Monday, March 12, 2007

The Feline Dialogues: Deconstruction

LibertyCat: If you wanted to know whether Newton's Principia is phallogocentric or not, you might be better off studying who Newton was and what he did in the rest of his life rather than trying to deconstruct the text. On the other hand, this wouldn't help you in this particular case. Probably because whether or not the Principia is phallogocentric is not a useful question. Knowing whether or not Newton is phallogocentric or not is also not a useful question given he's been dead for 280 years.
Femme-de-R: Why is knowing if the Principia is phallogocentric or not 'not a useful question'?
LibertyCat: The Principia isn't important as a primary text. What's important is the ideas in it and whether they accurately describe the motion of the planets around the sun, tides and apples
Femme-de-R: But the response to that is that science itself, its methods and the questions it asks are phallogocentric and exclude women.
LibertyCat: You couldn't have saved Hiroshima by exposing the Western phallogocentricism of nuclear physics


Saturday, March 10, 2007

A new, New Deal

On Monday, the BBC reported on the Freud Report on welfare reform. This report discusses the use of the private firms and charities to get the longest-term unemployed into work. However, the most newsworthy part was suggestions that private companies may pay for tattoo removal.

The Freud report approach incentivises firms and organisations to rapidly push the long-term unemployed into any type of work and keep them there for three years. This has several problems:

First, the New Deal has moved some of the previously long-term unemployed into in insecure work. This is because the New Deal encourages people to enter work experience placements or training. Should they be unable to find permanent work as a result, they sign back onto JSA. Since employers have no incentive to create permanent jobs for those undertaking work experience (it is much better to lay them off and get a new New Deal person) and since training or education do not necessarily lead to employment, there are increasing numbers of people switching between New Deal and JSA. The Freud report doesn't seem designed to place these people into structured, secure work.

Second, the Freud incentive system benefits the provider of work opportunities and not the claimant. Although the Freud incentives system is designed to stop providers placing people in 'dead-end jobs', e.g. paying if the claimant remains in the job for three years or gains qualifications, the provider's incentive is to jump through government funding hoops and not to do what is best for the unemployed [I have only had a quick check through this report so could be wrong]. In the words of Adam Smith writing about subsidies to the eighteenth-century Scottish herring fishery, 'fishermen went to sea to catch not the fish but the bounty'.

A third problem is that the Freud report system degrades the claimant. Long-term unemployment can be degrading, demoralising and sap initiative even for the best of people. Being bugged by a provider to tick boxes for government funding is probably not the best way of addressing this problem.

So what should we be doing? I quite like the SMF's recent proposal for personal employment accounts [downloadable here]. This replaces the New Deal and brings responsibility for gaining employment and career development back to the claimant in conjunction with their personal advisor.

I would make one change to the SMF's proposal. The Freud report suggests a more personalised approach to helping job seekers into work would place a huge workload onto Jobcentre Plus. The SMF suggest that JSA continues as it is now. Having experienced the system myself, I would disagree. Dealing with longer-term temporary workers or those in insecure employment, who sign on and off JSA repeatedly is a huge waste of Jobcentre time and money. I was unemployed for a week after submitting my PhD but had to go through a 30 minute discussion about my employments prospects before getting JSA. This was a waste of both my and the PA's time (we spent much of the time discussing welfare politics). This experience has convinced me that some variant on a non-quibble 'citizen's income' is probably the best approach for the first 3 - 6 months of unemployment.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Cameron panics

I may be alone in this, and I do agree that given the Tory reputation for racism a dismissal may have been appropriate for bad judgement...

However, what Patrick Mercer actually said was that calling someone a "black bastard" happened in the army. Along with calling people "fat bastards" or "ginger bastards". Which is probably true. So he wasn't being racist. The worst you could say of him was that he was condoning a culture of verbal abuse, but that depends on whether you believe that a group of guys who are expected to go out and... erm... kill people are likely to cry into their mattress every night over being called "a slow-moving ginger bastard".

What scares me is that it is now far safer as an MP to waffle and hedge evasively (in the grand tradition of Tony Blair) than it is to actually speak from the heart or discuss controversial issues honestly. This bolsters a culture of spin, PR and stage management. The worst person coming out of this is probably David Cameron who has demonstrated he is too scared to stand up for a public culture of open debate.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Yet another political quiz

Yet another political quiz. I get:

Overall, the PoliticsForum quiz considers you a materialist, small-government, internationalist, free-trade, kind of person. These characteristics would put you in the overall category of libertarian.

On each indicator I get (/100):

Individual/Social 42
Theist/Materialist 63
Big/Small government 88
Nationalist/Internationalist 91
Protectionist/Free Trader 84
Absolutist/Non-Absolutist 55
Controlled/Liberal Market 54
Marxist/Non-Marxist 59

[Hat-tip to Antonia Bance]

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"The role of the state is to facilitate culture, not to make it"


Saturday, March 03, 2007

The beginning, not the end of the road...

It recently occurred to LibertyCat and I that we had completely failed to blog about the much discussed e-petition on road pricing and Tony Blair's subsequent letter to the signatories. I started blogging about the Social Market Foundation's February paper on road pricing [click to download], and Mr Ladyman's speech at that event. Then it occurred to me... why road pricing?

Vehicle Excise Duty and petrol duty already take into account the emissions of the vehicle and the distance travelled. This approach has problems - petrol tax is unfair to the rural poor and VED discriminates against people who own high emissions vehicles and barely use them. However, the importance of these groups is probably underestimated. Only 20% of the UK population live in rural areas and less than 5% in very sparsely populated rural areas. In addition, people who own and rarely use high emissions cars will pay less in fuel tax than those who use them for their daily commute.

So why road pricing? The SMF report justifies this as follows:

Traditionally taxation mechanisms, such as the fuel tax and the vehicle excise duty (VED), have been the main levers used to constrain growth in traffic levels and emissions. Yet these have had a limited impact. Despite a rise in the real price of
petrol since 1990, road traffic increased by 14% between 1990 and 2000 and is predicted to rise another 25% by 2010. In addition, road transport’s share of total UK carbon emissions is set to rise by just under a third by 2010...

...The limited impact of the fuel tax and VED in reducing traffic and emissions may in part be due to the fact that, despite the real rise in petrol prices, the costs of motoring have fallen relative to the costs of public transport and to the level of average earnings...

...As car travel has become relatively cheap compared to both earnings and alternative modes of transport, more and more people have chosen to travel by car.

Although fuel duty is a form of distance-based road pricing, its primary effect has actually been to encourage fuel efficiency rather than reduce car use...

... There is little political appetite for further increases in fuel duty - which has not risen with inflation since the fuel duty escalator was abandoned in the 1999 Pre-Budget Report. This is unsurprising given public attitudes...

..Since the necessary increases in fuel duty to reduce congestion are unlikely, road pricing is the only feasible alternative mechanism to help motorists face the full cost of their road journeys.

To summarise this long passage "The government are too scared of men in lorries to put up fuel tax enough to change behaviour. So they're going to go for a really complicated, expensive computer system [an approach that has been so much of a success in the past]. This may involve funky futuristic black boxes and satellites, or they may just try scaling up the London congestion charging system from around 42 sq km (double the previous area of 21 sq km ) right across the 244820 sq km of the United Kingdom. Bear in mind that the London system is one of the largest and most complicated congestion charging systems in the world".

This doesn't seem a particularly strong argument for road pricing.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Following on from my last post