Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The attack on thrift

Last Wednesday, when I was in my local newsagent, I noticed a copy of the the Times, with a big headline on the front cover about thrifty families being blamed for prolonging the recession. This struck me as preposterous, and clearly I’m not the only one, for Samizdata has described this as the dumb headline of the day.

But what struck me was the implication that this was virtually a moral issue. Thrift has become a vice; spending money on things that you don’t need has become a virtue.

And that is surely the way a lot of politicians see it. The temporary cut in the VAT rate was designed to encourage spending on luxuries. The car scrappage scheme was surely intended to encourage people who were not planning to buy new cars to go out and buy one anyway. And of course, the government has shown that it regards thrift as a bad thing, because its reaction to the economic slowdown was not just to encourage citizens to go out and spend - but also to increase borrowing so that it could itself spend more.

I think that this is economically dubious. But I think that it is morally dubious as well.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

And the government shall be

upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

May all readers of this blog experience the goodness of God this Christmas.

(And my apologies to anyone who believes that the above greeting constitutes bullying.)

Monday, 21 December 2009

Know thyself: a guide for the perplexed

Wondering which party to vote for? Help is at hand with the Hunch UK Political Parties quiz.

In its favour:

1) It's short. (In fact, it is as short as the so-called "World's Smallest Political Quiz.")

2. It doesn't just seek to place you on a political spectrum or tell you your ideology. There are already a lot of political tests which do that. Rather, it aims to be a voter guide - to help you discover which party's policies most closely match your views. I cannot recall seeing such a test for British politics before - though several appeared on the internet in 2007 and 2008 to help Americans decide which candidate for the presidency they were closest to.)

3. It gives people a choice of several answers, asking them which is closest to their position, rather than simply asking "Do you agree or disagree with this statement?" I find that when the latter approach is taken, there are sometimes several reasons why someone might disagree with a statement; hence a statement of disagreement doesn't, in and of itself, actually tell anyone anything.

4. It actually includes the Libertarian Party among the parties listed!

5. It seems to work, because it decided that the Libertarian Party was the one for me.

Against it:

1. Several parties which are considerably larger than the Libertarian Party were not included.

2. It lacks sophistication. Not only is it brief, but some of the questions were odd, and the some of the scoring was even odder. (I'm sure that the erudite readers of this blog could design a considerably better test!)

By the way, I must confess that I am a sucker for these kinds of tests, and cannot resist almost taking every one that I encounter. The best of them, in my opinion, is the Political Spectrum Quiz. One of the basic problems of political ideology tests is that they generally use only two axes, which results in gross simplification. (Surely it is ridiculous to suggest that all political ideologies can effectively be reduced to just two axes.) The Political Spectrum Quiz effectively uses four axes.

A good example of the problem of using two axes is found in the Political Survey 2005. It asks good questions, but then chooses two very strange axes to plot the results on, so that the results are almost meaningless. However, they do implicitly acknowledge the difficulty of using only two axes.

The best known, Political Compass, is overrated. It's better than many, but a lot of the questions are odd, or poorly phrased. And it tells me that I am to the left of the 2008 Labour Party. Hmmmm. However, related to this, there is one thing I like about it. It describes Labour as a party of the right, and the BNP as a party of the left. That may be not actually be true, but at least it must annoy the Labour Party. :-)

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Human rights culture and tyranny

Writing in the Telegraph, Mr Charles Moore says that Britain's new supreme court "is effectively saying that a religion's way of defining its own membership, practised over 3,500 years, is illegal."

He continues "I would argue that the judgment goes wider still. It is part of a current idea of equality and of human rights which, in the name of freedom, is beginning to look like tyranny."

Well said, Mr Moore!

I believe that, in particular, he is profoundly right about two things. This is not simply about one judgement of one court. It is about our the whole of our current political culture. And it is looking like tyranny.

Indeed, always winter, and never Christmas.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Creative writing at the University of East Anglia

(Hat tip to Bishop Hill)

Note those words: "Since it was founded in 1963, UEA has broken the mould in a number of areas, from creative writing to environmental sciences."

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Is libertarianism compatible with Christianity?

Not my question, but that of Mr. Stewart Cowan of Real Street, asked in a comment on a post on this blog.

It is a question that has been discussed a lot in other places, but why not have another discussion here? Blogs are for reinventing the wheel, are they not?

I. Stewart's question

Is libertarianism compatible with Christianity? We know that the truth will make us free and that behaving however we want will lead us into sin and enslave us.

To which I answered, in brief: "I agree with your second sentence. Libertarianism is about political freedom, not ultimate freedom. Politics cannot make anyone free, and operates in a completely different realm from the gospel - though politics can bring political freedom. So I'm not sure what the connection is between your first sentence and your second sentence.

If you can persuade me from Scripture that libertarianism is not compatible with Christianity, I shall be grateful. But my view is that it is more compatible with Christianity than any other form of politics in a sinful and fallen world."

II. Definitions of Libertarianism.

My definition: Libertarianism: the philosophy that holds that the ultimate political value is the freedom of the individual, and that the most effective way to uphold that freedom is to limit the scope of the state to those activities which directly defend that freedom.

Leg-Iron: Libertarianism . . . means fewer and simpler laws that are easy to understand and follow. . . . You are free to do whatever you want in Libertarianism as long as it hurts nobody else. Cause trouble and the proverbial ton of bricks comes into play.

Counting Cats: The basic principle is: "Thou shalt not initiate the use of violence." Everything else derives from that. Note, this is not pacifism; if someone initiates violence against you and yours, or your friends and allies and theirs, you are free to respond as you see fit. (And "violence" basically means "coercion", as I understand this definition.)

Bella Gerens: Libertarians believe you should be free from coercion – and that you must not coerce anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from interference – and that you must not interfere with anyone else. Libertarians believe you should be free from oppression – and that you must not oppress anyone else. Because these are to be universal freedoms: what you do not wish done to you, you must not do to anyone else.

There are many more, but those give one a basic idea. (A lot of libertarians speak about "self-ownership" being the basic principle of libertarianism, though I find that philosophically problematic, and don't accept it.)

III. So,what are the options?

1. No philosophy of government is compatible with Christianity. All fall short. And so, by implication, Christians should not be involved in politics or waste time discussing political matters.

2. Christians have a duty to "christianise" society, and should use political (among other) means to do so. This implies using force on unbelievers. This is what many would call the Constantinian or "Christendom" model. However, in my opinion, 2000 years of church history show that this has a nasty habit of turning, er, nasty - though there are plenty of people working on non-nasty variants. But these often end up being virtually indistinguishable from mainstream western political parties.

(I have dealt with both those options, to some extent, here.)

3. Libertarianism is not compatible with Christianity, but some other (basically secular) political philosophies are.

4. Libertarianism is compatible with Christianity. Indeed, it may be more compatible with Christianity than other political philosophies.

IV. A brief vindication of the thesis that libertarianism is compatible with Christianity.

1. The New Testament nowhere suggests that Christians have a duty to use the power of the sword to christianise society by political means.

2. What is the main thing that Christians are to seek from government?

I Timothy 2:1-2 "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way."

The main thing Christians are urged to pray for, when we pray for politicians, is that government will allow us to lead a peaceful and quiet life, and to let us get on with being Christians. This implies that the main thing that we are to look for from government is to basically leave us alone and protect us from those who would attack us. Which is basically the libertarianism position.

3. If we want to be allowed to lead a peaceful and quiet life, then we should want others to be allowed to lead a quiet life and do what they want to do. As a Christian, you cannot consistently ask the government to grant you the freedom to do what you want, if you, at the same time, want the government to deny others the freedom to do what they want (as long, of course, as it does not hurt someone else). Luke 6:31 "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

4. I have never seen anything in the Bible which suggests that libertarian principles are not compatible with Christianity.

If readers believe that I am wrong, then I invite them to point out my errors.

Monday, 14 December 2009

More on state control of education

The Scottish Government is currently in the process of bringing in the modestly named Curriculum for Excellence.

The front line troops in Scottish education are, apparently, not totally convinced . . .

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Children, the state, and social engineering

(Or "Some thoughts on compulsory education")

Via Longrider, I see that the "think tank" Demos has produced a report entitled Service Nation, arguing that a scheme of civic national service would be a good idea. They come out saying that that they don't think that it should be compulsory for all citizens to undertake a a civic service scheme at a certain point in their lives. However they do say "A lifecycle approach to service learning should begin with school, with compulsory service learning as part of the national curriculum." And they also say "If it is to work, the service must be universal. . . . That’s why our proposals run from the age of seven to adulthood, rather than a scheme for young adults." And they talk about the huge public benefits.

Seems pretty harmless, doesn't it? Though of course we need to remember that every time something is added to the national curriculum, something else that the school is doing with children has to go. And that, in itself, is sufficient reason to assume that this is a bad idea, unless it can be shown otherwise.

But I have another problem with this. It is basically about that it is all about the state deciding how children are to be brought up. And this is something I am highly uneasy about because the state increasingly feels that it has the right to say how children are brought up and what they are taught.

Once upon a time, it wasn't like that, of course. But in Victorian times, those with good intentions felt that it was not good enough just to make education available to families. They felt the need to go further. And so compulsory education in England and Wales (for children aged 5 to 10) was introduced by the 1880 Elementary Education Act.

Scotland, however, was well ahead, since the 1872 Education (Scotland) Act had already made education compulsory for all children aged 5 to 13. But the 1872 Act is interesting for another reason. It decreed that the existing parish and burgh schools should be taken over by the state and managed by locally elected School Boards. The Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland handed over their schools without charge to the School Boards. (Interestingly enough, the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church chose to not to.) In other words the 1872 act represents an important milestone in the growth of the power of the state. Not only did the state force parents to educate their children upon pain of punishment, but it also took control of most education in Scotland away from the voluntary / private sector.

In actual fact, the school boards that were set up by the 1872 Act were locally elected, so the element of state control was fairly limited. However, over the course of time, things changed. In 1918, these school boards were abolished and their powers were taken by local government, and this remains the case today.

There are two other ways in which the state can increase its control of education - and has done so. The most obvious is increasing interference in the classroom by central government - like the National Curriculum that was introduced by the Education Reform Act 1988, and the 5-14 curriculum in Scotland of the same era.

The other is to place limits on the two alternatives to state education: private schools and home education. For financial and practical reasons, these two alternatives are not actually open to most parents. Nonetheless, politicians are often uneasy about them. Germany bans home-schooling, and the Badman proposals make it likely that home education in Britain is going to become more difficult. And as for private schools, as recently as 1983, the Labour Party’s manifesto promised their virtual destruction:
Private schools are a major obstacle to a free and fair education system, able to serve the needs of the whole community. . . .We shall . . . withdraw charitable status from private schools and all their other public subsidies and tax privileges. We will also charge VAT on the fees paid to such schools; phase out fee charging; and integrate private schools within the local authority sector where necessary.
My contention is that both the compulsion of parents and increasing control of education by the state are wrong. The latter is a threat to freedom, the former is a breach of basic freedoms. Yes, increasing control of education by the state does lead to greater consistency between schools. And yes, compulsory education undoubtedly increases literacy rates. And yes, most parents have no problem with compulsory education and state control of education. But there are nonconformists. And they have a right to be respected.

And so let me finish this post by crossing the Atlantic to Ohio, and going back in history to 1922 with a tale of nonconformity. My source is A History of the Amish by Steven Nolt.

In 1921, the state of Ohio passed the Bing Act, requiring compulsory school attendance up to the age of 18. This was considered by the legislators to be a major social and educational advance, but the Amish community in Ohio wasn’t at all enthusiastic. The Amish believed that formal education should be basic, and in harmony the church and home, and that what was being taught to older children in state schools was not helpful for their children. When some Amish children did not turn up for classes, or refused to read some of the objectionable content in high school texts, the state stepped in. In January 1922, officials arrested five Amish fathers on charges of neglecting their children’s welfare. Most of the men’s school age children became wards of court. The authorities sent them to an orphanage and would not allow them to wear their Amish clothes.

Says it all really. “You are not bringing up your children in accordance of our newly passed law. Therefore you are not good parents, and we can take your children away from you, and take away their religious identity.” Isn't it funny the way that passing laws makes government officials behave in irrational ways?

Monday, 7 December 2009

Amanda Knox, climate change, and the human mind

Amidst all the publicity concerning the trial of Amanda Knox, the thing that interests me is the fact that Miss Knox's family and friends are convinced that she is innocent, while the parents of Meredith Kercher feel that the guilty verdict was correct.

You are not surprised, are you? Confronted by pretty much the same evidence, people not only come to different conclusions, but you can pretty much guess which people are going to come to which conclusions.

So it is with Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), or "climate change."

Take my parents. The circles they move in are largely church circles - and in particular, church circles where people have an interest in Africa and in development projects. They are interested in the environment and 'green issues'. They rely for news almost entirely on the output of the BBC. You know what they think, don't you? But I'll tell you anyway. Despite (or because of?) the fact that neither of them have a background in science, they regard disbelief in AGW as about astonishing as believing that the earth is flat.

Libertarians are a different breed. As I wander around the wilderness of the blogosphere, dropping in on blogs - generally libertarian in outlook - I rarely encounter any true believers in AGW. It seems that almost every libertarian in the world is a climate change sceptic. I can't think of a single libertarian true believer in AGW.

I cannot believe that this is a coincidence. Nor can I believe that all these libertarians have pored objectively over the evidence and come to one conclusion, and every green has pored over the evidence and come to the opposite conclusion. Is this not puzzling?

I think that the Heresiarch, over at Heresy Corner, has pretty much got the answer:
Scepticism about the science of global warming is informed by scepticism about the means being proposed to tackle it: regulations, targets, interventions, the shadow of global governance, top-down control. Free-marketeers naturally hate the artificial mechanisms that are beloved of meddling politicians.
Or, to put it another way, freedom lovers can see that if everybody accepts AGW, then we are going to get a huge number of intrusive laws, so they hate AGW's acceptance among the political classes. Greens can see that if everybody accepts AGW, we will get a huge number of laws that force everybody to be green, so they love it when the political classes accept AGW . And so both freedom lovers and greens form their conclusions about the truth of AGW accordingly.

And so I conclude that men's brains are truly slaves of their passions.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Equality Bill

(I've just posted this as a comment on Cranmer, but for those of you who don't read Cranmer, I thought I'd post it here as well.)

I believe that the Equality Bill being proposed by Her Majesty's Government is wrong.

In fact, I am less than enthusiastic about Mr. David Drew's amendment, which was voted down this week, because it doesn't go far enough. It only seeks to make certain limited exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination. In fact, I believe that non-discrimination legislation should only apply to government, and that all non-governmental organisations should be free to employ whoever they want. Anti-discrimination legislation is an attack on freedom of association.

That said, I'm not sure that this dire Equality Bill needs to be such a big problem for religious organisations.

As Cranmer says, "churches are by definition primarily concerned with theological enlightenment and spiritual development."

If a church believes that homosexual activity is wrong, its main concern should not be whether a job applicant is homosexual or heterosexual, or whether the applicant is celibate or non-celibate. Its main concern should be with whether a prospective applicant believes and publicly affirms and teaches that homosexual activity is wrong. And my understanding is that even if the Equality Bill is passed, they will still be able to ask about such matters in job interviews.

Edit: I have also written on the subject of anti-discrimination law here.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Badman: Government responds to Home Education petition

Home educators, and others of us who have misgivings about the proposals in the Badman report (see here), petitioned the government to express our concern. The government has now responded, and has indicated that it is not going to give an inch by saying "The recommendations set out by Badman are proportionate and reasonable." Of course, it says "We will take into account the responses to the consultation and any report arising from the Select Committee Inquiry into the review of home education when deciding how to proceed," but it looks like it intends to implement most of the proposals in the Badman report.

The key line in the government's response is "Most home educators do an excellent job but we can’t afford to let any child slip through the net – in terms of their education, or safety." In other words, the government believes that it is responsible for every single child, and that it is potentially capable of ensuring that every child in the country is kept safe and given a good education.

Hmmm. There are at least four problems with that statement that jump out at me immiediately.

1) No one seriously thinks that the state is actually able to keep every child in the country safe.

2) Even to keep every child in the country safe from his or her parents would require incredible intrusion into family life.

3) Note that politicians believe that it is for them to define what constitutes a good education.

4) If you speak to a lot of parents in this country, you will discover that several of them have real doubts as to whether their local state schools actually do provide a good education. Some also have concerns about how safe their children might be in their local school.

The general impression I get is one of incredible hubris on the part of the government. They really do believe that they can solve all the world's problems.

[Note that whatever action the government takes will not apply to Scotland. However, Scotland's rules concerning home education are actually slightly tighter at the moment than those of England and Wales - in that in Scotland, parents already require local authority permission to withdraw their children from school, and there is a recommendation that home educating families be visited once a year by the authorities. (For more on the prospects for home educators in Scotland, see here.)]

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Of foxes, chickens, direct democracy, and Swiss minarets

I suppose that when one considers that we live in a country where the sale of 100 watt incandescent light bulbs is banned, the ban on building minarets in Switzerland does not seem quite so bizarre.

The fascinating thing about this decision is that (unlike the light bulb ban), it was taken not by politicians, but by the ordinary people, voting in a referendum. I must confess that I admire the Swiss system of allowing citizens to over-ride the will of the politicians by making decisions in referenda. I think we should have more direct democracy in Britain. But should we allow a vote like this?

Let’s look at the issues concerned. There are two sets of rights. One is the right of people to build minarets. The other is the right of people not to have to look at minarets. Now I am willing to submit that in picture postcard alpine villages, with their baroque church towers, a minaret would look somewhat out of place. But this vote is not merely about banning minarets in some scenic areas, it is about banning them everywhere in the country. And, to be honest, minarets are not horrible looking. Many are quite aesthetically pleasing. I can see no argument that people have a right not to look at a minaret. And if the Swiss are worried about being woken by a call to prayer at some unearthly hour in the morning, I would suggest that alternative legislation could be used.

Or perhaps they believe that Islam is not a good thing, and they wish to stop its spread. Well, I too believe that Islam is not a good thing. As a Christian, I take the view that any religious system that teaches that Jesus Christ was merely a prophet, and not the eternal, incarnate Son of God, is a bad thing. That does not mean, of course that I want to ban it or believe that the law should be used to inhibit its spread. But even if I did, I can’t see how banning the building of minarets would help. In short, it is pointless and petty and will probably do nothing to stop the spread of Islam in Switzerland.

So this all comes down to the right of Muslims in Switzerland to build their mosques the way that they want to build them, since minarets do no harm to anyone. Which means that Swiss law permits referenda which are designed to take away some of the freedoms - religious freedoms, in this case - of some of its citizens. One is reminded of the saying: “Democracy is two foxes and a chicken deciding what to have for dinner.”

And as for the argument that you won’t see any church towers in Saudi Arabia, this must be the worst argument of all in favour of the Swiss decision. Whatever happened to “Do to others as you would have them do to you”? (Luke 6:31) I trust that all serious followers of Jesus Christ in Switzerland voted against this ridiculous ban.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism

Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. (Genesis 11:9)

I like clarity. I like to know what people are talking about, and what they mean when they use a word. Therefore I like definitions. Some might say that I am obsessive about them. But I have observed that the language of all the earth is confused, and even speakers of English have a difficult time understanding each other. And I don’t just refer to the confusion between those in the USA and those in the UK. Hence my efforts to define libertarianism.

The question that is exercising me at the moment is the relationship between libertarianism and classical liberalism. (This is because of a comment left on the last post by Mr. Phil Walker: “I'm not really libertarian, although I would define myself as classically liberal so I'm something of a political cousin.”) And since I find that pictures are often worth several hundred words, I found this picture useful.

What you will notice is that minarchist libertarianism is not marked on it. So clearly it is time to play “spot the ball”. (Do people still play it?) My guess is that minarchism is roughly where the words “Classical liberals” appear. Or possibly just above it, but below the line. After all, we minarchists differ from anarcho-capitalists in that we believe in do not believe in the elimination of the state, we merely believe in minimising it. (I am assuming that the horizontal line in the diagram is the dividing line between those who believe in eliminating the state and those who don’t.) But why doesn’t minarchism appear in the picture? Is it because the man who drew the diagram (Jesús Huerta de Soto) believed that minarchism was basically the same as classical liberalism?

So, is there a difference between minarchism and classical liberalism? And if so, what is it?

Raimondo Cubeddu of the Department of Political Science of the University of Pisa says
It is often difficult to distinguish between 'libertarianism' and 'classical liberalism'. Those two labels are used almost interchangeably by those we may call libertarians of a 'minarchist' persuasion—scholars who, following Locke and Nozick, believe a state is needed in order to achieve effective protection of property rights.
However Walter Block (an anarcho-capitalist) saysAdam Smith should be seen as a moderate free enterpriser who appreciated markets but made many, many exceptions. He allowed government all over the place.” (For example, Adam Smith supported public roads, canals and bridges. However, he favoured that these goods should be paid proportionally to their consumption - e.g., putting a toll).

And Alan Ryan, professor of Political Science at Princeton University, argues that the claim from
...contemporary libertarians...that they are classical liberals...is not wholly true. There is at least one strain of libertarian thought represented by Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia that advocates the decriminalisation of 'victimless crimes' such as prostitution, drug-taking and unorthodox sexual activities. There is nothing of that in John Locke or Adam Smith.
Wikipedia says
While minarchists oppose all government intervention except for defense and dispute resolution, classical liberals make more exceptions and allow state intervention and provision of extraneous public goods such as public transportation and utilities. Therefore, we can claim that minarchism is not the same as classical liberalism because while classical liberals support additional macroeconomic intervention, minarchists only see preventing aggression as the role of the state.
But it also says
However, arguments over the similarities are made difficult by the large number of factions in both classical liberalism and libertarianism. For example, minarchist libertarians are not necessarily in favour of complete economic deregulation in the first place and often support tax-funded provision of a select few public goods.

1) It seems to me that there is clear blue water between anarcho-capitalism and minarchist libertarianism. It also seems to me that minarchist libertarianism is actually much closer to classical liberalism, than to anarcho-capitalism. Minarchism and classical liberalism are so close, that they almost run into each other. But they are not quite the same. The basic difference is that classical liberalism allows state macroeconomic intervention and does not believe in the decriminalisation of 'victimless crimes.'

2) It seems slightly curious that minarchism and anarcho-capitalism are often lumped together as libertarianism, when classical liberalism is excluded, considering that minarchism actually is much closer to classical liberalism - so close that some treat them as synonymous.

3) It also seems to me that the manifesto of the LPUK is actually somewhere between classical liberalism and minarchist libertarianism. It does allow macroeconomic intervention, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The result is that a lot of anarcho-capitalists will join the party enthusiastically, and then become rather disillusioned.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

I have just read the Manhattan Declaration. This document has been much discussed by Christian bloggers in America. In this country, Cranmer has written about it, but has not really commented. Some people that I respect have signed it, others have declined.

As a Christian, I agree with pretty much everything in it. I certainly have no problem with the concluding paragraph:
Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.
I completely agree. And yet I can't get enthusiastic about the document as a whole. I find myself wondering what the point of it is. Is it a call for Christians to stand firm when ordered by Caesar to do what is wrong? Or is it a call for politicians to change direction and legislate in a more Christian manner? And what will it achieve? And I find it disconcerting that the three issues that the Declaration highlights - respect for life, respect for marriage, and religious freedom - are really three separate issues, and that the only connection between them is that they are under attack in modern America.

And so I find myself basically agreeing with Professor John Stackhouse:
. . the document seems philosophically and politically incoherent. It argues for religious liberty for Christians to dissent from views they don’t like (and this point, alas, needs increasing emphasis in America as well as here in Canada). But it also argues that these particular Christian views of abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and more should be enshrined in American law. It says nothing about the liberty of those who would dissent from those views except to assert that because these Christian views are right, they should be the law of the land. What, then, happened to religious liberty on these important matters? The document doesn’t say.

I’m conservatively prolife and have traditional Christian views of marriage also. But just because I think those views are right doesn’t entail that I believe they should be law. Deciding what ought to be law in a pluralistic, democratic society that welcomes immigrants from, and seeks to influence helpfully, countries all over the world, requires careful political theory. Indeed, it requires fundamental and detailed consideration of a variety of related subjects, including the nature and intentions of divine providence over nations, what God expects of human beings individually and corporately short of the return of Christ, what is politically feasible in a given situation, and more. There is none of that sort of thinking evident in this declaration . . ."
And that about sums up my unease with the Declaration. Philosophical and political coherence is important.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Too many knee jerk reactions

According to the Telegraph, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary has said that
“Policing has “lost its way” amid the “noise and clutter” of government targets, initiatives and new laws.”
Mr Denis O’Connor has, apparently
“accused ministers, local authorities and police chiefs of “too many knee jerk reactions” to the problems of law and order.”
Well said, sir. I hope that you are listened to. But it’s not just the problems of law and order. In the world of government, there are too many knee jerk reactions to just about everything. Too many initiatives. Too many initiatives. And definitely too many new laws.

Legislation is, to borrow a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer, “is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly.”

I think ‘wantonly’ is the perfect word to sum up the way our government has been going about the business of legislation.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Is the wind power bubble about to burst?

I have no expertise in energy. But I have been reading one or two things about it recently which interest me.

Take this quote from Professor Ian Fells, from an article in the Express: “For a long time I have thought that the wind power bubble would burst. I think that’s starting to happen. Ed Miliband tells people that to oppose wind farms is morally indefensible, but as more people start to realise the reality of what wind power actually offers, that will change.” Professor Fells has written before about his reservations about the government's enthusiasm for wind, but he now seems to think that the tide may be turning in his direction.

However, the interesting thing is the apparent reason for Professor Fells' statement. A National Grid document is quoted as saying that wind power could cost “£300 – £800 per mega watt hour (MWH) compared to conventional generation at £23 per MWH”. (The Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “A more realistic comparison of conventional and wind power would be £23 MWH compared to £30 or £80 MWH.*” So even they admit that wind power is not cheap.)

Yes, wind power is expensive. But because the government likes it, it is heavily subsidised. Professor Fells again: "Last year subsidies paid out on wind and landfill gas was £1 billion. By 2020 that figure will be £30 billion." One of the ways that wind power is subsidised is through Renewables Obligation legislation which forces energy companies to buy a certain amount of their energy from "renewable" sources. This means that suppliers of wind energy can sell their expensive product with no difficulty, and make a good profit.

In other words, the government has rigged the market in favour of wind energy, and lots of people, particularly (but not just) land owners, can get very good money at the tax-payer's expense by jumping on the wind bandwagon. I say 'not just' because the government can potentially use tax-payers' money to bribe communities, local authorities, and businesses (to mention just a few) to get wind turbines erected all over the place.

Which might just be fair enough if the science behind wind energy was right. But if Professor Fells is right, then the government is simply taking our money at gunpoint to wreck the British countryside by sticking massive concrete and iron structures all over it, which will probably be obsolete in a generation.

This is the power of the Leviathan state, which the Archbishop of Canterbury is so enthusiastic about - pursuing long term social goals to avoid "the ecological crises that menace us", and using taxation as a "sophisticated tool" to build a habitat which may turn out to include hundreds of square miles of destroyed countryside.

*When they have a name like "The Department of Energy and Climate Change" one really has to be sceptical of their utterances and figures. I mean, it really is a case of "Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?"

Libertarianism: a definition

I’ve been musing, over the past few months, about what exactly I mean by libertarianism, and trying to come up with a concise definition. I have now, at last, come up with a first draft. Please feel free to question, comment, or critique.

Libertarianism: the philosophy that holds that the ultimate political value is the freedom of the individual, and that the most effective way to uphold that freedom is to limit the scope of the state to those activities which directly defend that freedom.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury's enthusiasm for taxes

I saw the headline in the Telegraph: “Archbishop of Canterbury claims higher taxes would be good for society.” I thought “Good grief.” But instead of studying the article in the Telegraph, I decided to get it straight from the horse’s mouth, and headed over to the Archbishop’s website to read the full text of his speech to the TUC Economics Conference. (Probably a good move since the Archbishop did not actually, as far as I could see, say anything in praise of higher taxes, per se.)

I must confess that I was rather surprised to find that the Archbishop had been invited to address the TUC Economics Conference. And I was rather surprised to read his speech. He was talking about economics and society. This man is a professor of theology. We have plenty of economists and social scientists. Why was he speaking about their subject of expertise, not his own? Admittedly there was a bit of theology in his address, but not much.

To be honest, much of what he said was pretty much what one has come to expect from the mainstream churches in Britain. There was a lot about green issues: he is concerned about ‘sustainability’ and ‘environmental irresponsibility’ and the danger of ‘depleting the resources of the planet.’ There was a lot about questioning whether unchecked growth was a good thing. There was also a lot about family and community and the danger of ‘individualism’, by which he apparently means lack of understanding and sympathy for others. A lot of this is somewhat vague. Most of it I don’t have a big problem with. And I completely agree with him on the subject of protectionism - which he is opposed to.

The controversial bit was as follows:
'This will mean', [Tim Jackson] writes (p.142), 'revisiting the concepts of profitability and productivity and putting them to better service in pursuit of long-term social goals'.
The pursuit of long-term social goals concerns me. It suggests social engineering and centralised planning. And whose goals are to be pursued, anyway? I doubt that we are all agreed about those goals. Tim Jackson and the Archbishop may be agreed, but my gut feeling is that they are not infallible. Perhaps we need to revisit the concept of pursuing long-term social goals?
Along with this – a point flagged both by Jackson and by Zac Goldsmith in yet another provocative new essay, 'The Constant Economy: How to Create a Stable Society' – we have to ask about 'green taxes' (including 'green' tax breaks) that will check environmental irresponsibility and build up resources to address the ecological crises that menace us. The Contraction and Convergence proposals are among the best-known and most structurally simple of these, and it would be a major step to hear some endorsement of them from a body such as this.
The words “It would be a major step to hear some endorsement of them” are the key words. In other words, The Archbishop is backing the Contraction and Convergence proposals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Not much surprise there - not that I agree with him. Note that the Archbishop supports ‘green taxes’ not because he wants higher taxes - but because he is concerned about environmental responsibility.
It is of course connected with other proposals about currency exchange taxation – the 'Tobin tax' idea: the point is that we should be thinking about taxation neither as an unreasonable burden on enterprise nor as a simple mechanism of redistribution but as a potentially sophisticated tool for long-term 'economy' – housekeeping. Taxation builds a habitat – already, quite properly, through state welfare provision, but potentially in other less familiar ways.
The words to notice here are “potentially sophisticated tool.” What he means, I think, is “We are all in favour of using taxes to redistribute wealth, and hence to give us the welfare state, [No we’re not. Ed.] but we can also use them to manipulate people’s behaviour so that they do things that create a good ‘habitat’".

And 'habitat' was the Archbishop’s big theme in this speech. That is why he could write “It is of course connected with other proposals about currency exchange taxation”. How? What’s the connection? The Tobin Tax and the C&C proposals are both about how governments can use their powers to “create a habitat that we can actually live in,” “a home that we can reasonably expect will be an asset for the next generation,” to use the Archbishop’s phrases. In other words, just as an individual or family can envisage, plan, and create a home to live in, so ‘society’ (by which the Archbishop apparently means “the state” or even “the states of the world working together”) can plan and create a world to live in.

The vision is, to say the least, paternalistic; many would say authoritarian. It seems to me to be utopian: at best unrealistic and unachievable, at worst a step on the road to a Brave New World Society of total control by benevolent (or not so benevolent - let’s remember human nature!) dictators.

The curious thing is that the Archbishop didn’t attempt to base any of this on biblical or theological principles. Curious, but probably not at all surprising.

I will say this, however, in defence of the Archbishop. He was asked to speak at the TUC's Economics Conference. What was he supposed to say? (I'll bet Mr. Walker has an answer to that one, but I certainly don't!)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hitler and Winterval

Wow! That Adolf Hitler really was ahead of his time!

In recent years, local councils across Britain (most recently in Dundee) have been seeking to drop the word "Christmas" without doing away with all the December decorations. "Christmas Lights" now become "Winter Lights", and the, er, festive season has even been renamed Winterval.

Now it transpires that Hitler got there first. The Nazis rewrote Christmas carols to remove the religious references and replace them with images of snowy fields. Apparently Heinrich Himmler led the way in de-Christing Christmas, and the plan was to remove the emotional ties of the Church and merge Christmas into a Julfest, a celebration of winter and light which drew on pagan traditions. Very up to date.

Of course, local councils in modern Britain would claim that their motivation is completely different from that of the Nazis, and they are only trying to be sensitive to religious and ethnic groups who are uncomfortable with Christian imagery. However, since Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders have repeatedly said that they are not offended by Christmas, it has been difficult to work out who exactly was being offended.

It now appears that the group that our councils were so eager not to offend were white, european, blonde haired, blue eyed, Aryans.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Do we undervalue adults?

I'm busy these days, and so blogging is extremely light.

However, I came across an interesting article in the Spiked Review of Books about Frank Furedi's new book, Wasted: Why Education isn't Educating.

Professor Furedi is an interesting gentleman. He was, for example, a co-founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party. More recently, he has attacked the scientific consensus on global warming. And he will have annoyed a lot of people with his critique of that most dubious of big charities, the NSPCC.

But if he is right, and we do undervalue adults in our society, surely the reason is that we have been so afraid of undervaluing children that we have felt it necessary to make adjustments in order to make sure that children are listened to. And while that sounds reasonable in practice, the inevitable result is that adults will become less valued. I suspect that it cannot be otherwise.

It is the same with every group in society that we suspect may be undervalued. Every legislative attempt to give them a more valued place in society inevitably will impinge on some other group.

I suspect that if Professor Furedi's view that adults are undervalued catches on, we will see a lot of government initiatives to ensure that adults are properly valued. The proper response, however, would be to dump all the initiatives we have had in the past 30 years to make sure that children were properly valued.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Halloween: A Christian view

(Note - this is not the Christian view - it is a Christian view. Some Christians will disagree with me. Strongly.)

There is something about dressing up and make believe that seems to worry rather a lot of people. When I was a youngster, some friends of our family didn’t allow their sons to play with toy guns. They clearly believed that playing at homicide was shocking and improper. The fact that it was only playing didn’t seem to make any difference to them. Shooting people was wrong, and hence even to play at shooting people was wrong.

The same thing came out when Prince Harry dressed as a Nazi when going to a fancy dress party. Except this time, it wasn’t just my parents’ rather serious friends - it was pretty much the whole of the British political establishment. Nazis were evil, and the fact that Prince Harry was merely going to a fancy dress party made no difference to these people.

I reflected on Halloween at the time. When I was young, I had a devil mask. “Surely”, I thought to myself, “the devil is more evil than any Nazi. Therefore, wearing a devil mask must, in the minds of all these serious people who are condemning Prince Harry, be a deeply shocking thing to do.”

Fortunately, most people don’t take that viewpoint. Alas, many Christians do, including many of my friends. They regard Halloween as, at best, unhealthy, and at worst, diabolical. I see that the Vatican seems to agree with them.

The concern seems to be exactly the same as the thinking of those who disapprove of toy guns and of Prince Harry’s swastika armband. "If you let children play with guns, then they may be tempted to take homicide lightly." "If people start dressing up as Nazis, then National Socialism may gain respectability." "If you allow children to dress up as witches and ghouls, then you are sending a message that occult activity is acceptable."

In my view, this is complete and utter nonsense. Children can tell the difference between make-believe and reality. Playing at being a cowboy did not leave me with any desire to heard cattle, ride a horse, wear a gun, hang around the saloon, or exterminate native Americans. Nor does dressing up as Guy Fawkes and wondering around Westminster incite people to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Nor does dressing up as Nazis contribute to the rehabilitation of National Socialism. Nor did people wearing George W. Bush masks influence large numbers of people to vote Republican in last year's American presidential election. And nor does dressing up in a scary costume encourage Satanism.

There are plenty of more important things for Christians to be concerned about. There is a real risk here of straining out gnats and swallowing camels.

None so blind

Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.” (Jeremiah 5:21)

Three stories in today’s Telegraph. Spot what they have in common.

1. Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the highest ranking British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan, told the Ministry of Defence, in an email sent less than a month before his death, that troops would be killed because there were not enough helicopters. “The leaked email is at odds with Gordon Brown's claims that helicopter shortages have not caused the deaths of troops fighting the Taliban.”

The government was repeatedly told by top officers that there was a serious shortage of army helicopters in Afghanistan. It didn’t want to hear. It didn’t want to know.

2. Mr. Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, has sacked his chief drugs adviser, Professor David Nutt, after he criticised the reclassification of cannabis and said alcohol and cigarettes were more dangerous than ecstasy. Professor Nutt’s comment? "I think most scientists will see this as a further example of the Luddite attitude of this government, and possible future governments, towards science."

A top scientist has spoken about what the scientific evidence seems to be saying. Mr. Johnson didn’t want to hear. He didn’t want to know.

3. Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, is reported as saying of Mr. Michael Kaminski of the Polish Law and Justice Party, '''I cannot check a person's heart, but what I have heard from Mr Kaminski publicly and privately, I certainly see him as a man that today - today - is against anti-Semitism. Mr Kaminski as a teenager did join an organisation known as NOP which is, unfortunately, openly anti-Semitic and neo-nazi. He also quit that organisation as a teenager. Since that time he has become a strong ally of the State of Israel and on other occasions has condemned anti-Semitism. So what we have here is a complicated person and we need to be able, in order to understand him, to understand him in a fuller context, not taking one thing that he said, but taking a look at what he said over the past 20 years. . . . No one here in Poland would consider the Law and Justice Party as a fringe right party.' Mr. David Milliband, who has characterised Mr. Kaminiski’s party as an anti-Semitic fringe right party is not about to apologise.

The Chief Rabbi of Poland has basically said that Mr. Milliband was wrong. But Mr. Milliband didn’t want to hear what the Chief Rabbi of Poland said. He didn’t want to know.

Experts - army officers, scientists, chief Rabbis - are sometimes wrong, of course. But these three stories together suggest something about our current government. It doesn't want to hear. It doesn't want to know.

It's not just the current government, though. It's a common disease of politicians, and a common disease of the human race.

Let the reader understand and beware.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Are Americans becoming more libertarian?

From David Boaz at the Cato Institute, evidence that libertarianism may be on the rise in the USA:

For more than a dozen years now, the Gallup Poll has been using two questions to categorize respondents by ideology:

* Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

* Some people think the government should promote traditional values in our society. Others think the government should not favor any particular set of values. Which comes closer to your own view? Combining the responses to those two questions, Gallup found the ideological breakdown of the public shown below. With these two broad questions, Gallup consistently finds about 20 percent of respondents to be libertarian.

In fact, if anything, the graph seems to indicate that libertarian numbers are rising.

Note, by the way, the implied definition: A libertarian is someone who believes that the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses, and that the government should not favour any particular set of values. Well, I think I know what they mean, but surely such things as freedom, honesty and compassion are values that a libertarian government should favour?

(Hat tip to Classically Liberal)

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Pauline Howe: Where does David Cameron stand?

Mrs. Pauline Howe is just the latest person to have harassed visited by the police after having made politically incorrect remarks. She says that she was frightened by the officers’ questioning, and I’m not surprised. I would have been frightened, too.

Stonewall has described the police response as "disproportionate". Various bloggers and columnists have also expressed disquiet - Andrew Pierce, in a good, balanced, article writes “We should all be worried by Norwich Council's ludicrous overreaction, and the weak-kneed response of the local constabulary which went along with it. It suggests yet again that the most fundamental of all freedoms – the right of free speech – is being endangered.” He adds “There are already too many laws on the statute book without adding one which says that gays must never be offended or irritated.

That’s good, and I'm glad these people are speaking out. But why have we heard nothing from politicians? Why are the Conservatives and LibDems silent? And where does David Cameron stand on this matter?

It seems to me that the obvious conclusion is that if the Conservative Party wins the next election, nothing will change, and the police will continue to make threatening visits to those who express politically incorrect opinions.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The new political consensus

In David Cameron’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference, there was one bit that jumped out at me. Mr Cameron said:
And let's be clear: not everything Labour did was wrong. Devolution; the minimum wage; civil partnerships, these are good things that we will we keep.
Here, if nowhere else, we have consensus. Her Majesty’s loyal opposition is in complete agreement with the government, and the Liberal Democrats are right behind them. But this consensus is new. There was not much agreement about these things a generation ago. And, to be honest, I cannot get enthusiastic about any of the members of this new sacred trinity.

Let's start with civil partnerships. What's the point? If it is about inheritance tax, there is a much more obvious answer. Inheritance tax is a nasty tax, and should simply be abolished. If it is about the transfer of pension, insurance, and social security benefits, then one must begin by asking the question “Who should I be allowed to transfer these benefits to?” No one at all? Anyone I choose to designate? Anyone that lives in a house with me? My spouse, as in marriage traditionally understood? All of these answers have some merit. But civil partnerships, as we have them in Britain, cannot lawfully be entered into by two people who are closely related, which I find completely puzzling. So what is the point of civil partnerships? It is simply a sop to the LGBT community. In other words, it is simply about political correctness. Or, to put it another way, it is about politics.

The minimum wage? Well, I’m a member of a party that is completely opposed to it, and the LPUK manifesto gives a good summary of its drawbacks. But the basic reason is that employers cannot produce money from thin air: a minimum wage basically prices the least productive workers out of the market. But it sounds good. It sounds like it is caring and compassionate. In other words, it’s about politics again.

And devolution? Well, as Billy Connolly pointed out, “It is just another expensive layer of government.” But it is worse than that. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have to justify their existence, and the way that parliamentarians justify their existence is passing more laws. The ostensible reason for devolution is that is supposed to make the people of Scotland and Wales feel that government is closer to them - though the actual result is that the Scots and Welsh can expect even more laws and regulations.

So the new political consensus is basically about the country becoming more regulated and more politicised. Which is why I’m not part of it.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Do we love Big Brother?

Under the headline “George Osborne plans biggest public spending cuts for 30 years,” the Telegraph proclaims “A new era of austerity would be ushered in by a Conservative victory . . . .”

“A new era of austerity?” What does this mean? I reached for my copy of Chamber’s 20th Century Dictionary (yes, I know I’m behind the times). The definition of ‘austere’ begins “sour and astringent: harsh: severe: stern: grave.” Hmmm. This new era doesn’t sound like much fun.

Only then, in the dictionary, do we come to the phrase “severe in self discipline.” Well, perhaps that is what the Telegraph meant. But they didn’t say “A new era of fiscal self-discipline.” They said “A new era of austerity.”

So the not-so-subliminal message is that low public (i.e. government) spending makes for makes for an era of harshness, sourness, and severity. Which means that high government spending makes for pleasantness, sweetness and light. Government spending is something that everybody loves.

Well, that seems to be the assumption of the Telegraph’s writers anyway. They don’t seem to have considered the idea that if we keep our own money and make our own decisions about how it is spent, then life will might be just as pleasant - possibly even moreso.

So there it is. Only the government knows how to spend money in a way that will bring joy, plenty, and luxury. Only state spending makes life pleasant and enjoyable. Big Brother knows best. We love Big Brother.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Celebrities for paedophilia

Public opinion rarely shows much sympathy for paedophiles. In fact, the depth of hatred and hostility that they receive seems to me somewhat excessive. So I suppose that I should find it refreshing to see a number of celebrities calling for Roman Polanski’s release.

However, I don’t. I believe in the rule of law. And that means that if someone is convicted of a serious crime, and they flee from justice before sentencing, then it is right and proper and they are brought to justice.

The key facts in the case are these:
1) Polanski pleaded guilty to the crime he was convicted of, and there seems to be no question that he was guilty.
2) When Polanski did the deed, he was, or should have been, aware that what he did was against the law, and that those found guilty of such activity could expect a custodial sentence.
3) The crime in question was not a minor matter - unlike many things that are criminalised in modern society. Even in a libertarian society, what Polanski did would be regarded as a serious crime.

And the fact that the woman he assaulted wants him to be released is irrelevant. Should two child molesters be treated differently because one victim is vindictive and the other is not?

Reading the words of the petition makes one wonder what planet these celebrities live on.
“His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals."
So the sexual assault of a 13 year-old girl by a middle aged man is merely “a case of morals”?
“Film-makers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.”
So international cultural events are sacrosanct?
“Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition.”
So the fact that the French gave citizenship to a fugitive from justice means that he should not have been arrested? Or is it the fact that he was famous? Or is it the fact that he was an artist? Or is it (as it seems to be) all three?

I must be a little intellectually challenged, because I just cannot understand this.

But what I find even more difficult to understand is how all these celebrities have the gall to put their name to a petition that basically says that child molesting is actually a fairly minor matter. And why isn’t the rest of the film industry working hard to distance itself from these perverse people?

The most obvious conclusion that one can draw is that those who work in the film industry, must, as a group, rank even lower than politicians.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

What are the police for? What is the law for?

What is the law for, if not to protect people from being harmed by other people? And what are the police for, if not for apprehending those who harm others?

Those are the obvious questions that arise from the Pilkington case. The Police Federation has apparently "accused the Government of destroying public confidence in the police by introducing 'gimmicks' and endless paperwork which have left too few officers on the beat to respond to every call. "

And indeed the Government (this one in particular, though previous ones are not innocent) must bear much of the blame. But surely it isn't just gimmicks and endless paperwork that the government is responsible for. What about the fact that the government has created over 3,600 new criminal offences since 1997? That must create extra work for the police?

And it is hardly surprising that the police don't have the resources to cope with thuggish behaviour, when they have to spend their time interviewing opposition MPs, bishops, street evangelists, and the BBC Director General.

There is something seriously wrong with policing in Britain, and the reason for that is that there is something seriously wrong with the current approach to law in Britain. We have too many laws. A key principle of libertarianism is the rule of law, and that includes the notion that "there should be as few laws as possible, and that those that do exist should be simple, clear and predictable in their application." We need fewer laws, not more - so that the police can concentrate their resources on the things that are important - and give families like the Pilkingtons the protection that they need.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Alcohol related deaths in Scotland: a league table

The newspaper web sites have all covered the story about the high rate of alcohol related deaths in Scotland, but none gave a link to the full statistics (which are found on the Scottish Parliament site), let alone republishing them.

This site goes one better, and publishes them by parliamentary constituency as a league table. (OK, not exactly a table, since I don't know HTML!)

Alcohol-related deaths in Scotland (2008-09) by parliamentary constituency expressed as a percentage of the UK average.
  1. Glasgow Shettleston - 574
  2. Glasgow Maryhill - 420
  3. Greenock and Inverclyde - 371
  4. Dundee East - 347
  5. Glasgow Springburn - 333
  6. Glasgow Baillieston - 331
  7. Dumbarton - 307
  8. Glasgow Cathcart - 292
  9. Glasgow Govan - 289
  10. Paisley South - 288
  11. Dundee West - 285
  12. Hamilton North and Bellshill - 285
  13. Glasgow Pollock - 249
  14. Hamilton South - 248
  15. Glasgow Rutherglen - 238
  16. Paisley North - 233
  17. Cunninghame South - 231
  18. Edinburgh Central - 226
  19. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross - 223
  20. Glasgow Kelvin - 221
  21. Coatbridge and Chryston - 218
  22. Edinburgh North and Leith - 216
  23. Motherwell and Wishaw - 216
  24. Airdrie and Shotts - 213
  25. Western Isles - 208
  26. Clydebank and Milngavie - 206
  27. Kirkcaldy - 205
  28. Cumbernauld and Kilsyth - 204
  29. Stirling - 200
  30. Ross, Skye and Inverness West - 199
  31. Edinburgh East and Musselburgh - 198
  32. Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber - 198
  33. West Renfrewshire - 197
  34. Moray - 195
  35. Cunninghame North - 191
  36. Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley - 190
  37. Kilmarnock and Loudoun - 187
  38. Argyll and Bute - 180
  39. Ayr - 175
  40. Orkney Islands - 171
  41. Strathkelvin and Bearsden - 165
  42. Dunfermline East - 164
  43. Banff and Buchan - 163
  44. Aberdeen Central - 161
  45. East Kilbride - 160
  46. Livingston - 156
  47. Ochil - 154
  48. Perth - 152
  49. Midlothian - 148
  50. Central Fife - 145
  51. Clydesdale - 144
  52. North Tayside - 144
  53. Linlithgow - 140
  54. Falkirk East - 132
  55. Aberdeen South - 126
  56. East Lothian - 125
  57. Galloway and Upper Nithsdale - 124
  58. Shetland Islands - 124
  59. Angus - 119
  60. Falkirk West - 119
  61. Dunfermline West - 118
  62. Dumfries - 115
  63. Glasgow Anniesland - 105
  64. Gordon - 103
  65. Eastwood - 99
  66. Edinburgh Pentlands - 85
  67. Edinburgh West - 77
  68. North East Fife - 77
  69. Roxburgh and Berwickshire - 77
  70. Edinburgh South - 75
  71. Aberdeen North - 71
  72. West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine - 39
  73. Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale - 30

The great salt ban

The other day I was chatting with a friend who has recently got a job as a cook in a small primary school. I asked her how it was going. She told me about making macaroni cheese following the ‘official’ recipe, and told me that it was pretty tasteless. It turned out that in the official recipe, no salt was added to the cheese sauce. Indeed, adding salt was not allowed.

I expressed surprise, and she then told me that she was not allowed to add salt when boiling potatoes or rice. My eyes grew rounder as my astonishment grew. I asked if there was salt on the table, and was told that there wasn’t. I, in my innocence, thought that everyone added salt when boiling potatoes or rice - and that omitting the salt was a major error. I don’t like my food salty, but potatoes or rice without salt really is pretty tasteless. I had always assumed that the quality of food in British schools was improving. It seems that I was sadly mistaken.

Yes - the country is in the grip of a great salt panic. Yet salt is actually a necessary part of the human diet. And further more, not all scientists are convinced that high sodium levels are linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. And the amount of sodium that would be added to the diet by putting salt in the water when boiling rice or potatoes is fairly small. And yet the war on salt continues unabated - and not just in terms of propaganda, but also in terms of legislation.

Politicians are now so determined to micro-manage all aspects of life, that they even ban school cooks from adding salt when they boil rice and potatoes.

Good grief.

Post Script: See this good article in The Times, which includes the following quote: "Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, . . . believes the current pressure to restrict salt in the diet as much as possible is unnecessary and potentially risky. "

Friday, 11 September 2009

We knew it was coming, didn't we?

So, plans for the government's new anti-paedophile database have been announced by the Home Office. And it means . . . wait for it . . . a huge database. Another one. Thousands of ordinary citizens will be on it. All school governors will be required to be on it, even if they have no contact at all with children. Belt and braces, you know. And if you are not on it, and you ought to be, you face a fine of up to £5,000 and a criminal record. Yes, it's yet another new criminal offence created by New Labour. (So far, there are over 3,600 of them.)

At least the main opposition parties are making unenthusiastic noises.

For the Liberal Democrats, Christ Huhne commented, “The creation of the world’s biggest checking system is a disproportionate response to the problem it is trying to solve.”

For the Conservatives, Chris Grayling said “We all understand the need for proper protection of our children but this new regime has the potential to be a real disaster for activities involving young people in the UK. We are going to drive away volunteers, we'll see clubs and activities close down and we'll end up with more bored young people on our streets.”

But notice this. Neither Mr Huhne nor Mr Grayling said anything about repeal. Not a hint, let alone a promise. Even though their parties knew this was coming, and have had time to think through it, they are content with a little hand-wringing and criticism of the government.

And so the march toward the database state continues.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The shocking gender pay gap

Do hurry over immediately to Entering the Whirlpool, and read what Mr. Newton has to say.

And note, in particular, his conclusion. The government’s policy can be simply stated as: “We will enact even more intrusive and authoritarian measures to attempt to reach this goal.”

The goal, of course, is complete equality of outcome - which in this case means that the average female will earn as much as the average male in every workplace, and in every profession.

Equality of opportunity under the law is no longer good enough. The government believes that we must have equality of outcome. Equality of outcome, however, can only be achieved, as Mr. Newton points out, through intrusive and authoritarian measures on the part of the state. This is simply social engineering, and the end of this road is totalitarianism.

For what it is worth, my own position as a libertarian is that the
government should not enact any directly discriminatory legislation. (Perhaps some legislation may, indirectly, result in discrimination, and such legislation may need to be reconsidered. After all, we libertarians believe that the less legislation we have, the better.) The government should also ensure that there is no discrimination in employment practices for jobs in the state sector. However, it is not the place of the government to force anti-discrimination legislation on other employers. Should an organisation desire to employ only women - or only men, or only Jews, on only people with blond hair and blue eyes - then that is none of the government’s business.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Weedkillers and the nanny tendency

I am not, I must confess, particularly practical. Something to do with having paws, I imagine. Which probably explains the trouble I had with the Weedol ‘gun’ I bought at the garden centre yesterday. (Note the inverted commas. This is not a firearm!)

The instructions said “Press down firmly on top of trigger head
immediately behind yellow nozzle to depress safety tab. At the same time, twist nozzle to spray position (1/4 turn either way).”

Those of you who are reading this probably understand exactly what that means. But I was mystified, and in my efforts to use the gun, I managed to get very little weedkiller onto the weeds, but rather a lot all over my paws. And I growled at the geniuses that felt obliged to invent a new type of gun, when the old type worked well. No doubt they thought that it was too easy to get this dangerous substance out of the old type of gun, and that it needed to be changed to protect us.

However, my hard stares yesterday were not just directed toward the manufacturers of Weedol. They also fell upon the EU. For when I was in the garden centre, looking at weedkillers, I saw a notice saying that it would no longer be legal to sell Sodium chlorate after September 30th, 2009. (Which annoyed me, because I had been wanting to buy some.) I did a little research, and discovered that the decision, in fact, was taken by the EU last year, but I had missed the announcement. However, I had suspected that something was up, because I had not seen any for sale for some months.

The reasons, are found here and here, but are essentially as follows (and I quote, to give you a flavour of the prose style):
The information available is insufficient to satisfy the requirements set out in Annex II and Annex III Directive 91/414/EEC in particular with regard to
  • unacceptable exposure to operators
  • the need for further data to establish an AOEL
  • the need for further data to assess the leaching of a relevant metabolite to groundwater.
So Sodium chlorate products are not expected to satisfy Council Directive 91/414/EEC, and hence Sodium chlorate will not be included in Annex I to the said directive, which means that it cannot be sold or used in the EU.

Yes, Sodium chlorate is toxic if ingested - like thousands of other substances. It does tend to leach out of soil, and into groundwater. But these things have been common knowledge for generations, and Sodium chlorate has been used for generations, and I have never heard that there has been a public health problem with it.

So why is it being banned now? It’s pretty obvious. Politicians and officials didn’t get around to banning it before because they didn’t have the time. But now they are finding time. And they will increasingly find time. Time to ban other things that we have taken for granted for years.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Entitled to nothing?

The headline in Michael Portillo’s article in this week’s Sunday Times was pretty blunt: Idle young should be entitled to nothing. What Mr. Portillo actually said in the text was rather more undogmatic: “perhaps, at least, we ought to assume that fit young people are not entitled to anything.”

It is curious that the New Testament’s language on the subject is much closer to the bluntness of the headline. To quote the apostle Paul: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10)

We cannot know exactly why the apostle wrote these words, but it appears that there were some in the early Christian church in Thessalonica who were able to work, but were not doing so, and who apparently expected others to support them. In those days, no one would have envisaged such support from the state, so it seems that these people were looking to their fellow Christians. The book of Acts (4:32-35) tells us that the early Christians in Jerusalem shared their possessions - in other words the church basically acted like one big happy family - and it seems that something similar must have been going on among the Christians in Thessalonica, and that some people were taking advantage of this arrangement and letting the others support them.

The fact that Paul says that he gave them instructions not to feed the idle when he was with them, and now feels the necessity to repeat himself, indicates to me that the church seemed a little reluctant to crack down on the idle. But Paul clearly takes the view that expecting others to support you when you are unwilling to work is immoral - and should not be tolerated. And if it is intolerable for the church to support those within its fold who are unwilling to work, is it any more tolerable for tax-payers to support their workshy neighbours?

Idle young should be entitled to nothing?” That’s exactly what the apostolic teaching of Christianity was. I wonder how many Christians realised that when they read the Sunday Times headline.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Libertarianism and moral degeneration

In his article on welfare reform in the Sunday Times, Michael Portillo refers frequently to Charles Murray. He describes him as a ‘conservative polemicist’ - though Wikipedia describes Murray as a libertarian, and Murray seems happy with that, since one of his books is entitled What it Means to be a Libertarian: A personal interpretation.

One line from Portillo’s article jumped out at me. He writes that Murray “was pessimistic that a democratic society could take measures tough enough to halt our moral degeneration.” Moral degeneration, in other words, is a political issue, and one that concerns some libertarians. This will come as a surprise to those who confuse libertarianism and libertinism (see, e.g. this post by Cranmer), and who seem to believe that libertarianism is inextricably linked to moral degeneration.

But what is this moral degeneration that Messers Portillo and Murray are talking about? It’s basically the fact that a large number of people are happy to live off the efforts of others, and believe that they are entitled to do so. And that has long bothered me too. One of the main reasons why I parted company with the left back in the 1980s was my own feeling that the welfare state had created an unhealthy entitlement mentality. And for this reason, I came to the shocking conclusion that those who defend the welfare state, as it exists in modern Britain, do not have the moral high ground.

So is there a libertarian view on halting moral degeneration? Some would say that we cannot legislate morality, and hence policy making should take no account of moral degeneration. I think that is naive: government policy does affect the behaviour of citizens. Charles Murray clearly agrees, and apparently believes that living in a libertarian society will eliminate - or at least discourage - some forms of undesirable behaviour. And the way our fellow citizens behave is a matter of public interest.

I don’t believe that government should be in the business of social engineering. But I do believe that those who govern should be concerned about the character, attitudes, and behaviour that are found in society, and should try to think about the way that their policies will affect these things. Public policy is, of course, only one factor that affects the behaviour of people in a society. But it seems to me that if one wishes to encourage responsible behaviour, the best course of action is to let people have personal freedom, and keep state intervention in their lives to a minimum, so that they can see that they are responsible for their own actions.

For that reason, while I don’t pretend that libertarianism is a panacea, I suspect that a libertarian approach is probably at least as effective as any other political programme at halting moral degeneration.