POWER 2010 and Conservative Policy

POWER 2010 must be pleased with themselves, as the 4th highest rated idea in its campaign so far is one which is not unlikely to make it into law, as it is something the Conservatives were considering back in 2007.

The idea is “English Votes on English Laws” and it dredges up the decade-old West Lothian question, which has proved unsolvable so far, though Labour have actually attempted solving it, contrary to the popular opinion conspiracy theory that they haven’t because they’re held to ransom by Scottish MPs. However, the regional assemblies referendum failed, meaning that England is as of yet left relatively untouched by Devolution, the GLA aside.

The POWER 2010 solution is astonishingly poor quality, something it shares in common with the Conservative from 2007. It is essentially the same — that Scottish and Welsh MPs should be forbidden from voting on “English” policy. Allow me to describe the number of ways in which the policy wouldn’t work:

a) As Ken Clarke himself recognised when talking about the policy proposals to come out a few years ago, you can’t attach this solution to committee level, where policies that effect England probably take place in nearly every committee. So Clarke recognises the divisive nature of the policy before the analysis has even properly started, something that makes it unlikely to be a good solution on any level.

b) Before you even think of forbidding Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs from voting on English matters, you have to formalise devolution and turn it into federalism, to recognise the devolved powers constitutionally. This could prove more tricky than many people might think, particularly in Northern Ireland.

c) The second argument provided in favour of the policy on the POWER 2010 campaign is that “It gives the English nation a political voice at the national level, which at the moment it lacks.” This is nonsense. The English would still have one voice, whilst the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish would have two. Enforcing new regulations about the voting rigths of MPs from these countries doesn’t change that fact. If you want to give the English nation a political voice at the national level, you need devolve power to England separately.

d) Now we get into the constitutional absurdities that are attached to this sort of solution. Imagine a government which achieved its majority through Welsh and Scottish MPs, but an opposition which had a majority among English MPs. This would demonstrate how shallow a solution the idea really is — you wouldn’t have two governments, one for England, one for the UK, after all. You would still have one government, but English policy would become a no-go area, for fear of the opposition dictating policy to the government. This would not be good for national unity.

I really had hoped that the consultation process that POWER 2010 held would have achieved better refinements than this. At the end of the day, the only real way to achieve equality in democratic status between the constituent nations is to have equal devolved settlements. This means either an English Parliament, or regional assemblies, or even more local reclaiming of power. But it does seem a point worth making that devolution was never a policy designed with the intention of being an equal settlement. It was meant to redress what was viewed as a skewed balance of power between the constituent countries of the Union — an effect caused by England’s dominance, at least partly exacerbated by the majoritarian system of election. Given this, I personally think there are more pressing reforms to consider.

Open Up, round II

Open Up has a new post:

The Chief Whips send out weekly circulars to “their” MPs notifying them of parliamentary business. The circulars use a code involving underlining. If a vote is underlined once, the Whip considers it routine, and attendance is “optional”. Items underlined twice are more important: attendance is required, unless that MP can organise someone from the opposing party to be absent as well, (a bit more like musical chairs than democracy). Any vote underlined three times means that failure to attend, and vote with the party, will result in disciplinary action. What disciplinary action usually means is expulsion from the party, at least temporarily.

…Open Up dearly need to speak to some MPs who have defied a three-line whip — such as, say, Tom Harris. To claim that the immediate response to a defiance of a three-line whip is temporary expulsion from the party is nonsense. It can happen, but it’s dependent on many other factors — only when party leaders are at the end of their tether, such as in John Major’s case over Maastricht, will they even want to consider it, as it could breed some pretty dangerous rebels.

Open Up go on to state:

Because parties, not constituents, choose who gets to stand in elections, this effectively puts that MP on notice that he or she may well lose their job at the next General Election.

…which leads on, as you might have guessed, to their favourite hobby horse, Open Primaries:

What has this got to do with Open Primaries? Well, right now party Whips can dominate MPs, because it is political parties who chose whether an MP gets selected or not. If voters got to choose who got selected, the Whips’ power would be substantially diminished.

…except, as you might have guessed, there is more to it than this. Parties generally tend to treat their MPs from marginal constituencies a little more better, as they’re aware of the damage that could potentially be caused to their standing in the constituency by a row between party leadership and their representative. Parties also tend to treat established names (a long-standing representative) better, so they in practice get away with more (I seriously doubt CCHQ thought of seriously disciplining Ken Clarke when he rebelled over their Lisbon policy prior to entering the Shadow Cabinet, because of his long-standing status within the party). So the problem is, in fact, mainly disparity between the way different MPs are treated as mcuh as it is anything to do with party selection.

Even if primaries were introduced, the chances are that it wouldn’t fix this. As an early episode of The West Wing showed, primaries mean that candidates are just as likely, if not more, to need publicity support in their campaigns from the leadership. Primaries also undeniably mean, for the United States, the campaigns have to be longer, more exensive and more time-consuming. This means that, actually, candidates are not actually less reliant upon campaign support, but more. The difference is merely that instead of being reliant upon the local party, they are reliant upon big funding, and have no way around that, even if the party might wish to sponser candidates unable to attract this sort of investment. I’ll leave you to decide which is the better scenario.

Open Up are quite right that party selection, and whipping, are a problem. But they’re a problem primarily because of the existence of many safe seats, and the difficulty of swings against an incumbent achieving meaningful status because of the risk of splitting the vote. If Open Up wish to achieve long-term improvement, they should target the existing inequities in the electoral system, not strive to add new ones.

One for the Handbook (literally, for once)

“One for the Handbook” refers to a new policy idea I have thought up, and so literally wish to enter into the (virtual) Political Handbook, rather than merely blog about.

My best blogs are reactive. In fact, my best ideas are reactive, even musically, I think. There’s something reactive about every creative human impulse — the best creativity needs to respond to something. Whether it’s my taking inspiration from popular songs such as “Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows”, “The way you look tonight” and “Bring me sunshine” (Fantasy on Sunshine, a sonata for solo violin, for any who happen to be interested in my music), or simply being inspired by a long walk or pleasant day in the traditional style, human creativity is rarely, if ever, without an impulse it reacts to. The same follows with policy. Government is the most reactive concept on earth — it exists purely in reaction to, and for the intention of correcting, social problems. (Whose problems, and who the solutions benefit are, of course, up for grabs.)

James Graham on Quaequam blog! has written, every once in a while, some very interesting articles on Intellectual Property and Copyright laws. I mean interesting, for once, in a most complimentary and not at all sarcastic or euphemism-laden way, as I like the thinking very much. It sparks off my own, very embryonic, thinking on the subject. This is why I’ve linked to the blog and not a particular article (the current article is dedicated to the subject, unless you’re reading this in a couple of days, when it could be off the front page), as this isn’t reacting against anything in particular, unlike most of my “response” articles to bloggers/columnists.

James’ analysis of existing copyright legislation is a devastating critique of the recording industry at the moment and, for the most part so far as I can see, correct. Copyright legislation at the moment exists mainly to the benefit of those who exploit musical talent rather than artists themselves.

I’m a little worried about coming across so Marxist, and indeed cannot explain why I feel such greater revulsion against the concept of “selling” intellectual labour than I do selling of labour in general. Now I come to think of it, though, it may be more about the concept of selling rights of property than rights of labour. I generally don’t have a problem with artists working for larger companies, with them making a rational decision to sell their labour for a fair price (note, a fair price, not any price). I guess it’s more the idea of companies obtaining a fundamental ownership of the value of the art itself, a sense of ownership of the actual artistic endeavour being transferred, that riles me. As an artist, I obviously have a clear prejudice here, and cannot say that it is logical that I should feel less bothered by, say, the selling of conventional property that one might have produced.

Except that in many cases, property one creates cannot be argued as decisively to be your original work as art can. After all, in typing for a company as a receptionist, though doubtlessly a skilled job, the words created are of little value to me and require little skill of artistic creativity, though very different skills are required. However, in typing this blog, assuming for the moment that I am a talented writer, I could be creating something of genuinely new and irreplaceable value, a work of unique art (yeah, right!)

My point is, of course, far from black and white, and is one which would invariably travel, if it were allowed, to the debate as to what constitutes art in the first place, and where creativity has been applied as opposed to simple activity. Yet I do believe that such a distinction exists. This will doubtlessly put me at odds at many who believe that the concept of creativity is an illusion, that it disguises truth, and that it interferes with rationality, etc., etc.. I can’t argue with that — it is too fundamental a disagreement. So I can merely use this as a starting point.

I do therefore believe that a case for intellectual ownership of a work one can produce easily without creativity is far more difficult to make than for one where creativity is required, and the outcome is unique. Defining this is the problem, and I would not for one moment assume that I am capable of defining where a work becomes a work of art and ceases to be a work of mundane application of uncreative, robotic skills. Clearly creativity and innovation are not enough, as they are also applied to many business decisions and strategies, the copyrighting of which would be patent nonsense. Clearly something of unique and irreplaceable value has to be produced, but here again we come up against a minefield of definition.

Even so, difficulties of definition aside, I do think there is a clear place for intellectual copyright, and moreover, a clear case for some form of limitation on the extent to which it can be “sold” and “purchased”. Moreover, simply because definition is difficult, does not mean that these rights are not needed. I think that on a fundamental level, it is obvious that they are: I think it is obviously false to state that “music should be free” as it is to state that “information should be free”. Neither are free. No “should” will change this, both have a cost at the original level of production.

There are, of course, models to get around this. Spotify is an example. Yet I doubt that such models are capable of covering all content; what is more, even if they could I am not sure whether I like the implications for artists if they are limited to one means of distributing their content, and the potential for abuse that could follow. The advantages of a level of copyright protection are that artists may have a certain amount of personal autonomy, answering to no-one, being truly self-employed.

But, as already stated, I am in clear agreement that the current set-up favours business over artist, and is not about protection of the individual. Such a claim would be laughable. So what can be done to reverse this? I have a couple of ideas:

a) Firstly, remove the inheritance principle. Though I might feel differently about this were I a parent, I hope I would hold to my principles: no potential child of mine should be able to benefit, once they are an adult, from my work as a musician and composer. They would hold no greater intellectual right than anyone else, even if they had immeasurable artistic ability of their own.

b) For obvious reasons, an copyright expiration upon death might not be the safest of policies. Nor from a perspective of equity does it seem reasonable — there are various arguments at play here, but in terms of a “leaving something for your children if you die suddenly” question, the most equitable arrangement that I can think of off-hand would be around 20 years, a generation.

c) Things are complicated, however, by the factor of deferred success. It is possible that I may write something that, having left the undiscerning public cold for 20 years, suddenly becomes very popular. In which case, I am shafted if the limit is inflexible. I therefore suggest that the initial limit be a simple one on what your work can earn to an unlimited extent, but an additional time limit exists as to what your work can earn in total.

This could work two ways: it could be “on top” of whatever your work earns in the first 20 years, or it could be including the first 20 years of earnings. The latter concept would be more socialist in concept, setting a more “absolute” price on what a work of art should earn, for this reason, I am tempted to disown it, though the former concept also does this to an extent. Either way, it could serve a severe limitation upon the ability of artists or companies to exploit a popular work to reap huge rewards through limiting distribution. There would have to be an absolute limit, perhaps something like 75 years, upon which any work is guaranteed to enter public domain.

d) I must confess to be unaware of the law surrounding the extent to which the copyright of a work can be “sold on”, so here I enter the area of speculation. I believe fundamentally that the extent one can sell or purchase copyright should be limited to so protect the original producer, or that the limit of 20 years should be binding upon anyone who is benefiting from “purchased” copyright, and either revert back to the producer afterward, or, if they are dead, become public domain.

This is all very initial. I am unaware of many very important facts to this debate, and this serves just as much as an attempt to define some of my thinking as it does any detailed policy argument from me. However, I hope it proves to be a constructive addition to the debate.

My questions to and answers from Vernon Bogdanor on Primaries:

About a week ago, I participated in a “question and answer” submission set up by “Open Up”, to professor Vernon Bogdanor (professor of government at Oxford University, and one-time Tutor to David Cameron). Having been impressed by Bogdanor’s argument before, I was intrigued to see him as a strong supporter of Open Primaries, particularly given his support for introducing Single Transferable Vote, and believe that Primaries would be a step in this direction (rather than away, which is my view, as I have blogged about on here before).

I put three questions to him, and wasn’t disappointed to see that he only answered two (after all, there were quite a few contributions, and I was, thinking over it, quite lucky to get more than one answered). Here are the questions, with his answers:

Question: Won’t open primaries vastly lengthen and increase the expense of the electoral process, and make life more difficult for minority parties, independents and candidates from disadvantaged circumstances? Won’t they increase the problems surrounding campaign funding, many of which are evident from the US system?

Professor Bogdanor: To avoid this outcome, I think there should be a spending cap administered by the Electoral Commission.

Question: Could open primaries lead to a further entrenched two-party system, where the largest parties become the easiest option for those seeking to enter politics, to the detriment of pluralism and diversity; and the smaller parties find it impossible to compete, having insufficient candidates to make primaries feasible?

Professor Bogdanor: The truth is that nobody knows. The most likely outcome is that it will increase enthusiasm for democracy and so help all parties.

To be fair, I believe his response to the first question is quite reasonable. Though, as I blogged on The Daily Soapbox, a spending cap could well be utterly insufficient in terms of helping disadvantaged candidates and preventing primaries from shifting the burden further against them; it has to be recognised that this is to a large degree speculation (particularly as I am not aware of many comparisons other than the United States, which has lax campaign funding laws). A spending cap could certainly help avoid some of the more serious problems of campaign funding in Primaries, although in my personal opinion it would not go nearly further enough, and does not address the problem that those already at a disadvantage in the electoral system will be disproportionately effected by the simple cost of running a primary campaign, cap or no cap.

I regard the second answer as a dodge, unfortunately — it is possible that I worded the question badly (I am notoriously bad at concise summations, which explains the general length of my articles on here, facebook and The Daily Soapbox). Of course, the fact that no-one knows is an obvious truth (one could call it a ‘truism’), but the fact is that an increase in enthusiasm for parties obviously does not equate to something which “helps all parties” — indeed, a look at the US shows that in many ways, they are more interested in participation and democracy than we are, but despite this have a far more entrenched two-party system. Parties are things which arise out of democracy, but are entirely pragmatic arrangements, and beyond the existence of an opposition, bear little relation to the level of democracy.

The simple fact is that it is obvious that small parties would struggle to compete, because they face a choice of either holding primaries — and thus playing a larger role in the local democratic process — or fielding as many candidates as possible on the national level. This would effectively put them between a rock and a hard place, particularly if they were in the position of emerging between minority status, and mainstream status. It is easy to see how primaries could entrench the two-party system, therefore — at least under a single-member system.

The other point about Primaries making the two main parties the easiest route into politics is also unchallenged by Professor Bogdanor’s reply, and would go some way to explaining why in the US, despite the greater prevalence of democracy (which may or may not be a good thing), the two party system is more entrenched. When discussing third parties in American politics with my excellent A level teacher, one of his points concerning their lack of success was “what’s the point, when the two parties are broadchurch, and can just as easily accommodate people’s views?” Ultimately, it is this which exposes the false equation the Professor makes between pluralism and democracy; democracy is ultimately about participation, and if it is easier to participate in mainstream parties then the mainstream parties will disproportionally benefit.

So overall, fair first question response (though for obvious reasons, I disagree that it would be sufficient), slightly disappointed by the second response, which I feel would probably be ripped apart in a Oxford politics class, given that we were trained to deconstruct that in A level politics. But fair play to the Professor for taking the time to engage in the first place; he must have had a lot of questions to respond to!

EDIT: I have just noticed this question, later down on the page:

Question: What about smaller parties? Should they have open primaries too? Won’t their comparative lack of funding put them at a disadvantage?

Professor Bogdanor: Yes, smaller parties should have open primaries too. The question of whether they will be at a disadvantage raises the whole issue of whether there should be state funding of political parties, on which views legitimately differ.

(Not asked by myself)

I don’t wish to tackle his views on state funding of political parties here (or what I assume to be his views, because as he indicates, it would be the most obvious way of correcting this problem), merely the assumption that this is the only disadvantage to smaller parties. It patently is not — funding is certainly one problem, but simply numbers is another — a small party, however well funded, is still small, it still has to face a shortage of candidates, and putting itself at a disadvantage if it is to grant electors a choice of more than one candidate in a primary.

I’m also going to be slightly pedantic, and also address the final question and answer:

Question: Is there any evidence that open primaries will lead to better government?

Professor Bogdanor: “Better government” is in part a subjective matter. Open primaries will lead to more participation and therefore better democracy.

…pedantic, because I wish to question the equation of greater participation and better democracy, and undermine a previous argument I made slightly. Though democracy, as I said earlier, is ultimately about participation, it is also very much affected by the level of pluralism, and it does not follow that increased participation will necessarily strengthen democracy. I would like to reference the State of California (and the state of California) as an example here, where referendums and initiatives are relatively easy, and there have been widespread accusations of interest groups sabotaging the democratic wishes of communities at large. Also, unhelpful laws have been introduced which hinder representative democracy, namely a requirement for a 2/3 supermajority in order to ratify the State budget, which recently nearly made California the first State in US history to go bankrupt.

A citizens’ convention is the last thing we need.

I’ve been following the ever-ongoing debate over constitutional reform in recent weeks, and one thing has struck me very strongly, is that despite a whole load of interesting and diverse ideas, advocates of reform seem to be susceptible to one idea in particular, one that strikes me as going against the history of successful British constitutional reform, particularly that of the last decade. It is the suggestion that an “anti-politics” citizens’ convention would be the most progressive means of drawing up root and branch constitutional reform.

Leaving aside the loaded term “root and branch” for one moment, which most campaigners seem to think signifies a positive, meaningful approach to reform (despite the fact that careful, small c conservative reforms have in general been very successful over the last decade), one wonders why reformers think this is so guaranteed to deliver a consensual, widely-approaved set of rules. It is possibly due to the fallacy the left in particular are prone to, in thinking that if you split society up into demographic focus groups then it offers a fool-proof way of assessing the views of wider society, but it also seems to strike a very definite “anti-politics” note, encouraged by the quite ridiculous blow-up over the expenses scandal.

Now, it is perfectly acceptable to state that the Expenses scandal was wrong. It was wrong with a capital W, but the way it has been drawn out and exaggerated has very much to do with media market dynamics, and very little to do with serious politics. Just as welfare dependency stories are a money spinner for the tabloids (and unfortunately the broadsheets all too often), despite the stasticial insignificance of the amount of public money wasted, as well as the injustice when compared to wider social injustice; so the expenses scandal is a footnote compared to the wider flaws of our political system. This is why, in the saner circles of the left, the topic quickly shifted to constitutional reform, despite such a topic being almost wholly unrelated to expenses rules.

But due to such a shift, some people have got the two confused. Some have gone so far as to state that the expenses scandal has been as severe a crisis in politics as that which resulted in the Glorious revolution, or the civil war. This is arrant nonsense. What has happened is the same as regularly happens from time to time in all democracies, save the unusual aspect of this having been a scandal of parliamentary politics, rather than executive politics. The media has seized on a distasteful story that, to our dislike, reminds us that politicians are as prone to failure as the rest of us, and that given their privileged status have exploited it in ways rather more than the rest of us could hope for ourselves, and as a result it has been extremely profitable for the media, and extremely juicy for us. I cannot say that I myself have not been amused and satisfied by the chance to pontificate on a scandal as delicious as this one, and looking at the reaction of the wider public, I hope I will be forgiven for saying that many seem to have gained even more enjoyment out of it than me.

The truth is, people like to pontificate, and they like to be outraged. They like an outlet, both for their anger and for their desire for more interesting things, and the expenses scandal provided both. Comparing this to the establishment of the constitutional monarchy, or the constitutional upheaval caused by the civil war and re-establishment of the monarchy, is quite simply fatuous. And it has to stop, because common sense shows that a convention should only be needed if there is no other choice.

If a convention were established, I can forsee one of two directions it could take:

Firstly, it could become like the glorified independent review. It would deliberate, it would fall off the sheets of the papers after a couple of interesting weeks, only to reappear suddenly when people had almost forgotten of its existence. The grand pronouncements would then turn into political football with the established chambers for debating and politics, the House of Commons, which would turn into a grand stalemate that lost the interest of both the public and the media. Come the general election, the far more interesting question of who should form the next government would spring up, and the convention would be kicked into the long grasses.

Alternative, the convention could actually be given real powers, and parliament prorogued. Then what could happen could be even more alarming: the convention might start believing that it was actually qualified to draw up a new constitution within a few months, look all over the world for inspiration, draw up a marvellous constitutional curry, and serve it to the electorate and head of state convinced of its brilliance. The public would then be excited by the new political system for a year or two, until the novelty had worn off, at which time the media would dig around for another juicy scandal (pork barrel politics, this time?), find it, dig into it with relish and we would start moaning about the fact that our political system was broken again.

Here is the thing: our political system is imperfect, but it sure as hell isn’t broken — yet. Start treating it as something which can be ripped down and redesigned at the click of a convention’s fingers and it sure as hell might become more unstable. The British constitution might be uncodified, and as barmy as The Unspoken Constitution suggests, but the fact remains the it works in as much as the people are still engaged in it. This means that trying to establish a glorious “anti-Parliament” to do the work of constitutional reform for us, instead of using the existing political institutions, simply goes against the grain of common sense.

Why does the idea of a citizens’ convention sound so wonderful? Because we, the public, as a general whole never make mistakes? Because we’re far more in touch with each other’s reality than our political masters? David Wilshire might not know the minimum wage, but the public sure as hell don’t know the average wage, according to surveys done in the summer. People might be in touch with their own realities — though there’s no guaranteeing of that — but they sure as hell aren’t going to be any more in touch with others’ than politicans are.

If you look at the Philadelphia convention, who drew up the world-famous US constitution, though some were undeniably forefigures of the very real fight for independence, they were hardly a cross-representative sample of the unwashed masses. Despite drafting what is considered one of the finest codified constitutions in the western world, there are still plenty of flaws to be found within it. There is no evidence to suggest that selecting a convention by lot would lead to anything anywhere near as fine being drawn up, and plenty to suggest it could be a disaster. If we are to get true reform, it must unite as many factions of the public, including the “political class”, as possible. Arguing for a lot-selected convention, at a time when it is not necessary and would be unnecessarily costly in a time of recession, is only going to add to those who fail to take the question of constitutional reform seriously.

Phil Collins and the latest column response

I should really keep a notebook of all the fatuous columns in the Times that I respond to — or try to, and definitely wish to — on this blog. Perhaps that way I could find it easier to filter out the dross and not be bothered by it.

Phil Collins, writing with apparent authority in the Times, states that “It doesn’t matter what age your child starts school“. Now, that may not sound all that fatuous to you, and indeed I’m inclined to agree with his view that children don’t really need to start school full-time until 7 (though whether their parents need them to is another matter); though Collins probably misrepresents the Swedish system, where there is probably a reasonable transition between pre-school and school, to the extent that it isn’t as dissimilar to our system as many make out.

But the subtitle is “Your genes are more important than education”, and here the fatuousness becomes a bit more apparent. I’m not sure where Phil Collins gets his scientific backing for such a confident statement, and one that would appear to go against the grain of real-life evidence, but he doesn’t cite to it in the text, so obviously it isn’t all that important. Even if there were a general link, however, to suggest this, Collins would still be wrong, because the real world is stuffed plain to see with exceptions.

Such as myself. Primary school washed over me, and believe me that you need to experience that to realise that primary school does teach you something. In my case, it taught me to read, write and add up to a reasonable extent, but that was the bare basics. I tended to daydream in tests, and lose concentration, which means that even if I had had a stunningly high IQ despite failing to learn most information that wasn’t contained in a work of fiction, I probably wouldn’t have passed an IQ-based common entrance exam. This may have been down to mild Aspergers syndrome, it may have been something else, it may just have been developmental issues. Ultimately, I don’t know, but what I do know is that if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to secure a place in a semi-independent music school, my academic future might have been far less pleasant.

Certainly, if I’d been tested for either a Grammar school, or to see whether I was University-capable, at that age, I would have probably come out negative. So would John Prescott, who managed to go to University despite failing the common entrance. So would many people with dyslexia, discalclia and dispraxia whose problems are overlooked by the education system (and it does happen, just as much as the many people who are allegedly wrongly diagnosed). In fact, so would all the people who failed to get anything out of their education because of bad circumstances in their background and development, which inhibited their true skills. There’s a reason education is such a long process, and why we don’t start selecting at the young age we used to; and that is that all the evidence shows that it was a policy which didn’t work, and led to many talented people slipping through the net.

This isn’t to say that the comprehensive system is necessarily working best, either, and that there isn’t scope and potential for selection within education. But rigid selection, with an “in-or-out” attitude is bound to fail, because schools aren’t perfect, and they never will be. It’s bound to treat the pupil harshly, as if they’re a commodity that can be analysed in simple terms at the age of 11. And so attempting to draw from age someone starts school not mattering that half of their years in education do not matter, and that ‘genes’ are the more important factor is just plain wrong.

It’s impossible to assess exactly what the makeup and implications of a person’s ‘genes’ are anyway, which adds to the fatuousness. But at the end of the day, what was the point of the provocation? Nothing, it would seem — the valuable content of that column could be summed up in a couple of sentences, if not less. Collins attempts to twist a perfeclty sensible idea in nonsensical ways — and it ends up shooting him in the foot, anyway, as would be patently obvious to most readers that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and fails to back up his attempts to stir controversy. The Times should feature better content than this.

Free Markets and Property Rights 2: Education, Society and Government

Having now demonstrated the need for government within a Free Market Society, the inherent conflict between absolute property rights and free markets, and the self-terminating and self-contradictory nature of both concepts in the previous article; I now feel it might be entertaining to move on to an area of more practical policy: education.

The liberating potential of a free market might be argued to depend in no small way upon education. By education, one should assume for the rest of my note in no small way that I do not merely mean education of the academic, schools kind, but of the whole variety of skills and training that exist in addition to compulsory education.

After all, education is everything. If you have no education, you can only apply skills that are self-taught (which would most usually take far more time and effort than having the benefit of someone’s help and expertise) or find work that requires little to no skills. It seems obvious, then, that the breadth of one’s education influences to no small extent the liberting potential of the free market grants.

What also seems obvious is that it influences the playing field. For the free market to be free, remember, there can be no ability for established interests to receive an inherent advantage — the point of the free market is, after all, to work entirely on the basis of free competition and trade. However, if only the wealthy have purchasing power of a comprehensive (in the true meaning of the word, as opposed to the political meaning) education, this clearly constitutes a starting advantage for a set of established interests, which goes against the principle at the heart of a free market.

This is, at heart, the most basic objection to the idea of government only intervening to protect property rights and freedom of trade and competition, however, there are others.

Firstly, one has to ask the question as to what makes a government stable. In a debate I have had over the pros and cons of the idea of meritocracy, my most basic objection was that it restricts the base of those influencing government to an inherently unstable leve, where the power is disproportionately concentrated to a set number of people, and therefore no incentive exists to help those outside of this set of people, which contributes to the creation of a social divide.

Though democracy is an inherently more stable concept, as everyone has a certain amount of influence upon government, there are still far more considerations than merely the voting base. There is wealth, which we have gone over in the previous analysis, too great a disproportion in the distribution of which, or too great the scope of purchasing power, resulting in the domination of government by the minority that holds such power. As we have seen, however, education helps to further entrench this imbalance of market power: which would mean that not only would a social divide exist due to an unequal distribution of social power, but all the tools would exist to cement its existance. Or in other words; Disraeli’s “two nations”.

The consequences of this could be considerable, in either direction. Firstly, the privileged section of society might feel a need to protect itself further from the perpetually disadvantaged section of society, and influence government to this end, leading to the re-establishment of a more formal class system, and thus an end to the free market. Secondly, the disadvantaged section of society might get discontent enough to the extent of either revolution, or forcing through radical socail change: which would again mean an end to the existence of an entirely free market.

Of course there is an obvious solution to this: public education policy. The very mention of this idea as necessary to the sustaining of a free market would be enough to make the ears of the APRFM school turn collectively (and individually, of course) green, but we have another classic conundrum here: stick to only private supply of education, and the market is undermined by established interests and the development of a class system, and society becomes so divided as to undermine the legitimacy of both government and economic system. Have a public education policy, though, and you acknowledge the limitations of the market and violate the property rights of some for the benefit of others.

So, at the end of the day, we see that the market is not really absolutely free or absolutely liberating either way, whether APRFM were to get their way or not. So sensibly, things boil down to what’s best for people collectively, or “what’s best for society”. Who’dathunkit? There’s more to society than the free market and property rights?