Tuesday, September 04, 2012


It has emerged that the new lord chancellor does not hold legal qualifications, and is apparently the first such individual to do so. Hmm. There is a certain amount of disgust with this on twitter, and I do sort of share it, but after all, Osborne has absolutely no qualifications for being the chancellor (of the exchequer). I'm not convinced being elected by his local constituency counts as such (although I suppose the fact that he was shadow chancellor at the time of the election gives a certain degree of authority). Osborne has a degree in modern history from Oxford. No doubt he is in a position to discuss and argue eloquently on modern history, and there is no doubt that a grasp of modern history is useful in politics. Brown, incidentally, also had a degree and a phd in history.

So heres the thing. I am aware that both Brown and Osborne had and have available to them some of the finest economics advice available, and civil servants to guide them. But... well as the recession happened and Osborne insisted that the only way to cut the deficit was his way, the only real way I could judge this was via economists, many of whom did agree with Osborne, some of whom did not. I felt a little powerless to decry his moves to be honest, as, after all, while I have a good deal of mathematical knowledge, my economics training is very fundamental. How to pick between two shouting economists without a basic grasp of the issues? Well this is surely precisely the dilemma faced by both Brown and Osborne! Politicians cannot be expected to be fully educated on all the issues, and by all means they should take advice, but when their job is fundamentally technical they should maybe have some qualifications?

Ideally for any issue which is scientifically established one shouldn't need qualifications to determine the truth: given a well qualified biologist and a creationist to argue, provided you don't come in with your mind made up you should make the right choice. Of course a bit of scientific training will help a lot with even this most basic of distinctions, as such concepts as Occam's razor, which are second nature to most scientists, may not be immediately apparent to the uninitiated. And, of course, many issues in practice are much easier to obfuscate on. The economy, where two economists don't really seem to agree on anything, seems even more problematic to that regard.

It is common knowledge that many politicians lack basic science knowledge, with the arts drawing many more to politics than hard science, and this is an issue. There shouldn't be required qualifications for the house of commons other than convincing your peers that you will represent them. But government? Key roles requiring technical knowledge? Perhaps we might want to have qualified people taking those roles?


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