Monday, 17 July 2017

To what extent should a party's policies be decided by self-interest?

Let us confine ourselves political parties in democracies and let us assume that the electoral and financial success of a party is at least to some extent determined by its policies. To what extent should a party choose policies simply in order to benefit itself?

There is clearly no simple answer. It is not right to say that parties should be defined by eternal and unchanging principles and never change policies: even unchanging principles require new policies in new situations; and we might even say that a party committed to democracy is required at least to reconsider its views in the face of electoral defeat.

Equally, it not right to say that there is no dilemma. For example, one might say that any party that betrays its principles will lose votes, but history gives us too many examples to the contrary to believe that. Or one might say that the dilemma does not affect the party that considers being in power itself (or excluding the other party) to be a matter of principle; but a principle stated as baldly as that, with no account taken of the nature of the party (or its opponent), does not deserve to be called a principle.

Even if there is no simple answer, I am certain that we can do better than saying that anything goes. It is possible that a policy can be so obviously adopted by reason of a naked appeal to votes and financial support that the party adopting it has crossed a line between democratic evolution and outright corruption.

These thoughts have been prompted by the change in policies on immigration in the US. (See further below.)

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Postscript on class

I don't think the sandwich story would be at all interesting in the UK as everyone is well aware that there is a live and kicking class system here, full of hundreds of amusing traps for the unwary would-be social climber (in either direction).

But here is a rather sensible take on it all: The Spectator invited its Social Mobility Foundation interns to its summer party so that they could mingle with the likes of the Prime Minister and Boris Johnson. They probably won't be so scared by unusual sandwiches in the future.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Class in America, Ireland, England, France and China

These three pieces are all worth a read for various reasons but I have put them together because they are touch upon class. Each country has its own quirks as far as class is concerned, but there are interesting universal features.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

My body, my choice?

"The case for banning extreme sports, for example, is much stronger than the case for banning extreme medicine. Extreme sports don’t provide much benefit to the rest of humanity, other than some entertainment of questionable social value. Extreme medicine, on the other hand, has the potential to improve all our lives and at the very least is a useful warning about what not to do. Yet, extreme sports are lauded, or at least treated as mostly your own business (we do put some regulations on boxing and race car driving), while extreme medicine is heavily regulated and socially frowned upon.

My attitude is the reverse. You want to risk your life climbing without ropes? Knock yourself out–but don’t expect any support from me. ... But, you want to risk your life trying an unapproved medical treatment? Sir, I salute you. Give that man a Nobel prize.

That's from here.

The background to this is that foecal transplants are highly regulated in the US. They could of course lead to infection. As the writer puts it, "No doubt–this is why we also ban sex and french kissing.

Which prompts in me this thought: would the authorities be more likely to bend to pressure from adults who wanted to carry out these procedures if they were sexually motivated rather than prompted by an interest in curing diseases?  And, for adults at least, isn't this a question of "My Body, My Choice"?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Myth of Britain's Decline

Robert Tombs, in fine form here, points out that "Britain is more secure from major external threat than for half a millennium. Taking a long view (say the last three centuries) it remains what it always has been — one of the half-dozen or so strongest states in the world, and one of the most global in its attachments, its vision, and its trade."

That's not too bad, is it? Britain is more of a success over that kind of long view than pretty much anywhere else.

Let's not go overboard about how good things are. After all, self-congratulation is normally unattractive, probably unhelpful and, I'd like to think, rather un-British; while a sort of moaning declinism coupled with a 'they do these things much better in France'-ishness is as about British as a Millwall fan having a curry and a lager.

But I wouldn't want declinism to go too far. A certain quiet self-confidence is not a bad thing in a nation. It makes it a better place to live, for one thing. It might even be useful in current circumstances: "Power is also based on intangibles such as self-confidence, a clear strategy and determination, and here we may be lacking. Russia, with an economy the same size as Spain’s, behaves like a superpower in the Middle East and is treated as one. But we fear we cannot even negotiate a mutually beneficial trade agreement with the EU."

And let's not forget confirmation bias. If you see Britain through declinist spectacles then you'll be spotting all the bad news and doubting any good news that does filter through to you. Why go through life in that frame of mind?

Monday, 10 July 2017

What is real?

If you're interested in what things might be real then read on. But if you are more like David Hume in his relaxed moods ("I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold and strained and ridiculous that I cannot find [it] in my heart to enter into them any farther") then do not.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Postscript on men, women, eggs and inequality

You will have seen that there are a differences in life expectancy between people born in rich and poor areas (famously Calton was said to have a life expectancy of 54 - it doesn't). This is often described as an injustice.

You will have seen that there are differences between the incarceration rates for black and white people (in both the US and the UK). This is often described as an injustice.

You will also have seen that is a difference in life expectancy between men and women (about 3.7 years in the UK) and in incarceration rates between men and women (at the end of 2016, in England and Wales, there were 355 male prisoners per 100,000 and 16 females per 100,000 - i.e. more than 22 times as many men as women).

Pretty much nobody thinks the difference in life expectancy between men and women or the difference in incarceration rates between men and women are matters of injustice. (On the massive discrepancy in incarceration rates, it's not quite nobody, but near enough for present purposes. And some discrepancy is surely to be expected.)

You could say that this is just because the sort of people who worry about this kind of thing don't worry about it when it is men who are on the receiving end. But that would be too cynical. Surely it's just common sense to think that men die earlier and commit more (and more serious) crimes than women. These statistical differences do not call out for justification in the way that rich and poor or white and black people dying or being imprisoned at different rates are facts that call out for justification, explanation or correction.

All of which is just to say that we do not think that the sexes are identical or that all differences between outcomes in their lives are the result of injustice or special treatment. Those unfortunate egg-freezing women can at least be glad that they are not dead or in prison (although perhaps that's what happened to their potential mates).

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Men, women, eggs and inequality

"Last year less than 105,000 male 18-year-olds started university, compared with almost 135,000 females, UCAS figures show, with more women than men on two-thirds of courses. // The gender gap for higher education is now as large as that between rich and poor people".

That is from this article, about how well-educated women are finding it hard to meet men who are similarly well-educated and therefore resort to freezing their eggs. (More here.)

Is there a problem here? If so, what is the solution? More below.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The way people write about Brexit

Two things I've noticed recently, from writers dearly trying to take a neutral line but unable to hide their real feelings.

First, this guy asks why there have been so few protests against Brexit. But why is this the question that occurs to the writer? Broadly speaking, half the country voted Leave and half voted Remain; feelings ran high among some groups on both sides. We've been in the EU (or its predecessors) for over 40 years. Why not ask why there were so few protests in favour of Brexit during that time?

Second, this example of having it both ways from the Economist. (The subtitle is "The country has not cut such a pathetic figure on the global stage since Suez", which gives you a flavour of the content.) On the one hand, we are told that "Britain is leaving the EU at a time when its relations with the United States are perilous. Donald Trump is a volatile figure whose lodestar is “America first”. He is extraordinarily divisive, meaning that the closer Britain gets to Mr Trump the more it alienates anti-Trumpists", i.e. being close to Trump is a bad thingOn the other hand, we are told that "the EU is in its best shape in years, with a young reformer installed in the Élysée Palace and the Franco-German axis solid" and, as evidence of this, "Mr Trump is to visit France on Bastille Day, whereas his proposed trip to Britain is up in the air". Is Macron going to be alienating anti-Trumpists? Should he be?

Fake news! Sad!