Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sometimes Only For Certain People

Tony Judt has a piece in a recent New York Review of Books called 'What is Living and What is Dead in Social Democracy', in which, along with ascribing neo-liberal dominance in part to the influence of lessons taken from the collapse of inter-war Austrian democracy, he asserts that the best way for social democrats to market themselves is in terms of a social democracy of fear. The idea is supposed to be analogous to Judith Shklar's liberalism of fear, the idea of which was to argue for various foundational liberal rights as protections as things everyone has reason to fear; centrally, political oppression. Likewise, Judt wants to say that everyone has reason to endorse government-run schemes of protection against sickness, unemployment and the like. This seems to me a mistake much like that which David Runciman points to in his review of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's Spirit Level for the LRB, in that it elides the difference between some property being held the average member of some group and it being held by all members of that group. It is almost certainly true that most Americans would be better off in a more equal society; it must be as true that some Americans would be worse off. A liberalism of fear works because anyone can be picked up by the secret police and tortured, because we all have our little pecadilloes, because we could all end up on the wrong end of some political decision. However, not everyone is plausibly going to run out of money to pay their medical bills, notwithstanding the fact that even if you might, you nonetheless might be better off pooling that risk on terms of your own choice than being required to do so with everyone. There's that old line about a liberal being the guy who won't take his own side in a knife-fight: arguing for a social democracy of fear seems to try to make it true, and in particular forgets that if in the end someone gets stabbed, usually at some point someone else was holding a knife.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Go Home Boys Or You're Going To Jail

As I am sure many of the readers of this blog are aware, reforms which HEFCE is currently proposing to its formula for distributing funds to British universities involve making 25% of the relevant funding depend on the demonstrable contribution of research produced by the relevant department to the general economic and social well-being of the country in the last five years. For various, quite obvious, reasons, not least of which is that it is an open invitation to bullshiting, I have signed petitions urging HEFCE not to do this. I suspect this is why I got an unsolicited email from a strange body called 'Educators for Reform' today, asking me to sign their petition opposing it. Initially, I thought this was just one of those things that happens when you sign petitions, but then I saw who it was from - Luke Tryl. That would be the same Luke Tryl who invited David "not saluting but drowning" Irving and Nick "let's deport Londoners too" Griffin to the Oxford Union as a piece of self-congratulatory, self-publicising, and frankly downright vile contrarianism, presumably. It turns out now he's working for Reform, a Tory think-tank, who are apparently trying to astro-turf support of the back of trade union sponsored petitions. The reference to crowding out private research should have given it away, I suppose, just as it shouldn't be a surprise that that's where you end up if you're a prick with the right connections. Well, they and he can both piss right off.