10 March 2016

Taxation and freedom

Herbert Spencer on the idea that tax erodes freedom, from his Principles of Ethics:
Money taken from the citizen, not to pay the costs of guarding from injury his person, property and liberty, but to pay the costs of other actions to which he has given no assent, inflicts injury instead of preventing it.
Names and customs veil so much the facts, that we do not commonly see in a tax a diminution of freedom; and yet it clearly is one.
The money taken represents so much labor gone through, and the product of that labor being taken away either leaves the individual to go without such benefit as was achieved by it or else to go through more labor. *

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

* The Principles of Ethics, volume 2, 1879, chapter 26 ‘The limits of state duties’, section 366, my emphasis.

29 February 2016

Sir Michael Marmot, genetics and health

Were we to find a chemical in the water, or in food, that was damaging children’s growth and their brains worldwide, and thus their intellectual development and control of emotions, we would clamour for immediate action. […] Yet, unwittingly perhaps, we do tolerate such an unjust state of affairs with seemingly little clamour for change. The pollutant is called social disadvantage and it has profound effects on developing brains and limits children’s intellectual and social development. […]

I have spent my research life showing that the key determinants of health lie outside the health care system in the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age; and inequities in power, money and resources that give rise to these inequities in conditions of daily life. […]

As doctors we cannot stand idly by while our patients suffer from the way our societies are organised. Inequality of social and economic conditions is at the heart of it. […] I invite you to: [quoting Pablo Neruda] Rise up with me … Against the organisation of misery.

(Professor Sir Michael Marmot, inaugural Presidential speech to the World Medical Association)
In the speech by Michael Marmot from which the above extracts are taken, there is no reference to statistical differences in IQ or to other possible genetic influences. This is almost universally the case in modern analyses of any situation. Differences between various sections of the population are taken to be caused by the different circumstances of their members, and not by genetic differences between individuals.

10 February 2016

Herbert Spencer: socialism and slavery

Herbert Spencer’s essay ‘From freedom to bondage’ contains the following reflections on socialism.
[Compulsory co-operation], still exemplified in an army, has in days gone by been the form of co-operation throughout the civil population …

Having by long struggles emancipated itself from the hard discipline of the ancient régime, and having discovered that the new régime into which it has grown, though relatively easy, is not without stresses and pains, [humanity’s] impatience with these prompts the wish to try another system; which other system is, in principle if not in appearance, the same as that which during past generations was escaped from with much rejoicing.

… As fast as voluntary co-operation is abandoned compulsory co-operation must be substituted. Some kind of organization labour must have; and if it is not that which arises by agreement under free competition, it must be that which is imposed by authority.

Unlike in appearance and names as it may be to the old order of slaves and serfs, working under masters, who were coerced by barons, who were themselves vassals of dukes or kings, the new order wished for, constituted by workers under foremen of small groups, overlooked by superintendents, who are subject to higher local managers, who are controlled by superiors of districts, themselves under a central government, must be essentially the same in principle.  … This is a truth which the communist or the socialist does not dwell upon.

(in Thomas Mackay (ed.), A Plea for Liberty, 1891, pp.8-11)
Spencer points out that the ‘progress’ ostensibly aimed at by socialism actually takes one back to a former position, in which cooperation was compulsory rather than voluntary. However, the tone of Spencer’s comments, published in 1891, suggests a rearguard action, rather than a warning of something avoidable.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

25 January 2016

Oxford and Cecil Rhodes

Oriel College’s Rhodes Building,
with statue of Cecil Rhodes
Speaking at the ceremony to swear in Professor Louise Richardson as [Oxford University’s] new vice-chancellor, Lord Patten of Barnes made a thinly-disguised attack on the campaign to remove the statue [of Cecil Rhodes] from Oriel College, which students say promotes racism.

… Chancellor Patten said: ‘Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been, according to our contemporary views and prejudices. We work, study and sleep in great buildings, many of which were constructed with the proceeds of activities that would be rightly condemned today.’ …

Cecil Rhodes died in 1902 and left two per cent of his fortune to Oriel College, which funded a new building on High Street. But students have demanded the college’s statue of him be removed, describing the former mining magnate and politician in South Africa as a ‘racist and murderous colonialist’.
(Oxford Times, 14 January 2016)
Lord Patten of Barnes refers to certain activities, presumably including those of Cecil Rhodes, as being ‘rightly condemned today’.

The activities of Cecil Rhodes were in accordance with the ideology and laws of their time. Lord Patten seems to be implying that they would not be in accordance with the ideology and laws of the present time. His comments suggest a belief that the current ideology and laws are more ‘right’ than those of a century ago.

Many things happening in the world today are in accordance with the prevailing ideology of their environment. It often seems to be considered inappropriate to condemn such things, possibly on account of egalitarian principles.

At some future time, attitudes might have changed in such a way that Chancellor Patten could be condemned for having condemned the activities of Cecil Rhodes.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

15 January 2016

Rudyard Kipling: heredity and exceptionality

There was a feast by the blazing campfires in front of the lines of picketed elephants, and Little Toomai was the hero of it all.

And the big brown elephant catchers, the trackers and drivers and ropers, and the men who know all the secrets of breaking the wildest elephants, passed him from one to the other …

Machua Appa, the head of all the drivers of all the Keddahs* … leaped to his feet, with Little Toomai held high in the air above his head, and shouted: ‘Listen, my brothers. Listen, too, you my lords in the lines there [addressing the elephants], for I, Machua Appa, am speaking! This little one shall no more be called Little Toomai, but Toomai of the Elephants, as his great-grandfather was called before him.

What never man has seen he has seen through the long night, and the favour of the elephant-folk and of the Gods of the Jungles is with him. He shall become a great tracker. He shall become greater than I, even I, Machua Appa! … Aihai! my lords in the chains,’ — he whirled up the line of pickets — ‘here is the little one that has seen your dances in your hidden places — the sight that never man saw! … Make your salute to Toomai of the Elephants! … Aihai!’

And at that last wild yell the whole line flung up their trunks till the tips touched their foreheads, and broke out into the full salute — the crashing trumpet-peal that only the Viceroy of India hears …

But it was all for the sake of Little Toomai, who had seen what never man had seen before — the dance of the elephants at night and alone in the heart of the Garo hills!
Rudyard Kipling’s story ‘Toomai of the Elephants’, from which the above extract is taken, was originally published in 1893, and then reprinted in The Jungle Book published in 1894. It provides an illustration of the fact that ideas of heredity and exceptionality were current, and generally accepted, at the end of the nineteenth century.

* Keddah = enclosure to trap wild elephants

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

04 January 2016

Mensa: debasing the idea of ‘genius’

The parents of a child genius with an IQ similar to Einstein’s have said she is ‘perfectly ordinary’. Ophelia Spracklen, 12, scored a stunning 157 on her Mensa test – only three points lower than Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

More than 121,000 people worldwide are members of Mensa, an elite society that boasts some of the smartest brains on the planet. Its tests gauge Intelligence Quotient, or IQ, using problem-solving tests. ... Ophelia’s results put her into the genius category of 145 to 159.

... Chief executive of Mensa John Stevenage said Ophelia’s score put her in the top one per cent of the population.
(Oxford Times, 31 December 2015)
They appear still further to have debased the concept of ‘genius’. Havelock Ellis defined it by reference to a person having an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography. More recently, it has been defined by performance in socially recognised IQ tests.

When my IQ was tested in 1945, I was told that it was 180. At that time, I was given to understand that there was a population of people with an IQ between 180 and 200, and also a population of people with IQs over 200 who were ‘geniuses’. Now, it appears, a testable IQ of over 145 qualifies its possessor to be described as a ‘genius’. This seems to imply that about 1% of the population of this country are geniuses.

In my school days in the 1940s, I used to think that an IQ of 140 or more would usually enable you to be top of your class in a grammar school.

Using the new definition, it would seem that these days, one is never more than a mile away from a ‘genius’.

23 October 2015

Slandered by Oxford: reparation overdue

There has recently been some discussion about my colleague Dr Charles McCreery’s father, the late General Sir Richard McCreery.

This has led to interest in our accounts of the fictitious slanders spread about Dr McCreery, and about our research organisation, by senior figures at the University of Oxford and elsewhere, in particular about alleged drug-taking.

As Dr McCreery wrote, there was zero basis for these slanders, as one of the individuals involved in spreading them – the University’s then Registrar, Sir Folliott Sandford – admitted at the time.
Sir Folliott Sandford admitted quite abjectly that there was not a shred of evidence for the slander, that it was pure speculation, and that it had been started in order to explain the rift between me and my parents. [Charles McCreery]
The slanders caused damage to Dr McCreery’s career prospects, and led to his being disinherited by members of his family.

We continue to seek redress from those who unfairly benefited from the disinheritance, and from the universities (Oxford and Warwick) whose officials were involved in spreading the slanders.

We call on Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Andrew Hamilton, to rectify past wrongs.

09 October 2015

Tesco and the ‘living wage’

Tesco says national living wage will cost it £500m by 2020

Tesco has said George Osborne’s new ‘national living wage’ will cost it £500m by 2020, putting further pressure on profitability at Britain’s biggest supermarket.

The current Tesco boss, Dave Lewis, said focusing on profits had led Tesco to make bad choices for staff as well as customers. ‘On behalf of myself and the team, the only thing we can say for the choices we made is sorry.’ (The Guardian)
The implication here is presumably that, if resources are transferred from shareholders to people who are paid a relatively low wage, this must be a good thing.

No wonder the share price has been falling if the CEO says, in effect: ‘Sorry we have been trying to make profits for shareholders.’

02 October 2015

Maternity pay

When my colleague Dr Fabian Wadel was a graduate student in economics at Oxford, he once expressed to another such student (male) possible reservations about the idea of maternity leave. The other student found this so unacceptable that he stormed off. Fabian says his reaction was not atypical.

In his conversation with the fellow graduate student, Fabian did not express the most serious objection to maternity leave, which is that it deprives employers of the freedom to employ whom they wish. They will tend to employ fewer women if they know that a potential liability such as maternity leave is attached to them. Since the state does not wish fewer women to be employed, but more, the result is that quotas then have to be introduced with which employers have to comply.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn recently said that self-employed women should have access to maternity pay. Presumably this is because it is considered ‘unfair’ that they should miss out on an advantage provided to women who are employed. If one regards maternity leave as allowing women to have children without risking dismissal, the idea of applying it where a woman employs herself may seem illogical. But perhaps it should really be regarded as a form of unemployment benefit.

Jeremy Corbyn is proposing that, in the case of self-employed women, it should be the state (as opposed to the employer) which funds maternity pay. Intervention is a violation of the freedom to contract as one chooses. However, it is not clear which is the worse violation: forcing an individual employer to pay for an arrangement he would not otherwise have chosen, or forcing all taxpayers to contribute an additional amount towards funding such an arrangement.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

25 September 2015

Minimum wage, maximum interference

A legally imposed minimum wage is a violation of the principle that individuals should be able to contract with one another in whatever way they choose.

As with other welfare legislation, once a principle has been violated, even if only in an apparently minor way, the initial violation facilitates further advances in the same direction, and is likely to lead to such advances.

Once the principle against a minimum wage was broken in the UK (in 1999) it became relatively uncontroversial to increase the level. Initially the minimum wage was £3.60 per hour; currently it is £6.50, and is about to rise to £6.70. Adjusting for inflation, it has increased by about 30 percent.

The minimum wage concept is now being used for a different purpose than the one for which it was intended. The government is proposing to increase the rate to £7.20 in 2016, rising to at least £9 by 2020, as a way of reducing dependence on state benefits. The objective of decreasing state expenditure may seem laudable, but doing so by further damaging people’s ability to contract on terms that suit them is morally and economically questionable. It is likely to mean the destruction of certain areas of activity.

For example, some home care organisations are saying that it will make the provision of home visits impossible, because visitors will have to be paid rates* that are unviable.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

* See for example ‘Living Wage could harm home care sector’, BBC News, 27 July 2015.