Sunday, 31 October 2010

Tenants Paying High Rents Need to Organise Themselves

 The housing subsidy row is being hi-jacked by the Labour party to channel criticism and dislike onto the Coalition government.  Clearly rents are now so high in many parts of the country that some families are unable to pay for their housing without benefit of taxpayers' assistance.  Bluntly, this is the way of the world.  Wages are kept as low as possible in the face of an open economy, and governments, particularly big state social democrat and socialist governments, seek to increase their revenues; thus family income, particularly in the aftermath of the socialist high tax regime of the last 13 years, is squeezed endemically.

This is not, however a problem for central or local government unless some administration has made it so (hence Westminster seeking the lifting of the last administration's impositions upon them to meet housing need that is not really the problem of all of us, that is the all of us Westminster council is supposed to answer to and serve).  It is a problem for tenants to resolve with landlords.

Tenants alone are relatively weak in the face of their own landlord.  In normal societies they band together into associations and co-operatives of various kinds and face the landlords, themselves organised as a group in response, in an at best constructive and at worst disruptive fashion, to fix rental levels in some semblance of what  tenants can bear and  landlords must accept.  The role of  government comes from ensuring there is no illegality in the two sides' dealings with one another - no bullying and no illegal seizures of property.

The socialist Dementors' kiss has sucked the life out of those in our society who are weaker economically, educationally and culturally.   They seem unable to think of what might be done other than turn on the government, with their wholly reasonable (in the main) claims that rents cannot be afforded among the low-wage and unemployed sectors; unable to grasp that their distress has been seized upon by political left-wing opportunists to decry not exploitative landlords who siphon off the help taxpayers can afford to offer, but to attack a government that has turned them out of office for incompetence to the point of malevolence.  These 'voices' are not the friends of tenants - they too are exploiters.

The Coalition, as it  clears up Labor's 13-year economic disaster, has offered generous transition payments and longterm subsidies for the rent payments of those who cannot meet what the landlords have managed to ratchet-up during the long years of Labour-encouraged housing exploitation.  What are the tenats going to do to get themselves organised and ensure that social payments to help them now are not confiscated by the landlords who are exploiting them.  Rioting in the streets, the standard 'left' response to a perceived but often not government-induced injustice, is a very inadequate and destructive response. 

Tenants could learn much from looking at the way tenants organisations are put together and operate successfully in other advanced capitalist European countries to obtain fair rents and tenancy conditions for their membership.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Off My Trolley

When Philippa Foot died I thought briefly about mad philosophers roping people across railway lines; but then found I kept returning to consider the situation.  I wanted to reach a decision, to settle what I would do.  That the literature on the subject is extensive was no hindrance because I wasn't really interested in how others had thought about this:  it was my thinking that interested me - selfishness personified, but there you are - it would be foolish not to accept selfishness as part of self.

As you know, a mad philosopher has tied five people to a railway line and you are in charge of a train that is rushing towards them.   There is a branch line to which you can divert.  If you do there is a single person on that line who will be killed but the five on the main line will be saved. What do you do?

I didn't think first that I would save the largest number; which surprised me.  After all, the scarcity of information about those on the line suggests the sole criterion of saving the most. Then  I felt resentful at having to choose;  but, not believing in destiny or the hand of God, if I was thinking about this, choose I must.

Each person tied down is an individual with no greater claims to live than any other individual; being part of a set of five shouldn't give higher claims to life than being alone.  I was being invited  surreptitiously to award lives and losses to the potential victims and think times five was worse than one. But if I could do that, then I could admit other attributes to the six.  Which took the thinking out of the box even though, admittedly, the box had smuggled-in assumptions on worth and  more being worse.

Could this be something that could be thought about usefully at all, if the only thing I knew about the victims was that they could be more or fewer? Can I keep myself from surreptitious attributions?  Do we attribute characteristics no matter what, as part of the way we think at all?  And are we are just pretending when we claim to have not?

Right now I am minded to run down the five so that the principle that the many do not outrank the few can be upheld.  

Friday, 29 October 2010

Angela Pulls It Off

Mr Barroso and Mr van Rompuy have been charged to produce  a reconciliation of the 'no bail out' of 125 and the maintenance of the Euro in the face of the worst that its disparate membership can throw at it.  They're as slippery a pair of subtle thinkers on reconciling the irreconcilable as you're likely to meet outside of Dr Amato.

Weighing-in on their side, too, is the fact that all the euro-states are in favour of a permanent mechanism to prevent behaviour likely to precipitate a crisis, and deal with it if an economically rogue government comes to power in a member state  - as it did in the United Kingdom (though what was happening to us worried the EU less than what has been going on in  Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland).

To get the Euro into existence required putting up treaty-entrenched defences of economic and financial policy-independence for individual member states.  Now we know that as such independence can be abused by ideological fanaticism, the politically obnoxious building of a client state, and the prioritising of non-European Union agendas by some member-states, these treaty-entrenched defences must be dismantled if the Euro is to survive and flourish.

At the moment a 'minor adjustments' theme is being played as the task is tackled, but when the Presidents come back with their proposals it will be clear that a giant  step for Europeans is being taken.

We shall need a referendum in the United Kingdom whatever currency we are using.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Ins and Outs of European Union Membership

It looks as if events - or perhaps that should be les evenements -  have come already for Mr Cameron's administration.  The German Chancellor is so right to demand that the Lisbon Treaty must be revised to provide  permanent mechanisms to deal with the kind of financial meltdown threatened in the last years and the behaviour of some member states in their irresponsible borrowing behaviour (and, in the case of some, owning up to it in official statistics).

What is to be done is a matter for negotiation: the level of automaticity in institutional responses, the retribution for rule-breaking, all this must be settled by negotiation.  What cannot be negotiated away is the need to reopen the Treaty to achieve any useful change in the economic and financial governance of the Union.  And to contemplate introducing changes of the order required while the Treaty is reopened for the admission of the Croats is not serious.  Setting up crisis avoidance and control measures for the Euro  is a central change in the relations of the member states to the Union; and it is irrelevant that the United Kingdom does not use the Euro; the UK is as bound by the Maastricht (and the Stability and Growth pact) conventions as any other member state of the European Union.

The Coalition holds diametrically opposed views on the EU:  Conservatives committed against any further concessions of sovereignty and the retrieval of some powers already given over; Liberals committed to all and every EU goal,  to ever-deeper union.  There's no point rehashing all the arguments over the Lisbon Treaty, but they all stand.  This time there must be a referendum and the question to be answered must be In or out?  Yes or no?

The temporary emergency measures for the crisis come to an end in 2013.  Apart from this the Germans will not permit as a permanent solution  the transfer of their money, or even their guarantees, to peripheral and fiscally undisciplined member states. Nor are the centre-right member states, in the vast majority among the 27 member states now, willing to accept ever again the kind of deficit-drunk, vulgar-keynesian economics espoused by those  who have had to be bailed-out, or have pulled back from the brink only just in time.  Certainly, too,  there is full awareness  that a post-Lisbon treaty will trigger referendums in those countries where constitutional change of this order overtly requires it, and in the UK.   So Germany wants to make a start straight away, this week; has made a start.

Mr Cameron should say at once that  changes like these do affect the United Kingdom, even though we have retained the use of Sterling; that we must engage fully in the negotiations; that the government will report back to Parliament  as these negotiations progress; that once the best deal available for the country has been set out to the country there will be a referendum; and that the question will be whether or not the country wishes to remain within the European Union under the terms of the revised Treaty.   Then his government can get on with sorting out the mess left from the last 13 years of economic and financial mismanagement.

And when we do vote the anti-European Unionists might find they have a very close run for their money. 

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Cherie Buys a 10-piece fish cutlery set for £34.99 on e-bay

Phone for the fish knives, Norman
As cook is a little unnerved;
You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?
The frills round the cutlets can wait
Till the girl has replenished the cruets
And switched on the logs in the grate.

It's ever so close in the lounge dear,
But the vestibule's comfy for tea
And Howard is riding on horseback
So do come and take some with me

Now here is a fork for your pastries
And do use the couch for your feet;
I know that I wanted to ask you-
Is trifle sufficient for sweet?

Milk and then just as it comes dear?
I'm afraid the preserve's full of stones;
Beg pardon, I'm soiling the doileys
With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.


The court has given its judgment on our culpability in turning a Second World War shelter in the olive terraces near the ecohouse into a tractor shed rather than putting up a great big, metal, prefabricated building that would do the proverbial sore thumb.  (Not unnaturally the shelter was discreet and, from even a short distance, near invisible unless you actually looked for it.  That's what shelters are all about when you are for hiding from a retreating, defeated army, and a  German army at that.)

Mr HG is,  'Assolto perche il fatto non costituisce reato.' [Acquitted because the act is not an offence.] I'm unsure if it is possible to acquit someone of an act that is not wrong in the first place, but never mind.  At least we don't have to start on the bureaucratic nightmare of converting a prison sentence into a stiff fine - Mr HG in gaol would be so unkind - and he's quite capable of insisting on going rather than paying.

And to all those greenies who worry about the selling off of woodland by the government in England: private ownership does not equate with lack of means to prevent deturpation of lovely countryside, even if, on this occasion, we hadn't.

Are We Incapable of Common Humanity?

Failing is invariably damaging to anyone.  For lots of people  an explanation for their lack of paid work  may well be understood quite literally as an incapacity.  While those of us more robustly armoured by education, private income, some grasp on the economic realities that sweep through our lives providing and with-holding opportunity that is entirely outwith our capacities to control, those of us who do not identify ourselves and our lives with  our paid job, we are not made incapable by not being employed for short or long periods.  But others, more vulnerable for all sorts of reasons, are.

If the disgraceful mess left by the last 13 years of Brown/Balls/Miliband requires that welfare benefits to those without paid work and who have no other resources but to claim support from the taxpayer must be cut then why can we not just say so?

Say,  'We must reduce the payment you receive because there is no  more money left.'

There is no need or humanity in subjecting people already rendered incapable of finding a job, often by circumstances beyond their control, to subject themselves to humiliating assessment by an arms-length government agency asking them to touch their knees and walk a line.  Not for £30  a week.   Not for anything.  

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

There is No Need for Any More G20 Meetings

It is now patently clear that the G20 is a waste of time.   Its first great initiative was supposed to be to implement a concerted quantitative easing; only Germany wouldn't, indeed Europe wouldn't.  It was supposed to reform, and eventually  replace, international financial institutions or, at the very least, ginger them up a bit to act more authoritatively and with more resources behind them.  Only nation states are, and were, already perfectly capable of beefing up the IMF's resources without international jamborees.

The meeting of Finance ministers in South Korea lacked the man from Brazil.  There are going to be missing heads of state and government at the next round.  People simply have better things to do, and better ways of doing things the G20 tried to arrogate to itself. 

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Marriage Banns

Peter Tatchell, of the campaign group, OutRage! has begun a campaign for marriage or civil partnerships to be available to all.

"Civil marriages and civil partnerships should be open to everyone without discrimination."

At the moment this demand seems to be set in the context of same-gender couples being able to marry, and different gender couples being able to civilly partner (there doesn't seem to be a suitable verb). Marriage is a much more far-reaching and structurally-important institution in our society than is civil partnership.

Subrosa has a fine post, and many comments from differing viewpoints,  on this topic.  What though does this campaign want precisely?  There have been arguments, for instance, that civil partnerships should be extended to co-habiting siblings.  It would be wholly outside of our cultural mores if such an extension were pressed after civil partnerships and marriage had been made interchangeable. At the moment many do not want gender to be a constraint upon one or the other.  What about degrees of kinship? 


Stoned in Sydney

Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman from Sydney will be addressing the Global Peace and Unity meeting at the Excel Centre in Docklands.  Honestly.  Angels didn't make him up. 

He calls for the  the stoning of adulterers.  So watch it all you Sidneysiders.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Taking Things Seriously

HMS Astute, one of Britain's fleet of submarines  has grounded on rocks off the Isle of Skye.  

"This is a not a nuclear incident,"  the Defence ministry said in a statement. "We are responding to the incident and can confirm that there are no injuries to personnel and the submarine remains watertight. There is no indication of any environmental impact."

Officials said the incident wasn't serious.  A crew of around 100 are typically aboard the ship.

A hundred of them?  And they can't drive our submarine in home waters?  Not serious?

Reducing the Cost of London's Government and Services

Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea councils (all Conservative)  are discussing setting up a single 'back office' and having  a single chief executive and set of senior directors. They would share also the entire range of children’s services, education and social care, as well as bin-emptying and street cleaning.    Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham  (all Labour) are at an early stage of exploring extensive sharing of services.  Camden and Islington councils are  in discussions.

The proposals  reconsider  the way in which not only councils but some health and local authorities could share services and (senior and specialist) staff.  Reported savings for the three Conservative councils are between £100 and £150 million.  Even if the projected saving are lower for the other regrouping councils the order of saving is impressive.  Even more could be saved, as the London councils regroup, by a reformation of the Greater London Authority and the office of the London Mayor. 

What point is there in having a pan-London body that is duplicating pan-London bodies?   

Friday, 22 October 2010

A Small, Open Economy Must Acknowledge its Status in the World

The costs of borrowing for the UK government have fallen to the lowest since the 1980s.  Long time ago the 1980s. A generation.  The credit rating agencies are confirming the UK's triple A status.  And the costs of the mismanagement of the UK economy, and the fears of what that mismanagement might have done to our ability to borrow at all, recede.

Meanwhile, Her Majesty's Opposition does its level best to undermine this outcome.  They are in wholesale denial of any need whatever to cut our coat to fit our cloth.  They are also committed to a political stratagem of splitting the Coalition government and forcing either a general election or a Labour administration supported by the Liberal Democrats or, a remote alternative but much beloved by the Union Thugs' wing of the Party, major civil unrest resulting in the Coalition government reneging on its deficit-reducing programme.

This is not Opposition.  This is destructive irresponsibility for party political ends.  And the BBC needs to examine its conscience too. 

Thursday, 21 October 2010

German Jobs Not to be Transferred to Wales

The states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony which have to cope with the earlier-than-expected withdrawal of British troops from the Rhine area seemed to have attracted the concern of the shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain when he said said it was "a disgrace that the government is binning a world-beating training facility for our armed forces".

But it turned out he was complaining about not spending billions of pounds building up a new training area and a defence college in mid-Wales, rather than the closing down of more or less the same thing in mid-Europe.

The Hateful Mr Johnson

"We have seen people cheering the deepest cuts to public spending in living memory...  This is what they came into politics for. "

What a very nasty man Alan Johnson is.  It took the whole country voting to get rid of the failed administration that had imposed itself, unbidden by the voters, upon us all.  In the sense that we  have now an administration for which we voted, we are all in this together.  In politics.  And we didn't come into politics to hurt other people.  We came because we had to protect ourselves from being forced to live in a socialist country.  We like capitalist society Mr Johnson. We don't have to shoot people in the back as they flee your version of the good society.

It would be bad enough -  if the country had been brought to such a pass by a centre-right government - to have it believed that there being no money left pleases us because coping with the situation can be used as an excuse to curtail social provision that has taken more than a century to build.  But for the spokesman for the socialist party that brought this mess upon us to accuse us, the majority of the electorate of vandalism and schadenfreude is an abuse too far. 

Much of the welfare state you lay claim to, Mr Johnson, was put in place by Liberal and Conservative administrations.  The Labour party's claims to being the author of  all social provision and compassion is historical pornography

What has been done yesterday was what we voted for.  There will be more: tax cuts; a major reconsideration of the National Health Service's mode of financing and operation (why should we have a great lump of socialist planning in the middle of our economy emanating baleful effects on everything else?); schools that meet educational needs; the ending of government snooping into everyone's lives. 

But you won't be told, will you?  You and all the people represented by those who were seated behind you.  People like you came into politics to deny that getting on with your life, making a living, enjoying whatever takes your interest, does not require imposing on other people, helping yourself to other people's hard-earned money, and abusing others when we protest by attributing the vilest of motives to our reasonable refusal to be pushed around any further.

Democracy, Mr Johnson, requires that you submit to all the people's judgment every four years, not just your own closed circle of self-righteousness.  That is why your party worked so hard to extrude our democratic institutions from any decision-making process.  The electorate got you in the end though.  So you expose the meanest of your own motives for what you did, and attribute them to us all.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Singing Along

Only it isn't so.  This afternoon is just the beginning.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Folie de Grandeur

When Gordon Brown  declared "No more boom and bust" it was not one of the occasions on which he was telling lies.  He believed it.   Why would anyone think that such an economic outcome could be achieved?  Naive, undiluted, crass keynesianism is the explanation for 'no more boom and bust.'

So we come to the next question.  Who would have been the purveyors of these  pseudo-keynesian platitudes to an economics ignoramus?  There is a considerable group of academic economists who are guilty of effecting this thinking while ignoring the fact that they were advising, indeed pontificating,  in an open, relatively small, economy with a floating exchange rate, in which the unrestrained pursuit of this kind of bastardised  Keynes can lead to external imbalances/devaluation/inflation/ gross increases in government debt (would you like more?); in spite of the fact that in a very large economy running the world currency -  in  such an economy -  they might just get away with giving such advice.

It's still not clear if the United States will get away with it; certainly the United Kingdom could not.

The siren voices calling for the UK to continue following US responses to the crisis are as deluded as the man they advised and who got us into this in the first place.  It did not start in America.  It started with Northern Rock, and a retail  run on an English bank.  The assaults on the American belief in 'no boom and bust' followed this so public disgrace for our financial system.

So tomorrow, when we hear the consequences these folies have brought upon us as individuals and as a society, do not listen to those who argue for keynesian demand management .  America is a case unto itself.  We must cut, regain lenders' confidence and face up to our real economic status and almost ruined financial reputation.

ps Politicians should not swallow whole advice from academics: academics carry no political responsibility for their wildest recommendations, or the realisation of their silliest intellectual stances.

BBC to Pay For Over 75s Television Licences?

What a marvellous idea.  The BBC would not only provide, fairly, a free service to the over 75s, it would encourage the integration  of the elderly back into the family home as they attracted more and more releases from the taxes and imposts of everyday life.

Keep your old mum at home and get extra heating, help with the housework and free BBC.  You know she's worth it.

Cancellation Costs and Their Calculation

It is hard to avoid the thought that so ignoble is the aircraft carrier  decision-taking mess, so revealing of the inappropriate inputs into security planning and equipping the country to defend its interests, that the government is laying it out on purpose to generate an outcry big enough to sanction the renegotiation of those contracts signed in the dead days of the Brown government.

Many arguments were made during their signing that the choices being cast in legal concrete were inappropriate and driven by job-provision for Labour clients, particularly in Scotland, rather than the UK's defence requirements.  Perhaps the government could explain in more detail what has been committed to and how the costs of cancellation have been arrived at.  For the costs of having a pair of Potemkin aircraft carriers are much more than just the money.

Monday, 18 October 2010

LieBour's Leader

Macavity Miliband won't be going to the rally against the government's desperate attempts to undo Brown's economic and financial idiocy.  Oh, he said he would be there:

"I'll attend the rally, definitely.",  he declared as he collected that improper margin of trade union votes to defeat his brother in the Labour leadership contest.

But a spokesperson for Miliband confirmed today that while he would meet TUC representatives as part of a lobby following the rally, he would not attend rally. "There was never a firm commitment that he would attend the rally," she said.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

What Are Trades Unions For?

Trade unions  have  no autonomous voice.   They can only be the transmission belt of globalisation to the working people rather than filling their earlier role of being the  transmission belt of Party agendas to the workers.   Under communism their function was very similar - that of disciplining workers and ensuring flexibility in the use of labour and low money wages, as the Party agenda required.  The only difference is that under communism there was over-full employment (not by design but as a by-product of excess demand for under-priced goods). Under capitalism any refusal to transmit globalisation  to the workforce results in additional unemployment - which is an alternative mechanism for disciplining workers.
Globalisation, or free trade as we used to call it, raises productivity much of which is enjoyed by us all through lower prices.  But we cannot have high wages, high employment and low prices resulting from globalisation.

Protectionism  offers higher employment levels at higher wages with higher prices and lower productivity.  If the trade unions under capitalism favour protecting members' employment and high wages then they must press for protectionism. And a ban on immigration and on capital outflows.

What an agenda.  What is the point of trade unions?

Mind Your Own Business

On Thursday Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State and Robert Gates, the secretary of Defence, both made remarks about expenditure on the United Kingdom's armed forces. Americans are marked-out usually for their courtesy and intelligence.  Not these two.

What impossible behaviour, commenting publicly on matters central to our government's spending review and, presumably, attempting to exert influence over it.  No-one doubts that allies consult one another on how much is spent on defence and how this expenditure is allocated.  International commitments both by treaty and by agreement  are assumed to be sacrosanct, to be observed until altered after negotiation with others party to the treaties.  Alllies are always in private contact over resources and allocations. 

Public comments suggesting that the UK Prime Minister is unaware of his country's undertakings or might decide to unilaterally renege on them are an indication more of the third-rate stuff Clinton is made of than any effective kind of warning or policy pressure. 

She was given her job because it was necessary to make a gesture within American Democratic party politics.  Since then she has wandered about the world damaging US interests when she has not been irrelevant. In the case of the UK  defence review she has been irrelevant, if impertinent, which will be why David Cameron has simply ignored her.

Hillary Clinton is to the United States what Cathy Ashton is to the European Union.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Dismantling the Socialist State

The list of public bodies (quangos) to be abolished completely, or have the area of remit returned to politically-answerable ministries is a pleasure to read.  Particularly pleasing is the entry:

'Union Modernisation  Fund Supervisory Board - Abolish body and function. No further rounds will be held of the Union Modernisation Fund so the work of the Board is complete.'

Tax-payer's money will no longer be paid to trade unions who then supply funding to the Labour party. Hah.

Criteria (other than preventing the diversion of tax funds into Party coffers) for retaining a quango are technical function and the requirement for impartiality.  Some clearly belong in the private sector, with private sector funding, such as the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board; others should seek charitable status, such as the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

The entry
'Regional Development Agencies, (x8) - (Angels punches the air like an emerging Chilean miner) - RDAs will be abolished and functions which are to be retained will be transferred to central or local government and others, as previously announced.'
is a triumph for our  democracy.

It's not so much about the money.  It's about spending the money and being   answerable to us through our representatives for expenditure.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Stick to Your Last

Bronzino is on in Palazzo Strozzi.  So we went.  Well, you would, wouldn't you? The Medici's painter, in Florence, with works from all kinds of private collections never to be seen again.  There are some lovely Pontormos in there too.

There was another exhibition going on in the Strozzi.  But we didn't bother. Photos of politicians and rich interiors are not art, they're photos of politicians etc.  A lot of art seems to have reduced itself to words, which is a pity for at least two reasons: artists who use words to communicate have rather missed their vocation as artists; and they're not a patch on philosophers and writers in thinking and writing.  

Educational Scorched Earth

A university education is not just a qualification, a gateway to a particular level of job, or a vocational training.  It is the prerequisite for a happy and intellectually sustaining life.  That's why there are so many mature students, provision for study later in life for those who missed out at the end of their school days, requirements on, say, music students to study for a degree as well as a performance diploma.  If you want a grown-up mind - no, a mind equipped to grow up - then you need a university education.

An education that imparts the ambivalence of things; the complexities of reaching a judgment - that teaches the scariness of judging at all, the difficulty of deciding what is true; the the sheer scale of fields of knowledge  - not just the large, but the importance of the detail; that imparts ideas of beauty, of coherence, symmetry, and of juxtaposition and disjunction; notions of time and of continuity, and choosing the weighting to give to them; ideas on ideas.  And all this through whatever discipline  most accessible to the student, expressed through the student's choice of study.

We don't go to university to get a job.  We go to university to get a life.

Everyone capable of coping with the course of study should have a free undergraduate education, just as they have free primary and secondary schooling.   Post-graduate work begins the training that specialises and qualifies for undertakings in any particular field (except for disciplines that require very early training, again the musicians are the example, they have to do everything at once or not at all) and it is then that people should start to pay the cost of their training individually.  After all, we are only 21 when we graduate, and even that could be reduced to 20 if schools recognised that universities admit from 17, not the 18 that school examination systems impose.

Have the last 13 years so impoverished us that we can no longer educate our children for the first 20 years of their lives, until they have been offered the last two and a half years that enables them to think rather than just learn?

The Browne Report is an act of vandalism.  Another attack on the principle of universal response to our society's nature, another indictment of the terrible extent of the other Brown's incompetence and the scorched earth  he and his Party left in his defeat.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


Just watch it

The Real Cost of a Minimum Wage

Minimum wages are supposed to redress the imbalance in negotiating power between employers and workers.  The imbalance, it is argued,  results from the usually over-powering bargaining position of employers vis-a-vis employees; furthermore,  the fact that minimum wage is fixed nationally when it should be graded regionally to reflect local costs of living does not justify its abolition.

A government sets the minimum wage - either locally or nationally - on the basis of an assessment  of the requirements for a minimum standard of living.  However, the globalisation of labour through trade  (not so much through de-localisation, which affects only a tiny fraction of the labour force  in any country - in Holland, one of the most highly-affected countries  in the world, it affects only  2% of  domestic employment - , nor even through migration, which affects  on average 5-6% of domestic employment) impinges savagely on such a measure

According to the IMF World Economic Outlook ( June 2008)  employment of labour in the world went up by 60%  in 2005 but world employment weighted by   share of export  went up by 600% in the same period.  Competition in the labour market has become ferocious world-wide.

Something has to give.  Either international mobility of production factors - capital and labour and free trade in goods and services; or wage-levels in advanced capitalist countries.   If we cut wages, protect domestic production, and stop labour migrations and capital movements then we can have a minimum wage.  And even then, with all the detrimental effects thus produced on living standards, only as long as it is low enough not to raise wages, internally and internationally, to non-competitive levels.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

National Public Sector Pay Scales and a Minimum Wage Must Go

'National pay grades and scales must be scrapped if Cameron is to rebalance the economy fairly; as must the national minimum wage.', writes Raedwald. An obvious piece of scorched earth that must be reclaimed from the Thirteen Years (and more, unfortunately) of misrule.

Now that universality of benefit from the intervening state has been rejected, it is time to face up to the trade unions and end distortions of the market that result in wages being higher than is competitive in many parts of the UK, and too low in the South-east and London;  particularly as the trade unions are heavily skewed towards representing workers in the public sector.

What reason can there be to pay out more than the market demands for teachers, health service staff, general clerks, and manual worker grades other than that in other times and under other ideologies unions were permitted to impose inappropriate rewards at the expense of tax payers?

The destruction wrought by Labour in its atrocious failure to restrain brownian pseudo-economics   must at least bring down a trade union-imposed folly of paying far too much to some and far too little to others just because the work they do is similar. And there can be no national minimum wage once we have to abandon universality of support for children and the old.

Friday, 8 October 2010

No Universal Benefits, No Universal Charges

As brownian Labour's cack-handed incompetence at economics and finance has cost us universal, flat-rate payments in for families it is only fair that universal flat-rate payments out for families should be abolished also.

First up must be the BBC licence fee.  The abolition of a flat-rate charge on any family with a television  would go to compensating in some small fashion the loss of universal benefits.   Agreed the BBC enjoys universal dislike and distrust, but  now that we have been driven from our universalist mind-sets, its charges are unacceptable.

Camden Makes a Sensible Offer

Spades?  We have them in spades at the ecohouse.  But we don't have spades in Bloomsbury.  You'd hardly take a spade to the window boxes, would you?  So the idea from Camden council that we can get spades from them should the weather turn nasty, to keep frontages clear of snow and ice, seems eminently sensible.

Of course we're willing to go out and clear the bit of pavement in front of our building - it's commonplace in many European countries to do that.  So why is the Mail moaning about Camden Council lending us spades to do it?  Jolly sensible thing to do; last year we were shoving beastly snow about with bits of stiff cardboard.

Can't Bear any More Vivaldi; I'm Doing a Beethoven

Any more 'lost' Vivaldi works coming to light?  Just so I know the moment has arrived to shoot myself - I wouldn't like to go early.  There was a whole opera or two in the last five years; six or seven minutes of a flute concerto seems small beer.

Just because a work has dropped out of sight for a bit does not mean it's been lost.  Lost is when the entire pre-1700s  manuscript collection of Italian music is floating down the Arno from the devastated Biblioteca Nazionale in 1966.  Lost is when the French are required to bring back from Paris what they had looted from Florence, and dumped the lot, music included, in an untidy heap in the piazza della Signoria and said"Sort it out yourselves", which is why there are some oddly inappropriate works in churches and convents that speak of other orders and disciplines altogether, and the music stands in drifts and piles on floors and shelves in abandoned rooms off cloisters closed to all except the clergy.  Get on the right side of the Florentine clergy and discovery is your oyster ( as the Bishop said to the actress).

And that's not to mention what the Russians carted away from Berlin and lesser cultural centres in Germany and distributed in conservatories lost in the wilds of the old USSR.  Even the Fitzwilliam has found Handel bound in among undistinguished scuola di  portfolios.

Anyway, your latest listening as you hold for whoever you hope to speak to is going to be the new Vivaldi 'find'.  Don't be surprised if it sounds very much like all the other Vivaldi you have been forced to listen to.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Labour's New Generation

Douglas Alexander
Ed Balls
Hilary Benn
Andy Burnham
Liam Byrne
Yvette Cooper
Mary Creagh
John Denham
Angela Eagle
Maria Eagle
Caroline Flint
John Healey
Meg Hillier
Alan Johnson
Tessa Jowell
Sadiq Khan
Ivan Lewis
Ann McKechin
Jim Murphy
Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party
Harriet Harman MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
Tony Lloyd MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party
Rosie Winterton MP, Labour’s Chief Whip
Baroness Jan Royall, Shadow Leader of the House of Lords
Lord Steve Bassam, Labour’s Chief Whip in the House of Lords

The list, provided by Guido,  has no elected members of the shadow cabinet whose name starts with a letter after 'M' (Rosie Winterton was unopposed in the selection of Labour Chief Whip earlier).  It is thought that the members of the Parliamentary Labour party failed to turn over their ballot papers to the rest of the list of candidates.  Many of those elected are well over fifty.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Debt and the Ending of State-intrusion Posing as Welfare

If the economic condition of the country after the 13 years of Brownian economic and financial administration is bad enough to attack universal benefits for children and pensioners then 'scorched earth' doesn't begin to describe what has been done to our society.

When the principle that the young and the old are protected by the resources of the whole society is breached, then society fragments into groupings that protect their own but not the wider world.  Few of us were happy with Labour's outrageous expenditures to settle many into workless lives under the guise of meeting our hopes for social solidarity, but we had not thought that in order to deal with the sheer destructiveness of Brown's years we would have to dismantle the welfare state based on reciprocity between the young, the old, and the active, working people.  It seems that so bad is the condition we have been left in that we must.   

We cannot abandon the notion of wider social solidarity altogether - that way is a return to primitive society.  And we certainly cannot accept a class confrontational analysis of society, we saw where that led in the 19th and 20th centuries: to wars, sickness, malnutrition, lack of education, and early death.

If we are now so poor, so indebted after the last 13 years, as to prohibit exchanges  between generations,  if we must demand that every individual justifies their claim to the help of others,  then we need to abandon our present welfare system completely.  Reading the account  in this morning's Mail of the many and various tax-funded schemes for families with children - all means-tested and thus intensely intrusive into private lives by the state -  was an eye-opener on why taxes are so high and how Labour was organising  and controlling people's lives.

We need a mind-shift on our own part away from the state dependency that has so insidiously been brought into all our lives.  Shock therapy like the removal of a universal benefit from relatively comfortably-off people is just the start of changing our ideas on what the state should be doing.

But we need higher wages,  lower taxes, better returns to saving as well,  to accompany our return to personal independence and private lives.  And we need this to accompany the shock therapy, not just promises of jam tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Moral Philosophers and Polls

If you like moral philosophy (or even if you don't but are interested in it) and you have a nerdish interest in polls, then Leiter Reports: a philosophy blog (see Rockets listings) allows you to indulge nerdishness to excess.

Vote for you favourite moral philosopher.  Consider the arcane depths that polling formats can reach.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Universally Beneficial

'Benefit' used to be a lovely word but has now been degraded by association and misuse.  It was wrong of Labour to  call the assistance that is offered by tax-payers to those who, from personal misfortune  or economic constraint are unable to meet their outgoings, benefits.  Assistance is not a benefit (except in the most generic meaning of the word); it is a helping hand when needed.  Not, note, when qualified to claim  - some make no claim on the rest of us because they do not consider that they need to, even if they are qualified to claim; although there are  others who seem to have made a practice of seeking all and anything they can lay claim to even going so far as to warp themselves, their families, and their lives to fit into  assistance-attracting categories.

Youth and old age are two unavoidable conditions (unless you are very unlucky).  The very young and the very old have absolute claims upon us all, as a society, not just on their individual connexion, for our support.  The old supported us all when we were the young, the young will step up when we are old.  These are universal statuses; they call into being exchanges between generations that involve everyone in our society, if we are to understand ourselves as social beings at all.  They are the stuff of which our society is made.

Eliding the status of means-tested assistance during temporary misfortune with that of exchanges between the generations is always a socialist objective - part of raising working-class consciousness socialists would argue; but what they are actually doing is lowering the tone.

The Coalition needs to consider more carefully what should be cut, and not take the boss-eyed view of the poverty lobby, so hard-working over these last decades,  as correct.

Not a Good Choice of Cut

Universal benefits have the great advantage of doing away with means testing.  Also they include all of us in receiving plain advantage from collective administration of the tax-take.  (Inclusion of this kind when combined with means testing, with all its intrusiveness into the lives of others is, however,  typically Labour and unacceptable.)

What a pity that the subjection of universal child benefit to means testing is to be the first result of Labour's ravaging of our economy.  It's understandable, but regrettable, that the redistribution of actual cash to mothers and children is the easiest to take away and, on the surface, the easiest to justify.  Many of us know, though, through friends and acquaintances, that mothers who are at home looking after the family, from choice or lack of employment outside, are often very short of actual cash in hand for petty, everyday needs; quite well-to-do mothers as well as those with lower-earning husbands. It was a relief to many women when Barbara Castle put the tax relief for having children in a family into their hands directly.

At the very least the tax relief should be reinstated for any families with children.  After all, higher-rate tax-payers are not exactly rolling in money, are they?   Particularly those with children to care for.