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Friday, January 29, 2010

Just Too Good

Egalitarianism meets argumentum ad absurdum:

The Government will tell the professions that they must do more to take in people from state schools as part of a new drive to increase social mobility.

A new Government panel will be set up, where professional bodies will be expected to set out plans for changing the mix of people they recruit.

The plans will be set out in the Government’s formal response to a report by Alan Milburn, a former Labour Cabinet minister, who has called for action to break the "closed shop mentality" which characterises professional occupations such as the law, media, finance and medicine.

Leaving aside whether the media is a profession, in the sense that law, medicine and even finance might be characterized as such, the numbers are in fact damning:

He said: “The door to the professions, where many of society's good jobs lie and many more will come in the future, is too often closed. Figures show 75 per cent of judges, 70 per cent of finance directors, and 45 per cent of top civil servants were privately educated, yet just 7 per cent of children go to independent schools.

Now follow the bouncing ball closely children. Imagine an old time TV commercial, the ones that used to pitch detergent. The nice housewife - pardon the cro-magnon slang - would be using Detergent A on her husband's shirt, then Detergent B. The indignant housewife then turns to the camera holding up a less than perfectly white shirt, a hapless victim of the incompetent Detergent B. Hubby will never win the Johnson account with a shirt like that! Housewife smiles at the camera and tells everyone to buy Detergent A. 

In Gordon Brown's Britain we replay the scene. The nice, and heavily tattooed and pierced, co-habitational partner of a non-specific gender, cleans his/her/its Che Guevara T-shirt. The taco stains are pretty well entrenched. Hopefully Detergent A can help save the day. "Partner" has a big interview tomorrow at the local Tesco, and Che has to look his most heroic. Detergent A does the job well, and Detergent B again muffs it. Che has still got a guacamole stain. No way for a hero of the people to look. The co-habitational partner snarls at the camera: "Buy Detergent B!" Sure it sucks, but that's not poor Detergent B's fault. 

It's a cut-price product, it's engineers graduates of second-tier universities where chemistry courses deal only imperfectly with organic compounds. To insure that these graduates are allowed the maximum possible social mobility, that being the ultimate ideal of any enlightened society, the government has guaranteed them posts as engineers in the research laboratory of Detergent B. It's not Detergent B's fault that Detergent A hires its engineers from better schools, graduates with a firmer grasp of carbon-based compounds. These are details. In any case, Detergent B's lobbyists (all graduates of elite schools) are actively working to have a directive imposed on Detergent A's manufacturer, insisting that it employ more incompetent, sorry, "disadvantaged" engineers. Now rinse and repeat with medicine, law and finance and imagine the results. 

Still, the poppy-chopper has a point. It is unfair that 7% of the students seem to get access to so many of the top jobs in Britain. The unfairness lies less in that old Left-wing hobby horse, The British Class System (Copyright 1066), and more in the fact that 93% of British students have a state financed and managed education inflicted on them. After the destruction of the old grammar schools in the post-war era, the British educational system has been heading toward North American levels of mediocrity. The old elite "public" schools, like Eton, Harrow and Winchester, as well as scores of less well known but high quality independent schools, are still providing something like a decent education. Not being fools, the admissions officers at Oxbridge, LSE and University of London, admit bright students with bright futures, not the unfortunate car wreck victims of state education. Ending the unfairness would begin, though of course Mr Brown would never suggest such a thing, in reviving the old grammar schools, and with them the spirit of independent and quality education in Britain. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on January 29, 2010 | Permalink


You are arguing against government interference with the professions. If GB is like North America, then those professionals are guilded by the state in the form of right to practice legislation. They are therefore beholden to their masters for their protected status. You can't expect laissez faire in a regulated profession. Abolish all right to practice legislation and allow professions to self-regulate/standardize their voluntary membership, allowing intra-professional association competition and I will agree with you.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2010-01-29 2:16:26 PM

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