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Lies, damn lies and ‘voluntary agreements’

Imagine you are walking down the street and a man in a suit walks up to you holding a large cudgel…

“Excuse me,” he says, “I have seen you walk down this street on a daily basis wearing a tee-shirt and in future I would like you to wear a suit and tie to raise the tone of the neighbourhood.”

“Er, no,” you reply, “I am happy dressed the way I am.”

“I see,” the man replies, “well I would rather not have to threaten to hit you with this cudgel if you do not do what I say so I want you to voluntarily agree to wear a suit and tie.”

“But you are threatening to hit me with that cudgel!” you point out.

“No,” he says, “I will only threaten to hit you with this cudgel if you don’t do what I want voluntarily.”

This statement of the bleedin’ obvious by me was brought on this sadly typical piece of ‘press release’ style journalism:

The three voluntary “responsibility deals” agreed with the food industry are aimed at helping the public to eat more healthily, in a drive to tackle the growing problem of obesity among both adults and children. Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, believes that firms will be more likely to set ambitious targets for themselves if they are negotiated on a voluntary basis. Rather than a “nanny state” approach, he is keen to arm the public with the tools they need to cope in an “obesogenic environment,” where people are bombarded with adverts for unhealthy food.

If firms break their promises, the Government will however consider taking compulsory measures.

So rather than writing an article that explains the dynamic of what is going on here, Rosa Prince in effect just delivers a government press release complete with the approved spin… ‘voluntary’… ‘not nanny state’…

Why exactly does The Telegraph need to have a ‘political correspondent’ at all rather than just republishing whatever the government wishes? What value is Rosa Prince actually adding here? The fact that these food industry groups agreed to do something under threat of compulsory measures means that this clearly is a prime example of the ‘Nanny State’ in action… and moreover if there is an explicit threat of legal coercion, how is this in any meaningful sense ‘voluntary’?

53 comments to Lies, damn lies and ‘voluntary agreements’

  • Enoch Powell coined the phrase “The Rule Of The Threat Of Law” to describe this practise by governments. It has a long perigee, and is the classic mode of Anglo-socialism. For instance, as regards my own obsession with censorship, the BBFC was set up by the industry to avoid the threat of state censorship lolz.

    Then the government can say, “See? We are not like nasty foreign tyrannies, we do not have State censorship (or what have you). It is all voluntary.”

    And, new word for the proggie lexicon: “Obesogenic”!

    First they came for the smokers, and I did nothing because…

  • Also, from the article, we have “a source” proudly declaring-

    The Health Secretary also wants businesses to agree “once and for all” to remove artificial trans-fats from all products, in order to reduce the type of cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease.

    A source said: “This is just the beginning, we have ambitious plans to do much more and hope that other companies will also get involved.”

    I bet they have.

  • Ray

    What will it take for us to stand up and say “get your fucking tanks off my lawn”?

  • Gordon

    “artificial trans-fats”? I thought that butter rather than margarine was the enemy. Am I behind the times?

  • Laird

    Governments have a different definition of “voluntary” than do we mortals. To them, “voluntary” is code for “we don’t have the legal authority to make you do this, but if you don’t we’ll get that authority and then it will be even worse for you.” It is extra-legal coercion.

    In the US, the IRS claims that its mission is to “enforce voluntary compliance” with the tax laws. Right.

  • Kevin B

    Bloody Obesophobics! It’s ‘cos I’m fat innit?

  • “artificial trans-fats”? I thought that butter rather than margarine was the enemy. Am I behind the times?

    I’m afraid so, the “scientific” advice changes so often a reasonable person could even come to the conclusion they are just making it all up. All of which gives me an excuse to link to a quote from one of my favourite films.

  • tarpon

    It’s almost as if the governments of western Democracies are trying to tell people to eat less, so when the food shortages come due to the cold killing crops worldwide, there will be more food for others.

    And why not just tell people of the solar downturn and cold? Well that would spoil the global warming hoax, wouldn’t it?

  • jamess

    The practice is actually much worse than having a law telling us what we can and can’t do. At least with a law, we know what the deal is. This way we’re forced to second guess what we ought to do with an unknown penalty facing us if we go against the unknown law.

    Shame that the Telegraph can’t even see it.

  • Stonyground

    A work colleague has recently had the health nazis visiting his kid’s school, doing height and weight comparisons on the kids. He has had a letter stating that his six year old daughter is clinically obese. If you saw her you would say that she was of a slightly stocky build but you would not say that she was fat or even overweight. I am left wondering if these people are given a quota of fat kids that they have to find so that the stats can be used by the government to justify more health facism.

  • There are really two basic theories as to why the Enemy do the things they do. The first is that they are cynical parasites, who knowingly conjure every campaign as an excuse to make money, etc.

    The second is that they really believe in what they do; that is, that they are mad. I favour this second theory.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Why exactly does The Telegraph need to have a ‘political correspondent’ at all rather than just republishing whatever the government wishes?

    Perry, just remember this: journalists are professionals, and professionals don’t make fusses.

  • I don’t think that the two kinds are mutually exclusive, Ian.

  • Alisa:

    True, but I think our Enemy are more the second than the first.

  • And here’s some more.

    Consumers will be told to eat no more than 500g (1.1lb) of red or processed meat each week, or 70g (2.5oz) a day, under recommendations to be issued by the Coalition this week.

    To declare an interest: my daily red/processed meat intake is about 400g a day.

  • But red meat is fine Ian, but maybe only if you read the Daily Mail rather than the Telegraph….

  • Mmm, cow…

    Ian: actually what happens most frequently in my experience is that people do the things they do for material and other gain, while at the same time convincing themselves that they actually believe in those things, and consequently growing to actually believe in them (through all kinds of rationalizations). I guess where you and I agree is that the truly cynical ones always remain a minority (I happen to prefer dealing with those).

  • “artificial trans-fats”? I thought that butter rather than margarine was the enemy. Am I behind the times?

    You are, Gordon: butter happens to be much less harmful than margarine. It tastes better too – but you already knew that. And, just to wind up NickM if he’s around: organic butter is best for you:-)

  • Paul Marks

    I keep trying to explain to Americans that Cameron is not the good guy they have been told he is.

    High speed trains – regardless of the cost and regardles of the land stolen to build the lines.

    Remind you of anyone?

    And, now, demands that the food industry (production – and retail – restaurants) has to put how many calories there is in a meal – as if people were so stupid they did not know that a big meal makes them fat.

    It is Cas Susteen “Nudge” stuff – indeed Mr Cameron gave out copies of the freaking book for all ministers to read.

    “But that was know-your-enemy stuff Paul” – NO IT WAS NOT.

    He even had people over from the Obama 2008 campaign to help in the 2010 election campaign

    “But they would have been apolitical professionals Paul”.

    Barack does not hire that sort of person (if a truly “apolitical” person even exists) for his election campaigns – he works with believers.

    And the people who came over here were Progressives to the core.

    David Cameron is not a Marxist (nor is he some early 1900s Fabian Socialist giving little talks about how tens of millions of people should be gassed – oh yes, H.G. Wells and G.B. Shaw, and so on, did just this) – but he is an Oxford PPE type.

    Establishment Progressive.

  • “But that was know-your-enemy stuff Paul” – NO IT WAS NOT.

    Has anyone actually tried to claim that that that was why he handed that evil book out to his “team”, Paul? I certainly took it as a giant red flag regarding Cameron’s true nature as, as you say, “Oxford PPE type Establishment Progressive”. But I know there were some people trying to delude themselves that he was going to be sort of a bit libertarian-ish.

    Waffling on, I think the biggest red flag was the direct denunciation of Thatcher with “there is such a thing as society”. A statement directly calculated to break any link with Conservatism’s classical liberal element. Nobody with so much as an atom of liberalism in their body would have so blatantly accepted the Left’s deliberate misinterpretation of that phrase.

  • RAB

    This is the same trick as the lightbulbs isn’t it?

    There is no law, as far as I know, banning the old lightbulbs, but they are being phased out because Govt has had a quiet word with the manufacturers. Basically along the lines of… ” You stop making the old ones then you can make the new ones, which are half as efficient but three times the price. We won’t sue you for price gouging cos it’s the new Green policy we are mad keen on. Waddia say?”

    Well they’d be nucking futz to say no wouldn’t they?

    But in this case, what happens when a local sandwich bar or kebab shop sells its wares without this pointless calorie information on them, simply because they don’t know, and can’t afford to find out? Do they get a visit from the Local health inspectors tutt tutting, and implying they may find all kinds of other already legislated breaches of health an hygene regulations if they don’t get their food analysed by someone they recommend at a cost of hundreds of pounds?

    Burger King can afford to get their stuff calorised, but the little people can’t. It is pure evil and nanny statism writ large folks, and is another kick in the teeth to small business.

    If I was a little owner operator of a sandwich bar, kebab shop etc I’d put up a sign where the calorie count should be, reading ” Fuckin loads! enough for a week at least! Or This Burger is all the food you need for a fortnight. Why bother to cook for yourself?”

    Thing is, it isn’t going to make the slightest difference to people being overweight now is it?

  • but he is an Oxford PPE type.

    This is nothing more than unsightly personal prejudice. There are libertarians who are “Oxford PPE types”… one of them writes for this blog.

  • Considering that PPE is universally acknowledged to be nothing but an introductions agency for the oligarchy, your complaint is a trifle thin, Perry. It was openly and deliberately invented to replace the previous useless oligarchs’ degree, Classics, which ensured that civil servants and colonial adminstrators were selected purely on the basis of being able to declaim that tiresome boast, “Oh, you must read it in the original Greek…”

    Personal prejudice? Against our parasitic overlords? Guilty as charged!

  • Considering that PPE is universally acknowledged…

    Do you think libertarians who have PPE degrees share your view? No, and so therefore it is not “universally acknowledged”. The notion there is a causal link between being a “parasitic overlord” and having done PPE at Oxford is childish, to put it mildly, as indeed is your attempt to defend an indefensible view. Frankly I suspect such an attitude induces more than a few readers to assign a mental “ignore” tag to your views, which is a pity.

    So please, just stop digging.

  • Derek Buxton

    The edicts coming from Whitehall are becoming predictable, all alarmist twaddle. My main worry is that the supermarkets are pimping for the stupid, corrupt government. Probably to get favourable planning decisions and increase their prices without any complaints from our rich elite.

  • Perry, the PPE degree was as I said deliberately created as a boost into the State, as a more modern replacement for Classics, the old State apparatchik degree. You seem to be the one doing the digging here.

    It’s basically a degree in schmoozing. Anyone who studies PPE at Oxford and doesn’t get into the apparat has blown it. Another way to put it is it’s a degree for thick people with a profound sense of entitlement. E.g. Cameron, Balls, the Milibands, etc.

    Anyway, here’s a list of notable Oxford PPEs. I think it proves my point far better than my admittedly limited debating and rhetorical skills. I cannot help that insufficiency. I didn’t spend three years wanking around Oxford.

  • In short, your views are nothing more than worthless snobbery and never mind the fact that there are flawless libertarians who have done PPE at Oxford. Get lost. Really. You are just making yourself look like an ass.

  • It’s not snobbery at all Perry. It is the observation that our Enemy have a certain nature. The career path of the modern political class is not my invention.

    Suppose we were looking at the oligarchy a hundred years ago. We might very reasonably observe a commonality of public school education- the “Old Boys Network”. That is not a reversible observation. One cannot claim that everyone who went to public school became an oligarch. But one could note that the vast majority- if not all- of the oligarchs of that period had been to particular public schools.

    And one would further note- quite reasonably- that the fundamental reason for attending public school was to be embedded in that particular social stratum.

    Nowadays, that linkage is weaker, but far from extinct. It is now relatively easy to rise from dustman’s son to the oligarchy. But you’re going to have to go through certain filters to get there, and one of them is well recognised as PPE. Law is the main alternative. That’s not snobbery, it’s just a fact.

    A person can do PPE at Oxford and become a libertarian just as a person can go to Eton and end up a dustman. In either case, that final outcome is not what such an education is intended for.

  • bobby b

    A neighbor has an absolutely beautiful Dodge Viper, which I covet. Absent a system of laws designed to deter or punish antisocial and harmful behavior through the ultimate threat of my arrest and imprisonment, I might give in to that yearning and appropriate that Viper for my own purposes.

    But, not wishing to be arrested – possibly at gunpoint, which carries its own set of dangers – and then jailed, tried, convicted, and sent to live for decades in a large concrete box full of violent, smelly men who want to call me Betty in the shower – I’ve exercised my self-control by NOT taking that Viper for myself.

    I have voluntarily acted non-criminally – I made a knowing, rational decision to stay out of prison in all circumstances at some point in the past, and my decision to leave the Viper alone is merely my most recent affirmation of that decision.

    Unless you are being physically dragged across the ground to the police car or to jail, then, every action you take must be termed “voluntary.” To a liberal, my walk to the gallows is, thus, voluntary.

    More and more, these liberal True Believers sound like some caricatured apparatchik from Solzhenitsyn or Rand. Both Ivy Starnes and Comrade Sonia could very believably tell a reporter about how we’re all voluntarily working together to vanquish obesity through performing the tasks she had assigned to each of us.

  • Perry de Havilland wrote:

    Frankly I suspect such an attitude induces more than a few readers to assign a mental “ignore” tag to your views, which is a pity.

    Were you directing this solely at Ian B, whom you quoted in the comment from which I took your words above, or also at Paul Marks (insert pointless boring parenthetical comment here) who was the one to bring up the PPEs?

    I can confirm that your comments about the mental “ignore” tag are accurate, because I have the incredibly tedious Paul Marks on mental ignore.

  • I’m increasingly fascinated by a view that people hold different political, moral etc opinions due to different ways of conceptualising the world. Each of us hold different conceptual models in our brains; in fact, we are different conceptual models. Particular words always mean slughtly different things to every individual, and are only useful at all because we can find some degree of consensus.

    The Enemy have very different concepts for the same words we use. Another use of the word “voluntary” for instance is as a description of a class of activities, whereas we tend to use it to mean intentionality. When we use the word “volunteer”, we mean it to mean something like “to choose to undertake an act, free of coercion”. When they use it, they mean “to work without pay” (with a general assumption that the works is “socially beneficial”).

    So, in the Enemy mind, if they ordered everybody, under threat of punishment, to spend every Saturday morning collecting litter in the streets and parks, that would be “voluntary work”.

    As I said, everyone’s conceptual framework is different. But the current struggle does divide rather neatly into two distinct and incompatible general conceptual models of reality.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Back on the subject at hand (sigh), I noticed that about 15 or so years ago, roughly coinciding with the sort of nanny statist obsessions with diet, etc, that TV chefts began to start adding little homilies on these matters with their performances. (Not all did this, of course; the lovely Nigella Lawson seems deliberately to put gloriously fattening things into her foods). But whether it is motor-mouth Jamie Oliver and his spiel about eating food “in season”; or Rick Stein and his “organic” this and “natural” that, or the rest, the overall trend is unmistakable. Of course, you can turn the TV off and do some actuall real cooking instead, such as by opening an Elizabeth David cookbook.

    IanB: correlation is not causation. The fact that a lot of “nudgemeister” old Etonians are paternalists does not mean there is something sinister about PPEs, or whatever. (I know probabaly 10 or more libertarians who did PPE at Oxford). Remember, that in the heyday of the Butsgellite Welfare State era in the 50s, 60s and 70s, we had – still – grammar schools. Should we blame our current ills on the 11-plus? You really do allow your own class hatreds to intrude too much, however hard you protest that this is not what is going on, old chap.

  • I’m not protesting anything, Johnathan. My class hatred, as you well know, is profound and consuming. It is the very heart of my desire for a libertarian world.

    It’s a matter though not of “upper” and “lower” class. Better terms would be the “inner” and “outer” classes. The inner class are those who rule, and the outer class are those who are ruled. The outer class may be rich or, more likely, poor. They may have the finest manners, or the greatest vulgarity. What binds them is the nature of being ruled, not their economic status or social mores.

    If you do not oppose those who rule, you do not oppose statism and cannot be meaningfully a libertarian. If on the other hand you oppose those who rule and- preferably- despise them utterly, then you must analyse them and learn how they may be destroyed. Who are they? What do they want? What are they going to do? And, how did they get there?

    I respect the fact that my own life experience is very different to that of other people here. Many will have participated in and perhaps benefited from institutional structures which are part of the oppressive state machinery, particularly in the educational system. If they feel offended by criticisms of that machinery in which they have participated, then I am sorry, but not very much. There is little room for such sentimentality when the situation is so severe.

    The university system is, and always has been, a feeder for the Inner Class. That is not just true of Britain. The “Ivy League” functions similarly in the USA. It is a nest of our enemy. And the PPE degree is recognised (even by Wikipedia!) as central to that. Do you remember that episode of Yes, Minister, when Hacker asked his aides what degrees they had[1], and they were all Classics (the joke was that Hacker had been to the LSE and not Oxbridge)?. The funnelling of Inner Class parasites through these institutional systems is hardly a secret.

    PPE is not unique. The university system is full of bluffers’ degrees- Political Science, Sociology, Anything ending in “Studies”, and so on. But they primarily feed the second tier of the Inner Class, whereas Oxford PPEs- along with the Law Guild, of course- feeds the first tier. Such mechanisms deserve our scrutiny and condemnation. The education system itself is a pure expression our statism- based on Prussian ideas of education as a means of filtering youngsters for state approved roles in life- and dismantling it will be central and vital to any serious Libertarian reaction.

    The PPE degree is entirely sinister. The university system, and the education system beneath it are primarily sinister. We live in a sinister political and social structure, designed by sinister people, for sinister ends. There is no shame in hating that which is evil. That some proportion of PPE graduates do not go on to participate directly in the evil of the State no more disproves the general observation than finding a few good eggs in your local Communist party would exhonerate Communism.

    [1] IIRC, there was a dispute over a “metadioxin” plant, and it transpired that neither Hacker nor any of his civil servants had any scientific knowledge or understanding of Chemistry; but Bernard was able to give a rambling disertation on the meaning of “meta-” in Ancient Greek, a fabulous riff on the utterly uneducated state of the highly educated Inner Class.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I usually find that class hatred tends not to sit very well with a libertarian outlook, although identifiying certain common patterns, as happens with Sumner’s formulation of “The Forgotten Man”, can be quite useful. Grouping whole swathes of the population as an “enemy”, or whatever, seems to be the opposite of the methodological individualist approach.

    And are you seriously, I mean seriously, arguing that we should get rid of higher education, which your comment implies? If we had privately funded unis, rather than the present system, then they would award degrees or whatever, including quite possibly those sort of arts degrees, such as PPE, that you hilariously call “sinister”.

    Anyway, let’s respect this thread, which is not about what subjects folk study in university, but about the nanny state.

  • Ian. You are coming across as a nutter to people theoretically ‘on your side’ and you are seemingly oblivious to the fact.

    Moreover you are coming across as a rude prat. As I have stated several times now, a contributor to Samizdata is a PPE Oxford person and yet you simply will not gracefully shut up up when it is pointed out that your remarks are simply off the mark and are in fact juvenile class war bullshit generalisations.

    Stop digging or piss off, I don’t care which.

  • I usually find that class hatred tends not to sit very well with a libertarian outlook

    As I said Johnathan, or implied anyway, whether you recognise it explicitly in class terms or not, Libertarianism inherently is a class war. It is by its nature a struggle between us “out here” and Them “in there”. I made it quite plain that I was not defining “class” in traditional terms e.g. as marxists do, but in terms of rulers vs. ruled. A class is by any meaningful definition a group with a common interest and value system.

    You can be more precise and say that a class should reproduce itself biologically. In that case, consider that well known “extremist”, the always excellent Professor Stephen Davies identifies the current ruling class as biologically reproducing itself and thus, to a historian like hmself, is a proper “class”. I am happy with such esteemed company.

    Grouping whole swathes of the population as an “enemy”, or whatever, seems to be the opposite of the methodological individualist approach.

    Well, I’m a libertarian. I’m not supposed to attack statists and statist structures? Why is that? How does a “methodical individualist” analyse society without studying groups, exactly? Why is it wrong to call these people the Enemy? What would you call them?

    And are you seriously, I mean seriously, arguing that we should get rid of higher education, which your comment implies?

    Absolutely. Along with the rest of the current education system. I’ve made this quite plain in the past.

    If we had privately funded unis, rather than the present system, then they would award degrees or whatever, including quite possibly those sort of arts degrees, such as PPE, that you hilariously call “sinister”.

    It’s doubtful that in a true free market anything resembling the current factory schooling system would survive, and neither would the mediaeval university system survive without a state-managed social hierarchy for it to feed. We would likely see much less demand, if any, for “degrees” as golden tickets, and instead the development of various specialised institutes for sciences, trades, humanities and so on. That, in tandem with much more self and informal learning. The demand for PPE, political science et al would one expects collapse to a number approximating “zero”.

    Anyway, let’s respect this thread, which is not about what subjects folk study in university, but about the nanny state.

    I would argue that the nanny state, or the Big State, is almost entirely a product of the education system that was imposed in the nineteenth century. Once you turn children into prisoners and dependents, they will demand a state that treats them similarly when they grow up. Nothing could be more important to our cause than smashing the education system and replacing it with actual education in a free, and market, society.

    Perry began this with his strange reaction to Paul’s quite inoffensive comment about “Oxford PPE type”. Whether Perry is the “writer” with said diploma I don’t know, but it’s a remarkable reaction.

    Here’s Dr. John Brignell at Numberwatch– saying something similar-

    So hamburgers kill twenty times as many people as road vehicles. Ordinary people with no scientific expertise are openly laughing at the extravagance of the latest claim, but they do not matter: it is aimed at the ruling class of Oxford PPE graduates, who are much more credulous.


    The spurious precision is only there to empress the ignorant and ill-educated, such as PPE graduates from Oxford .

    Maybe I’m a nutter but, as I said, it puts me in admirable company.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Well that fell on deaf ears!

    I doubt whether, even in a free market, demand for certain types of degrees that you hate would fall to zero (although the nuttier soft arts courses might do so). In fact, in a very rich society of the sort made possible by unfettered capitalism, there’d be quite a lot of this sort of thing being made available for people, either at their late teens, or later. Employers will need ways to sort out candidates for certain professions.

    If we want to hack away at the nanny state, shutting down places of higher education is not the answer.

    Full disclosure: I read History. Guilty as charged of going to university.

  • I find it hard to believe Ian cannot see why I think his remark is utterly preposterous, so I must conclude he is simply engaged an unworthy effort to deny he can be wrong about anything. I will simply delete further comments by him on Samizdata.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    BTW, I see that a doctor is on the TV this morning banging on about the need for state bans on alcohol ads, minimum pricing, and “culture change” (how?) to stamp out the booze menace. Totally one-sided: no other opinion is aired, and probably, none sought.

    The problem, unfortunately, is that such health meddlers will argue – with some evidence – of the “negative externalities” caused by say, obese people using up healthcare, or very drunk people getting violent, or suffering liver failures, etc. But the problem is that such externalities are handled via socialised medicine, not private medical care. If we want people to act like adults, we need adults to take fuller responsibility for their health, not to nanny them and keep them in permanent childhood.

  • will

    “Employers will need ways to sort out candidates for certain professions”

    what profession is going to require PPE?

    why are so many ‘libertarians’ ready to rip apart state subsidy, privilege and protectionism across industry, education and healthcare but when it comes to higher education suddenly become much more conservative? if the little people didnt fund my degree who would fill the internet with high-brow libertarian waffle?

    without the well worn vocational route from PPE into the apparatus of the state why would anyone spend the vast sums necessary to fund the total cost of such antiquated ‘education’?
    please feel free to let rip with the reliable ‘libertarian’ elitist riposte of questioning my education and general accusations of class envy.

    this old fart mindset is holding you back. like the libertarian alliance samizdata will fall by the wayside into irrelevance if it continues to exhibit such entrenched conservatism. only ever libertarian as long as it matches your self interest and you wonder why youre irrelevant.

    how many dissenters have you got on the commenting blacklist?

  • I will continue to show people the door who are wilfully acting like jackasses on Samizdata “Will” (yeah right). You are only a ‘dissenter’ in the sense a obnoxious drunk at a party is a ‘dissenter’, tearfully complaining on the cold side walk about how his right of ‘free speech’ (on someone else’s property) have been cruelly trampled when he get kicked out the front door for being a boorish nuisance.

    You fail to understand a great many things… education is only about “what professions require what” if that is what you wish to be educated for. Some people take the view that specialisation is for insects and in libertopia people will take courses that do not meet with your approval much as they do now.

    why are so many ‘libertarians’ ready to rip apart state subsidy, privilege and protectionism across industry, education and healthcare but when it comes to higher education suddenly become much more conservative? if the little people didnt fund my degree who would fill the internet with high-brow libertarian waffle?

    You are a fraud, trotting out non-sequiteurs to hide the fact they are in an indefensible position. So a foreign woman who paid her way through Oxford with the help of some friends and who becomes a great free thinker, not some state apparatchik, somehow in your addled world her Oxford PPE degree is all wrapped up in some blather about state subsidies? Your crass generalisation about “Oxford PPE types” are worthy of some state planning committee.

  • will no really i am

    calm down perry old boy.

    i am called will. i assume you have some moderator access to this forum so you should be able to see the email address i supplied and probably my IP address also. i have commented here before. i dont know the technicalities of such things but i imagine you should be able to track my previous comments. I ususally disagree with just about everybody including IanB.
    i am no-one else in disguise and im not defending anyone else – i am probably the least able debater here. i just despair for libertarianism when the supposed leading lights cannot freely admit that any aspect of their past may not be entirely consistent with libertarian ideas. just because you attended the same course at the same institution as some big state fools doesnt mean you have to defend the preservation of such outdated government finishing schools. i got a state subsidised education (primary, secondary and tertiary) but im not so hypocritically egotistical that i will defend such an education in the face of its contravening libertarian principles. the earlier points were not about the socialised coercively funded subsidy of your chums education. i believe, if my poor under privileged mind can interpret your high flown thought correctly, that the discussion was arguing about whether cameron, as “an Oxford PPE type,” was, as the product of such a vocational conveyor belt, an “Establishment Progressive.”

    i dont think IanB can be fairly described as being a ‘boorish nuisance’ for holding this comment thread to account against libertarian principles. it is a nuisance when someone highlights an inconsistency and holds you to account. im not oxbridge material as im sure you are dying to highlight so by all means label this missive as boorish. and why not throw in some grammatical entry requirements or hold the blog in latin?

    i havent mentioned the fallacy of free speech and i fully realise that blogs and forums are as much private property as business premises should be. in the current world and in any imagined libertopia you have the right to kick out whomsoever you like. but bear in mind that like a business the more people you kick out the less customers you will have.

    how am i a fraud? what have i fraudulently claimed? if anyone is a fraud its the operator of a blog that seems to stand in opposition to big government who not only originated from the same system as those who now expand that paradigm but attempts to defend that very system.

    yes i know the pursuit of knowledge should not be crudely limited to vocational motivations. i studied politics with the complete awareness that it would be totally useless in such narrow terms (go on thats an easy shot you know you want to). i just happened to find it interesting. if this nameless PPE product you are defending was solely interested in the noble pursuit of knowledge for the sake of becoming a ‘great free thinker’ and not for impressing employers/clients for personal gain then why bother to travel to a foreign country for a hugely expensive education and qualification when such a noble pursuit can be conducted independently for free? was she motivated by selfless virtue or the promise of an impressive certificate?

    i freely admit that i fail to understand a great many things. anyone who doesnt is a fool. the implication by two of your regular commenters that an oxford PPE graduate will have received a certain conservative, establishment, progressive education is perhaps one thing that i would like to think that i can understand. either you dont understand this or you are hypocritically defending a ‘progressive’ political education that continually produces big state politicians

  • Johnathan Pearce


    Again: even in a free market with no state subsidised schooling, that some employers would, for instance, require some form of proof of mental agility, and in times past, things such as Classics were part of that, then PPE, or whatever. (This even happened long before the modern Civil Service, by the way).

    Even without the employer requirement, the liberal arts courses, embracing history, English lit, etc, have a place. The key is that these things should be provided voluntarily. Let’s see what happens, shall we?

    Of course, if we shrink the state, then demand for some kinds of degree might drop and demand for other subjects, of more use in the private sector, will increase. No objection there. But I fail to quite see the venom that is on show here. That is why I initially suspected IanB of letting his social prejudices come on show. I still think that is part of it.

    Liberal arts degrees are sometimes mocked but of course, in a free society, if people want to pay to do them, and others can supply them, they’ll be provided, and no doubt various people who prefer not to spend time in higher education will sneer. Well that’s their privilege, I guess.

    Having met dozens of very hard-core libertarians who have studied such degrees, I find the attacks of the likes of IanB to be particularly stupid, not to mention “boorish” and ample justification for his being hit over the head. After all, he did not just bring up his “insider”/”outsider” argument – at least trying to give the impression of making an reasoned argument – but he also referred to David Cameron “wanking around Oxford for three years”, which presumably gives a nice idea of what his real prejudice is about anyone who comes from a certain background and who chooses to study a particular course.

    Frankly, if there is one thing I detest more than snobbery (and we have ejected a few snobs from this blog before, BTW), it is inverted snobs. Sides of the same, stupid coin.

    Final point: liberal arts. The very term, “liberal arts” ought to remind the naysayers that there has, traditionally, been a connection with a broadly free society and and understanding of issues such as politics, philosophy, economics and history. My beef with David Cameron and much of the current political class is not that they studied these things, but they did not study them sufficiently. But many did study them well, and a lot of them are now in the free market/classical liberal movement in the UK, USA, etc.

  • And not for the first or last time we form the circular firing squad…

    I really don’t know what else to say.

    Except IanB has posted on this on CCinZ and tagged it under “Judean People’s Front”.

  • Well just because he is ‘on our side’ does not mean he is not a prick. Moreover if he cannot understand why I have kicked him, he is also not as smart as he think he is… I kicked him for being a pompous ass making rude generalisation worthy of some government planning committee, not for any other reason.

  • was she motivated by selfless virtue or the promise of an impressive certificate?

    She went where she deemed she could get the best education, which was Oxford, and paid for the privilege directly, rather than get a ‘free’ education at the barely post-communist equivalent institutions back home.

    So, wrong on all counts. Here’s your coat.

  • Given the somewhat saddening state of affairs here and on CCiZ, it’s probably not particularly tactful of me to post anything: but I will.

    It seems to me that blaming PPE degrees for statism is a bit like blaming knives for murderous stabbing.

    Best regards

  • mdc

    The whole of journalism has become a mechanism for reprinting press releases. Personally I blame laziness rather than conspiracy. And what value are they adding? None. That’s why I don’t buy newspapers. In a decade half of them will be bankrupt.

  • RAB

    Most of them are bankrupt already mdc. Are you sure you are on the right thread?

    It seems to me that blaming PPE degrees for statism is a bit like blaming knives for murderous stabbing.

    Um, nobody said that in the first place Nigel. least of all Ian B. What he said was that a PPE, especially from one University, Oxford, seems to be a fast track to becoming part of the ruling elite of this country, whatever your nominal political stripe. This, to say the least, is worrying.

    Perry, you know me well enough by now. I understand why the red mist may have descended on you. Anyone having a go at my old lady is liable to have their teeth handed to them, but as I said on CCIZ, Ian wasn’t being personal was he? He was making a general point about how we are governed, by whom we are governed, and where they get their collective ideas and networks from. The fact that Adriana has a PPE and has rejected most or even all of its indoctrination, if indoctrination it be (I would have to hear that from her about that, wouldn’t I?) is to her huge credit. She is not Ed Balls or dickhead Cameron now is she?

    So I say, let us take a deep breath, calm down and kiss and make up, because this is getting very silly isn’t it?

    Banning moronic trolls is one thing, but banning a man who has had probably more Samizdata Quotes of the Day than anyone else, is, like I said before bloody silly.

    Waddia Say?

  • RAB

    Bloody knew it! Smited again. If I could have got some money down at Ladbrokes, I could have made a million, except they wouldn’t have taken the bet!

  • Paul Marks

    mdc – it will be a lot less than a decade.

    I will stick my neck out and say that a lot of the msm will go THIS YEAR.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    RAB, the problem is that IanB was not, initially, making a cooly rational considered point. Let’s remember what he said:

    “Considering that PPE is universally acknowledged to be nothing but an introductions agency for the oligarchy, your complaint is a trifle thin, Perry. It was openly and deliberately invented to replace the previous useless oligarchs’ degree, Classics, which ensured that civil servants and colonial adminstrators were selected purely on the basis of being able to declaim that tiresome boast, “Oh, you must read it in the original Greek…”

    In other words, most people who take PPEs are just trying to get into the hated establishment, are not taking a “real” subject, and should be treated accordingly.

    But what would the class warriors of the IanB mould do if, in a privatised system with a smaller state, lots of people still took PPEs or other “useless” subjects?

  • Paul Marks

    A university education used to be understood for what it is – a nice thing to have (cultivating the mind – like spending a year in Tuscany or whatever) and so on. Not job training.

    Then, somehow, the idea that a university education was “good for the economy” (or whatever) took root (most likely as a justification for the government subsidy of mass higher education – Robbins Report and all that corrupt sillyness).

    This is bad for three reasons.

    Firstly the obvious one – the government subsidies (for example the subsidy for tuition in the United States – which has pushed tuition fees into outer space).

    Secondly it gives university graduates they idea they should be in good jobs – did not work out too well in Tunisa “I am a university graduate and the only job going is sweeping the streets – REVOLUTION!”

    Thirdly it sometimes prevents the best people for some jobs actually getting those jobs. The people who have actually worked their way up – rather than arriving in a company (or whatever) thinking they “know it all” (when they know nothing).

    “Bob – yes I know you have been with the company since you were 16 (comming in off the street, working in the mail room then…..) and you know everthing about what we do, but Peter here has just graduated from UNIVERSITY so he must take the position, and be your boss, and tell you what to do in this company he knows nothing about…..”

    Notice what subject someone studies has nothing to do with any of the above.