IDS is the heir to Beveridge

A jolly nice chap

“Iain Duncan Smith is scum” announced a former friend of mine on her Facebook wall recently. Actually, as anyone who has met him will attest, IDS is a perfectly affable chap. But he is sceptical of the present size and nature of Britain’s welfare state. This, apparently, makes him “scum”.

Between 2001 and 2007 British government spending increased by 54 percent in real terms. In nominal terms the coalition is actually raising spending even further, from £661 billion in 2010 to a projected £729 billion in 2015. What cutting is being done is coming from above target inflation so that, in real terms, spending will fall by 2.7 percent. And remember, that’s a real terms cut of 2.7 percent after a real terms increase of 54 percent.

But the reaction from sections of the left to this bare snipping has, as with my former friend, been nothing short of demented.

Nick Cohen frequently says very sensible things but at the end of the day he writes for the Observer and he has to sing for his supper – hence a steady flow of silly articles about barely existent ‘austerity’ and mythical ‘Tory cuts’. In a recent article he wrote that “Iain Duncan Smith’s universal credit poses a serious threat to women’s independence.” You actually have to ask how independent someone who is dependent on state welfare actually is in the first place, but to have done so would have been to intrude on the usual orgy of hysteria which accompanied the article.

One of Cohen’s Facebook friends commented, “Yes, yes, yes. Duncan Smith has a nasty agenda, fired by his own sense of Christian mission. A very creepy man.” Another warned that “The Tories especially are making attacks on the poorest, that are remarkably similar to the sort of thing the eugenicists of the nineteenth century used to say.” Sections of the left are currently consumed with lunatic levels of fear and loathing.

It never seems to occur to these people that someone could question the present size and nature of Britain’s welfare state from any motivation other than pure evil. It never enters their minds that someone might be critical of the welfare state as it stands for the simple reason that it is a massively expensive failure.

“Flat rate of subsistence benefit; flat rate of contribution”;

“Unemployment benefit will…normally be subject to a condition of attendance at a work or training centre after a certain period”;

“National assistance (a means tested benefit) is an essential subsidiary method in the whole plan…The scope of assistance will be narrowed from the beginning and will diminish”;

“Assistance…must be felt to be something less desirable then insurance benefit; otherwise the insured persons get nothing for their contributions. Assistance therefore will be given always subject to proof of needs and examination of means; it will be subject also to any conditions as to behaviour which may seem likely to hasten restoration of earning capacity”;

“The proposal to adjust benefit according to the rent actually paid by individuals should, provisionally, be rejected”.

These quotes, recommending conditions on eligibility for welfare, proposing a reduction of benefits over time, supporting the notion that benefits must not match employment income, and rejecting housing benefit, do not come from someone like Iain Duncan Smith who the contemporary left would brand as evil. They come, in fact, from the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Social Insurance and Allied Services of 1942, written by William Beveridge, which laid the foundations for the welfare state.

Beveridge’s plan was, as James Bartholomew writes,

“very simple. Everyone would make flat-rate contributions to a national insurance scheme. Those who fell ill, became unemployed or reached retirement age would, in return, receive flat rate payments. That is it. The rest was detail”.

John Maynard Keynes reportedly told his friend Beveridge: “The Chancellor of the Exchequer should thank his lucky stars that he has got off so cheap”.

Keynes was wrong. Over the years Beveridge’s safety net became a vast hammock. Since the welfare state got under way in earnest in 1948, social security spending as a percentage of GDP has increased from 4 percent to nearly 14 percent; a 250 percent increase.

Source: IFS

Those on the right and this coalition government are often accused of launching an attack on the welfare state bequeathed us by Beveridge and the Attlee government. That ship has long since sailed. Beveridge’s welfare state died decades ago when it became the bloated, expensive, counterproductive monster it is today. And it wasn’t the right that killed it, the left did.

There is a new film out by dreary, overrated Marxist Ken Loach titled The Spirit of ’45. In it, among other things, Loach calls for the Brits of 2013 to resist coalition welfare reforms and redouble their commitment to state welfare spending. But that is not the spirit of 1945. The spirit of 1945 was of work, contribution, and insurance.

And that appears to be the spirit of 2013 too. As a recent report by the National Conversation found: “Wherever they stood on the political spectrum, we were told that the welfare system was broken, and that no one party held the answer to fixing it… A key concern, shared by respondents from different backgrounds, was the degree to which the modern welfare system had moved away from Beveridge’s original plans for social insurance. With the gradual erosion of Beveridge’s contributory principle, governments found themselves paying out ever larger welfare disbursements to people who had never paid into the system”.

Sensing this even Ed Miliband has begun making noises about “recognising contribution”.

Iain Duncan Smith is not “scum”. Rather, unlike Loach and Cohen and his loony friends, he is the heir to Beveridge. If the spirit of ’45 lives on anywhere, it is in the coalition’s welfare reforms.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator

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The relationship between welfare and immigration

Home comforts: Firuta Vasile's initial request for benefits had been rejected by the local council

You give immigrants a bad name

The influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants expected from January 1st 2014 has lately seen Britain’s politicians running round like headless chickens trying to prevent the obvious and predictable results of their previous actions (or inactions). The idea that people from these countries might come to the UK and avail of its generous welfare system has triggered concerns about immigration. Should we not, instead, be worried about welfare?

Classical liberals and many on ‘the right’ more generally would complain if government prevented a person from Bolton taking a job in Southampton. What right would a politician have to interfere in the mutually agreed employment decision of an employee and an employer? But if this is so, why should government have any more right to prevent a person from Juarez or Lahore taking a job in Minneapolis or Sheffield?

Indeed, if the government erected capital controls such as existed in the post war period to stop people shipping their wealth abroad, many on ‘the right’ would decry an act of confiscatory socialism. But why should the freedom of movement be granted to capital and denied to labour?

Immigration is an area of public policy rarely treated coherently. ‘The left’ frequently defend the free movement of labour (recently anyway) but oppose the free movement of capital. From ‘the right’ it is often the opposite. A common opinion, in pubs and taxi cabs at any rate, is that immigrants come here to sponge off our welfare state and take our jobs, a contradictory sentiment often expressed by the same person in the same monologue.

Some immigrants do travel to the UK to gorge themselves in the trough of its lavish welfare state. I wrote last January of Firuta Vasile, a woman who has apparently done little but leech off the British taxpayer since arriving from Romania in 2008.

Indeed, stories on BBC London about the lack of affordable housing in the capital are often illustrated with an interview with an immigrant demanding that more ‘affordable housing’ be made available by the state. But there is probably no shortage of affordable accommodation wherever they came from and the high prices of London are simply a market signal saying: This place is full up.

Immigrants like Ms Vasile give a bad name to the majority who do travel to Britain wanting to work. But, besides that, they are eroding support for the welfare state itself.

For all the noble notions of a brotherhood of man it remains a fact that people, in the main, feel more empathy with those who are more like them than those who aren’t. We generally care more about people who speak our language, dress like us, worship the same God (or none), watch the same TV programmes etc, than we do about people who don’t. This is one reason why the British or American media will devote hours of coverage to the deaths of American children in Newtown but spend little if any time on the Pakistani or Afghan children killed in drone strikes.

Regrettable as it may be, it is a fact of life that our empathy decreases as our differences with the person being empathised with increase.

The effects of this for a welfare state are as obvious as the effects of throwing your doors open while laying on a banquet of benefits. While people might be quite willing to pay towards a system that they believe is going to help people like themselves they will be considerably less willing to pay towards a system that they perceive benefits people who have very little in common with them. As Stuart Soroka writes

“Immigration has the potential to raise powerful challenges to the political legitimacy of the welfare state. Immigration can unsettle the historical conceptions of community, which define those who are ‘us’, recognized members of existing networks of rights and obligation, and those who are ‘strangers’ or ‘others’ whose needs seem less compelling. According to many commentators, the growing presence of newcomers, especially ethnically distinct newcomers, may erode the sense of social solidarity on which welfare states are constructed”

Or, as Milton Freidman put it: “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state”. The mass immigration overseen by the Labour government which saw millions enter Britain, 371,000 of whom are claiming benefits, has been one of the major factors in the decline in support for the welfare state in Britain. It has led to the serious consideration of a contributory element to welfare.

The answer is that government has no basis in rights to interfere with migration, but neither does it have a duty to subsidise it. If people want to go and work in Britain or the United States, and they can find employment, they should not be impeded. But if they cannot find employment the government should not hand them taxpayers’ money or goods and services purchased with that money.

There is a choice between immigration and welfare. The irony is that by choosing immigration a government of the left did more to undermine the welfare state than ‘the right’ ever did.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator

Crisis of statism, not capitalism

In search of that magic money tree

t might not have been the ‘crisis of capitalism’ which some have been waiting so long for, but it is widely thought that the last few years certainly represent a “crisis of capitalism”. But if you think of capitalism as a system whereby profits and losses acting unhindered by the hand of government guide capital to its most productive uses, this is difficult to sustain.

The sectors which blew up and took the rest of the economy with them were riddled with intervention. Banks have their capital adequacy rates set and their bad investments covered by government. The housing market is kept inflated with all manner of tax breaks and politically motivated distortions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Community Reinvestment Act. Behind it all interest rates are set by a small panel of political appointees, much as the price of alum keys was set in the Soviet Union.

But as we see violence on the streets of Athens and Madrid, the Occupy protests in the United States, and unadulterated rage on the pages of The Guardian’s Comment is Free (Cif), there is certainly some sort of crisis afoot. It is, however, a crisis of big government.

Over the last few decades governments throughout the western world have made extravagant spending commitments. In Ireland the welfare budget was tripled. In Greece pastry chefs, radio announcers, hairdressers, and steam bath masseurs were included among 600 professions deemed so “arduous and perilous” that workers could retire at 50 on a state pension of 95 percent of their final salary.

But it wasn’t just small basket case economies doing it; big basket case economies were doing it too. France decided that its workers could work no more than 35 hours a week and still generate the wealth to pay for everyone to retire at 60 and spend a third of their lives as state pensioners. In the United States the Bush administration launched the largest expansion of Federal spending since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program of the 1960s. In Britain the Labour government increased spending by more than half in six years.

As long as you didn’t look either too closely or too far ahead, these massive spending commitments looked just about affordable as long as there was plenty of money to spend. And there was. In Britain tax receipts rose by 40 percent between 2001 and 2007. In the United States, Federal tax revenues rose by 30 percent between 2000 and 2007. French tax revenue increased by 30 percent between 2002 and 2008.

But these were the effects of the bubble. These were taxes swelled by property values, house sales, and bank profits on those house sales and the myriad ancillary transactions such as securitisation. With the bursting of that bubble that wealth is gone, if it was even there in first place, and it is not coming back. Nor should it.

That does mean, however, that lots of the extravagant government spending promises made before the bust now stand revealed for what they are; unaffordable in the absence of bubble taxation. And given the undesirability of bubbles, that just makes them unaffordable full stop. No amount of general strikes, protesting, occupying, or posting on CiF will change that. We do not have a mighty oak of a money tree, but a bunce bonsai and, in truth, that’s all we ever did have.

Since the crisis hit we have seen both the unavoidability of this truth and the reluctance of electorates to accept it. In the last few years the voters of Greece, Spain, and France have voted out ‘austerity’ governments only to have ‘austerity’ visited upon them anyway by their replacements (at least they were asked, unlike the Italians). There is a very good chance that this November and in May 2015 the voters of the United States and United Kingdom will discover that reality doesn’t just disappear because you tick a box marked ‘Obama’ or ‘Miliband’.

The amount of money spent by the government has grown inexorably. We have reached its limit. In Britain, since 1964, whether top rates of tax have been at 83 percent, as in the 1970s, or 40 percent, the percentage of national income paid in taxes has never exceeded 38% of GDP.

Whatever the designs of the politicians, the social democrats, the Labour party, the Guardian, or Polly Toynbee, the British people, collectively and unconsciously, seem to have decided that they are not willing to fund a state sector any bigger than this. When the share of state spending as a share of GDP reaches 45 percent or 50 percent, as it has recently, the only way is down. That is where we are now.

If the extravagant spending promises of politicians outstrip both the capabilities of even a well-functioning capitalism to generate the necessary wealth and the public’s willingness to pay for it, that is not capitalism’s crisis, but a crisis of big government. Its time is up.

This article first appeared at The Commentator

Why Britain is f*****

Nice ‘work’ if you can get it

I left university in 2002 without a degree. I started working in a bar and, through a colleague there, I picked up some temp work in accounts. The following year, aged 23, I got my first proper full time job. I was paid £16,000 per year out of which I had to pay travel of £100 per month, Council Tax of £90 per month and rent of £520 per month. I didn’t qualify for Housing Benefit. Things were pretty tight but I remember how proud I was to be standing on my own two feet.

My career progressed. In 2005 I moved jobs and got a pay rise to £21,000 per year. I moved again in 2006 to a salary of £23,000 per year. The credit crunch hit and I was made redundant in 2008 but went straight to work at another role for £27,000 per year. I was finally earning the national average wage. It had taken me five years of hard work, study, and self-reliance.

It’s not like that for everyone though. Take Firuta Vasile. According to the Daily Mail this 27 year old Romanian single mother of three who arrived in the UK four years ago can now claim £2,600 per month in Housing Benefit. This is on top of the £25,547.60 per year she already gets in tax credits, child benefits, disability living allowance and carer’s allowance.

Ms Vasile, after just four years in this country during which time she has not had a job, now has an income it took me five years of full time work to achieve. If, like me, you stepped over the open money trench of Britain’s wildly generous welfare state and took the option of working for your money, you were a mug quite frankly.

Few people would oppose a welfare state which seeks to protect those who have fallen on hard times. We have a duty to look after those who cannot look after themselves. But we do not have a duty to look after those who won’t look after themselves. And we do not have a duty to pay them better than the people who pay for them.

Opponents of the coalition’s welfare reforms are defending a grossly unjust system. They defend a system so perverted that it pays Abu Qatada, described as “Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe” and wanted abroad for a string of bombings, £400 per week in benefits.

They celebrated when the House of Lords voted against the government’s proposed measures to limit Housing Benefit. They either did not know or did not care that the cost of this defeat would be borne by hard pressed hard working people who will now have to keep paying taxes for others to live in places they couldn’t afford.

It is at times like this that you realise how disconnected much of the left has become from its traditions. A museum near where I live in east London has a display of the Ten Commandments of The Socialist Sunday School on display. Among the exhortations to “Honour good people” and “Make every day holy by good and useful deeds and kindly actions” are references to the value of work. “All the products of the earth are the result of labour; whoever enjoys them without working for them is stealing the bread of the worker” it says.

Somewhere along the way the left, or its leaders at any rate, forgot this. Instead they came to represent the non-worker. Whether it was those on benefits or underemployed workers in the public sector, the left sought to an ever greater degree to expropriate the wealth generated by workers in the private sector to lavish on those who weren’t working.

Opponents of welfare reform like to say that the welfare state initiated by William Beveridge is under attack. In fact the welfare state envisioned by Beveridge and other post war architects was killed decades ago when it was upgraded from the safety net described in the famous 1942 report to a luxurious hammock which currently holds nearly one in six households in the UK and two thirds more people on disability benefit than 20 years ago.

If Britain is to dig itself out of its economic hole it will need people to work. To encourage this it will need people to be rewarded for their work and not to see the fruits of their labour spirited away by the state and spent on the non-working section of the population.

But more than that, it is a matter of justice. Those who generate the wealth are entitled to keep it and, however imperfectly, the left used to have some understanding of this. If their rhetoric about social justice is to be anything other than a thin moral veneer for the maintenance of privilege they ought to rediscover it.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator

Correcting the contextualisers

All property is theft

The response of some to the riots which swept the UK last month was to say “Yes, we know this is criminality, but you can’t ignore the cuts/poverty” While stopping short of excusing the violence which left five dead and caused millions of pounds of damage there was an attempt by these people to ‘contextualise’ it.

Contextualising is often little more than pinning the tail of your pet political cause to the donkey of whatever is in the headlines that week. So it was with the riots. As Kristian Neimetz blogged for the Institute of Economic Affairs the riots had nothing to do with material poverty. Neimetz points out that:

“The standard rate of Income Support for a non-working single mother with one teenager is currently £562.60 per month. On top of that comes Child Benefit, currently at £87.97 per month, and Child Tax Credit at £168.90, assuming only the most basic rate. The rate of Housing Benefit depends on where she lives; it is £1000 per month in inner southeast London, £1213.33 in inner east London and £1256.67 in central London (which includes Camden and most of Hackney). Council Tax is also covered. This is at current rates, meaning after the ‘savage cuts’, and ignores other benefits which are a bit trickier to qualify for.”

You can actually live a pretty sweet life on benefits. Beveridge’s safety net has become a hammock.

This isn’t to say we don’t have poverty in Britain, we do, but only because poverty has been redefined to mean having less than half the money of the Duke of Devonshire. The rioters outside my east London flat didn’t look too poverty stricken, wearing Franklin & Marshall gear and filming their mayhem on iPhones. The truth is that in a real sense there is very little material poverty in the UK today.

The contextualisers also said that cuts to youth services played a role in the riots, as though these kids would stop burning buildings down if only they had a ping pong table. It also never seemed to have occurred to the contextualisers that earlier generations of children refrained from rioting when all they had to distract them was a Hula Hoop.

Neimetz dealt with this cuts argument in his blog but, again, we saw the common, utter confusion among the contextualisers about what it is the government is actually doing. It is not cutting the debt but the deficit, which is the rate at which the debt is growing. At the end of this Parliament government spending is forecast to be nearly £100 billion higher than when the coalition took office. So much for cuts!

That’s not to say that there was no context for these riots – there was. Base criminality. According to statistics released this week three quarters of those appearing in court for their part in the riots have previous convictions. They weren’t reacting to poverty or cuts; they were just out doing what they normally do.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

Big government has destroyed a healthy society and created an underclass

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To describe the rioting that took place in the UK recently as “anti-social” sounds so anodyne as to be redundant. Neighbourhoods were terrorized. Buildings were burned. And people were killed. But it still conveys an essential point.

One of the most noted aspects of the riots was the fact that the rioters were destroying their own communities. Whatever this may say about the intelligence of looters who target Tottenham over Knightsbridge, the riots were certainly an attack on society in the areas they live in. Why would they do this?

First, we have to consider what we mean by society. For too long the leftist definition has been widely accepted which sees “society” merely as a substitute term for “state”. In that view, society and social action simply amounts to whatever the government is doing and all it requires of the individual is to hand over his or her taxes when demanded.

In actual fact “society” is both broader and more difficult to pin down than that. One way of defining it is simply to see it in terms of people interacting. And this makes greater demands of the individual than does the leftist conception. It demands active involvement.

All sorts of areas where people interact comprise society while having nothing to do with state action: families, charities, sports clubs, religious organisations and workplaces, among many others.

It can be manifested in something as unremarkable as an ordinary yet friendly relationship with a local shop owner. All of this human action is social interaction — society in other words.

Yet up and down the UK large sections of the population have been absent from these circles of positive social action for years. With broken families and no jobs they are what we have come to term the “Underclass”.

To a very great degree, this underclass is the creation of the state. Welfare handouts have rendered fathers and families redundant in many cases. They have made it possible to live a quite comfortable life without ever earning a penny.

The debilitating, de-socialising effect of this is readily seen. To give an example, one of the mitigating circumstances most commonly put forward for the rioters was the lack of any state-provided recreational activity for teenagers.

It seems to have occurred to depressingly few people that by acting with others voluntarily they could have worked to provide something themselves as was the norm in the days before the vast expansion of the welfare state. The social approach as opposed to the state approach simply never occurred to them.

Welfare and state provision has de-socialised these people by enabling their withdrawal from large sections of the arena of voluntary human interactions. They dwell instead in the entitlement induced passivity of welfare dependency. They attack society where they live because they are not a part of it. They are, in other words, anti-social.

The great 19th century Liberal statesman Richard Cobdensaid that “Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less”. The recent riots in Britain show that to be the case among individuals within nations as well as between them.

London rioters are the pampered children of the welfare state

A bit more of this please

For the last two nights, like many other Londoners, I have stayed up late watching clashes outside my window between Police and rioters. After seeing the burned out flats of Tottenham I wanted to make sure I could go to sleep safely.

What I saw, a Police car being trashed and a baton charge on Sunday and fighting again last night, was rather subdued by the standards of elsewhere in the capital. Following on from the arson in Tottenham, buildings were burned in Hackney, Croydon and Ealing.

There was always the danger that people on the left would seek to use this unrest as a vehicle for their own pet causes. Ken Livingstone proved again just what an irrelevant lump of 80’s nostalgia he is by blaming, not the current government, but that of Margaret Thatcher. Others have consulted their A level Sociology textbooks and pinned the blame on the rioting youths’ “disenfranchisement” or “deprivation”.

None of this third rate Marxist rubbish holds up if you leave the lecture hall and come face to face with the rioters. It is almost impossible to think of a way these people are disenfranchised. Each and every one of them has the franchise. When they reach 18 they will have the right to vote. They may choose not to use it, but that’s up to them.

Neither did the rioters I saw look particularly deprived. The closest thing they have to a uniform are Franklin & Marshall jumpers which retail for about £60 each. Most of them were filming their rampages on iPhones which can retail at over £400.

The poverty these kids have is moral, not financial. Many of them come from broken families which derive most of their support from the state. Neither they, nor their parents, have ever had to face consequences or take responsibility in their lives. If a girl gets pregnant the state pays. If they’d rather pose about like a gangster than get a job, the state pays. And if they commit a crime state punishment is often a joke. So, they behave as they please.

It is true that they have no hope or aspiration but this is not a question of “exclusion”. They are forced by law to attend state schools.

White, black or whatever else, it is because many of them come from a culture which places no value on education. They would rather emulate some dim witted “music” star than knuckle down to school work. This accounts for much of their poor educational performance which adversely affects their prospects later in life.

And why should they value education and hard work? People who are used to having money thrown at them by the state have seen that you can be rewarded for doing nothing.

Happily, the sociological nonsense has been less widespread than it could have been and than it once would have been.

Tottenham MP David Lammy’s reaction was solid and unspectacular but after the disgusting response of the late, unlamented former Tottenham MP Bernie Grant after the brutal murder of PC Keith Blakelock (“What the police got was a bloody good hiding” he crowed after the policeman had had his head hacked off by a mob during 1985’s riots in Broadwater Farm) we have come some distance.

Even Diane Abbot broke the habit of a lifetime this morning by saying something sensible and backing curfews.

Curfews should be an obvious start. Beyond that, the police should be more proactive, seeking to hit and disperse the rioters — take the fight to them. They should be looking at a range of tools from water cannons to tear gas to rubber bullets. And this is a perfectly liberal response, if you know what true liberalism is about.

The first governments arose out of the need for mutual defence. Over time, particularly in the last century, governments have taken on more and more roles. The state now tells you how often to exercise and spies on your bin bags.

But whether you agree with the state’s new functions or not, it cannot be denied that one of its core functions, before anything else, remains the protection of the people from domestic and foreign enemies. If the state cannot do that then it is well and truly failing.

Even a small state can do this. All but the most fervent of anarcho-capitalist should agree that this protection is the one core duty of the state above all others. There is no reason why a strong government must also be a big government.

One of the defining characteristics of the modern state is its monopoly on violence. It is now time to assert that monopoly. The government needs to act, it needs to act hard, and it needs to act now.

This article originally appeared at The Commentator

The War on Drugs

Drugs kill people. We hear it so often that we don’t really think about it anymore. But Im not talking about the rich coke heads in the City, or the depressed skag heads on the council estates, robbing to feed their habit. Im talking about the people killed as a result of the unwinnable war on drugs.

In Colombia war has been raging since the mid 1960’s between the various governments and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. Like much of the contemporary violence in South America, the FARC initially started life as a Marxist force rebelling against a military government, but unlike many left wing movements in south America, the FARC have not embraced electoral politics in recent years. For better or worse, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Alan Garcia have all been elected since 1999, but the FARC have kept fighting because of drugs.

Colombia is renowned as the world centre of the cocaine trade and it is estimated that about half of the FARC’s income comes from involvement in the drugs trade, totaling between $200 million and $400 million a year. This money allows them to fund a campaign which has included massacres, forced conscription of minors and various hideously inventive booby traps. They have freedom of movement in between 40% and 60 % of the country. They are believed to have been responsible for 20% of the thirty thousand deaths this war has caused.

Afghanistan is another country slithering down the same path. One of the few benefits of the Taliban’s brand of ascetic Islam was their crushing of the opium trade, opium being vital to heroin production. In 2000, according to UN officials, Afghanistan produced nearly 4,000 tons of opium, about 75 percent of the world’s supply. Mullah Omar, Taliban head and colleague of Osama Bin Laden, banned the growing of poppies from which opium comes and destroyed opium labs and jailed opium growing farmers. The UN investigation found that in the province of Nangarhar poppies grew on 12,600 acres of land in 2000. The following year poppies were planted on just 17 acres and were all destroyed by the Taliban. But since the US led invasion in 2001 and the toppling of the Taliban, opium production has come back with a vengeance. According to a UNDOC (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime) report in 2004, “opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 64 per cent compared to 2003” while cereal production fell by 43%.

Why is this? An answer is to be found in the article above. Ahmed Rehman, a farmer who lives with his brothers on less than three acres of land in Nangarhar province claimed that the opium he produced in 2000 brought in $1,100. The crop of onions and cattle feed he planted in 2001 brought him just $300. “Life is very bad for me this year,” he said. “Last year I was able to buy meat and wheat and now this year there is nothing.” In Colombia the high price commanded by drugs has prolonged a brutal war. In Afghanistan, the high price has encouraged men to abandon other crops to concentrate on profitable opium.

It is the high price of drugs that keeps the FARC fighting and Ahmed Rehman from growing food instead of opium. This high price will always be the case while demand outstrips supply. The Taliban were largely successful in throttling supply in Afghanistan but other efforts have met with less success. In 2004, Colombia’s government reported that 340,000 acres of land under cultivation for coca had been destroyed and almost 150 tons of cocaine seized. Sandro Calvani, director of the UNODC in Colombia, confidently predicted that “Considering Colombia supplies 80% of the world cocaine market, we think prices are going to rise starting in 2006” This price rise hasn’t materialized and in March 2005, General Bantz Craddock, head of US Southern Command charged with fighting the war on drugs, was forced to admit to the House Armed Services Committee that “Why there isn’t a price increase in cocaine, I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me.” If I were to guess at a reason it would be that as soon as an acre of cocoa is eradicated in Colombia, it springs up again in Bolivia.

Not only is this military effort having no effect on supply, attempts to squash demand western countries look to be ineffectual. The 2005 British Crime Survey found that between 1996 and 2004, cocaine use among 16 to 59 year olds rose from 0.6% to 2.4%. It is a similar story across Europe with 3.5 million Europeans estimated to take cocaine, a quarter of the world market. However, the United States still accounts for 40% of the cocaine market with 2.4% using the drug.

The war on drugs has been about stamping out supply and demand and neither has worked. It has driven the price up in the west so that addicts are pushed to crime to fund their habits. In other countries the high prices have funded civil unrest. Perhaps its time to look at another solution to the death and misery that the drug wars are causing? Perhaps its time to think about legalization

With drugs legal and the risk of having your crop defoliated gone, cocoa farmers in Colombia will rush to produce cocoa for the drug market, chasing the profits that the high price brings. This increase in supply relative to demand will have the effect of bringing the price of cocaine crashing down. Tom O’Connell MD has estimated that the “market price would probably be somewhere between one third and 1/20th of the illegal price”. Overnight the FARC will be bankrupt and lose much of their war making capacity. In Afghanistan the fall in price will mean that there is very little difference between what an opium grower will get for his opium and what he will get for his wheat and cereal will begin to look a viable option.

In the west, drugs could be taxed as cigarettes and alcohol are taxed. Furthermore, by bringing them under the scope of government regulation in terms of quality, it should be possible to improve the quality of the drugs available. After all, in many cases it is not the use but the misuse of drugs that causes fatalities.

Of course this is no panacea. In the cases of Colombia and Afghanistan, the west will have to end its farming subsidies so that Colombian formers can compete with them and make it worth their while to grow something other than cocoa. But bearing in mind that the war on drugs was launched 30 years ago and has had, at best, marginal results, surely it is time to look for a different solution?

Lads Army

“Get scrubbin’ that Youth Centre you ‘orrible lot!”

As you will see, in the Independent this week Terence Blacker has resurrected the old chestnut of reintroducing National Service. As always, its thought that anti social kids will learn a bit of discipline by training them to be killers.

Quite what form this would take is open to discussion. Some advocate a return to the post war system of drafting young men into the army for two years and sending them off to wherever the army goes. Others, including “call me Dave” Cameron, suggest some sort of national service based on community action, sending groups of kids round picking up litter and cleaning the graffiti off the walls.

The arguments against the re introduction of compulsory military service are so obvious it is hard to believe that anyone seriously thinks it would be a good idea to bring it back. It is often said that you ‘Learn a trade’ in the army, but how? And what sort of useful trade are you going to learn? It could be said that if you can change a tank track in the arctic wastes or guide a smart bomb up Bin Laden’s bottom you are well qualified on civvy street for becoming an mechanic or computer programmer. But the majority of British industry now lies in the service sector (between 1995 and 1999 the Gross Value added of the service sector increased by 14%, that of the production sector by just 2%), working in call centres or banks, and it hard to see how the ability to remove the firing pin of an SA80 in 10 seconds is going to help you with that.

Then there is the economic argument. We are told that, thanks to a declining birth rate, we have a looming labour shortage, ie not enough people for the jobs available. It seems blindingly obvious that if we remove a large chunk of the working age male population and stick them in the army this shortage will be exacerbated. Look at the effects of this last time round. After world war two, as the country needed to rebuild, tens of thousands of young men were whisked off to the far corners of the globe so that the Imperial façade could be propped up that little bit longer. At home, with a diminished supply of labour, wages rose, the prices of British goods relative to those abroad rose, and our manufacturing industry collapsed. This wasn’t solely down to National Service, but at the start of our post war economic decline, it was a major contributing factor.

And even if we brought back National Service, where would we send them? After 1945 there was still plenty of Imperial pink on the map to absorb the Lads Army. National Service conscripts were sent to places like Cyprus, Malaya, Borneo, Kenya, Aden and Oman and saw action in all of them. Where would they go now? Iraq? Afghanistan? Can you imagine the outcry there would be in this country when the first coffins containing the bodies of 18 year old conscript soldiers arrive back from Basra?

And what of the cuddly option of community service? Its says a lot about British society that people leave such a trail of filth behind them that kids have to be drafted in to clear it up. It also says a lot that people wont help at a deaf centre or an old peoples home unless they have been conscripted. What we are faced with is the problem of indifference and apathy. People will drop litter in their street because they know the state will send someone along to clear it up for them. Having an army of road sweeps will only cause this to continue. Likewise with volunteering. Old people, for example, used to be cared for by their families but now they are farmed out to residential homes because of the same expectation that the state will take care of it. What needs to be tackled is the apathy and indifference that causes these problems, not the harmful effects.

The current clamour for bringing back National Service has been prompted by the increased of yobbish behaviour, an epidemic of low (and not so low) level crime and general anti social conduct most regularly represented in the form of ‘binge drinking’ and footage of young women with not much on flashing TV crews and young men fighting, vomiting and urinating in town centres all over the country every Friday night. The causes for this are many, and it is vital to note that the proponents of National Service do not seek to prevent this problem before it arises, merely to stick you in the army when it does.

In short, the reintroduction of National Service is a silly idea for silly people seeking imaginary solutions to very real problems.

The Rulers and the Ruled


They went to a Comprehensive

There is an old Star Trek episode in which Captain Kirk beams down to some planet and finds a society divided between people who live in gleaming cities in the clouds and those below, the Troglytes, who live beneath the ground and work in the mines that power the city. Fritz Lang’s silent classic, Metropolis, made in 1927, tells a similar story of a society divided between two groups; Thinkers, who rule, and Workers who, well, work. In HG Wells’ The Time Machine, the Time Traveler visits earth in the future where the Eloi live above ground and the Morlocks live below it. Three stories with a common theme; the Rulers and the Ruled.

This may look like the stuff of science fiction, stories of blatant injustice and good versus evil, but I would argue that Britain today is congealing into two separate nations, those who rule and those who are ruled.

A study carried out by the Sutton Trust has found that “54% of the top 100 newspaper editors, columnists, broadcasters and executives were educated privately, despite fee-paying schools catering for 7% of the school population”. Furthermore, “That figure has increased from 49% in 1986, when the research was last carried out”. This bears out the findings of the LSE report into social mobility which I referred to in the previous entry. As Sir Peter Lampl says, “This is another example of the predominance of those who are privately educated in influential positions in society”. The educational elevator has stalled leaving those at the bottom stuck where they are while those at the top pass on national leadership in an almost hereditary manner.

As such it will come as no surprise to note that man of the people “Call me Dave” Cameron (Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford) is the son of Stockbroker, Ian Donald Cameron, and Mary Fleur, daughter of Sir William Malcolm Mount, 2nd Baronet. His friend George Osborne (St Paul’s School and Magdalen College, Oxford), the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the son of Sir Peter George Osborne, founder of Osborne and Little, the leading fabric and wallpaper designers. Such toffery should only be expected of the party of Alec Douglas Home and Anthony Eden but even the horny handed sons of toil who run the Labour party have a head start in life. Tony Blair (Fettes College and St John’s College, Oxford) is the son of a Law lecturer at the prestigious Durham University and his former partner in crime, Peter Mandelson (County Grammar School and St Catherine’s College, Oxford), is the grandson of Baron Morrison of Lambeth, former Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the House of Commons and Foreign Secretary. The Sutton Trust concluded that “Nearly a third of MPs and almost two thirds of members of the House of Lords were educated privately, compared to 7% in the wider population” and that “27% of the Commons and 42% of the Lords were educated at Oxford or Cambridge universities”.

This web runs right through the elite of British leadership. Whilst working as a TV producer, Mandy met John Birt (St Mary’s College and St Catherine’s College Oxford where he got a third in Engineering) who went on the become Director General of the BBC and was rewarded with a Life Peerage in the House of Lords when stepped down in 1999. One of Birt’s friends from his early TV career was Peter Jay (Dragon School and Oxford University and son of former Labour MP Baron Jay of Battersea – Winchester College and New College, Oxford) who married Margaret Callaghan (Blackheath High School and Somerville College, Oxford – now Baroness Jay of Paddington). Margaret was daughter of future Labour leader James Callaghan who made Peter Jay the ambassador to the United States even though his qualifications amounted to 10 years as The Times economics editor. Are you still with me?

More prosaic examples abound. The journalist Alan Coren (Wadham College, Oxford) seems to spawn TV presenters at will, his daughter Victoria having recently hosted a show about the English language and his son Giles frequently appearing as a newspaper columnist/film critic/restaurant critic (both junior Coren’s having graduated from Oxford). Terry Yorath and Kenny Dalglish, both ex international footballers, have generously donated their daughters to the noble cause of sports broadcasting. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson (Westminster and Christ Church College, Oxford), has given the country the ‘domestic goddess’, daughter Nigella, and son Dominic, former editor of The Spectator and Sunday Telegraph. The radical black activist, columnist and TV presenter Darcus Howe has seen his daughter, Tamara Howe, become a director of production for London Weekend Television.

There is another, more sinister vision of a divided society. In the novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley described a world in which people were divided from birth into castes, allotted their role in society. Bred in test tubes, those selected to be Alphas are educated and engineered to be physically superior, designated to rule. They rule over the Gammas, Delta and Epsilons, who are fed alcohol whilst in the test tube so as stunt their mental growth and leave them happy with the lt society’s rulers and builders have allotted them.

I believe we have seen that in this country. The education which could keep the population turning over, the social mobility which we have seen declining, has been destroyed. It was destroyed by people who had been bought the very best education money could buy. It may well have been done for supposedly good reasons, ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ perhaps, but the end result has been to entrench the social and economic elite (which was responsible for the death of education on the first place) in its position. On the Labour side, the Oxford educated Anthony Crosland promised the end of the grammar schools back in the 1960’s. Today, his fellow Oxford alumnus, “Call me Dave” Cameron has said “absolutely clearly, the Conservative party that I am leading does not want to go back to the 11-plus, does not want to go back to the grammar school system”. With so much expensively educated cross party opposition to the restoration of the engine of social mobility, ie grammar schools, what chance do the children of the less well off have?