Thursday, 30 June 2011
So why has there been a new baby boom without a war for an excuse?
Increased government support for families – notably the introduction of the Working Families’ Tax Credit (WFTC) in 1999 and greater generosity of means-tested Income Support (IS) payments – has coincided with a rise in births among couples who left school at 16 relative to those who stayed in education after 18.
According to research summarised in the Autumn 2008 issue of Research in Public Policy, the probability of having a birth increased by 1.2 percentage points among women with low education, which equates to nearly 45,000 additional births. The study also finds that the decision whether to have children – or when to begin having them – seems more susceptible to financial incentives than the decision over how many to have. The UK birth rate has increased steadily since 2001 and now stands at an average of 1.9 births per woman, the highest level since 1974.
Some women told researchers they had stopped using contraception. The more generous welfare system is being credited with contributing to an increase in the overall UK birth rate, which is now at its highest level since 1974. The report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies concludes: "We have shown that more generous Government support coincided with an increase in births among the group most affected by the [welfare] reforms.
The study says that the introduction of Working Families Tax Credit and an increase in Income Support between 1999 and 2003 triggered a rise in taxpayer spending on children "unprecedented" in the previous 30 years. Because the reforms were targeted at the poorest families with children, the value of their state handouts increased by 10 per cent of their total household income. For couples who both left school at 16, the reforms meant an increase in benefits of 45 per cent, from £39 a week to £56.76. This is a rise almost twice as much as the handouts for which a couple who went on to sixth form college would be eligible, which increased by 25 per cent to £37.27 a week. The researchers then looked at fertility rates both before the reforms were announced and after, for a sample of 101,330 women aged between 20 and 45. They found a large increase in the first year after the benefits were made more generous, particularly among women who had left school as soon as possible. The results show a 15 per cent increase in the probability of having a baby in the "low education group".
People will have different views about whether a larger population is a good or bad thing. What cannot be rationally disputed is that dipping into taxpayers pockets to encourage the births of a whole new generation of welfare dependants can only take us closer to the economic collapse that state spending and borrowing has speeded us toward. Labour justified this handout on the grounds of reducing child poverty. The result will be lots more children in homes where inadequate parents don't have the will or the ability to raise these children to be responsible and contributing members of society.
LibCon ministers and the London Mayor are muttering darkly about how most trade union members did not vote for the strikes and that it might be necessary to change the law if workers persist in disrupting public and emergency services in this way. But what is the legal position and would it be right to make striking more difficult?
These problems have a long history. The Combination Act 1799, and the Master and Servant Act 1823 stipulated that all workmen were subject to criminal penalties for disobedience, and calling for strikes was punished as an "aggravated" breach of contract. But then the position was slowly liberalised and through the Trade Union Act 1871 and the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act 1875 trade unions were legitimised. Toward the turn of the century the House of Lords emphasised that businesses should be free to organise into trade associations in the same way that employees organised into unions. However, with growing unrest and industrial action the House of Lords changed its mind. Soon afterwards the Taff Vale judgement made unions liable for the costs of industrial action. Although employers could dismiss employees without notice, employees in a trade union were open to penalties for withdrawing their labour.
This case led trade unions to form a Labour Representation Committee, which then became the Labour Party, to lobby for the reversal of the law. The Trade Disputes Act 1906 prescribed that any strike "in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute" is immune from civil law sanctions. The Trade Boards Act 1909 created industrial panels to fix minimum wages.
Discrimination in employment was prohibited on grounds of race in 1965, gender in 1975, disability in 1995, sexual orientation and religion in 2003 and age in 2006. Starting from the Contracts of Employment Act 1963, workers gained a growing list of statutory rights, such as the right to reasonable notice before a fair dismissal and a redundancy payment.
From 1979, the Conservative government enacted laws reducing the power of trade unions. Reforms to the internal structure of unions required that representatives be elected and a ballot is taken before a strike, that no worker could strike in sympathetic secondary action with workers with a different employer, and that employers could not run a closed shop requiring all workers to join the recognised union. The wage councils were dismantled. In 1997 the new Labour government brought the UK into the European Union Social Chapter, which has served as the source for most reform in UK law since that time. The National Minimum Wage Act 1979 established a country-wide minimum wage. The Employment Relations Act 1999 required employers to compulsorily recognise and bargain with a union.
A 'repeal of all anti-union laws' is official TUC policy. A ludicrous objective since it would be impossible to get agreement on what laws are anti-union, but they are on to something. What is needed is for the repeal of all laws relating to the workplace or industrial relations. The common law that applies to all of us for activities outside work is just as adequate for our needs when we are working as it is when we are not.
When a person enters into a contract to work for somebody else they have all the same rights and responsibilities as a person contracting to buy a house, borrow money, go on a holiday or make any other commercial transaction.
It is nonsense to have special laws for picketing when the common law of public order is long established. A workplace dispute which spills onto the public highway is no different from a possibly unruly gathering outside a football match, pop concert or night club.
Just as it was wrong for the state to prevent the formation of unions, it was wrong to protect contact breakers from the consequences of their actions and the huge body of industrial law since then has only confused and worsened the situation.
The reason we need government is to protect the life and property of citizens from crime and external threat. The police have not been on strike because it is illegal for them to do so, and those who have chosen to join the military do not have trade unions. As far as the rest of the public sector is concerned there is only one solution to their pension problems. That is to transfer all of these 'services' to the private sector and let the new employers work out the right package of remuneration for their staff as determined by the market in which they operate.
and the fat man watered their beer.
You knew who got exploited
You knew who to pity or fear.
The waif who was wan with rickety knees,
the rich man deaf to his desperate pleas,
died of consumption or killed at the loom.
Nothing marked his pauper tomb.
Now we have underprivileged
who are fat and spotty and rude.
While the super rich are toned and trim,
helping the starving grow food.
An oil rich man with a yacht or two
and a football club for fun
is an easy shot for the feckless lot
who think they have been hard done.
The fat cats they say are parasites
bloated on ill earned gains,
but who is tied to their Blackberry
and who on a couch just lays?
A thirty stone woman
wheezes and pants
the fifty hard yards
to the pub.
There she labours through
five portions a day
of alcohol, burger, nicotine, pizza
and pure, pure ecstasy.
Her loutish lover leers
through smack wracked, bloodshot eyes
at the writhing teenage arse
framed by a thin black thong.
Her blotchy beau with spike pierced cheeks
leaps to honour's cause.
He and Mr Stanley
will carve respect on cheeky jaws.
Through blood and screams the medics work
to save these wasted lives.
Their patients kick and shout abuse
at those who treat their wounds.
Like education, that they valued,
free health care is their right.
They use it every weekend
after drinking through the night.
The woman lurches homeward
to her seven dadless kids.
They have their chips and Gameboy
and the freedom of the streets.
Just a normal family
struggling through life.
The fat cats are just ignorant
of the poor who have such strife.
Thursday, 23 June 2011
Your golden,oily skins
oozing with excess.
Drunk in your dry kingdom.
Saud lechers mawling
voiceless, voteless beauties
who may not drive
or leave their homes
without the right man.
This land you stole
in the name of vile Wahhab
The blood of lopped limbs,
mingles with the blood
of heads rolling beneath
The only voice to be heard
is the scream of the tortured.
Your palm is greased by armourers
that you might intimidate
the better with your might.
Your guns and your courts
imprison all other than you.
You steal, but keep your hands and feet.
You fornicate yet keep your head
and the skin on your back.
You are drunk in your dry kingdom.
Height of your glory,
you flog and jail a
for being gang raped
by the fine young men
of your pure, religious paradise.
Of course she deserves her punishment.
The harlot traveled in a car
with a man unrelated to her.
How just it was in the name of
Allah, the merciful,
that she should have 200 lashes
Surely your achievements
will echo through the ages of history.
Your prowess shadows all.
None but you Abdullah,
and your ten thousand spawn,
could have made the satan Bush
no more than a naughty boy
a little out of hand.
In a shocking verdict, a Saudi Court ordered a gang rape victim to undergo 200 lashes and six months in prison for "being in the car of an unrelated male" when the crime was committed.
The 19-year-old victim was initially ordered to undergo 90 lashes by judges from the Qatif General Court, but the case was referred back to an Appeals Court after her lawyer had urged a harsher punishment for assaulters, the Arab News reported.
A source at the Qatif General Court said the judges had informed the rape victim that the reason behind doubling her punishment was "her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media", the report added.
Saudi Arabia enforces a strict Islamic doctrine known as Wahhabism and forbids unrelated men and women from associating with each other, bans women from driving and forces them to cover head-to-toe in public.
which cannot support your shrunken body
are the powerful pistons that
drove your heavy old bike to work.
Your faltering, tearful voice speaks,
but your bellows echo down the years.
"Look at that silly tit over there"
A nurse smiles back from her patient labour.
"No bloody rabbit food or foreign muck for me"
You eat the steamed fish and salad in a plastic dish.
All politeness and compliance to
the faces of black doctors and staff
serving food you would have thrown in mum's face.
"Want a new suit boy?" You grinned
as you came in from the betting shop.
"STAND STILL! Too late it's in the tree."
Your pigeons were a fascination, but a terror too.
Excited by you clocking the winning bird,
and knowing that a loser would be my fault.
"Bloody Arabs 'll cut your throat as soon as look at ya."
The ranted bigotry lived on
fifty years after a brief military
encampment in wartime Egypt.
"What have you done with my bloody glasses?"
You squinted at the racing pages and
clutched for the telephone as
the horses lined up for the start.
"No pay today gal." You mumbled
as you came in from the betting shop.
"He's got the darkies disease he has. Bloody idle."
Revolting insult thrown at a black youth on the TV
without bothering to listen why he was there.
"Get 'em a cup o' tea gal."
The command shouted from an
armchair in front of the television
made a visit feel an imposition.
Glimpses of an intelligence
sometimes shone through
from your limited and distorted world.
Off to work before I got up for school.
Back from the pub after I was in bed.
I knew you were home when I woke
to the shouting downstairs.
In your eighty fourth year you told me
that seventy five would have been enough.
My stomach knotted.
Shame I never knew you.
I am curious now
you are dead.
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
The Political Thought of Francis Fukuyama, Part Two: The Foundations of Human Co-operative Government and the unique historical development of China
In my last blog I declared that Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992) was arguably the most controversial political theory book to shake the two interconnected worlds of academia and mainstream political discourse in the last 50 years. Another candidate for this particular mantle would be Samuel Huntingdon’s The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), which is ironic since Fukuyama’s latest book is dedicated to Huntingdon, his former mentor at Harvard.
Huntingdon was one of the most respectfully brazen critics of Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ thesis. Like many of his peers, he sought to immediately disassociate political development from an evolutionary framework where liberal democracy would be its highest stage of attainment. Instead he painted a picture of a future world where international relations would revolve around a core of seven civilisation blocs all vying for power in the modern world. These civilisations were identified as the Western world, Russia’s Eastern Orthodox sphere, the Islamic World, the Sinic East, Hindu India, Latin America and, unconvincingly, Japan. Instead of ‘what do you believe in?’ the twentieth century’s obsession with ideology would lose its primacy as a means of negotiating a modern existence and would be replaced with an increasing emphasis on ‘who are you and where do you come from?’ Consequently, Huntingdon predicted that the ideological dominance of Western political philosophy in the post- communist age could potentially create a counter reaction from the world’s other ancient civilisations, especially in the Islamic world, where there would be much discomfort that a recently victorious foreign political order might be imported and thereby threaten indigenous institutions and customs. In this latter assumption Huntingdon appears to have been prophetic, but hardly controversial; for China, Japan and the Islamic world have experienced this anxiety since the emergence of western civilisation as the dominant force in world affairs beginning in the eighteenth century.
Fukuyama’s new book The Origins of Political Order: From Pre-Human Times to the French Revolution engages directly with Huntingdon’s 1968 book Political Order in Changing Societies, but is also concerned with some of the questions raised in the latter’s 1996 opus. Two themes that stand out for me in reading Fukuyama’s new work centre on why China developed the first modern state, but no accountability or rule of law; and why England was the first nation to impose institutional checks on the executive without weakening the central government or preying on the peasantry, thus creating the foundations for modern democracy. For reasons of coherence I will analyse Fukuyama’s thoughts on China in this blog and will look at the second question in a later article.
Huntingdon famously asserted that ‘God and Caesar, church and state, spiritual authority and temporal authority, have been a prevailing dualism in Western culture.’ However, he contrasted this with other civilisations to conclude that ‘In Islam, God is Caesar; in China and Japan, Caesar is God; in Orthodoxy, God is Caesar’s junior partner.’ Fukuyama takes this pithy observation as a central theme of his book, but begins with a modern appraisal of the advances made in biology to help us establish what it is that motivates human beings to co-operate and settle into reciprocal communities.
The Anglo-Saxon philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, such an influence on the founding fathers of the United States of America, is the first casualty of modern science. A scientific consensus has emerged in the last few decades concluding that humans do not co-operate out of fear of violent death and threat to property (the Hobbesian utility calculation based on rational choice), but are a naturally co-operative species. Man was never simply a wandering individual permanently threatened by the brutish instinct of his fellow man and forced into making compromises whereby he would give up his right to untrammelled freedom and subordinate himself to others in exchange for security and property rights. Instead humans are shown to be peculiarly attached to creating and observing rules; are naturally inclined to form reciprocal relationships with their blood relatives and those with a shared common ancestor; and are uniquely given to abstract thought to explain the surrounding world through the paradigm of religion. Indeed, Fukuyama shows that the human desire for private property has not always been based on economic motives, but frequently as a means of securing land for ancestral worship.
However, his main theory is that humans by default are prone to live together through loyalty to blood ties and tribe, and organise the functioning of their communities with an emphasis on patrimony rather than impersonal expertise, especially so since humans evolved from hunter-gatherers to settled agriculturalists. The creation of a centralised Chinese state in 221BC brought about by the expansion of the Qin Kingdom was a landmark in human history, for it was the first time that a political order had been successfully created in which the regional autonomy of aristocratic warlords was completely extinguished by the central Monarch. The nobility of conquered kingdoms were killed off or forcibly relocated, state administration of the new empire was selected by merit rather than virtue of blood, weights and measures were harmonised, and a standing peasant army was conscripted and maintained by a central bureaucracy. But it is worth noting that the new Chinese focus was on creating an efficient administrative regime to make it easy for the rulers to make law that suited only them and not those who were governed by it. So why did the rule of law not develop in China after such a momentous human development? Fukuyama’s answer is clear: a revolving dispute between the patrimonial, kinship-based social harmony of Confucianism and the aggressive centralising, lust for power among Emperors, known as the politics of Legalism.
The all-conquering Qin Kingdom led by Ying Zheng (alternatively known as Qin Shi Gaungdi, 259 – 210 BC) was so revolutionary in its approach to consolidating power that it managed to inspire the hatred of millions and undermined the hold of Confucianism on Sinic customs and culture. Its successor, the Earlier Han dynasty established in 202BC by Han Gaozu, sought to continue the centralising project of Qin, but was also wise enough to recognise that the country would have to find a place for the embittered nobility if it was to survive future revolts. Fukuyama’s sweeping take on three millennia of Chinese history may be a bit simplistic at this point, but he concludes that Gaozu’s decision to restore a modicum of feudalism – that is decentralised, semi-autonomous government by powerful Dukes who have ownership rights over their local peasant subjects – created a future pattern of alternating governments devoted to either continual centralisation or a relaxation of aristocratic persecution. Crucially any reversion back to a patrimonial political order (e.g. tribalism) was sought by powerful families seizing control of the central administration, so that the central state always managed to reconstitute itself after a violent interregnum. But what influence did Confucianism have on the Chinese character to make it so distinctive?
Confucius’ teachings promote ancestor worship, the idea of a static social order and the emphasis of trusting the rulers of the day if they have the Mandate of Heaven on their side. A critic might say that it is almost like reverse libertarianism, where the people are the indifferent leviathan inclined to keep out of the everyday affairs of the state in the interests of efficiency; and many political theorists seem to agree that this explains why the grip of the Communist party will be hard to break (although, in our age of globalisation and easily comparable polities perhaps not impossible).
The enviable tradition (stretching back 22 centuries) of selecting state administrators based on merit and the ability to pass intellectually demanding examinations (with some exceptions of corruption and reversion back to selection by blood and birth in between) is what modern commentators have identified as the Sinic mentality. A long held view that the state could be trusted because it had the best brains working for the administration of the country does not seem to have entered the realm of European thought at any stage as a model of good governance prior to the twentieth century, yet it has persisted in China for longer than two thousand years. Likewise, no European country ever thought to have an impersonal, merit-based system for recruiting its administrators, but sought instead to rely on aristocrats. The Russian aristocracy were forcibly drafted into state service under Peter the Great (1672-1725), state offices were sold to the nobility and aspiring gentry in seventeenth and eighteenth century France, and upward mobility in England was restricted to a small pool of aristocrats and ‘new-moneyed’ industrialist families throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century despite the advances made in rolling out compulsory secondary education in 1870.
Any thought of creating institutions to check the power of Monarchy were anathema during the heyday of Chinese Empire and an Emperor could only be guided by moral principles rather than subjected to any checks and balances by rival institutions. The modern Chinese Communist Party is assumed to be a strange continuation of this old mentality but in a different guise. However, Fukuyama also points out that Legalism, first pursued with ruthless efficiency by the Qin Dynasty in the third century BC, sought to dismantle the Confucianist obsession with loyalty to the family and restoration of feudalism by destroying all vestiges of aristocratic power groups capable of rising against the state, especially in its determination to make state administrators loyal to the state rather than to their family bloodlines. It was ultimately this last policy that led to the emergence of the state bureaucracy’s impersonal selection based on merit, completing a bizarre synergy between Confucianist and Legalist schools of thought, both of which found common ground for promoting the famous entry examinations, but for entirely different reasons of self-interest. The Confucianists were able to have their classics (written by Confucius’ disciples) form the basis of state education and the legalists were able to pursue their strategy of making administrators loyal to the state rather than to their families.
Ultimately, the aristocracy remained weak and subject to periodic extermination by the reigning Emperor when perceived to be too powerful, yet Confucianism, itself not a religion but a philosophy, was unable to construct an effective powerbase in their absence. Consequently the Chinese state has never been effectively constrained in the last 22 centuries by any rival power groups capable of holding it to account and, according to Martin Jacques in his recent book When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World (2008), is one of the reasons why there is no history of a strong civic society in the country. It is a testimony to the efficacy of Confucianist thought that its belief in order and hierarchy and promotion of sagacity over martial masculinity resulted in long periods of stable government. The 16th century Italian missionary Allessandro Valignano declared it the best governed country in the world and was troubled to think that these law-abiding, humble people might be destined for Hell only because of geography and their misfortune of never having heard the Gospels.
The foundations of the rule of law in the European Middle Ages are famously traced to Pope Gregory VII’s meeting with the King of the Romans, the German Henry IV, at the Italian fortress of Canossa in 1077. Here the Caesar waited for three days, barefoot in the snow, to be absolved by the Pope and readmitted into the Catholic Church after being excommunicated for daring to divide and rule the church and seeking to place his own candidates in the bishopric. The fact that the German King came to do his penitence before a leader with no standing army should not be understated, even if Gregory could claim to be responsible for something far more powerful – the very souls of all people living under the guidance of Christendom. The historian Tom Holland summarises the impact of Canossa brilliantly in his book Millenium (2008): ‘The whole of Christendom, from its summit to its meanest village, was to be divided into two. One realm for the spiritual, one for the secular… It required a full-out assault upon presumptions that were ultimately millennia old.’ No such compromise was ever made by a Chinese Emperor precisely because he did not have an equivalent autonomous sovereign to restrain him, nor did he allow any institutions to operate autonomously and hold him to account. The Islamic world was closer to the European experience and the rule of law was imposed on Ottoman Sultans by a council of Ulama (Islamic theocratic experts), clearly defining what an earthly ruler could and could not do to Allah’s subjects in the Dar-al-Islam (House of Islam).
Throughout this article I have not mentioned the impact of war on the development of the Chinese state, but it cannot go unmentioned. Of course this is of the utmost importance to any understanding of how the world’s first centralised state (admittedly using modern criteria to read back into history) came into being, and the period of the Warring States, c.475-221BC undoubtedly created excess devastation and life threatening conditions to produce great thinkers such as Sun Tzu. Confucius lived during this chaotic period and the lawlessness and phenomenal casualty figures clearly had an impact on his fondness for harking back to a more peaceful feudal political order. Continuous internecine warfare and the need to conscript manpower to replace military losses led to better institutional organisation in the armies of the myriad Chinese Kings and usurpers, and this deserves to be analysed in more depth in another article.
Ironically, Francis Fukuyama’s examination of China’s ‘Special Path’ is a reminder that each civilisation has its own unique characteristics that cannot be easily discarded. Indeed, his survey of contemporary biology shows that humans are fiercely conservative and need a lot of convincing before they can even think of withdrawing their emotional investment in traditional political institutions. It would be a blow to Chinese democrats everywhere if their nation’s unique history was used against them as a justification for authoritarianism. Fukuyama does not explicitly say it, but the rise of China could easily lead to a more strident form of Chinese nationalism in which we in the West might be one day receiving lectures about the inefficiency of democracy and the superiority of authoritarian central government.