This page is mostly old political stuff that seemed too good, at the time, to not bookmark or record in some way. Events move pretty quickly though…
The NHS and the sensible lefties
Since the current government came to power in May 2010, the NHS has been subject to a steady and intensely subversive stream of adverse propaganda, which was initiated, quite deliberately, at a time of unprecedented public satisfaction with the service. Perversely, the indiscriminate condemnation has tended to obscure the undeniable occurrence of regrettable failures within the service and also to minimise the influence of system breakdowns that are continually exacerbated by the effects of financial stringency, the disruption of unnecessary structural “reform,” and the adverse effects of austerity on the health of poor and vulnerable people.
At the same time, the propaganda has profoundly undermined the morale of the vast majority of conscientious and committed healthcare workers. Governments should perhaps work harder to remember that there is an ethic of reciprocity and that we reap what we sow—history shows us that when governments lose sight of such things they become a danger to themselves and to their people.
We hear all the time about the need for care and compassion in the NHS, and no groups can be more aware of these needs than patients and those who struggle to care for them. Yet there is precious little evidence of care and compassion in the way the government is treating poor, vulnerable, and disabled people or the vast army of healthcare workers and professionals. The latest evidence of lack of consideration for the workforce comes with the insistence on seven day working in the NHS. While there is no doubt that hospitals and emergency services must always be adequately staffed and resourced 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, the suggestion that there should be no difference in the services offered at weekends and over holidays is potentially wasteful and destructive.
The line of argument seems to be that if shops remain open for longer and longer hours, then so should clinics, surgeries, and operating theatres. But we should remember the importance of rhythm to human life. There is an ancient wisdom in the pattern of weeks, with five days of work and two that give time for rest, reflection, and the nurturing of family, friends, and neighbours. Seven day working is sometimes essential and then must rely on patterns of shift working that are the antithesis of “family friendly” and are well documented as being destructive of health. There is a legitimate argument that expensive technology should be used as efficiently as possible, but there is clearly a balance to be struck between efficiency and the fullness of human life.
In the second half of the 20th century mechanisation and technological development were predicted to increase the proportion of human leisure, but quite the opposite seems to have happened, while at the same time the pace of work has become more and more frenetic. We should be arguing against seven day working for shop workers, not promoting it for routine care in the NHS.
Routine seven day working would also be hugely costly. We learnt from many of the ill fated “Darzi” centres that keeping community health centres open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was prohibitively expensive, and these initiatives have not been continued. The misguided attempt to extend dramatically the hours within which routine care would be available seems likely to further undermine the resourcing of adequate emergency care and appropriate hospital staffing and may also erode public support for the necessary taxation. Speaking personally, I am more than willing to pay my full share of taxes so that everyone should have access to the emergency and out of hours care that they need. On the other hand, I am not prepared to support universal access to non-emergency care outside normal hours. The convenience of some should not be allowed create an unnecessary and destructive burden for others, in terms of either resources or workload.
Our current government does not seem to understand the meaning of an ethics of reciprocity. The notion is very present in ancient Greek philosophy and in most of the world’s major religions, expressed in the insistent warning that we would be well advised to consider the consequences of our actions. If politicians are unaware of this heritage, we might perhaps suggest a refresher course in children’s literature, where, from 1863, with the publication of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, right through to the present day, the ethic of reciprocity has been ever present. The carrot of “Do as you would be done by” and the stick of “Be done by as you did” seem to have lost their purchase within much of contemporary society but are as relevant now as they were 150 years ago and nowhere more so than in health service policy. If the government wants to see a health service permeated by the care, compassion, and respect that we all want for those we love, then it must pay much more attention to the importance of demonstrating those same qualities in its treatment of frontline health staff.
Meanwhile, the NHS is already in the process of reaping what the government has sown in terms of undermining its foundations in notions of shared responsibility, reciprocity, and social solidarity and making it available for the pursuit of private profit. As a direct result, it is not safe in the government’s hands and seems likely never to be so.
Iona Heath, British Medical Journal, 20/02/13
Decadence, indecision and our downfall
The problem we face is a fiscal one. It cannot be solved by monetary stimulus. What QE does is provide a sticking plaster for the government finances by reducing the cost of borrowing temporarily. The cost is twofold. First, it gives politicians the illusion of market confidence. There is no market confidence, they’re just smart enough to understand that the market is currently rigged. As such it postpones the day of reckoning, although it also makes it worse when it arrives. Second, and just as important, QE reduces living standards sharply. Money creation which is not linked to increased output simply diminishes the value of the money already in supply. As wages are fixed, each instalment entails less discretionary income for households, in so doing it actively mitigates against economic growth which requires the capacity for increased real spending.
Baldly put, the fact that this is not well understood is nothing to do with the complexity of the concept – it is a relatively simple one. It has everything to do with the low quality of intellectual debate in this country. Partly this is the fault of the media which seems to draw commentators who benefit from the deliberate use of nonsense words and muddling acronyms as the BoE does. The illusion of complexity has made many a career as a sage.
In politics, the situation is even worse. Faked emotional sincerity, previously the preserve of actors and harlots, is now the dominant determinant of this nation’s political direction. In abandoning completely Christian moral objectivism and instituting in its place a system of drift tempered by ego this country has turned back along the path progressives imagine we are still beating. Take away the electronic gizmos, and Britain is meaner, stupider and more divided than at any time I can remember. All of the issues which have really changed the fabric of British society – 60 years of mass immigration, the junking of heterosexual marriage as the cornerstone of state, Zimbabwean economics, a welfare culture that rewards refusal to work not inability – have been put before the British people not in the spirit of honest debate, but in the context of the possible hurt feelings of some group or other.
Collectively now, we don’t feel like understanding economics. We don’t feel like treating political issues objectively when we have an emotional tie. Our country gave its best and brightest twice over at the beginning of the last century, not because it was easy, because it was popular, because we wanted to, or because we felt swelling within our bosoms an emotional connection with the feelings of the oppressed French peasantry. We did it because it was right. I feel now, more strongly than ever, that they would be embarrassed with what we’ve become.
Thomas Pascoe, Telegraph blogs, 22/02/13
Barack Obama Was a Special Case
Barack Obama broke the 50-year rule of a successful northern liberal failing to win the presidency. It was not just that Barack Obama was the first African-American president, but rather that he was young, charismatic, half-African-American (on that characteristic, see Harry Reid and Joe Biden circa 2008), with an exotic multicultural name and a chameleon ability to be (and speak) all things to all people — a combination that enthralled white liberals and minorities alike. A new black candidate with a Jesse Jackson accent named Tyrone Wilson would not have won with the identical platform and teleprompted eloquence. I don’t think even a Cory Booker or Deval Patrick would have a chance.
Liberals wanted to vote for someone they could live next door to, chat about the Ivy League with, play golf with, and feel, well, very liberal about — and thereby never have to put their kids in a public integrated school, go into the ghetto or barrio, or live next to a household on public assistance — and again yet still feel very liberal about their tony apartheid. Barack Obama offered them that deal — and the added attraction of white liberals being complimented abroad when they jetted to Venice, Munich, or London as being international, cosmopolitan, and European if you will. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, or any other Democrat will have no such special appeal in 2016. In terms of just getting elected (rather than governing), Obama did for the left what Reagan did for the right — and both are hard to follow. The truth is that in both the House of Representatives and statehouses the Republicans have never been stronger
Victor Davis Hanson, Private Papers, 30/11/12
The problem, in a nutshell
The differences between the political mechanisms of ancient Athens and those of America today do not erase the similarities of mentality and sensibility popular rule creates in its citizens. Most important is the way democracy leads to radical egalitarianism: the belief, as Aristotle put it, “that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.” Because citizens are equal in their possession of political rights and some level of access to the machinery of the state, they then desire to be equal in every way. Yet everyday experience shows that there exist real differences of talent, ability, beauty, brains, hard work, and sheer luck among people, and these differences account for their varying levels of economic and social success. Hence the desire to use the coercive power of the state to level these differences, especially through the appropriation and redistribution of wealth through government distributed entitlements. The right to equality of opportunity then becomes the right to equality of result, with the power of the state as the instrument of achieving that utopian goal, usually at the expense of freedom.
Bruce Thornton, Private Papers, 14/11/12
Here’s one usage of the term gentleman: The gentleman helped the fallen lady to her feet. Here’s another, one we might hear from a newscaster or a police spokesman: Tonight we report on the arrest of two gentlemen who raped, sodomized and murdered an 80-year-old woman.
During earlier times, to be called a gentleman meant one was honest, brave, courteous and loyal. Today “gentleman” is used interchangeably in reference to decent people and the scum of the earth.
Much of today’s language usage demonstrates a desire to be nonjudgmental. People used to shack up; now they cohabit or are living partners. Few young women of yesteryear would have felt comfortable to publicly declare they slept around. Unmarried women used to give birth to a bastard; later, this was upgraded to an illegitimate birth or a nonmarital birth. In many instances, unwed mothers proudly hold baby showers celebrating their illegitimate offspring, and the man, if known, who sired the baby is referred to as “my baby’s daddy” or sometimes as “my baby daddy.”
Homosexual marriages, which are not a basic human survival trait, were unheard of; today, in some jurisdictions, homosexual marriages have legal sanction. To be judgmental about modern codes of conduct is to risk being labeled a prude, racist, sexist or a homophobe. People ignore the fact that to accept another’s right to engage in certain peaceable, voluntary behavior doesn’t require moral acceptance or sanction.
Another measure of social deviancy is reflected by the excuses and apologies that are made for failures and how we make mascots out of social misfits, such as criminals and bums. The intellectual elite tell us that it’s poverty or racism that produces criminals, as opposed to a moral defect. We call bums homeless people. That suggests a moral equivalency between people who have lost their homes in a fire or natural disaster and people who choose to be social parasites; therefore, neither group is to be blamed for its respective condition. People who are very productive members of our society, such as the rich, are often held up to ridicule and scorn.
Think back to former President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and the nation’s response that “it was just about sex.” Therefore, it was no big thing for the president and his men to become involved in witness tampering, perjury, obstruction of justice and a White House-organized attack on Kenneth Starr, an officer of the court. Most Americans thought removal from office was too harsh for Clinton’s lawlessness.
That kind of lawlessness helped establish a precedent for lawless acts by President Barack Obama. His most recent was an executive order that suspended legal liability for young people who are brought to our country illegally by their parents. He also repealed the legal requirement that welfare recipients must work, by simply redefining “work” to include other things, such as going to classes on weight control. Then there are waivers from Obamacare for favored allies — waivers that offend the principle of equality before the law.
Whether the president’s actions were good or bad ideas or not is irrelevant. What’s relevant is whether we want to establish a precedent whereby a president, who has no constitutional authority to repeal parts of congressional legislation, can grant special favors and rule by presidential decree like Third World tyrants.
I don’t hold President Obama completely responsible for his unconstitutional actions. It’s the American people who are to blame, for it is we who have lost our morality and our love, knowledge and respect for our Constitution, laying the foundation for Washington tyranny. It is all part and parcel of “defining deviancy down,” which is the term former U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined in 1993 to describe how we’ve switched from moral absolutes to situational morality and from strict constitutional interpretation to the Constitution’s being a “living document.” Constitutional principles that do not allow one American to live at the expense of another American are to be held in contempt. Today’s Americans have betrayed the values that made us a great nation, and that does not bode well for future
Walter E Williams, Townhall.com, 07/11/12
Nick Clegg: utterly useless
Inevitably, it quickly emerged that Mr Clegg is rather light on detail when it comes to his proposals. Indeed, his vague homilies on the tax system were so ill-considered that even his party’s Treasury spokesperson admitted yesterday that she had not been consulted on this mysterious new tax: she had heard about it on the radio. He also seems to have forgotten that he recently voted for a Budget that reduced the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p. So his position is not only confused but contradictory, enabling Labour to present Mr Clegg as someone who is making it up as he goes along.
The charge has validity, because it is true. But then, not thinking things through properly has long been one of the Deputy Prime Minister’s specialities. Consider the circumstances in which he got the job, and the way in which he so quickly left himself open to charges of hypocrisy.
Mr Clegg’s elevation to such high office was remarkable, given his transparently gimmicky performance in the 2010 general election campaign. In the aftermath of the televised leaders’ debates, pollsters briefly found that he was wildly popular. His appeal, which quickly faded closer to polling day, seemed rooted mainly in his having been trained to remember the names of the members of the audience who were asking the questions.
At the time, it seemed incredible that a single sentient being should fall for such hokum. Equally incredible was that Mr Clegg’s election broadcasts were taken seriously, too. In the most amusing film, he strolled across the country, kicking aside thousands of discarded leaflets designed to illustrate the untrustworthiness of Labour and the Tories. He declared portentously to camera that it was “time for fairness in Britain” (absolutely, and for motherhood and apple pie, too). There had been too many breaches of trust by other leaders, Mr Clegg intoned, as he finally emerged on to the sunlit uplands above Sheffield. It was time to say goodbye to broken promises.
The effect was unintentionally comical: it was as though the Lib Dems had hired the person who directed the Teletubbies to produce an even more dumbed-down take on the simplistic propaganda at which New Labour used to excel. Moreover, in government, Mr Clegg’s third-rate rhetoric rapidly and inevitably collided with reality. Even though polls suggested that the Lib Dem leader was likely to be involved in coalition talks, and very possibly government, he still built his election campaign on keeping promises. It’s not so much that, as we now know, he didn’t even agree with his ultimately disastrous pledge not to increase tuition fees – it’s that he made the undertaking in the knowledge that he would almost certainly have to break if he made it to government.
If such standard-issue Liberal buffoonery was taking place while still in opposition, it wouldn’t matter so much. But this man of towering political intelligence is now helping to run the country. With the UK in the middle of an economic emergency, it can ill afford its government to be conducted as if it were a plenary session at Lib Dem conference.
Iain Martin, Daily Telegraph, 29/08/12
Taxation is theft?
Tax is a necessary evil. Tax is never popular. Most of us accept that we should pay some tax. We are willing to see money given to people who cannot fend for themselves. We accept some social insurance to help people going through a bad patch, or who have lost their job. We need some common defence. In the UK there is strong public support for state financed healthcare and education. All these things need paying for from taxes.
The state’s aim should be to spend wisely and effectively to keep the overall tax bills under control, and to raise the money in ways which do as little damage as possible to incentives and economic activity. People on high, middle and low incomes need to feel it is worthwhile working more or smarter and earning more. Business people need to feel it is worthwhile selling more and making more profit.
It is difficult making the case that paying more tax is moral, and paying less tax is immoral. If an individual takes maximum benefit of ISAs, pension tax relief and the like to save, he or she is saving the state lots of money in the future: they will not qualify for or need substantial state means tested benefits later in life. Why is this a less moral position than the person who saves nothing, pays more tax when at work, and then relies on state handouts in older age? Why is a company immoral if it uses all the legal ways to avoid tax, enabling it to create many more jobs in the UK than it would do if it had to pay the full tax rates? Couldn’t the UK state be better off as a result? Isn’t that why the UK state offers all sorts of tax incentives and exemptions to stimulate more business activity?
Someone is not immoral if they pay cash to a tradesman. The BBC got in a muddle talking about it yesterday, wrongly calling it avoidance. If the tradesman receives cash for a service provided and then fails to declare the income for VAT or income tax purposes, then he is committing an offence. That is tax evasion. If the purchaser of the service knows the tradesman has offered him a lower price because the tradesman intends to evade tax, then the customer is aiding the tax evasion. The Tax authorities can and do find people under declaring their income, and levy the tax owing with penalties.
As paying in cash is a legal way of settling your bill it is difficult to say that the customer has a duty to ensure the tradesman nonetheless declares all the income and pays tax on it. The main onus to comply with the law must rest with the tradesman, as it is he who will owe the VAT and income or profit tax, not the customer. It is best to keep morality out of the equation. The government itself encourages small businesses by allowing them to avoid VAT, complicating the position of the customer trying to judge whether and how much tax the tradesman should pay.
The government actively encourages tax avoidance by allowing and encouraging many ways of doing it. If you have high rates and are over the tax saturation point, as I think the UK now is, tax avoidance becomes necessary to many hard working individuals and companies who want to use the available reliefs.Tax evasion is against tax law and will be dealt with. The government itself relies on tax avoidance to help finance its own excess spending, by offering tax free National Savings.
John Redwood, Blog, 25/07/12
Major v Brown
Is it possible that any astute politician of the last quarter century, a Prime Minister even, could be unaware of The Sun’s position on Europe dating back to the distant days when the Euro was little more than a snake in the grass? Did John Major not know that Sun Readers were once urged on to face East at noon and Bawl At Gaul? They responded in their thousands. Did he not know that a Sun team reinforced by Page Three girls had invaded France, or that its most famous headline was Up Yours Delors? When The Sun’s staunch and popular position was the talking point of the ’80s and ’90s. There was no need for an ultimatum. The paper’s position was broadcast loud and clear every day. So, who did more for the national interest – John Major who almost crippled the UK economy by taking us into the ERM at the wrong rate and brought humiliation on this country when we were inevitably turfed out? Or Rupert Murdoch who is still paying the price for being right then and demonstrably right today?
By the way, for all his denials, John Major went to endless lengths to court the media – The Sun in particular. And so, despite his denials, did Gordon Brown. When they deny this so piously, on oath, they are not telling the truth.
Finally, there is not the slightest doubt that John Major’s conversation with Kelvin MacKenzie after the ERM fiasco was precisely as described. I was there at the time….
…New Labour was never to be trusted. But Gordon Brown’s one redeeming feature, for whatever motives (perhaps simply to thwart Blair), was his opposition to the Euro.
As for Tony Blair, he intended to use his popularity after an Iraq war victory to propel Britain into the single currency. The Sun demanded any such move should be contingent on a referendum Yes vote. He conceded the point and the moment never came when he could win one. Another example of The Sun’s sterling service to this country. Had we joined, it would be the UK not Greece and Spain in the cross-hairs.
Trevor Kavanagh (The Sun), Spectator Coffee House Comments, 06/06/12
Media monopoly, abuse of power, taxpayers hammered: an idiot’s guide to the BBC
In his criticisms, Gompertz was revealing not the instincts of an art critic – but the mentality of the BBC man. Unlike the zany eccentric ArcelorMittal Orbit, the zany eccentric Gompertz is almost entirely publicly funded. It is up to you whether or not to go up the Orbit – though I thoroughly recommend it. You have no choice about funding Gompertz. Everyone who possesses a TV has to pay more than £145 to put him on air. The BBC is unlike any other media organisation in the free world, in that it levies billions from British households whether they want to watch it or not. No wonder its employees have an innocent belief that everything in life should be “free”. No wonder – and I speak as one who has just fought a campaign in which I sometimes felt that my chief opponent was the local BBC news – the prevailing view of Beeb newsrooms is, with honourable exceptions, statist, corporatist, defeatist, anti-business, Europhile and, above all, overwhelmingly biased to the Left.
Of course they are: the whole lot of them are funded by the taxpayer. Eurosceptic views are still treated as if they were vaguely mad and unpleasant, even though the Eurosceptic analysis has been proved overwhelmingly right. In all its lavish coverage of Murdoch, hacking and BSkyB, the BBC never properly explains the reasons why other media organisations – including the BBC – want to shaft a free-market competitor (and this basic dishonesty is spotted by the electorate; it’s one of the reasons real people are so apathetic about the Leveson business).
The non-Murdoch media have their guns trained on Murdoch, while the Beeb continues to destroy the business case of its private sector rivals with taxpayer-funded websites and electronic media of all kinds. None of this might matter, if we were not going through a crucial and difficult economic period. The broad history of the past 30 years in the UK is that the Thatcher government took us out of an economic death-spiral of Seventies complacency. Spending was tackled, the unions were contained, the City was unleashed, and a series of important supply-side reforms helped to deliver a long boom; and when the exhausted and fractious Tories were eventually chucked out in 1997, it was Labour that profited – politically – from those reforms.
The boom continued, in spite of everything Blair and Brown did to choke it. They over-regulated; they spent more than the country could afford; they massively expanded the public sector; they did nothing to reform health or education or the distortions of the welfare state. And so when the bust finally came, in 2008, this country was in no position to cope. We now have the twin problems of dealing with the debt, and recovering competitiveness – and neither of those is easy when the BBC is the chief mirror in which we view ourselves. If you are funded by the taxpayer, you are more likely to see the taxpayer as the solution to every economic ill
Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph, 14/05/12
My habit of referring to our former Prime Minister as ‘Anthony Blair’ has a strange power to annoy people (though not as much as my former practice of calling him ‘Princess Tony’, which I did as punishment for his claim – scripted by Alastair Campbell – that Princess Diana was ‘the People’s Princess’. And also because it seemed to me that he was in so many ways the New Diana. I abandoned ‘Princess Tony’ after he took to bombing civilians from the air, and it seemed too frivolous a jeer at a man who was actively doing violent harm).
But, while it is sometimes a pleasure to annoy certain sorts of people, it is simply a statement of fact. Anthony is his name. At least, it was his name when his wife, Cherie, mentioned him in her election leaflet when she stood for Parliament in Thanet North in 1983. Not merely did she call him ‘The barrister, Anthony Blair’. She later spoke at a large meeting in Margate, at which her father, Tony Booth, and her then hero, Tony Benn, were on the platform (and her husband was humbly seated in the audience) of the ‘two Tonys’ who had influenced her in her path to socialism, or some such phrase. The two Tonys were Benn and Booth. Her husband was in any case an Anthony. So she knew the difference between ‘Tony’ and ‘Anthony’, and must presumably have asked him how he’d like to be described in her leaflet. One day I’ll tell the story of my struggle to get hold of that leaflet, during which I discovered that Mrs Blair/Ms Booth had apparently stood for parliament *in private* and it was quite wicked and rude of me to make enquiries about her campaign
When Cherie was selected for Thanet North, her husband hadn’t been picked by any constituency anywhere and, according to the official myth, which is so full of holes you could use it as a colander, had almost despaired of getting a seat. He then, amazingly, was selected for one of the safest seats in the country at the last minute, effortlessly defeating that consummate in-fighter Les Huckfield, a former Minister, despite himself being a privately-educated no-account lawyer with no connections at all with Sedgefield, who had polled so badly I think he lost his deposit in the only by-election he had ever fought (see below).
If you believe that version of his selection, you will believe anything, and you will demonstrate that you know nothing whatever about the Labour party and how it works, but it remains the official version, in both major biographies, trotted out by political journalists as if it were gospel.
For in 1982 he had fought, and spectacularly failed to win, the safe Tory seat of Beaconsfield in a by-election. I have just got out the cuttings. In some reports he is referred to as ‘Anthony Blair” and in others as ‘Tony’. The Times Guide to the House of Commons, in its summary of by-elections during that Parliament, lists him simply as ‘A.Blair’. I would be interested to see any of his election leaflets from that time. He was cruelly picked on by the Daily Telegraph’s waspish sketch-writer Godfrey Barker, who describes him making a huge fool of himself over strikes by health service workers, and calls him ‘Anthony’ throughout. Mr Barker also spotted something interesting about him, and called him ‘mysterious’ . Which he was, and is, and will be till a proper critical biography is eventually written.
What is interesting is that whenever the Blair machine wanted to get a favoured candidate into Parliament via a safe seat, they always parachuted him into the constituency at the very last minute. I wonder where they got that idea from?
Peter Hitchens, Daily Mail, 08/05/12
George Orwell meets Ed Balls
How did we get into this mess? Why can’t George Osborne rebalance incomings and outgoings more readily? Where is prudence when you need her? In search of some answers, I trawled through more than 25 years of public spending records. What they show is a relentless rise in state largesse, through good times and bad, the upshot of which is institutionalised indulgence: luxuries have become necessities and value for money exists only as a concept. Between 2000 and 2010, UK government real expenditure (inflation adjusted) increased by 53 per cent from £451 billion to £688 billion.
As Dr Tim Morgan, head of research at Tullett Prebon, a City broking house, notes: “No one has yet explained why the British state must spend £700 billion today, having managed perfectly well on £450 billion, at today’s values, 10 years ago.” Well, part of the reason is that injecting funds into one category of expenditure can lead to higher demand for resources in another. For example, it’s reasonable to assume that the 140 per cent increase in the health budget between 2000 and 2010 led to some people living longer. This added to the upward pressure on pensions, the bill for which rose by 78 per cent over that period.
As a political proposition, cutting the NHS’s outlay in order to kill off our elderly is unlikely to win votes, so we need to look elsewhere for achievable savings. The obvious place is welfare: social security benefits and tax credits. Between them, they will gobble up £209.2 billion in 2012-13, about 30 per cent of all government expenditure, not much less than health and education combined.
Through the 1990s, welfare spending remained more or less constant, according to ukpublicspending.co.uk. But after Gordon Brown decided to open the floodgates in 2002, outgoings increased from a respectable flow to an unseemly torrent. We were quickly turned into a nation of handout addicts, where anyone who dared challenge the merit of rewarding idleness was set upon by the pit bulls of political correctness.
During the so-called boom years, 2002-07, welfare costs shot up by 40 per cent. New benchmarks for state munificence were established and a ruinous culture of entitlements became embedded. We were set on a path that led to some families legally claiming more than the average wage, £26,000, in benefits. In order to justify this obscenity, a new lexicon was created. Old words were given new meanings. This is what Orwell identified as political sophistry’s “catalogue of swindles and perversions”: the aim of distorting speech in order to defend the indefensible and consolidate conformity.
Mr Brown used to talk of Labour’s “investment”, when he really meant consumption. By contrast, today’s spending cuts are deemed by the Left to be “savage”, austerity is never less than “cruel” and poverty has been redefined as a relative concept, thus making sure its victims will always be with us. “Fairness” is stuck on every act of income redistribution like a supermarket price label. Those who question the recipients’ needs are branded “callous”.
Opponents of responsible spending talk of bringing back the 50p tax rate (which raised just £1 billion) and a new bankers’ bonus levy (£3-4 billion) as if they alone might solve our debt problems. This is ludicrous. To achieve a balanced budget, we need much less spending. We cannot tax our way to prosperity. Does fairness apply only to those at the bottom end of the income ladder? The top one per cent of Britain’s earners account for nearly 30 per cent of all income tax receipts. They pay £45 billion a year. How much must they cough up in order to pass the decency test? 40 per cent? 50 per cent? I put this question to the Shadow Chancellor last week. He would not answer.
“If thought corrupts language,” said Orwell, “language can also corrupt thought.” We seem perilously close to such an outcome.
Jeff Randall, Daily Telegraph, 26/03/12
This should hardly need saying
The age of spin has encouraged the strange idea that a party or an individual can maintain a good press whatever the reality of their actions and their consequences. To hear that politicians rang up leading journalists to ask how obviously bad events might be covered shows a curious naivety about the way the world works. It does not matter how many spin doctors a government employs; how much it has courted leading commentators: if it does not deliver a reasonable outcome for the public it will be the object of criticism or abuse.
It makes more sense to me to spend more time trying to get the policy right, and less time worrying about the headlines. If a party holds public support because it is delivering a good result, it will find that the press is less hostile. Newspapers have to sell daily to the electorate. If the electorate think from their own experience that the government is doing a good job that will tone down the daily abuse Ministers can expect from a sceptical public and a free media.
The Coalition government will find that its press improves as and when recovery picks up, as people find there are more jobs; as real incomes start to rise. Low poll ratings and a poor press are the result of a continuing squeeze on living standards brought on by the tax rises needed to pay for all the extra public spending of the last few years. The government needs to show the value of that spending if it is to justify the tax rises, or get better value from spending so it can get the tax rises down a bit.
John Redwood, The Commentator, 26/04/12
The piece of jelly fallacy explained, sort of
It was a pleasure to hear an anti-abortionist from California putting John Humphrys in his place on Today this morning. Mr Humphrys was doing the only thing he knows: harrumphing. His special outrage was occasioned by the pro-life man’s advocacy of disturbing pictures of aborted foetuses as a method of pointing to the scandal of wholesale abortions.
Mr Humphrys objected when this man drew a comparison with the slave trade, interrupting rudely, which is his stock-in-trade. But it was pointed out to him that it was lurid pictures of the ill-treatment of slaves on the other side of the Atlantic which encouraged opposition to the vile trade here in Britain
I am not a fundamentalist when it comes to abortion. I think it can sometimes be justified as the lesser of two evils when, for instance, the health or especially the survival of the mother is in danger. But what does it say of a society – I will not honour it with the epithet “civilisation” – which can rip untimely from the womb 200,000 foetuses every year? The vast majority of these shameful acts are not perpetrated out of a decent desire to look after the health of the mother. They are just another form of contraception.
Out of sight, out of mind is the key phrase here. If it were proposed to murder one-week old babies, there would be uproar. It is often argued – Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford was often heard so doing – that an embryo is not a person. Of course an embryo is not a person, but no human embryo, if allowed to survive, has ever turned into anything other than a person. An embryo is a human being, however rudimentary. To destroy an embryo is to deny its potentiality, to snuff out its future and its whole life. And that is murder.
The other canting expression is to say that “A woman has the right to do as she wishes with her own body.” Perhaps. But the truth is that her unborn child, though obviously dependent on her for its coming to term, is not her own body.
I do not like those disturbing pictures, but if they help discourage this foul destruction of human life, then we have a duty to look at them.
Peter Mullen, Telegraph Blogs, 27/04/12
You’ve got to sack a few George
It has long seemed to me that the Government has got the broad outline of the consolidation about right – just enough to keep the markets sweet, but not so big that it causes a vicious cycle of decline in the economy. Yet whether it is right about the composition of deficit reduction is much more questionable.
Part of the challenge for advanced economies is that companies have lost the confidence to invest, and are therefore hoarding profits rather than spending them. In the UK alone, the corporate cash mountain has doubled over the past decade to £754 billion (a sum equivalent to half of GDP), with much of that growth occurring since the crisis began.
When companies won’t borrow to invest, there’s a strong case for governments to do so in their place. And yet when you look at where the axe is falling hardest, it is on government investment – spending on schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, affordable housing, and so on. This is the easiest thing to chop, so that’s where the Coalition has acted first.
In fact, this form of state spending should be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled, with the money made up by further cuts in entitlements and bureaucracy. Such a combination of increased investment and decreased current spending promises a virtuous circle of growth and job creation – without in any way undermining deficit reduction. For the moment, the Government lacks the courage and imagination for such strategies. If there are any positives to be had from the economic tsunami sweeping in from the eurozone, it might at least help galvanise the necessary change in approach.
Jeremy Warner, Telegraph Blogs, 25/04/12
Gordon Brown, texture like sun
A kind friend has given me a copy of Odd Thoughts, a collection of the “very best verse from former Transport and General Workers’ Union general secretary Ron Todd”. Not to be rude, but if this is the very best verse, one wonders which of the late Mr Todd’s poems didn’t make the cut. Here’s the opening of “Clause IV”:
Where’s Labour going? I cry in despair / As change follows change, and they call me a cynic / This new Labour Party may be moving with flair / But flair’s not enough, as we saw with Neil Kinnock.
And the last couplet of a poem in memory of fellow union activist Fred Howell:
I won’t forget the part you played and to thank you Fred / I lay a rose to your memory, I’m so sorry you are dead.
My friend picked up the book in a branch of Oxfam. At least the owners didn’t do a Nigella and sell it on eBay. But I think Ron might have been disappointed that they didn’t value it more. The inscription reads: “To Gordon and Sarah, with my best wishes, Ron.”
Damian Thompson, Daily Telegraph, 13/04/12
Posh Oxbridge Etonians at odds
As modernisers such as Mr Maude rightly never tire of pointing out, voters judge politicians more on motive than on policy. It may sound an odd thing to say on the day after George Galloway got back into Parliament, but what people crave is authenticity. They do not need to like their leaders, or agree with them, but they do want to understand why they are doing what they are doing, whether they care about the country they govern.
It was Tony Blair who seemed to answer so brilliantly this longing for authenticity, and the disappointment which voters later came to feel about him still affects everything. Inauthenticity hangs over British politics like smog.
It is in this murky light, surely, that one must interpret all the current mutterings about class. Most voters do not have an absolute objection to any politician on the grounds of his social, regional or racial origin. But such origins can arouse suspicions or prejudices which may then be confirmed by certain actions. Once upon a time, for example, I barely noticed whether a British politician was Scottish, but once devolution got going and yet more Scots seemed to swell the Cabinet in London, I became uneasy. “What are you doing down south? Why are you giving so many jobs to your chums?” I found myself asking.
In the same way, David Cameron, as an individual, throws up no insuperable barriers for the majority of voters by his class background. He is patently an able, presentable, decent representative of the well-off, well-educated, mainly southern, upper middle classes who have helped preserve our national stability for two centuries or more. You may not particularly like the type, but you would have to be quite bigoted to say that he was not fit to be prime minister.
But when times are hard, people revert to the old question of motive. They may not object to wealth as such, but they do feel a bit left out by a “Cabinet of millionaires”. It is a clever phrase, because nowadays there are more than 620,000 millionaires (if you include property values) in Britain, so there will be several in any Cabinet. On the other hand, a million pounds is far more than most people will ever obtain. Voters wonder whether such people – especially if they are almost all men, of much the same age, who went to the same schools and universities – have much feeling for the difficulties of life.
It is then that small things start to tell. Once, when editing this great newspaper, I noticed that we had published an article which said that Manchester was “three hours away”. “Three hours away from where?” I asked my colleagues coldly. Not from Liverpool, not from Birmingham, and not, obviously, from Manchester. The author had meant, without thinking, three hours from London. Any non-Londoner reading the phrase would have been strongly put off.
So when Mr Maude – who shares with Peter Mandelson an ability to analyse politics brilliantly but an inability to present himself correctly in public – said that Mr Cameron’s dinners for donors in the Downing Street flat were just “kitchen suppers”, he made everything worse. In that phrase, he was disclosing an assumption – we have a nice dining room but we’ll be all relaxed with our pals and won’t use it – which is perplexingly, excludingly foreign to his audience.
And here, I think, the modernisers have failed to make the necessary transition from opposition to office. All that informality – the lack of ties, the claim to be interested in football, the ostentatious mucking around with the kids – can work well when you are the challenger, the new person bringing change from outside. But when you are actually in power, it starts to look arrogant. It says that you are not bound by the rules that govern lesser mortals. You and the gang can lounge around swigging beer out of cans, but obviously the same does not apply to your personal protection squad and secretaries, doormen and drivers. You are asserting privilege, when you should be dressing your best because you represent your country. You are acting as if you own the place. You don’t.
Being myself a southern, public-school, Oxbridge person, I do not feel patronised by this milieu, but even I, as I watched the Budget on television and saw the “Quad” of Messrs Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Alexander all in a self-congratulatory, Oxford Union row, did get that “What do they know about anything?” feeling which, opinion polls suggest, is doing the Coalition harm.
Once you start thinking this way, you tend to cast a baleful eye on measures which, when first broached, seemed quite fresh. Gay marriage, rather than looking modern, begins to seem a typically privileged preoccupation of pampered public schoolboys (who, according to popular mythology, are all gay anyway). Wind farms look like ways of making poor people pay higher energy bills. The endless increase in overseas aid looks like an insult to every basic-rate taxpayer.
We have too much debt. We pay too-high taxes. We build too few houses. We are losing old jobs and costs prevent us creating new ones. We are having a bad time, and we want the people who rule us to lead us out of that, and think of little else. It is simple, but not easy.
Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, 31/03/12 (a great article)
Hang Gordon Brown for treason?
The overwhelming truth is that the Government has scarcely begun to tackle the inexcusable, horrendous, unaffordable extravagances of public spending.
For all the ministers’ rhetoric, the Opposition and some sections of the media (particularly the BBC), it is absurd to talk about ‘savage’ or ‘meaningful’ cuts. The public purse lavishes hundreds of billions more than taxpayers can afford on state salaries, budgets, entitlements, giveaways and idiotic projects.
In the first decade of this century, Gordon Brown turned Britain into an economy dependent on an unsustainable combination of state spending and private borrowing. Public expenditure rose by a staggering 53 per cent in real terms, while government and individuals borrowed an average annual 11.2 per cent of our national GDP. Brown increased real spending on health, education and public administration by 28 per cent.
This cash has failed to produce remotely comparable increases in efficiency or achievement; most has merely been absorbed by increased workers’ earnings.
Meanwhile, manufacturing — which makes real products which generate real profits — declined by 26 per cent. Today it contributes just 11 per cent of national output, while state spending, retail, banking and suchlike account for 70 per cent.
With the exception of a few jewels such as Rolls-Royce and some foreign-owned car-makers, the general state of our productive industries is dire.
It is likely to remain so unless or until we can produce a better-educated workforce and liberate firms from bureaucratic oppression. Meanwhile, big companies and small businesses reel under an avalanche of red tape.
Most recently, under the Coalition, they have been forced to grant pension and employment rights to short-term workers which puts up a whole new barricade to hiring new employees. Tragically, the process of curbing the state sector’s gold-plated pensions has scarcely begun.
The latest, brutally cynical government move is to transfer the Post Office’s pension fund assets — which fall far short of its liabilities — to the taxpayer, so as to fatten the business for privatisation.
Our children and grandchildren will face huge obligations to retired PO employees.
The other overwhelming truth is that Middle England is being hammered by taxation, and yesterday’s budget did nothing to relieve that. It cannot too often be said that there is something fundamentally wrong with a society in which prudent, responsible people have to watch their lifetime savings devastated by low interest rates and inflation.
Meanwhile, profligacy is rewarded — so few people who run up unsustainable debts are ever required to repay them.And the most profligate of all are those employed by the State — for all the headlines about cuts and plaintive Lib Dem and BBC wailing, the great juggernaut of state spending hurtles onward almost unchecked.
If you want a conspicuous symbol of this, do as I did recently and visit Rosyth shipyard on the Firth of Forth, where two giant aircraft carriers are under construction, the largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy.
They will serve no useful purpose and never looked like doing so. Gordon Brown, in one of the most disgraceful acts, committed the taxpayer to these behemoths in order to provide £6 billion of work for shipyards in Scottish Labour constituencies.Some have always argued that the U.S. planes to fly off them would prove unaffordable, which is now being confirmed. These vast hulls, on which thousands toil daily in futility, are worthy symbols of Labour profligacy.
Max Hastings, Daily Mail 22/03/12
Peace lovin’ Islam?
The Grand Mufti made his assertion in response to a question posed by a delegation from Kuwait, regarding the position of a Kuwaiti parliament member who recently called for the “removal” of churches (he later “clarified” by saying he merely meant that no churches should be built in Kuwait). The Kuwaiti delegation wanted to confirm Sharia’s position on churches.
Accordingly, the Grand Mufti “stressed that Kuwait was a part of the Arabian Peninsula, and therefore it is necessary to destroy all churches in it.”
As with many grand muftis before him, the Sheikh based his proclamation on the famous tradition, or hadith, wherein the prophet of Islam declared on his deathbed that “There are not to be two religions in the [Arabian] Peninsula,” which has always been interpreted to mean that only Islam can be practiced in the region.
While the facts of this account speak for themselves, consider further:
Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah is not just some random Muslim hating churches. He is the Grand Mufti of the nation that brought Islam to the world. Moreover, he is the President of the Supreme Council of Ulema [Islamic scholars] and Chairman of the Standing Committee for Scientific Research and Issuing of Fatwas. Accordingly, when it comes to what Islam teaches, his words are immensely authoritative.
Considering the hysteria that besets the West whenever non-authoritative individuals — for instance, a fringe, unknown pastor— offend Islam, imagine what would happen if a truly authoritative Christian leader, say the Pope, were to declare that all mosques in Italy must be destroyed; imagine the nonstop Western media frenzy that would erupt, all the shrill screams of “intolerance” and “bigot,” demands for apologies if not termination, nonstop handwringing by sensitive politicians, and worse.
Yet the Grand Mufti of our “friend-and-ally” Saudi Arabia gets a free pass when he incites Muslims to destroy churches — as if any extra incitement was needed (not a month goes by without several churches being bombed and destroyed throughout the Islamic world). In fact, at the time of this writing, I have not seen this story, already some three days old, translated on any English news source, though “newsworthy” stories are often translated in mere hours.
Likewise, consider how the Grand Mufti’s rationale for destroying churches is simply based on a hadith. But when non-Muslims evoke this particular hadith (or the countless others that incite violence and intolerance against the “infidel”), they are accused of being “Islamophobes,” of intentionally slandering and misrepresenting Islam, of being obstacles on the road to “dialogue,” and so forth.
Which leads to perhaps the most important point: Islam’s teachings are so easily ascertained; there is no mystery in determining what is “right” and “wrong” in Islam. The Grand Mufti based his fatwa on a canonical hadith, which Muslims and (informed) non-Muslims know is part of Islam’s sources of jurisprudence (or usul al-fiqh). And yet the West — with all its institutions of higher learning, including governmental agencies dealing with cultural and religious questions — is still thoroughly “confused” as to what Islam teaches.
All of this is nothing short of a scandal — a reminder of just how deep the mainstream media, academia, and most politicians have their collective heads thrust in the sand.
Meanwhile, here is the latest piece of evidence of just how bad churches have it in the Muslim world, for those who care to know.
(Quoted in full, as it’s so important, and the author knows his Arabic language and world)
Raymond Ibrahim, VDH Private Papers, 15/03/12
Ed Balls MP – an appreciation
First, Mr Balls will eternally be associated with the perceived profligacy of his liege lord Gordon Brown, which many believe did much to create the monstrous deficit. Not being a fool, Mr Balls appreciates this. Hence his pre-Budget attempt to distance himself from Gordon at the weekend. Bless him for trying, but it’s a futile quest. Ernie Wise resented being dismissed as Eric Morecambe’s sidekick, and had the odd crack at a solo career, but what could he do? Some mental connections – Rolls-Royce, Huntley & Palmer, Ant ‘n’ Dec, Brady and Hindley – cannot be broken. Mr Balls is the poster boy for Brownite infantilising statism, and all his phoney disavowals of mainstream Keynsianism will no more persuade a soul otherwise than his slagging off his old guv’nor can remove the taint of his 15 years as Gordon’s hatchet man/bitch.
Second – and much like the newly retired Dame Edna Everage, I mean this in a caring way – he is viscerally repulsive. It has been said of others before, but to the question “why do people take an instant hatred to Ed Balls?”, the answer is that it saves time. He can bang on about blubbing whenever some old biddy learns that the miniature Crimean War gun carriage she keeps the After Eights in is worth £17.50 on Antiques Roadshow, and paint idyllic portraits of home life with him in his pinny making scones while Yvette pores over her Foreign Affairs brief. No one is persuaded that he is anything but the serpentine smearer and cockily abrasive bully boy whose only use for the defibrillator paddles, were Milibandroid the Younger to keel over, would be to put them to his leader’s temples and finish the job.
Matthew Norman (a lefty, amusingly), The Independent, 21/03/12
Human Beings – a brief summary
Human nature and the laws of physics, not technocratic liberalism, are still the best guides to the madness around us. Money borrowed has to be paid back or the debt eaten by someone, period. Poverty is defined by a want of material necessities, not by lacking the appurtenances that someone else better off enjoys. Gas and oil are miracle fuels and it is very hard to find alternate energies at comparable costs and reliability. And as a rule, the green class of environmental elites usually uses more fossil fuels per capita than do the muscular classes who mine and drill them out of the ground — and who do not jet, drive, or live in the comparable fashion of their critics. The content of our character alone matters; those who are not so confident in their own, usually demand that their tribal affiliations be essential and not incidental to their personas. Most accept that culture, not race matters, but it matters still more not to say that. Most of the political class has no interest in history; dogma is their creed. They assume that everyone (far less noble than themselves) in the past would have agreed with them, or now can be post facto made to agree with them.
Victor Davis Hanson, Private Papers, 10/03/12
US v EU: the rights stuff
I am opposed to the Strasbourgian concept of human rights and to the idea that all states and individuals must kowtow before human-rights conventions, for the simple reason that the human-rights juggernaut actually lessens our liberty and denigrates the idea of rights.
The key problem with the human-rights system is that it infantilises us. The modern European idea of human rights is a profoundly paternalistic one, in which the individual is treated as an at-risk creature who must be protected from harm and bullying by those angels-in-suits that are human-rights lawyers. This is a far cry from the idea of individual moral autonomy that arose in the 18th and 19th centuries, when revolutionaries in America, France and elsewhere introduced an idea of rights that emphasised individuals’ capacity to make judgements about their lives and futures free from state interference.
Consider some differences between the American Bill of Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The American document – brief but fiery – is mostly concerned with telling the state what it should not do. The European document – long and turgid – spends thousands of words telling the state what it should be doing, what its responsibilities are, and how it must go about protecting individuals from abuse and mental distress.
So in the realm of freedom of speech, the American radicals declared simply: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. In contrast, the European Convention on Human Rights says “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression,” which is nice, but it then goes on to say: “The exercise of this freedom, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary”. Not only is that sentence interminable and yawn-inducing, a violation of our human right to peace of mind – it also rather proves that, under the modern human-rights system, we don’t actually have freedom of speech. The Convention on Human Rights effectively says: “The state shall, if it so wishes, abridge freedom of speech and the press.”
Likewise, in the arena of freedom of religion, the US Bill of Rights said, neatly and radically, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. In contrast, the European Convention on Human Rights says “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, but (there is always a “but” with the human-rights lobby) that freedom may be subjected to “such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
The modern human-rights system continually qualifies and thus curtails our liberties. Its champions don’t understand that if our freedom of speech can be restricted in the name of anything from “preventing disorder” to “protecting the reputation of others”, then we don’t actually have freedom of speech. If our freedom of conscience can be criminalised and reshaped in the interests of “protecting health or morals” (what a weird and broad category), then we don’t really have freedom of conscience. The modern human-rights system does not protect liberty – it limits it, in fact kills it, surrounding it with so many checks and balances that we actually end up with state-sanctioned speech rather than free speech, where we can say, think and believe what we like just so long as it doesn’t rub up against conventional and mainstream morals.
Where the American Bill of Rights sought to elbow the state out of matters of speech, publishing and belief (and gun ownership, too), the European Convention on Human Rights does something very different indeed – it makes the state into the arbiter of these matters, the referee between our rights and responsibilities, into the judge of what we are permitted to say and what we are not permitted to say. Where those eighteenth-century bourgeois radicals, influenced by the likes of the great Thomas Paine, sought to institute an era in which state power would be limited and individual moral sovereignty respected, the modern human-rights activist sees the state as saviour, as the “keeper” of our liberty, and the individual either as a victim who needs Shami Chakrabarti to protect him or as a menace whose thoughts and speech must be curtailed in order to protect other people’s feelings, reputations, health, morals, blah blah blah.
The reason there has been this shift from radicals demanding the expulsion of the state from our lives to so-called radicals demanding state meddling in our lives is because there has been a massive decline of faith in mankind. Where the American Bill of Rights and other 18th-century documents arose from a positive, forward-looking era in which the masses were demanding meaningful political change, the European Convention on Human Rights emerged from the horrors of the Second World War and represented a tiny, elitist project to restore order to a wrecked continent. It is, therefore, a profoundly conservative document, concerned with maintaining stability and restraining passion rather than with allowing people fully to govern their own destinies. And that is why radical left-wingers, those of us who consider ourselves the descendants of the men who stood on the left side in the revolutionary French National Assembly, should send the following message to next month’s Brighton gathering: “Tear up the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Brendan O’Neill, Telegraph blogs, 01/03/12
Pascal’s Wager and your house burning down: an appreciation
In a debate with Rowan Williams last week, he admitted that he is an agnostic. Dawkins said that he is only “6.9 out of seven” sure of the absence of God but that “the probability of a supernatural creator existing is very very low.” I’m surprised at the level of surprise that this statement has garnered, for he has stated many times before that he can’t dismiss the possibility of God. But what is surprising is that Dawkins can consider that possibility and then so quickly disregard it. For the possibility of God existing is far more mind-blowing than the likelihood that he does not.
I don’t want to make the case for Pascal’s Wager being a determinant of faith. “Betting on God” is a shallow approach to religion and isn’t what motivates anyone but Pascal to follow one. But it’s also an odd reason to discount the existence of God, too. When it comes to theology, probability and consequence are not proportionate to another. The probability of God existing might be low but the consequences if he does are high. Vice versa, the probability of God not existing might be high but the consequences of that outcome are very low.
Consider the calculations that a man makes when insuring his house from fire. If the chances of his houses catching fire are just one-in-a-hundred, he might forgo purchasing insurance because he gambles that he’s unlikely to ever need it. Yet all of us would still make the purchase because the consequences of that one-in-a-hundred accident happening are so unbearably dire. A single, improbable spark could destroy everything. Therefore, the man buys the insurance.
If Dawkins is playing the law of averages, then he has to make the same calculation about God. To be sure, he only acknowledges a 1.5 percent chance that the Almighty exists. If his gamble is proven right, then Dawkins will die and suffer no consequences. But if that 1.5 percent chance comes through, the consequences are hugely disproportionate to the stakes. One of the reasons why I go to Church is that I don’t want to run the risk of spending eternity in Hell with Richard Dawkins. Even a 1.5 percent risk isn’t worth running. I’d rather go to Heaven with the androids.
Tim Stanley, Telegraph Blogs, 27/02/12
Britain and the US lead the world in accountancy, both conscientious and creative. They have an independent judiciary, honest statistical services and relatively honest politicians. But they have been unable to enforce self-imposed rules of budgetary discipline. We are now asked to believe that countries with weaker political structures will reliably implement budgetary disciplines imposed from outside.
…. rules for imposing budgetary discipline across the EU already exist. The Maastricht criteria require that member states must hold deficits below 3 per cent of GDP and borrowings below 60 per cent of national income. At my last count, this requirement was met in three states among the eurozone’s 17 members – Estonia, Finland and Luxembourg. The sanctions permitted by the treaties have never been enforced and you would have been naive to have imagined otherwise.
John Kay, FT 14/12/11
Dawkins: what’s your point?
Who is to say that the internet is not the Devil’s work? It daily corrupts the concentration of billions: idle hands are very welcome in cyberspace. Wanton flesh and dishonest money are its staple items of trade. It immerses us in a seething babel of irrelevance, promises sociability while creating alienation and, so far from being “clean”, has destructively enlarged global demand for electricity. And if you want more evidence of Satan at work, just look at the agents he has hired to do his work. What is it about computer professionals that discourages dissimulation? My current adviser says he is a property developer and his predecessors were really geneticists and musicians. Mephistopheles comes camouflaged.
Which, talking of dissimulation, brings me to Richard Dawkins, a fanatic disguised as a scientist. And surely, in the powerful counterproductive sway of his noisy arguments, proof of the existence of God? Terrible to awake in that groggy matutinal state when things lodge in your addled brain and hear shrill, ugly, cruel arguments on the radio. Atheists seem to be very good at dogma. Dawkins seems not to understand that his own zealotry is itself a sort of religious quest. And he applies the “logic” of science, itself a fallible human construct, to a beautiful mystery. Sure, organised religion has caused appalling conflicts. But it has also caused Michelangelo, Milton and Bach. Organised atheism has produced North Korea. There is really not much more that needs to be said.
Stephen Bayley, Daily Telegraph, 16/02/12
As the bail-out negotiations were reaching their finale, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said he was concerned that Britain might become “a second-tier state”. His worry was that the 17 eurozone members might meet by themselves, without the ten EU members which have kept national currencies, and reach conclusions which would adversely affect the “outside” ten. According to Osborne, the eurozone inner core might in this way “bounce” Britain and the others into courses of action against their national interests.
But what does that mean for the rest of the world, those 166 lonely, neglected and presumably desperate countries which are not in the EU? Not only do the poor things not have the euro as their currency, but neither are they subject to the tens of thousands of directives, regulations and rules that emanate from the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. If forlorn and unhappy Britain is relegated to “the second tier”, in what league should the United States, China and Japan be placed? And are our Commonwealth friends, like Canada and Australia, in some remote outer darkness?
Tim Congdon, Standpoint, December 2011
Who’s got the money
Most of the 106 billion people who’ve ever lived are dead—around 94 percent of them. And most of those dead people were Asian—probably more than 60 percent. And most of those dead Asians were dirt poor. Born into illiterate peasant families enslaved by subsistence agriculture under some or other form of hierarchical government, the Steves of the past never stood a chance.
Chances are, those other Steves didn’t make it into their 30s, never mind their mid-50s. An appalling number died in childhood, killed off by afflictions far easier to treat than pancreatic cancer. The ones who made it to adulthood didn’t have the option to drop out of college because they never went to college. Even the tiny number of Steves who had the good fortune to rise to the top of premodern societies wasted their entire lives doing calligraphy (which he briefly dabbled in at Reed College). Those who sought to innovate were more likely to be punished than rewarded.
Today, according to estimates by Credit Suisse, there is approximately $195 trillion of wealth in the world. Most of it was made quite recently, in the wake of those great political and economic revolutions of the late 18th century, which, for the first time in human history, put a real premium on innovation. And most of it is owned by Westerners—Europeans and inhabitants of the New World and Antipodes inhabited by their descendants. We may account for less than a fifth of humanity, but we Westerners still own two thirds of global wealth.
A nontrivial portion of that wealth ($6.7 billion) belonged to Steve Jobs and now belongs to his heirs. In that respect, Jobs personified the rising inequality that is one of the striking characteristics of his lifetime. Back in 1955 the top 1 percent of Americans earned 9 percent of income. Today the figure is above 14 percent.
Niall Ferguson, blog 23/10/11
The second handers
(re Ayn Rand…)…let’s enjoy one undoubtedly striking idea she gave us: The concept of the “second-hander”.
The second-hander is someone who is not a prime creator of ideas and/or driver for their implementation — someone who is unable to create self-standing work of his or her own, and so must live off the ideas and efforts of others. As Rand’s hero Howard Roark proclaims in court when he is put on trial in The Fountainhead for blowing up the housing complex he designed:
The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature. The parasite’s concern is the conquest of men.The creator lives for his work. He needs no other men. His primary goal is within himself. The parasite lives second-hand. He needs others. Others become his prime motive.
The extreme (and rare) example of a second-hander is the beggar: the existential nothing whose fate depends wholly on others taking pity and handing over some of their own production.
Rand refined the idea to apply it more generally to modern life by creating two wide categories of second-handers: “moochers” and “looters”. Moochers try to live off others by active wheedling and sucking up. Or they proclaim some sort of entitlement to the results of others’ hard work.
Looters by contrast simply use bullying or outright force to take money from those who create wealth and proceed to redistribute it (often to themselves and their friends).
Needless to say, moochers and looters usually find it makes tactical sense to join forces to squeeze ever more juice from those people and processes whose ideas lie at the root of all wealth. Hence the modern, sprawling, collectivist state.
There is even an official mouthpiece for Second-Handers, Looters and Moochers here in the UK, namely the BBC Radio Four Today programme. Every morning, day after day, month after month, year after year, it broadcasts to the nation at its most vulnerable, people tottering round the kitchen making toast.
Its message is unambiguous: the categorical imperative that whatever that morning’s fashionable problem might be, it is the explicit responsibility of “society” in general and the state in particular to “do something” about it. Only collectivist action counts. This appalling, arguably evil message transmitted over decades has transformed the way our country runs, evidently for the worse.
Charles Crawford The Commentator 16/12/11 (this is a brilliant article)
Everyone is a fascist now
…there are two important differences between Orwell’s anti-authoritarianism and that practised by his modern-day acolytes in the Hitchens and post-Hitchens sets.
The first is in the use and abuse of the f-word. Today’s Orwell wannabes use the word “fascism” with gay abandon. For them, everything horrible is fascism. Four idiots from the north of England carrying out a terror tantrum in London? Fascism. Saddam Hussein? Fascist. Gaddafi? Fascist. Three men and a dog in a bedsit in Karachi fantasising about destroying the world? Fascists. Hitchens himself suffered serious bouts of this ahistorical Tourette’s syndrome (branding everything from Thatcherite policies to Islamic militants as fascistic), though not on the same level as his fanboys, who, lacking Hitchens’s linguistic flair, just come across like whiny teenagers railing against their parents when they bandy about the f-word.
Orwell would have balked at all this fascist chatter. In his essay “What Is Fascism?”, he lamented the way in which, even by 1944, “fascist” had been “degrad[ed] to the level of a swearword”, to the extent that it had become “almost entirely meaningless”. People “recklessly fling the word ‘fascist’ in every direction”, he said, using it to mean simply “something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist [or] anti-liberal”. Robbed of its specific historic and political content, “the word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’”’, he said in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”. That’s exactly how it is used today by those who claim to be the heirs to Orwell, including Hitchens, who frequently used the phrase “Islamofascism” and wrote about being harassed by “fascist bullies” in Syria. He actually meant “things that are not desirable”.
Brendan O’Neill, Telegraph blog, 19/12/11
You can’t handle the truth
“…one prefers to be French than British at the moment on the economic level” – François Baroin, French economy minister.
“ … they should start by downgrading Britain which has more deficits, as much debt, more inflation, less growth than us and where credit is slumping” – Christian Noyer, governor, Bank of France
Last week’s series of comparative statements were obviously co-ordinated. What I find intriguing about them is their sheer desperation. The French economic policy elite no longer understand the world….
…..The real difference between France and the UK is simply that the UK is not trapped. Britain is a sovereign country. France is economically a sub-sovereign zone. That is the simple reason why the eurozone needs a eurobond and a lender of last resort function in the system. With those functions in place, policy errors are less catastrophic.
Mr Baroin is therefore quite wrong. You do not want to be French, German or Italian if you have a choice. A rating downgrade for France and the rest of the eurozone is thus logical and deserved.
Wolfgang Munchau, FT 19/12/11
The Heff at Christmas
For whom does Nick Clegg speak? All his whining and drivelling about the Prime Minister’s use of the veto in Europe being bad for Britain has been flatly contradicted by 77 per cent of businessmen, who think what Dave did was absolutely right. I suspect they know more about making this country economically prosperous than nauseating Nick does, since he has never had a proper job in his life. It is bad enough our having to put up with this sanctimonious little creep, but to have to tolerate a sanctimonious little creep who is also wrong about everything is a punishment few of us deserve.
Simon Heffer, Daily Mail 23/12/11
Yasser Arafat – overrated fraud
The key point to consider is that even if it is wrong to dismiss the authenticity of Palestinian nationalism, it is right to point out that Palestinian nationalism is extremely unusual.
Consider the best known Palestinian political grouping: the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Why isn’t the best known Palestinian political grouping called the Palestine National Congress or the Palestinian National Movement?
The answer is as straightforward as it is crucial to the essence of the conflict. And it is this: because at the time when the Palestinian national consciousness was being formed, the central task was not the creation of something but the destruction of something, namely Israel.
The point is not new. But its implications are rarely spelled out, especially in Europe where anti-Zionist hysteria has a stranglehold over much of the media and large sections of the political establishment.
Highly unusually, at its inception Palestinian nationalism could theoretically have achieved its maximal ambition without having achieved statehood. The creation of a Palestinian state is a second order priority. And this is why peace has been so difficult to achieve despite several offers for a division of the land from Israel. It’s not so much that the Palestinians don’t want such a deal as that they cannot in most cases continue to see themselves as Palestinian should they ever fully accept the legitimacy of Israel’s existence.
That is why the polls – always deliberately censored from the discussion by the BBC, the Guardian et al – consistently show that the large majority of Palestinians only accept a two-state solution as a stepping stone to the destruction of Israel.
Robin Shepherd, The Commentator, 28/12/11
All tnings being equal.
For example, most egalitarians acknowledge that equality of result is a pie in the sky. However, they insist that equality of opportunity is a laudable and achievable goal. In fact, it’s the other way around. Equality of result can indeed be achieved by leveling downwards (the only direction in which it’s ever possible to level). It’s possible to confiscate all property and pay citizens barely enough to keep them alive. It’s possible to create dumbed-down schools that’ll make everyone equally ignorant. It’s possible to provide equal healthcare for all that has little to do with either caring or health.
What’s absolutely impossible is to guarantee equality of opportunity. A child with two parents will have better opportunities in life than a child raised by one parent. A child growing up surrounded by books will have a greater opportunity to develop intellectually than his coeval growing up surrounded by crushed beer cans. The son of two tennis pros will have a greater opportunity to learn the game than the son of two accountants.
An important thing to remember about egalitarianism is that levelling downwards isn’t just the only possible direction but, for its champions, the only desirable one. To Burke ‘compulsory equalisations,’ could only mean ‘equal want, equal wretchedness, equal beggary.’ To modern egalitarians they are the shining beacon. But any true equality is anathema to them, and it’s amusing to watch them pretend it’s not, against both empirical evidence and common sense.
The truth should hurt
It is now widely accepted that the years of New Labour government were an almost unalloyed national disaster. Whichever measure you take – moral, social, economic, or the respect in which Britain is held in the world – we went into reverse.
Nevertheless, historians may come to judge that these 13 years of Labour misrule served a vital purpose. In retrospect, the Brown/Blair period may be seen as a prolonged experiment which taught the liberal Left that its ideas cannot work, do not work, and have no chance of ever working.
It takes time to ruin a country. Four years, the average period between elections, was never going to be enough. But 13 years of Left-wing government has produced a mountain of evidence that the Conservative analysis is better and more truthful.
The vital importance of this experiment lay in the special circumstances of the post-war period. Throughout this time, the liberal Left, as general election results show, has tended to be unpopular with voters. But its progressive ideas have enjoyed a disproportionate amount of traction among British governing elites.
This, in turn, led to a structural imbalance. By the mid-Nineties, the Right had secured victory in four consecutive general elections. However, the broad Left had secured control of vast tracts of our national life. It was powerful way beyond its traditional power bases of the Labour Party, the trade unions and the British working classes. It dominated the higher reaches of the universities, education, the public service bureaucracy, local government, Whitehall, the media (and in particular the BBC), the churches, and the police.
So rampant and all-pervasive was the influence of this liberal-Left elite that by the end almost every meaningful action taken by the democratically elected John Major government could be sabotaged or blocked outright by a progressive alliance, which stretched through the Civil Service, the BBC, and the universities.
These progressives believed that the institutions of the British state were corrupt, that state spending was automatically virtuous, that traditions should be destroyed, that the European federal idea was benign, that the British monarchy was outdated and wrong, that mass immigration was an unmitigated boon, and that any criticism of the welfare state should be dismissed.
They had a powerful sense of their own moral virtue. Anyone who challenged them was automatically assumed to be venal. We Conservative supporters were, by definition, vermin: immoral, arrogant, self-interested. Own up to being a Conservative and you were made to feel like a criminal, not fit for polite society, an object of contempt.
The liberal Left was in charge of the government for 13 years and by the end had come close to destroying Britain. There was only one comfort: the scale of the disaster was so great that even members of its elite now admit the scale of their errors.
Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph 05/01/12
Yet another crap international body
The International Monetary Fund has earmarked 91 per cent of its definitive commitments to programmes in Europe. There is now a proposal on the table that suggests this is not enough and should be significantly increased.
Would an increase in IMF funds to bail out the eurozone be justified? In particular, should non-eurozone countries participate in raising this new capital?…
…It is not necessary because the eurozone has the financial capacity to help itself. The combined region runs a small current account surplus with the rest of the world. As a result of this, it does not depend on outside finance. It has its own central bank, which can, in theory at least, act as a lender of last resort. The eurozone operates, of course, under political and legal constraints, such as the deficit rules of the Maastricht treaty, the “no bail-out rule”, or the rules preventing the European Central Bank from funding governments. However, an outsider would be right to argue that these rules are all self-imposed, and hence reversible. The eurozone should change its rules before crawling to others, cap in hand.
Considering that the eurozone is economically unconstrained, and among the richest regions in the world, the request to involve the IMF in hypothetical future rescue operations is morally reprehensible. What is happening here is that eurozone member states find it hard to commit additional funds to the rescue operations, and find it politically more expedient to channel resources through the IMF as a way to bypass national parliaments….
…There are several proposals on the table for how to involve the IMF in a clever way. But they all are subject to the same problem. Any outside liquidity assistance would encourage the eurozone to proceed with policies that are aggravating the crisis.
The best contribution the IMF could conceivably make, therefore, is to stay out of programmes beyond those it is already committed to. If it has to become involved, it should at the very least try to make any further commitments conditional on fundamental policy shifts, both at national and eurozone level. In particular, the IMF should insist on a minimum degree of joint economic management to address some of the underlying issues, including the fragility of the banking sector, and policies to remove the interdependence of national banks and national governments.
The IMF would be unwise to become mixed up in those debates.
Wolfgang Munchau, Financial Times, 22/01/12
For state control over the money supply is always inflationary, and inflation is in fact a tax that requires no legislative approval. The state uses inflation to control how much we earn in real, rather than bogus, terms, and the difference is staggering. For example, £100 in 1850, when the gold standard was in force, became £110 in 1900 — a negligible inflation of 10 percent over 50 years. However, £100 in 1950, when the gold standard was but a fond memory, became £2,000 in 2000 — a soul-destroying, economy-busting inflation of 2,000 percent.
Money losing value at that rate turns everyone into either a spendthrift or a gambler, including those who are by nature neither. If they don’t want to see their money melt away, people have to turn it into something tangible, which explains the huge inflation of assets, especially property, everywhere in the West. This urge to convert cash into bricks and mortar no matter what was a principal cause of the 2008 debt crisis, and it’s Western governments that created the urge.
By operating the money-printing presses the state effectively turns us all into its dependants — either directly, by pushing people onto welfare rolls, or indirectly, by controlling our real income. That’s why the gold standard, and gold in general, is anathema to modern statists.
Gordon Brown drove this point home when he was still Chancellor. In a series of auctions between 1999 and 2002 he sold off more than half of Britain’s gold reserves at a rock-bottom price that represented a 20-year low. One can see why: as gold in the country’s coffers represented a potential loss of power for him and his ilk, the pernicious yellow stuff had to go. The immediate cost to the taxpayer was £2 billion, but the long-term consequence is even more dire: with our gold reserves slipping down to 17th place in the world, Britain can never go back to the gold standard.
Neither, really, can anyone else. For the total amount of gold that has ever been mined in the world is estimated at around 142,000 tonnes. At $2,000 an ounce, all the gold that Egyptian, Soviet and South African slaves, American forty-niners, Inca and Aztec Indians or our contemporary miners have ever extracted out of the ground would today be worth about $9 trillion. This is approximately the value of the inflated paper money currently circulating in the USA alone, never mind the rest of the world.
Thus, barring a catastrophe of a magnitude we dare not imagine, a return to the gold standard would be impossible even in the unlikely event that the state would show willing. Like death and taxes, our brave new world never relinquishes what it claims.
But one can understand a nostalgic longing for the gold standard, especially in those who regard as repugnant the growing power of the state. And it’s not just dyed-in-the-wool conservatives who have reasons to pine for a reliably hard currency. It’s also people who value economic stability above instant gratification, those who’d rather not devote their whole lives to the feverish pursuit of what Americans call happiness (money to you).
They simply want to have decent, not opulent, lives for themselves and their families. But with money worth less and less, even such a moderate expectation requires an immoderate effort to realise. We can no longer trade a bit of wealth for a bit of freedom — it’s all or nothing.
State control over money supply thus leads to what is in effect economic totalitarianism. Admittedly, totalitarianism that relies on money is on balance still preferable to the kind that relies on guns. But it’s totalitarianism nonetheless, and the only way of fighting it would be to deprive the state of its financial instrument of control by reintroducing the gold standard. Alas, this option is no longer on the table. Our power-hungry statists have seen to that.