söndag 28 september 2008

50 years of women priests in Sweden and the Society of St Pius X

Svenska Kyrkan is celebrating the 50th anniversary of women priests. As a Catholic, I can only comment from the outside but having women priests has certainly has not helped the church to flourish. As far as I can understand, priests in the Swedish church are comparable to those at the "high" end of the Anglicans - in other words, they regard themselves as priests and not ministers. The status of Anglican orders was clarified in Apostolicae Curae in 1896 by Pope Leo XIII, declaring all Anglican ordinations to be "absolutely null and utterly void". I can find no reference to the status of Svenska Kyrkan's orders. One issue is that the Catholic Church regards Ordination as a Sacrament, which is not the case with the Anglicans, but the principal point is that of authority and recognition of the authority of the successor of Peter, which is an article of the Apostles' Creed - "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church". Anyone who really does believe that should be a member of the Universal Church of Rome - the Catholic Church - or a church in communion with it. I do not understand how people can recite the creed every day or every Sunday and still avoid this conclusion. Of couse the Anglican Church claims that it is both Catholic and Protestant, but that is impossible. The Catholic Church is the Church under the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

There is a parallel here with the status of the Society of St Pius X, which promotes the traditional (Tridentine) Latin mass, which under the new regulations introduced by Pope Benedict, may now be freely celebrated without the need for special permission. The Society's priests perform the liturgy far more care than can be the case with the ordinary Catholic clergy, who, too often make things up as they go along and do not keep to the rubrics. The Society was founded by the French Archbishop Lefebre, and eventually consecrated its own bishops. This latter they had no right to do and consequently the society's priests have been ordained irregularly. Within the physical area of Catholic diocese of Barchester, authority rests with the Bishop of Barchester. You cannot have a another bishop with authority in that location. The same goes for parishes. Priests may come in and say a mass in another parish, but not without the permission of the parish priest. It is a regulation and of course a matter of common courtesy. And for the same reason, people should attend their own parish mass and not some freelance celebration, no matter how beautifully done. It may mean having to put up with a dire liturgy, but that is ultimately the priest's responsibility. If priests do not do their job properly, they will be held to account in the final reckoning.There is of course no objection to attending an authorised Tridentine Mass such as those celebrated by priests belonging to the Sacred Society of St Peter or under the auspices of the Latin Mass Society, which emphasises its loyalty to the Holy See above all.

People hope that the Society of St Pius X will be accepted back into the mainstream body of the Catholic Church. Its priests have a lot to offer. But if this does not happen, the inevitable fate of this movement will be to wander off into a wilderness and ultimate oblivion or worse, which is which what befell the Old Catholic Church which broke away in 1870 on the issue of papal infallibility.

What view does the Catholic Church take on women priests? Simply, that it is not able to ordain them. It is not capable of doing it. They could put women through the training and ritual, but that would still not make them priests. Had Jesus himself considered it possible, there is no doubt that he would have ordained a woman. There was no shortage of women in his entourage and he was not concerned about keeping to the conventions. Women have another function in Christian life - as mothers and contemplatives. To suggest that this demeans women is absurd. On the contrary, it is a recognition that men and women have different spiritual functions just as they have different biological functions. In the Anglican church, where, as mentioned earlier, ordination is not a sacrament, the orders are null and void, but even if they were not, the sacrament would not have been effective and the "ordained " woman would still not be a priest.

fredag 26 september 2008

Catholic UK monarch?

I read today that "Constitutional experts and minority parties yesterday rallied behind proposals to repeal the 300-year bar to Catholics succeeding to the throne and end male precedence in the royal succession."

I feel uncomfortable about the present law but it could cause more problems than it solved as the monarch is de facto head of the Church of England. If the law is abolished, the Church of England is downgraded to the position of being just another sect. It would no longer have the right to have its bishops in the House of Lords. and would leave the British state dangerously vulnerable to takeover by some other religious force in the future. In a strange way, the present law enshrines a Christian identity in Britain, though a Protestant one. Things could be a lot worse and there is no knowing what damage this reform could unleash.

In any case there are more important matters that have to be dealt with.

söndag 21 september 2008

Polly Toynbee in trouble

The Guardian's old stalwart, Polly Toynbee, is another journalist who gets trashed by the commentators both from positions on the left and right. She was an ardent advocate of New Labour, which in retrospect demonstrates a certain lack of perspicacity. Now that the wheels have come off, she has found herself in a position of having to try to defend the indefensible.

Some of the attacks are personal, drawing attention to her privileged background. In the circumstances, and given what she says, such criticism is not unreasonable. Toynbee and her Guardian colleagues are as much a part of the British Establishment as the top level civil servants, the heads of Oxbridge colleges and the editors of the right wing press. Their shared aim is to control what it is permitted to be discussed and what voices must be silenced. With a 99% success rate, by their own standards they are doing very well. But it has got the country enmeshed in a mass of nearly insoluble problems.

Why does the Observer keep Will Hutton on?

Why does the Observer keep on employing Will Hutton? Week after week he writes articles which are pulled to pieces by commentators. His proposals would be disastrous and usually counter-productive. He has been doing it for years. Strange. Why don't they get rid of him and employ one of the better commentators instead. Almost any of them would be better? Read the article here

tisdag 16 september 2008

Liberal Democrats' proposals

Why are the Liberal Democrats talking about what they would do if they became the next government? They are not going to be the next UK government. Paddy Power was giving odds of 100-1 against. This does not mean to say that they are useless, but they ought to take a realistic view. There is a need for a critique of the policies of both of the largest parties but the Liberal Democrats are not presenting the distinctive point of view which is so needed and which they have the potential to do.

Talk of tax cuts indicates the shallowness of their thinking. The trouble with tax is more to do with what is taxed, not how much tax the government collects. What a pity that so few in the party have picked up this idea.

söndag 14 september 2008

Hur mår kvinnor efter aborter/ How do women feel after abortions?

I came across this on Facebook and reproduce it here.

Från 1 januari 1975 och fram tills idag har det utförts drygt
1 100 000 aborter i Sverige. Motsvarande siffra för hela världen är över 1 miljard. Hur förstår man något sådant? Kanske är det nödvändigt att höra berättelser från män och kvinnor som varit med om aborter för att kunna få en inblick i hur hundratusentals män och kvinnor i Sverige mår idag.

From January 1975 to date there have been over a million abortions in Sweden and over a billion worldwide. How can anyone understand such a thing? Perhaps it helps to hear accounts from men and women themselves who have been involved in abortions in order to gain an insight about how hundreds of thousands of people in Britain feel today.

Besök gärna två nya bloggar som startats de senaste månaderna, den ena till och med för bara några dagar sedan. Om du börjar att läsa blogginläggen bakifrån, med det äldsta inlägget först, är det svårt att sluta.

Have a look at two new blogs which have been started in recent months, one of them only a few days ago. If you begin to read the blog entries, starting with the oldest, it is hard to stop.

Bloggen ”En abort” http://enabort.blogg.se/

Den helt nya bloggen ”En abort” startades av en 28-årig kille vars flickvän gjorde abort för bara några dagar sedan. Utdrag ur en bloggartikel:

The blog was started by a 28 year old man whose girlfriend had an abortion just a few days previously. Here is a quotation from it.

”Hej alla läsare. Jag skrev inte igår då vi inte mådde så bra efter det som hände igår, vi var där innan 7 och hon fick sina piller en kvart senare. Hon tyckte det var jobbigt och ville ta sina piller själv, men hon klarade inte det och blev väldigt ledsen. Så hon fick hjälp med att ta sina piller och jag var tvungen att gå ut och vänta medans dom blev klara.”

"Hallo, all readers. I did not write yesterday as we did not feel so good after what happened, it was before 7 o'clock and she received her tablets a quarter of an hour later. She thought it was tough and wanted to take her medication herself, but she did not manage that and become very unhappy. So she needed help with taking the medication and I was forced to go out and wait for it to be done."

* Bloggen ”Om min abort” http://omminabort.blogg.se/

Bloggen ”Om min abort” skrivs av en ung tjej som gjorde en abort i juli 2008, en dag hon beskriver som ”den värsta dagen i mitt liv”.

This blog was written by a young woman who had an abortion in July 2008, a day she writes of as "the worst day in my life."

Utdrag ur hennes blogg: ”Han vet hur dåligt jag mår, och han vet att jag bara behöver 1minut, jag behöver prata med honom efter allt som hänt, jag vill bara avsluta allt. För jag behöver ett avslut. Men inget jag säger eller gör spelar någon roll, han bryr sig bara om sig själv… Jag önskar att jag inte lyssnat på honom och behållit min bebis!”

Extract from her blog: "He knows how dreadful I feel and he knows that I just need a minute, I need to talk with him after all that happened, I just want to resolve things. For I need to bring things to a resolution. But nothing I say or do makes any difference, he only cares about himself... I wish I had not listened to him and had kept my baby."

torsdag 11 september 2008

The high cost of railway vehicles

The cost of railway vehicles is accelerating. I discussed this the other day with an expert, who told me it was just the trend of things that the price of passenger vehicles was rising to the £2.5 million level. Is it inevitable? Could it be that engineering costs have gone out of control because specifications are not being sufficiently questioned?

From the passengers' point of view a modern train actually offers less in some ways than its 1950s predecessor. There is less space, seating is cramped and many of those seats offer no view out of the window. A chronic complaint is shortage of space for luggage. There is a lot of advanced and expensive technology in the background which ought to add to the comfort and convenience of the journey but the obvious things like legroom and luggage space have been squeezed out, partly because the high cost of the modern vehicles means that it is critical that as many people as possible are packed in. Fleet sizes must be pared to a minimum, leaving little spare capacity to cope with peak traffic.

Does anyone know how much extra cost is incurred by successive increments of speed? What is the difference between the cost of a train designed to run at a maximum speed of 100 mph, compared to the 125 and 140 mph train? These differences do not affect only the trains. Track, signalling, even the overall design of the route, must be more highly specified when speeds are higher, leading to a bigger question: what are the overall costs of operation of routes at different train speeds? Isn't this information something that those in charge of transport policy should have in front of them?

Then there is the issue of specifications. Precisely who, if anyone, needs automatic taps and hand-driers in the toilets? Is air conditioning automatically the most cost-effective way of achieving a comfortable passenger environment? What electronic systems are actually essential and does the equipment being fitted provide best value? Could passenger information and computer systems be standard off the peg items and do they need to have, literally, all the bells and whistles? To service all these systems, huge cable looms now run the length of every vehicle. Yet when a public address system was re-fitted to mark 1 stock in the 1980s, the bell circuit was used, avoiding the need for a new cable run.

Seats are another item that have become costly (and heavy). To what extent is this because they are fitted in "airline" or "bus" mode, all facing in the same direction, and therefore requiring substantial and heavy frames to provide stability and crashworthiness? Would it be less costly to arrange seats in back to back mode, with seats designed so that back-to-back pairs formed a single structural unit - thereby saving weight as well as adding comfort. Then there are bodyshells, which, outside the UK, were frequently constructed with corrugated panels, which is structurally efficient, but this a practice seems to have disappeared over the past couple of decades.

Can costs be trimmed in other ways without sacrificing comfort or safety? Do all internal doors need to be power-operated? Do all external doors need to be power-operated, or could the powered function be reduced on operate only for closure? To what extent are are regulatory requirements pushing up costs, with negligible benefit? Are there less expensive way of providing what is essential?

In other words, with costs accelerating, it is not time to go back-to-basics in train design and decide what is really needed to convey people safely and comfortably on services which are affordable and competitive with other modes? One difficulty is that there are too many vested interests in the industry in keeping costs high, which means that the challenge needs to be at top level.

onsdag 10 september 2008

Railway comments update

The latest issue of Rail Professional is of more than usual interest. Amongst the topics examined are...

Rolling stock for the future
Colin Walton, Chairman of Bombardier UK, reveals that the company has a dip in orders around 2011 and would offer "a very good price" for orders placed by the end of the year. Which is why the decision by the Department of Transport to go for a new design of train for Thameslink is wrong. There is an excellent case for just going out and ordering more Electrostars and developing the next generation of electric multiple unit trains to a longer timescale. After all, Transport for London is ordering a version of the Electrostar for London Overground, operating on similar services. With a suitable internal configuration, having plenty of circulation space around the doorways, they are adequate if not ideal. In any case the Department of Transport needs to re-think how the Thameslink service is operated, as there can be no design of rolling stock that is suitable for a railway that is at the same time a long-distance route, a commuter line, an airport link and an inner suburban service. Probably the most effective solution would be to run Thameslink as a service within the TfL area, with the long distance services running to the main London terminals as they used to. On the south side of the river, London Bridge appears to have capacity, but to the north, St Pancras has lost platforms to Eurostar, so there may be problems, but with the redevelopment of the area around King's Cross, it may be possible to find terminal space for trains from the north, or the solution may be to alter the service pattern on the Midland main line.

Inter City Express update
Walton also mentioned, and with scepticism, that only Hitachi has come up with a bid that meets the Department of Transports specification, or more realistically, wish list. He refers to a likely price tag of £3 million per carriage. Given the restrictions of the British loading gauge, this guarantees that the seats will have to be packed in so that passengers will continue to be forced to travel in sardine-can like conditions. There is also the general issue of running trains over lines which are partly electrified and partly not, which would not be a problem but for an refusal to accept the possibility of traction changes en route, which until a few yeas ago was accepted practice and unproblematic.

Rolling stock leasing and the cost of modern trains
The Competition Commision continues to be concerned about the lack of competition between rolling stock leasing companies. One problem, hinted at but not discussed in detail, is that the stock is too closely tied to particular routes. This is partly a consequence of technical decisions. Fixed formation trains are inherently inflexible as they have to be configured for particular services. The class 220 Voyagers and the Pendolinos, for example, proved to be too short, but there is no means of adding extra vehicles apart from constructing them specially. The days are long gone when a couple of extra carriages could be taken from a stock of spares held in a siding and attached to the front of the train if it was busy. There is no reason in principle why that kind of flexibility should not be built into the system but it would have to be specified, for example by insisting on operational compatibility between different classes of rolling stock, as was normal in the 1950s. Of course modern trains have many more systems than the trains of the 1950s but there is still no reason for incompatibility. It would probably mean a return to the use of locomotives and hauled vehicles, but in its nearly exclusive use of fixed formation passenger trains, Britain is unusual amongst European railways, where locomotive traction in push-pull mode is common. It is also necessary to ask why carriages are now costing over £2 million apiece, which, incidentally, is more than the Bombardier TRAXX locomotive which costs about €2.2 million.

Turning to the cost of rolling stock: in 1953, a mark 1 vehicle cost under £6000, a figure which may not have been realistic because accounting systems within the nationalised industry could be suspect. These provided a comfortable seat in a spacious passenger environment, but were of agricultural simplicity. The only services through the train were the braking system, the steam heating system and electricity for the lighting system, which was a low voltage DC installation with dynamo generation and lead-acid battery backup. On the other hand, the vehicles had a high labour input to their construction.

Since 1953, the value of the pound has fallen by a factor of 30, which would price the mark 1 coach at £180,000. Even allowing for the unreliability of the original figure, how come that in real terms, the price has now risen by 11 times? The vehicles have to run faster, which means that components such as bogies and braking systems have to be designed to cope with the different conditions. Adequate crashworthiness is required, though that should not necessarily add significantly to the costs as this is primarily a matter of making sure the structural material is optimally placed, which was not the case with the mark 1 construction with a heavy underframe and lightweight bodyshell. Crashworthiness must also extend to interior components such as seats. Then there are the additional services which are now expected: air-conditioning, power operated doors, retention toilets, public address and visual information displays. And on top, there is a requirement for some kind of fault detection and reporting system. Then there are design and accreditation costs, which now amount to about £4 million, a cost which has to be spread across the build.

Many, though probably not all, of the the additional features should not be particularly costly, as they can be mass-produced items manufactured for other transport modes such as automotive or marine. Obviously, all of this will add to the cost. Triple, perhaps, say £550,000. At the very most, the cost could quadruple, to say, £750,000 for an unpowered vehicle, which is in line with the cost of Electrostars which came in at about £750,000 a vehicle, complete with traction in the years up to 2005. But 11 times the cost? Is this the price of 140 mph running as compared with 100 mph? The whole issue needs to be examined. If it is the cost of speed, then value-for-money decisions are called for.

Paying for Crossrail
Uncertainties remain on Crossrail, which received Royal Assent in July. Who will pay for the £16 billion scheme? Costs are to be shared between the goverment, London businesses and revenue from fares. It is a bad general principle that capital costs should come from fares, which should be set to cover running costs. But it is the amount of the business contribution that is proving contentious, and rightly so. Some of the big businesses that stand to benefit have already agreed to contribute, and there was a proposal for a supplement to the business rate. The arguments begin when trying to decide how much should be paid, for how long, and who should pay it. Business are reluctant to pay if they do not receive a commensurate benefit, and there will be free-loaders who will receive more than they will pay for.

This is not the way to pay for major infrastructure projects. A land value taxation (LVT) system (on the annual rental value of land) needs to be set up, initially as a replacement for all existing property taxes. Enhancements in land value due to the construction of new infrastructure are then automatically be collected without the need for further ad hoc arrangements. It is also the case that the land value information obtained after the LVT system has been operating for a while will provide transport planners with guidance about the external benefits of projects. Personally, I have my doubts as to whether Crossrail in its present form is good value for money. Its primary function is to relieve pressure on the Central Line tube, and I suspect that what is really needed is another tube line, at a fraction of the cost. Crossrail also poses problems similar to those experienced with Thameslink, which does not operate satisfactorily in its present form. It sounds like a bad idea to repeat the mistake.

Uckfield-Lewes reopening
This scheme is also discussed in an article by Paul Clifton. It seems that East Sussex County Council is opposed as it want to build a road on the track bed and would like to see the proposal abandoned once and for all so that it can get on with it. ESCC is a notoriously car-oriented organisation, in a heavily populated area that is gradually turning from rural to suburban. The scheme, allegedly, does not deliver sufficient in the way of external benefits, but of course nobody has estimated the aggregate enhancement to land values.

Potentially, the line could to be upgraded and developed into a new main route from London to the South Coast. But in the process it would open up development opportunities and more rural areas would disappear under bricks and mortar. And without land value taxation, owners would eventually stand to make a killing.

tisdag 9 september 2008

Britain is a class-ridden society

So says Polly Toynbee in the Guardian this morning.

When four "aristocratic" families own the lion's share of Central London what else can one expect but that Britain is riven by class? Aristocratic means their ancestors enjoyed the monarch's favour in the sixteenth century and managed to avoid getting their heads chopped off.

For an explanation, have a look a the web site of the Land Value Taxation Campaign here and download the exhibition brochure which spells it all out, unashamedly.

There are, I suggest, several classes, at least five.
(1) Aristocratic landowners
(2) Government/educational establishment, opinion formers, top managers
(3) Salaried employees, salespeople, tradespeople, small businesspeople.
(4) Unskilled employed and low paid
(5) Unemployed welfare-dependent.

There is a small amount of movement between them. One of the tasks of level 2 people is to make sure nothing is said or done to damage the priviliges enjoyed by people at level 1. If they did, they would lose their position.

Despite all her fine words, Polly Toynbee, in level 2, has never said or proposed anything that would actually deal with the priviliged position of people in level 1. In fact, if she did, things would be said that would destroy her credibility and she would not last much longer as a Guardian columnist.

In the meantime the social fabric of the country is disintegrating.

måndag 8 september 2008

Aid to developing countries is immoral

There are two major objections to aid from first world governments to developing countries. First world tax systems, despite being notionally related to ability to pay, are in practice only so for the poor and not-quite poor, who cannot pay for advice to enable them to exploit the loopholes in their countries' tax systems.

The second objection is that development does not necessarily help the poor in the developing countries, any more than it did in Europe in the period after the industrial revolution. With each successive wave of technical development, from the advent of steam power, railways, internal combustion, electricity, information technology and communications technology, the productive power of labour was increased manyfold. But it did not produce a commensurate increase either in wages or in the return to capital. Wages remained stuck at the minimum that labour would accept.

The end product was a few fat-cat landowners and a mass of poor, a situation which was only alleviated in just a few places, by social democratic governments. Even in the most successful of these, Sweden, the situation is sliding back again with increasing inequalities.

Such a state of affairs was predicted and explained by the neglected economist Henry George. But unless developing countries acknowledge the problem and act on it, aid is a process for soaking the poor in first world countries, to enrich the privileged in the developing world.

lördag 6 september 2008

The Cupboard is bare

The cupboard of ideas, that is. The British economy is going through a bad patch and headed for worse. The essential emptiness of the New Labour project is now revealed. There is talk of the "total destruction" of the Labour Party. The Conservatives have got nothing to offer. Cutting waste and inheritance tax are their big ideas, as though cutting taxes on the dead will do anything for the living. If the Liberal Democrats have anything useful in their cupboard,, it is at the back of the top shelf, and well hidden. The Green Party is too small to matter. They have a few good policies, also on the top shelf and their members do not understand their significance. Some politicians talk about raising the retiring age and making benefit scroungers go back to work, though they do not explain how that is meant to happen with unemployment now above 6%. The party conference season is beginning. I fear it will just reveal the emptiness.

How has this come about? Intellectual laziness, mainly. People will not ask questions but accept what they hear and read. It starts even before school. "Shut up and stop asking questions" is the stock response to naturally curious children. It continues in the classroom, where children are scared to ask questions for fear that they will be made fun of by their classmates or teachers. Instead, they sit and pretend they understand. By the time they are ten, the habit is grained in.

The economics columnists are a high-level example of the malaise. Why they say tends to consist of perceptive observations, faultily analysed to the point that their pieces do not cohere. Often, it would be possible to challenge them with a question or two which would force them to admit that they did not understand what was going on. A famous economist, Professor Wynne Godley, once wrote that "economics is in a state of great confusion... with no accepted body of theory". If I recall, the article was in the Financial Times and it was in the early 1980s, perhaps 1981. At a popular level, the lack of understanding is evident in the on-line comments and letters to the press. And then the whole political debate ends up by being about personalities, which effectively puts a stop to discussion about policies.

I would like to be able to say that the forthcoming party conferences will be interesting. They will undoubtedly be turbulent but they will not be enlightening in the way one would want.

fredag 5 september 2008

Only four weeks to go

It struck me this evening that I will be on the ferry back to Britain in just four weeks time. When I read the news I cannot work up any enthusiasm about the thought. The British goverment has got the economy into a complete mess and made everyone poorer in the process. They have failed in their fundamental duty. The terrifying thought is that the Conservatives would have done no better.

Can anyone be blamed? The politicians? Perhaps. They are only trying to do what people want. So came the rise of the focus group, which turned leaders into followers. What about the experts who advise the politicians? Partly, because economics turned from being a developing science into semi-quackery some time around 1885.

Then again, people have freely fought to get onto the "property ladder", without thinking it was riddled with woodworm. Many imagined they could make a fast buck, as house prices rose by the week. And borrowed more than their houses were worth, or against the rising value of houses that had already been paid for. Then there are the banks, who lent recklessly to people who they must have realised might not be able to pay the money back. And people's fantasy expectations of politicians determine who goes in for politics and who gets elected. The idea of governing by focus group was also corrupting, as policies degenerated into panic measures in response to the last thing to hit the headlines.

So Britain's problems have been mostly brought on by the British as a whole. They have got the economy and politicians and the country they deserve. What an utterly depressing thought. I don't want to feel part of it. I don't want to have anything to do with it.

The locals here might be a bit uptight, but they are sane and usually anxious to please, which makes life so much easier. Must organise my trip back before I leave. I feel more comfortable with a return ticket in my wallet booked and paid for.

torsdag 4 september 2008

Crash bang wallop goes the UK economy

I have been looking back over my previous blogs from a year or so back. At the time, I notice that the main economc concerns were about unaffordable housing and its rising costs. In one of my comments, I suggested that there was a crash imminent. My first on Northern Rock was in mid September, and soon after I noted that it was the harbinger of the major economic collapse that is now under way.

How many of the professionals got that right? The most accurate predictions, as usual, came from people like myself who subscribe to the economic analysis developed by Henry George in the 1870s. It is not a matter of being a genius, but simply of following the most reliable body of theory available. There is no satisfaction in getting predictions like this right. We are all poorer as a result of the British government's reckless policies, as becomes evident when one is exchanging one's UK pounds into petrocurrencies like the Norwegian kronor. The pound was a petrocurrency once, but unlike the Norwegians we squandered the benefits. It is frustrating to have to stand on the sidelines and watch the preventable crash from happening and people getting hurt.

tisdag 2 september 2008

Unlimited toilet paper!

Unlimited toilet paper!
Originally uploaded by Savages911

And so the UK Pound slides down, now against both the Euro and the Dollar too, which was itself in trouble only weeks ago. Since the Euro has lost value against goods and services, so matters are much worse than they seem.

The government does not know what to do. In the short term it cannot do anything. If the interest rate is put up, it will hold the value of the £ but aggravate recession. If it goes down, it will aggravate inflation. The mistake was made a decade ago, when it was decided to use interest rates as the means for achieving price stabiity. Of couse it did not work. There were people who said this at the time. Come the end of the boom cycle and the government finds itself powerless, since all options must fail.

I do not blame the government particularly. A Conservative government would have been in the same predicament. I blame the academics who promote false theories of economics, as they have done since the rise of the Austrian School of economics over a century ago.

There are powerful, though numerically small, vested interests who benefit from the confusion, as they are the ones who gain from governments' inability to deal with the problem.

Many people have an inkling that there is something fundamentally wrong but they cannot pin it down, and there is a reluctance to be honest, so long as people have a chance of making a fast buck out of the misery. This is evident from the comments made on newspaper web sites in response to articles by the economics correspondents. Using the economic theory available to them, the analysis the journalists produce is invariably defective. The comments made by the public often manage to pick out the flaws in the arguments, though without a coherent body of alternative theory, they are unable to articulate their thoughts coherently and seem just to be confused.

But there is a perfectly respectable body of economic theory available which would enable people to make sense of what is happening and come up with alternatives. This theory lies in the direct line of evolution from the classical economists, starting with the Physiocrats and continuing with Adam Smith (who is usually read selectively by conservatives), David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. Last in the line was Henry George, who put the whole subject together in a coherent analysis. Unfortunately, the implications were that policies were required which would have threatened the powerful vested interests. Instead, the world got the ultimately futile Marxist revolution. The lack of sound economic theory leaves politicians with no more power than doctors had before bacteria and viruses were discovered.

What happened to economics? The Austrian School theories came along at just the right time to cast such a fog of confusion over the study of economics that these psudo-theories were encouraged and became the economics orthodoxy. The result is the confusion that plagues modern economic policy-making, to the extent that most people will admit that they don't know anything about the subject. It is untrue. If they were to begin to think reflectively and honestly on their own economic circumstances, they will be able to cut their way through this confusion.

måndag 1 september 2008

The Shape of British politics

House of Commons interior (parliamentary copyright)

Members of the British House of Commons sit opposite each other in facing rows. The layout was inherited from the middle ages, when the first meetings were held in a chapel with a similar layout. There is a government and an opposition, and the confrontational approach is reinforced by the first-past-the-post electoral system.

In an interview a few weeks ago, one MP praised the system as ensuring that everything gets properly discussed and both sides of every question are aired and thrashed out. He referred to its origin in the arts of debate developed in classical Greece and Rome.

Confrontation is not a good principle and in a fast-changing world it is not serving the country well. There are usually more than two sides to an issue. Confrontation leaves no room for a third point of view. Worse still, such a system absolutely prevents a shifting of the fundamental terms of any argument, since both parties to the debate are sharing the underlying assumptions. It also serves as a bad model for conducting discussion both in the public realm and privately. Institutionalised confrontation is not something to be proud of.

What will the US presidential candidates actually do?

If the Republican McCain gets elected, nothing much will change. But then nothing much is expected. What if Obama wins? He is still committed to the futile action in Afghanistan. He will also inherit the economic problems that have bubbled up. What will he actually do about those? He utters fine words but seems to have no policies that would address the USA's problems. A bit like Tony Blair in 1997, then. Expect nothing from him either.

Gissa vart spårvagnar går?

Göteborgs spårvagnar rullar i tjänst utan linjeskyltar. Problemet uppståd i början av förre sommar. Förklaringen är att skyltar använder ett...