Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Work experience at Britain's Foreign Office? Not if you’re a middle class white male

William Hague was last night plunged into a row over new ­Foreign Office rules which ban white males from gaining work experience at his department. The Foreign Secretary was challenged to explain why his ­official work placement schemes specifically ban white, middle-class males from applying for the £367-a-week positions.

Under the tightly-drawn rules, only women, people from ethnic ­minorities and the ­disabled are ­entitled to apply for a chance to work at one of the great offices of state.

The placements give students a head start in the battle to win ­coveted jobs in the diplomatic service and possibly rise through the ranks to become an ambassador.Only one category of non-minority male applicants stand a chance – those whose families are poor enough to entitle them to qualify for a full student maintenance grant.

The bizarre ‘middle-class male’ ban came to light after Tory MP Dominic Raab was contacted by an irate ­constituent who tried to obtain work experience at the department.

Esher MP Mr Raab, an ­international lawyer who worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for six years, said last night: ‘I am raising this issue on behalf of a ­disappointed constituent barred from even applying for Foreign Office work experience because he did not fit the social quota criteria.

‘We surely need to scale back the unfair political correctness of the last Government. But we will not end discrimination in our society by introducing it through the back door, which is what positive discrimination like this does.’ Mr Raab has now written to Mr Hague asking him to intervene and review the work placement rules.

The Foreign Office, which employs 20,000 staff in the UK and around the world, operates three work ­placement schemes:

* A summer development programme open to ‘talented individuals’ from black or ethnic minority backgrounds;

* A summer placement scheme for ‘talented students’ with a registered disability; and

* A university placement scheme open to female students, students from an ethnic minority background and students who come from a household with an income of £25,000 or lower.

Westminster sources last night said the programmes came about after Robin Cook, the former Labour Foreign Secretary, arrived at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s headquarters in Whitehall and was horrified to see so many former public schoolboys working there.

Last night, the FCO insisted the schemes were legal and were designed to appeal to students who might not normally consider a career in the FCO. A spokeswoman said: ‘This includes students from an ethnic minority background and those with a disability, as well as ­students who are in receipt of a full maintenance grant.’

The spokeswoman added: ‘People from these backgrounds are currently under-represented in the FCO. 'We believe that by having a more diverse and multicultural workforce the FCO is better able to represent British interests around the world.’

There was ‘absolutely no discrimination’ in the department’s normal job recruitment process, she insisted. But in a later statement, the FCO said the work experience schemes would now ‘be placed under review’.


How the value (but not the cost) of publicly-provided British services plummeted under Labour rule

The value for money given by public services collapsed in Labour’s final years in power. The more taxpayers’ money was thrown at the Health Service, schools, local government and social services, the less efficient they became, according to official figures yesterday.

The first estimates for how the public sector performed in 2008 showed that productivity in the the most costly public services went down as Gordon Brown pumped more money in.

During 2008, they showed, spending on public services went up by 2.8 per cent but output rose by only 1.9 per cent. The figures mean there was a 0.9 per cent fall in value for money from public services. The decline in efficiency was three times faster in 2008 than the average productivity drop during Labour’s years in power.

Calculations made by the Office for National Statistics showed that overall, the value for money given by the public sector dropped by 3.3 per cent between 1997 and 2008. The decline in efficiency came as public spending almost doubled from £318 billion a year to £621 billion last year.

The dismal performance of the public sector compares with a clear record of growing efficiency in private business and industry.

Although ONS officials warned yesterday that strict comparisons are hard to make, their own analysis suggests that productivity in market-sector enterprises rose at more than 1 per cent year from 2001 to 2007. Some independent estimates show that private-sector productivity went up by more than 25 per cent during Labour’s years in power.

The comparisons cast an alarming light on the scale of public sector spending, and in particular salaries. Pay for public sector workers has for several years been rising much faster than for their counterparts in private industry.

In particular public sector managers have been paying themselves spiralling salaries, claiming this is justified by their record of achievement.

Hundreds of officials in the NHS, local councils and the education system now earn more than £200,000 a year and local government managers’ pay has, according to Whitehall estimates, been rising at double the rate of managers’ pay in the private sector.

Yesterday’s productivity assessment brought fresh condemnation from experts. Ruth Lea, economist for the Arbuthnot Banking Group, said: ‘We know that money was thrown at the public services after 2000 without the necessary reforms that should have taken place.

‘These figures are confirmation of what we have known for some time. There has been a lot of money very badly spent in the public sector. ‘It has been wasted and this must be laid at the feet of the Labour government. The challenge for the Coalition is to reverse the decline.’

ONS analyst Katherine Mills said: ‘The public sector is responsible for a fifth of UK output. Everyone is a potential user of public services and has a legitimate concern over how they are provided.’


The “Internet Kill Switch” works both ways

Organizations that censor others can themselves be attacked and disabled

In a recent column (“Homeland Security Mission Creep: ‘Intellectual Propety Crime’“), I wrote that file-sharing had apparently become the latest “terrorist threat” targeted by the national security state. Against this background, the immediatelty following shutdown of 73,000 blogs using the blogetery Wordpress platform hosted by Burstnet is especially alarming. Burstnet announced that, in compliance with an urgent and extraordinary request by “law enforcement officials,” it was shutting down blogetery. Their motivation is suggested by the tens of thousands of hits if you Google the blogetery site for “rapidshare” and “megaupload.”

Maybe this is what Holy Handwringing Joe Lieberman meant by an Internet “kill switch” to protect against “terrorism.”

This is just the latest example of a growing phenomenon: businesses treating their own customers as criminal suspects, while serving “the Authorities” as their primary actual clientele. That’s why your bank informs the Feds of large money transactions, Home Depot reports purchases of chemicals used in meth labs, and the drug store keeps track of the amount of Sudafed you buy.

The first question that comes to mind is: Who pays Burstnet’s bills — “the Authorities” or the customers?

A friend at work recently had a relevant experience with her broadband ISP, Cox Communications. Apparently her grandkids had downloaded a movie from some torrent site and Disney had leaned on Cox (with Cox presumably rolling over and giving them customer records without due process). The lady at the cable office called her up and began warning her “You need to monitor your grandkids more closely,” and assorted other things she “needed to do.” Normally I’d expect that kind of condescending lecture from someone who was paying ME money, not the other way around.

If you haven’t had your daily dose of irony, Secretary of State Clinton recently warned other countries against the dangers of imposing burdens on civil society: “progress in the 21st century depends on the ability of individuals to coalesce around shared goals, and harness the power of their convictions. But when governments crack down on the right of citizens to work together, as they have throughout history, societies fall into stagnation and decay.”

Clinton added that “Democracies don’t fear their own people.” I imagine the guy in the Guy Fawkes mask would get a big laugh out of that. For a government that doesn’t fear its own people, the U.S. “democracy” spends an awful lot of time obsessing over whether we’re ingesting prohibited substances into our own bodies, downloading songs, and other “terroristic” activities that it’s made its business. Talk about paranoia! “Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they have imagined to do.”

The shutdown of file-sharing sites will probably backfire, I’m afraid. Such authoritarian actions by the Copyright Nazis and their government spear-carriers will, I fear, lead to an outcome that should alarm all good citizens. Sadly, denial-of-service attacks against the websites of various government agencies, the RIAA and MPAA, have become increasingly frequent in recent years. If you’re the kind of juvenile person who takes misguided pleasure in seeing bad things happen to some of the most wicked people in the world, just Google “DOS+attack RIAA+website.” Shocking.

At one time the cat and mouse game between hackers and the RIAA got so intense that for a while the RIAA was constantly shifting its site around between low-profile servers, to protect itself from hackers (kind of like Saddam randomly sleeping in a different palace every night as an anti-assassination precaution).

The latest such incident was “Operation T*tstorm,” a distributed DOS attack by the hacker group “Anonymous” on the sites of the Australian Parliament and Ministry of Communications in retaliation for increased censorship of porn websites.

Thank God these poor misguided anti-social saps have mitigated the potential harm by focusing up till now on the public websites of organizations they hate, instead of on the intranets [internal communications] on which their actual functioning as organizations depends. I greatly fear that someday soon some utterly reprehensible sociopath will manage to do this, and when someone like Mitch Bainwol shows up at work and logs on to check his email, he’ll see nothing but a blank screen.


Minnesota government mistreats ladies

Recently the Minnesota Department of Human Rights — a funny title in itself — declared that the practice of "ladies' night" was illegal gender discrimination. Apparently, five establishments in the Twin Cities area were denying men "full and equal enjoyment" of their services because they charged women lower cover and drink prices.

Besides the unjust (and absurd) violation of private-property rights, the Minnesota government's harassment of businesses will end up hurting female and male customers. The practice of price discrimination — charging different customers different prices even for the "same" good or service — is economically beneficial.

Price Discrimination Is Common

Businesses discriminate against customers all the time, charging some of them higher prices than others. For example, food items will often have corresponding coupons, provided either by the grocery store itself or by the manufacturer. In addition, many grocery stores now have special membership clubs, where a shopper has to fill out a form to obtain a card or a tab to put on a key ring. Even though they are buying the same goods as other shoppers, those who have coupons or are members of the club will be charged lower prices on particular items.

An even more "discriminatory" practice occurs at the movie theater. There, people are charged different prices for "the same" ticket depending on their age, and whether or not the customer is a student. Specifically, senior citizens, young children, and students receive discount prices, while middle-aged persons with full-time jobs have to pay full freight.

So we see that price discrimination is ubiquitous. The only thing rare about the practice of ladies' night is that the discrimination is based on the sex of the customer, as opposed to the customer's age or the possession of a coupon.

Price Discrimination Is Efficient

In Austrian economics, any voluntary exchange between consenting parties is "efficient," in the sense that both parties expect to benefit from the trade. (That's why they agree to it!) However, even in the broader sense of mainstream economics, price discrimination can promote economic efficiency. In other words, even mainstream economists recognize the role that price discrimination can play in allowing producers and consumers to exploit potential gains from trade.

Think of it like this: Suppose the government cracks down on movie theaters that charge different prices based on age and educational status. This action would clearly make the owners of the movie theaters worse off. After all, they had the option of charging a uniform price beforehand, and yet they chose to make their prices vary according to the identity of the customer. Therefore, the movie-theater owners are obviously hurt by the crackdown on price discrimination.

In the new equilibrium, the theaters would charge a price somewhere in between the original range. For example, if the theaters originally charged $8 full price, $5 for senior citizens and students, and $4 for children, then perhaps in the new equilibrium the theaters would charge everyone $6.

In this case, not just the theater owners but also a large portion of their customers would obviously be hurt by the new regulation. Specifically, senior citizens, students, and families with at least two young children would all pay more to go to the movies than they did before. Unless they derived psychic pleasure from living in a "fairer" society, the government crackdown on movie-ticket price discrimination would hurt them....

A similar analysis applies to the Minnesota government's crackdown on "ladies' night." In the first place, the move obviously hurts bar owners and female patrons. Less obvious, the policy can make the male customers worse off, because the bars might respond by hiring fewer wait staff, spending less on bringing in quality musicians, cutting costs by carrying a smaller selection of beers, and so forth. In other words, even though the narrow price of "entry into the bar" and "price of a beer" might go down for the male customers, the quality of those goods might be so reduced that the men prefer the original situation with "unfair" pricing.

Beyond these subtleties, there are two obvious reasons that men benefit from the existence of ladies' night: First, if the government forces bars to charge women full price for drinks, it will often be men paying for them. Second, the whole point of ladies' night is to fill a bar with women, so that men want to go to the bar (and buy drinks at full price). That's the reason it's profitable for a bar owner to have ladies' night.

So while it's true that a few men may applaud the Minnesota government's actions (as a few comments on the internet discussion boards suggest), in general most men will be hurt — especially when they realize that fewer women will go out to the bar if the practice of ladies' night is rendered illegal.


Following Bastiat, Henry Hazlitt said the mark of a good economist was that he could trace out the seen and the unseen effects of a government policy. As their crackdown on ladies' night demonstrates, the bureaucrats in Minnesota's Department of Human Rights are not good economists.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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