The People’s Republic of South Norwood

South Norwood, the unassuming splodge in the London Borough of Croydon is no more. Long live the People’s Republic of South Norwood! You may not have noticed, thanks to a concerted media blackout by The UK Establishment (though the WSJ did get wind), but last Friday was the day of the Great South Norwood Referendum and the dawn of a new Republic.

Inspired by the Scottish Independence movement and frustrated by the disdain with which local government treats the area, local heroes The South Norwood Tourist Board  held a (definitely absolutely legitimate and totally binding) referendum for the community: Should South Norwood remain with Croydon Council, unite with an Independent Scotland, or declare their independence? The public spoke, and voted to boot out their uncaring and overbearing masters to go it alone with a whopping 53% of the vote.

It’s hardly surprising that the downtrodden population of South Norwood had enough of Croydon Council, who have simultaneously ignored pleas to clean up and invigorate the area, whilst clamping down on displays of frivolity and fun. Notoriously, head of the Council’s Health and Safety outlawed plans for the community-led ‘Lake Naming Ceremony’, inspiring a crowd of revellers (and a gang of Morris Dancers) to hold an illegal event in subversive defiance. It will be written in history that the naming of Lake Conan Doyle sewed the seeds of secession.

Now that South Norwood has established its independence it faces a number of tough questions. What does this mean for its governance and security, its relationship with the UK, and its currency? Addressing these will be challenging, but there’s every indication that an independent South Norwood could thrive.

At first glance South Norwood is remarkably unremarkable. Long overlooked by pretty much everybody, it is yet to benefit from the gentrification of neighbouring Crystal Palace or the massive regeneration of Croydon town centre. Yet, with its blossoming community spirit (galvanized by the tireless tourist board), more lakes than the lake district, and a country park grown on top of an old sewer farm, its potential is undeniably huge.

Clearly, it is for the people of South Norwood to decide what shape their Republic takes. But as an ex-resident and dear friend of the area, I’ve outlined a few of the topics they need to address, and give a few suggestions on how to achieve a radical, yet roaringly successful Republic: (more…)

Sir Paul Nurse has finally decided to fire Paul Ehrlich from the Royal Society

We have to say that we’re not quite sure whether “fire” is quite the right verb for getting rid of a Fellow of the Royal Society. But given the manner in which Paul Ehrlich has been wrong in every single prediction he’s ever made about human beings, population levels, wealth, the economy or the environment it is about time that Britain’s leading scientific organisation dispensed with his services.

So we can only say Hurrah! to this statement from Sir Paul Nurse, the leader of that most prestigious of Britain’s scientific organisations:

Britain’s most senior scientist has launched a fierce attack on influential figures who distort scientific evidence to support their own political, religious or ideological agendas.

The president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, said scientists must challenge serial offenders from all spheres of life who continually misused science to support their preconceived beliefs.

Speaking ahead of an inaugural speech he will give next week as the incoming president of the British Science Association (BSA), Nurse said it was not enough for scientists to sit on the sidelines and sneer when public figures expounded unscientific nonsense.

Quite right too and we might even add to that Hurrah! with a “Well done Sir Paul” and even an “about time too”.

We could mutter something about why on earth was he there in the first place, possibly even grumble about it taking so long to do the right thing, but as the Good Book tells us more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth etc. So we should simply rejoice.

Maybe Karl and Friedrich were right about this Produktionsverhältnisse?

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels introduced us to the idea of Produktionsverhältnisse, the thought that social relations are determined (or, in a weaker form, influenced by) the methods of production. They did mean it to cover all parts of life too, the way we work, the way we marry, the way we trade and so on. All of which leads to an interest in this:

Women who have several sexual partners before getting married have less happy marriages – but men do no harm by playing the field,a study has found.

According to new research by the National Marriage Project, more than half of married women who had only ever slept with their future husband felt highly satisfied in their marriage.

But that percentage dropped to 42 per cent once the woman had had pre-marital sex with at least two partners. It dropped to 22 per cent for those with ten or more partners.

But, for men, the number of partners a man they appeared to have no bearing on how satisfied they felt within a marriage.

Researchers said the study showed that sex with many different partners ‘may be risky’ if the woman is in search of a high-quality marriage.

It concluded: ‘Remember that what you do before you say ‘I do’ seems to have a notable impact on your marital future. So decide wisely.’

The findings were published in ‘Before ‘I Do’: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults?’, published at the University of Virginia.

Well, yes, there’s more than a modicum of special pleading going on in that. One explanation for it all is that the more experience of men a woman has the more she realises that most aren’t very good at this sex thing, leading to possible unhappiness with the Chosen One.

Being less cynical (and possibly less amusing) about it though it is true that one of the great societal changes of the last couple of generations has been the change in attitude towards virginity, pre-marital sex and so on. And that’s where Mark and Engels might well have been right: for the technology surrounding reproduction has changed in that time period too.

Time was when the only reliable method of knowing that a man was bringing up his own children was if his wife had been a virgin at marriage and chaste since then (no, not celibate, obviously). These days that’s simply not true: and the reference is not to DNA testing. Effective and reliable contraception has meant that, by and large, pregnancies are the result of an active decision. Thus that value of virginity and or chastity has fallen.

This is all allied with Gary Becker’s work on why the wages of prostitution are so high: it’s not, at root, a highly skilled job after all. But it does involve a high expenditure of social capital: thus the wages to compensate for that.

In a world where highly desirable men would insist upon having virgin wives then virginity had a high value. In a world where this is not so, for virginity is no longer the only valid assurance of not being pregnant by another, the value of that virginity has fallen.

And we can most certainly see this as being true in the society around us. Outside certain highly religious groups there simply is no value placed upon the virginity of a woman of marriageable age (something that has risen by about a decade as well).

So we might well say that the change in the technology of reproduction has led to those changes in social relations. Which would be interesting, to find something that the Bearded Ones were actually correct about.

This is not certain though, not certain that we’ve identified the correct technology. For the rise in pre-marital sex didn’t actually start with the pill, in the sixties. Rather, in the fifties, with the ability of penicillin to cure the clap. Which might make slightly more sense: human beings, young human beings especially, are known to be subject to hyperbolic discounting. Knowing that a horrible disease can be cured near immediately might well have more effect on behaviour than a longer term concern of the quality of a future marriage partner.

Liberalism Unrelinquished: An interview with Dan Klein

Liberalism Unrelinquished (LU), is a new project by Prof Daniel Klein and Kevin Frei which aims to reclaim the word ‘liberal’ from those people who want to ‘governmentalize’ social affairs. So far it has been signed by around 350 people, including Alan Macfarlane, Charles Murray, Deirdre McCloskey, Richard Epstein, and Alan Charles Kors — as well as several members of the ASI. Dan spoke at the ASI back in 2012 on“Mere Libertarianism”, his synthesis of Hayekian and Rothbardian strands of libertarianism. I reviewed his rather excellent book Knowledge and Coordination here. I spoke to Dan about his new project.

Bio: Daniel Klein is a professor of economics at George Mason University (where he leads a program in Adam Smith), the JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at GMU, a fellow of the Ratio Institute in Stockholm, editor of Econ Journal Watch, and the author of Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation(Oxford University Press, 2012).

What is Liberalism Unrelinquished (LU)?

LU is a declaration of no surrender on the word liberal. The 250-word Statement is as follows:

In the 17th and 18th centuries there was an ascendant cultural outlook that may be termed the liberal outlook. It was best represented by the Scottish enlightenment, especially Adam Smith, and it flowed into a liberal era, which came to be represented politically by people like Richard Cobden, William Gladstone, and John Bright. The liberal outlook revolved around a number of central terms (in English-language discourse, the context of the semantic issue that concerns us).

Especially from 1880 there began an undoing of the meaning of the central terms, among them the word liberal. The tendency of the trends of the past 130 years has been toward the governmentalization of social affairs. The tendency exploded during the First World War, the Interwar Years, and the Second World War. After the Second World War the most extreme forms of governmentalization were pushed back and there have since been movements against the governmentalization trend. But by no means has the original liberal outlook been restored to its earlier cultural standing. The semantic catastrophes of the period 1880-1940 persist, and today, amidst the confusion of tongues, governmentalization continues to hold its ground and even creep forward. For the term liberal, in particular, it is especially in the United States and Canada that the term is used in ways to which we take exception.

We the undersigned affirm the original arc of liberalism, and the intention not to relinquish the term liberal to the trends, semantic and institutional, toward the governmentalization of social affairs.

Thus far, about 350 people have signed the statement.

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Piracy deal ahoy!

After years of impasse, UK Internet Service Providers and the copyright holders of the entertainment world look set to sign off an agreement on internet piracy.

According to the Beeb  a ‘voluntary copyright alert programme’ is to be agreed. Under this, ISPs will identify the IP addresses of alleged copyright offenders and send them ‘educational’ letters on copyright violation and legal alternatives to piracy. Whilst a similar ‘six strikes’ scheme in America sees ISPs able to impose sanctions (such as slowed internet speeds) on persistent offenders, the UK scheme does not. The amount of letters that ISPs can send is capped, and no individual will receive more than 4 letters. Following these, no further action will be taken.

This voluntary agreement breaks a deadlock between content giants, the government and ISPs caused by the Digital Economy Act (DEA). Rushed through in the parliamentary wash-up of 2010, the DEA’s copyright provisions instruct ISPs to keep a database of persistent downloaders, and to restrict then finally suspend internet access to those who ignore written warnings.

These provisions are deeply problematic. They force ISPs to police their own customers, burden the companies with compliance costs and ask them to protect another’s intellectual property. Punishing alleged copyright infringers without judicial involvement also undermines the rule of law. Criticized by many politicians, civil liberties groups and the ISPs themselves, none of the Act has been actually implemented.

On the face of it, it’s good that the new agreement is such a watered-down version of earlier proposals. It’s certainly a far cry from what the content industries really want: effective barriers to piracy and access to a list of infringers to hit with ‘compensatory’ legal action. Advocates of internet freedom should be pleased. That said, the agreement doesn’t change the power of copyright holders- they can still get infringing content removed and websites blocked under existing legislation.

Furthermore, skeptics might think that the entertainment industry’s acceptance of the new scheme is just them playing the long game. The programme is meant to run for 3 years but be regularly reviewed. Rights holders have warned that should the scheme prove ineffective they will push for the “rapid implementation” of measures in the DEA.

If the objective is to deter piracy it’s obvious that the scheme will be next to useless: sending ‘educational’ letters will do little to change the behavior of serial downloaders. What it does do, however, is let the entertainment industry claim that a soft approach doesn’t work, and gets ISPs creating a database of copyright infringers that rights holders might win access to in the future. Playing ball now gives the copyright giants credibility to push for more extreme measures later on.

This might seem cynical, but the established entertainment bodies are reluctant to let go of their increasingly outdated business models. Returning to the DEA also gets governments back in the picture, whom copyright bodies often have great success in lobbying. From the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act’ of 1998 to the recent EU extension of the copyright in sound recordings, entertainment groups have a knack of preventing their goods from falling into the public domain, and ensuring that governments favor their industry’s profits over actual economic sense.

Understandably, media groups want people to stop illegally sharing their stuff. But instead of lobbying for legislation and slapping fines around the most effective deterrent is to understand consumer’s preferences and offer them valuable alternatives to piracy. Whilst movie bodies get angry at Google for linking to copyrighted material without really tackling their problem themselves, Spotify’s quite probably done more to combat music piracy than blocking The Pirate Bay ever has. However, instead of evolving the copyright industry seems to go out of its way to antagonize consumers, rent-seeking and objecting to even the most eminently sensible of copyright reforms.

Given the entertainment industry’s determination to protect their intellectual property, it’s unlikely that efforts to tackle piracy will end with a voluntary alert system. Whilst innovating companies will continue to find new ways of sharing and monetizing content, for the time being the copyright-holding giants of the entertainment world will remain preoccupied with the wrong prescriptions for piracy.