Alcohol, localism and the post-bureaucratic age

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Cameron is planning once more to get tough on cheap booze. The Conservative’s have yet to give any clear policies on this matter, but a minimum price for alcohol might well be on the agenda.

Drinking alcohol and getting drunk are of course not problems in and of themselves. However, the antisocial side of its effects are best dealt with through the devolution of political powers to local levels. Sadly localism comes with its own problems, but short of the privatization of all land and the natural creation of contract-based communities, at present there might be no politically realistic alternative. With more representation and varying policies at the local level, people will have a greater say over where and how they live. Alcohol can flow to where it is most readily appreciated. This transfer of power should be done contemporaneously with an end to the national taxation of alcohol and a hefty reduction in centrally dictated regulations.

As for the more serious cases of alcoholism, once again the centralised state and politics does not have the answers. Regulations and prohibitions will not solve the underlying causes of people’s decent into alcoholism. Salvation ultimately comes from the strength of the individual and the support of institutions predating the modern state: family, friends and charity. And despite the Ian Duncan Smith’s constant calls through CSJ for the state to support these institutions, much better would be to leave them alone to flourish as they did prior to the massive extension of the state.

A minimum price for alcohol is hardly in the spirit of the post-bureaucratic age Cameron is so keen to promote. And this is ultimately the problem with this vision; he has has not signed up to the reduction of the central state that is essential if localism is to be anything more than another control upon our lives. A skeleton central government as the defender of our freedoms and local governments as the many and varied expressions of the will of the community could and should be the practical reality of Cameron’s post-bureaucratic age.

This would be no small revolution, and a serious blow to collectivism. Of course there are solid arguments that this does not go far enough, but in reality, it would be more than we can currently expect.

A healthy debate

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Second only to zombies, the topic du jour it seems is lambasting the NHS. A new study brings some suitably shocking statistics for those who’ve already sorted their contingency plan for an invasion of the undead and aren’t overly concerned with Kerry Katona’s mental health. Apparently not only do NHS workers take more sick days than the average public sector worker and smoke just as much, but more than a quarter have absences due to ‘stress, depression and anxiety’.

Yes, the figures aren’t promising and are worth some consideration, but in reality they’re far from shocking, and most are in fact related to the job. Work in a hospital? Congratulations, your chances of getting an infection have significantly increased. While the Telegraph says picking up infections from patients wouldn’t explain all the absences, the runny noses and common colds the rest of us can work through will worsen the condition of the already sick. Far better to take a sickie and not risk it.

Saying the smoking figures should be lower because those working in hospitals have seen the effects first hand is failing to acknowledge that we all know someone who’s had cancer, we’ve all seen the effects and it hasn’t stopped one in five of us. Why should they be any different?

And the high stress and anxiety levels also come with the job. Every sympathy with that bad day in the office, but you don’t have people putting their life in your hands, you’re not handing out life-changing diagnoses, and you’re not dealing with people who are upset through sickness and bereavement – all valid reasons for a calming cigarette.

In the end, perhaps not so shocking. If these statistics extracted those in front line services from bureaucrats there might be a story. As it is, it is another missed opportunity to tackle the many necessary debates that need to be had on the future of healthcare in this country.

Rose Friedman - defender of liberty

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Yesterday Rose Friedman passed away peacefully at her home in California. The wife of Milton Friedman, she co-authored many publications with him, most notably Free To Choose in 1980 which was followed by a successful TV Series on PBS. She and her husband were champions of free market economics and liberty, highlighting how intrusive government held back progress and hampered human development. Advocates of choice they supported voucher schemes in education establishing The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in 1996 to further promote this idea. She will be as sorely missed as her husband of 68 years is.

You can read the NY Times Obituary here. And the Friedman Foundation's announcement here.

Soft' A-Levels

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The Conservatives’ new exam shake-up plans are all very well and good for gaining support from a public where the general consensus is that exams just aren’t the same as they were in the good old days (and who mostly haven’t sat an exam in over a decade and never will again) but in practice will only cause more problems. Schools pushing pupils into ‘soft’ A-Levels to inflate their league table position will push pupils towards whatever raises their scores, be it maths or media studies. Worse, the plans may pressure pupils into taking ‘hard’ subjects simply because they believe it’s what’s expected of them, rather than because they enjoy them. Ironically this will see further grade inflation with weaker students taking up these subjects, pushing those stronger candidates who would have taken the subject regardless further into the top grades.

Besides, while PPE at Oxford may suit Mr. Cameron, he fails to realise that not everyone is suited to, nor wants, the kind of classical education he got. The world works because people, rather than being united by desires of further education and a multi-million pound job, are good at and want different things. I note that none of the top unis are offering me a degree in plumbing (nor do I want one). Need I worry? No: my plumber, Tom, who did not go to Oxbridge or study quantum mechanics, but who is a proud possessor of several vocational qualifications (a big Conservative no-no), knows pipes like the back of his hand. Yes, we need trained scientists and doctors, but we also need people in those ‘less academic’ trades. Besides, we’ve got enough unemployed graduates as it is.

One last word on the ‘hard’/’soft’ debate: does academically undemanding translate as easy? Cameron seems to think so – so, if the results of the next general election swing in their favour, I would like to make them getting the legislation through conditional on one thing: that every single Conservative party member get an A in A-Level Dance. And then post the results on YouTube.

Promises, promises, promises

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Over the past decade we have all felt New Labour’s grip tightening around our lives, but perhaps one of the most adversely impacted demographics from their time in power are the young adults who will have to face the New Labour legacy.

Throughout its time in power, New Labour has made a series of empty promises to young people in Britain putting them in an increasingly disadvantaged position. Instead of leaving them free to grow up in a more prosperous society, they are now subject to live with falling standards in youth health, rising youth crime and non-existent community cohesion. Despite Tony Blair’s promise of ‘education, education, education’, young people now find themselves with fewer opportunities than when he came to power.

New Labour’s ‘solutions’ have impacted on the young. They failed in education, so grades have been inflated to spin themselves out of trouble. In failing to maintain cohesive, safe communities they have let many violent offenders go free, while slapping ASBOs on thousands of teenagers in order to be seen to be tough on crime.

Alistair Darling has now announced that the government is going to come to the rescue of thousands of 18-24year old NEETS (Not in Education, Employment or Training) who have been affected by the recession. He plans to ‘create’ jobs and training opportunities for all. Of course, many young people have been affected by the recession, but this is mainly because NEETS are under-trained and inexperienced. This latest promise cannot be realized in the current economic climate and is more about political maneuvering than real and hard facts.

When it comes to the youth – this government’s record is one of failure.

The world's biggest employers

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We often here the phrase, "the third biggest employer behind the People's Liberation Army and the Indian Railways" with regard to the NHS. And even if you go to the jobs section of the NHS website they seem proud of the fact that they employ over 1.3 million people, 'the biggest in Europe'. They are indeed one of the biggest employers in the world, but who are ahead of them?

1. Wal Mart 2.1m
 
2. People's Army Liberation 1.6m
 
3. China National Petroleum 1.6m
 
4. State Grid 1.5m
 
5. Indian Railways 1.4m (2007)
 
6. NHS 1.3m

 

The uninsured numbers

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Much of the debate relating to the American healthcare system revolves around the 'uninsured'. Even President Obama seems to be struggling, unable to get his figures straight: claiming 47 million, or is it 46 million are uninsured. Perhaps the best annual report is the US Census Bureau's Income, Poverty and Health Insurance (the 2008 survey will be out later this month). They give a headline figure of 45.657m uninsured Americans, or 15.3%.

We'll forgive the President's discrepancy of 343,000 but we'll examine who exactly constitutes this uninsured mass. For example 9.737m, 21.3% are not US citizens. But what of the remaining 35.920m. Overall 32.118 million people are in households that earn more than $25,000 per year (including 9.115m uninsured people in households that earn $75,000 or more). Insurance plans to individuals are costly but would not take much from an annual income of over $25,000. Obviously there is some overlap and we can't remove 32.118m from the overall figure based on their average annual earnings, but it does beg the question as to why they feel they can't afford insurance? Even if we lean to the extreme and exclude those earning over $50,000 it removes some 17.503 million dragging the total excluding non-citizens to 18.417m.

But what of the age breakdown? There are only 686,000 over the age of 65 who aren't covered. This compares to the 18.320 million between 18-34. who are the least likely to fall ill, which could explain why many choose not to take coverage. The picture of uninsured in America is a clouded affair. It has to be said that the real number 'in need' of health insurance falls some way off the 45.657m that is misquoted by those seeking to overhaul healthcare.

Stop smoking the easy way

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Liverpool Council would like to consult with organisations and members of the public upon a proposal to revise its licensing policy that would mean an "18" classification would be given to new release films exhibited in Liverpool if they depict images of tobacco smoking and do not already carry an "18" classification.

The lunacy of this proposal is beyond argument, but is further evidenced in the details. Apparently smoking will be permitted if it shows “a real historical figure (not an historical era) who actually smoked" and/or shows “clearly and unambiguously, the dangers of smoking, tobacco use or second-hand smoke." Imagine the jobsworths who will judge this; they would have had to make Saving Private Ryan an “18" . Under such circumstances this of course could have been avoided: Steven Spielberg could had also pointed out the dangers of smoking while telling the story of the Omaha beachhead assault of June 6, 1944.

If Liverpool Council really wants to stop people smoking I have found the solution and it also makes use of an underused recourse, namely civil servants. Sitting as I do, opposite the colossal Department for Children Families and Schools, nothing ruins the unequalled pleasure of the early cigarette more than the sight of four score civil servants sucking away on rotation throughout the day.

As such, I suggest the government moves civil servants to smoking hotspots around the country, located squarely opposite schools. If the glamour of watching the stars of Hollywood smoke encourages the habit, the solution is not to hide it behind the mystique of prohibition, but to replace it with the future that a depressingly high number of these state educated children have to look forward to.

Click here to let Liverpool Council know what you think.