Well done to Enough Project and Global Witness over conflict minerals

You may or may not be aware of the provisions of the Dodd Frank act over conflict minerals. These were pushed by the Enough Project and Global Witness as a way of reducing the violence associated with the mining of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold in the Eastern Congo. We were originally told that this would cost some $10 million, one cent on each mobile phone made, and pacify the region. Even the SEC says that this has cost some $4 billion just in its first year of implementation. And it appears that it doesn’t in fact work either:

There is widespread belief that violence in poorly governed countries is
triggered by international demand for their natural resources. We study the consequences
of U.S. legislation grounded in this belief, the “conflict minerals” section of the 2010
Dodd-Frank Act. Targeting the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, it cuts
funding to warlords by discouraging manufacturers from sourcing tin, tungsten, and
tantalum from the region. Building from Mancur Olson’s stationary bandit metaphor, we
explain how the legislation could backfire, inciting violence. Using geo-referenced data,
we find the legislation increased looting of civilians, and shifted militia battles towards
unregulated gold mining territories. These findings are a cautionary tale about the
possible unintended consequences of boycotting natural resources from war-torn regions,
and the use of international resource governance interventions.

The money quote:

The evidence suggests the legislation significantly increased the incidence of
looting and the incidence of violence against civilians by at least 291 and 143 percent

Lord preserve us from well meaning Social Justice Warriors, eh?

Currently Dodd Frank applies only to listed US companies. Global Witness is among those campaigning to have the same provisions written into European Union law for all companies, even down to the level of sole traders.

Should increase the level of violence they say they want to reduce quite nicely that, eh?

A certain disconnect from reality here

The idea that prisoners should be banned from smoking in their cells has reared its ugly head again. The true reason that such a ban is not in place is that, for the time of their sentence, their cell is their home. We do not ban people smoking in their own homes: we therefore do not ban prisoners smoking in their cells. We also do not want to give the government, any government, the power to ban people doing something entirely legal in their own homes: thus we do not want to grant this power to ban prisoners smoking in their cells.

However, even given all of that, this does show a certain disconnect from reality, doesn’t it?

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of charity Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no evidence to support claims that depriving prisoners of tobacco could lead to riots.

“Prisons all around the world have gone smoke-free with few problems and, in the UK, all high-security psychiatric facilities have already gone smoke-free, as have prisons in the Isle of Man and Guernsey, without any trouble,” she said.

Not paying much attention to the news, is she?

On Tuesday, hundreds of prisoners lit fires, broke walls and smashed windows in a 15-hour riot at a Melbourne prison in what authorities believe may have been a reaction to a smoking ban at the remand facility.
It was one of the worst prison riots in recent memory and authorities and commentators moved quickly to either condemn or support the state-wide prison smoking ban.

No, she’s not:

Police armed with tear gas and water cannons were on Tuesday evening still attempting to contain a riot that broke out at a maximum security prison in Victoria earlier in the day, after prisoners became angered by the introduction of a smoking ban.

All staff were evacuated from the prison in Ravenhall, Victoria, after several hundred prisoners rioted.

This happened only a few weeks ago…..at the end of June.

Shunning people: a defence

Last week, 30 students descended on Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, for five days of learning about classical liberal philosophy and economics. At the end of their week, they asked a panel of liberals their views on issues – including, whether it was right to ‘shun’ someone with views you found offensive, distasteful, or more generally, ‘bad’.

Sam Bowman, our Deputy Director, said we shouldn’t shun people for having bad views or opinions. When the threat of being shunned exists, you raise the cost of expressing such opinions – which makes it less likely that people will express them. Ultimately, then, these ‘bad’ opinions don’t get aired and addressed – but likely continue to shape the conduct of those who affirm those views, even unwittingly. I have sympathy for this argument – I’m naturally inclined towards anything that helps us challenge people’s preconceptions. The problem is that I don’t think this works.

First, let’s look at market interactions for an analogy. It’s great when the method of production in a given industry varies – we’re more likely to discover which is the more ‘efficient’, which produces the higher-quality good etc, and, most importantly, we’re more likely to enable innovation. But, when I’m buying that good, I’m under no obligation to buy a more expensive, lower-quality version simply in order to ensure that these varied production methods continue. In fact, I would argue the opposite (as part of an ‘ethical capitalism’) – I have the obligation to do my research and pick the best product available, to help encourage production of that strain of good and promote welfare for others. If firms that produced the lower quality good go bankrupt, this is neither my responsibility, nor am I deserving of any blame. I’d argue it’s a similar situation with people with bad views – of course, I subscribe to an argument for humility, and recommend plurality of views as a way to best advance society (as per J.S. Mill). But, also, as Mill says, that doesn’t mean I have a responsibility to ensure this situation – or to tolerate bad views within my personal sphere. I defend your right to be a bigot, but I don’t need it in my living room.

I also think there’s something very dangerous about safeguarding people from the consequences of their actions or thoughts. If you truly affirm X, then you should believe it even when I refuse to be your friend because of it. But to argue that I shouldn’t unfriend you, is to do precisely that – it’s to make me suffer (from association from someone whose views mean I have come to dislike them) for some external agent’s behaviour. In addition, it’s hard to understand how you can have a marketplace of ideas without some kind of currency – and the currency is other people’s opinions. If I affirm ‘women deserve to be second class citizens’, then my understanding of the value that view has been given by those around me is the degree of revulsion/disagreement that provokes from them. If someone cannot be my friend because I have affirmed this, it effectively has been given maximum negative value. This is a clue that perhaps I need to think about what I’ve just said a little closer.

Look at the Liberal Democrat storm, because Tim Farron refused to say that homosexuality wasn’t a sin. He’s refused to affirm a view that I understood to be a staple position of the Lib Dems (and that I wholeheartedly affirm). His supporters have argued that he is still a good liberal (which I don’t deny – he recognises that this is his personal view) and that we should stand behind him. This is a classical example of refusing us the right to shun those whose views we find distasteful or offensive. In this case, I think his views betray an inability to judge which parts of an archaic book should be brought into the 21st Century. I don’t want to associate (personally) with such people, because I think views like his harm people and because I value good judgement (quips about how I’ve just joined the Lib Dems are not welcome here). The extent to which Farron faces disagreement and dislike will provide a currency for his views – it won’t stop him having them, but it provides an invaluable context by which he can evaluate them.

Nobody is under any obligation to disassociate with people they like, with worrisome views. But equally, nobody has any duty to retain relationships with such people. Tolerance is good insofar as it respects others’ private lives, and reminds us to show humility in the face of subjective judgements. But there is such thing as ‘too tolerant’. ‘Too tolerant’ improperly values judgements. It allows people to say horrendous things with no, or few, repercussions. This is market failure in the marketplace of ideas.

Government to eliminate extremism by passing law against it

Being somewhat conventional, my parents brought me up with conventional views and being stuck in Norfolk, I have not got around to changing them.  I was therefore a little surprised to discover I am now an extremist. The Home Office considers that 1950s opinions are “extremist” in 2015.

Obviously most of us want to make life difficult for terrorists but the briefing for the new Counter-Extremism Bill goes far beyond terrorism.  The Home Secretary says “we are determined to eliminate extremism in all its forms”.  One has to wonder what kind of home the Home Secretary is living in if she imagines a parliamentary piece of paper will cause all terrorists to throw down their weapons and speak peace.  And ensure the rest of us invariably use language that our neighbours, and the thought police, consider inoffensive.

What is normal for Norfolk might be considered extreme in Brighton and vice versa. Luckily for Mrs May, UK mental health care is so underfunded, the white coats are unlikely to call.

The ludicrous fantasy of the objective is only worrying insofar as it reflects the mental state of our leaders.  The far greater concern is the scope being given to the police, Ofsted inspectors and all our other guardians to penalise us for a word out of place.

The Home Office spinmeisters will reassure us that the key words are “extreme” and “hatred”.  Norfolk turnips can relax, we will be told, because we are not extreme in the meaning of the Bill, nor do we hate anyone.  But of course that is not true.  We hate terrorists and especially those who kill our neighbours on Tunisian beaches.  We will have to reform.  If we go on hating them, the coppers will be calling.  This is the new policing: if you catch someone burgling your home, as someone did recently in Newmarket, and hold him down until the police arrive, you are the one prosecuted, not the burglar.  Now one will be prosecuted for the hatred as well as common assault.

Much of this is political cant.  Theresa May said (ibid) “As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation, and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values. Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, gender or sexuality.” This is nonsense because if we really only had just one set of values our culture could not develop, and no one could say anything beyond the established creed.  Catholics would not be able to argue for marriage being heterosexual.  The whole point of a civilised society is being able to promote one’s point of view in whatever way one wishes.

Yes, there should be some limits to that but not many.  Overstating one’s position is counter-productive and that by itself brings moderation.

The truth of the matter is that the Home Office wants to draw the Counter-Extremism Bill as widely as possible to make prosecutions, however incompetent, stick.  It should be cut back to the Counter-Terrorism Bill and properly thought through.

David Cameron is wrong and Owen Jones is right

Not quite a headline we thought we would ever offer. But it is true here:

In contrast to the nation’s deficit, Cameron’s rational, evidence-based approach to drugs has disappeared. The self-evidently catastrophic war on drugs – an unforgivable waste of life, wellbeing, treasure and time – is now to be intensified. A new crackdown on “legal highs” will now mean the criminalisation of, among other substances, poppers, a substance particularly popular among gay men interested in enhancing their sex lives.

The idea of making yet more drugs illegal is simply the wrong way to be going about things:

We have a clear choice. Do we leave drugs in the control of murderous drug gangs who destabilise entire nations – or do we regulate them, bring in tax revenues, and stop locking up harmless youngsters?

Quite so, we legalise.

We, being proper liberals, know that it’s entirely your right to stick whatever you wish into your own body. Interesting parts of other consenting adults, cheeseburgers and whatever form of toot it is that brings on whatever level of toot! toot! feeling that you desire. We will not be able to convince conservatives and Puritans of this.

However, we should be able to convince Conservatives, the most pragmatic of the British political parties, that the War on Drugs simply does not work:

As a London School of Economics report highlighted last year, the 44-year-old so-called war on drugs has achieved nothing, except “mass incarceration” in the US, repression in Asia, “vast corruption and political destabilisation” in Afghanistan and west Africa and the spread of HIV in Russia. “The strategy has failed based on its own terms,” the report declared. “Evidence shows that drug prices have been declining while purity has been increasing.”

That it’s morally wrong to have a war on the right to party may well be true and we’ll keep on saying so. But that it doesn’t in fact work is in itself sufficient justification to simply stop doing it. And if that means allying with Owen Jones, or indeed anyone else from any corner of the political spectrum, then so be it.

Far from banning any more drugs we need to legalise them all now.