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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

Does the GOP need a new stool?

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Monday 10 March 2014

"Does the GOP need a new stool?"

This is the question that upcoming TNG guest Tim Stanley's been asking in a recent blogpost for the Daily Telegraph. To give a bit of context:

"..the Republican stool is at risk of losing its balance. As William F Buckley once argued, support for the GOP historically rests on three conservative legs: free market libertarians, social conservatives and foreign policy hawks." 

However, in the absence of a strong anti-communist message American politics has drifted leftwards, whilst the GOP's 'Middle American' unity has been replaced with a "discordant alliance between wealthy grey technocrats and populist crazies". The legs of the Republican stool now look wobbly and unbalanced, leading to some uneasy and often contradictory politics. As a consequence, the Republicans fail to provide a convincing or consistent alternative to the liberals and Obamanomics. 

So, what's the solution? Tim suggests that it lies in a 'rugged constitutionalism', where politics is conducted at a state level, individual freedom carries real significance, and Republican governments promise to largely get out of the way. Certainly, this has real appeal to libertarian-leaning conservatives both in America & the UK, but what's the likelihood of it actually becoming an election strategy?

Fortunately, under 30s are invited to ponder this question further at the TNG with Dr Stanley on this very subject tomorrow.

The event starts at 6pm in the ASI offices, and RSVP either on Facebook or to events@adamsmith.org.

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Edapt in Education

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Tuesday 04 February 2014

Michael Gove's battle against  "the blob" rumbles on. Not only is he in the firing line over Ofsted appointments, but the NUT is set to announce the date for more teaching strikes on Friday. Cue the cheers of solidarity from some sources, and lofty dismissals of leftist militarism from others.

Though the saint-sinner dichotomy makes for easy reporting, the real relationship between teachers, politics and the unions is more interesting. Despite falling membership across other sectors, teaching remains a highly unionized profession. Teachers also report high levels of satisfaction with their union experience. Despite this, turnout for voting on industrial action is often low, and 44% teachers told a LKMco study that the right to strike isn't important to them.

Instead, the most frequently-given reason by teachers for union membership is access to legal advice and support. With 1 in 4 teachers experiencing a false allegation at some point in their career, the expertise and advice a union offers in times of dispute is also cited as the most valuable service they provide.

Given the structure of employment law and the difficult nature of dealing with children, it is no wonder that teachers value this support. However, there's no reason why affordable expert advice should have to be bundled with a political agenda. Indeed, a quarter of teachers said that they'd rather not belong to a union if a good alternative existed. At a CMRE seminar last week John Roberts outlined the model of his company Edapt, a for-profit, teaching union alternative established in 2011. Edapt offers the legal advice and representation teachers seek, without engagement in political bargaining and lobbying. Instead of trading blows with governments they can focus on delivering quality employment support to their members. Many members approached Edpat with a pre-existing issue and unsatisfied with their union's response, whilst Roberts boasts of Edapt's 99% satisfaction rate.

Obvioulsly, this model would not be for everyone. Many teachers still consider collective bargaining an essential tool, and Edapt is small fry compared to the unions. Not all teachers are comfortable playing politics, however, and inter-union competition for members can encourage more politically aggressive strategies. Recent strikes have polarised teachers, with Edapt growing most quickly around times of industrial action. Further strike action could lead to another surge of teachers uncomfortable or simply exasperated with their union's actions.

No matter what causes people to join Edapt, political neutrality is crucial for its long-term success. It's ironic that eschewing sector politics can look ideological, but a 'non-union' is easily seen as an 'anti-union'. Gove might have made this mistake himself in inviting Edapt to reform discussions last year. And, tellingly, his endorsement of the Edapt as a ‘wonderful organization’ actively lost them members.

Time will tell just how successful union alternatives can be. If Edapt can prove that it isn't ideologically driven and its focus is right, the model might have relevance in other sectors and across countries. With only 25% UK workforce unionised, there might be scope to offer services to people who wouldn't have considered joining a union. Either way, with 48 hours of tube strikes starting tonight, I bet TfL wishes that there were more union alternatives within public transport. 

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Technology, Privacy and Innovation in 2014

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Tuesday 28 January 2014

Prediction lists for the coming year are always revealing, though perhaps more of the current public mood than the future. A write-up of the tech trends for 2014 by Fast Company's design blog is hardly controversial, but what is interesting is how the areas they’ve chosen highlight the existence of two wider and seemingly divergent technological trends. This apparent conflict in the way technology is heading is far from problematic. On the contrary, it shows our success in adapting and experimenting with new ideas and in response to shifts in the social and political context, without the need for any central guidance.

One thing clear from Fast Company's list is that 2014 will bring a continued increase in the volume and depth of the personal data we create. Things like Google Glass, the ‘quantified self’, hyperpersonalised online experiences and the interconnectivity of theInternet of Things all create new reasons and mechanisms for data capture. This in turn increases the value of our data to ourselves, the companies with access to it and, in some situations, the state.

However, the article also predicts that 2014 will see increasing concerns over cyber-privacy and a movement towards greater digital anonymity. Users will increasingly chose to control their own data and how this is profited from, whilst we will begin to discover the joy of ‘disconnecting’ from the digital world and see the creation of intentional blackspots.

The fact that we seem to be embracing deeper technological integration yet simultaneously finding ways to mitigate and avoid its consequences is certainly interesting. Does this show that we’ve raced forward too fast and are trying to claw back a space we’re realising we’ve lost? It’s perhaps possible that this is the case, but far from giving us cause for concern the two-track path we’re seeing shows the ability of consumers and the tech sector to adapt over time, and in turn gives some hints on the optimal tech policy.

Continue Reading...

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Should fans be concerned by Bitcoin's fall in value?

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Friday 20 December 2013

The last few months has seen a breathtaking rise in the price of Bitcoin. Starting around $15 at the beginning of the year, Bitcoin's price went from round $200 to a peak of over $1,200 just during November. Then from early December BTC's price began to falter, with a sudden drop and a low of $550 on the 18th: less than half its price just weeks before.

Commentary has been just as volatile, with some seeing BTC's rising price as its explosion onto the scene and proof of its revolutionary potential. Others have scoffed, calling the whole thing a bubble inflated by overoptimistic geeks and people looking for a quick profit. Now that BTC's price has come tumbling, should proponents of the crypto-currency be humbled and/or worried? 

Recent rises and falls in Bitcoin's price have reflected developments in China.  In November Bitcoin exchange BTC China secured $5m investment from Lightspeed Venture Partners, and surpassed Mt Gox as the largest exchange in terms of trading volume. However, on the 5th December the People's Bank of China announced that it does not consider Bitcoin a currency, barring banks & other financial institutions from dealing with it. Around this time Bitcoin's price took a sharp downwards turn. Then, on Monday, the central bank banned 3rd-party payment companies from working with Bitcoin exchanges. This left Chinese exchanges unable to take deposits, and the price cfurther tumbled.

This is potentially bad news for entrepreneurs who want to see Bitcoin widely adopted, as well as for more ideological fans who consider Bitcoin's strength its decentralised and stateless nature. Governments will never be able to stamp out Bitcoin completely, but making it as difficult as possible to use will hamper the objectives of both groups. The Mercatus Centre's Bitcoin Primer explicitly urges policy makers to consider the technology morally neutral, warning against restricting its development and its use by non-criminal users. Whilst China cracks down on BTC its uptake in developing countries -particularly amongst the unbanked-is strong, and Denmark has just announced that it will not regulate Bitcoin or its exchange. China may well realise that it is missing a trick and relax its hostility.
Nevertheless, innovation around this problem will occur if it continues. Bitcoin is a global start-up project, with swathes of  passionate and seriously techie fans.

Some take Bitcoin's crash as proof that that it is an unstable and unsustainable folly- nothing more than a risky virtual commodity bet.
Certainly, Bitcoin's volatility is an established fact, with its last big crash in April wiping out 80% of Bitcoin's value over 6 days. Nevertheless, BTC has always recovered and increased in value. Indeed, since the 18th Bitcoin's price has been creeping up yet again.
Calling bubbles is a funny thing, because both falls in price and continued rises offer 'proof' of the hypothesis. It is perhaps more accurate to say that Bitcoin is undergoing a long period of 'price discovery'. A lot of purchases have been speculative or made out of curiosity, but as more users and ways to spend the currency emerge, so will a clearer and more stable idea of its price. Bitcoin's shifting price isn't even that much of an issue for those using it for purchases: vendors adjust their Bitcoin prices regularly to reflect the changing exchange rate. It is short-term investors and those calling Bitcoin the 'new gold' who should perhaps be more wary.

Others say that Bitcoin's falling price reflects underlying concerns with the currency - such as issues with security and fraud, and exchanges' ability to cope with demand. Some suggest these issues mean that Bitcoin will never be much more than a digital curiosity. But at the early stages of the computer and the internet few thought they would be so transformative, or could imagine how they would evolve. Bitcoin is certainty not ready for mainstream adoption or about to cause a central banking crisis, but that is zero reason to write it off.  So much of how Bitcoin can and should operate is yet to be discovered, let alone decided. Despite all the recent attention it is still in its infancy, and growing pains and price shifts are an inevitable path of its development.

Even if Bitcoin's price were to come crashing devastatingly down, the world's first digital, decentralised ledger-based currency has created a new paradigm: a new way of thinking about money, transactions, anonymity and even our relationship with the state. Even some of Bitcoin's biggest fans say it could one of the alternative, retweaked and 'improved' cyrpto-currencies which will really take off. 
On which note- why care about the price of Bitcoin when you can be an early adopting millionaire of everyone's favourite meme-cum-cryptocurrency, the shibe-tastic, very money Dogecoin! (wow)

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The Internet Watchmen

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Wednesday 11 December 2013

As Tim Worstall notes, new government plans to block online terrorist and extremist content are extremely worrying. Along with the introduction of default 'opt-out' porn filters and the criminalisation of rape porn, they are another example of Cameron's politicised censorship of the web. Whereas reducing the proliferation of child abuse images is a good thing, this new measure results in the censorship of ideas. Furthermore, whilst it is relatively straightforward to identify child abuse imagery, it is much less so (and arguably impossible) to decide which ideas are 'too dangerous' to viewed in the UK.

Aside from these issues there is also the question of how such a content block would work in practice. In many ways, how to block can be as problematic as the censorship itself.

The government has said that it wants to model the new blocking unit on the Internet Watch Foundation: a part-EU, part internet industry-funded UK 'hotline' for child abuse imagery. The IWF assesses material submitted by the public and flags up UK-hosted content to be removed by service providers. Content from outside the UK is added to a URL 'blacklist' which ISPs then block UK access to.

There are a number of issues with this model. First, there is no guarantee that what the IWF flags up is actually illegal. With no legal clout, the IWF acts on content it deems 'potentially illegal' - and there is little to stop legitimate content getting wrongly marked. One controversial case saw a picture of an album cover on Wikipedia getting blocked until the backlash forced the IWF to reverse their decision. Appealing against the IWF's decisions can be a difficult and opaque process, not least because of the difficulty of appealing against the illegality of an image you can't even see.

Despite the IWF's lack of legal authority, the Open Rights Group claims that their blacklist has never been assessed by a court or legal body. This makes their actions rather murky. Given its sensitivity ISPs can't see the content of the blacklist to make their own judgement; they must either block all of it or none.  On top of this, there are also problems with the technology ISPs use to actually block the URLs - which can be unreliable and block too broadly.

In addition, from April 2014 the IWF will shift from a being reactive body -acting only on content sent to it - to a proactive one, actively seeking out images of abuse behind pay walls and on peer-to-peer networks.  This approach is another step in the active policing of the web, and is also likely to be followed by the new anti-extremist unit.

Issues of political and religious censorship are much more complicated than that of child pornography. The unaccountability of the IWF and its lack of judicial oversight  therefore make it a poor model to copy for what is an incredibly controversial (and dangerous) policy. Since the new unit will be publicly funded, its decisions may come under greater legal scrutiny. On the other hand, a government-funded body could become politicised and overzealous in its mission. In any case, a clear due process and a rigorous appeals system will be absolutely essential.

Crime & security minister James Brokenshire says an update on the proposals will arrive shortly, though the fact that civil liberty groups claim not to have been consulted on the matter is rather worrying. The sensible thing to do would be to scrap this idea altogether. Since this is unlikely to happen, both the politics and the technicalities of the initiative are bound to prove difficult indeed. 

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Digital Conversations

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Friday 29 November 2013

Last week I went to an event put on by the Meetup group 'Digital Conversations'. Hosted by the digital agency Reading Room, the theme for the night was "Society, Government and Public Life". Six speakers gave a range of short but varied and interesting talks, bringing together people from digital design, non-profits and the government.

The topics ranged from software design to government snooping via community engagement and smarter government services. It has become cliched to talk about these last two, especially alongside phrases like 'the data revolution' and 'people power'. What's less clear is if these ideas really mean something and in practice help forge better outcomes. In this way it was interesting and encouraging to see what people in a range of different jobs were doing within the intersection of technology and government.

Despite the breadth of topics, certain themes ran throughout the night. One was the use of digital technology to amplify the 'soft' power which citizens posses through traditional civic engagement.
Will Perrin from kingscrossenvironment.com gave his experience of holding government to account using methods from the humorous - sticking council logos on dog mess and blogging them - to the serious - using freedom of information requests to spark a corporate manslaughter investigation into TFL. The ability to use digital to empower citizens was shown to be even stronger within less developed and transparent states. For example, a basic app of the Nigerian constitution has allowed citizens to learn and assert their rights, and has been downloaded over 8 million times.

The event also highlighted the importance of the micro and designing for humans. Websites such as 'What Do They Know' and 'They Work For You' are popular because they take chunks of information and display them in a way which is easy for people to understand, informing and empowering them.

Designers should make sure the systems they create are designed with the user's habits and needs in mind, instead of forcing them to tackle rigid and unintuitive systems. Similarly, whilst the concept of big, open date may be brilliant, it is essential that this data can be manipulated by all. Many potential users aren't programmers or statisticians, and giant datasets which need APIs to navigate them can hinder as well as help analysis.

Government services benefit from this re-imagining. Dominic Campbell spoke about the Patchwork app designed to provide better collaboration within child protection services, and which was designed in response to Baby P's case and the total failure of the incumbent ContactPoint system to prevent it. Despite retaining huge swathes of data on every single child from birth till 18, the expensive system raised serious privacy concerns, failed in its objectives and was ultimately scrapped. In contrast, Patchwork allows professionals to 'group round' children and share information only when necessary and in a way which is clear and intuitive.

It was interesting to see what attendees and speakers thought the future would hold for government. Some ideas were rather libertarian-friendly- for example, the goal of efficient 'invisible' government, which would do things like automatically create and process visa applications with the purchase of flight tickets. It was also encouraging to hear a speaker insist that a world in which 14% of the health budget comes from the sale of narcotics on a government version of Silk Road is not inconceivable!

However, some other ideas - such as government gathering social media data to create a 'community hive mind' -were rather more alarming. Most remarkable was the level of complacency of the organisers and attendees regarding mass government surveillance. One speaker's entire presentation was summed up by a slide saying "NSA am I bothered? Not really LOL :)" Of course, not everybody is going to find the recent revelations earth-shattering, but it is unnerving to hear people working within these sectors have such little regard for civil liberties and privacy concerns.

When those responsible for designing government systems (and ultimately the use of citizen's information) seem not to perceive potential abuses of state power and trust, it is hard to be enthusiastic about new government initiatives. With tech companies tightening security and encryption in response to Snowdon's revelations, I don't want well-meaning and forward-thinking designers to be asleep on the job, and dismissive of questions about the proper power balance between citizens and the state. This aside, it was really good to see such smart and engaged people talk about the exciting work they do. 

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Tor, Bitcoin and the Silk Road: three forces for good

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Friday 11 October 2013

Since the arrest of Ross Ulbricht aka 'Dread Pirate Roberts' — the alleged mastermind behind the Silk Road — media attention has in part focused on the role of legal technologies Tor and Bitcoin in its operation. Silk Road was an online black market where all kinds of restricted and illicit goods (from illegal drugs to forged passports) were sold in an eBay-style setting. Because of the nature of its wares it made up part of the 'deep web' - accessible only by using software such as Tor, which enables user anonymity by obscuring their location and usage, making surveillance incredibly difficult. Its illegality also prevented customers from paying via card companies or PayPal, so business was done using the crypto-currency Bitcoin.

Whilst talk of Bitcoin and Tor is old hat amongst technophiles, reporting of Silk Road's takedown is probably one of the first times that many people would have heard about such technologies. And, understandably, when their raised profile comes in association with a giant underground marketplace in drugs and a man charged with charged with ordering an assassination, people may be swift to discount them as 'hacker tools', or look upon them unkindly. (The Guardian's leak of GCHQ's presentation 'Tor Stinks', which depicts an apparently typical terrorist Tor user masked and toting an assault rifle (and sat in front of a giant onion) is in this respect both amusing and depressing.)

However, Tor and Bitcoin aren't used just for shady dealings. Both can be used to great benefit — Tor in providing freedom and safety online, and Bitcoin in encouraging financial and monetary innovation.

There are huge numbers of people who aren't terrorists, sex offenders or drug barons who benefit from anonymising software such as Tor, and those whose lives may depend on it. Tor allows people across the globe to communicate freely when doing so is risk and the internet is monitored or subject to blocks. It circumvents national firewalls, empowering and educating citizens who would otherwise be restricted. It allows whistleblowers to divulge their information anonymously, journalists to share news, and activists and citizens to criticise, dissent and organise in protest. Millions around the world benefit from Tor.

And it isn't just citizens in oppressive regimes who benefit — Tor is used by the military in operations to protect their location whilst communicating securely. It could also be argued that concerned parents can help protect their child online by using Tor to mask their location. Whatever else Tor may be used for, its capacity to liberate and protect is great.

Similarly, the development of crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin carry with them great potential. Bitcoin is an open-source, peer-to-peer electronic currency. It has no central issuing authority; the money supply is increased as users's computing power crunches numbers to verify pervious transactions. This has made crypto-currencies very interesting to those who wish to abolish central banks and establish new forms of currency. But Bitcoin also has a growing number of practical uses.

Increasing numbers of vendors are accepting payment in Bitcoins and it can be used to pay for things from Wordpress services to pizza. It doesn't require any third-party intermediary such as credit card companies or PayPal to process payments, making transactions cheaper and easier. This can lower transaction costs for businesses, which, were Bitcoin to become widely adopted could also be passed onto the consumer. The Mercatus Center's primer on the currency suggests that this aspect of Bitcoin could also revolutionise the global redistribution of wealth. In 2012 immigrants to developed countries sent $401 billion back home to developing countries. The average fee doing so at places like Western Union is close to 10%, whilst fees for similar services using Bitcoin are less than 1% of the transaction. Wiring companies are looking at integrating Bitcoin services into their own, and if they were to do so this would be a tremendous boon for the poorer people of the world.

Transferring traditional currency into Bitcoins can also allow people to overcome domestic economic problems and the consequences of corruption. With tight capital controls and an inflation rate of 25%, it is no surprise that Argentinians are some of the most enthusiastic users of Bitcoin. Other great uses of Bitcoin, such as in conjunction with SMS banking in developing countries, are developing all of the time. Bitcoin definitely has the potential to be more than a plaything for nerds and a way of buying hash.

Cathy Reisenwitz is right: the world is less safe now that Silk Road is gone. The violence associated with drug dealing is not a consequence of the products, but of their illegality. As a stable, trusted and effective platform Silk Road removed that need for violence. Drug laws need a serious overhaul, and the user rating and delayed payment system of Silk Road offer a great model for a legal marketplace for drugs. I therefore think that it is great that technologies such as Tor and Bitcoin are being put to such use.

However, many will disagree. This is why it is important to point out the great potential and liberating capabilities of these technologies before people discount them, or worse turn against them. No technology in itself is 'good' or bad' - what matters is how it is put to use, and while we worry about the potential dangers of new technology, we should remember its use in positive ways too.

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Curbing payday lending is a fool's errand

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Friday 30 August 2013

As the ethical debate around ‘payday loans’ continues, local councils have begun to rally against these lenders. Plymouth Council recently became the first local authority in Britain to ban payday companies from advertising across their billboards and bus shelters, while other councils are looking at following suit.  Councils such as Plymouth City, Newcastle, Dundee and Cheshire East have also already blocked access to the top 50 payday loan websites across their public networks of buildings, libraries and  community centers.

This is partially a response to the Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) report citing widespread regulatory non-compliance throughout the industry, including a prevalence of irresponsible lending. Whilst the new Financial Conduct Authority is soon to start a consultation over beefing-up industry regulation, the OFT has also instructed the Competition Commission (CC) to look for evidence of any prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within the industry. Last week, the CC announced they would be studying the market for evidence of  “impediments to customer’s ability to search, switch and identify the best value product” and any “significant barriers to [firm’s] successful entry or expansion”.

The CC is probably expecting any anti-competitive behavior to stem from firm’s actions or the market’s structure. However, by restricting consumer’s access to information and erecting new barriers to entry, local councils are themselves making the market anti-competitive.

Blocking payday websites in public buildings means that those needing public internet to research loans are prevented from exploring the range of options open to them. These are generally the people most likely to benefit from discovering lower rates of repayment and flexible deals — and the kind of vulnerable people the council’s actions are designed to protect. Furthermore, banning advertising is simply likely to entrench the market share of current top providers who have an established image — regardless of the merits of other companies. The FCA is currently contemplating a cigarette-style nationwide ban on payday loan advertising , which would further compound this problem. Council’s actions may be designed to hurt the loan companies, but they end up harming consumers too.

It is interesting to see what, if anything, the CC will say about this impediment to effective competition. Given current public opinion it seems likely that any action taken to obstruct the publically-defined ‘predatory’ loan companies is here to stay, even if it were to negatively impact on the most vulnerable.

Instead of banning adverts and adding tighter regulation — both of which are designed to make it harder for these payday companies to operate — there are more effective ways to address the rise of payday loans.

Whilst currently only a small source of finance Credit Unions provide a viable and ethical alternative to payday lenders. However, they currently face a monthly interest cap of 2% and are often a loss-making venture. Easing the restrictions on Credit Unions would better allow them to make profits, grow in scope and effectively compete with payday companies.

Secondly, making the benefits system simpler would provide some with greater financial certainty and could eliminate some of the reasons for resorting to a quick loan.  A benefits system better at tracking changes in people’s situations would reduce the delays people face to get the correct benefits and would reduce the number of people having to pay back over- payments. Similarly, tapering the withdrawal rate of benefits in a gradual way would ensure that people entering work aren’t suddenly hit with unexpected surprises and bills.

Tackling what we deem a worrying trend in society doesn’t always require bans and regulation. It is possible to create alternatives to payday loans and reduce the need to use them without demonizing or blaming the lenders themselves.

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Time to rethink prostitution

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Wednesday 02 June 2010

As the trial of Stephen Griffiths, the “crossbow cannibal” accused of murdering three Bradford prostitutes unfolds, it is impossible not be appalled by the allegations. Like far too many similar incidents before it, this case shows all too clearly the failings of the UK’s sex industry.

While the act of prostitution is legal in the UK public solicitation is prohibited, making street prostitution and curb-crawling illegal. Third-party involvement in the act of prostitution is also prohibited, which makes it illegal to keep a brothel, ‘pimp’ prostitutes or control them through an agency. This current state of legality can make selling oneself in a safe manner rather tricky, especially for the vulnerable.

Setting aside the moral controversy surrounding the sex industry, it is essential that prostitution be completely lifted from the black market for the safety of those involved. In the USA, female street prostitutes are 18 times more likely to be murdered than other women of a similar age and race. As prostitution operates in a hazy legal field, sections of the market are tied up in further criminality, such as people trafficking and drug dealing. Those people who turn to prostitution face a stark choice: break the law by working in a brothel or through an agency, or ‘go it alone’ with next to no support or protection from the potential dangers of an unregulated profession. It is often those in severe financial straits or suffering with an addiction who find themselves exploited and abused, unable to seek help because of their position. A tough police stance on prostitution does little to help the welfare of sex workers, but much to put them at risk. A crackdown on activities like streetwalking simply encourages women to seek new locations from which to work, such as more obscure neighborhoods or those without CCTV.

Instead of the current system, prostitution should be treated like many other professions; legal and regulated, as is the case in countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand. Allowing prostitutes the safety and security of a fixed workplace and network of co-workers would put them at much less risk. Evidence shows that the commercialization of prostitution would lead to better rights for workers, better working conditions and more established routes through which to seek help. A legal, competitive brothel or agency would have the incentive to make sure their workers are clean and well looked after - or risk losing business.

You cannot just legislate against a ‘problem’ to make it go away, and the age-old profession of prostitution is absolutely no exception. This case should act as a catalyst for reform. David Cameron has indicated that he will reconsider the UK’s current legislation, although there seemed no discernable conviction behind his statement. The legalization of prostitution in all its variants is needed to make Britain a freer and more importantly, a safer society.

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What Price Liberty?

Written by Charlotte Bowyer | Friday 28 May 2010

I've just finished reading 'What Price Liberty? How freedom was won and is being lost' by historian Ben Wilson. And I must say, it was a fascinating read. Using Berlin's negative definition of liberty, Wilson chronologically charts the growth, decline and battle for individual liberty over the last four hundred years of British history.

While reporting and examining political events across the centuries, Wilson seeks to identify the factors that have extended freedom. It is not often large-scale demonstrations, benevolent governments or even constitutional checks and balances that nurture liberty, Wilson argues, but "the direct action of bloody-minded individuals". Liberty has been won, bit by bit, in "moments of storm and passion" by minority groups, opportunism, and, quite often, unintentionally. And when liberty has been protected without legal restraints on government, it has been because the concept and language of liberty flourished in public debate. Using examples from across ages and the political spectrum Wilson shows that when individual liberty is considered sacrosanct by all classes the political desire to meddle is beaten down: though not always without a fight.

However, Wilson gloomily claims "the liberal phase in our history seems to be coming to an end". From the emergency legislation of the World Wars that seized liberty in the name of national security and victory, subsequent declines in individual freedom are all too painfully noted. Again, Wilson's analysis is interesting: that over recent decades we have become more 'risk-averse', with the fear of social disorder, crime and terrorism encouraging people to incrementally hand over their liberties in return for increased security and peace of mind. The information age has seen state regulation and data hoarding increase, while the lines between public and private, protection and intrusion have become increasingly blurred. New Labour’s desire for a strong and efficient state was at ends with the principles of ‘cumbersome’ liberty, and so its importance was downplayed at every opportunity. Another blow to liberty has been struck, Wilson argues, by Britain’s uneasy response to multiculturalism. Our fear of offending minorities has lead us to attack everyone’s right to free speech, and created legislation that makes all of us less free and more fearful of those who are ‘different’.

How do we counteract this? The answer is to re-invigorate the language of individual liberty, and encourage it to be spoken by politicians and the public. This liberty is the foundation of social harmony, progress and economic growth. Britain’s relative freedom has been admired and mocked, but always recognized; it is up to groups such as the ASI to demonstrate how essential this freedom is and insist that liberty is at the forefront of policy decisions.
 

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