-de-sac where Labour has parked the UK economy.

Taxation (including National Insurance) was selected by 63% of owner-managers as a barrier to growth, followed by employment regulations (58%) and business rates (49%).


Around one-quarter of smaller businesses see recent increases in the National Minimum Wage and holiday entitlement as a disincentive to employing more people, typically 1-2 extra employees in the last 12 months. 

This could have cost the UK economy 300,000 jobs. Of course this is something which doesn't bother Gordon in the slightest because that's 300,000 more people who depend on him for their daily bread. What's 300,000 people on the scrapheap when you've got elections to worry about?


Quote of the day

In the UK we have 8,300 pages of primary tax law, second only to India with 9,000. Even the US - thought by many to have one of the most complex tax regimes - has only 5,100.

Andrew Green, of accountancy firm Mizars. 

Thanks Gordon. 


3rd March 2007. A good day.

Trip to the seaside with the family today. Lots of bracing East Neuk fresh air in glorious sunshine while the baby Bishops exhausted themselves in running amok and disturbing the peace.

The news is looking good too.

The faeces are bespattering the air conditioning in the cash for honours department. Blair can surely not last much longer. If, as seems to be the general conclusion among the blogosphere, this is an attempt by the government to deliberately prejudice a trial and so get themselves off the hook, then Yates of the yard has done a fantastic job to keep the lid on it. It also suggests that Blairistas are very desperate indeed.

Iceland has a flat tax - the first developed country to adopt one. This could be the start of a revolution.

Spring is in the air and the government are in retreat. More wine please missus. 





Random thoughts on education

I've had another post on education floating round inside my head for a week or so now, and it just doesn't seem to want to form itself into a coherent whole. So I'm just going to write it down as a list of points and see what happens. Either it will start to make some sense or it will remain as random thoughts. You should be able to work out which it was.

  • Education should be tailored to the consumer. This isn't really a requirement for the 21st century so much as what a good education should be. Everyone is different and will get something different out of the education process.
  • Why do children (or adults, for that matter) need to go and listen to someone talking in order to get an education? Does education need to be formal in the age of Google? How much can you teach yourself? If, as Oakeshott said, education is a conversation, then isn't the internet just a ruddy great school?
  • When you think about it, how much do you actually learn from sitting listening to someone anyway? If it's in any way a difficult subject, a momentary lapse in concentration can lead to you losing the thread and the whole thing becomes a waste of time.
  • What should we teach everyone? I would argue literacy and numeracy and nothing much else. The rest depends on the child's interests and abilities. The brightest will need a grounding in the "best of all that has been known" (or whatever the saying is). Many others would be better off out of the school environment learning a trade.
  • We are probably still going to need schools, if only because of their childcare role. Parents are all out working and either don't want to or can't educate their children themselves. So if someone else is doing the education how do we ensure that they provide a learning experience that is tailored to the child? Can they actually acheive this though?
  • If schools can provide a tailored education, doesn't that take some of the heat out of the debate over selective schools? 
  • Brian Micklethwait posted a link to a debate about the speed of change in the modern world and how this affects education. I think we can overdo this. Much of what we want to impart in schools is stuff that doesn't change quickly. History, mathematics, geography, amd critical thought for example. Techies get hung up on the pace of change, but this is something that is mainly relevant to their subject. Not all jobs in the future will be tech jobs. Not all will change quickly.
  • Knowledge is not linear. It's more like a network. There are lots of different routes to explore, lots of tangents to go off at.That's what makes learning fun, and it's why the linear approach of traditional schooling turns so many children off.
  • Could e-learning be a way forward? Wouldn't it be better for child a to watch an online lecture about quadratic equations, while child B did an online assessment about erosion in the Gobi desert (or whatever interested either of them), rather than having them both sleep through a French class? What then, is the role of the teacher? Childminder?
It's all very confusing, but the education system is in such a state, I'm sure something dramatic will happen in the next ten years. One to watch.


Over on the motorblog

Mrs Bishop has relates the latest installment of the sorry saga of our Mitsubishi Grandis over at the motor blog.  Does Mitsubishi UK have the worst customer service of any organisation, anywhere? How many times can they fail to phone us back before one of us has a nervous breakdown? Details here.


Blogs for granny

My mother keeps asking me how I know so much more about what's going on than she does. "Blogs", I say. "Which ones?", she asks.

So I thought I might set up a Netvibes account for her. But who should I put on it? Suggestions please. (Sorry DK, you're too sweary). 


Twenty-first century education

I've been thinking a lot about education recently and so, it would appear, have lots of other bloggers. I'm sure there are millions of other people trying to work out precisely what the information revolution means for the way their kids are taught at school, or if, in fact, they should actually go to school at all. Or, indeed, if they should actually be taught, when it comes to it.

I mean, if Google can point you to the answer to pretty much everything in a matter of seconds, why would you want to go and sit in a dingy room and listen to a series of slightly crusty and completely unreformed socialists for six hours a day? What they tell you will be largely rubbish, and most of what isn't rubbish will be out of date. What is the point?

As I said, people much more erudite than me have been giving this some thought. Brian Micklethwait posted something the other day. The internet has changed things, he agrees, but he's not positing a thesis about what actually it means for us education consumers in practical terms, apart from the fact that home-ed becomes easier. This of course, is one possible answer to the question. Maybe children shouldn't go to school any more - they should learn at home. I don't think there's any doubt they'll learn more. They will probably become better at learning autonomously which has to be a key skill for the 21st century. But will they develop the people skills that are probably going to be key in the future. Yes, I know that home-ed children have lots of opportunities for socialising, and I know the arguments for socialising outwith their age group. But what about mixing with people you don't actually like? Isn't this important too?

Someone else who has been thinking about education is Sir Ken Robinson, who I'd never heard of before, but I'll certainly be looking out for him again after watching this presentation of his on the subject of education. What a wonderful speaker! Quite why he's not a household name is a mystery to me. He's far funnier than most stand-up comedians I've come across and is inspiring at the same time. He can also say "Al Gore" without spitting, which may be a remarkable skill on his part or may on the other hand be a major character flaw.  Either way, watch the video (not the audio) - I promise you won't regret it. His thesis is that we need to be stop destroying creativity in children, and he may well be right. I'm not completely convinced by all of his arguments though - this kind of creativity will be important in the future but it will not be for everyone. We are still going to need accountants and managers and people who do the boring stuff. His ideas do seem to suggest though  that school, as currently configured, is not the right ambience for developing the talents the creative sector will need.

Clive Davis points us to someone else who has been chewing over the meaning of education - the author Susan Hill. She has a blog here, and on it has posted a piece about whether children should be studying the 19th century greats, questioning whether it might be better to get them to read things they, you know, enjoy. She tells the story of a boy who was fascinated by fishing and was lead to reading by means of fishing magazines. Would he have got anywhere with "The Mill on the Floss"? I'm sure she's right when she implies that he would not. Again, I have to draw the conclusion that the one-size-fits-all approach of schools is failing many children, although in this case it's a failing that has been around for decades.

What does it all mean? What is the optimum way of learning in the new century? I don't know. I need to think about it some more. But it's good to know that better minds than mine are trying to answer the questions too.



Lib Dems forget the Liberal bit

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have outlined what they will do if they win power after the May elections to the Scottish Parliament. This was a wonderful opportunity for Nicol Stephen to show us that the party could stand apart from the others as the voice of economic and social liberalism.

The BBC reports the considered thoughts of the cream of Scottish LibDemmery here. The main policy positions are:

  • Recruit 1,000 new community police officers
  • Scrap the graduate endowment
  • 100% of electricity to be generated from renewables by 2050.
  • 100 new and refurbished community health centres.
  • Smaller class sizes as well as new teachers and sports coaches.
  • An entitlement for all two-year-olds to have up to 15 hours a week in a supervised playgroup.

So to sum it all up in a sentence, the "Liberal" Democrats actually plan to make the state quite a lot bigger. Well, when you look at the renewable energy position, the "Liberal" Democrat position might be characterised more precisely as "meaning to make the state absolutely colossal". To acheive this they are going to have to raise taxes to pip-squeaking levels - this is going to need massive subsidies. I'm not sure the 3% leeway the Treasury allows the Scottish executive over tax rates will actually be sufficient to cover the funding gap. Certainly the sop that Stephen offers to business of a cut in business rates is going to be a drop in the ocean when it comes to trying to stop an exodus of talent and business south of the border.

Brian Micklethwait, in a discussion on 18 Doughty Street the other day, said that he thought the Liberal Democrats had become slightly more Liberal recently. From this sorry, sorry announcement from the Scottish party, it's very hard to see this.


Quote of the day

The internet, still in its infancy, is the wonder-child of education. It knows everything that is to be known. It forgets nothing. It is the intellectual equivalent of Aladdin’s lamp. It will do anything within reason that you ask it to do and without question. It therefore absolves human beings from spending their lives accumulating knowledge as information. It therefore denies the hitherto accepted purpose of education.

Graham Hill, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde, quoted in this report on home education in Scotland.



From the Times

Having spent £13,000 on installing a wind turbine at his home, John Large is disappointed at the return on his investment, which amounts to 9p a week.

At this rate, it is calculated, it will take 2,768 years for the electricity generated by the turbine to pay for itself, by which time he will be past caring about global warming.

Don't you love it when environmentalists put their money where their mouths are? 


Posts on libertarianism

It's the same everywhere.

Amit Varma, top Indian libertarian blogger,  has a post up on his swanky new site about libertarianism in India.

[D]espite having gained political freedom 60 years ago, personal and economic freedoms are routinely denied in India. Even worse, there is no political party in the country that speaks up for freedom in all its forms.

One to subscribe to.


Nice to see...

...a big businessman arguing for no public subsidy. And telling the government to their faces too. Well done Richard Charkin.


Go and read this

Outside Story has an intruiging proposal on how to deal with NHS reform. I don't know quite what to make of it at the moment, but I shall sleep on it and see how it grabs me in the morning.


Tranzis really are socialists

Croydonian has beaten me to a posting on the fatal flaw in today's UNICEF report on child welfare, which ranked British children near the bottom of the scale. The report uses a relative measure of poverty - which as any fule no is essentially building a socialist bias into the report's results before the surveys are even performed. If you are a socialist country you will go straight to GO and collect £200. Anyone else can go straight to jail.

There's lot more wrong with the report, and I strongly urge you to read Croydonian's piece.

This inbuilt bias reminded me of another piece I was going to write; this time one which I actually failed to write at all, on the grounds that fisking Neil Harding was like taking sweeties from a toddler, and was a bit unsporting. But since it's relevant, I'll relay the story here. Neil had a post on public and private sector waste, in which he cited a World Health Organisation report which ranked Britain's healthcare system 18th in the world, and the US one in 37th. Neil invited us to conclude that the NHS gave better outcomes than the US.

However, a cursory look at the report shows exactly the same inbuilt bias as the today's report from UNICEF - it used "fairness of funding" as a measure in the ranking system, and so acheived an artificial boost for socialist systems. If you have a socialist system, it is apparently, by definition, better than the alternatives. We need to remember this next time we are told that the UN is the conscience of the world. It isn't. It's a PR agency for socialism.