Archive for June, 2003


June 30, 2003

Adjunct pay

And finally … on to the “adjunct pay issue”. I’ve read up voluminously on this topic on the internet and jolly boring it was too, I have to say, so after a while I gave up and thus may have missed significant factual information. If I’ve got anything wrong, please tell me and I will first attempt to explain it away by pretending it’s a difference between the UK and US systems, and failing that, become nasty.

The adjunct pay issue is one of a perceived oversupply of humanities PhDs relative to the number of jobs for them in academia. Because of this oversupply, lots of well-educated people with qualifications in English, History and similar are scraping by from hand to mouth on what they call “adjunct” jobs, which are poorly paid short term contract teaching posts, which are created in order to allow the existing club of “full professors” to avoid the onerous duty of teaching undergraduates and free up their time for writing long papers for academic journals. I shall follow general usage by euphemistically calling this latter activity of writing papers for academic journals “research”, without wanting to commit myself on the question of whether it is actually research or not.

As a way of organising part of the labour market, it’s got more or less nothing to recommend it. The adjuncts are doing a crap job for crap wages, with the result that they never have time to carry out the “research” that they need to do in order to publish things in journals to get a “tenure track”1 job within the charmed circle. Meanwhile, the poor buggers on the tenure track have to spend their time managing the adjuncts and writing completely dull and pointless papers, not for any scholarly reasons but in order to get them published in order to maintain an impressive enough list of publications to keep up their own status and keep their jobs. The only people who the system seems to benefit are a small crew of academic stars (most of whom appear to be stars on the basis of having published popular works anyway, and thus don’t even need academic jobs), plus the university administrators who manage to run something that looks to the outsider to be pretty similar to a univesity, except that the teaching is worse and it’s a fuck sight easier to administer because you are dealing with casualised labour rather than unionised academics.

A side issue to the debate is that the adjuncts don’t want to form a union, partly because they appear to be a bit snobby about the concept of themselves as working class, and partly because they (probably correctly) think that getting a reputation as trouble-making union organisers will mean that they have once and for always pissed on their chips with respect to getting a “proper” academic job as opposed to the burger-flipping, undergraduate teaching one they have now. And partly, of course, because they are arts graduates and therefore are temperamentally prone to think of things in incredibly impractical terms and waffle on about “higher values” and “the sacred guild of scholars” whenever the suggestion is raised that they might want to complain about their wages. Or at least, their employers tend to feed them this line of bullshit and they don’t laugh it off anything like as often or as hard as they ought to.

So anyway, that’s the adjunct crisis, my version of, and on to the analysis.

First up, I think it’s very unhelpful indeed to analyse this as a question of an “oversupply of PhDs”. Too many PhDs for what? I am reminded of the old libertarian line when faced with the suggestion that London (or New York, or Monte Carlo or wherever) “has no affordable housing” – what are all those people doing living there then? In general, the complaints about the “oversupply of PhDs” come from people who actually have a job in academia, performing the functions of a university professor. So in other words, there appears to me to be a prima facie case that there is, in fact, a decent balance between the number of people we are training to be competent to teach humanities subjects to undergraduates, versus the number of undergraduates who want to be taught humanities subjects. I’ve had a fair old look around, and have turned up surprisingly few stories of people with humanities PhDs actually flipping burgers. I’ve seen lots of stories about people with humanities degrees doing middle-class jobs (like being accountants and such like) that they could probably have got with just an undergraduate degree, but this hardly seems to be a problem to me. There are any number of reasons someone might be entering the non-university labour market at age 26 rather than 21, and I don’t see any particular reason to believe that people who make this choice do so for any other reason that they’ve decided that they want to.

So in other words, I don’t believe that there is an oversupply of PhDs relative to the vacancies. The problem appears to be in the quality of the jobs on offer; they’re crap. The problem (and I do not wish in any way to dismiss the very real human suffering I’ve read over the last week or two; most of the people who have written on the subject appear to me intelligent enough to take a bit of good-natured mockery. When I say that there is no adjunct crisis, I mean it in the same way as one talks about an “acceptable rate of unemployment” ie acceptable to those who have jobs) appears to be that there are people who hate their current lifestyles, but don’t want to make the choice to find a different one. Because I’m not a neoclassical economist, I take this problem seriously.

[continued below …]


June 30, 2003

[continued ….]

But the first problem has to be to treat this as what it is; a labour dispute. It’s not a “crisis of scholarship”, nor is it a “scandal of the denigration of teaching as against research”. It’s not even a “closed shop of existing faculty”. It’s a dispute between employees and their employers over terms and conditions of employment.

Consider this. Are the newly minted PhD/adjunct’s really bemoaning their fate because they can’t all be the Goerge Washington Plunkitt Professor of Practical Politics at New York University or some similiarly well-endowed post? I don’t think so. Whatever Brad and others think about the systematic tendency of PhDs to overestimate their own prospects for academic success, I seem to get a feeling of genuine grievance in the complaints from the adjunct proleteriat. It’s not just a matter of them not having turned out to be as successful as they hoped; they actually think that their current fate is an injustice.

And I think that the reason they really feel aggrieved is that what they wanted was tenure and they haven’t got it. And when you clear away the thickets and fog of “community of scholars”, “guild system of values”, “sacred trust of learning” etc, the reason that people want to have tenure is that once you’ve got it, they can’t sack you. It’s a Job For Life. Which is a very, very pleasant thing to have, or so I am told in travellers’ tales or the senile ravings of old men who claim to have been alive when such mythical beasts walked the earth.

That’s the good thing about being a “tenured professor” or being on the “tenure track”. It allows you to look forward to a day when you don’t have to worry about the possibility of losing your income2. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that the academic career path is profoundly attractive to people whose personalities tend toward insecurity and low tolerance for being exposed to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. These are after all people who have got where they are by passing exams, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that lots of these people will have passed exams a lot because they have studied a lot, and have studied a lot because studying has been a way of controlling their anxiety about their general vulnerability to things and events outside their control. The PhD track are also people who have elected to keep away from the big bad world on completion of their undergraduate degrees, and their role models and mentors are all people who live in the easy world of tenured income certainty. To then expose them to considerably more income uncertainty than, say, an average second-year graduate trainee at a consultancy firm seems pretty cruel.

So at the end of the day, the “adjunct crisis” is just the problem of the labour market overall; it’s one of insufficiently long-dated labour contracts, which have been imposed by people who want to shift their operating risks onto their workers, and who enjoy a side-benefit of forcing more unrewarded labour and effort out of those workers as they attempt to get back to the level of income security they want. It’s part of the same shift of the burden of risk onto the shoulders of those least well-equipped to bear it and away from those whose natural social function is to bear it. The adjunct crisis is just felt particularly badly by a particularly articulate group.

Tune in toward the end of the week for my shocking proposal for a solution …

1I have never seen so much incomprehensible fucking jargon in my life. I’m not at all sure of the meaning of any of these terms. Etymology gives no clues at all and they’re not even descriptive. If at all possible, just use them as empty signifiers.

2I also suspect, but can’t yet prove, that a very significant motivating factor for all those would be writers who “have an urge to express” is that writers are paid in royalties, which is a little bit like owning capital. Certainly, this would fit in with the almost mystic reverence that people of my acquaintance seem to have for royalty statements; hacks like me tend to view them as bitter reminders of past failure to ask for a big enough advance.


June 17, 2003

Education stew. Parody of true expression; no more poetry

The adjunct pay bit is coming along nicely, but I found myself engaged quite ferociously in a digression which I felt was best posted separately, as it made the tone of the whole thing more bitter and incoherent than it needed to be, and it lacks the analytical depth which I was aiming for. Fundamentally, the subtext of intellectually snobbish rage in the following piece sums up my dissatisfaction with the modern teaching of humanities; while I have picked on a particular point of irritation because it looms disproportionately large in the world of things which drive me to anger, consider it to stand as metonym for much of what passes for a liberal arts education these days. Anyway, with my theme:


Does anyone out there know what a haiku is?

Why yes, yes, we learned it in school. It’s a Japanese poetic form consisting of seventeen syllables, divided into three lines of five, seven and five syllables.

Wrong, fool, it’s a Japanese poetic form consisting of seventeen Japanese syllables, etc, etc, etc. What you learned about in school was a completely pointless exercise in attempting to transfer a verse form which makes sense in its native language into a language in which it doesn’t make sense. Japanese doesn’t have word stresses in the way in which English does, and all the words in in vowels, so the concepts of rhythmic metre and rhyme are pretty alien. Conversely, Japanese syllables are well-defined and unalterable, while English ones are often ambiguous and elided. Furthermore, I read on the internet that classical Japanese haiku actually have (rather like the Welsh englyn) many other restrictions on their form, so it is actually quite difficult to compose one which sticks rigidly to the rules. In English, the answer to the question “can you compose a haiku?” is basically the answer to the question “can you count?”. ( Proof.)

And yet there are still people in the world who believe themselves to be showing off their intelligence and even, ye Gods, sensitivity, by attempting to “compose” haiku extempore. I’ve seen it happen in real life as well as on the internet (obviously)and in Simpsons episodes about precocious kids. It’s horrendous. The fact is that, unless you have decided to adopt some restriction of English metre or rhyme, the haiku is free verse, end of story. The intellectual effort needed to fit the seventeen syllables is equivalent to solving crossword puzzles in one dimension. It’s much less intellectually challenging a form than the limerick, for example; damn few people can write a good one of those.

How the hell did the haiku get so popular? I can only blame English teachers. Nobody, apart from a few freaks, Orientalists and other statistical anomalies, would have bothered with trying to import this form into English otherwise. Obviously, as with so many abstruse and foreign forms, Ezra Pound has to cop some of the blame for introducing the English speaking world to the bloody thing in the first place, but I find it rather difficult to believe that a single one of these 456 people has ever heard of him (yup).

The point is that the haiku has the considerable advantage as a form of verse that it can be written badly with next to no mental effort. It is therefore an ideal verse form to teach to people who are too thick to be worth teaching and who don’t want to learn; for example, computer science students on compulsory liberal arts courses. Furthermore, it’s easier to mark than free verse; it’s just a matter of counting to seventeen and checking that the line breaks are in roughly the right place, optional caesura, optional seasonal image, ten out of ten for you little Clyde and no messy embarrassment at having to tell someone that their precious piece of self-expression is no bloody good. The haiku cult allows you to sit down and perform a quick, straightforward quantitative check to see whether what you are reading is poetry or not, and how many of us could do with one of those? And so, a hundred thousand kids every year get an embossed certificate notarised by the government to tell the world that they’re not devoid of an inner life. Talk about grade inflation.

If you’re thinking of writing a haiku, don’t do it. Or at the very least, don’t share it with anyone. If you can’t avoid that, at least try to keep it secret from me. This isn’t pure intellectual elitism. I’m in general rather in favour of people trying to write poetry and one day if I get drunk, I might inflict some of my own on you lot. Bu what I’m against is people kidding themselves that they’re writing poetry when they’re just solving not very difficult puzzle-games. As noted above, I blame modern society for being set up in such a way as to systematically reward the business of distracting people from what they might be capable of into formulaic and uninteresting, but socially acceptable commodified forms. I note with a degree of sardonic humour that if I am right about the reasons why haiku are popular with English teachers, the root cause of the haiku epidemic in the English speaking world is exactly the dulling of artistic sensibility identified in Uncle Ezra’s own “With Usura” …

Update: It appears that not everybody agrees with me. Very well then, I fight dirty. Try reading through your slim volumes of Basho after I inform you that if a haiku has the right number of syllables, it can be sung to the tune of the first three lines of “Agadoo” by Black Lace.

Agadoo, doo doo
Push pineapple shake the tree
Agadoo, doo doo.


June 12, 2003

You are very; I am mere

I just wanted to note for posterity that on page 50 of the current issue of the Economist, somebody has written a sentence containing the phrase “mere uncertainty about where the next meal is coming from”.


June 9, 2003

Not the Shorter Steven den Beste

I have no intention of restarting this on a regular basis, but simply wished to point out that, although he functioned for me in those heady pre-Gulf-war days as a touchstone of extrapolative lunacy (anyone remember “The French are now active co-belligerents”? How about “Islamic revolution in France is at our door”?), it is noteworthy that this is as close as SdB has come to the various rationalisations for the “missing 25,000 litres of anthrax/Vans-O-Doom” issue, and it’s not really all that close. In all honesty, the fact that the proprietor of USS Clueless has chosen to simply let the issue drop rather than start spinning crackpot theories at ninety to the dozen is a tribute to his (to coin a phrase) intellectual honesty and a pretty damning indictment of almost everyone else’s. In recognition of this achievement, I have decided to spell his name correctly for once.


June 9, 2003

Loose Ends

  • I read in my weekend newspaper that the Vans-O-Doom might not have been so very “O-Doom” after all. Sheesh.

  • Reading back Friday’s “Rewards For Failure”, I see that I was indeed not in the best of moods and not as coherent as I’d have liked to have been on the subject of executive pay. I think that the point I should have made (rather than the point I in fact did make, which was more influenced by the desire to make a couple of jokes than it should have been) is this: Yes, there is an issue with respect to inequality of pay. In that it reduces social solidarity and allows an entire swathe of society to more or less opt out of social services, it’s a very serious problem indeed. But if you believe it’s a problem, it’s clearly one that ought to be addressed through the tax system, not by half-assed one-off attempts to meddle in the contracts struck between employers and employees. The thing that’s really bad about the “Rewards For Failure” approach is that ita weaselly way of looking like you’re attacking the “fat cats” without actually putting up the tax policy to do it.

The adjunct pay thing will be addressed this week, as I think that I can rewrite my piece in such a way as to make most of my points without losing most of my friends.


June 6, 2003

Rewards For Failure

This was the name of the Government White Paper(warning: pdf) presented earlier this week by the Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, with, it must be said, a facial expression that was not a smile. I’ve scanned the paper and my capsule summary of “Rewards for Failure” is; she’s against ’em. So everybody who thought “oh, how nice, they’re doing something for the failures for once, those poor buggers have a terrible time” has been misled, sorry.

Facetiousness apart, however, there is a serious point here. Who do the Labour Party think that they’re appealing to with this bollocks? Last time I looked, there were about twelve million failures in the UK and a fairly high proportion of them voted Labour. Admittedly, Hewitt is only going after a small set of the UK’s failures, (specifically, company CEOs who in some way nause it up and get paid big golden parachutes to go away), but the general tone of the thing appears to be that the problem with the UK economy is not national ennui, historic underinvestment or (as John Kay argues) the erosion of our civic culture, but rather that we aren’t wielding the big bloody stick enough to make everyone work harder for fear of a financially ruinous downfall. What type of a person do you have to be to lap this up?

I maintain that the ordinary plain man does not have anything like the rabid envy of other people’s pay packets that Ms Hewitt appears to believe he has. In general, while people are often shocked at the multiples of a nurse’s salary that it’s possible to pull down by wearing a nice suit, being tall and having good hair, this is a result of underlying egalitarian instincts and is not massively exacerbated when companies fall on their arse into a delirium of moral outrage that the meritocracy hasn’t worked in the way that Adam Smith didn’t say it would. The attack on golden parachutes doesn’t even appeal to aspirational values; for one thing, all of us perhaps like to think that we shouldn’t envy the rich, because we might join that class one day, but our pipe-dreams of being the boss of IBM surely don’t extend to believing we’d be any good at it. I think that all of us like to believe that if we lucked out and got put in charge of a major company, there would be a nice payoff waiting as second prize even if we performed as badly as we suspect we might. For a second point, the sudden hatred of CEOs who don’t make it isn’t even internally consistent with the recent Enterprise Bill which aimed to “reduce the stigma of bankruptcy” in order to turn us all into budding entrepreneurs. I suppose that the message that the DTI is attempting to send to corporate executives is that if you’re going to fail, fail big and make sure you take the whole company down with you. Sheesh. It isn’t even good socialist analysis anyway; wherever the money that gets saved by reducing big golden parachute payments might go, it’s not going to go to the workers. So this is a proposal aimed at protecting the share-owning class from having to perform its economic function of bearing risk on behalf of (a small group of) its employees. This does not strike me as the happy hunting grounds for Labour votes.

In any case, reflecting on the latest moves in the Blairite project of tearing down the old order of privilege, class and background and replacing it with a new order based on pushy young lawyers and their faintly alarming wives (Christ I’m full of bile today), gave rise to a few thoughts about economics, so here they are.

First, the crusade against failure has to be seen in the context of a wider project that has been going on since the Thatcher-Reagan years; the attempt to load risks on to the working class which have historically been borne by the owner class. I’ve been wanting to post something on the general theme of class and risk for ages, but felt that it was in danger of burgeoning into some horrendous treatise. But basically, I think that there is an interesting analysis of class based on exposure to risk, which creates room for that bastard entity the “middle class”, which famously doesn’t have any room to exist in class theories (like Marx’s) based on relationship to the means of production. Say we define three classes thus:

  • The “upper” or rentier class, whose standard of living is at risk if the economy as a whole fails to produce as much as anticipated.
  • The “middle” class, whose standard of living bears the risk of surprises in the production of firm-level business units (economic entities larger than a household but small relative to the economy as a whole).
  • The “working” class, who bear both of the above risks, but who are also exposed to risks associated with their own bodies.

It’s not a fully worked out theory, so don’t take it seriously. But it strikes me that what’s bad about being a proleterian in Marx’s analysis is that you have to sell your labour in order to live, and a lot of what’s bad about that the fluctuations in your ability to supply it are potentially as dangerous to you as fluctuations in the demand for it. I’d certainly argue that one of the biggest differences between the working class and the middle class in the ordinary language senses of the terms, is that if you’re middle class, it’s not such a big deal to miss a few days through illness.

Any road up, that’s just a thought of mine that I think about when I have no other thoughts. Perhaps more interesting is this working paper on the ideas of Jerome Levy, another one of those early twentieth century borderline crank engineer-economists who fascinate me so much. The following extract is a bit tangential to the main point of the paper but it caught my eye:

The working class is the original and fundamental economic class. . . . The function of the investing class is to serve the members of the working class by insuring them against loss and by providing them with desired goods.

Compare to this throwaway line of John Quiggin‘s and you’ll begin to see where I’m coming from (warning: linked page contains beard)

The last line of defence [for a neoliberal argument under discussion — dd] is the idea of X-efficiency, or the ‘cold shower’ effect of competition. As Chicago stalwart George Stigler was the first to point out, this idea is based on the fallacious assumption that additional work effort is costless. This fallacy is hard to kill, but anybody who’s experienced 1990s-style ‘workplace reform’ knows it for what it is.

One way to look at the “reforms” (I believe I have explained the meaning of “reform” in scare-quotes before) of the 1990s in job security, union-busting and casualisation of the labour force, is that they were aimed at extracting more labour from people (increasing absolute surplus-value to you Marxist types) and deploying the existing stock of labour more efficiently from a scheduling point of view. But another way to think about it is to look at the risk transfers involved and this is quite revealing.

What effect does it have on the allocation of the general risks of production if one shortens the term of implicit and explicit labour contracts, increases the proportion of casual and temporary staff and increases the proportion of labour hours which are overtime? To ask the question is to answer it; the effect of doing this is to transfer volatility from profits to wages. Previously, owners of companies had effectively provided income insurance against the business cycle to workers as part of the wage bargain; starting 1980, this insurance was gradually withdrawn, and it is difficult to see from the national income statistics that there was any compensation for this loss of benefit in terms of higher wages. The move to defined-contribution pensions rather than defined benefit is analysable in similar terms as a shift of the risks of the stock market, and with the newly launched War On Failure, the process has gradually begun to eat itself as the owner class turns on its managers in order to shift the risks of corporate mismanagement. Any of the analyses of inequality and mobility which have been popular in the weblog community over the last week or so ought to take this into account; it is not at all impossible that a significant proportion of the observed “mobility” in the income distribution these days represents the end of the salaryman existence in the West, a social trend which should not be confused with anything that might convince the poor that their opportunities have got better.

This is something which ought to cause more fuss than it ever will. I have a lot of sympathy with Levy’s view that if the ownership class aren’t bearing risks, it is hard to see what the hell else they might be doing to earn the profits that they claim. And the importance of these risk transfers is, I suspect but cannot prove, pretty big. In general, insurance is pretty valuable to which is why they buy so much of it. Certainly, the withdrawal of a valuable insurance policy against business cycle risk would do a lot to explain the stylised sociological fact that although we’re clearly much better off, we don’t feel as good about things as our parents did (fun fact from Kay’s latest book; the median score on standardised tests of anxiety for twelve year old children today is worse than the median score for twelve-year-old mental patients in the 1950s). But of course, uncertainty and risk are powerfully difficult to measure and they don’t show up in the national income accounts at all. I suspect that if there had been (more or less per impossibile) a free and liquid market for privately provided unemployment insurance for the last thirty years, and if it had been part of the CPI, people might be absolutely outraged at what had happened to real wages since the Big Neoliberal Project began.


1. Thanks to all the email correspondents (you know who you are) who forwarded material used in this post.
2. If anyone can source a copy of “Economics Is An Exact Science” by Jerome Levy, I’ll pay good money.
3. Apologies for the more than usually convoluted and verbose sentences; I’m in a funny mood today.
4. The other half of this article was going to look at the “Rewards For Failure” concept in the context of the academic job market and the “crisis of adjunct pay”, but I read it back and it seemed rather mean-spirited, so I will try again another day.
5. Presumably after I’ve finished the series on insurance and done all the other things I promised to write about at some unspecified future date.


June 4, 2003


Once more, I think that D2D can fairly claim to have been in the vanguard of those who were annoyed at the fact that the 25,000 litres of anthrax we were promised have proved so elusive. If I could be bothered searching through other people’s comments sections, I could probably find a reference to myself also saying that the main intelligence mistake being made was the age-old one of setting too much store by the tales told by defectors, as defectors are known to be in the habit of telling you what they think you want to hear; I’m sure I said it. Anyway, I have two suggestions for anyone wanting to keep the levels of outrage boiling over:

One is a suggestion for some enterprising news media organization; The Independent appears to be going in for silly stunts like this instead of writing proper headlines. What I’d like to have is some kind of visual clue as to what the physical size of 25,000 litres of anthrax is; perhaps somebody could go down to a Sainsbury’s depot and take a photograph of 12,500 two litre bottles of Coca-Cola or something. As far as I’m aware, a one metre cube is 1,000,000 cubic centimetres (100x100x100) and a litre is 1000cc. So you can fit 25,000 litres of anthrax into 25 cubes one metre on each side. A London bus is (I guesstimate) four metres high by three metres wide by ten metres long, which is 120 metre cubes. So, based on a calculation which took me precisely five minutes (three of which were spent asking people how many cc there were in a litre), I estimate that Saddam was alleged to have roughly a fifth of a Routemaster full of anthrax; say the size of a largish minivan. That’s quite a lot of stuff to hide from spy satellites which can read number plates, even in a country “the size of France” [c]. I suppose in principle they could have handed a beer can full of anthrax to everyone in a football stadium, but then this would hardly have been “ready to use within 45 minutes”.

For reference, I went on holiday to France last year, staying in a rented villa outside Biarritz that was roughly the size of three Routemaster buses. Based on “intelligence reports” established by phoning the proprietor ahead of time, I managed to find it in a mere six hours despite the fact that my key “source” was unreliable on a number of important points, such as which exit from the fucking autoroute he was near. Granted, the target was considerably bigger than the anthrax stash, but there’s only one of me and besides, I doubt that the inspectors have to make stops to cheer up a screaming baby. The point I am trying to make is that, after a mere four of these six hours, Mrs. Digest was loudly denouncing my abilities and, specifically, strongly suggesting that I’d never actually phoned the bloke like I said I was going to and was making it up as I went along. If I’d raised the objection that “you can’t expect me to find such a comparatively small and easily concealed object immediately in a country the size of France”, I daresay I might not be alive today.

If it was six weeks later and we were still motoring round the Pyrenees aimlessly keeping an eye out for anything looking likely and all we’d turned up was a recently disinfected public toilet that sort of looked like it might have been rented out to foreigners once, I think any divorce court in the land would have taken it as read that my claim to have “solid information” about our holiday home was an outright lie. As I’ve said before, if you try to analogise these great matters of state to your daily life, it makes it a lot easier to work out whether what you’re being asked to believe is credible or not. I want my 25,000 litres of anthrax right now, served a la Basquaise, or I want my Prime Minister’s resignation for having misled the House of Commons1. It was a specific claim and it has to be backed up specifically or not at all. In other words, I am unlikely to look favourably on any candidate causus belli which contains fewer actual toxic germs than my breadbin.

Second up, I have a practical suggestion for our politicians which is so brilliant I confidently expect it to be made policy immediately. Readers with long memories, or who read the big and boring newspapers will recall that not so long ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle in relation to the published report and accounts of Enron, Worldcom and other companies whose names I forget. It was all very traumatic at the time, and people were merrily chucking around phrases like “crisis of confidence in company accounts”. So it was decided that what was needed (alongside a few high-profile perp walks) was a loyalty-oath session. Every CEO of every quoted company was told by the SEC that they would have to step up and personally certify the accounts of their company as being absolutely hunky-dory in every particular. Most of them did it (or restated their numbers and then did it) and it did wonders for the world. The National Association of Stock Dealers thought it was such a spiffing idea that they’re recommending something similar as an annual event for their member firms, where the CEOs will personally certify that their internal controls are completely up to scratch and nothing bad could ever happen. I can only marvel at the massive levels of confidence in stock market that the proliferation of loyalty oaths will generate; we may have to rename the University of Michigan’s famous survey the “Consumer Arrogance Index” as mere confidence will be too measly a baseline. But anyway.

Given that, wouldn’t it do wonders for your confidence in the probity of our political process and allay some of those nagging doubts if Messrs Blair, Bush and Aznar were to roll their right sleeves up, make a small incision with a suitably sharpened quill and sign their names (or make their marks), in blood, at the foot of a parchment transcript of Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations? They could even make it into a televised ceremony, though of course they’d be well advised to hold it in the Azores again since locations with more readily available transport connections do tend to attract protestors like flies these days. I know I’d tune in to watch, and frankly that’s more than anything on telly other than the auction channel can claim these days.

1Once again, in case anyone feels like waiving their Parliamentary privilege to sue me, I reiterate that the issue of “lying” is not germane here and I don’t need to accuse anyone of lying to make this particular claim. Thomas Dugdale resigned over the Crichel Down affair when he had misled the House while acting completely in good faith.