The Commons report on the early handling of the pandemic has been greeted as "robust" but it also suffers from a form of groupthink similar to that which it rightly criticises in the interface of politics & science.
This is evident in the use of the word "fatalism", which implies a error of judgement rather than a deliberate choice - i.e. we could have done more but we lacked confidence. I think this lets the British political class as a whole off the hook.
What was really at work here was an older policy tradition of "let nature take its course", which reflects a pessimism about both the morality & effectiveness of state intervention as well as a habitual disregard for the people (e.g. decanting infected patient into care homes).
This has echoes of the response by the British government to the Irish famine of the mid-19th century, which was equally informed by the enlightened view of scientific experts influenced by contemporary political economy (today, behavioural economics & "nudge theory").
Where once the population could be dismissed as "feckless", we were being told in 2020 that the interventions adopted by other countries would be counter-productive because of our susceptibility to "fatigue", a politer way of saying the same thing.
States that followed a people-first strategy have done better. Those with a high death rate have typically been ones that exhibited a disregard for the people. It appears that the UK has moved back into that latter category which suggests a "fatalism" about the welfare state.

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More from @fromarsetoelbow

13 Oct
I mentioned yesterday that feelings - in particular of hurt - have started to substitute for facts in the realm of free speech, not just on the right but in the political centre (exemplified by the Guardian). The latest news about Prof Kathleen Stock is another example of this.
Her claim that her career is effectively over because some people complained about her public statements is obviously exaggeration. Her chief critics haven't called for her to be sacked & I'm sure she'll manage a side-hustle writing for the press.…
What has been notable in the coverage is that her critics have been caricatured as both unrepresentative & intolerant. For example, the article above uses the phrase "targeted by activists" rather than "criticised by students & academics", which would be more accurate.
Read 10 tweets
12 Oct
One of the notable features of the 2015-19 shenanigans was the willingness to interpret the Jewish press as the representative voice of British Jewry, which led to many Jews (& not just leftwing ones) being marginalised (or treated contemptuously) by the wider media.
We appear to have reached a point where any Jewish press outrage at perceived antisemitism, even if based on a false premise (as here with the claim that Sally Rooney wouldn't allow her novel to be translated into Hebrew), is deemed legitimate precisely because it is outrage.
In other words, "The strength of my feelings means the truth or otherwise of a claim is irrelevant. You must address my feelings". This is of course precisely the sort of (misleading) charge made by the right in respect of leftist "wokery".
Read 4 tweets
11 Oct
The appointment of Katharine Birbalsingh as "Social Mobility Tsar" won't address social mobility. That she will remain in her job as a school head while being "a loud champion" tells you that new her role will largely be played out in the comment pages of the press.
The phrase "the soft bigotry of low expectations" originates with George W Bush's No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which implemented the standardised testing & school grading pioneered in the UK by New Labour, with similar results: narrow teaching, system gaming, stress etc.
The phrase was lifted wholesale by Michael Gove as Education Secretary, along with the above average fallacy (the idea that all schools should produce above average results). The claim was that disadvantaged kids were being held back by progressive condescension.
Read 8 tweets
9 Oct
One the reasons why state conspiracies are less likely (or more inept when attempted) is that the state has an aversion to knowledge, which in practical terms means a contempt for data & a suspicion of theory (the attempt to substitute for the limitations of data).
This is why the state habitually loses records - i.e. it really is more cockup than conspiracy, though deliberate suppression is obviously a factor on occasions. Kafka remains a better analyst of the state than most because he understood its institutional will to forgetting.
Orwell's 1984 is a fascinating book because it extrapolated, in a reasonable way, the technological capabilities & potential of the late-40s. But it completely misunderstood the psychology of the state & its agents. O'Brien is a Grand Inquisitor, not a realistic bureaucrat.
Read 4 tweets
7 Oct
The focus here is on the retired, but the interesting stat is that the chief objectors to a return are the 25-49 cohort. This probably reflects that younger workers are more likely to be in jobs that can't be done remotely, & that 50+ have fewer outside demands (i.e. young kids).
What this means is that the revolutionary cohort may not be the unattached young but families with young kids struggling with housing costs, child care & diminishing promotion opportunities at work.
If I were the Labour Party, I'd drop the twin track strategy of seducing bigoted OAPs & marginalising radical young singletons & would instead champion young families. It worked for Thatcher in 1979, which should surely impress the current leadership.
Read 5 tweets
6 Oct
There are two ways of affording higher wages. You can increase the size of the pie (growth &/or higher productivity) or you can more equally divide the pie (distribution of returns between capital & labour). Danny is blissfully oblivious to the latter.…
This is problematic because the Thatcherite revolution actually led to lower trend growth. In time, her let-it-rip approach to industrial strategy led away from high productivity/high wage manufacturing to a low-wage service economy, which the Tories are now blaming on the EU.
Though he filters it through the business-friendly neoliberal pabulum of David Sainsbury, Danny is really acknowledging the case put forward by Mariana Mazzucato et al, which is actually a return to a pre-Thatcher industrial strategy.
Read 5 tweets

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