Tag Archives: history

New history of the UK Treasury seems to be a comedy of errors

The Treasury in London: if the latest history of it is to be believed, it seems to have become a lunatic asylum, that has been taken over by the inmates.

How wrong can you be?

I think the expectation of most people in the UK is that the minds dominating the Treasury – the financial engine room of the country – must be the most level, intelligent, and careful in the nation.

But if the picture painted of Bankruptcies, Bubbles and Bailouts, the new history of the Treasury since 1976 by Aeron Davies, on Professor Simon Wren-Lewis’s Mainly Macro site is accurate, it seems more accurately described as a madhouse taken over by the inmates.

Perhaps it would more accurately have been titled Carry On Up The Treasury…

Consider this:

How to deal with the bonanza of North Sea Oil[:] It is today standard in the macroeconomics of resource rich countries that any temporary gain due to the discovery of a finite resource should be largely invested… The basic choice for the government of consumption (cutting taxes) or investment was discussed at reasonably senior levels while I was there. Norway made the right choice but the UK did not, although how much that was down to politicians at the time is difficult to tell.

The money wasn’t invested but was splurged on tax cuts, of course. And did anyone learn from that waste?

No:

This failure wasn’t just about North Sea Oil revenues, but was repeated with privatisation and council house sales. During the Thatcher period selling off public capital was treated as just another form of revenue, which is nonsense because unlike taxes it is not permanent.

It would be easy to say this wastage was due to the influence of politicians, but both Wren-Lewis and Davies seem to say that consensus within the Treasury (where it existed) could also cause huge blunders:

A good example, which Davis is right to discuss at length, is the pervasive doctrine within HMT that national firm ownership didn’t matter. A quote from an interview with John Grieve sums up the issue:

“On ownership, right from the ’80s, from Big Bang onwards, and indeed before, there’s been a running worry in government and in commentary about are we wise to let foreigners buy everything? … but in fact, there’s been a longstanding policy, successive governments have decided not to do anything about it … And, you know, of course most other countries think this is mad, and that ownership does matter.”

Ownership does indeed matter because at the time of writing, the UK’s railways and England’s water and power companies are primarily owned by foreign governments who are milking us for all they are worth. That money goes out of this country to subsidise others’ infrastructure for them.

But political influence is shown to have the upper hand most of the time – with the prominent example being austerity:

What Aeron Davis calls the ‘posh boys’ regarded economics as a political means to an end[:]

“For those leading the Coalition, economics was just another consideration in the wider matrix of Westminster party strategizing and news media lobby management.”

What Osborne and Cameron were interested in was media management, and they were experts at it. Unfortunately the advice they were getting proved no corrective to their macroeconomic ignorance. Here is a quote from Aeron reflecting on his interview with Rupert Harrison, Osborne’s economics advisor and now advising Jeremy Hunt.

“When I asked him directly about the broader inspirations of his economic thinking, Harrison responded that he had no interest in macroeconomic thought. His policy views were ‘shaped by more general reading’ and by being ‘a centre-right leaning person’.”

I’m afraid this was painfully obvious from Osborne’s speeches at the time. Austerity, by which I mean embarking on spending cuts in a liquidity trap recession, represented ignorance of everything Keynes talked about in the General Theory, as well as state of the art macroeconomics. The origin of the last twelve years of economic decline can be found in politicians who put party political interest above the health of the economy.

And then there’s Brexit, about which the author becomes positively festive:

Aeron Davis argues that the Leave vote was not only devastating to most Treasury officials (many were economists, after all) but also that it reflected past failures in Treasury management. To quote

“For one, I hold the Treasury (and successive governments) responsible for ushering in an economy that was so unbalanced and unequal. Years of trickle-down economics, and years of favouring finance over manufacturing, large foreign multinationals over home-grown companies, large asset-holders and rentiers over others, London over the regions, monetary rather than fiscal activism had had a cumulative impact. Austerity economics only exacerbated such trends, with several commentators linking that to the vote outcome.”

Of course any vote that close can have many things that help tip the balance. To the extent he is right, the Brexit vote represents a fitting ending for the book, as it represents many of the themes the author examines coming home to roost.

It isn’t the end of the book, because there’s a postscript which covers Boris Johnson and Partygate (but doesn’t get to Liz Truss’s “ill-fated” (as Wren-Lewis describes it) reign. The title says it all: “Reckless opportunists gain control.”

It’s a great review, and I’ll tell you why: it takes a subject that should be dry as a desert bone and makes me want to read the whole book.

Source: mainly macro: The UK Treasury since 1976

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After his Mosley comments, who wants to watch Danny Dyer’s History Channel?

Danny Dyer: he’s holding a photo of “that melt” Oswald Mosley and his bunch of “fascist slags” the Black Shirts. Can someone in television please commission him to do a whole series like this?

A new career could be opening up for celebrated EastEnders actor Danny Dyer.

He’s just appeared on TV, talking about the Battle of Cable Street, and it was gold:

This is not the first time Dyer has spoken up about social issues. Consider this…

… and especially this:

This Writer thinks Dyer would be an excellent choice to front a new TV series on the social history of the UK, showing how the lives of the working classes have differed from those of the privileged throughout the centuries.

We’re sick of hearing about royals and their squabbles with their relatives in foreign lands. Let’s have the story of what was happening right here – from someone who’s got the good sense to tell it straight!

And Dyer’s own royal heritage – he has links to William the Conqueror and Edward III, according to another TV doco, Who Do You Think You Are? – would provide added credibility.

What about it, BBC? Or would you be afraid to do it if Boris Johnson has his way and puts his puppet Charles Moore in charge?

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Disability assessment system ignores evidence and pushes claimants towards death

Hoax: That's how the DWP has described many people's claims for PIP and ESA. In fact, it seems the assessment system itself is the hoax, and the government department the hoaxer. [Image: Getty Images]

Hoax: That’s how the DWP has described many people’s claims for PIP and ESA. In fact, it seems the assessment system itself is the hoax, and the government department the hoaxer. [Image: Getty Images]

If you have a long-term illness or disability but have wondered why you receive low scores on the government’s face-to-face ‘work capability assessment’, here’s why: The software is written to ensure that any information you provide may be ignored.

That’s right – the tick-box test program that the DWP took from criminal American insurance corporation Unum, which had been devised to make people ineligible for insurance payouts, does not take into account any of the claimant’s personal details.

David Daish, a programmer and software tester, went through the PIP assessment process and then provided his professional opinion on the software to Facebook page Atos Miracles. PIP is the most useful benefit to discuss in this context because the onus is on assessment providers, rather than individual disabled people, to gather evidence from a list of health and social care professionals provided by the claimant.

He wrote: “The software is written so that whatever the assessor writes in the first part of the report, such as history, and anything the claimant tells the assessor, there is nothing whatsoever in the second part, the choosing of descriptors, that is connected to the first part.

“This means nothing is built into the programming to make sure the assessor uses all the evidence that was (hopefully) collected, or was provided elsewhere, and then can subsequently make the right descriptor choice.

“The assessor can basically say anything they like. Nothing in the software forces them carry out the assessment fairly.” [bolding mine]

He went on to describe the software as “little more than a glorified Word document: “A piece of programming that is not integrated in any way, has no checks and balances to make sure the business process it is supposed to support works as it should, that is, the PIP assessment itself, is in my view unforgivable. I’m inclined to think it is deliberate.”

That is a perfectly logical conclusion to draw.

This would suggest that the increased stress, the despair and hopelessness instilled in claimants by the loss of their benefit for no good reason, and the subsequent loss of life through suicide or exacerbation of the health conditions that the assessment system insists do not exist, are also deliberate.

It also makes sense of the apparently-illogical decisions being thrown out by the system all the time. Citizens Advice has stated: “Both Atos and Capita [PIP assessment providers] have made snap decisions about whether PIP claimants must attend a face-to-face assessment. Even when they do request evidence, providers only need to tell claimants who they have asked for it – not whether they actually received any or what it said.”

It seems that any such evidence would be ignored by the assessment software in any case, so it should come as no surprise that Citizens Advice continued: “In the absence of additional evidence, an astonishing 98 per cent of all assessments have been face-to-face… This is adding substantially to the delays and financial hardship experienced by disabled people.

“We now have two different systems for gathering independent evidence in PIP and in ESA, neither of which is working for claimants, assessment providers or the DWP.”

As someone with only limited knowledge of computer programmer, it is probably not for This Writer to comment. But my own knowledge suggests that a teenager from the 1980s could have produced a better program, using BASIC, than Unum and the DWP have managed here. A series of simple ‘IF… THEN’ loops would have ensured that all relevant information was taken into account.

Perhaps this is what we should do.

I don’t mean we should write a BASIC program to show up the inadequacies of PIPAT (the actual assessment system) – rather we should endeavour to produce our own program that performs in the way the public has been led to believe PIPAT does. Then we could run a few assessments through it (the DWP must provide full details of assessments and outcomes if these are requested, so they won’t be hard to acquire) and compare the results.

Is that a reasonable suggestion?

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Michael Gove highlights his own lies; Tony Robinson is right

Left-wing propaganda piece? Sir Tony Robinson (right) with Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder Goes Forth.

Left-wing propaganda piece? Sir Tony Robinson (right) with Rowan Atkinson in Blackadder Goes Forth.

A new development has occurred in the story of Michael Gove’s attempt to rewrite the history of World War One as a glorious display of “patriotism, honour and courage”.

This blog took Gove to task after he attacked one of Britain’s best TV comedies, Blackadder Goes Forth, for perpetuating “myths” about the conflict.

Now Sir Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in the much-loved series, has weighed in to warn Gove against attacking teachers.

He told Sky News: “It’s not that Blackadder teaches children the First World War.

“When imaginative teachers bring it in, it’s simply another teaching tool; they probably take them over to Flanders to have a look at the sights out there, have them marching around the playground, read the poems of Wilfred Owen to them. And one of the things that they’ll do is show them Blackadder.

“And I think to make this mistake, to categorise teachers who would introduce something like Blackadder as left-wing and introducing left-wing propaganda is very, very unhelpful. And I think it’s particularly unhelpful and irresponsible for a minister in charge of education.”

Sir Tony added that it was “just another example of slagging off teachers.” He said, “I don’t think that’s professional or appropriate.”

Gove appears not to have the wit to answer on his own behalf. Instead a spokesman plunged him even further in the mire with the following: “Tony Robinson is wrong. Michael wasn’t attacking teachers, he was attacking the myths perpetuated in Blackadder and elsewhere.

“Michael thinks it is important not to denigrate the patriotism, honour and courage demonstrated by ordinary British soldiers in the First World War.”

Oh really? It’s fortunate Gove’s own words are available to be examined then, isn’t it?

In his Daily Mail article on Thursday, he wrote the following: “The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh, What a Lovely War!, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.

Here’s the juicy bit: “Even to this day there are left-wing academics” – in other words, teachers – “all too happy to feed those myths.”

Case proven. Gove is a liar, and he is trying to promote the teaching of lies to children.

Still, he has a vested interest in replacing history with propaganda. Imagine what his own entry in the history books will be. Something like: “In the wake of the financial crisis, the Conservative Party tried to win electoral victory by blaming the disaster on financial mismanagement by the then-ruling Labour Party. When this, and a pledge not to interfere with the National Health Service, failed to inspire the electorate, Tory leader David Cameron seized power in a backdoor deal with the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg – a man who was to become little more than a puppet in Cameron’s hands. Once installed in Number 10, the tyrant set his lieutenants to work: Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Hunt turned the health service over to private hands. Iain Duncan Smith made benefit claims impossible to sustain, driving thousands of claimants to destitution and death. And Michael Gove reduced the education system to a means of indoctrinating the nation’s young with pre-approved disinformation designed to make them compliant fodder for the new corporatist state.”

… and that doesn’t even begin to describe the Betrayal of Britain that started in 2010!

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