The Peter Principle

A note for Matthew Parris:

At the highest levels of our City and business world, it is not uncommon for chief executives to be appointed then dropped within a matter of months. The same goes for sport, as Steve McClaren can testify. Leadership is all about chemistry, and sometimes the chemistry just doesn\’t work. “It didn\’t gel,” can be an honest explanation beyond which it may be pointless to go.

Why should politics be different? After a dreadful week, following a dreadful month, crowning a disappointing season, Britain should be mulling over a very simple possibility: that the Prime Minister isn\’t up to the job. In the cliché of management consultancy, Gordon Brown is finding his new post more challenging than had been expected, and it may soon be time to draw a line, let him go, and move on.

There\’s a name for this. Called The Peter Principle, after Laurence J Peters who first enunciated it. Formally, it runs like this:

Everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence.

Nothing surprising about it, nothing odd about it. People are promoted up hierarchies because they do a good job at a lower level. But doing a good job at a lower level is no assurance that the higher level tasks will also be well undertaken. And you only find out about a person\’s level of incompetence, about their inability to undertake the higher level tasks, when they have been promoted above their level of competence.

Of course, I insist that every politician is above their level of competence: what they attempt to do in micro-managing us all is not actually achievable by any group of human beings, but that\’s another matter.

But within Parris\’ argument, is Brown above his Peter Point?

The Carbon Trust

So, this is another body that seems to be not fit for purpose:

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said in the report that the Carbon Trust’s achievement of cutting emissions by up to two million tonnes this year was commendable but was a small one in view of the scale of the challenge ahead.

Mmmmm. 2 million tonnes a year, eh?

The Carbon Trust was created in 2001 as a private company intended to accelerate the adoption of energy efficient technology and the development of a low-carbon economy. It received more than £103 million of public funds in 2006/07.

At a cost of £103 million a year. Hmmm.

So that\’s over £50 a tonne, or some $100 a tonne CO2. Estimates of the social or environmental cost of marginal CO2 emissions range from $2.50 to $85 per tonne. So we\’re spending more to curb emissions than the emissions cost us, making us poorer.

Aren\’t we lucky to have people at the heart of Government dealing with climate change for us?

Neal Lawson And Your Money


First, Labour must start to make the case that you can\’t have public services on the cheap. You can\’t outsource core function, your can\’t fragment through commercialisation and you can\’t do everything with light-touch regulation. Instead, the government must invest over the long term with well-paid and well-motivated civil servants and public service workers who are sufficient in numbers, motivated, properly managed and held to account. In part, that is the government\’s fault for not making the case for public spending, but it\’s also our fault for thinking we can pay less tax and get better services.

Getting on for £600 billion (Ta DK) isn\’t enough? Nearly 45% of everything produced in the country isn\’t enough?

Get a grip man!

Timmy Elsewhere

Rather than retype this, a cut and paste of a comment at CiF.

Err, can I try and get your argument straight here? You\’re saying that because various Europeans make good records, throw good parties, cook good food and make decent movies, we should therefore be in favour of a specific style and structure of governance? Said style and structure of governance actually having nothing whatsoever to do with food, music, parties or films?

Might I use this logic in other areas? That the US makes good movies, New Orleans has good food, certainly I\’ve been to the odd good party or two there, there\’s even been known to be the odd good record or two come out of the place. Does this then show that George Bush and the style and structure of governance in that country is somthing we should all support?

If not (and I would assume that most here would say not) then why should that logical structure apply to Europe?

Two other minor things. The accepting euros bit by The Might Boosh: you do know that was John Major\’s idea, yes? The Hard Ecu as it was called at the time? Instead of our adopting the euro, simply make it a legal currency which people could choose to use or not, as they wished, running along side the pound? Or perhaps you don\’t know that.

Oh, and Gisele? Second Guardian piece this week (Alexander Chancellor\’s being the first that I saw) which was based on, how to put this, less than adequate research:

"Gisele Bundchen\’s manager sister has denied reports the supermodel demands to be paid in Euros instead of U.S. dollars, insisting the claims are "ridiculous". The Brazilian beauty was alleged to have refused payment in American currency because the dollar is "too weak".

However her sister Patricia Bundchen, who was credited for the quotes, has denied making any such comment and claims the supermodel is simply "bemused" by the reports.

Patricia says, "It\’s a joke by some journalist, it\’s ridiculous. I never said that to any press organization. We never talk about Gisele\’s contracts, and even less so the money involved. (Gisele) is continuing to sign her contracts in dollars or euros, as she has always done. She is bemused by these reactions. This information is not true … I do not recall ever having said anything that could be interpreted in that way."  "

I agree that\’s not the most stunningly reliable source of course, perhaps someone might hire a journalist somewhere and check out which version of the story is true?

Peak Oil ! Peak Oil!

Another breathless piece telling us that we\’re all doomed, doomed I tell you!

Two things worth noting. All these calculations about peak oil seem to me (of course, I\’m willing to be corrected here) to miss something important about the geology of the whole process. We don\’t actually get all of the oil out of a reservoir. At present I think it\’s somewhere in the 25% to 30% level. That\’s up from 10% of so a few decades ago. So all the talk about us finding or not finding new reservoirs is a little off subject. There\’s a great deal more oil out there which we already know about than there is oil which we can currently extract. And we can increase the usable amount simply (perhaps not le mot juste) by continuing to improve oour extraction technology. As we have been and presumably will continue to do.

The second thing is well put by this commenter:


November 24, 2007 3:53 AM

Goody. $100 is just what we need to change consumption habits. I hope it goes higher.

As consumption habits change, and industry production costs rise, innovation will follow (more efficient transport, alternative energy) and government will limp along behind us, as is its curse in a consumer society.

Quite. Even if the peak oil crowd are correct, what is happening, the rise in prices, is exactly what we require to cure the probloem. Excellent the way that markets work, ain\’t it?

In Which Ben Goldacre Demolishes The ID Card System

A superb column from Ben Goldacre here. Go and read it all. He\’s got more details of how, for example, to make your own fingerprint (or rather, someone else\’s) here.

Quite apart from the whole civil liberties part of the database and so on, it\’s clear that it simply won\’t actually work.

In fact you might sense that the whole field of biometrics and ID is rather like medical quackery: as usual, on the one hand we have snake oil salesmen promising the earth, and on the other a bunch of humanities graduates who don’t understand technology, science or even human behaviour. Buying it. Bigging it up. Thinking it’s a magic wand.

Sam Leith and Privacy

Well, yes:

It used to be quite tricky and labour-intensive for reporters to run down photographs, workmates, friends, and school contemporaries of people in the public eye. Now you run the risk of being a front-page story simply by standing next to someone newsworthy in a Facebook photograph.

Me, I\’m going à la carte. I\’m adjusting my privacy settings, burning off my fingerprints, "tickling" Foxy Knoxy, and pulling my tinfoil stetson down low.

Anyone comes near me with a digital camera, it\’s on with the burqa.

This might have more effect if this gentleman desirous of a low profile were not a national newspaper columnist who has, in the couse of writing such things, told us that  he\’s a heterosexual, smoking, cat owning, computer game playing, scruffy, cardigan wearing (and that\’s just what I can remember off the top of my head) 33 year old.

Robert Pickton

I have to say that Robert Pickton\’s lawyers are using a novel defense here. Pickton\’s accused of luring prostitutes and drug addicts back to his pig farm, having sex with them, murdering them and then dismembering the bodies and feeding them to said pigs. Perhaps 60 people all told. This might not be the strongest defense claim ever:

While the defence has acknowledged the remains were found on his farm, it argued that other suspects have been ignored and that the evidence – including skulls, hands and feet – was no proof of his guilt.

It might even be true but that\’s not how I\’d bet on a jury deciding.

You Can Read This Two Ways

As the wheels continue to come off the story the Chancellor fed to the Commons about those CDs and the 25 million records there\’s two ways you can read this:

Sources close to Mr Darling told the BBC yesterday that he had been unaware that key emails had been copied to senior HMRC officials before he had made his Parliamentary statement.

1) He didn\’t know about t emails at all, in which case he was simply badly informed.

2) He did know about the emails and their contents but not that other people were going to find out about them. In which case he was well informed but thought that he would rather mislead the Commons than inform them.

2) Would, in previous times, have been a resigning matter.


Ragging on Richie

Here is Richard Murphy\’s comment on that Johann Hari book review concerning the Laffer Curve:

The New Statesman includes a brilliant article by Johann Hari called Cooking the Books. What it amounts to is a complete destruction of the Laffer curve principle, so beloved by the Right and invented by, as Hari says :

a group of men who were untrained in economics – and, as it happens, borderline-insane.

As he notes, the universally discredited Dick Cheney was one of those involved. He saw it:

presented in a simple, easily digestible form the messianic power of tax cuts.

There was just one problem. It was, of course, a complete work of fiction. Read the article. It’s well worth it.

As far as I recall it, Murphy claims t have a degree in economics. He must have missed that bit where they point out that the Laffer Curve is both obvious and trivial (for a given value of the word trivial).

A more balanced appreciation of Hari\’s piece is here, written by some godawful horrible classical liberal. One who seems to have stayed awake for that 5 minutes of an economics degre.

Scrap the Benefit System!

Well, quite:

Nor has the scheme made work pay. Nearly 1.7 million Britons — double the number in 1997 — now have a marginal tax rate of 70 per cent: for every extra pound they make, Mr Brown takes 70 pence. As they make more money, they lose more benefits, so it is barely worth their while to work — exactly the opposite of what the Prime Minister was trying to achieve.

The solution seems simple. Scrap many of these benefits and increase personal income tax allowance. This would take millions out of income tax altogether, easing the burden on those hard-pressed tax and benefits men. There will, of course, be winners and losers, and the genuinely poor will have to be protected, but it would save us all a vast amount of money in administration costs and help prevent further such disasters — whether one-off or systemic.

The idea that the poor should even be in the income tax system is absurd. Which is why sensible people, like the Adam Smith Institute, suggest that the allowances be raised to £14,000. There\’s even a sensible political party, UKIP, which has made a similar thought (similar, although not exactly the same amount) part of their proposals.

Yes, yes, I know, there are those who would deny that those two groups are "sensible", but this specific proposal clearly is.

More More Data!

Can someone technicaly literate explain this to me?

The child benefits records scandal could have been avoided if Customs officials had spent £5,000 on removing bank account details from the computer discs that later went missing, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Emails showed that HMRC officials were concerned about paying to remove unnecessary information such as account details from the discs before they were sent to London.

Cutting the files would have cost as little £5,000, experts said yesterday, compared to the £200m cost that could result from the scandal, even if no fraud is committed.

It\’s a long long time since I used a database application so I\’m a little in the dark here. When you download a database you tell it which parts you want to download, don\’t you? You can set the filters to download it all, or this bit, or that bit. So why would it cost £5,000 to download only part of it rather than all of it?

I ask because I can see a defence being prepared here. Instead of setting that £ 5k against the huge costs incurred, they\’re going to set the multiples of £5 k, the cost of filtering the data every time they\’re asked for it, against the damage done by the failure. And they\’d be right to do so, of couse.

But only if it does in fact cost that £ 5 k each time. So, can anyone tell me? I\’m assuming that the cost difference between downloading the whole database and a partial one is in fact zero. Am I correct in that assumption?