Could you edit The Guardian? Take a simple test

Here’s a simple test to see if you too have what it takes to edit The Guardian.

a. You have an interview lined up with a Treasury minister.

b. You have a journalist who happily admits they don’t understand the difference between a cyclical and structural deficit.

Do you say:

1. “Pah, so what? It’s not like we need an interviewer who can understand the basics of economics to interview an economics minister”, or

2. “Err, could we get a different interviewer?”

If your answer is #1: well done, you’re made it (as the third paragraph of this new interview with Danny Alexander demonstrates).

If your answer is #2: commiserations; join me in the corner muttering about what has British journalism come to and the modern fashion for thinking ignorance is admirable.

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  • Was the article an in depth analysis of coalition economic policy, or a character study?

    To my reading it is the latter, and the journalists admitted ignorance is used to examine Alexander’s ability to describe the underlying rationale for his economic decisions in terms an educated layman can understand. This is something the journalist admits Alexander can do and the resulting profile is not unsympathetic. If it were cruel the interviewer would point out more strongly that Alexander is unlikely to be an MP at the next election and ask him if it was worth it.

  • Mark, another example, I’m afraid, of you trying to pick out small points to attack people you have decided you either want or need to attack (ie in this case, people who may have a lot of time for the “too far too fast” argument on deficit reduction). They (sorry, we) don’t have it all wrong, you know. And many many reputable economists are on “our side” of the argument, as you will also know.

    In this case, I totally agree with g that it is a general profile, not an economic analysis, which I am sure you will also have picked up pretty quickly! Frankly, most of those in the party who are not sympathetic to Government economic policy (of whom there are many) would see this as an over-positive profile of Danny!

  • PS I wish I did have what it takes to be the Editor of the Grauniad!!

  • Economic literacy in a left wing paper? Isn’t that a paradox?

  • @Simon McGrath
    “Given the general standard of economic literacy in the Guardian he may well have been the best choice they had available!”

    This, coming from someone that thinks that the private sector pays for the public sector (from your previous comments on LDV)!

    Have you actually read any articles by Larry Elliott? If you did, you would realise that the Grauniad is well ahead of the pack on economic analysis.

    @Mark Pack
    The concept of a ‘structural deficit’ is a political construct, not an economic one:

  • simon wilson 1st Aug '11 - 11:02am

    Very disapointingly and petty Mark response. Is it silly season already?

    The interview is a personality-based character study-hence its place in G2 rather than the economic pages or business section. It is actually a very good article-typical of Stephen Moss’s slighty self-depreciating and down-to-earth style-surely it is always good for politicians to speak to the layperson rather than the professional. Had the artcle been an over-academic and cyncial attack on the party, Mark would have led the chorus of criticism.

    I actually thought that Danny came across well.

  • JustAnotherVoter 1st Aug '11 - 11:52am

    If you can find many Guardian hacks who know the difference between the deficit and the debt, even that would be a surprise.

  • There is no such thing as a structural deficit – or at least one that can be defined or measured in any legitimate way.

    It all depends on what a “normal” level of output for the economy is – and if you can find 2 economists that agree on that I’d be impressed.

    As with most economics (and I say this as an economist) it is unproven and usually open to interpretation and or abuse by politicians. You can hardly criticise a journalist for not knowing about something that only exists in the minds of people seeking to justify cuts they argued against 18 months ago.

  • This article is begging for a parody titled “Could you edit Lib Dem Voice?”, but since it would undoubtedly get moderated there’s no point in writing one.

  • The Guardian has also been speculating about Mike Hancock and Norman Baker competing for the same seat post Boundary reviews.

  • I actually rather had the impression from the article that the writer was drily joking about the issue of difference between cyclical and structural deficits. I don’t think I was putting together a conspiracy theory, Mark – I and others have mentioned this tendency of picking up trivial points a few times, and there have been another few on which I haven’t had the enthusiasm to comment! Of course economics was relevant, but many profile articles have a specialist subject of relevance, but I can’t see that as a bar to a journalist interviewing and writing these articles. Anyway, Stephen Moss does not say he knows nothing about economics at all.

    As for the attacks by Simon McGrath, Charles etc on The Guardian’s economics, perhaps that is merely because you take an “orthodox” economic view, or are imbued with Thatcherite principles, or something. I am surprised you have not, if you are seriously involved in any shape or form with Lib Dems, that you have not had to engage rather more deeply with the economics of the left and centre left.

  • I don’t buy this “economics of the left” business. Darling Balls and Brown weren’t on the same page in the lead up to the last election, or now. There isn’t a consensus amongst the left. Balls now invites comparison with an arsonist who runs out into the street and howls “Fire”.

    I’m happy to give Labour some credit for at least trying some stimuli with VAT and scrappage, but looking back neither were a glowing success in the medium term.

  • Joseph Donnelly 2nd Aug '11 - 2:33am

    @ Steve

    Maybe I’m unfamiliar with the eccentricities of Simon McGrath’s exact comments but…

    What exactly is wrong with the statement that the private sector pays for the public sector?

    Surely thats fairly self evident?

  • Joseph Donnelly

    It is far too simplistic – that is what is wrong with it. It seems to be the new slogan of the right – both here and in the US – and is not particularly helpful

  • Joseph Donnelly 2nd Aug '11 - 12:36pm

    @ bazsc

    But it is true is it not? How else can the public sector pay for itself over than borrowing and then its just using future private sector incomes to pay for itself.

    If we are to justify a state existing, let alone providing a safety net of any sort then we need to be prepared to confront arguments about the private sector paying for the public sector, not pretend they do not exist.

    I find it strange that in todays liberal party talking about high tax and any criticism of the state is seen as instinctively right wing…fear of big states is something very much inline with liberal thinking.

  • Joseph Donnelly

    Your statement is true in parts and not true in other parts which is why it is simplistic.

    If you have a private medical care system then what is the difference between that and one in which the public sector provides the care? – someone is providing it and collects money either through premiums or taxes. I don’t support the former because I do not think in this case profit is the best judge – the same for the police and teachning. There is a coherent argument against that but it is not the one you are making. You judge it purely in terms of ‘who pays’ and in the end it is the same people – you and

    As an aside, I lived in a country with a totally private health sector and I can tell you that the fact I was paying to the private provider than the state was not a benefit – especially when you are admitted to hospital and the first thing they check is insurance levels etc? I was also fortunate to be able to afford the insurance – those who couldn’t had a much harder time. In the end the state ends up picking up the tab for the uninsured and it is amazing how reluctant they are to pay for difficult/expensive treatments.

    In the end the ‘private vs public’ is complex and your comment that the private sector pays for the public sector does not address this complexity. In the end the example I give above is that in the end it is the individual who is paying whether through taxes or premiums.

    There are clearly some parts of the state that can be rolled back or challenged but that is a much longer debate and again is complex and needs looking at the pros and cons for each case

  • Joseph Donnelly 2nd Aug '11 - 3:17pm

    @ bazsc

    haha ok, I can’t really argue with what you’ve put there, I suspect we don’t disagree too much. I was just reacting against a reaction by someone else against anyone within this party saying something ‘anti public sector’.

  • @Joseph Donnelly
    “What exactly is wrong with the statement that the private sector pays for the public sector?”

    It’s factually incorrect. It’s not just an opinion I don’t agree with – it’s blatantly absurd from a point of view of simple logic. The public and private sector are both parts of the same economy, using money to exchange goods and services with each other. The private sector no more pays for the public sector than the public sector pays for the private sector (e.g. public sector employees spending their wages in the private sector, private-sector outsourcing of publically funded services, etc). The only way that wealth can transfer between the two sectors is if one provides better value for money than the other, e.g. if the public sector delivers better value for money then there is a net transfer of wealth to the private sector (and vice versa).

    To argue that the private sector pays for public sector (both in their entirity) really is quite exceptionally silly and no more accurate than to say the public sector pays for the private (unless you are arguing from a position that one sector provides value for money and the other does absolutely nothing of use, which is what I suspect most people that come up with the argument(sic) really think).

  • Joseph Donnelly

    Thanks for the response – blogs are all about challenging other people’s views and that what makes them so interesting. Sometimes playing Devil’s Advocate is good fun!!!

  • @Joseph Donnelly
    ” I was just reacting against a reaction by someone else against anyone within this party saying something ‘anti public sector’.”

    If you are referring to me, then you are completely misrepresenting me. The reason I have an issue with someone saying that the private sector pays for the public sector is precisely because it is (a) factually untrue (b) borne of prejudice rather than reasoning. If a valid argument, based on evidence, is presented against the public ownership of something then I’m all ears.

    “I find it strange that in todays liberal party talking about high tax and any criticism of the state is seen as instinctively right wing…fear of big states is something very much inline with liberal thinking.”

    Criticism of the state when it is criticism for criticism’s sake (as with the fallacious private sector paying for the public sector argument) is not even ideological, it is a form of un-evidenced prejudice. Fear of big-states has nothing to do with liberalism in any way whatsoever, if it is not evidenced. If the big-state provides better value for money, greater freedom and fairness than a small-state then it would be completely illiberal to reduce the size of the state. You haven’t put forward a single argument as to why you think a smaller state is more liberal, let alone backed it up with any evidence. When fear is not based on evidence then it is known as paranoia, and that’s exactly how certain commenters on this blog sound.

  • Joseph Donnelly 3rd Aug '11 - 3:32pm


    I didn’t mean to misrepresent your views sorry.

    I’m going to try to avoid doing a straw man but your statement ‘fear of big states has nothing to do with liberalism whatsoever’ just seems completely contradictory to the history of liberalism. Liberalism comes from a history of fear of the state. I’m not saying that I have a deontological objection to a big state, no its a utilitarian objection but that objection has been around for at least 400 years and stays today. As a liberal, I am scared of big states, I have loads of reasons but it can be simplified down to that statement and it should be a statement that liberals generally can all concur with I would hope.

    I don’t think big states ever really do produce more freedom and greater value for money. A big state almost necessarily needs that state to be producing things (otherwise its quite hard to become big) and an example of that is the NHS in the UK. This is an issue that is peculiarly British, for some reasons socialists, liberals and social democrats in other European/world countries are very very happy to consider that an insurance system, a single payer system or the Singapori system work very well without the state being large and producing things. Yet in the UK its right wing to oppose the state producing healthcare (i’m aware you’ve never put forward that view). So theres a quick example of one particular thing a big state in the UK does and I don’t think it does efficiently and it should not do.

    We are engaged in a bit of a battle of semantics when it comes to private sector pays for public sector, unfortunately for the quality of this debate, I think my semantic interpretation is correct….You’ve also called my view exceptionally silly and flawed logic so I struggle to leave this alone!

    What is the private sector, the naive view is that is BSkyB, Tesco, even your local flower shop. What is the public sector; the NHS, RDAs, DWP, etc.

    The difference between public and private is that public is stuff that individuals are forced to pay for by law, whereas private is not coerced in that way. So me spending any money on anything other than tax or public services, is me engaging in the private sector. Me being paid in any way by anyone other than public services is private.

    Just look at that again, how does a public servant get the money in order to ‘pay for the public sector’ like you allege they do. All the public servants money to pay for the public sector is paid for, by the public sector. Another claim you make is that I could just as easily say that the public sector pays for the private sector. If a public servant pays for private goods then it seems like he is supporting the private sector through public money, similarly if an RDA or NHS buys something off the private sector, is it not supporting it.

    Where on earth does public sector money come from then? All public sector money comes from taxing people or taxing future people, government does not have money intrinsically, it has to take it. That money it taxes is off 3 groups, public sector employees, private sector employees, private sector companies. Where do the public sector employees get their money from that is then taxes? The public sector, so we can rule that little circle out.

    So again the only way the public sector can ever have any money is by taxing individuals not paid for by the state, by taxing companies not paid for by the state – which in turn is just a way of taxing individuals eventually and by borrowing money which is just taxing these two groups in future.

    So yes, the private sector pays for the public.

  • Joseph Donnelly 4th Aug '11 - 12:19am


    I think the difference between businesses and government not having money intrinsically, to answer your question, is that consumers [should] have a choice over whether to give a company money, they don’t have the choice with regards to government.

    You mentioned that the public sector covers:
    (which broadly covers law and order, diplomacy and defence, trade and industry and health and education for starters

    I would agree with you on law, order, diplomacy and defence (for the purposes of my lifetime I don’t think the privatisation of any of these services is on the agenda, although there are interesting theoretical arguments about that…)

    Trade and industry I’m not quite sure what you mean…
    If by trade you mean signing the UK up for free trade agreements then yes govt. is kind of necessary but kind of not….Its only the existence of govt. that has caused protectionism and stopped free trade but from where we are now; yes govt. has the role to play in trade negotiations because of the way of the world and nation states.

    On industry I’m not sure the public sector has any role to play in any of the definitions I can come up with in my head for what you might mean, but I might of misunderstood!

    Health and education are interesting cases. As a liberal I don’t intrinsically think both of these need to be done by the state, however if arguments can be presented that show me it should be then I support it.
    My personal view is that govt. has a role to play in health but not the role it does in the UK, I don’t think govt. should produce healthcare, it should either do the singapori insurance system or an insurance asystem like that you have in the Netherlands or much of Europe. The actual hospitals etc can be owned privately.

    On education, in the UK we currently have the benefits of private education for the rich and the disadvantages of public education for the poor. Its an awful situation and personally I sway and am very open to various solutions. Again I’m quite interested in some form of basic ‘citizen salary’ or high personal allowance with negative income tax, that means that although everyone pays for education and the education is provided privately, everyone has the basic means to pay for it… But again, I’m open to different liberal solutions to this problem and i certainly think the UK Has it messed up…

    The reason why I take a provocative line on the ‘public sector pays for private sector’ case, is that I’m worried that within the ‘liberal movement’ in the UK, we seem to have forgotten some basic liberal problems. The state taxing anyone to pay for something should be justified properly and robustly by any liberal, it is not a given that the state should force people to pay for things. So when I see people getting all het up by allegations that private money pays for the state, I get worried that we are trying to distort the debate and pretend that it doesnt happen. Its all very well to believe that we can justify state taxes and spending on something but we must remember that justification is important, we shouldn’t fudge the debate by pretending the public sector somehow pays for itself.

  • This is analogous to a disucssion on the subject of the Universe by the Flat Earth Society. I don’t understand how it’s possible for people to not feel ashamed of themselves whilst discussing a subject, when it is obvious that they nothing of the very basics of that subject.

  • Joseph Donnelly 5th Aug '11 - 5:36pm


    urgh steve steve steve.

    You need to be able to justify why the public sector pays for itself and is not paid for by the private sector.

    You need to be able to justify why it is fundamentally a liberal principle to think that todays state at 51% of GDP is the right size.

    I can and have given arguments why the public sector can obviously not pay for itself, its just a silly thing to say, the public sector has no money of its own, it has to get it off the private sector.

    I can and have given brief arguments for why I think the state could be smaller and some examples, I didn’t go into took much detail because thats a much longer debate.

    This dismissing of all debate by you because people don’t know enough and calling us flat earthers, its just strange, debate by all means but don’t pretend that you hold the fundamental liberal position that isn’t possible of debating unless we all know loads about erm economics, politics or philosophy?

    The strange thing is I actually have no idea what you think ‘the basics of the subject’ are, maybe I’m just extremely stupid but what fundamentals do you want me or others to know before we can maybe question some of these principles you hold without being pariahs or extremists.

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