conceptualizer

May 2, 2008

Easy Target

The good citizens among us have felt this sense of injustice; if you never felt it then you have been incredibly lucky, or perhaps you are just thick skinned about these things, or maybe you are one of life’s corner cutters, not an easy target. For example, you get a fine and points on your driving license for driving 1 mile per hour over a speed limit, but some reckless driver you have met never drove under a speed limit in their life and boasts they have a clean license. Or, perhaps you always declare all your income and pay your tax on time, but are chased relentlessly for a trivial amount missed by accident, when someone you know does not declare huge amounts they earn, because they got paid in cash. Or, perhaps you are a father from a failed marriage and you pay your child maintenance dutifully, but when you are a little stretched through no fault of your own, you get no latitude; but you know another father who skips most of his payments and always gets away with it.
The problem is target based metrics used to measure success that don’t value the difficulty of the job or its wider impact. It is difficult to ensure value is placed on these two features throughout society, but government has the opportunity to lead by ensuring they are used in the public sector. If they added these two criteria to any metric used to measure public sector performance, I think this would go some considerable way to making many of us feel happier with our society.

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April 21, 2008

Financial Insecurity

The current money market and housing market problems are underpinned via a common root problem, so I will treat them together. Government plans to solve the woes of the money markets and housing market are short term tactics, probably designed largely to get the government past the next general election. These plans don’t recognise the underlying problem and its causes. Also late in arriving, they instead treat some of the obvious symptoms. So, as it is unlikely that the government will do what is needed, we must recognise how best we might adapt our plans. Although the root problem for both market systems is the same, the symptoms are different.

The Symptoms

The housing market symptoms have increasingly been affordability issues for first time buyers and recently price falls leading to the infamous negative equity trap for some. Government plans to tackle affordability for first time buyers by allowing them to own a fraction of a property exasperate rather than alleviate their problem. People will commit what they can to get a house, so enabling fractional ownership simply allows the same financial commitment for a fraction of a house. Obviously, this in turn increases the price for the whole house. No one wants to spend any money on buying a house, prices are dictated by how much people are allowed to spend by lenders. Fractional ownership simply increases that allowance. There are no direct plans to help those in the negative equity trap, which reduces the mobility of the workforce and so is bad for the economy.
The financial services industry has a crisis in confidence that has stifled the free flow of money. Money is a vector for the flexibility and growth of an economy, so this impediment will have far reaching implications for the UK and is the biggest single problem we face now. Government plans to restore confidence to the money markets using bonds in exchange for property backed debt are not solving the root problem. Instead this tactic dilutes the problem by spreading it over time and distributing losses to the public purse. Another possible tactic seeks a quick correction of the problem by compressing the problem in time and localising its effects. The latter tactic, although less intuitive, has a number of advantages, prime among them is returning the economy more rapidly to a better state. As a result, even those most impacted have time to recover and more obvious measures can be enacted to restore confidence, which is certainly one of the most important qualities of a market based system. Now the problem exists one of these tactics must be employed, as the over valuation of property has to be normalised, implying losses for those that bought in late. The only question is how much to dissipate and slow those losses. It should also be noted that as the government does not in fact have money reserves to back these bonds, so their effect is ultimately inflationary. Also the drawn out tactic using bonds disengages the debtor from the consequences of their poor judgment, which has obvious negative effects.

The Root Problem

The use of residential property as an investment vehicle is at the root of both the money markets and the housing market problems. There is a complex interplay of many causes, but the two most prominent are: Firstly, pension savings are inflexible, not protected and are subject to means-testing. The lack of confidence people have in pensions has encouraged them to find alternative savings vehicles. Secondly, poor understanding of investment markets by amateurs who have access to them with residential property. Profiteering using markets is as old as humanity, but amateurs using them with residential property is a bad idea. Stability of residential property supply is too important to allow it to be used as a tool for speculation which inevitably leads to the decoupling of prices from earnings.
So how should the government tackle this twin causes. Firstly, they must introduce a government backed flexible pension scheme linked to contributions that is not means tested. Importantly, these savings must be ring-fenced and protected in law to prevent misuse. This will provide a safe haven for people with savings and reduce the tendency to use inappropriate savings vehicles as pensions. Secondly, the residential property market is too important to be used as a speculative investment tool by people with a poor grasp of its consequences. Strong controls need to be applied to the total percentage of income and its sources used to repay residential mortgage debt. Naturally, to discourage the inevitable attempts to circumvent these controls significant penalties need to applied to transgressors. It will be difficult to fabricate this control and it will need continual tinkering with to perfect, but it is essential. The ideal time to apply these controls is approaching when we reach the bottom of a property price dip. This root problem will keep recurring until it is addressed by providing a sensible pension scheme and controls designed to strongly correlate residential housing prices with earnings.

What Can We Do

Given that the government is unlikely to see the light and tackle this problem correctly as I outlined above, what can we do for ourselves.
On housing, timing is important. There will be a bottom to the housing market price falls. If you are planning to get into the property market or move, the best time to do so is at the bottom a price slump. In the end it is not the relative price of a house that matters to you, it is the amount you borrow to pay for it. That amount is always going to be lowest at the bottom of a price dip. If you want a house that costs twice as much as your current house is worth, that is easier to fund if for example your house is worth £100,000 rather than £200,000. Naturally as we get further from the bottom the less good a deal we get, but caution need only be exercised where there have been years of house price rises above wage growth. This is very difficult to do when prices are rising rapidly, but that is the time to save until the inevitable price crash. Those who are brave enough, or have no choice can get in and try to get out when they feel a good profit has been made. However, this is a very risky venture because typically the sums of money involved are large relative to income. If you do try this approach, a mercurial nature is essential. On sensing the market is topping out, sell fast and strongly discount your price to ensure a quick sale. If the price is not good enough and you are left holding the property too long you will have to discount even further later.
The financial sector has experts that understand their problems well enough. Unfortunately, those experts are not directing the businesses and so short-term and badly formed strategies still get used. It is in the interests of their directorships to ensure that directors and senior management making strategic and significant tactical decisions are well enough educated in the fundamentals of their business. General businessperson and salesperson types without the correct background simply do not have the depth of understanding required. In addition the board should sponsor multiple technical reports on the viability of any significant shift in strategy. They should also have clauses in the contracts of the most senior figures that prevent severance payments in situations where it is considered a poor strategy has lead directly to losses. This will not discourage good people from competing for these positions, in part because nobody takes one with the expectation of failure.

April 3, 2008

Embryology Bill

Embryology Bill

WARNING: If you are religious and intolerant of other people having a negative view of religion, don’t to read this post.

The discord around this subject fits a pattern I have seen before. Some people, I will call them moral fundamentalists, think they have the right to try to impose their moral systems on everyone. Their guidance and edicts should be directed only toward people who have agreed to adhere to their moral code. They have no mandate to affect anyone else. In this particular case religious moral fundamentalists also presume to know better than anyone else the correct treatment of complex issues concerning genetics, despite having no expertise in the area. They have extrapolated some principles from ancient texts that they have been able to associate with the issues. In truth they have no original text guidance on these issues, the associations they make are loose, the extrapolations fanciful and containing surreptitious motives, and they are made by contemporary administrators, not deities or prophets. Like all fundamentalists, they are a danger to themselves and everyone that comes into contact with them, because they have an uncompromising extreme stance that they insist on everyone conforming to and they cannot see that they are fundamentalists. If you are disagreeing with this now you are probably a fundamentalist, but you will also deny it.
These religious moral fundamentalists are using this issue to support the supposed currency of what is an anachronistic and mostly static system in an increasingly sophisticated and rapidly evolving world. As ever more complex new issues arise this overextending of their original texts becomes increasingly obvious, so that today a smaller proportion of well educated people than ever are interested in their views. Their problems are rooted partly in the need to imply authority through the use of absolutes, tradition, longevity and divinity, and partly in using static texts as a basis for all their views. For those views to be taken seriously they also must either be static or evolve very slowly to give the impression of considered authority. Obviously, this requirement is out of step at a very basic level with an increasingly rapidly evolving world.
Good science can prove itself and delivers tangible benefits, where religion cannot prove it is correct and its benefits are mainly intangible. I suspect that most modern religion is a way of obtaining power and money and to do this it takes advantage of the less well educated in society. As the quality or at least the pervasiveness of education has improved there has been a corresponding decrease in interest. To survive they need to change their strategy to provide other services.
One would think that members of the Catholic church would have the sense to keep a low profile on science based issues, having an extremely poor track record in this area. Are we still supposed to be at the centre of everything according to them, or has that changed now the scientists have shown this to be false? One member of the Catholic church cynically appealed to the least well educated in society with scare stories of Frankenstein creations, shamelessly courting publicity. Worryingly a number of politicians who are supposed to running this country turn out to have sympathies with religious groups. Gordon Brown should remove anyone from government that allows any such views to influence their roles in government; mostly because promoting a religious view is not in their job description, but also because they have a dubious grasp on reality, probably because of a deficiency in their education. Why is he allowing them a free vote anyway? They were given office to serve the people and that includes the people’s well being, not to promote their respective religions. Members of the government need to adhere to government principles and they should be to promote the health and wellbeing of all the people, not the influence any religious group.
Some religious groups believe there is one fundamentally important and valuable aspect of a person, often referred to as ‘the soul’, which is present even in an embryo. The concept of soul is useful to provide differential status and hence treatment, between for example people and animals. Disproving the existence of a soul is probably an intractable problem and a battle that need not be fought. One may circumvent this issue by encouraging the religious to reinterpret their own texts. A new interpretation could extricate them from their moral dilemma. For example, selective divine intervention to prevent misuse of souls, whether retrospective or proactive. One could also envisage a special case where addition of a soul is conditional upon a priori knowledge of the embryo’s destiny. There are probably some other schemes that could be employed, but the latter has the advantage that it could be applied in tragic cases such as prenatal death. All they need do is pick such a scheme and use their talents for interpretation to find some text to support it. Then they can gain even more publicity by announcing that in fact their religion was in already aware and prepared for these discoveries hundreds of years ago and that science has just caught up. Sadly, some people will believe them. Hopefully they will reinterpret, then we can all move on peacefully and the scientists can continue to save lives.

March 24, 2008

Deification of Youth

Postulate

Youth and its concomitant culture and attitude has come to dominate all media output to the point of deification, despite the increasing average age of the population. This increasing discordance has a negative social impact for at least three reasons:

Firstly, youth deification tends to encourage the empowering of young people and the granting of rights to them, despite the fact that they are the least well equipped to wield power and use those rights. For example, recently there was a proposition to confer voting rights two years earlier in life at 16. Although I doubt most people are well equipped enough at 30 to vote in an informed way, age is not the correct criteria. The criteria should be: experience, knowledge, intellectual balance, intelligence and sanity; all (except perhaps the last) characteristics that tend in increase with age. In another example 16 year olds are allowed to have children of their own, this is almost certain to be a disaster. The criteria that I suggested in the first example also applies to this, but one can add to them: financial security, compassion and emotional balance, emotional stability and social skills. Again these extra criteria tend to be more prevalent in the mature person. Handing out power and rights temerariously to people who are ill equipped to have them (predominantly the young) leads inevitably to problems. This fashionable lust for youth is too widely applied and indeed is misguided in almost all aspects of life. Society and its administrators are too quick to see the value in youth.
Secondly, youth deification distorts people’s ability to make unbiased judgements about their life. People are encouraged to make decisions that tend to portray them as youthful. Clearly this will have the largest affects at the margins, where a balance of judgement could be tipped by the pressure to be youthful. For example, the attitude toward responsible drinking. Alcohol is a drug that has social acceptance and its youth informed over use is one of the most negative features of modern British society. People are swayed too easily to see the value of youth in their own lives.
Thirdly, ageism favouring youth consigns useful members of society to minority roles when the have great experience to offer. People are too ready to see youth in others as an advantage over experience and stability.

Justification for the Postulate

How and why Youth Deification came about and spread

The visibility of youth in media output began as a result of the increasing economic independence of younger people being targeted as a distinct group by enterprising businesses. For obvious reasons youth combines easily with the pan-generational preoccupations of health, personal hygiene, beauty, sport, fitness and optimism about the future, amongst others. So naturally usage of young people was extended to marketing using lifestyles and images which have those preoccupations as important elements. As most popular lifestyles and images employ some of those preoccupations, most tend to celebrate youth.

How Youth Deification became dominant

People like to be optimistic and popular, so naturally they are attracted to popular trends that promise a better future. As more people like something it tends to inflate its popularity. This inflation process has occurred with some images and lifestyles and so by association has the significance of youth. Youth is also associated with some negative and failed images and lifestyles, but they tend to be forgotten more easily because peoples focus for their own aspirations is on the optimistic and popular. Youth is also obviously associated easily with the future. Combined these factors tend to emphasize youth as a positive human state, even though in practice its virtues are mostly trivial.

Exaggeration

Competition in marketing tends to encourage exaggeration of what is popular. So inevitably utilising youth led also to the use of youth culture and youth attitude, all of which are exaggerated in the advertising arms race. For example, it is often visually manifest in advertising images as people who are carefree enough, that they have their mouths agape and are laughing so hard they have lost control of what they are doing. Another example is juvenile attitude and behaviour, such as drinking so much it can do you harm. This attitude is portrayed as a normal or even aspirational in some subcultures and yet must (or should) be considered extreme behaviour by the majority of society.

Unrepresentative

There are few areas of popular culture that youth, youth culture and youth attitude are not applied to. However, pervasive youth culture in marketing is not an accurate reflection of the composition of society. In fact, the average age of the population is increasing and so omnipresent youth culture is increasingly incongruent. This contradiction implies that youth culture is far too prevalent and important, one might even say it has become deified.
The dominance of youth culture in popular culture is in part a reaction to the increasing, sometimes onerous, complexity built into our lives. Managing complexity requires application, experience and responsibility, which are not easy to obtain and difficulty is not popular. A youthful carefree attitude helps to differentiate from the unpopular aspects of social complexity. Hence, by differentiating ones self from unpopular facets of life one possible inference is that one is associated with the popular facets of life. This can be reinforced by adopting other features of popular culture. The need to be popular may in turn be a dependency of insecurities.

Conclusion

The progression toward younger customers is still continuing and the internet provides a relatively easy means to allow it to continue. At the same time older people, although representing a larger fraction of society, are becoming marginalised. Eventually perhaps we should expect a correction to the status quo, when the large unattended mass of older people become tired of the continued dominance of youth culture and flex their voting and collective financial muscle.

October 31, 2007

Advanced mathematicians required by the public sector

Wow, what a lot of people got involved in this debate.
It must be so important, or vote worthy!
I would be pleased if we could just find some people who can count.
Can it be that complex to organise counting people on and off an island?
Another bloody shambles!

October 26, 2007

Iranian thinking

Filed under: Debate, Observations, Politics, War, Worries — Tags: , , , — conceptualizer @ 10:41 am

War is coming, again!
If I was working at a nuclear facility in Iran right now, I would be looking for a new job.
I don’t want to take sides on this issue, enough people already do. So regardless of the rights and wrongs of each side in this fracas, I have to wonder what the Iranian leadership thinks it will gain by provoking the Americans into bombing them. Do they really think the Americans will become coy when it comes to the deed? Do they honestly believe that some giant omnipotent hand will reach down and turn back the bombers? I really don’t see how this will end well for them. They have been pulling the hair of the biggest bully in the playground for some time, they should not be surprised when the bully turns its attention fully to them and behaves according to type. Yes, there are examples of how things don’t go too well for the Americans when they engage in war. However, I must point out that they go considerably less well for targets of American aggression. This will set back Iran by decades and all their effort will have been for nothing.
Does anyone out there have an insight into the mind of the Iranian leadership? I would honestly like to understand how they think they will benefit from this. Remember though, this post is not about who is right and wrong, it is about how the Iranian leadership expect this to turn out for them. I think we know how the Americans expect it to turn out; with some big holes in Iran where there were once nuclear facilities.

October 24, 2007

Unpaid police

Why should the ISPs have to take on an unpaid policing role? It is for government to arrange policing. Laws exist on copyright and patent, but they are not effectively policed by the public sector. I think the ISPs should be paid for checking and again for each infringement they find. Lawyers are also required to act as unpaid police. They must apply money laundering checks to their clients.
The UK government is increasingly making business carry the costs of policing laws. This effectively makes services and products more expensive and is yet another stealth tax. It also makes those products and services less affordable to the lower income members of society and so discriminates against them. However, in principle I like the shift of policing to the private sector, as they will doubtless do a better job of it than the public sector. So to make it work well and discriminate less against the economically poorer members of society, there need to be incentives to catch law breakers. The current approach is to penalise the unpaid enforcer for any failure. If there is some benefit to this kind of work then it should be reflected in compensation for doing it. Payment is also likely to encourage a better enforcement process. The well known carrot and stick approach!
Ultimately we must decide if policing laws should be funded by public taxation or fees applied to those who seek the protection afforded by them. Clearly some enforcement is for the good of us all, where some is only for the good of a few. I would suggest for example that enforcement of fraud laws be publically funded, where copyright of music be privately funded. The latter need not be mandatory, but non-payment = no protection.

Power corrupts

The cash-for-honours affair is an example of how too much power rests in the hands of the morally and mentally feeble. We have a governing system that has existed for hundreds of years, yet still our politicians find ways to corrupt and misuse it. They probably think they are clever with their antics, whereas they demonstrate how very ordinary they are. To have a great vision and not be diverted from it by temptation demonstrates a nobleness of character which is lacking in the current crop of politicians. I hope in my life to see a prime minister worthy of the task, rather than these self aggrandising smart-mouthed children. They should feel ashamed of themselves for what they have done, but they will probably write books to make more money from that portray it as clever manoeuvring. I am ashamed for this country, to have leaders with such weakness of character.

October 19, 2007

Intelligent Cowards

The real intelligentsia in the worlds advanced societies are allowing the lunatics to run the asylum. The example of Professor Watson being denied a platform after articulating an axiom about racial differences in intelligence, is just the latest in a long history of failings by the intellectual elite to take control of human destiny. I can not count myself among that elite, but I know enough to know they should stop being cowards and lead humanity out of this insane state, where any fool with a small minded agenda, a loud voice and some populist policies gets to run a country.
I want our world to be run by intellectual giants, not petty bigots. It is the weakness of inactivity in the intelligentsia that has doomed humanity to its current state of endless war and injustice. You intelligent people, it is time to stand up and take control. Stop allowing the children to run the household.
I did an experiment today. I posted comments that supported the views of Professor Watson to articles in both The Times and The Telegraph. As I suspected, neither published my comments. It is possible that they thought my comments were not worthy of publishing. It is also possible that they censored them because they did not kowtow to the prevailing pseudo-intellectual PC fascist views. People are silenced by fear of reprisals from aggressive dogma peddlers, we do not have freedom of speech. It is sad that we have to faun before the mental midgets and let our battles be fought by old men because we do not have the courage ourselves. Most of us do not even have the courage to endorse Professor Watson’s right to speak and remain open minded on the subject.
On the matter itself. Firstly, I would point out that in all the quotes I have seen (I have not read a transcript of the original) Professor Watson talks about a different intellectual ability, not that Africans are stupid. Secondly, it is clear that African countries are not as successful as non-African countries, by many measures. Now the out-of-Africa theory suggests that sub-Saharan Africa was the root of humanity, from where all peoples migrated. Indeed recent genetic research backs up this view by pointing out that genetic diversity decreases as we move further from that root. Also recent linguistics research backs up this view. So Africa has had the longest time to be successful, but has conspicuously failed. I would like to suggest that the reason is that those that had the gumption to move and also the skills to survive that choice were naturally selected to be better achievers. This is unlikely to be due solely to a differential in intelligence. More likely it is a combination of factors, among which I would suggest that physical endurance, social and language skills, adaptability, compassion and empathy are likely very significant. That filter of surviving and prospering through the rigours of migration has recently been destroyed by commercial movement of people, whether by their own volition or another’s. The remaining filter is the self perpetuating of an elite successful class through their adaptability to whatever obstacles are put in their way. In practice this equates to promoting the interests of one’s own offspring through the advantages and insights one has gained. It is difficult to denude this last process and those societies which have tried to have failed.
The relatively new field of epigenetic inheritance may also have something to say about how our success in life is determined by our ancestors. However, I don’t like the idea of using any inherited or environmental disadvantages as an excuse for not trying. To try ones best is a noble ideal and should be seen as an end in itself.
I can understand why people are reticent to stand up and be counted, but I hope that some of those great minds also have the courage to bring the debate forward. A prerequisite for progress is a desire to understand.

October 12, 2007

Anglophobic rescue and ‘the thin red line’

Gordon Brown again refuses the UK a vote on the EU treaty. This is apparently because if our ‘red lines’ are unbroken we don’t need one; as if that was ever a good reason. A good reason is the matter of where ultimate authority should exist, increasingly it is in European institutions. However, he has committed a tactical blunder. I think we now can rely on our Anglophobic neighbours to push forward some measures to break those ‘red lines’ and on the opposition to point out their success. He has effectively ceded the opportunity to point out the treaty problems via a referendum, to Anglophobic negotiators who need only cross one of our ‘red lines’. I trust that we can depend upon them if not Gordon Brown.
To cross one of these ‘red lines’ may seem to be self defeating as it promises a veto on the treaty, but the Anglophobic continentals may take a longer view. They can initiate a process of excluding us if everyone else accepts the treaty. We would be marginalised again and eventually forced to withdraw or enter into a second tier less influential membership. This is a high stakes gamble as some other countries may also veto or vote ‘no’. Perhaps we should pre-empt this form of attack by arguing for a lighter European membership project and making it our own. This would in fact be better for us and could also be argued for as a staging point for new country membership. It could ultimately become the more successful European club and would allow us to offer an alternative European vision. Then countries would have a choice of membership styles.

September 29, 2007

The age of politicians

Filed under: Debate, Musings, Politics — Tags: , , , — conceptualizer @ 3:15 pm

What is the ideal age for a politician? Clearly neither extreme is good, so as we converge toward the middle ground there must be a best range, perhaps even a best year. It probably varies a little from person to person, but roughly where is it? I was thinking perhaps 45 to 55 might be the golden years. What do we think? Is Menzies Campbell too old, Davis Cameron too young and Gordon Brown about right?

September 28, 2007

Social Engineering by Jacqui Smith

Ms Smith espoused “zero tolerance of antisocial behaviour” at the Labour Party conference. I love the rhetoric and wish it were translated into real action, but I have heard this many times before and not much happened then either. A showpiece pronunciamento to improve her image no doubt. Wouldn’t it be great though if she turned out to be a Mrs Thatcher of the Home Office and tackled our thugs, we can only dream.
Antisocial behaviour ruins living in this country. We have created a class of untouchable antisocial children that evolve into criminals and both blight our lives. Children test their boundaries, and it is for the adults to say no quickly and decisively when they go too far. They are given so many hollow warnings they keep pushing and pushing until they do something outrageous and finally the law takes action. It is too late by then, that behaviour is well embedded. The action should be swift and early. If we must afford them the rights of adults when they are still children (and I think we are too ready to do so) those rights need to be snatched back quickly when they do something wrong. We have created a culture where children’s rights matter more than adults. This inverted logic is backfiring. They are not sweet innocents learning their way. Anyone with sense knows they need moral instruction and social attitudes today prevent anyone form providing it. So yes we need some social engineering here, but the whole attitude to the treatment of children needs changing. We must tackle the root causes early, not belated apply a feeble ASBO and expect the child to fix itself.

September 25, 2007

Leadership

Filed under: Musings, Politics, War — Tags: , , , , , , — conceptualizer @ 1:46 pm

Current events in Burma remind me of dire situations in many countries. I have to wonder if those countries ever will have a government of hard working, well balanced, honest, intelligent and visionary leaders. It seems that they are always lost to the lowest common denominator in their people.
Western governments too are a very long way from perfect, even though they like to crow about their high moral principles. It is relative I suppose. They very rarely torture or kill protestors and dissenters, or nakedly display the turpitude and corruption of their executive. However, a clear unadulterated vision seems to elude them, lost in the fog of petty bureaucratic hegemony they flounder. I suppose they would answer that things are not as simple as they seem to the uninitiated, but perhaps would also admit that somewhere along the route they strayed.
Is it inevitable and a symptom of human nature that people who end up with positions of power will be corrupted and misuse them? Or is it that the most corrupt and corruptible peruse power most earnestly? Are people improving over history, or not? Or, in this is a dog-eat-dog world, do people on balance tend get what they deserve, after all, their leaders are culled from among them?
I like to think that things are changing for the better, but it is hard to make a good case for the notion. My own country (the UK) recently took war to another country that was no threat to it at all. A shameful state of affairs, however it was arrived at, via incompetence or lies. Can this be the best of all possible worlds?

September 11, 2007

Jobs for which Britons?

Filed under: Comments, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — conceptualizer @ 4:34 pm

Does Mr Brown’s notion of “British jobs for every British worker” perhaps exclude the hundreds of thousands of people already working in Britain that the labour government allowed in from abroad in recent years? It certainly seems to disadvantage future economic migrants. Meritocracy not birth right is the way forward, I seem to remember something like that was a Labour party principle in the past. A job for everyone should be the goal and preference given to those who are best suited to the job.
This country has always had a dynamic population coming from all over the world. It occurs to me that in every trip to London I can recall almost every job I came across was taken by someone from another country. If we rigorously enforced this principle London would be deserted.
I think setting entry requirements is a good idea and they should certainly check for criminal records. We have enough feckless and criminal types already. I think if they are serious about this they should not give any money to anyone without some form of work done, even if it is simply litter collecting or cleaning.

Debt to save the world!

Are you wondering how the problems in the US sub-prime market can be so pervasive? I am. Surely that market can’t be that big and not all of those borrowers are going to default. I suspect the problem is more to do with a lack of confidence afflicting the markets. They have had such a good run for so long people are suspicious and looking for that next crash. This probably says as much about human nature as it does about debt. However, in general the amount of debt is increasing while savings decrease (lowest household savings ratio since 1960), so should we be concerned? If we extrapolate carefully from this situation we can uncover some interesting trends that will impact on us all.
The US sub-prime problem is a personal debt problem rooted in the combination of: widespread lending to people at the limits of their ability to cover repayments, at low interest rates, with high loan to value conditions, in a confidence lead rising property price market with big property development programs. Later, increased interest rates were the trigger that pushed those closest to the edge over it and once enough had succumbed the price bubble burst. With increasing repossessions, declining property values and high loan to value conditions lenders suffered big loses. They then tried to increase their margins to recover their positions by increasing interest rates on their most risky situations and pushed more borrowers into the red exacerbating the situation.
Significant personal debt was once a facility only available to a small fraction of people, but recently it has become available to almost all people. This broadening of the debtor base to include less wealthy and financially sophisticated customers tends to encourage debt commoditisation. Commoditisation reduces profit margins, consequently money is chasing larger customer volumes and larger fractions of the market. This change militates against the small lender, increasing pressure to consolidate into fewer global money managers (GMM) providing credit and debt services. When they become large enough their financial power will eventually succeed even that of central banks to influence interest rates and so governments will gradually relinquish some economic control to them.
In addition to growing personal debt, governments are not shy about creating a public debt on our behalf. This has been the case for a long time, such as when financing the second world war effort, for which we could not reasonably have been expected to save as we did not plan it. Outside of unplanned costs like war, how can it be that a whole country can’t live within its means? Like any individual, government should save for expenditure rather than use the more expensive option of borrowing. Unfortunately, saving is a long-term strategy that is not encouraged by our current system of government. It is much easier to ride a wave of popularity fuelled by spend from debt than to tell everyone we have to save. The end effect of this is again to imbue the GMM with greater control as they increasingly own the money lent to the individual and the state.
The rise of the GMM will have some interesting consequences. Firstly, interest rates are facing long-term downward pressure as the GMM seek to encourage every person and country to become a customer, essentially owning some of their generated wealth. So the GMM will seek to make debt easier to afford with lower rates and savings are going to be less remunerative due to tighter margins between their credit and debt services. This will be a problem for savers (who fund the GMM) if inflation is not restrained. One corollary to this situation is increasing pressure on governments to keep down inflation. This will lead to tightening on expenditure, for example leading to more frequent disputes with public sector workers over pay. Another corollary to this is that those seeking higher rewards will increasingly become financial instrument market speculators, so we should see an explosion in speculation management services specialising in certain sectors of the markets and on specific classes of investor. For similar reasons as in the creditor consolidation, international financial market consolidation is inevitable and already ongoing. Protectionists economies lack vision and will find their markets increasingly sidelined until they capitulate, but then their influence will be much smaller. Secondly, economic power will increasingly rest with the GMM, with governments forced to recognise their influence. This should eventually resolve in GMM taking a moderating role in international disputes, becoming the ultimate non-partisan authorities that no government ever can be.
So, in the short term those debtors existing at the margins will have a tough time in several countries, but the problem is too small to cause lasting or widespread damage. In the medium term this is a lesson about hubris being tolerated. In the long run the GMM will ultimately convert our own desire to get things without saving first into a stabilising international force. The emergence of the GMM and their concomitant economic power is a defining characteristic of our age.

September 10, 2007

When will the UK become a democracy?

Filed under: Observations, Politics — Tags: , , , , — conceptualizer @ 2:57 pm

In the UK we never get a chance to tell our government how we feel about important issues and it seems this is not about to change soon. How important must an issue be before we get consulted? It seems we can’t be trusted with a vote on giving more power to Europe. Without any reference to the people, our politicians have: rundown our defence services and used the remainder in wars we don’t need, made our law subservient to EU law, given more of our tax revenue to Europe, increased the tax burden and public debt, introduced charges for education, made it easier to gamble and provided no effective pension, transport or immigration strategy. However, they complain that we don’t show much interest in the political process when a rare chance for a vote comes along. Why are they surprised, the only thing we get to vote on is which of them to give total control to next. This is less a democracy and more an authoritarian regime. Give us democracy!

February 12, 2007

Improving Democracy

Filed under: Debate, Ideas, Observations, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , , — conceptualizer @ 1:20 pm

Government

The fundamental feature of a government system is a hierarchical structure of permanent fulltime positions. All government systems require this feature to effectively manage the requirements of the people they govern. A flat structure becomes increasingly problematic to coordinate as the number in government increases. As workload increases in volume and complexity, temporary and part-time positions become untenable. Below are some of the reasons why a government system benefits a country:

  • Greater specialisation is possible, giving the potential for better results; for example specialists in national security.
  • Centralisation enables cost advantages in the acquisition of inputs; for example purchase of construction materials.
  • Benefits from being managed by a single authority and hence with a single strategy; for example a homogeneous transport infrastructure.
  • Some requirements are only manageable at a macro scale; for example space exploration.
  • Mundane requirements can be deferred to government; for example refuse removal.

Democratic Government

The fundamental principle of democratic government is the control over those that govern by the governed. Specifically, the power of investiture and removal of people from government positions and control over strategy. This principle tends to encourage good stewardship in those elected and so over time may be responsible for the fact that the world’s most powerful and successful countries are predominantly democracies.
Another common feature often associated with democracy is the equality of all its members. Although a popular idea this is not essential in a democracy, nor is it strictly true, as some groups have more rights than others in some situations. Further, it is not always practiced where it is intended to be and many good arguments exist concerning its inadequacies.

Problems With Democratic Government

Democratic government, like all forms of government, is problematic. The consequences of those problems are occasionally obvious and reported on as news. If we believe that democracy is good and to be more democratic is better, then we need to enhance adherence to the democratic principle. That requires strengthening the control of the populace over who is in government and what strategies they use. There are three root causes to the problems with democratic government and all concern the democratic principle:

  • the timing of elections
  • control of strategic decisions
  • the suitability of the people in government positions

Elections to government positions are mostly at fixed time intervals. Where flexibility exists it is at the discretion of the incumbents, rather than the voter. Unfortunately time interval based elections are not likely to be aligned with the people’s need or desire for change. They are an historical remnant that should be replaced by elections based around need or desire for change; i.e. election timing should be event based rather than time interval based.
The strategies employed by democratic government are supposed to express the will of the people. Unfortunately government strategy is sometimes out of step with the will of the majority of people. This is in part because policies are bundled together by each government. It is also in part because potential new systems have not yet been implemented to devolve more power to the people. Some politicians may believe that they should be setting the strategic agenda rather than the people. They are not democratic in their political philosophy and should be excluded from a democratic government. There is a degree of indolence when it comes to advancing democracy and I believe that it is in part down to the inadequacies of the current politicians and in part a reluctance to advance democracy. The later is perverse in the sense that they only have there political position because of democracy.
If government positions can be filled with more appropriate people we will have improved government. As positions are filled by election, improving elections is vital and they have two main influences: the candidates allowed to stand for election and the people allowed to be voters.

Improvements to Democratic Government

Election Timing

Computers and the internet have made it possible and cost effective to replace time interval based elections with event based elections driven by need or desire for change. Such elections are more responsive to the people and so are more democratic. They also encourage better stewardship, because the behaviour of those in government is not skewed by a predetermined election timetable. They are forced to face the consequences of their actions every day.
Some care needs to be exercised to prevent knee-jerk reactions spawning elections. This could for example include a sustained period of strong disapproval to trigger an election. Straw polls and intermediate votes can be used to gauge attitude without triggering elections, creating a hierarchical system of voting. This would be preferable as people are better at making decisions after considering things more than once. Recording of opinion by voters can also be tracked so each voter can see the variability of their own views over time and correlated to events.

Strategic Control

Technology also allows government to gain a better understanding of public opinion on strategic decisions. Carried through to its logical conclusion this would obviate the need for party politics. Each position could be individually elected and their strategic goals defined by the voters. This would also circumvent the old problems in party politics such as those around proportional representation and the role of tradition in choice.

Appropriate People

To be more discerning when electing people to government positions we need to consider both candidates and voters.

Candidates

Enthusiasm is not enough. Important positions need open minded, informed, honest, hard working, balanced and mentally agile people. I propose that before anyone may become a candidate for election, they must take and pass a course that covers the range of possible ideologies and the historical causal effects of choices made. If government positions are considered important and worthy of respect then it is the duty of government to ensure that people who aspire to those positions are as good as they can be.

Voters

My proposals so far have significantly shifted power into the hands of the voter from the politician. That power shift must be balanced by checks on the veracity of the voter. Tradition and prejudice are not enough. In a democracy everyone may have the right to a vote, but only the interested, open minded, informed, honest and balanced should be allowed to exercise that right.
Voters must for example be able to prove at least a basic understanding of the major policies of the main candidates or parties. Also, voters that show little interest in the process by failing to vote could be suspended from subsequent voting rights, until they have applied to have their suspension lifted. Suspension could also be applied to those convicted of serious breaches of the law. The application for resumption of voting rights could require for example a hand written summary of the major candidates or parties top policies. The important point however is that some effort must be made to get voting rights reinstated. This system does not prevent anyone from voting, but presents an opportunity to make voting sufficiently discriminatory as to get a more considered result.
Lastly I think that in a true democracy the principles of democracy should be held at high value. People intentionally subverting, or attempting or planning to subvert the systems principles should be treated very harshly. That should include a long mandatory prison sentence and a punitive financial penalty followed by deportation if they have another nationality. Strong treatment should also be applied to those who learn of subversion but do not inform the system immediately.

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