January 2012

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A Road to Salvation or Fiscal Authoritarianism?

Dr Ioannis Glinavos is a lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Reading. His interest lies in examining the market-state relationship and offering a critical view on the orthodoxies that surround us.

We are all aware of the troubles of the Eurozone, but as with all systemic economic events we are not always able to critically evaluate the proposed solutions. Eurozone’s problems stem from the fact that an economic project (European Monetary Union or EMU) was used as a carrier for a political project (European federalisation). At the time of the creation of the monetary union it was obvious that countries with significantly different economic capacities and at different stages of the economic cycle were bunched together.Euro coin

The Maastricht rules were meant to deal with this problem by encouraging convergence within strict criteria. This did not happen, and in addition there is a lot of evidence suggesting it was not even tried in earnest. Europe ended up therefore with a fair-weather monetary arrangement, lacking fiscal co-ordination. The consequence was every incentive to use the newly low interest rates to borrow for both states (Italy, Greece) and private actors (Spain, Ireland) and no incentive to be fiscally responsible. What happened next we all know, the problem is what to do about it now.

The situation points to Germany proposing the solution. The German government has two choices. One is to bite the bullet and accept that the Eurozone cannot survive without transfers of wealth from the rich to the poor. This can only be achieved effectively by allowing the European Central Bank (ECB) to act as a lender of last resort (akin to the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve). Another solution is to reduce Eurozone membership to countries on convergent fiscal and macroeconomic paths. This second option means that Greece, and perhaps not only Greece, will exit the Eurozone. The current situation of ineffective transfers from the ECB to national central banks via purchases of bonds in the secondary market is unsustainable and does not address the underlying problems.

However, Germany making its choice is not the end of the matter. A smaller Eurozone can be achieved with less legal and political problems within Germany, but with potentially destabilising consequences for the markets and the entire European banking system. A Eurozone with the full faith of the ECB behind the debts of all its member states however is a totally different proposition. Accepting ECB support will come with the price of fiscal supervision by Brussels and by extension Germany. The introduction of legally binding fiscal restraints supervised by Eurozone authorities (or EU authorities as the UK allows it) perhaps in the form of constitutionally embedded ‘debt-breaks’ means surrender of economic policy to something equivalent to a federal government. This is a crucial political issue for every citizen in a euro-member state.

When the choice is between poverty or domination, voters may opt for domination. It is possible to envisage the Greeks electing to have foreign functionaries peering behind the backs of local decision makers and approving each decision, considering the utter failure of the national political class. Is it as easy to imagine the Italians and the Spanish doing the same? Even if people accept the argument that economic meltdown is at the door, and that help comes with the price of outsourcing policy to external actors, one cannot accurately predict what citizens will choose if asked.

Should the choice be taken away from them? Is the survival of the market more important than the survival of democratic political process? We live in an era where economic orthodoxy time and time again trumps democratic choice. This is rationalised in a number of ways and so far the public (even in this country when faced with austerity) has acquiesced. The point however is that there is a level beyond which economic policy determined outside the political process is perceived to be illegitimate. When a significant portion of the population feels ignored, then there is real danger of civil unrest. What do we choose therefore? To do what appears economically prudent (if the Germans propose it) or to do what is politically legitimate? Does the political class in Europe dare ask the people?

http://www.reading.ac.uk/law/

 

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Authors Professor Paul Croll and Dr Carol Fuller are at the University’s Institute of Education, which has recently moved onto its new campus in London Road, Reading. Professor Croll’s interests are, among others, the sociology of education, inclusion and special educational needs. Dr Fuller’s research focuses on educational engagement, gender and ethnicity in education, attainment and aspirations.

The aspirations young people have for their futures are an important influence on the directions their lives actually take. In order to succeed in terms of education and employment, young people need to have aims which will guide them into appropriate choices about educational participation, obtaining qualifications and taking educational and career routes which are right for them.

Teenagers

Young people know what they would like to do, if not always how to succeed

Ideally we would like young people to have aspirations which make the fullest use of their capabilities and which are matched to the opportunities available to them. It is widely accepted that a lack of suitable aspirations is an important factor in the under-representation of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education and in desirable and well-rewarded occupations.

Over the past five or so years we have carried out a number of research studies, both together and individually, into aspects of school-age young people’s educational and occupational aspirations. We conducted a national survey of pupils as they were starting secondary school and have recently talked to some of these young people again as they were coming up to their GCSEs. For her PhD, Carol Fuller studied the differing levels of aspirations of young women in a secondary school serving an area of social deprivation. And we have also conducted secondary analyses of large data sets such as the Longitudinal Survey of Young People in England.

We found that, even at the age of 11 and 12, most children could express educational and occupational aspirations. Typically these aspirations were ambitious in that well over half were sure that they wanted to go to university and the majority of those expressing occupational ambitions wanted professional and managerial jobs.

There were differences between pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds but, nevertheless, many children from relatively disadvantaged homes were hoping to go into higher education and the desire for a ‘good’ job was almost universal. Where children differed considerably was in the extent of alignment between different aspects of their hopes and plans for the future. Some children were clear about a trajectory that involved, for example, staying on post-16, taking a degree course in an appropriate subject and moving into a professional career. But others had little sense of the routes they would need to take to fulfil their ambitions; planning, for example, to leave school at 16 but also wanting a professional occupation or seeing higher education as an alternative to the sixth form.

The degree of alignment was closely related to the extent to which they reported discussing these issues with their parents. It was also very clear that, although most young people said that their parents had not influenced their choices, ambitious and well-aligned plans were almost always matched to the ambitions their parents had for them.

An important theme to emerge from Carol’s work was that of trust. The young women who were aiming for university (and who, in nearly all cases, achieved this ambition) differed from other students in that they explicitly believed that effort and commitment would pay off for them. They thought that if they achieved at school then opportunities would be open to them and that the school and teachers would support them.

Linked to the idea of trust is that of personal efficacy. Young people need to believe that the educational system is fair but also that they have the personal capability to achieve in it. Some of our large scale statistical analyses have shown that this sense of efficacy and the capacity for personal attainment differs across children from different backgrounds. At similar levels of ability young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely than others to believe that they can be successful educationally and in the world of work.

Our research suggests possible ways in which schools can intervene to both raise and equalise aspirations and achievement. Guidance on available educational routes and their consequences for future careers needs to start at the very beginning of the secondary school so that all children can align different aspects of their ambitions. And schools need to be very alert to the possibility that children from disadvantaged backgrounds may under-estimate their capabilities and the possibilities open to them. Additionally of course, all of us in education need to ensure that the trust in the fairness of the educational system, which is so important for young people, is well placed.

Some of the research discussed here is reported in:
Croll, P., Attwood, G. and Fuller, C. (2010) Children’s Lives, Children’s Futures. London: Continuum.
Fuller, C. (2009 Sociology, Gender and Educational Aspirations. London: Continuum.

http://www.reading.ac.uk/education/

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Dr Nicholas Klingaman from the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at the University of Reading is an expert in Queensland’s weather and climate. He is funded by the state’s government to investigate the causes of floods and droughts and the impacts of climate change on rainfall.

The state of Queensland, in northeast Australia, experiences considerable year-to-year and decade-to-decade variations in its rainfall. During 2000-2005, Queensland received only 84% of its long-term average rain. All of the last six years (2006-2011) have seen above-normal precipitation, however, at 133% of the average rainfall. 2011 was the second-wettest year since 1900 – only 1974 was wetter – with severe flooding in southeast and central Queensland, including in Brisbane. Oscillating periods of flood or drought are common: all years but one in 1947-1955 were wetter than normal, while all but two years in 1956-1969 had below-average rain. These variations in rainfall have dangerous consequences for the state’s agriculture, water resources and infrastructure.

Graph of Queensland rainfall

For each year, the red bars show the percentage difference between the Queensland rainfall for that year and the long-term (1900-2011) average. Values larger than zero indicate wetter-than-normal seasons; negative values are drier-than-normal seasons. The black line shows an 11-year running average of the red bars, to indicate decade-to-decade variations in rainfall.

Understanding the climate phenomena that drive variations in rainfall would improve scientists’ ability to predict swings between drought and flood. A three-year project between the Walker Institute for Climate System Research and the Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence has investigated these climate drivers of rainfall, including the possible impacts of climate change.Our research has found that in summer (December-February), winter (June-August) and spring (September-November), El Nino and La Nina cause state-wide variations in rainfall. ‘El Nino’ refers to abnormally warm tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures; during ‘La Nina’ these waters are colder than normal. Events typically last for 10-12 months.

Heating or cooling the Pacific redistributes tropical precipitation: Queensland receives less rainfall during El Nino and more in La Nina. We have found that while stronger La Nina events lead to heavier rainfall, the drying during El Nino has no relationship to the El Nino’s magnitude.

The intense La Nina event of 2010-2011 brought severe rains to the entire state. While the strength of the connection between Queensland’s rainfall and El Nino and La Nina has varied since 1900, there is no long-term trend and hence no evidence that climate change is influencing this relationship.

Within Queensland, our analysis found that the heavily populated southeast corner – including Brisbane – and the tropical Cape York peninsula are regions of high rainfall variability. Southeast Queensland rainfall is influenced by the prevailing winds: east-to-west winds bring moist air from the ocean, promoting intense rainfall; west-to-east winds pull in hot, dry air from the continent. Rainfall in Cape York is concentrated in summer; the peninsula is dry the rest of the year. Summer rainfall is closely linked to the number of tropical cyclones that pass through or near the area.

The climate models used for the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show little consensus on how Queensland’s rainfall will change in a warmer world. A survey of 22 models showed that by 2100, Queensland may be up to 40% wetter or 40% drier than 1961-1990. This information is of little use to those devising adaption policies.

Our research has used a model with much finer resolution than those used for the IPCC report, which provides more detail on how regional climates (eg Queensland’s) may change as the world warms. We first verified that this model, called HiGEM, could simulate the key climate phenomena that drive variations in Queensland’s rainfall. This increases our confidence in HiGEM’s projections for Queensland’s climate in a warmer world.

When HiGEM is run with twice the current carbon dioxide concentrations – equivalent to 2100 under our current emissions trajectory – Queensland summer rainfall increases by 20%. Autumn rainfall, however, declines by 25%, such that the annual-total rainfall does not change. The seasonal changes combine to compress the Queensland wet season, however. Currently, this runs from late November through early April; in the double-CO2 world, the wet season lasts only until early March. This would make Queensland much more reliant upon the heavier mid-summer rains in January and February. If the mid-summer rains were to fail, the shorter wet season would mean that the entire year would likely be dry.

Although the annual-total rainfall changes little, the number of wet days declines while the average amount of rain on each wet day increases by nearly 20%. This effect is most apparent for extreme rainfalls: the number of days with more than 100 millimetres of rain increases by 50%. These changes would have considerable impacts on agriculture and water management, as well as increasing the risk of flooding.

A clear disadvantage of our work is that we have examined only one model. Our detailed investigation of the climate drivers of rainfall, however, combined with our verification of HiGEM’s ability to simulate them, argues for giving greater weight to these results.

http://www.walker-institute.ac.uk/

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