"Waiter! What do you call this sprig of parsley in my Manhattan?"
"Central Park, sir."
"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
"Waiter! What do you call this sprig of parsley in my Manhattan?"
"Central Park, sir."
Ron Bailey over at Reason has a look at what modern science can tell us about the workings of the brain. The discovery of mirror neurons (essentially an extension of monkey see, monkey do, to monkey see, monkey feels like he do) and their part in the generation of empathy, plus the connections between this and certain forms of autism, all fascinating stuff. And all dependent upon the highest of high technologies: MRI scanners (the development of which got the 2003 Nobel in Medicine) and electro-encelphalogram studies.
But as Bailey points out, while the mechanisms have only recently been uncovered, the basic idea has been around for a couple of centuries or more:
"As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form
no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving
what we ourselves should feel in the like situation," observed British philosopher and economist Adam Smith in the first chapter of his magisterial The Theory of Moral Sentiments
(1759). "Whatever is the passion which arises from any object in the
person principally concerned, an analogous emotion springs up, at the
thought of his situation, in the breast of every attentive spectator."
Smith's argument is that our ability to empathize with others is at the
root of our morality.
Given this further proof of his wisdom, might we be able to persuade a few more people to pay attention to what he had to say about political economy do you think?
NB: Gavin Kennedy gives us the chapter and verse on the quotations for those who want to follow the reasoning more closely in the original.
A rational approach to the hardcore heroin addicts is proving somewhat successful. A pilot scheme that has been running for the past two years has seen drug use and drug related crime fall among those undergoing treatment. The treatment involves two thirds of patients taking methadone (half orally, half injecting) and the remaining third injecting diamorphine (pure heroin) all under the watchful gaze of nurses, doctors and counsellors. This amassed support has helped many users back to a more stable life and a way of coping with their addiction.
This clinical version of supplying legalized heroin has cut the amount of crime normally associated with addicts. As Professor John Strang, of the National Addiction Centre, pointed out, about 40 percent of users had "quit their involvement with the street scene completely. Of those who have continued, which obviously is a disappointment, it goes down from every day to about four days per month.” Whilst it hasn’t totally cut crime, it has reduced it significantly and this is just as important for both users and society in general. This isn’t a cheap process; the treatment costs around £9,000 to £15,000 per patient but this is more than borne out by the reduced costs in policing and prosecuting their crimes.
The government has taken a very practical approach to the problem and has seen that 'legalizing' drugs can be done in a safe way and has many benefits, not just to the user but to society. Perhaps they could extend this to other drugs and remove them from the streets so as to be in direct competition with the current sellers. In future the government could pay for the treatment of those that become heavily addicted, or indeed suffer a bad reaction to the drug of their choice, through taxing the sale of drugs. Not only would drug legalization reduce crime overall but it would also mean that a large swathe of our society need never be in contact with the criminal element.
A Happy Thanksgiving to all of our colonial cousins today of course, and here's a suggestion or two about what it's really all about. A producers' holiday celebrating private property rights ?
The always interesting Kip Viscusi: far from smokers costing society money, they save it money. Which makes the high taxation levels a little odd: it should, in logic, be a subsidy .
Switzerland and the EU : is low corporate taxation actually a state subsidy?
He may be a top policeman but he's certainly not a top logician .
It seems that those outside the Westminster Village are in fact taking a great deal of notice of the missing CDs.
No, it's not a surprising result, but then with those sponsors anything else would be .
And finally , a worthy contender for headline of the week.
When I was in Edinburgh last week, I went to have a look at the Scottish Parliament building. I had seen pictures of it, of course, but wanted to reserve judgement until I had viewed it myself. The question is, how well spent was the British taxpayer's £414.4 million (the original budget estimate was £10-40 million)?
In my opinion, not well at all. The Scottish Parliament is without doubt one of the most monstrous buildings I've seen – and I tend to like modern architecture. It may be pleasant on the inside, but the exterior looks like a misshapen concrete block with bits of bamboo randomly stuck on it. I'm told the design was based on up-turned ships, which explains a lot and is, perhaps, symbolic.
Anyway, the Scottish Parliament building got me thinking about town planning. One of the arguments commonly made in favour of our restrictive planning system is that without it, there would be a free for all, with ugly, poorly designed buildings popping up all over the place. But the Scottish Parliament wasn't just approved by government, it was built for government. And it's hideous.
Look at the rest of Edinburgh. New Town, a wonderful example of Georgian architecture at its best, was a privately planned development (street layout aside), just like the equally picturesque Bath. Developers made the buildings attractive because they wanted people to buy them. Compare that with the council estates that surround Edinburgh (and other great Northern cities). Built by the state after development rights were nationalised in 1947, little regard was given to the people who would be living in them, and they have been regretted ever since.
It's time we finally returned planning and development to the free market. There can be little doubt it does a better job than the state.
A drunken man staggered into a Catholic church, sat down in the confessional and said nothing.
The priest waited and waitedand waited.
The priest coughed to attract the drunk's attention, but the man still said nothing.
The priest then knocked on the wall three times in a final attempt to get the man to speak.
Finally the drunk replied, "No use knocking, pal. There's no paper."
In his most recent announcement on education, Conservative leader David Cameron pledged to provide of 220,000 new school places by allowing independent organisations to set up schools that would receive state funding on a per pupil basis. Under the Tory plans, a legal presumption that any "fit and proper persons" should be able to set up their own state-financed schools would be created, and planning rules would be shaken up to release more land for educational purposes.
All of which is excellent, and could make a real difference to our ailing education system. Supply side reform like this, which harnesses market forces to create good new school places, is vital if demand side reform (i.e. school choice) is going to be effective. Indeed, the proposals are very similar to those in our recent education report Open Access for UK Schools (which popped up again in the Guardian this week).
Unfortunately though, I worry the Tories still haven't quite 'got it'.
The whole point of establishing independent schools within the state-funded sector is that in return for greater accountability (the school sinks or swims on how many pupils it is able to attract) the schools are given operational independence. This is the surest way to raise standards. Yet the Conservatives seem unable to move beyond the idea that when public money is being spent, the government has to regulate. Thus these new 'independent' schools would have to stream pupils by ability and teach synthetic phonics, and so on. Of course, these requirements may be sensible ones, but surely such decisions are better left to parents and to teachers? As soon as you allow government to regulate, the rules start piling up and you're back where you started – city academies are a shining example of this.
All in all: good, but could do better.
LibDem MP Vince Cable on the Northern Rock debacle:
Tony Blair was widely criticised for advancing £800 million for the Millennium Dome. In the last few weeks this government has provided the equivalent of 30 Millennium Domes to this bank without even the prospect of a decent pop concert at the end of it.
UKIP MEP Derek Clark on the EU's plans to question women about their sexual history:
When will politicians realise that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual?
And finally, infamous German cannibal Armin Meiwes (the one who advertised for his victim online) has converted to vegetarianism and become leader of the Green Party group in his maximum security prison. According to The Scotsman :
The group of Green supporters is made up of murderers, paedophiles and drug-dealers and now has a convicted cannibal as its leader.
I've always said environmentalists were an odd bunch...
The big news today, indeed almost the only news worth talking about, is the way our Lords and Masters have shown themselves to be incompetent at keeping data safe. This is why, of course, we are all urged to load up every detail of our lives into the Government IT systems via the NHS Spine and the ID cards systems. So that they can, umm, keep them safe for us.
The basic outline of what happened .
Of course, the Minister insisted that the ID card system would be more secure . Her technical qualifications for this statement are:
Ms Kennedy's qualifications for making her statement include "residential child care officer at Liverpool City Council (LCC) (1979-1983) and care assistant at LCC Social Services (1983-88). Other past roles include Branch Secretary (1983-88) and Area Organiser (1988-92) of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE)
Fraser at The Spectator does some reporting .
The Times wonders whether ID cards are now a good idea (not that they ever were)?
The difference between this happening in Government and the private sector .
How about the conspiracy rather than the cock up theory ? It will cause a rise in identity crimes, meaning that cracking down by ID cards is even more necessary...
It was all known about a week ago : so they waited a week so that accounts could be drained perhaps?
Well, quite :
As this sorry saga proves, relying on the government to safeguard our personal data is like asking Fred West to babysit.
The NHS Spine also carries a great deal of data about us .
But don't worry! If GPs lose their laptops they'll be fined £5,000!
Even if this hadn't happened we would still oppose ID cards on moral grounds .
Why was this information even in a format that could be downloaded ?
We look forward to Polly's Friday column to tell us how this is all a good thing !
No2ID is on the case, of course .
Don't forget, they also lost the information on 15,000 Standard Life customers as well !
This morning's newspapers will have made fine reading for Chancellor and Prime Minister no doubt .
A technical review of what went wrong and what should be checked .
The Home Office's own advice on protecting your personal data (amazingly, leaving it all in the hands of junior civil servants isn't mentioned).
This is where the information has really gone of course .
Expect to see letters like this very soon .
Oh, and the man who resigned over this? You do know he's on full salary until his pension kicks in, do you ?
And finally , the whole thing reduced Tim Worstall, sometimes of this parish, to helpless giggles. If we all start to think they're laughable buffoons, might they go away?