Wednesday, September 17, 2014
BOOK REVIEW of If It Ain’t Broke: the Case Against Constitutional Reform of the United Kingdom
Relevant to the forthcoming referendum on independence for Scotland
The title says it all. Constitutional policy has not been debated properly in Britain. As a result of the failure to think things out systematically in advance, change has been piecemeal and unplanned.
Lacking a comprehensive strategy to defend the constitution, Downing Street seems to be grasping at straws at the last moment and the wholly avoidable possibility of Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom might become a reality.
This book is a belated attempt to urge those who love the UK to get their act together and come up with a strategy to save the constitution from multiple threats. Check it out. The Introduction and a substantial part of the first Chapter can be read free on Amazon
It’s the ineffable smugness that gets us
We’re all aware of the manner in which the supermarkets have been one of the evil bugbears of our times. The manner in which the upper middle class commentariat has been outraged, outraged we tell you, at the manner in which anyone has the effrontery to offer the working classes cheap and convenient food. doesn’t everyone realise that they should be buying at the butcher and greengrocer so as to subsidise the desires of the upper middle class commentariat?
Which brings us to this lovely piece claiming that the age of the supermarket is now over and ain’t that a good thing?
"In my street, the light thunk of plastic boxes as they’re unloaded from the supermarket delivery vans is now as familiar, if not quite so uplifting, as the sound of my beloved’s key in the door. Those who use the internet for grocery shopping do it for reasons of convenience, certainly. But we also know we spend less online, buying only what we need, choosing necessities with a ruthlessness that often abandoned us in-store. What we used to spend on impulse buys – or some of it – then goes on a decent wedge of Lincolnshire Poacher, a couple of fillets of haddock or some good beef, sold to us by smiling, helpful, talkative people whose names we may know, and whose businesses matter both to them and us.
The people who run our supermarkets, obsessed as they are with “price matching” and “meal deals”, seem not to have noticed this. Or perhaps they have merely accepted there is no real way to respond to it. Small, local supermarkets are good and useful should you run out of stock cubes or Persil of a Tuesday evening. But even their expansion is finite. For the rest, there is no short-term solution. We have become suspicious: of their mawkish advertising, of their treatment of farmers, of their desperate bids to package up things that really don’t need packaging up at all (I mean this literally and metaphorically, versions of “restaurant-style” dishes being every bit as phoney and wasteful as apples wrapped in too much plastic). Modern life, we feel, is isolating enough without self-service check-outs. They want to own us, but we aren’t having it. Suddenly, the over-lit aisles of Tesco have never looked more bleak. Or more empty."
The problem with this is as follows. I’ve always said that supermarkets were horrible things and look, now people agree with me! That means I was right! But, no, sadly, it doesn’t. It means that you might (assuming we accept the idea that the supermarkets are falling out of favour) be right now but it means that you were wrong before. Not in your personal taste of course: but in your projection of your personal taste to others.
And the point of emphasising this is that this is why we have markets. So that the consumer can decide for themselves how, in this instance, they wish to purchase their comestibles. If technology has changed so that internet delivery is now better all well and good. If it’s simply consumer taste that has, equally well and good. The entire point of having competitors in a market is so that the consumer can, with each and every groat and pfennig they spend, intimate which of the possible offerings they prefer. On the grounds of price, taste, convenience, technology or any other differentiator.
If the supermarkets do go down (something we rather suspect won’t actually happen) then it will not prove that those who campaigned against them in the past were right. It will prove that they were wrong: and further that their attempts to impose their views on others will always be wrong. For the very fact that supermarkets succeeded as a technology for however long it was or will be shows that they were wrong: and that they fail (as any and every technology eventually does) at some point will again show that that market process is the method of dealing with such matters. For, as is now being said, when the technology or consumer desires change then the market reacts and replaces the less favoured with the more. What else could you possibly want from a system of socio-economic organisation?
Actually, Senators, You're the Ones Who Threaten the Country
Americans' right to free speech should not be proportionate to their political power.
We are, as it always seems, "at a pivotal moment in American history." At least that's what Sens. Tom Udall and Bernie Sanders maintained in a melodramatic Politico op-ed last week as they explained their efforts to repeal the First Amendment.
Let me retort in their language:
It's true that building the United States has been long, arduous and rife with setbacks. But throughout the years, the American people have repelled efforts to weaken or dismantle the First Amendment. We have weathered the Sedition Act of 1918, a law that led to the imprisonment of innocent Americans who opposed the war or the draft. Since then, we have withstood numerous efforts to hamper, chill, and undermine basic free expression in the name of "patriotism." We have, however, allowed elected officials to treat citizens as if they were children by arbitrarily imposing strict limits on their free speech in the name of "fairness."
But nowadays, after five members of the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment and treated all political speech equally, liberal activists and Democrats in the Senate would have us return to a time when government dispensed speech to favored institutions—as if it were the government's to give.
In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 opinion striking down major parts of a 2002 campaign-finance reform law in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This case and subsequent rulings, including McCutcheon v. FEC, have led to more political activism and more grass-roots engagement than ever before. In the 2012 presidential election, we quickly saw the results. More Americans voted than in any election; more minorities voted; more Americans engaged in more debate and had more information in their hands than ever before. More than 60 percent of all those super PAC funds came from just 159 donors, each of whom gave more than $1 million. And still, every vote held the same sway. You may be convinced by someone, but no one can buy your vote. I wish the same could be said for your senators.
Even less worrisome is the propaganda surrounding scary-sounding "dark money"—dollars spent by groups that do not have to disclose their funding sources. The 2012 elections saw almost $300 million spent on engagement in our democratic institutions, and the 2014 midterm elections could see as much as $1 billion invested in political debate. That means more democratization of media and more challenges to a media infrastructure that once managed what news we were allowed to consume. Still, no one can buy your vote.
No single issue is more important to the needs of average Americans than upholding the Constitution over the vagaries of contemporary political life. The people elected to office should be responsive to the needs of their constituents. They should also be prepared to be challenged. But mostly, they should uphold their oath to protect the Constitution rather than find ways to undermine it.
When the Supreme Court finds, for purposes of the First Amendment, that corporations are people, that writing checks from the company's bank account is constitutionally protected speech, and that attempts to impose coercive restrictions on political debate are unconstitutional, we realize that we live in a republic that isn't always fair but is, for the most part, always free.
Americans' right to free speech should not be proportionate to their political power. This is why it's vital to stop senators from imposing capricious limits on Americans.
It is true that 16 states and the District of Columbia, along with more than 500 cities and towns, have passed resolutions calling on Congress to reinstitute restriction on free speech. Polls consistently show that the majority of Americans support the abolishment of super PACs. So it's important to remember that one of the many reasons the Founding Fathers offered us the Constitution was to offer a bulwark against "democracy." Senators may have an unhealthy obsession with the democratic process, and Supreme Court justices are on the bench for life for that very reason.
On Monday, Democrats offered an amendment to repeal the First Amendment in an attempt to protect their own political power. Whiny senators—most of them patrons to corporate power and special interests—engaged in one of the most cynical abuses of their power in recent memory. Those who treat Americans as if they were hapless proles unable to withstand the power of a television commercial are the ones who fear speech. That's not what the American republic is all about.
Editor's note: The proposed amendment went down to a well-deserved defeat in the Senate yesterday.
Well, yes, this is rather the point about fees for filing tribunal claims
How lovely to see public policy working well for once:
The number of aggrieved workers bringing sex discrimination claims to employment tribunals has tumbled by 90 per cent in a year since claimants were made to pay a fee.
It appears that the prospect of forking out in advance – and losing the money if their case fails – is deterring many of those who may be tempted to use a tribunal to make their employer pay compensation.
But Labour business spokesman Chuka Umunna has promised to abolish the fees, claiming they are unfair.
Chuka, as ever, is missing the point here. The aim and purpose of the fee is to reduce the number of claims. The fee has been instituted, the number of claims has dropped: public policy is actually working. Would that everything done by government worked so well.
The point is not though to make sure that those cruelly done down by t’evil capitalist plutocrats have no recourse: discrimination law still exists and still operates in the normal manner. Those with a good case will happily pay the small fee, those with a frivolous one won’t. The impact of this modest fee therefore tells us something most interesting: the number of former claims that were indeed frivolous, or at least highly unlikely to succeed. But if trying it on costs nothing then why not do so?
There’s an interesting parallel here with another thing that the British courts get right. In, say, a patent case, the loser pays everyone’s court costs and legal fees. In a similar US case the each side pays its own costs, whatever the outcome of the case (except in truly, truly, egregious cases). It costs perhaps $500 to file a suit alleging patent infringement and up to $2 million just to prepare the defence for a trial. The incentives there are obviously for many trivial suits to be filed in the hopes of getting a bit of cash as a settlement to bugger off and stop bothering everyone.
It’s worth noting that the US courts are full of patent troll cases: the UK courts have nary a one.
You know, the first thing everyone should know about economics? Incentives matter.
When proven cases of real sex discrimination bring (righteous) damages of tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds the idea of a small fee as a gatekeeper to deter frivolous cases seems both sensible and not a barrier to those real cases moving into the justice system.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.