Monday, February 23, 2009

Twitter And Such

For all those who are interested and wish to follow me - in a non-stalkerish sense - I joined the Twitterati a few weeks ago.

Now since I twitter under my real name, I ought to briefly explain the situation for clarity:

As many of you know I write Curious Snippets  and Musings on Liberty under the pseudonym Vindico. The reason I chose to do this was because Vindico is a character, possibly an exaggeration of part of myself, and has given me a certain degree of freedom in compiling rants and some of the less polite posts. Everything written here is supposed to be taken in a humorous manner and thus crafted in that context.

I am also a UKIP member and candidate, and so run another blog, which is my candidate blog.

To keep things clean and tidy I have attempted to keep my prattles on the web within the Vindico umbrella, and to keep all my 'real' personal and professional prattles under my real name. This, I think, is the best and honest way of separating the two.

So in summary, nothing written under my Vindico pseudonym should be taken to reflect the 'real me', since Vindico is a creation of my imagination.

I hope that is clear.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guardian Economics

Now I would never be so impolite as to accuse the Guardian of economic retardation, but for this there is no excuse...

The claim that protection for workers in jobs can come at the expense of workers with no job at all is not always wrong, but it emphatically is so in connection with the minimum wage in 2009. The rate of £5.73 for an hour's work is extremely modest, so modest that all the studies show it has had no employment effect. All respectable employers are more than happy to pay it. Besides, job losses today are not a product of wages - which are rising at a snailish 3% - but instead a collapse in demand

I'm sorry, what?

(1) How exactly can studies tell if the minimum wage has had an effect? Presumably only by the presence of job losses, since trying to measure the numbers of jobs not created due to the minimum wage is impossible?

(2) Job losses are not a product of wages, but rather demand? Er,...wages are a product of demand, sweety. It's all inter-related. But when wages are sticky, and the employer cannot negotiate pay downwards to respond to a fall in demand, then job losses will occur.

(3) Is it ok for the hundreds of workers who have taken a voluntary pay cut of up to 10% to do so because they earn higher wages, but it is not ok for a low paid worker to do the same to safeguard their job?

An employer cannot pay below the market rate - true value - of a job in the absence of a minimum wage. It is impossible, by definition. But a minimum wage raises the pay floor and therefore impacts on both labour demand and supply, again by definition since there is no point to having a minimum wage that has no effect.

So which is it? Either minimum wages have no effect and therefore are useless and should be scrapped, or they do have an effect and thus impose a cost on business. Which? You cannot have it both ways.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Freedom To Speak

A Dutch MP who called the Koran a "fascist book" has boarded a flight to the UK despite being banned on public security grounds.

Freedom Party MP Geert Wilders was invited to show his controversial film - which links the Islamic holy book to terrorism - in the UK's House of Lords.

So this has caused a furore in political and media circles, while ordinary people probably couldn't give a damn one way or the other. Such is life. But this situation is incredibly important, because it shows up the chinks in our freedom and exposes our political leaders.

Take this snippet, for example...

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said he had watched the film, which he called "revolting", and backed the ban.

"Freedom of speech is our most precious freedom of all, because all the other freedoms depend on it," he said.

"But there is a line to be drawn even with freedom of speech, and that is where it is likely to incite violence or hatred against someone or some group."

Now, it is widely recited that the limit to freedom of speech is shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre, and this is indeed the thrust of Chris Huhne's argument. He is saying that direct incitement to hatred or violence is beyond the pale, though there is much to take issue at here in itself - in WW2 would inciting hatred and violence against German's, or more specifically the Nazi's, also fail Huhne's 'freedom hurdle'? Surely feeling motivated to direct violence towards somebody is not a crime unless it is acted upon; afterall, the real crime underlying the law's purpose is the the act of violence itself upon innocent people. So it is perhaps important that a distinction is made.

Secondly, Chris Huhne describes the film as "revolting" and supports the ban. Now the context of that statement implies he supports the ban because he feels the film is revolting. But even if he did feel it was revolting, that is no justification to prevent it being shown, and certainly not justification to censor Geert Wilders and impose censorship on the public.

So returning to my first point about Huhne's insistence that inciting "violence or hatred against someone or some group" is wholly wrong, let us examine it further. Surely it is the incitement of hatred or violence against and innocent person or group which is really wrong. Inciting hatred or violence against individuals (religion is immaterial here) who perpetrate violent acts can surely not be immoral and unlawful. To re-use the WW2 analogy, the government's propaganda could be construed as just that, and yet there was perfect justification for people to feel that way due to the actions of the enemy. But there is yet one further distinction here - that between war and defence. Violence is perfectly legitimate and justified in self defence, and the British government's WW2 propaganda is precisely that. Initiating violence against an innocent party is different.

So we can see that the moral argument must run as follows: that the limit to speak freely resides at the point whereby speaking would precipitate and directly lead to a direct breach of the liberty of another, innocent, individual.

I have not seen Fitna, and have little desire to. From what I understand it expresses an opinion that the Koran should be banned, suggesting it directly leads to the undertaking of violence by a small number of extremist religious radicals. This description, if accurate, does not fail my morality test above, and can even be said to pass Chris Huhne's own test. What it does fail is the sensibility of some of our politicians who wrongly believe they have claim over the freedom of the rest of us; who wrongly believe that their morals ought to be imposed on the rest of us.

On The Minimum Wage

Christopher Chope MP, you rock!

Mr Chope has introduces a ten minute rule bill calling for more flexibility in the National Minimum Wage to enable "voluntary opt-outs". His speech can be found in full over at ConservativeHome, but here are is the distilled goodness for your delectation...

Two months ago we were celebrating the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. Article 23.1 states:

    “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

Article 6 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights, to which the United Kingdom is a party, states:

    “The State Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right to work which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work, which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.”

It may come as a shock to many Members of this House to know that, currently, many people are not given the rights to work enshrined in those important United Nations articles

Indeed. Today there are many barriers to free contract, but no doubt that bombshell whizzed over the empty heads of many, as I'm sure did the importance. But no fear; Christopher carried on to alliterate...

The second and much larger group who will be helped by my Bill are those who are currently out of work but would be willing to work for less than the minimum wage, which is £5.73 an hour or £11,918 a year based on a 40-hour week. Our Government make it illegal for an employer and an employee freely to negotiate the level of remuneration if it is less than £5.73 an hour for an adult, unless, of course, the work involved is unpaid voluntary work.

Before anybody accuses me of wanting to impose poverty wages, let me emphasise that I am talking about arrangements for freely consenting adults. The Government regard an income of £11,918 per year as much in excess of an employee’s personal needs. That is why a single person on that salary is required to pay no less than £1,887 in tax and national insurance, thereby effectively reducing their take-home pay to £4.82 an hour instead of the £5.73 that it is nominally.

Why should it be illegal for someone voluntarily to accept pay of £4.82 an hour? After all, that is all that is left in their pocket if they are paid the minimum wage of £5.73. Giving people the freedom to opt out of the minimum wage would help not only those who are out of work but those in the hard-pressed retail and hospitality sectors where businesses are going down like ninepins. How many such small businesses could be saved if those working in them had the freedom, in conjunction with their employers, to agree to reduce their wages?

Fantastic stuff. Why should employer and employee not be able to set their own wage level? Particularly, low wage jobs are generally among the hardest hit and first to go in times of economic difficulty. Low wage jobs tend to be low skilled jobs and thus exposed to the greatest competition as newly unemployed skilled workers are capable of filling the role if needs must.

Allowing pay rates to revalue according to the economic situation would help restore natural correction to the economy, and allow those at the lower end of the income scale to maintain their jobs, albeit with a pay cut. Or to look at it another way - why should higher paid skilled workers be able to negotiate a pay cut in return for keeping their jobs, but low paid unskilled workers denied the same opportunity and be forcibly thrown back on to the unemployment heap?

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): It would be unfair competition.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman says that it would be unfair competition, but we are talking about the marketplace and people should be free to compete in the marketplace without restriction. A reduction to, say, £4.82 would be more than 15 per cent. below the minimum wage and would also save employers national insurance on-costs. It could thereby transform the economic viability of such a small business by substantially reducing overheads.

Voluntary wage reductions are increasingly commonplace in the private sector. I visited a small engineering company in my constituency on Friday where everyone has voluntarily taken a 10 per cent. pay cut. About half the work force have also been made redundant. Workers in other large firms such as JCB and Corus are reported to have done the same to enable their firms to be more competitive and to reduce the overall number of redundancies.

Of course we should hardly expect such a eloquent and reasoned explanation to be understood by such an odious and illiberal MP. Quite how free competition and voluntary agreement is unfair is beyond me. Mr Chope is, of course, right that a reduction in wages does help maintain the viability of a job and the employer itself. It makes the employer more competitive and it reduces on-costs.

One further sting in the eye of authoritarian socialism was offered by Mr Chope...

The right to work covers not only the issue of remuneration but how many hours are worked. I have received letters from constituents who are worried about the potential impact of the loss of the opt-out from the 48-hour week, which was applauded by Labour Members of the European Parliament only late last year. My constituents argue that they should have the freedom to work whatever hours they decide, in conjunction with their employers. What reasonable man could argue with that? Indeed, that right is recognised by the United Nations, even if not by the European Union.

Absolutely. No Government should ever have the power to deny any individual the freedom to apply their labour and time in any way they so wish.

The solution to the current economic problems is freedom. Allow the economy to naturally adjust and rebalance and the pain will be no longer than it needs to be; attempt to control and frustrate the change and the pain will be be longer and deeper.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sex, Teens & The Law

The Government, ever desperate to control what people do, continues to dream up new ways to restrict the private activity of the Proles, though luckily in Scotland...

Ministers are to consider making it illegal for teenagers under the age of 16 to have oral sex as part of a shake-up of laws on sexual offences.


A report by the Holyrood committee said the failure to include oral sex could send out a wrong message that society considered such activities to be "acceptable and risk free."

Ah. I thought legislation was there to protect individuals from each other and from the state. Silly me. I didn't realise it was all about 'signaling'! I personally consider any activity, undertaken consensually between two individuals that are aware of the ramifications of their actions to be perfectly morally agreeable.

Believe it or not, I was 16 once. It was not so long ago, and I was more than aware of the ramifications of engaging in sexual activity. I would consider myself at age 16, and others that age, to be perfectly capable of forming rational judgements, though that is not to say the idiocy of some will lead to undesirable consequences. Indeed I would go further to say that 'young adults' (I do not feel the word 'children' is really appropriate for teenagers) are probably largely capable of making such decisions upon entering their teenage years.

I knew a few people at school at that time who were engaging in all kind of sexual activities while besotted in 'first love' relationships. I would also deem them perfectly aware and mature; of course not as mature as an older adult, but then is maturity not partly gained through experience and knowledge? Young people will make mistakes, and some worse than others, but we cannot try to prevent them from doing so and nor should we try.

It urged ministers to reconsider the issue, stating that the government had not provided "sufficient justification for treating oral sex differently"

How about...16 year olds are perfectly capable of entering into consensual activities of this nature, and oral sex is indeed inherently less 'risky' than full unprotected penetrative sex? No?

It also sets out the law on underage sex, stipulating that it applies to girls as well as boys

Well whoo-hooh, so it damn well should. Any law should apply equally to every individual, for to do otherwise would breach the fundamental principle of equality before the law, the principle bastion of individual liberty.

But the MSPs also stressed that in reconsidering the matter the "government must ensure that normal teenage consensual activities such as kissing are not made criminal"

Hmm. "Normal". How does one define that exactly? Among the present generation of teenagers oral sex might be considered a normal activity. Not so many years ago it was considered normal for a girl to marry at 14 years of age. In 1371 the average age of marriage in England for a woman was 16, and as Shakespeare wrote in Romeo & Juliet...

But saying o'er what I have said before:
My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,
Let two more summers wither in their pride,
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

Younger than she are happy mothers made.

Of course kissing should not be made illegal, and for a politician to suggest as much would be considered outrageous. But it is in fact no different materially from other sexual activities. It is fundamentally a consensual activity of a mild sexual nature, and it seems the only aspect to 'stronger' sexual activities disliked by these politicians is their more taboo nature.

Young children (pre-teenage years) are essentially disinterested anyway, until the onset of puberty. At this point a young adult has a fair degree of maturity, and are largely fully aware of many details of sex. To suggest otherwise is simply to perpetuate a myth of polite society by preferring to believe in the innocence of children. While at age 13 or 14 nobody is emotionally mature, they are certainly aware of the mechanics and potential consequences (e.g. pregnancy or disease) and of the need for contraception. And if you don't believe me let me say I remember the conversations at age 12 with friends on these matters!

Now the fundamental problem as I see it is that young adults of that age may be less independent of mind and feel less able to resist being pressured into sex. But the law will not stop this. And the second problem is that of the rapid and accelerating maturity which can mean that only slightly older peers are significantly more mature and thus could exploit the less mature and younger either intentionally or unintentionally.

There should indeed be an age of consent in order to protect the young and less mature from those of substantially differing age and maturity, but the law should never stand in the way of genuine, mutual, and consensual love or sex. Any law that does so will necessarily trip up the 'good' in order to prevent some of the 'bad'. It is about striking a balance, and in my view the current law is already pushing on the wrong side of the line and is not justified in going any further.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wither Democracy

A good article in the Times on the withered and shriveled remnants of our Democracy...

If MPs cannot amend legislation, what are they there for? If Gordon Brown cannot regulate (or even bribe) the banks, what is he there for? If the Government cannot protect British jobs from European workers when necessary, then what is the point of it?

Indeed, if Government cannot govern because its hands are tied by supra-national legislation or agreements, whether EU or other, and Parliament similarly cannot legislate, then what is the use of the whole damn edifice?

On Monday, the Liberal Democrats led a debate on constitutional reform: “Parliament must be fundamentally reformed - Heath.” Amid much honourable waffle, one point stood out. John Redwood, the Tory MP, asked the following: “Is not another problem that the Government are afraid of proper accountability and probing? For example, they spend £37 billion on bank shares, yet none of us can ask them, ‘Why don't you do proper due diligence? How much are those banks going to lose? How much will they pay in bonuses?' There is no accountability.”

That £37 billion was passed in an hour and a half - £410 million a minute. The £50 billion for the second bank bailout bypassed the Commons altogether. Government has been hived off to bankers, accountants and officials, the taxpayer merely asked to keep signing the cheques.

Every time power is siphoned off to a new quango or another management consultant, the taxpayer is taken one step further away from democracy and Parliament shrivels a little more. Pace Mr Blair, everyone is in opposition now. They cannot do; they can only talk.

Indeed. When the executive has such enormous freedom to act without the need to seek Parliamentary approval, so the accountability of that Government diminishes. Democracy is not a mark on a ballot every 4 or 5 years, it is a continuous and systemic process.

We are in dire need of fundamental constitutional reform. Forget tinkering around the margins, and debating the merit (or serious lack thereof) of a Bill of Rights; what we need is a wholesale restructuring of the powers of each branch of our government. The Executive should be severely curtailed and weakened; Parliament should be emboldened with more power to control the passage of legislation and by obtaining royal prerogative powers; the Judiciary should be fully separated from Parliament and the Executive, and similarly emboldened with powers to strike down legislation found contradictory to a new codified constitution that enshrines the liberties of the people and limitations of the frontiers of the state.

This new constitutional settlement should finally be put to the people in a referendum, and the people should regain ownership of their government.

Control Is Freedom

The BBC news website is giving prominent position to this egregious piece of drivel...

The term 'nanny state' is not normally used as a compliment. But public health expert Dr Alan Maryon Davis says we need more nannying, not less.

Can you see where this is going? Ugh!

On the contrary, there's plenty of evidence that people want to see the government doing more to help us avoid big killers like heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Attitudes have changed radically over the 30 years I've been involved in promoting and protecting public health. I see an increasing acceptance that we, all of us, need not only more information and guidance from government, but also more legislation to save us from ourselves.

We accept the laws on seat-belts, crash helmets and drink-driving because we know they reduce road injuries and deaths.

What? Seatbelts really help other passengers. Remember the advert with the kid in the back slamming into the driver's seat? Equally drink-driving laws are there to protect the other road users. Though he has a point regarding cycle helmets. But we don't need legislation to "save us from ourselves". Why? Laws are there to protects us from each other.

We are happy to see bans on tobacco advertising and the selling of alcohol and tobacco to minors because we understand the dangers for young people.

That is rather different is it not? Children are not necessarily capable of making informed and rational judgements in the same way as an adult. Society widely recognises this with many 'dangerous' or 'self harming' activities limited to those below a certain age. Generally one is assumed to be a fully fledged independent adult at 18, but with degrees of maturity from 15-21yrs.

And to my mind the really shining example of how far the public have come in accepting laws to help protect us from self-harm is the huge support for smoke-free public spaces and workplaces throughout the UK.

Well I think you'll find the reason for the support was due to (1) the preference of a smoke free atmosphere in general, (2) protection from the second hand smoke of others (not protection from oneself!), and possibly (3) a small degree of feeling that smoking is generally bad and should be discouraged.

But it was ordinary people who really tipped the balance to change the law. It was the steady shift in public opinion that gave legislators the courage. It proved that we, the people, can have a powerful influence on the way laws can be made on our behalf.

Well, I should bloody well think so. It is a democracy after all. But let's not even go into the fact that democracy is nothing more than tyranny of the majority. Ok, I can't resist. Democracy is by definition majoritarian and collectivist, and thus in any liberal democracy there must exist cast iron liberties to protect minorities, and the individual is the smallest minority, from "Mobocracy" (rule by the mob).

We need to press for more legislation to improve and protect health and well-being.

I don't want protecting, thanks. I can look after my own well-being, and I don't want some jumped up little fascist telling me what is and is not in my own interests, nor even preventing me from doing harm to myself. That is my business and nobody else's.

What next? I would like to see a ban on smoking in cars with a child on board and a ban on displays of cigarettes in shops. I would like to see a real hike in tax on alcohol and a ban on deep price-cuts for booze. I would like to see a wider ban on junk-food adverts around TV programmes watched largely by children.

I would like to see a whole raft of other legislation for health. This is not 'nannying'. This is responsible government acting on behalf of a consenting public.

Campaigns, guidelines and voluntary codes aren't enough. We need more laws to ensure that the world in which we live, work and play will help promote and protect our health.

He really is of Nazi brethren, isn't he? Don't forget it was the Nazis who first introduced a smoking ban! The problem with Dr Alan's argument is that he fails to understand the fundamental difference between external and internal 'costs'. Indeed people should be protected from others, and this can be drawn as far as second hand smoke, drink driving, food advertising to children, etc, but people should not be protected from themselves. If I choose to 'supersize me' then I should be perfectly free to eat burgers to my heart's content (or coronary).

It is unfortunate and highly terrifying that we have individuals with such belief in collectivism, such belief in their righteousness, and such little belief in freedom and individual liberty, in such positions of influence. One has to ask oneself the question - would I rather live under a democracy or benevolent dictator (if there were such a thing) who upheld the law and ensured maximum individual freedom? I would have to choose the latter.

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