Davos Newbies Home

O’Neill gone 

Well knock me over with a feather — Paul O’Neill has resigned as US Treasury secretary and Larry Lindsay has resigned as White House economic adviser. From almost all sides of the political spectrum, O’Neill has clearly been one of the weakest, least qualified heads of the Treasury in a long time. After the smarts of the Rubin and Summers tenures in the ’90s, O’Neill’s two years of bumbling has been a particular let down. Lindsay has inspired as much confidence as O’Neill.

According to the Financial Times, possible replacements for O’Neill include Charles Schwab and Phil Gramm.

On a parochial, web-related matter, Google News is at the moment useless for this information. Even though their page was created 12 minutes ago (16.10GMT), there is no sign of the O’Neill news. I guess it needs to percolate through a large number of their news sources.


There’s an atypically poorly reasoned editorial in today’s Economist that argues for the reinvigoration of selection in Britain’s secondary schools. No evidence is produced to justify the shift from today’s comprehensives, where admission is not based on ability. Instead, The Economist relies on the assertion that selective grammar schools provide opportunity for bright children.

The facts turn out to be quite different, as Polly Toynbee points out in The Guardian. “The education department’s own research last year found that the highest-ability children scored better in comprehensives than in grammar schools. Less surprisingly, areas with grammar schools had worse overall results, since the secondary moderns [non-selective schools] beside them did so much worse for the rest of the children.”

My children are not yet of secondary school age, but I regularly hear horror stories about the agonies parents in London face finding a school for their children. In inner London, where I live, there is insufficient provision of secondary schools, and certainly vastly insufficient provision of good secondary schools. Locally, there are signs that it is changing. But I agree with Toynbee’s belief that if everyone just had to go to their local school — none of this guff about choice — then there would be powerful pressures on the local schools to improve.

What I find sad in London is the number of middle class parents who just assume the state sector won’t be adequate for their children. So they go private without looking at the alternatives. My experience so far with the local state primary suggests they are motivated more by fear and ignorance than by reason.

Different attitudes 

Most analysts seem to think the Louisiana senate run-off election is tipping towards the Republicans. What interests me is the reasons, beyond the vast sums of money that are pouring into the bayou from GOP coffers.

President Bush and his cohorts have been pushing the line that Louisiana should want a senator on the majority side (they already have one Democrat), and that seems to be swaying some voters. This strikes me as characteristically American — let’s side with the winners. One of the oddities of the British character is support for the underdog. That’s why byelections (elections held out of the normal electoral cycle because of death or resignation) are generally seen as a chance for the opposition to spank the governing party.

I’m reasonably confident that if the Louisiana run-off were transported to a British constituency, the voters would vote for the Democrat just to show the majority holders that they can’t have everything their way. (Of course, this analysis only works when the opposition party isn’t seen as totally hopeless, as is the case with the Conservatives in Britain today.)

One thought on “Davos Newbies Home

  1. Evan Henshaw

    I don’t think things between the US and UK are as different as you imply. Normally in the US the party out of power wins seats during an mid-term election. Unless of course, the party out of power is seen as totally hopeless. The Democrats had this election in their hands and they lost it. The economy has gone south and they didn’t make it an issue. The Bush administration went so far as admitting it’s economic failure with the sacking of O’Neill.

    It’s interesting that in Germany, the UK, and Canada the Conservative parties are falling apart, while in the US it’s the Democrats who are in trouble. Of course the other story about the mid-term elections it that the Green Party didn’t make much of a dent. In California and a few other states they polled above 5%, but they failed to win a single state senate/assembly seat.


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