Striking out

Unfair and unaffordable

I don’t know about you but I haven’t noticed any signs of the country coming to a shuddering halt yet. 750,000 public sector workers (though none from my office) have gone on strike and the nation has kept ticking along.

The false argument about public sector pensions is put rather well by this which is going round on Facebook…

“Remember when teachers, nurses, doctors, lollipop ladies and disabled people crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? No, me neither. Please copy and paste to your status for 24 hours to show your support for the strikes against the government pensions”

It is very dishonest to try and make out that these reforms to public sector pensions are simply a result of the financial crisis. They aren’t. There were rumblings of strikes in 2004, 2005 and an actual strike in 2006. Yes, the dire state of the national finances probably has made dealing with public sector pensions more pressing, but the simple fact is that the current arrangements which aren’t affordable after the credit crunch weren’t affordable before it.

The issue of pensions is about the worst one public sector workers could choose to strike on. According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, reported in the Telegraph

“The calculations show that a mid-ranking teacher on £32,000 a year will receive a final salary pension that is the equivalent of having built up a £500,000 pension pot.

This is 20 times higher than the average private sector scheme, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. Private sector workers would have to save more than 20 per cent of their salaries for 40 years – more than £500 a month for a similarly paid person — to amass the same amount in a defined contribution pension”

Such a state of affairs was, just about, sustainable when it could be passed off as the reward for lower wages in the public sector. But the last Labour government richly rewarded its loyal clients in the public sector and, as a comprehensive report by Policy Exchange found

“On an hourly basis, the typical public sector worker is now 30% better paid than the typical worker in the private sector. On top of this, public sector employees have better pensions. The difference is worth an extra 15% of their salary. Over their lifetimes, people in the private sector work 23% more hours (equivalent to 9.2 years of a public sector employee’s working life) – where their public sector counterpart will either be on sick leave, holiday, strike or in retirement”

Union leaders, such Mark Serwotka, have been deriding George Osborne’s claim that “we’re all in this together”. As well they might, another Policy Exchange report found that

“Since the start of the recession, the hourly pay premium for the typical public sector worker has increased. After taking into account differences like age, experience and qualifications, the hourly pay premium for a public sector worker was 8.8% as of December 2010. This almost doubled from 4.3% two years earlier”

The public sector hasn’t been in anything at all yet it still expects the recession ravaged private sector to continue paying the same amount to it as before. The trade unions, who at least used to make a good show of supporting things like ‘fairness’ and ‘social justice’ are now, quite brazenly, simply trying to protect their privileged status as a labour aristocracy kept going by the galley slaves in the private sector who are worked until they drop to pay for these generous pensions and then thrown overboard.

This is not only unaffordable, it is unfair. That is what today’s strike is about.


Tomorrow’s strike looks set to cause more hilarity than anything else. I’ll be putting any rib ticklers I find here.

The Facebook page of Sean Rillo Raczka, head of the students union at my old uni, Birkbeck, has a couple of gems on it today.

“Solidarity with the Greek people, and victory to their courageous resistance! #Greece”

When he says “courageous resistance” he does, of course, mean the attempt by the well paid Greek public sector workers to get German workers to pay for them to retire at 50.

“Let’s strike hard against David Cameron and his scum government #j30”

Mr Rillo Raczka doesn’t have a job so it is difficult to see how, exactly, he will be on strike.
Over at Coalition of Resistance we have the following comment…

“Defend the Poor and Vulnerable and to Hell with Company Greed and Profiteering”

This appears to be a close relative of the age old, ever stupid slogan “People before profits”. Where does this cretin think the money to “Defend the Poor and Vulnerable” is going to come from if companies don’t make profits?

The left still thinks money grows on trees.

The picture at the top of this post comes from the Facebook profile of a prominent student activist. She hasn’t got a job so she’s half way there.

Ugly, lovely, film festival

The graveyard of ambition

I don’t write much about myself on here but I thought I’d make a little exception today. After all, it’s not every day your former landlord makes the Guardian.

In 2001 – 2002 I rented a house, 133 King Edward Road in Swansea, from Binda Singh. The house had once been home to Richie Edwards and Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers when they were students at Swansea University and they were supposed to have painted the huge American flag out front of the house that made it something of a Swansea landmark.

I remember Binda coming round shortly after I’d moved in with a couple of tins of white emulsion asking me to paint over the flag. It was a few days after 9/11 and Binda was worried that the flag would make his property a target. I doubted that Bin Laden was sat in his cave going “Twin Towers; check, Pentagon; check, 133 King Edward Road, Swansea; check” so I left it. Plus, I couldn’t be arsed.

It appears that in the intervening years Binda has become a major figure on the Swansea art scene. Indeed, if the place is anything like it was when I was there, he probably is the Swansea art scene. As befits a man in such a position, a lengthy list of charges have accrued against him.

I cannot comment on the truth of these allegations and I will always have a soft spot for Binda after he hooked our house up with the Lewis vs Tyson fight for free. But I would say this…

One Saturday morning Binda came round to collect the rent. As I handed it over he told me that he had written a script about Dylan Thomas, that it was going to be made into a film, that he wanted me to play Dylan Thomas and that Meryl Streep would be playing my wife.

Do you ever wonder what could have been?

No, me neither.

Johann Hari – The Milli Vanilli of journalism

Girl you know it’s true…or maybe it isn’t

Toby Young used to be annoying for a living. These days, with Young returned from New York, he proves as adept at annoying people as ever, the lefties hate the free school he has helped set up in west London. As a wise man once said to me, the left loves diversity in everything except thought.

I’m glad to see that Toby Young shares not just my views on free schools but my dislike for the dreadful Johann Hari, a man so consistently wrong and with such vehemence that you can only conclude it’s not ignorance but dishonesty.

So I was pleased to see Young trumpeting on his blog today just what a cheeky and unprofessional little blighter Hari is. He’s been rumbled passing off collections of quotes from books as interviews with those books’ authors.

Hari spoke out to defend himself

“When I’ve interviewed a writer, it’s quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing – and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech. (I know I write much more clearly than I speak – whenever I read a transcript of what I’ve said, or it always seems less clear and more clotted. I think we’ve all had that sensation in one form or another).

So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech”

I rather liked Elizabeth Flock of the Washington Post’s take on that

“Let’s say you once interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. for a story, but he wasn’t all that articulate about his hopes for racial reconciliation. So you decided to just quote his “I have a dream” line in the story and pretend he told it to you. That’s fine, right?”

Johann Hari is the Milli Vanilli of journalism.*

* Note to Hari, this comes from a comment on Toby Young’s blog post

Dumb Britain

“Every schoolboy knows how William the Conqueror slipped on the beach at Pevensey and defeated Harold at Hastings. Every schoolboy knows, or thinks he does, how Julius Caesar defeated the mighty British chieftan Cassivellaunus and thus subdued the country”

– AH Burne, 1952

How many British schoolboys in 2011 even know who any of the four people mentioned in the above quote were?

S**t my economist says #8

Who is the one person in this photo you shouldn’t take economic advice from?

Ed Balls, the disastrous Treasury advisor who was denied his dream job by his old boss and only grudgingly got it from his new boss, is giving his old theme that the coalition’s attempts to get runaway borrowing under control are going “too deep and too fast” another airing. Over on Labourlist today he calls for “a more balanced deficit plan” which will, apparently, get borrowing down by borrowing more money.

What Ed doesn’t tell you is that, according to the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, the last plan of any detail put forward by Labour for dealing with the deficit called for spending cuts of 10.9% this year as opposed to the 12% the coalition is pushing through.

So it seems the difference between “too deep and too fast” and “a more balanced deficit plan” is 1.1%. With someone like that advising the Treasury for so long is it any wonder we ended up in the Brown stuff? Pun very definitely intended.

S**t my economist says #7

A temple which desperately needs ridding of its money lenders

Last week came the news that inflation, at 4.5%, was outside of the mandated target range for the 17th month in a row and, as Michael Saunders of Citi warned, 80% of the items measured in the CPI are rising by more than 2% year on year reflecting a broadening of inflation.

Despite all this we hear today from Paul Fisher of the Bank of England that apparently it is not rising prices and inflation which are the danger, but falling prices and deflation.

Think about what direction the prices of the fuel and groceries you buy have been moving recently and see if you share Mr Fisher’s concern that their prices might fall.

The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England has been a total failure. It’s members, their pensions indexed for inflation, don’t even live in the real world.

A public sector strike over pensions will neither elicit public sympathy nor especially inconvenience us

Hands off our wages

The news that the Deep Thought computer would be programmed to unravel the great questions of existence was bad news for the philosophers in Terry Pratchett’s Douglas Adams’ classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty” shouts one, another warning that “You’ll have a national Philosopher’s strike on your hands!” Deep Thought pauses then asks: “And who will that inconvenience?”

You might have felt a little like Deep Thought this week reading the various warnings of mass public action emanating from the public sector unions. “It will not be one day of action”, warned Dave Prentis of Unison, “it will be long-term industrial action throughout our public services to prevent destruction of our pension schemes”

A period of prolonged and extensive strikes could be bad news for a government battling to get runaway borrowing under control. So far the muted support for the coalition’s fiscal programme outweighs the noisy opposition. But, given that with high inflation and interest rate rises on the way we probably haven’t seen the end of the downturn yet, this could change.

But you can never underestimate the stupidity of trade unions.

If they were choosing to strike in opposition to the coalition’s fiscal programme they might garner some wider support. But they aren’t. They are striking over pensions. They are striking in defence of their right to retire earlier than their private sector counterparts on pensions higher than anything on offer to their private sector counterparts – and all paid for by higher taxes on their recession ravaged private sector counterparts. Almost every story about the threatened industrial action has been illustrated with pictures of banners reading ‘Hands off my pension’. Taxpayers should say ‘Hands off my wages’. The idea that unions will attract much support on this battlefield can generously be described as fanciful.Not only is the union leaders’ rhetoric divorced from morality, it is also divorced from reality. June 30th is being hyped up by some as a General Strike intended to bring the country grinding to a halt, taking its inspiration from the 1926 General Strike.That Britain came to a standstill in 1926 is not in doubt, but back then the strike included railwaymen, iron and steel workers, dockers and transport workers. Many of those jobs, in as much as they are performed in the UK any longer, are no longer heavily unionised. This is part of a more general trend of deunionisation which has seen the Trade Union Congress lose half of the 12 million members it had in 1980.And the makeup of the general strikers of 1926 indicates another force telling against today’s unions; their work is simply far less vital to the day to day working of the British economy than it used to be.

The public sector contains workers, such as health workers and teachers, who undoubtedly do important work. But the last Labour government created 849,000 public sector jobs and it is doubtful just how many of these do anything really useful or cover their opportunity cost. In 2006, 1.2 million public sector workers staged a one day strike over pensions in what was described as the largest industrial action in the UK since the General Strike. Nobody noticed. Indeed, strikes could backfire spectacularly on the likes of Unison. If the economy continues to rumble along regardless even at its current feeble rate it could show just how easily the UK could get along without a lot of these workers. With private sector job creation roaring ahead David Cameron might well whisper ‘Bring it on’.

So next time you hear someone like Prentis or the even more ridiculous Mark Serwotka, who rants like some modern day Mick McGahey while leading the Public and Commercial Services Union, warning of industrial chaos, do what Deep Thought did: pause, then ask “And who will that inconvenience?”

This article originally appeared at ConservativeHome

Sound money is a matter of social justice

For such a pervasive term, ‘social justice’ is a notoriously tricky concept to quantify. Karl Marx’s notion of social justice was, famously, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. That of the economists of the late nineteenth century was the Marginal Productivity Theory of Distribution. Friedrich Von Hayek claimed to have spent 10 years pondering the matter only to announce that he had “failed”, writing instead that the term was “an empty formula, conventionally used to assert that a particular claim is justified without giving any reason”.

Indeed, there are probably as many opinions on what constitutes social justice as there are individuals capable of holding one. The issue is also confused by the frivolous insertion of the word ‘social’, as though that gives it more weight. It is simply a matter of justice and, personally, I would regard it as unjust for a government or central monetary authority to expropriate the wealth of the poorest members of society via the debasement of their money. Yet, around the world, that is exactly what is happening.

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Michele Bachmann 1 – Snotty school kid 0

And the winner is…

There was much tittering last month when Michele Bachmann, the unapologetically conservative Congresswoman from Minnesota, was challenged to a public debate by Amy Myers a 16 year old schoolgirl from New Jersey.

Ms Myers was angered by comments Bachmann had made criticising public education in the United States. “I have found quite a few of your statements regarding The Constitution of the United States, the quality of public school education and general U.S. civics matters to be factually incorrect, inaccurately applied or grossly distorted” she wrote.

No doubt so precocious a child as Ms Myers will have spent today digesting a report in the Wall Street Journal today that concluded, well, that Michele Bachmann was right and she was wrong.

Reporting the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress the Journal said “Only 20% of U.S. fourth-graders and 17% of eighth-graders who took the 2010 history exam were ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced,’ unchanged since the test was last administered in 2006” and that “The news was even more dire in high school, where 12% of 12th-graders were proficient”, also unchanged since 2006. This covers the teaching of just the sort of “general U.S. civics matters” which Ms Myers sought to defend.

Ms Myers complained that Bachmann’s statements “help to serve an injustice to not only the position of Congresswoman, but women everywhere.” If she is really looking for opposition to the female cause perhaps she should be looking not at Minnesota but at Pennsylvania whose Senator Arlen Specter recently told Bachmann to “act like a lady” in a live debate. Imagine the fury there would be if John McCain said that to Hillary Clinton and marvel again at the moral mayhem of the left.