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Issue 24/2013 - 5 July 2013

In this issue:
Pouring money into education | Rose Patterson
R.I.P. Kenneth Minogue | Luke Malpass
In terms of badly used English | Oliver Hartwich
All things considered ...
On the record

Pouring money into education

Rose Patterson | Research Fellow | rose.patterson@nzinitiative.org.nz
Last week, the OECD published Education at a Glance 2013, comparing education indicators across 42 countries. Ministers Steven Joyce and Hekia Parata highlighted a few points of interest. Strangely, these highlights concentrated on New Zealand’s spending on education, as if spending was a marker of success.

The Ministers pointed out that New Zealand spends 20% of its public expenditure on education, the second highest percentage in the OECD. What they didn’t point out was which country was placed 1st. It is Mexico, with 20.6% of public expenditure on education. We are 2nd in the OECD … next to Mexico!

Surely then, New Zealand and Mexico must be among the highest performing countries in the world. The Programme for International Student Achievement (PISA) study shows that yes, New Zealand is doing well in education by global standards. Our 15-year-olds are 7th in the world in reading, 13th in maths, and 7th in science. Mexico on the other hand places 50th in reading, 53rd in maths, and 55th in science.

The PISA study is often used to rank countries in this way, but it is also a rich data source for thinking about how to improve education systems. And one of the strongest stories that has emerged from PISA so far is that spending has very little bearing on performance.

In a TED talk, OECD’s Andreas Schleicher provides an elegant illustration on the relationship between education spending and students’ abilities. Success is defined by the average reading ability of 15-year-olds, and importantly, the disparity of reading ability between rich and poor. Our graph of the week shows spending has little bearing on success. “Spending per student explains less than 20% of the variation among countries,” Mr Schleicher says in his talk.

It’s not how much that is spent that matters; it’s how the money is spent. Perhaps next week when he arrives in New Zealand, Mr Schleicher will remind our ministers that pouring money into education is not something to be proud of.

Money doesn’t necessarily build better schools.
R.I.P. Kenneth Minogue

Luke Malpass | Research Fellow | luke.malpass@nzinitiative.org.nz
One of the great, yet little known Kiwi academic giants has passed away. Professor Kenneth Robert Minogue, a New Zealander by birth, Australian by upbringing, and Englishman in his working life, has died at 83.

Minogue spent the past 50 years as a professor of political science at the London School of Economics (LSE). His intellectual reach went far beyond the lecture halls of the LSE. And like many expats, he made his fame and reputation abroad.

In particular, Professor Minogue’s most recent and greatest contribution to political thought was his book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life (2010).

Despite the title, Minogue’s thesis was not that democracy was bad per se, but that a class of self-loathing intellectuals are constantly denigrating the Western world as a place of inequality and oppression. According to this worldview, society’s Foucaultian superstructure grinds people down into living desperate lives of consumerism and ordinariness.

Minogue argued that before the fall of the Soviet Union, there was within the academia a sentimentalist longing for, and pseudo-intellectual cover given to, totalitarian socialist regimes. These were states that people tried to escape from, at great risk, if given half the chance. Think Cambodia, Poland, East Germany, the Soviet Union.

But why was there such longing for vile regimes to succeed?

It is because, Minogue said, there is a great addiction in the Western world to the idea of creating the perfect society, as since the mid-nineteenth century the old idea of improvement was replaced by progress. Improvement is about the modest betterment of one’s situation or society, and progress implies pursuit of a goal. In this sense, progress is the antithesis of what made Western societies attractive, that is, the freedom to choose one’s own version of the good life.

Minogue saw this political idealism as leading to a ‘politico-moral’ public sphere where people only need to give lip service to politically correct views on poverty, taxes or, environmental causes without being required to consider the moral consequences of their own actions.

Professor Minogue’s passing should be mourned in New Zealand. He made a substantial contribution to the world of ideas, modern liberal thought, and thought deeply about how governments should interact with their citizens.
In terms of badly used English

Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director | oliver.hartwich@nzinitiative.org.nz
A few years ago, my pet hates in the English language were narrowly defined. They were the handful of words and phrases football star David Beckham typically uttered when reporters courageously interviewed him. ‘You know’, ‘like’ and my personal favourite, ‘like, you know’ were chief among them.

While such sloppy use of language was annoying, at least no one could have scolded Mr Beckham for using pompous language to elevate himself to an intellectual or a moral high ground.

Nowadays, the most annoying phrases in English come across as pompous and meaningful – but they are just as void and superfluous.

The main culprit in this category is the ubiquitous expression ‘in terms of’. It is one of those phrases you may not have thought about much – but once you do, you will see and hear it everywhere. And it becomes a little more maddening each time.

There are very few occasions that genuinely warrant the use of ‘in terms of’. You may use it to express a thought in an academic discipline (if you are inclined to use jargon), or to indicate the measurements you are using.

In all other cases, please do yourself and your audience a favour and avoid the phrase!

“New Zealand is ranked sixth globally in terms of gender equality” (Stuff.co.nz) would read better as “New Zealand is ranked sixth globally in gender equality”.

Or take this example from an interview in The New Zealand Herald: “Books of course are, in terms of attention, competing with movies, music videos, online games and all the rest of it”. Shouldn’t this simply be rewritten with ‘competing for attention’?

‘In terms of’ may sound elaborate and educated, however, it is just careless. It is the sophisticated person’s equivalent of ‘like, you know’.

There is only one thing worse ‘in terms of’ annoyance potential: ‘to be honest.’

Anyone who deems it necessary to preface every second thought with a seemingly disarming ‘to be honest’ immediately arouses my suspicion. If someone believes it is necessary to stress their moments of candour, I’d rather not imagine what they really mean at other times. Be honest or leave it – but don’t go adding the qualifier every time you say something.

I would have never thought I would say it, but the current trends of abusing the beautiful English language almost make me yearn for David Beckham interviews.

PS: While we are at it, ‘impact’ is a noun, not a verb.

All things considered ...

• Graph of the Week: Courtesy of the Andreas Schleicher at the OECD. It turns out that the amount of money spent on the education system does not have much bearing on the outcomes.
• R.I.P. Professor Ken Minogue, who died at a Mont Pelerin Society Meeting, aged 83. Here is a great example of his writing in The Spectator: ‘The Law is a Chatterbox.’
• “Prediction is dangerous: but ‘The Hobbit’ may well prove a classic.” C.S. Lewis in 1937, writing a review of a new book by J.R.R. Tolkien.
• “Run from the law and your benefit will be stopped.” The government states its position pretty clearly as it prepares to roll out the second phase of welfare reform.
• Apparently Mongolian neo-Nazis are going Green – charging around the nation checking the mining permits of ‘foreign polluters’. Brings new meaning to the term enviro-Nazis!
• Around the world in 40 sweater vests. Well, sort of. This teacher has staying power: He has worn the same sweater vest and shirt combo in every yearbook photo over his entire teaching career. Note: the changeable photo backgrounds and spectacles are also a highlight.
• The Queen is dead, long live the King! Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd faces his first in-depth interview, and he is as irritating as ever. The presidential office style of interview really is a bit twee.
• Nicolle Flint says anti-GM campaigners are akin to Green imperialists.
• British health and safety fetishism strikes again: The parish of St Michael and All Angels must not wind back its clock!

On the record

The man who ruined a government, Dr Oliver Hartwich, The National Business Review, 5 July 2013
Young and restless: Europe's lost generation, Dr Oliver Hartwich, Business Spectator, 4 July 2013


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