Northern Ireland does something very stupid about prostitution

It’s always a little difficult for an Englishman, even one with an extra Irish citizenship (as your author does), to criticise an Irishman for being stupid. That century or more of their being the butt of bad jokes about imbecility creates a certain sensitivity to such an accusation. But this is still flat out a stupid thing to be doing:

Paying for sex is to be banned in Northern Ireland after members at the Stormont assembly members backed the move in a landmark late-night vote.

The proposal to outlaw purchasing sex is among a number of clauses contained in a bill aimed at amending Northern Ireland’s laws on trafficking and prostitution.

Paid-for consensual sex is currently legal in Northern Ireland though activities such as kerb crawling, brothel keeping and pimping are against the law. The proposed ban is similar to the model operating in Sweden.

The human trafficking and exploitation bill was tabled before the assembly by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow.

Trafficking and exploitation are already illegal: making voluntary transactions between consenting adults illegal will not make their incidence any less. Far from it, driving currently legal activity underground will produce more of those already illegal activities rather than less.

At the grander level this is horribly illiberal: the touchstone of any possible liberal society being that consenting adults, when their activities do not harm any non-consenting people, animals or things, get to do what they want. A society that decides to regulate adult sexual activity is not and cannot be described as liberal. It can be anything from Puritan to authoritarian but liberal it cannot be. And we’ve made hugely welcome strides in the direction of that liberality over the decades: for example, from the illegality of homosexual activity to the widespread acceptance societally of same sex civil partnerships. Plus, of course, the more general idea that what people do in their sex lives is up to them. Quite why anyone thinks that the intercession of a £50 note into the proceedings makes any difference is extremely difficult to fathom. It’s still the entirely voluntary playing out of the Tab A and Slot B scenario that we all agree consenting adults are entirely at liberty to perform as they wish.

At the more detailed public policy level there will obviously now be calls that England should follow suit. To which the correct answer is, as above, no it shouldn’t. But even if you don’t find a defence of adults being allowed to be adults convincing there is another. Which is that we really should take advantage of this devolved administration stuff to wait and see what happens. It’ll take a few years for this change in the law to filter through to human behaviour. Time which could usefully be spent actually looking at what happens. Only after we’ve done that will we know what does actually happen: and only once we do know what happens that’s the first time that we can or could usefully discuss whether it’s a good idea or not.

It’s definitional that of course consenting adults should be allowed to consent. But even if you don’t believe that let’s wait and see what actually happens here, eh?

Is Gamergate a classic case of left-wing infighting?

I published a ‘think piece’ on gamergate over at the research side of the website yesterday. I argued that the pro-gamergate side was likely to lose because the left usually wins (for good or bad) on cultural issues:

Gamergate is one of the most interesting cultural issues that has appeared in years. It is a rare time that the losing side of the culture war has put up a good fight. But the anti-gamergate side will win, because Progress always wins. I’ll try and give a concise guide to gamergate, what’s at stake, where it came from, and why exactly it is that it will lose.

I read another good post on it from Cathy Young over at realclearpolitics—she made a different point to mine, trying to stress how it was not reasonable to characterise much of the movement as anti-women or misogynist, but simply taking an alternative (and she believes, valid) approach to improving the lot of women in gaming:

There are valid concerns, shared by at least some GamerGate supporters, about sex-based harassment in gaming groups and stereotypical portrayal of female characters in videogames. Unfortunately, critics of sexism in videogame culture tend to embrace a toxic brand of feminism that promotes antagonism, grievance, and intolerance of dissent, not equality or empowerment.

When I posted my piece on twitter I asked for constructive criticism, and one good point that was made is that, at least according to their own views of themselves and their results on political compass tests, gamergaters tend to lean left.

This makes me think that gamergate might be best characterised as a case of leftist infighting, but this time between Murray & Herrnstein’s ‘cognitive elites’ that make up social justice anti-gamergate journalism and the broader constituency of more ‘normal’ pro-gamergate leftists holding more traditional leftist views. An open front in the war between New and old versions of what justice consists in.

This fits with my anecdotal experience that it is those (like Richard Dawkins) who are or have been associated with the left that experience most of their ire when they state or are suspected of having unacceptable views. As ever it’s interesting to look at the parallel with religion, which abhors apostates much more zealously than infidels.

And it also fits with the modern left’s de facto focus on race, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability as opposed to their previously overwhelming concern with economic exploitation or justice. As I said in the think piece:

Bear in mind that although social justice advocates do care about wealth disparities, this is far from their main concern, at least in terms of how they allocate their time. For example, insufficiently pro-transgender feminists will arouse large campaigns stopping them from giving lectures at many universities, while libertarian capitalists can speak freely. This is why I have argued that social justice is (a) a facet of neoliberalism, and (b) an artefact of the cognitive elite’s takeover of society. This is what makes the modern social justice movement so different.

This ends up working quite well for the ASI: we are quite comfortable with social progress as long as it allows for liberal economic policy, and only tend to object when social progress conflicts with more important goals such as free speech.

The Daily Mail’s actually right about NHS Wales here

It’s ever so slightly uncomfortable top be agreeing with the Daily Mail here as they’re being so nakedly politically partisan about the NHS, the Labour Party and Wales. However, it should be said that they’re actually correct in what they’re saying:

Today this paper publishes the first part of an explosive investigation which blows away Ed Miliband’s claim that his party can be trusted with the NHS.

Indeed, there is no need to imagine how the service might perform under Labour. For the evidence is before us in Wales, where the party has had full control of the funding and management of health care since devolution 15 years ago.

As Guy Adams exposes on Pages 8 and 9, a picture emerges of a Welsh NHS on the point of meltdown, in which the wellbeing and often the lives of patients are routinely sacrificed on an altar of Socialist ideology.

The Welsh NHS has of course complained and the Mail’s response to those complaints is here.

We here at the ASI might not have put all of this into quite such politically loaded terms but the basic critique is correct, in that NHS Wales performs less well than NHS England. And we also know why this is so: NHS Wales has not adopted the last few rounds of a more market based structure as NHS England has. We’ve also known this for some years:

Some would argue that the drops in waiting times were driven by increased spending, rather than targets, patient choice and hospital competition. Hence the fears sparked by the McKinsey report of the possibility of massive cuts in services. However, money alone cannot explain why waiting times have dropped and equity has improved in England. During the same period that we examined waiting times in England in our study, Scotland and Wales, which both explicitly rejected market-driven reforms, have spent more per patient but have seen much smaller decreases in waiting times.

The more market orientated NHS England is both more equitable and more efficient than the less market orientated NHS Wales and NHS Scotland. Indicating that market based reforms are a pretty good idea: whatever that socialist ideology (although to be fair about it, it’s really just an innate conservatism allied with the traditional British dislike of anything that smacks of trade rather than a principled socialism) might have to say about it.

The tax system is the biggest barrier to growth

Outside of academic papers that too rarely see the light of day, most “research” is unremarkable in its optimism about the state of entrepreneurship in the UK. That’s why the RSA’s Growing Pains: How the UK became a nation of “micropreneurs” caught my eye. It paints a stark picture.

The UK, according to the report, has become a nation of micro businesses, while the proportion of high-growth businesses has plummeted: “UK businesses are becoming increasingly micro in size – reducing the overall potential for economic output and future growth, and increasing the economy’s reliance on a relatively small number of larger businesses.”

Since 2000, the proportion of businesses classified as micro (0-9 employees), as a share of all UK businesses has grown from 94.3 per cent of all private sector companies to 95.4%. This represents an additional 1.4 million micro firms and an increase over the same period of 43%.

“At the same time, the proportion of high-growth enterprises has declined sharply, falling by more than a fifth in the majority of regions since 2005.”

Although the number of high-growth firms is expected to rise over the coming years, the report cautions optimism: “performance is expected to remain below 2005 levels in all regions except London”.

So how can we solve the problem? According the entrepreneurs, the tax system (44%) is the biggest barrier to growth – ahead of a lack of bank lending (38%) and the cost of running a business (36%).

Another problem highlighted by the report is that entrepreneurs don’t know what the government is up to:

“Around three-quarters (73%) of small business leaders also say the Government must make it easier for SMEs to access the right information and support for growth. While several of the Government’s recent incentives to support SMEs are designed to address the top-cited barriers, perhaps this information is not reaching the people who need it the most.”

Two polices are put forward in the conclusion to help entrepreneurs. First, “continued reform of the apprenticeship scheme could help micro firms to grow out of this business size category”. Second, “more tax relief like the National Insurance holiday could also pay real dividends.” It would be worth exploring the former in detail (something I plan to work on), but I don’t think another NI holiday goes nearly far enough: Employers’ National Insurance should be scrapped entirely. And no just for small businesses.

Being an entrepreneur is tough. As the report points out, “the majority (55%) of new businesses don’t survive beyond five years.” Scrapping Employers’ NI is the logical place to start.

Philip Salter is director of The Entrepreneurs Network.

‘Global Inequality as a Consequence of Human Diversity’

Over the past few days I read Tatu Vanhanen‘s new book, Global Inequality as a Consequence of Human Diversity published by the Ulster Institute for Social Research. Though I am broadly open to the arguments he makes therein, it is not a good book and I cannot recommend it. I have not read IQ and the Wealth of Nations the 2002 book he published with Richard Lynn, but I suspect the theses are very similar.

His argument runs that the existing explanations for the variation in living conditions between nations are either hard to falsify (like Jared Diamond’s and Jeffrey Sachs’), excessively narrative, explain too little of the variation, or beg the question (like Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson’s).

He advances an alternative explanation: since (a) human evolution has been recent and extensive enough to produce substantial morphological differences (consider how different Koreans, Somalians and Papua New Guineans look); and (b) we have a large literature suggesting that lots of traits, especially cognitive ability (measured well, he believes, by IQ) are substantially genetic, we shouldn’t assume all human populations are genetically similar in intelligence. Since we know that intelligence is important for social success within populations we should not be surprised if it controls success across populations.

Quoting Pilar Ossorio, he says:

According to contemporary geneticists, any two unrelated humans are about 99.8% or 99.9% genetically identical, but because ‘the human genome contains approximately 3bn nucleotides (DNA building blocks), a 0.1% or 0.2% difference translates into millions of sites at which two people will have a different nucleotide.’

He constructs an ‘Index of Global Inequality’ (IGI) out of six measures of societal success: gross national income at purchasing power parity; the share of the population in tertiary education; under-five mortality; life expectancy; sanitation facilities; and an index of democracy. He finds, with a simple regression, that around three quarters of a country’s IGI is explained by its average IQ. Further, most of the outliers have special explanations for why they depart from the curve, the biggest four being: oil, caribbean tourism, history of socialism and civil wars.

In and of itself, this argument is somewhat interesting and somewhat suggestive. What is surprising is that this is almost the entirety of the book, fairly laboriously spread over 170-odd pages. It makes almost no attempt to deal with the evidence against it. For example, it’s true that within Western groups IQ is highly heritable (i.e. most of the variation between individual is due to genetic factors) and largely unaffected by environment. It’s also true that within poorer societies a large fraction of IQ is down to genes, but this fraction is lower, because there are many more of the big downside factors that can really stunt cognitive development (principally malnutrition). And it’s much less clear that the difference in IQ across the world, where environments are extremely heterogeneous, are down to genetics.

It’s not that it’s impossible they are and there is rock solid evidence for the alternative. But Vanhanen doesn’t even attempt to provide evidence for his view that IQ is practically entirely genetic, even across strikingly different environments. One flaw of the book is that once he has stated that the evidence suggests IQ is mainly genetic within populations, he begins assuming the link between IQ and development across populations purely represents human diversity-caused differences, with only the unexplained residual environmental. This is not representative of the stronger stuff I’ve read in the area.

This leads into another puzzling issue with the book: the fact it fails to deal with any of this existing literature. There are better ways to test whether institutions, geography or human diversity is driving differences in development and he doesn’t really attempt any of them! For example, a 2011 paper found that effectively random variation in institutions had no effect on the economic outcomes of a given African ethnic group. The literature is large and the debate is still raging, and Vanhanen’s ‘side’ might end up being judged right, but his approach adds basically nothing to the question of whether IQ causes development or development causes IQ.

I suppose I can’t really blame the book for its cheapness, the relatively frequent typos, the ugly and unclear charts and tables, but these certainly reinforce the overall feeling of lightweight pointlessness you get when you read it. And I can’t stress enough the importance of human capital theorists being epistemically cautious in their claims, given how controversial their conclusions are. People, working on sound principles, often devalue a perspective when they hear a weak argument in its favour (‘if that’s the best they’ve got…’), and I think Vanhanen’s new book will only weaken the case for considering human diversity when looking at global inequality.