Category Archives: Politics
Free Speech is something that is seriously misunderstood, largely I suspect, because of people who use free speech arguments to justify their abuse of free speech. Free speech is fundamental to the US constitution, and it is often attributed to Voltaire, that he had said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Throughout most of the 20th century, this was widely believed to be an accurate quote, but in what is almost an irony, the creation of the internet has led to people being better informed, and it is now widely known that this is a mis-attribution, due to carelessly used punctuation in a book called ‘The Friends of Voltaire’, written in 1906 by Evelyn Beatrice Hall. She is even recorded having written elsewhere that it was a sentence of her own creation. What Voltaire himself had said was with regard to a book by the philosopher Helvetius, ‘De L’esprit’, which was publicly incinerated following condemnation by the College of Sorbonne, and the Parliament of Paris. According to Hall, Voltaire’s actual words were,‘What a fuss about an omelette!’ This is largely well known now, and can be found, explained in fuller detail on the quote investigator website.
The phrase ‘What a fuss about an omelette!’, is certainly less evocative. Without the bit about defending to the death it doesn’t come across as such a fervently held belief that someone might include it in any kind of constitutional rule. It certainly appears from this information, that Voltaire merely considered the matter to be below the threshold at which a person can justifiably become angry about something that someone has said. The use of ‘omelette’ as a metaphor implies that there are uses of free speech that surpass ‘omelettes’. If this book burning was a fuss about an omelette, then there must be other metaphors for other uses and abuses of free speech.
‘De L’esprit’ was a book concerning the nature of mind. If that as taken as the starting point and evokes comparisons to an omelette, then presumably a less contentious issue, such as the best time to harvest crops, might be a fuss over spilt milk; and a more contentious issue, such as explicit criticism of a nation’s dictator, might be a fuss over burning an entire dinner for a large gathering. In any case, the metaphor does imply the existence of other metaphors, because Voltaire appears to have been considering the fuss on a relative basis. For a better understanding it would probably be best to go directly to Hall’s book, though given the confusion her mistake has made, perhaps that is not the best of sources on the opinions of Voltaire.
The three examples given in the last passage all share one thing in common. They are all usually based in some form of subjectivity; they are all things about which people may have varying opinions. In those sort of circumstances there is a strong value to free speech, in that people cannot be forced to hold different opinions. Even if they keep quiet about them, they are still their own opinions, a part of their own psychological make up, and something that should not be forced out by someone else’s opinion. There are many instances in which free speech is abused, not to share opinions and ideas, but in ways that are clearly abuses. The jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes is widely quoted for his example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theatre, which would clearly be an abuse of free speech with potentially harmful results. The statement was obiter dictum, meaning it creates no binding legal precedent, in the case U.S. v Schenck, which was later overturned. An excellently researched and detailed explanation is given by Trevor Timm, who works on free speech and government transparency with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The article can be read in full on The Atlantic website; I advise reading it because it gives an alternate viewpoint to my own. However I might add, that Timm’s conclusions show a poor understanding, clearly based on the ideological stance his career has developed around him.
The problem with what Timm says is that he states that the idea one shouldn’t shout “Fire!” in a crowded movie theatre, is something that people should stop spreading around, because, although it was stated in a court case, by one of America’s finest legal minds, it is not relevant because it was merely obiter dictum, and because the court case was overturned. I am in agreement with Timm that the decision in the case was a bad one, and it was correct to overturn it; I also agree that the statement was merely obiter dictum, but I do not agree that puts it in a position of irrelevance. Whilst it certainly did not create binding law in a court case, it is still clearly correct. Later in the article Timm speaks about an incident involving the free speech discussion, in which the damaging speech was caught by more informed observers, and any likely damage was prevented. This was then followed by the resignation of the original disseminator of the false information. Timm seems to be saying that because everything worked out ok in that one instance, this is evidence that speech does not need to be restricted, regardless of any sensible person having no difficulty in seeing that a great many people could crush each other in a crowded movie theatre, before anyone could discover that there was no fire in the building.
Another misunderstanding in the article is that Timm quotes Gabe Rottman’s statement regarding Wendell Holme’s assertion, that it’s “worse than useless in defining the boundaries of constitutional speech. When used metaphorically, it can be deployed against any unpopular speech.” Gabe Rottman is legislative counsel at the ACLU Washington legislative office. As such he will also have an agenda to further the protection of free speech; however, in this particular statement, he is correct. Wendell Holme’s “Fire!” example is worse that useless in defining any boundaries. Boundaries, by their very nature, must logically surround the thing for which they act as boundaries. The example of shouting ‘Fire!’ cannot do this, because it is only one example. If it defined the boundary of going beyond allowable free speech, then what relevance would it have for instances that are completely unrecognisable as having any relationship to shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theatre? What if the theatre was completely open air on a sunny afternoon where it would be obvious what the nature of the alarm was? What if the theatre was a beach theatre, where all the chairs were floating in the sea? This might be a rather silly example, but it is not beyond the bounds of reason. Though if you do decide to set up a beach cinema with floating seats, then I hope you remember where you got the idea, and hopefully offer me some free tickets.
So Rottman is correct that the example is worse than useless for defining limits to free speech; and it is a statement that has been used against unpopular speech. His entire opinion can be read on the ACLU website. Rottman explains the ruling of the currently standing rule on free speech in the American court system, Brandenburg, which is in contrast to the Schenck case. “The court held that, to be unprotected “incitement,” speech must meet three requirements. The speaker must intend to cause violence. The violence must be the likely result of the speech. And the violence must be imminent.” Helpfully he also gives a source for this sentiment in the shape of John Stuart Mill who pointed out that while it is acceptable to say that corn sellers are starving the poor, if you say it to a mob carrying pitchforks and flaming torches outside a corn seller’s home, then it is no longer acceptable. Of course there are going to be confusing distinctions that can be made here as well.
What is meant by ‘intention’ for a start? This might seem obvious to an ordinary person, but we are in the world of legal cases here, and things are not as obvious as they are in daily life, because they need to cover all eventualities. Law deals with intention, recklessness, and negligence. In real life intention is simply what a person wants, or intends to the result to be; in law it also covers whether a person makes the statement whilst not caring one way or another about the result, or makes the statement thinking that it probably will cause that result, but says it anyway, even though they are not deliberately aiming for that result. Perhaps they are just ‘intending’ to make a bit of money for a public speaking engagement outside a corn seller’s home. They walk away counting their money, while the mob is watching pop corn pouring out of the window of the burning house.
Whether the result of the free speech is ‘likely’ to be caused, is another complicated question. In whose eyes must it be likely. I might think “Well, obviously what was going to happen.” but the person expressing themselves might have no idea whatsoever. The person expressing themselves might have fully known that the result was not just likely but inevitable, while the court might not even piece together the links themselves. Or the court might think it is likely, and nobody else can fathom the depths of their thought processes. I am sure the law will have a particular subject in mind. In England, the example of the relevant observer is often the average man on the Clapham omnibus, though in some cases, such as those concerning company directors’ actions, the subject becomes the average company director in that particular industry. An interesting difference of opinion on likelihood might well arise when comparing the likelihood as considered by a shop assistant, compared to the likelihood as considered by a chess grandmaster, who is used to thinking about multiple possibilities, far in advance.
Whether the violence is imminent or not is also not that clear cut. It might have seemed obvious in the days of John Stuart Mill. It may have also seemed obvious in the days of the Brandenburg case. But both those instances predate the world wide web. If someone said something inflammatory in a newspaper, or a pub in those days, it has a different quality to someone speaking in real time on a streaming platform. In that instance a listener might even send a message to the person, and enter into a conversation with them, whilst simultaneously sharpening the prongs on his pitchfork before heading to the house of the corn seller who lives next door to him. Naturally this would not be known to the speaker, but it still muddies the waters in any philosophical consideration of the validity of rules regarding free speech.
This brings me to my main point of contention with the example of Voltaire. Even if he had made the statement attributed to him rather than fluffing some statement about omelettes, it would be impossible for him to consider the implications of untrammelled free speech in the age of the internet. If a person is going to defend anything that is done on the internet, then they are going to need to know what the internet is. To Voltaire the limits of a person’s utterances might have been a rather thinly distributed book that few people would read. I daresay a book with the title “De L’esprit” would not even be a particularly good seller nowadays, in the era when almost everyone can read, and it can easily be translated into multiple languages. Voltaire would probably never have imagined that one day almost everyone would be able to turn on their computer, and instantly be reading quotes that are misattributed as being by him.
And this brings me to my second point of contention with ideological free speech. It makes no distinction between truth and lies. This is particularly pertinent today as the political classes and businesses are putting huge amounts of effort into misleading us and lying to us. Only a few short years ago businesses and politicians were quite cautious about how they lied to us. Now though, politicians have realised that when they only need to fool enough people to stay in power, they can tell complete lies as long as they know that they can fool the ones whose votes they need. It is no longer relevant that their lies are transparent to other people. Truth is no longer absolute, truth is now democratic. Businesses do not have it as easy as the politicians do. They are still subject to rules regarding false advertising, and misleading statements in making contracts. However they are still cunning enough to get away with a lot. An example that springs to mind is the ‘unlimited data’ that was advertised on internet services. This had a number of definitions in contractual small print, but none of them correlated with the actual dictionary definition of ‘unlimited’ as understood by ordinary people. Disturbingly the skewed definitions of ‘unlimited’ all stand up when considered by the law. Though it must be remembered that false advertising, and misleading statements in contracts are still things that are legislated against, so telling people that buying a ferrari from your company will definitely mean you will pick up a hot chick tonight, should theoretically not be allowed. That is a poor example because a complaint would be defended against by pointing out that this is just the sort of thing people say in adverts, and everyone knows not to take it seriously.
The problem is that some people do take things seriously. It is not even as though them taking it seriously doesn’t have a larger social impact. When enough individuals take something seriously, when it is all a pack of lies, designed to influence them, they make political decisions based upon their newfound understanding, or belief. Thus politicians get elected on the basis of things that have clearly not been done, or are not going to be done. If a candidate took you to one side and told you that the previous incumbent had broken into your house and stolen all your spoons, and that by contrast he would not only get you a new set of spoons, but he would also do all your washing up every day while he is in office, that might incline you to vote for him if you believed it. If he convinced everyone, then he would get into power, but he couldn’t do everyone’s washing up. Note even if he had a dishwasher. Once again this is an extreme example, but this is what is now happening at elections. Politicians no longer put forward examples of their intentions during their time in office. While they purport to be doing so, it certainly seems in many instances that they are often simply saying things that no reasonable person, including themselves would ever believe, as long as that reasonable person was in possession of the facts at any rate. However, when the facts have been democratised there is no way of saying what they are. Free speech and democracy are sacrosanct, so if a vote is taken that 2+2=5 then that is it, in many people’s logical framework’s, that is now a fact. This might seem absurd, but only to someone who can do basic maths. If a person does not know how to add 2 and 2, then they do not know that the sum is 4.
This is where things currently stand. Newspapers do not make money out of telling the truth; they make money out of getting readers, which they do by any means they can, which includes telling lies. When I was a kid there was one newspaper in Britain that reported a double decker bus that had been seen on the moon. A lot of people easily saw that as a lie, but some believed it. Most newspapers aren’t as blatant as that, but they do nevertheless mislead people in order to influence their actions.
A great many people in the English speaking world will know exactly what I am talking about. In Britain in particular people should be even more aware, as it has been demonstrated that we have one of the most distorted and biased press systems in the first world. Worryingly a great many people will have no idea whatsoever what I am talking about. They will not realise that they are being lied to. A great many people might think that most of the lies are just mistakes, or that most of them are actually true. A great many of these people will be using the misattribution of Voltaire to defend their right to be lied to. They will be using it because they know that Voltaire knew exactly what he was talking about with regard to freedom of information in the internet era. The will know this, because they have been misinformed, and they have been lied to.
While it might sound as though I am proposing something radical by speaking out against free speech, I must be clear that there are very solid limitations on the measures I think need to be taken. There are already a great many limits, when you consider that free speech is also referred to as free expression. Child pornography is banned everywhere; any pornography is banned from being shown to children. Worryingly, Timm and Rottman give the impression that there is legal precedent that shouting “Fire!” in crowded movie theatres is currently legal in America. This however, it just an impression, though I don’t know for certain that there are any explicit rules against it. Expressing yourself by shouting out that the end is nigh, at three o’clock in the morning outside your neighbour’s house is also something that is limited by the law. There are already limits. I just propose that things that are demonstrably untrue should be outlawed.
I am not talking about things like climate change. While most scientists agree that climate change is real, and most of them agree it is anthropogenic, there are still some who disagree; so climate change is something that can’t be asserted as being factual, even if it is. A great many conspiracy theories are more tricky to deal with. Most people know the Earth is not flat, but a surprisingly large number of people still think it is. The problem arises where the question is asked, whether we only think it is not flat because we have been fed misinformation. Of course that is not true; it isn’t flat, but some of the other conspiracy theories are not so easily dismissed, nor so wholly irrelevant to anything that is likely to have an impact on your life. Regardless of how easy it is to prove the Earth isn’t flat, it is not really going to affect us if a lot of people think it is; just so long as they aren’t working at NASA or somewhere like that.
As the impact on our daily lives increase, the necessity to prevent damaging beliefs also increases. In America the belief that Trump is a man of the people, who is working hard to protect ordinary working class people from the elites is something that is seriously affecting the political landscape. If it is true then that is ok. If on the other hand we have been lied to, and he is actually a corrupt and stupid billionaire who is out for his own best interests and his ego, than that would be a different matter. Likewise in England, the belief that a trio of incompetent plonkers who want to leave Europe, might have enough financial control that they can redirect billions of pounds into the health service, might lead trusting people to vote for a future that the incompetent plonkers cannot even understand themselves because they are so economically illiterate. However, if they aren’t incompetent plonkers then perhaps they have convinced the people to do the best thing for the nation (Although I did write this with a straight face, I assure you, that face was metaphorically in my palm). In Britain the major problem is that whether the plonkers are incompetent or not, their promises of money for the NHS were demonstrably lies. They had no ability to divert that money, the money probably didn’t really exist to be diverted in real terms. They don’t even particularly give the impression that they even want to keep the NHS in existence, let alone give it any money to help it. They are subject to a potential pending court case at present for their lies, but the fact is that this sort of thing should not have happened in the first place.
There are clearly balances that need to be made. There is a world of difference between some bloke down the pub saying he think that the Prime Minister is planning to give money to the health service, and the Prime Minister appearing on live television to announce her plan to give money to the health service after her re-election. Likewise there is a huge difference between some idiot writing a blog (this isn’t self referential), and a major newspaper with a circulation of millions writing a front page that tells the readership the Polish are stealing all their jobs and they should be sent back where they came from. Free speech should be something that is is free because it is valuable and respected. When it is clearly being used to lie to the public for devious and Machiavellian ends, it should not be anywhere near as free. In fact it should be incredibly costly for anyone who seeks to subvert our political institutions, our laws, and our society.
Brexit, the pressing issue that is currently dividing a large amount of the British public actually has a solution available to the remain side that does not seem to have been considered by many people. A point of disclosure that you should know if you are not already aware is that I would very much prefer to remain in the EU. Having said that, this post is not intended to rehash the reasons why Brexit is a bad idea. The news does an adequate job of highlighting that every day, plus there is no shortage of academic study on the likely effects to the economy. I am even willing to concede there may be some advantages to Brexit and that Brexit could be potentially be handled in such a way that some of my chief concerns might be dealt with in a manner that will make me feel a lot better about the whole thing.
Having said that, I still remain a committed europhile and find it hard to believe that it has come to the point that the government is happily accepting a flawed referendum in order to justify continuing the Brexit process despite the serious lack of support they received in the general election.
Personally I believe there must be some machiavellian thinking within the inner depths of whitehall, and the plan is to avoid leaving the EU altogether. As it is the place of the government to protect the British public and to run the country in an effective manner, maintaining our world position it should be self evident that the government would not allow us to make such a disastrous decision to throw away our considerable influence in the EU when it gives us no advantages. Of course it is possible that the seat of power is occupied by people who do not have the wit to understand their duties, but despite the appearance that this is the case we much hold out hope that they do know what they are doing, or that they have the wisdom to realise they need to find a solution to the evident disaster that we are currently being pulled into as surely as a comet that has been caught in the gravity of a black hole.
The question is, how could the government pull themselves away from this course of action. If the country was run by Angela Merckel then the likelihood is that she would have been advised long ago of the deleterious effects of this course of action; she would have accepted this, and she would have backed out. That does not seem to be a problem for Merckel. In Britain there is a different culture though. As we have the disadvantage of the massive direct and indirect influence of the Murdoch press, politicians are very wary of u-turns, or flip flops, or whatever term is currently being bandied about the media. In Britain realising your are wrong and changing direction is not an option. In Britain if you realise you are wrong then the main option that a politician will choose is to plough on ahead anyway and hope that something will turn up. We are governed by a bunch of optimistic political Micawbers. Clearly as nobody is always right, even myself, this attitude of ignoring the fact that as mistake has been made, will, not may, but will occasionally lead to a great deal of problems that are only justified on the childish notion of saving face.
So the solution to the entire Brexit problem is a case of saving face. At this point our government is not able to make a u-turn. This may be something that is not understood on the continent. It may be possible that the culture there does not realise there is a British tendency to continue forwards and never say die. If there is this lack of insight on the part of the EU combined with the unfortunate fallacy of British superiority then we are looking very much at a situation that appears to be an unstoppable force meeting an unmoveable barrier.
There is a way out of this though, which is why I hope that there is a machiavellian scheme being developed by the government. That should be the way in which politics is conducted so my fingers are crossed that they do realise this. In order to prevent our country from falling into the disastrous situation that appears to be ahead of us it will be necessary to win the support of those who object to remaining in the EU. There are certainly flaws with the way the EU is run and the leavers are right to realise this. Before the referendum Yannis Varoufakis made regular appearances in the media arguing that we should remain in the EU so that we could force the implementation of changes to create a better system. It is not only the British leavers who think the union has problems, it is a feeling that runs throughout the EU. If it wasn’t for the example of economic disaster and political incompetence we are displaying to the rest of the EU it is probable that political actors such as Marine le Pen might have achieved power and be moving their countries towards leaving the union as well. Our example has created a fear that has led the European leave contingent to rapidly lose the impetus they were developing.
The only way the leavers are likely to be swayed enough to give a reason for Britain to remain part of the union is if the union fixes a sufficient number of its problems that it becomes something very different to what we voted to leave. If a family voted to leave a house because it was too small, their reason would disappear if a large extension was built that expanded the size of the house. In that instance it would make sense to stay in the house, it would no longer be too small. Similarly if the EU changed so that the impression was created that we would be leaving something other than the entity we voted to leave then there would certainly be a justification to think again about whether it was what we really wanted.
Some of the problems that people worry about are easily resolved without having to make changes to the way the EU works. Immigration was a factor that bothered a lot of people. We already know that immigration can be seriously limited under the rules as they currently stand. The home office simply needs to implement those rules. Another problem that people disliked was the notion of losing control to the European Court of Justice, This was never a serious issue as the court is basically only advisory and has little more authority than it would still maintain even if we were to leave the union. A simple change in perspective will solve a lot of the problems that led to the choice of many leave voters. However aside from internally solving the problems that we are able to change there is still the issue of saving face and avoiding the accusation of having made a u-turn.
At present though, we are in a unique position that we actually have a massive amount of leverage to create positive change within the union. In the past when prime ministers have tried to negotiate to create a more favourable relationship with the EU their main motivation has been simple to get something for Britain from the EU. That would all be very well for Britain but it has quite clearly failed to impress the British voters and it has earned us a reputation throughout Europe as being quite frankly, a little annoying and entitled. Despite this the EU does actually wish to maintain our membership. The EU is weakened by the loss of a principle member state. Their loss will of course be nowhere near as disastrous as our own loss, and they also have to appear to not surrender to our demands. If they do then there are another two dozen or so nations that might also start kicking up a fuss.
Both parties recognise that they will both lose out from Brexit but on our side, we can’t back out and on their side they can’t give in. The only solution we have that is acceptable to both sides is that Britain should use its leverage to achieve change that will benefit the EU as a whole. In the past we have used less leverage and achieved small successes for selfish purposes. If we instead focus on solving European problems that are recognisable to other nations, the sort of things that are highlighted by Yannis Varoufakis then the British public will be given the impression that we have achieved a great victory. We will be part of a union that Britain has shaped to be something better than the union we voted to leave. The EU will also not have lost face because the changes that are implemented will have benefitted the union as a whole. They will probably be changes that would have been made anyway in time, so all we will have done is helped to push them through more quickly. The important things are that the EU will not have been made to look as though it has lost in front of its member nations, so there will be less likelihood of others threatening to leave in order to make selfish gains; and that Britain will have succeeded in achieving positive changes that will make the government look powerful and clever in front of the voter base. I may be a labour supporter but I must admit that such a victory by the conservatives would be a disaster for labour and would probably lead to the government actually looking like they know what they are doing, and may well secure the conservatives a second term, particularly if they are able to pull off the trick towards the end of an extended Brexit negotiation.
I am convinced that there are a number of rules that are able to be used in multiple different fields to explain things and to aid in making the right choices. I don’t plan on going into all of them now because I haven’t tried to put together an exhaustive list; I have simply noticed them coming up again and again in life. The one I have noticed is particularly relevant to current events for the last year or so is the rule that strength is found in diversity.
If you are growing a crop, or indeed any kind of garden you may not realise it but the ability of your garden to thrive will be greatly increased by diversifying the plants that you wish to grow. If you have a solid block with only one type of plant in it you will find that as soon as a pest realises how tasty that plant is there will be nothing there to distract that pest. You have made a nice big clear patch of tasty food that is going to attract creatures who will swarm across that area and finish off the whole lot unless you employ all sorts of unpleasant methods to get rid of them.
If you instead have a patch that mixes up a load of different plants then your garden becomes stronger for it. Spurges will deter things that move through the soil, lavender deters many flying pests, nettles make an attractive meal for creatures that might otherwise go for your brassicas. Simply having any plants there can act as a hiding spot for your plants so that pests don’t even realise they are there. Beyond pests bare soil allows water to evaporate off into the air while plant cover can keep the water in so that your other plants can benefit. Even amongst those farmers who do grow a single crop on a piece of land to all exclusion of other plants it is well known that over a four year period diversification in the form of a rotation system keeps the soil healthier.
The rule pops up again in regard to pets. If you have a pure bred dog then you can take it to dog shows and it will look beautiful, etc, but any dog breeder knows that pure breeds have disadvantages that mongrels don’t have. Any faults in a breed are accentuated by being bred into a breed over successive generations. A common complaint in a lot of dogs I have known is weak hind legs, and shortened lifespan. Dogs that have a diverse range of DNA derive greater strength from it. That is a central principle of evolution.
Greater diversity in DNA leads to all sorts of advantages as we take the strengths of both of our parents and hopefully leave the weaknesses. That is why we don’t marry our brothers and sisters. It is not because they are so annoying, it is because their genes are too similar to ours. Without diversity we risk the danger of unpleasant results in our children.
The rule is also clear in investment. If you have invested all your money in housing then a drop in house prices is an utter disaster. If instead you have invested partly in housing, partly in bonds, partly in stocks, partly in antiques, and partly in private business adventures then a loss in any of those areas, while unfortunate is not going to irreparably damage your finances. That diversity is your strength; that is what keeps you afloat in the midst of disaster.
In the running of a business there are also similar advantages of diversity. When building a team for a project you want to have all skill sets represented in order to be able to get the best results. You need people who are good at leading, but if you had nothing but leaders your team would see a lot of conflicts, you also need people who are good at following. You need people who are good at coming up with ideas, but you also need people who are good at putting those ideas into actions. You need people who can get a lot of work done quickly, but you will also need people who are good at ensuring fine details get the attention they need. All these qualities are unlikely to exist in the same person so you need the diversity offered by many different people in order to form the strongest team.
If I racked my brains I could probably come up with many examples of diversity being a form of strength in many different situations. That would detract from the central message I want to get across. The problem today is that people do not realise how important the strength of diversity is. In America over the last few days we have had neo-nazis marching against the diversity that comes from different races sharing a common land. In Britain we are living through the extended process of Brexit because people think that being part of a community of like minded nations makes us weaker instead of stronger.
Personally I support remaining in the EU, but that is because I recognise that diversity gives strength rather than weakens us. There are certainly flaws in the system but those are things to be fixed. Thanks to the diversity of the EU nations it is unlikely that issues will remain unfixed; anything that favours one nation or group above the others will find opposition from the nations it doesn’t favour. If you want to see what comes from losing that diversity then the economic losses being seen in Britain at present are a good place to start looking.
I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, but I have books on history, sociology, biology, etc, etc. I have too many books to be able to read them all to tell the truth. Those books allow me to see what has been and what currently is. From seeing how things have worked in the past it gives a reasonable impression of what is likely to happen in the future. Where we lose diversity we create gaps in our defences. We need to fill those gaps in order to strengthen ourselves; we can’t build a wall with only bricks, we need mortar as well.
Thankfully there are people fighting to create greater diversity. We have more women becoming politicians, or judges, we have young black women making strides in entering universities like Cambridge which were once homogenous groups of white males. However wherever there are people trying to increase diversity there is also opposition. People need to realise that increasing diversity doesn’t just benefit those new elements that we allow into our societies and groups; increasing diversity benefits all of us. Even when it appears to give individuals disadvantages they didn’t previously have, it also gives those individuals a stronger environment in which to live. It increases competition and makes their world a better place because of that strength.
I am sure I can’t be the only one thinking this but there seems to be little said about it online. Jeremy Corbyn needs to pledge massive support for Britain’s intelligence agencies. There are constant accusations being laid against him that he is not taking Britain’s security seriously. The controversy behind his decision not to back trident has been overblown. We do not need trident and will never use trident but that is not to say that we don’t need protection.
We are fortunate to live on an archipelago/island in Britain which gives us a moderate amount of safety against many attacks from other nations but being known as the little satan due to our special relationship with the US is evidence that there are people out there who do not particularly care for us. There are essentially two ways of ensuring our safety. One is the gung ho approach that is currently being taken by stronger military powers and the other is to know enough that we can stop trouble before it starts.
In a modern liberal society there is a certain amount of distaste felt about the idea of killing people who upset us. Even in World War I there were conscientious objectors, a trend that has increased throughout the twentieth century and will probably continue to increase as long as our own people are not trodden down completely by those who are in power. For this reason it makes sense that we should be taking the second option of combatting opposition with intelligence. The hallmark of modern society is the way in which we apply our intelligence. In something as sensitive as national security it makes sense that we should apply intelligence to an even higher degree.
In addition to this rather obvious reasoning is the continued speculation that the internal intelligence services are observing the rise of the current labour leader with some trepidation. A pledge to support the intelligence services to a far higher degree than the current government would do a lot to ensure backing from within their hidden ranks.
Trident may work as a deterrent, but it might as well be a series of giant cardboard cutouts for all the likelihood of it ever being deployed, even by a gung ho prime minister. It is an expensive bluff. The intelligence services are no bluff. They are actually doing their work, unseen, in the background. There is a lot of worry about exactly what that work is but investment is not going to make that worse. Investment will enable them to use greater precision and discernment. It will increase our security and ensure that they can direct their efforts where they are really needed.
The money that is spent on Trident, if spent on MI6/GCHQ/MI5 would continue to act as a deterrent. Any foreign power that is not afraid of that much investment in intelligence needs to invest in a little more intelligence themselves. Additionally this deterrent will be operating not only as a deterrent, it will actually be doing its job as well.
Cardinal Richilieu was infamous for his network of information gatherers. That is what is needed by Corbyn. Given the number of objections by the more powerful sectors in society he needs as much help as he can get to defend against them. The dual benefit of actually supplementing Britain’s defence in a meaningful and cost effective manner is simply a bonus to the benefit that such an approach could give him. It is all very well having a great defensive power but it would be far better to have the knowledge that would enable us not to need it.
Syria is an issue that demands new ways of dealing with conflict. The majority of the public concede that more refugees must be accepted, a point with which the prime minister appears to also agree now. The problem with refugees is that many consider them to have a similar effect on their destination nation as economic migrants would, so much so that the distinction between migrant and refugee has been one of the points of contention during the last few weeks.
Any government which has a major issue to deal with must seek to find the strengths in the situation rather than simply run scared from the problems. David Cameron infamously said that the solution to the crisis was not simply to accept more refugees. In this he is correct; the solution must go further than this. Opportunities must be sought to help those refugees in regaining their lives and their self respect.
It has been suggested to me that training refugees in how to fight and wage a war might be a solution, so that they can return to their nation and reclaim it for themselves. Whilst it is certain that many of them are currently unprepared for the conflict around them it is also certain that many of them are plainly not going to fit into the mold of a soldier. If this nation were overcome by war how many of the people you know would plainly not be up to the task of fighting in the traditional position of a soldier.
Likewise, military action and airstrikes are considered to be a necessary path for foreign governments. Military action is one of the courses that people oppose on idealistic grounds. For many it is simply out of the question, like suggesting a cull of squirrels to a group of vegans, it is not going to be taken well. While I do not offer opinions on potential military action I accept that it might be the chosen method of those in power and at present it might not be the time to resist that decision.
My opinion on the path to resolving the situation lies in knowledge. Perhaps it is my past as an educator that compels me to consider knowledge to be the most important way forward, just as I would assume by brother, the military strategist, to support military action. Different people from different walks of life will have different ideas which must be respected on the strength of their experience and specialist knowledge. And there lies that world ‘knowledge’ again.
The people who are currently being forced out of their country bring with them a great deal of knowledge and they also need a great deal of knowledge. They should be trained, but the training should not be in basic fighting skills. In a nod to the military perhaps they should at least be trained in strategy and logistics, but mainly they need training in problem solving, team building, diplomacy, and other arts of gentle control. Britain or any other nation should not be considered a final destination for any refugee. These other nations should be considered places where they can regroup and discover methods and ways in which they might regain their homeland.
The communication that is allowed by the use of the internet will enable a political state to exist without geographic boundaries. It is possible for people living in Berlin or London to communicate with people living in small villages in Devon. Refugees must be aided in organising themselves as a cohesive group while also allowing them to integrate into any host societies. The inevitable result of segregating them would ultimately be resentment on the part of hosting native populations.
While integrating with host nations, the refugees would be able to create cohesive groups to try and find solutions to their own problems without the need to rely on others to take action. Offering them training in bureaucratic and diplomatic arts would give them more peaceful weapons to win back their homes. In exchange they can offer knowledge of their own. People who live in nations outside the conflict need to hear about what is happening, why it happened and what led up to it happening. The arabic language they speak is something that more of use should grow accustomed with considering the way world politics is currently shaping itself.
This exchange of information would strengthen not only them but us as well. While I am sure that military maneuvers may be inevitable just as David Cameron asserted the solution was not simply to accept more refugees, I assert the solution is also not simply to rely on further escalation of conflict.
Since writing this I have had my attention drawn to this additional content: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/14710-britains-syrian-diaspora-unites-to-build-peace-in-their-homeland . It is uncanny how closely it connects with what I have written and is probably more worthy of being read due to the information and facts contained within.
Jeremy Corbyn seems to have done something that nobody has managed for many decades. He is making politics seem interesting. Last year when we had Russell Brand telling us not to bother voting because it was a waste of time and our voices made little impact on the actions of the political clone army that run things, a lot of people listened. Or at least they felt their own suspicions were being backed up by a nominal comedian/celebrity. Throughout my whole life politics has been dull; when it threatens to get interesting there is a political reaction that injects so much new dullness that I couldn’t describe it to you without you leaving this page to go and do something more interesting instead. Fortunately I wouldn’t tell you anyway as when it happened I think I might have fallen asleep or urgently gone to watch some paint drying.
Of course they say that the darkness is at its thickest just before dawn; of course this is complete rubbish, it is actually darkest in the middle of the night, but the analogy may apply in politics. Just about when politics was at its indisputably highest levels of dullness, corruption, disenfranchisement, and many other negative things Jeremy Corbyn just seems to have popped up out of nowhere. At one point there was a labour leadership contest full of contenders and then suddenly the selfsame leadership contest also had Jeremy Corbyn, who nobody seemed to have invited and he was busy doing things that nobody liked who was in the party. If it was an ordinary party like those you go to on Saturday night then Corbyn would essentially have turned up at about 10:30 with a couple of six packs and a crate of wine; he would have taken Justin Bieber off the stereo and tossed the CD out of the window before putting on a mix he made himself of Led Zeppelin, The Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and other similarly non Bieber fare. Unfortunately it would appear he turned up to a party being held by a pair of accountants to celebrate their new conservatory designs, and they are planning to get up early in the morning.
Jeremy Corbyn is the most popular choice with voting labour members because he is undoubtedly the only hope that labour has for being taken seriously as a party for the people in the future, and the only chance that labour has of offering a viable alternative who would be worth voting into parliament. He is also the most popular choice with the tories because he will obviously prevent labour being taken seriously in any way whatsoever and will destroy any chance they have of ever being a viable alternative to the conservative party and getting into power. He is also the least favoured choice of the labour voter on account of these same reasons, but he is also the least favoured choice of the typical tory on account of he may actually make the world a nice place to live for people who don’t have so much money that they could upgrade a slurry pit into a nice place to live if they really wanted to.
Of course it is difficult to see the future so anyone who is working towards a definite strategy only really has about a 50% chance of being successful. Condorcet used to reckon that a large enough group of people were capable of making decisions between them that would usually be correct. Condorcet didn’t have access to the knowledge of modern psychology that points out that most people will follow the opinions of any idiot who speaks loudly and confidently enough. It is therefore difficult to accurately choose which outcome will occur if Corbyn gets in. Personally I cling to the beautiful irony of all the tories trying to influence things to help him get in only to discover that the result is a Labour government that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Miliband came closer than many people think during the last election. It has been expertly hushed up that his government actually got more votes that Blair did last time he was voted into power. It seems that all the achievements of labour have been kept quiet recently. I can only imagine that David Cameron’s background in marketing has allowed him to keep all the good ad men to himself.
I don’t feel that this is my argument to take part in. Many of my friends will no doubt be horrified by this. Most people I know are very vocal in their support for Corbyn. I could easily be swayed towards him, in fact I think I have already been swayed towards him. Previously I would have said that the strategic vote was more important for gaining power than the idealistic vote but when I think of how many people feel disenfranchised by modern politics it is probable that strategy and idealism are walking hand in hand at the moment. I feel for the old conservative labour view that all these new labour members are really being quite unfair in coming into their club and noisily messing things up; I kind of think it is not my place to do so, but to all those who are currently shaking things up for the future of the labour party I salute you and wish you well. I hope the choices you make work out for all of us.
I heard Noam Chomsky make a comparison between football and politics the other day. He said that while few people understood what was going on in politics the ability ordinary people had to talk about football in depth showed that people weren’t avoiding politics because they didn’t have the ability to understand. Noam pointed out that the intricacies that could develop in the relation of all the players in all the teams over the course of a year created a network of data that left him completely lost, yet ordinary blokes down the pub knew it all inside out.
The reason that all this brain power is directed into things like sport is that in sport there is so much flexibility of outcome. An individual may not be able to affect anything personally but it somehow feels like the world in which it takes place does not reject the input of the individual. Ordinary people may not be directors, coaches, or players, but they can still be part of the debate. They may change nothing as individuals but collectively it certainly appears that the debate can have an effect on the overall game. The difference in politics is that it feels so futile. The individual has no effect, but the individual often doesn’t even have the illusion of an effect. Even those within the system don’t appear to have an effect. Britain’s party leaders seem to regularly talk about making changes but in reality they can’t even change the ‘Punch and Judy’ format of the way in which people address each other in the house of commons. If leaders are unable to simply change the rules around how people speak to each other to something more respectful then how on Earth are they going to be able to make any substantive changes.
Politics are currently working on the wrong model. In football the way things work is fairly obvious. Teams fight it out until only the best one is left and they win the cup, or generally actions along those lines. Each time a team goes to play football it is doing its job. The competing is the job and each team gets rewarded for doing things their way to the best of their ability.
In politics the different teams involved do not do their jobs until after they have won the competition. Up until that point they essentially pretend to do their job and then if everyone thinks that their ‘fantasy football’ style politics would be effective then maybe they will get voted in and be able to do it for real. There is no way to objectively test if their methods work though. In football the way to objectively test if a team’s methods work is to see if they won the game. It is obvious. In politics there is no objectivity like this. The team who is trying to win has to try to work out what sort of things the public would like and then pretend that is what they would do. The result means that they, lie about their principles; they mimic the group who has already won because their tactics must have worked, even though they are meant to be opposed, i.e. opposite.
Our political parties cannot be chosen for objective reasons. They can only be chosen because of personal biases or because the current party in power has screwed things up so badly that we have no other choice beside trying to walk across the channel. My Grandmother refused to vote liberal because she said they couldn’t be trusted, although if they had ever been given the chance to learn from that mistake it could only have been when she was a very small child. Certainly I don’t think Lloyd George would have been likely to make the same mistakes again in the 1980s, having long since shuffled off the mortal coil. There was no objective reason to think that they would be remotely similar to the last liberal government.
This is my complaint. No wonder sports are easier to relate to than politics. Most of politics is just one small group of people, fewer than a thousand in a country of sixty million, doing their own thing, more or less unswayed by those who want change. Luckily I have a solution.
As I have pointed out, every week when football teams compete they do so by doing their job. The solution for political parties wholly failing to achieve anything comparable in their own operation is for political parties to start competing before they get into power. Local MPs should be solving their constituent’s problems in their capacity as MP whether they succeed in gaining a parliamentary seat or not. If a candidate fails and wishes to step down then they should be immediately replaced by someone prepared to do their job immediately. A replacement shouldn’t be chosen only for the purpose of running for election. A candidate should be chosen immediately to try and solve local issues and rally people together even if their is no hope of them gaining power for another five years.
The political parties should be operating at a national scale to make large changes to the way things are done. They should consider themselves to be like large multipurpose charities. There should be no focus on one particular field, they should be charities that deal with the day to day running of the country. They should be able to prove their worth as potential leaders to run our country by their ability to raise money and then use that money to improve the lives of the people rather than saving it for advertising and canvassing. If we could see parties achieve success when they are not in power then we are far more likely to put them in power where they get the opportunity to make even bigger changes. We should not have to vote for people based on assurances which will probably never attain fruition.
After yesterday’s election there are a lot of disappointed people. On account of the failings in our first past the post system the number of people who are disappointed are considerably more than half of those who voted. Fortunately there are a great many people who are pleased with the result. Unfortunately a large number of those are only pleased because they got the party their father taught them to vote for or their newspaper told them to vote for. In the long run it is probable that many people who currently feel pleased will be badly affected by the outcome of the election. Fortunately the lack of understanding of politics and economics that led to their choice will further shield them from knowledge that they have merely been pawns at the hands of the true beneficiaries.
However, having spoken to a small number of people I have come to the conclusion that anyone who is interested enough to be reading this, i.e. anyone who pays the slightest attention to politics, anyone who voted yesterday, is going to be supported far better by the change in government than they currently feel. The reason I say this is that having spoken to people who didn’t vote because they weren’t interested or didn’t have the time I was horrified at the irony that they were also the people who I would have considered to be most likely to be badly affected by the proposals of the new government.
Of course politics is about looking after society as a whole, not simply looking out for one’s own self, no matter how much the government seem to be giving the opposite impression. We should not breathe a sigh of relief that of all the people who live in the country we are probably going to fall into the group which will not be so badly affected by the next five years of governance. However, if one considers the natural bell curve on which all phenomena seem so easily to fall it is probable that in most natural systems one would expect a few to do extremely well out of any system, a few to do extremely badly out of any system and everyone else to fall somewhere in the middle. The zenith of the curve will vary in thickness and may float towards the left or the right but if you are on the side of benefitting well then you will know it well. If you are on the side of being taken advantage of by the world around you then you will not be reading this, you will not have any idea it is happening, you will not even know that you could have done anything different to change it.
The rest of us who float in the middle will be experiencing varying levels of fortune from our situation but we all have one thing in common. Our actions are worth worrying about to those who seek power. As voters, or even as people who simply think about speak about politics we are the one’s who can make or break careers. It may not feel like it because individually we are as powerful as a single ant in a colony, but as a group we are a force that needs to be appeased. Those who did not vote because they did not know who to vote for, or because they did not have the time, or did not care wield less political power than a single ant, even when grouped together as a cross section of society. Those in power do not care how they feel about the results of policy because those in power know that they will never be part of the defining force that takes the effort to change things.
A lot of the rest of us feel like history has taken a turn against us today, but we only think this because we have the intellect to think about the way things are going, and the understanding to be able to hope for better; we also have the wit to look after ourselves if the situation turns against us. Those who do not possess these qualities, who do not have the wit to look after their political interests, who do not have the sensitivity or understanding to fear the future that now looms are the only ones who need really fear the future.
Just like we may be inclined to leave the hallway light on because we consider that tiny trickle of electricity to be negligible in its effect on climate change, the non voters consider their vote to be of no consequence. They feel that they can’t change things so they don’t try. All politicians seem equally corrupt to those who do not follow politics, even though the chances of complete equality of corruption would be more unlikely than the natural occurrence of perfect spheres. I do not wish to make arguments as to why a single vote is important; that has been done many times before. Instead I propose a different manner in which votes might be envisaged in order to motivate those who do not make the effort.
Russell Brand has done a great deal to lead to further disenfranchisement of vulnerable groups by urging people to avoid voting. The result will have been many people simply not registering or not turning up to a polling station. Better advice might have been to turn up but only offer spoilt ballots. That much would be counted, and large numbers would be every bit as influential as a vote for a losing candidate. The only votes that actually do anything under our current electoral system are those which actually push a candidate above his competition. All the others simply offer an indication of how the rest of the public are thinking and feeling. In that respect a spoilt ballot speaks volumes. In many instances it speaks more loudly than any other losing vote. If I could go back and take yesterday’s vote again I might be tempted to write a treatise on electoral reform rather than putting an x beside my preferred candidate.
At present the number of votes for all the separate candidates are counted and considered, as are those spoilt ballots. What are not read out are the number of people in that constituency who could not be bothered, or did not understand the system. As none of those votes had any influence to prevent the winning candidate taking their place in parliament they may as well have been considered to be votes for the winning candidate. After all if you know beyond any shadow of a doubt that your choice would get voted in whether you turned up or not then there is an argument that you might be able to spend your time more effectively, but only if it was a 100% certainty. My proposal is that once the winning candidate has been chosen then every abstention by inaction should be considered to be a vote for that winning candidate.
Such votes might not be considered to add to the members majority but they should be used to be illustrative on charts of how much influence was wasted. Those who felt it wasn’t important enough to take the effort should not be allowed the easy path of losing their right to complain during the next 5 years, they should have it imposed that their choice not to vote was a positive vote for the actual result. In essence every non vote would be considered to be a default vote for whoever won in that constituency.
If charts were presented that contained the number of votes a party received, the number of seats they achieved and also the number of default votes that led to their election then it could lead to a new understanding of our duties in elections. I would not insist that all voters must accept one of the candidates on offer, but I would insist that those who do not wish to choose any of the candidates should at least try to make the effort to turn up and put something into the box to at least prove that their reason for choosing none of the above is not because they were too busy sitting in the pub or pursuing equivalent avenues of amusement.
A couple of posts back I offered some essential ideas on how to go about seeing that the economy is repaired. Naturally that is a large task so I could really only skirt around one particular issue, which I suppose could be summarised as making work pay, if I wished it to be in soundbite form. Today I plan to offer a partial solution to the housing crisis that Britain is currently experiencing. I say partial because, on the one hand, it is a very large housing crisis, on the other hand there are a number of other supplemental solutions which will also be of use in ensuring there is enough housing for people.
There are those who say that the housing crisis could be dramatically reduced by simply making sure that all the unused property is put into use. There are derelict and condemned buildings all over the place, as well as commercial properties that are out of use where the land could be repurposed. I don’t think that the problem could begin to be dealt with by derelict buildings alone, I also think that if we solved a lot of our other problems then we would need those commercial properties. Once there are more homes so that fewer people are losing their wages by paying extortionate rents there could be a far greater ability for ordinary people to invest in making use of those commercial properties to supply goods that will become more affordable in the absence of extortionate rents. Although there are obviously some economic advantages in employing people and buying materials for developing these sites it is an economic disaster to knock down and rebuild every few decades. Not to mention those same people and materials could be far more efficiently by putting up extra buildings in previously unused locations.
Of course that is where the objections start to spring up. It is the threat of new developments on previously unused locations. That is what gets protestors building treehouses and digging tunnels. Our biodiversity has suffered dramatically over the last few hundred years of the industrial revolution, sometimes fast enough for us to sit up and take notice, but usually so slowly that we don’t even realise it is happening. Having grown up in Devon I am used to living in the countryside and walking through woodlands, or wading in rivers. Devon is after all the countryside wilderness of England. However if someone from Devon ever spends any time in Scotland it quickly becomes apparent that there is a homogeneity to the flora of Devon that is an obvious mark of humanity’s impact on the environment.
There are still areas in the south of England where the wilderness reigns. If you leave the main roads and the towns, taking a route down narrow windy lanes, it is not long before you can find wild meadows full of masses of different plants and flowers. Despite the time I spend in the countryside and my efforts to learn about obscure plants like Bugle, Jack in the Hedge, Stinkhorn mushrooms, etc, I was surprised to find a plant that I had simply never seen before growing in a field near my home. When building houses it is obvious that plants will be replaced by buildings but as the lack of houses is damaging our ability to live happy productive lives we are left in little choice. It must therefore be considered which places are most appropriate to avoid as much environmental damage as possible. This includes how much extra pollution might result from increasing a local population and how much use of local infrastructure with its knock-on effects of diminishing the comfort of locals, increasing danger for other road users, raising costs of road repair, etc.
In addition to preventing these negative side effects of increased housing it is also reasonably important to upset as few people as possible. I say reasonably because if one paid attention to the way in which modern politicians dealt with these issues one would think that nothing can be done if there is any danger that it might upset anyone whatsoever. You might also look at what they achieve and think that nothing is done. Politicians get into office and then when they leave office years later they realise they have squandered their opportunity and done almost none of the things they originally intended. It is obvious that someone is going to get upset about almost everything, if only because there are some people who make a sport out of getting upset about things. Some journalists make a career out of it, even though they don’t really care at all, usually because they are twisting the facts so much that the upsetting news bears little relation to reality. Fortunately if you make a decisions based on logically avoiding as much damage as possible and increasing the greatest benefit possible then this becomes less of a problem. Unfortunately decisions are often made according to the whims of corporate sponsors and other less than transparent inputs.
In order that extra housing complies with as many of the conditions I have mentioned above the most sensible place to put it is where it is closest to the main thoroughfares that provide routes to work for the people living in the housing. If you put a housing estate on the quiet side of a town then that might be very pleasant for those living there, it might even command a higher price (pleasant for those selling the houses, or renting them out) but it will lead to massive amounts of traffic heading towards the best roads for commuting. If the commuting roads of the residents are on the quiet side of town then very quickly the quiet side of town stops being so quiet; the quiet local roads become over congested and dangerous. If the commuting roads are, as is more likely, on the busier side of town where the local dual carriageway/motorway is then anyone who needs to commute to the nearest large towns will first have to contribute to the morning clogging up of traffic in their own town’s rush hour before they hit the larger roads to make their commute. Naturally the same applies for returning home in the evening, with the result that the town becomes busy, noisy, dusty, and polluted. In this modern era it is probable that a large number of people will be seeking to travel on these larger roads.
If housing is put on the side of the town where the dual carriageway/motorway lies then this extra weight on the infrastructure of the town is avoided, possible with reduced need for the building of an additional bypass in the future. Additionally placing housing estates near the roundabouts where access to these large routes can be made, will result in massive reduction in use of fossil fuels by commuters as they no longer need to sit in traffic jams to negotiate the narrow roads leading to the dual carriageways. There will be economic benefit as more workers will be inclined to accept jobs at businesses that are now easier to reach because the commute will be shorter. Those businesses will therefore find it much easier to find more suitable staff; they will not need to make do with the local pool of talent and the few who make the effort to go through an arduous commute, they will have the addition of the many who will be prepared to go through a far less arduous commute.
Environmentally we already see a benefit from reducing those fossil fuels but there is of course the problem of direct damage by building on the countryside. The one thing that all access roads for dual carriageways and motorways have in common is that any such environmental damage has already been conducted during the twentieth century. Protestors have already tried to stop these roads being built and having failed the countryside has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. The trees have been cut down, bulldozers have churned up the rare flowers, badgers and deer have largely fled into more secluded country areas, litter is thrown daily from the windows of cars, and there is a lot of noise from passing vehicles. People do not go to these places to enjoy the countryside anymore. One might argue that they would also be less pleasant places to live but there are many people who already live alongside such roads and there are solutions such as fences and double glazing.
In addition it also reduces the potential cost of the homes, making them far more suitable for first time buyers, and far less suitable for farming. Besides if we all got to live in the nicest places then there wouldn’t be any more nice places. This way all those hidden country meadows remain intact.
To anyone that has read the previously mentioned blog on fixing the economy there will be obvious connections between the matter written here and the matter in that. As I have said, that blog was not fully concluded because it is such a large subject. This approach to solving the housing problems we face is another piece in the puzzle of how to make things better. This approach is probably not suitable for all areas either. It is likely that many local councils have already taken the opportunity to see that housing is built with easy access to the country’s main roads systems. There are also many councils who are still having a great deal of difficulty in deciding where they should put homes to fill the quota being demanded from politicians above them. There are areas of outstanding natural beauty where there are few options. In some of those areas this is an options that may not have been considered, or may be being debated at present. The solution written above is offered for those areas.
It is no secret that the government depends largely on taxes in order to finance its management of the country. Even if things were massively stripped back as is proposed by William Hague and his colleagues there would still be a need for large amounts of money just for simple administration and political process, let alone welfare, health, ordefence. At present there are a number of problems with trying to raise funds through taxation. Firstly there are a huge number of people who pay hardly any taxes at all. I do not mean the wealthy and large businesses who can afford to employ clever accountants and tax lawyers. I am referring to those who earn so little that their wages are not high enough for them to pay tax, or only a little tax if any. For those at this poorer end of society the idea of paying taxes is simply not feasible because if they did have taxes imposed on them they simply wouldn’t be able to afford to pay them. For those who are a little better off and earn enough to become a target for the tax collectors the payment of taxes is a great weight to bear; the demands of their lifestyles, living in areas where they can get higher paid work or the expense of commuting mean that they are barely better off than those who do not earn enough to pay taxes.
The idea of fraudulent benefit claimants has been used as an explanation for the lack of money in public coffers, as has the idea of families that have lived from generation to generation wholly dependent on benefits. It has been stated over and over again that these actually represent a tiny minority of those who are supported by the welfare system. In reality it is largely ordinary working people who are being helped out by the welfare system. One figure I recently read showed that the majority of housing benefit claims brought out during a one year period had been claimed by families which would have been considered to be middle class by most people. During the time when I was lecturing in London a large part of my income was from tax credits rather than my wages. My employer tried to claim that I was self employed in order that I should also have to pay taxes out of my wage. Luckily one of the subjects on which I lectured was employment law otherwise I would be bankrupt at the moment. Despite this a very English tendency towards fair play might have prevented me taking advantage of this if my employer had not also fully agreed with the principles on which I relied to argue my position.
Unfortunately it seems the vast majority of us are in a similar position, child benefits, disability payments, income support between jobs and housing benefit when rents are simply too high. On the one hand we fear our country’s economy collapsing but on the other hand almost all of us are reliant on our country’s generosity to maintain our meager standard of living. We want spending on education, welfare, health, etc cut, but at the same time we need spending on these things to be increased in order to maintain the living standards that we consider to be adequate, or in some cases, humane.
While we pay taxes from our earnings we receive them back in various payouts. Our real tax payments are probably far less in many cases once our income is adjusted in this way. So we have a government reliant on taxes, yet the vast majority of people pay little or no tax, even receiving benefits as tax in reverse. This does not work for anyone. It does not work for those wealthy enough as to be paying large taxes and receiving no benefits. It does not work for those receiving a demeaning pittance that barely allows them to eat and live. It does not work for those who are working furiously hard to keep themselves above water. It does not work for companies who are relying on the public to have money to buy their goods.
It might seem somewhat contrary to say it works for no one. After all there is plainly a lot of wealth around. It must work for someone. There are of course individuals who will be doing well out of any situation but well is always relative according to the context within which these individuals find themselves. The feudal system of medieval England appeared to benefit those who lived in large castles with tapestries on the wall and roaring fires over which they roasted whole cows. However, that is only in the context of the era. It might be argued that they could not have had the same level of luxury in medieval England as we have in the modern day but progress is not just the invention of technological devices, progress is also political and social reform. If those feudal lords had cared less for their own personal comfort and had instead tried to increase the educational standards of their serfs then things would have been different. If they had focussed on trying to make the lives of their serfs better then they would have had a healthierwork forcewho would have been better able to produce more wealth from the land around them. Admittedly we didn’trealisein those days that education and health could reap benefits broad enough to change the world but today we have the advantage of knowing that these things can change societies. We have the benefit of having seen it happen. Yet we still fail to put great enough investment in because we have given over our whole societies to a fatally flawed faith in the wisdom of money makers acting in their own interest.
The free market is one simple idea. One idea that could have come from the head on one man, yet an idea on which most of humankind is relying to achieve a better future for us all. It is an idea that works, at least it works in certain contexts and certain environments with certain variables. Similarlymarxismworks in certain contexts and environments with certain variables. Religion works in certain contexts and environments with certain variables. Rather unfairly they are popularly derided now while the free market ideal is theflavourof the day. In their time they were ideas that were very useful for those in power to build and maintain their power. This is yet another parallel they share with the free market. The lesson to be learned is that circumstances change. The great thing about government is that regulation deals with changing circumstance. The ludicrous thing about government is that overwhelming faith in the idea of the free market leads to the idea that regulation should be reduced as much as possible.
If the free market was a cathedral then regulation would be the buttresses. Any builder can tell you that the ideaof building a cathedral of greater purity and majesty to tower above all other cathedrals is not going to be helped by removing the buttresses that marr its purity. You may end up with smoother greater expanses on the walls but only for so long as the walls remain standing before they fall. Nowadays we are so used to the idea of buttresses on a cathedral that we consider them to be part of the beauty and part of the design but when they were first conceived they were a compromise to hold the buildings up against gravity, arguably the will of God trying to pull them down. Regulation might be seen as petty bureaucracy getting in the way of business but over time regulation becomes part of the beauty of the entire system. Nostalgic old lawyers would tell you this straight away. They still have so much nostalgia for the past that they continue to use Latin terms and dress in 17th century wigs.
So despite a lifelong disdain for those who are usually in political power I find myself infavourof regulations. The tendency when wealth is not guided by regulation is that it ends up being hoarded. Thomas Piketty has told us how the wealthy families of several hundred years ago barely needed to get up in the morning to see their wealth grow at a faster rate than inflation. Those who were wise enough to buy extrahouses thirty years ago are now living comfortable lives on the rents of whomever lives within those houses now, while people now can’t afford to buy one house. Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose, so the bible says and it still is news.
This brings me back to my starting position. Governments need money. Money comes from taxes. It is therefore vital that as many peopleas possible can afford to pay as much tax as possible. Ideally as many people as possible should be earning so much money that they can afford to throw it at civic projects with joyful abandon. Instead we have a situation where those who have proven themselves to be most adept through nature and nurture at clinging to and amassing wealth, are the ones who are expected to pay the most tax. In the case of companies we also have rules written into the Company Act 2006 which state they should do whatever they can to keep as much of their wealth as possible by whatever means possible within the law. Although I am certain that last condition is more implied than stated. Unfortunately for everyone loopholes are legal. If they weren’t legal then they wouldn’t be loopholes, they would be crimes.
Naturally the closing of tax loopholes is important but more important is the encouragement of greater levels of employment and security for the greater number of people. I hardly think that the most utilitarian view would be that the greatest good of societylayin ensuring that the largest companies could gather as much power and wealth as possible while thousands ate fromfoodbanksand fell into worse health while all the hospitals were being closed down. The more people who are working, the more people can afford to home themselves, feed themselves, educate themselves, etc,etc. Irritatingly I find myself sounding very much like any politician at this point. The main difference being that the current crop of politicians have a solution to getting people into work that they don’t seem torealiseis not going to work. The solution being offered at present is to take away as many advantages as possible because if people have no food to eat and no clothes to wear then they will be forced to find a job, thereby increasing employment. Unfortunately they will be so desperate for a job that they will undercut other folk who are already in employment who will then lose their jobs to make way, so will have to also be encouraged back into work. Mind you the solution for people taking jobs that pay too little is to take away more advantages so that they are forced to find better jobs. If this wasn’t stupid enough already then the fact that there are not enough jobs for all those looking for jobs in the first place probably won’t have the impactto make it seem even more stupid.
Naturally it is not possible to simply tell employers to give jobs to those who need them. Things need to be done gently for a start. Employers cannot necessarily afford to employ huge numbers of people. There must be reform to the way the stock market works to prevent large companies being punished for employing people and rewarded for dismissing them. There should be encouragement, politically, economically and publicly to companies who take on extra workers. There should of course also be greater encouragement for those who are seeking the jobs. Not the stick that is currently being used but rather a carrot. Give greater benefits to those who are working in educational possibilities. Good managers are well aware that people appreciate recognition in thework place. This is not because they like praise or pats on the back, this is because they assume it will lead to greater opportunity. Not greater opportunity to take on more responsibilities and stress, greater opportunities to get into positions where they can make positive changes, earn more money and lead a more fulfilling life. It is true that far fewer managers seem to understand the whole complexity within the equation but this is something that should be regulated for.
CPD should be offered to all workers; there will be many workers who will not want CPD, it is probable that these workers might prefer to be in different jobs. The free market solution to this is to show them the door and let them work it out for themselves. That should not be the solution in a society that is aiming for the greatest overall profit and utility for all. it is because people fear losing their jobs that they never speak out truthfully about how they feel and it is for that reason that so many workers are disgruntled and doing less than stellar work. It is in the interests of companies to have the best and most suitable workers, and it is in the interests of government to aid the companies in achieving that end.
Ideas such as making difficult to claim benefits also do not work. The harder it is to claim benefits the more likely it is that claimants will not give up their benefits, especially for jobs that offer little security. When there is a spate of zero hour contracts across the country then there will be a great many people who will actively avoid gaining such work for fear it will make it more difficult for them to keep their benefits without having to wait for a protracted period to open a new claim. Even if it works out in theirfavourfinancially they are unlikely to see this because, lets face it, if the intricacies of economics were so open to them then they would not be on the dole, they would be holding down positions atcanarywharf.
Ultimately there are many ways in which employment can be encouraged when a government accepts that not all citizens act according to the idealbehaviourhoped for by free market theorists. When the citizenry of a nation is looked at from ademographicallevel then it is probable that starving people will encourage some to find work and to progress into better work. But we are not numbers, we are people, and people are not that easy to predict. What is easy to predict is ideal economicsituations. Economics in general is very difficult to predict because situations are complicated and there are many variables. However once almost all variables are reduced until all you have is more people in more employment, earning more money and paying more tax, then you don’t need to be Keynes to see that this means more money for government. That is easy to predict, but it is the individuals within thework forcethat are beyond the ability of so many politicians to understand.