Education, Genetic Explanations

Why do male students get more first class degrees at Oxford University than female students?

Oxford

Recent research has shown that once again more male students at Oxford University were awarded first class degrees than female students. In 2013, male Oxford graduates received more first class degrees in 26 out of the 38 schools in which both genders were examined. Almost a third of male candidates at the University of Oxford were awarded firsts in 2013, compared with just a quarter of female candidates, according to statistics released by the university in 2014.

In chemistry and English, two of Oxford’s biggest subjects, the gap is remarkable. In chemistry, 52% of men gained firsts, compared with just 30% of female students. In English literature and language, 42% of men were awarded firsts, compared with 29% of women.  In history last year, 29% of male candidates gained firsts, compared with 19% of female candidates.

The gender gap in exam results at the university is something that has come up repeatedly, causing the university to announce last year that “steps should be taken” to give all students the degree they deserve. When this was reported in the Guardian newspaper it was amusing to read the convoluted and complicated socio-economic, misogynistic, conspiracy based theories put forward to explain this phenomenon.

There is a simple, well known and well understood explanation – but one we are not allowed to mention.

The average IQ of men and women is, by definition, 100.   Any questions that show a sex bias, favouring either men or women are removed from the test.  However, despite this, the spread (variance) of IQ is different with more men having high IQs compared to women and also more low IQs compared to women.

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Fig. 1 IQ variation in boys and girls.

Another measure of cognitive ability is g (short for “general factor”) a variable that summarises correlations among different cognitive tasks, reflecting the fact that an individual’s performance at one type of cognitive task tends to be comparable to his or her performance at other kinds of cognitive tasks.  It is also used as a proxy for “intelligence”.  This also shows a variation between men and women.

male_female_bell_curve_

Fig. 2  The distribution of g in male and female populations. The scale of the x-axis is in units of the male standard deviation.

The difference in variance (regardless of whether there is a mean difference) will ipso facto result in more adult males scoring highly than adult females, provided the sample is large enough and the test ceiling is high enough to allow the males to outscore the females. For instance, at the near-genius level (an IQ of 145),  very bright men outnumber very bright women by 8 to 1. The numbers of people with exceptional intelligence are very small, so very large, or preferably population-wide studies are required to detect them. 

This is why we see more male geniuses and more male dunces in the real world.  Try this simple thought experiment. Name 10 female geniuses from any period in history.  This is not easy.  Socioeconomic reasons are often offered to explain this phenomenon.  There have clearly been major disadvantages for women and the poor to achieve their true potential throughout human history. As society becomes more equal we expect a higher proportion of women to take their rightful place in society and there is good evidence that this is finally happening.  

But this fails to explain the entire difference in the proportion of genius between the sexes.   Many of our geniuses were from quite modest backgrounds so their elevation to eminence was caused by something inherent to them.  Einstein, Mozart, Shakespeare and Newton, to name a few, were not born into wealth.  When Mozart saw a piano keyboard he did not see a line of black and white keys, as we mere mortals would. He saw a symphony. He was driven and consumed by his music. He couldn’t not write music. Are we to really believe that a woman with that talent would not have been noticed? The same goes for Einstein as he wrote his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905 whilst working as a patent clerk.  His genius was undeniable.  Shakespeare obviously wrote prolifically and effortlessly with very little editing. When Newton went to Cambridge University in 1661 he had to pay his way by performing valet’s duties.  At this point he had not received any formal mathematical training, but he was still able to teach himself and then go on to invent calculus and describe the laws of gravity.  Intellect at these levels is impossible to deny or repress.  

Throughout most of human history poor people were not well educated but more affluent men and women were educated. Middle and upper class women were certainly taught to read and write and were also taught music.  Music was considered a very appropriate pastime for young ladies, as was painting.  These ladies of leisure most certainly would have had the education, and more importantly the time, to produce a female version Shakespeare, Rembrandt  or Mozart.  More recently the list of the top 100 guitarists of all time, according to Rolling Stone magazine, contains only 2 women – the highest ranked at number 75. Can we realistically argue that modern society denies women the opportunity to learn to play a guitar? 

In 2014, after more than 50 consecutive male winners, a Fields Medal (the top mathematics prize) went to a female mathematician.  If you tossed a coin 51 times, your probability of 50 tails then a head would be less than one in 2,250,000,000,000,000.  Are we to believe that only explanation for these staggering odds is sexism?

The same relative shortage of female genius is discovered in lists of science Nobel Prize winners and in most other objective and meritocratic measure of accomplishment where men and women are free to compete for the prize.  This is not denying that there are many very bright women and some female geniuses.  There are just fewer women than men in this category.

Nobel prize winners by gender

Fig. 3  Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economic Sciences 1901- 2011.

Genius is not just a question of talent.  Geniuses are also ruthless, single minded and driven. A combination of all these traits is unstoppable.  To get a first class degree from an elite university requires a certain amount of risk taking in answering key questions.  One must be prepared to take a little travelled path of logic and try something genuinely new and ground breaking; to be prepared to risk ridicule or abject failure for the small chance of greatness; to believe that you are right and stake and substantiate your ground when everybody else believes in something more obvious, more mundane and more intuitive. Testosterone, as we all know, causes males of the species across the animal kingdom to flaunt risk-taking and aggressive behaviour.  As well as exceptional intelligence would this not give an edge to the people at the brilliant end of the academic spectrum?  Brilliance, confidence, risk taking and even arrogance are the preserve of real genius.

In recent years we have seen a University education expanded from about 8% of the UK population to nearer 50% .  As more students with lower IQs are University educated we would logically expect there to be more female graduates.  When a University education is available to all students with average and above average IQs  we would expect there to be more female graduates than male graduates because men out-number women at the lower end of IQ variance.  In 2010-11, there were more female (55%) than male fulltime undergraduates (45%) enrolled at university.  This is consistent with the variance in IQ and g models.

The variance in male / female intelligence is politically charged and attracts vitriolic responses from certain sectors of society.  There is less controversy over other aspects of extreme male behaviour.  There are many more male psychopaths, terrorists and criminals for example.  Neither does the fact that more males have learning difficulties attract much political controversy.   But for high intelligence there is often the assumption that because it is unfair and morally objectionable (either in fact or in its possible misinterpretation or misuse) it cannot be true.  Intelligence is the one thing that differentiates our species from other animals and it is emotionally, politically  and morally charged.  But this does not mean there is no truth in a genetic basis for intelligence.

Just as controversially there is also good evidence that the male bias towards science and the female bias towards humanities is also moderately heritable  i.e. inherited in our genes.  So gender-science stereotype is not totally determined by culture and personal experiences.

Of course we must take every necessary step to ensure that boys and girls get the same opportunities in education and in life, but let’s also accept that those same opportunities will not necessarily produce the same outcomes.  Economists who study patterns of discrimination have long argued (generally to no avail) that there is a crucial conceptual distinction between difference  and discrimination. A departure from a 50-50 sex ratio in any profession does not, by itself, imply that we are seeing discrimination, unless the interests and aptitudes of the two groups are identical.

So, at a super-elite University such as Oxford, where we are looking at a tiny proportion of the brightest students, we would expect there to be more males achieving 1st class degrees. It is not fair but it is also not a mystery.  It is a consequence of the male genome (particularly the short Y chromosome), which causes greater genetic variations in men, leading to both good and bad extremes of male behaviour.

References:

Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different  (3 Podcasts from The BBC on the genetics of intelligence).

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

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Politics and Economics

World-wide wealth inequality is growing – is there a realistic solution?

Thomas Piketty’s bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been hailed by the political left, in America and now in Britain, as a closely argued vindication of what they have been proclaiming for decades.  That inequality is the great injustice of modern politics.

The gap between the rich and the poor is rising again, after a hiatus marked by the gap between the two world wars. The wars eroded inherited, dynastic wealth and brought forth progressive policy through the State i.e. Socialism.  These changes now look like a mere hiccup as capitalism, Piketty says, has resumed its usual inexorable path towards greater and greater inequality.  In Europe, the wealthiest 10 per cent take about 35 per cent of the income but 70 per cent of the wealth.  The richest 1 per cent of Americans took a scandalous 60 per cent of the growth in national income.  The wealth of the richest 85 people in the world is greater than that of the 3.5 billion people who make up the bottom half of the world’s population.

The Financial Times has suggested that Piketty’s work contains a series of errors that fatally undermine large parts of his proposition. This prestigious and respected newspaper claims that some of the data Piketty uses to support his arguments about dramatic and growing wealth inequality in Britain and Europe are dubious or inexplicable.  Piketty cited a figure showing the top 10 per cent of British people held 71 per cent of total national wealth. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) latest Wealth and Assets Survey put the figure at only 44 per cent. Some of this, the paper suggests, may be down to straightforward transcription errors. More damningly, the FT claims, “some numbers appear simply to be constructed out of thin air”.

Piketty responded to the FT: “I have no doubt that my historical data series can be improved and will be improved in the future … but I would be very surprised if any of the substantive conclusion about the long-run evolution of wealth distributions was much affected by these improvements.” Piketty made the data freely available so that others could check his work and influential publications and think tanks have given him their backing.

The Economist newspaper has concluded: “analysis does not seem to support many of the allegations made by the FT, or the conclusion that the book’s argument is wrong”.

Yet even Piketty’s figures show that British wealth inequality is only back to where it was in the mid-1960s, when the top 10 per cent of people held about 70 per cent of the wealth. The figure dipped to about 60 per cent in 1980, having peaked at 90 per cent in 1910. So it is not true that we are back to Edwardian levels of wealth inequality. In Britain wealth inequality probably did increase between 1980 and 2010, but not by as much as Piketty has claimed.

This is not surprising as during these three decades the government encouraged asset bubbles in house prices; lightly taxed wealthy non-domiciles; gave tax breaks to pensions; poured money into farm subsidies; and severely restricted the supply of land for housing, pushing up the premium earned by those who already owned a house and those involved in property development.   Consequently property and land owners saw their relative wealth increase.   So much of the increase in wealth concentration since 1980 has been driven by government policy, which has systematically redirected earning opportunities to the rich rather than the poor.  A good example is energy policy. The left-of-centre UK energy secretaries Ed Miliband and Ed Davey were prepared to pay double or treble the going rate for land-hungry projects such as wind, wood and solar energy, in the name of “carbon friendly policies”, all of which results in rewards going to the owners of property.  This also extended to subsidised “payback” on wood-chip boilers, solar panels or mini-hydroelectric power if you had the correct resources on your land. This amounts to subsiding landowners.

So there is some truth in Piketty’s assertions and many socialist political commentators believe this book vindicates their position and proves that Capitalists are in denial in justifying their system.  They urge their local governments to adopt “progressive” policies to tackle these issues of inequality. They say the gap is widening between the political Right and reality.

The use of the word “reality” in this context is interesting. Many would claim the Left has lost reality in believing there is a solution.  History shows us that the remedies are worse than the disease and Piketty’s solutions exist in the realm of theoretical political fantasy.  He wants a global wealth tax and a levy of 80 per cent on incomes above half a million dollars.

Why would anybody believe that a future UK Government led by the left-leaning Labour party, for example, could have even the tiniest influence on worldwide wealth inequality?  Anyone who believes they can has lost touch with reality. It seems that even its leader, Mr. Miliband, is not that stupid, as he has made no comment regarding Mr. Piketty’s remedy.

As a future leader of less than 1% of the world’s population Mr. Miliband could address this disgusting inequality in wealth by heavily taxing and redistributing it.   The few UK based super-rich would soon leave and take their wealth with them.  Others would not come to the UK.  They would flee and spend their wealth in Dubai, Switzerland, Monaco, the USA or the Caribbean. The only alternative is to convince the vast majority of the world’s countries to adopt a similar policy.  A global State with a global tax regime.  Good luck with that.

The issue of inequality is hardly new.  Since the beginning of history man has sought to exert and maintain an advantage over his fellow man in terms of power and wealth.  But in historical terms we are now in a sweet spot as far as human rights and access to health, education and opportunity are concerned.  This is particularly so in the Western world, but life is also much better for the vast majority of the developing world, where obesity is now a bigger health risk than starvation.

Whilst wealth inequality in the UK has increased, income inequality has significantly reduced. The government has systematically redistributed money from the rich to the poor by taxing the rich at higher rates and by providing benefits to the poor. In the UK the gap between the well paid and the poorly paid has been going down in terms of disposable income. When you take into account tax and benefits, the ONS confirms that the Gini coefficient (an income distribution index) shows inequality in the UK is actually lower now than it was 25 years ago. The recent ONS bulletin entitled The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income, 2011/12 finds that the highest-earning 20 per cent of British households earned 14 times as much as the lowest earning 20 per cent before tax and benefits — but just four times as much after tax and benefits. These measures cut the average income of the top 20 per cent from £78,300 to £57,300, while they raise the average income of the bottom 20 per cent from £5,400 to £15,800. Thus, even though government may enact policies that help the wealthy to increase their wealth, it also redresses the balance through the tax system. As it should.

Global income inequality is also declining rapidly even before taking into account tax and benefits. For 25 years people in poor countries have been getting rich faster than people in rich countries have been getting richer. Thanks to the recent recession in rich countries and continuing rapid growth in poor ones that discrepancy has accelerated. Mozambique’s economy is 60 per cent larger than it was in 2007 whilst Italy’s is 6 per cent smaller.   The UK economy has only just rebounded to where it was in 2009.  And nowhere in the world, with the possible exception of North Korea and Somalia, are the poor getting poorer. The percentage of the world’s population living on $2 a day (corrected for inflation) has halved since 1990 — a welcome and unprecedented change. Any increase in wealth inequality or pre-tax income inequality in Britain or America is caused by the rich getting disproportionately richer, not by the poor getting poorer. The gaps that are opening up in the West are mostly in the ability to afford luxuries, not necessities. The Left genuinely seem to care about the unfairness of unequal income as much as or more than they care about poverty. But they think in terms of relative wealth, not absolute wealth, which is why they seem to believe inequality reduction is an end in itself. They would rather that the poor were poorer, provided that the rich were less rich.

The fact that some people are ludicrously and immorally wealthy has to be balanced with the improvement in the standard of living of everybody.  I’m sure the Right see the dangers of the inequality of wealth distribution, but perhaps are even more concerned about naïve, well meaning schemes that seek to address it and put these universal economic gains at risk.  This is not even exploring the potential risks to personal freedom and economic liberty.  Remember Communism was seen as a solution to inequality.  And it too may have worked if the whole world had adopted it.

The real lack of reality is amongst those on the Left who believe that a few “progressive policies” in their own tiny little fiefdoms will make a difference to the rest of the world.

So the real “reality” is that we must live in the real world.  When Mr. Piketty and Mr. Miliband have got all the world’s major economies on their side they may be able to implement these remedies without merely unilaterally disadvantaging one country.

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Genetic Explanations

The Secret of Japanese Women’s Longevity – Lifestyle or Genetics?

The benefits of the Japanese diet of drinking green tea and eating raw fish are extolled in a new study by Craig Wilcox, a leading gerontologist.  This study tries to link the fact that Japanese women live longer than any others with their “ultra-healthy diet”.  They live to an average of 86.4 years, 3.7 years older than British women at 82.7 years and even the famously healthy Italians at 84.4.  But Japanese men do not fare so well, with average life expectancy of 79.9 years, coming behind Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland in the international league table.

Again a substantial amount of money has been spent on a scientific study trying to show that our longevity is totally shaped by our environment.  Again it has not corrected for genetics, so no conclusions can be drawn regarding the healthiness or otherwise of Japanese food.

I had the great pleasure of living in Japan for three years and experienced their excellent food first hand.  Their diet is considered healthy for a number of reasons, but mainly because it is very low in sugar, particularly fructose, compared to a Western diet.  Their main carbohydrate is white rice, which is usually eaten at the end of a meal as a filler, so in smaller amounts.  They do not eat desserts, as we would understand them.  They also eat a lot of low glycaemic index foods such as raw fish and vegetables.  Their portions are certainly smaller, but then so is the average Japanese body size.  In any case, the many courses consumed over the prolific number of business dinners I attended added up to a lot of calories, particularly when considering the copious amounts of beer and nihon-shu (Sake) we were forced to consume.

The point that is usually missed amongst all this enthusiasm for their diet is that the Japanese are genetically distinct in many ways.  Before a pharmaceutical product can be registered for sale in Japan their regulatory authorities insist that separate clinical studies to be conducted on ethnic Japanese patients.  This is because there are many instances where Japanese react very differently to drugs compared to their Western counterparts – demonstrating different genetics and different metabolic pathways.

Compared to Westerners the Japanese have naturally lower levels of body fat but higher blood cholesterol levels for comparable fat intake. They have higher mortality from stroke but lower mortality from coronary heart disease.  The Japanese have unique versions of ethanol-metabolizing enzyme genes compared to Westerners, which affects their response to alcoholic drinks.   They have lower rates of lung cancer despite higher smoking rates then the West, however they are more susceptible to stomach cancer (4 times UK levels).

The different genes in our pet cats compared to ourselves has an enormous effect on our expected longevity.  The 3.7-year difference in life expectancy between Western and Japanese women could be entirely genetic.

How much of these differences are due to genes and how much is due to diet is difficult to assess.  This study has not shed any light on either.  I shall continue to eat Japanese food for its organoleptic qualities and reserve judgment on its health effects.

 

References:

Genetic differences in ethanol metabolizing enzymes and blood pressure in Japanese alcohol consumers

Lifestyle and cardiovascular disease in Japan.

Why does Japan have a high incidence of gastric cancer? Comparison of gastritis between UK and Japanese patients

Rapid westernization of children’s blood cholesterol in 3 countries: evidence for nutrient-gene interactions?

Why do Japanese Men Have Less Lung Cancer Even Though They Smoke More?

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Politics and Economics

A Democratic Monarchy is the Least Bad Way of Running a Country

A Democratic Monarchy is the worst possible way of running a country, apart from all the alternatives that have been tried.

Presidents are “elected”.  To do this requires political backing, financial muscle and (in many cases) military support.  This opens them up to corruption and political influence.  Even the democratic one’s are not supported by all those that voted for the other candidates, making them partisan and difficult for the whole country to unite behind.

The list of the most free and open countries in the world is full of Democratic Monarchies (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden, Norway,  Denmark, The Netherlands……. ).   The list of unfree and closed countries includes many Republics (Iran, Syria and North Korea).

The best thing we can say about a democratic monarchy is that the head of state is not a politician.  And because they are born into wealth and privilege, they are incorruptible.  Unlike our politicians.

To have a head off state, with no executive power, which is impossible to corrupt, around whom the whole country can unite and towards whom our politicians must show humility and deference is genius.  

After all,  quis custodiet ipsos custodes? 

Those who seek power are the last people we want to have absolute power.  Somebody must keep these arrogant, self-opinioned windbags in check.

A Democratic Monarchy is a ludicrous way to run a country.  If anybody comes up with a better alternative, please let me know.

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Genetic Explanations

Why human societies dislike female sexual promiscuity – an evolutionary explanation

Throughout human history men have needed to control women’s sexuality.  When women have a baby they are 100% sure that it is theirs.  For nearly all of the 200,000 years of their existence, human males have never really known if their child is truly their biological heir.  This is despite the reassuring knee jerk exclamations we hear from midwives, mothers and female relatives as soon as they clap eyes on the newborn infant: “oh, he / she has his father’s eyes!”

For good evolutionary reasons no man will want to spend time and resources inadvertently bringing up another man’s child.  A child that contains another man’s genes.  This is particularly important when title, wealth and inheritance are involved.  Consequently, to make sure that they knew who was the father, human civilizations created intricate ways to ensure female sexuality was monitored and controlled – doubly so when title, wealth and inheritance was involved.  Promiscuity in women was brutally discouraged.

The senior female members of these societies would also connive and reinforce this controlling behaviour.  No mother or grandmother wants to be duped by the women of their male heirs.

Women also have a vested interest in ensuring that sex is relatively rare in their society, as it increases their bargaining power with men.  Promiscuous women lower the price.

The major religions quickly wove this female controlling behaviour into their doctrines.  They constantly remind women that God will know what they were thinking, let alone what they might do in secret, in order to terrify and deter them from behaviours that could create doubt regarding paternity.  God had a plan for creation and how we humans ought to behave.  Religion was positioned as the only route to understanding God’s mind as only religion knew what He intended.  Religion therefore expropriated “morality”, which was a code of behaviour that God had intended and endorsed for humankind.  Female sexual activity and morality became inextricably linked.  Virginity became a virtue and promiscuous female sexual behaviour would ensure social exclusion, death by stoning or a quick trip to the asylum.  God followed up these human punishments with eternal damnation.

The potential for disease and the risks of unwanted pregnancy would also add to the general distaste societies feel towards promiscuous women.

In the animal kingdom male mammals will aggressively police their harems from unwanted competitive male interest and ensure their females are not exposed to, or tempted by, other males.  Any male that successfully deters other males and controls his females will be reproductively more successful, passing on more of his own genes into future generations,  thereby perpetuating and amplifying this behaviour.  Evolution does not need a cognitive intent in order to evolve these types of protective male behaviours.  The mechanism of evolution by natural selection will do that all on its own.  These behaviours are genetically inherited and hardwired across the animal kingdom and have evolved over 3,500,000,000 years.  Mankind has not been immune to these evolutionary pressures.

So how effective have these strict social conventions been at preventing men being cuckolded?  We can now measure how faithful British women have been since the Norman invasion of 1066.  Since this date men have inherited two things unchanged from their father – their Y chromosome and their surname.  By looking at the sequences of Y chromosomes and matching them to surnames we may see one of two things:

1. A few distinct Y chromosomes associated with particular surnames indicating faithful women. i.e. the surnames of the son were correctly allocated to the right father for the last 1000 years.

or…..

2. Many different Y chromosome associated with a surname indicating women who cuckolded their husbands.

Consider now which you think women have been for the last 1000 years before scrolling down, faithful or unfaithful?………….………

Women have been ludicrously faithful to the point we wonder if the little variation in Y chromosomes associated with surnames could be caused by legitimate adoption.  Cuckolded fathers are rare now, and were equally rare in the past.  Studies show it is 1-3% per generation*.

This strong emotional distaste of promiscuous women and the consequent desire to control female sexuality, at almost any cost, has been ingrained in every human society and every major religion.  The very recent inventions of DNA testing, reliable contraception and antibiotics will not totally undo 3,500,000,000 years of evolution.

 

Further reading:

Women reject sexually promiscuous peers when making female friends

Female Bitchiness and Unsisterly Behaviour – An Evolutionary Explanation

Prostitution and Liberty

Women are either bisexual or lesbian, but rarely straight.

*References:

Infidelity – The Economist

Surnames and the Y Chromosome

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Genetic Explanations

How much does an abusive upbringing effect our future mental health?

As ministers consider introducing a ‘Cinderella law’ to outlaw emotional cruelty to children, Collette Elliott publishes her book Unforgivable.  In this autobiography she blames the experiences of her horrific upbringing at the hands of her violent, heartless mother as the cause of her own mental health problems in later life.

We must be careful when making “cause and effect” assumptions regarding emotional abuse.

It is easy to link a child who was emotionally abused by a parent or close relative with consequent emotional problems and depression in adulthood.  It seems very intuitive to make the cause-and-effect link.

However, as is often the case in science, it will probably be more complicated than this.  We must first show that the link is not genetic.  A parent that emotionally abuses their children is likely to have many emotional problems themselves – including schizophrenia and depression.  It is just as likely that the child inherited the genes for emotional problems, including schizophrenia and depression.  As is so often proven with identical twin / adoption studies, our environment plays a smaller role in creating who and what we are than we assume.   For example about 50% of the cause of severe depression is known to be genetically inherited, regardless of environment.  Genes aren’t everything but they are at least as important as environment.

A Cinderella law preventing emotional abuse of children is a good idea, but we must manage our expectations as to how much this will reduce mental health problems of children later in life.

References:

Major Depression and Genetics

Genetic link for depression found

Shared genes link depression, schizophrenia, and three other mental illnesses

Twins Early Development Study 

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Genetic Explanations

Feminism, childlessness and female unhappiness – an evolutionary explanation.

o-WOMAN-UNHAPPY-OFFICE-facebook

Susan Patton has been castigated by feminists and women’s groups for encouraging young women to prioritise their personal lives over work.  In her book Marry Smart she worries that young women leave it too late to find a good husband and have children.  She argues that by the time women have established their career and want a family they are in their mid-thirties.  At this age they have little reproductive life left and eligable men of their age will prefer younger women.   As a high-level career counsellor, she says, she has listened as successful and unmarried women in their mid to late thirties lament that their lives are not fulfilling. “They’re publishers, they’re editor-in-chiefs, they’re heads of marketing, they’re heads of digital, and they’re doing incredibly well. They’re earning a quarter of a million, half a million dollars a year. They have unlimited travel and entertainment budgets, they have salon budgets and wardrobe budgets, they’re on every A-list in town, but they call me and they say: “I can’t take it any more.””

She tells them: “It must be very hard at the end of a long day at work to go home to an empty apartment. That’s what’s making you crazy. That’s what’s making you unfulfilled.”

This anecodal evidence supports recent research which quantifies the paradox of declining female happiness.  This decline is both absolute and relative to men’s happiness, which hasn’t changed in 40 years.

Why are women less happy then they were?

Politics apart and whether we like it or not, what Susan Patton is describing makes perfect evolutionary sense.

There is an (incorrect) assumption that the behaviour and insecurities of women is received solely via “socialisation”, i.e. an interaction with their environment.  For example a female preoccupation with wanting children is “caused” by being exposed to idyllic representations of motherhood.  This incorrect assumption is based on flawed and discredited social “science” research that fails to correct for genetics.

1. Evolution is not about survival of the species (e.g. humans) it is about survival of the genes.  We are a disposable container that has evolved to ensure genes get moved forward in time.  We die.  They don’t.  Any behaviour conferred by the genes on a species, which increases the likelihood of having more offspring, will ensure more of those genes are passed to the next generation.

2. Evolution takes a long time.  One tick of the evolutionary clock takes about 250,000 years.  i.e. we are virtually identical to our ancestors from 50,000 years ago.

Our male and female ancestors have had very different evolutionary pressure over the previous millions of years.

Human females have a pathetic ability to reproduce, having no more than a dozen pregnancies in their lifetime. Each pregnancy is life threatening and she will generally only produce offspring one at a time. Human children are unusually vulnerable in infancy and take many years to reach maturity.  Women therefore engage in a long, energy sapping and life threatening investment in their children to ensure these (few) offspring reach childbearing age.  She must choose her mate with great care to ensure her offspring receive beneficial genes from the father, which in turn maximises the chance of her own genes prospering in the next generation.  It also means she must carefully and selflessly look after the few offspring she manages to produce. She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.

In a contraceptive free evolutionary past invoking a strong desire to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex was enough for our genes to get reproduced.  Once a woman has the child another set of basic nurturing instincts will kick in to ensure that she nurtures and protects her young.  As a “belt and braces” insurance to ensure genes are reproduced it seems there is the additional phenomenon of childless women hearing “the ticking clock” when they are close to end of their fertile years.  This is characterised by a desperate, emotional longing to have children.  This is well documented and has the obvious evolutionary benefit of motivating a woman to try for a last chance pregnancy.  For her genes it is the “last throw of the dice” in order to reproduce themselves.

As well as having sex and nurturing our young, our genes also want us to eat, drink and avoid being too cold or too hot.  The motivation is often to make us physically uncomfortable so that we are motivated to rectify the situation.  Being hungry, thirsty or cold is painful and unpleasant. We seek to stop or prevent this unpleasantness. We are also given a reward for solving these basic needs – a carrot and stick process has evolved.  The satisfaction of a good meal, the feeling of one’s thirst being slaked, the enjoyment of feeling the warmth of a fire penetrate our cold body, the enjoyment and warm afterglow of sex.

Love sickness, anxiety and the desperate, emotional longing for a child are the mental equivalent of pain.  These emotional pains motivate us to do something to alleviate the discomfort.

It makes sense that many women without children will feel unfulfilled and unhappy.  It is nature’s way of motivating women to reproduce before it is too late.

Human males produce 250,000 sperm every second and their number of offspring is limited only by their opportunity to impregnate willing (or unwilling) females.   Two strategies would work to increase the number of their genes in the next generation.  1. Look after their offspring, nurture them and ensure they reach child bearing age  (i.e. copy the only strategy available to women). 2. Spread their sperm as far and wide as possible, have thousands of offspring and hope that some reach childbearing age.  A third alternative is the best.  Do both.  Men invest almost nothing in child rearing so it makes sense for them to take huge risks to have the opportunity to reproduce.

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for good genes) to ensure their own genes have a good chance of survival.  To prove high social status takes a bit longer so women tend to go for successful, older men (4 years older in the UK on average).

Men are programmed to advertise their success and achievements in order to attract a high social status mate.  Men will choose young, healthy, fertile (read attractive) women because their chosen mate primarily needs to be fit to survive 9 months of pregnancy and the years of childcare that follows. Men have evolved to visually select a mate on this basis.  Women have evolved for millions of years with this pressure.  Women are therefore programmed to try to look young and attractive in order to find a suitable mate.  Men remain fertile for their whole life, so the urge to reproduce is not urgent.

Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.

I’m describing the is not the ought of human behaviour, and nothing here should make us believe we can predict the behaviour of individual men and women.  Women should have the equality and opportunity to spend their life as they wish.  But please remember evolution is about survival of our genes and does not care one jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.

So it is demonstrably untrue that a human being is born as a malleable lump of clay that can be manipulated and moulded by society into anything that we want.  i.e. social policy cannot undo 3,500,000,000 years of evolution nor liberate people from their own personal inadequacies and insecurities through legislation and indoctrination.

The problem with feminism (if there is one) is that it has a strong vision of how the world ought to be.  Inconvenient truths are met with denial followed by shrill personal attacks and screams of “sexism”.  Like all idealists (including socialists) there is little debate about how the world actually is and little effort to find pragmatic solutions and compromises.  This can lead to very poor and expensive decision-making, as many of the real-world facts are not considered before choosing a chain of action.

For the vast majority human happiness is based on security, familiarity, predictability and conformity.  i.e. understanding your place in the world and knowing how to navigate it.  Fundamentally most people don’t like change.  Change management is an enormous industry in the world of work for this reason.  Trade unions desperately try to stop the world of their members changing because it is considered harmful and stressful.

Small groups of people with a “cause” are highly motivated to change the world to suit their own agenda.   They have energy and intelligence to seize power through the media and government and then change the world to suit their own personal grievances.  But they are often a minority and the changes they make seem to increase the anxiety of the masses.

So since the advent of feminism a denial of human nature has caused women in general to become less happy despite having incalculably more freedoms.  The happiness of the masses is sacrificed in the pursuit of happiness for the vocal minorities.

References:

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (academic reference)

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (article)

The Third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles

Summary of results from the 3rd National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles

Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage

How to marry well: meet at University

Why is Generation Y having less sex?

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Liberty

Gay Marriage and Liberty

Arguments in favour of gay marriage:

1. Gay people want to get married

2. It is important to them.

3. It affects nobody else.

Arguments against gay marriage:

 

_________________________________

Further reading:

Why homosexuality is natural – an evolutionary explanation

Is there a bit of lesbianism in every woman?

 

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Education

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

For at least 30 years genetic research has shown us that a significant determiner of who and what we are is genetically pre-determined.

This was recently confirmed by yet another study from Kings College in London:

“The degree to which students’ GCSE exam scores differ owes more to their genes than to their teachers, schools or family”

This research confirms that up to 60% of the differences in our children’s educational achievement is explained by inherited genes.  i.e. the DNA sequences we get from our parents at conception.  The rest is composed of a mixture of “nurture” type influences, such as parenting, schooling and peer group as well as a number of “random” life events, which are neither nature nor nurture.  The existing genetic research seems to indicate that peer groups is the biggest of these nurture influences and parenting made surprisingly little difference by the time we reach the age of 35.

I was very excited to read about new research that tries to understand the relative importance of schooling influences in the 40% which is nurture. For example, how much difference does a private school make compared to a State School?  How much difference does a good school make compared to a poor school?

This new research by the UK Government’s university funding body is based on the entire UK cohort who started university in 2007-08 (130,000 students) and graduated three years later. This huge study eliminates potential sampling biases and offers a robust and comprehensive examination of questions that smaller or institution-specific studies are unable to answer.  The study looked at how likely these students were to achieve firsts or 2:1s, depending on their background, and controlling for different academic grades.

The starting assumption to this study is that a student in a poor school getting the same grades as a student in a good school must be more intelligent, i.e. their superior intelligence had to compensate for their poorer academic environment.  So when they go to university the student from a poor school should do better when the are exposed to an identical academic environment.  If this was proven the study’s authors would have argued for lower offer grades by good universities to pupils from poor schools.

What did this research tell us?

1. Degree outcomes are not affected by the average performance of the school that a student attended. Specifically, a student from a low-performing school is not more likely to gain a higher degree classification than a student with the same prior educational attainment from a high-performing school. For example, regardless of ‘school type’, a student gaining AAB at A’ Level from a school in the highest 20 per cent of schools in the country has the same likelihood of gaining a first or upper second as a student gaining AAB from a school in the lowest 20 per cent of schools in the country. In both cases, the proportion gaining a first or upper second is 79 per cent. See key points 20 and 21 in the above reference.

2. Among students achieving A* and A grades at A’ Level, there was also  no statistical difference in degree attainment according to school type.

These are the grades required by elite Russell Group University applicants and Oxbridge candidates.  These data seem to back up the genetic theories that if a student is academically gifted the type of school he or she attends makes little difference to their academic achievement.  Your genes win out – at least in in an advanced, relatively socially mobile country with a good, national, free State education system.  It also seems to indicate that Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities should not be discriminating according to school type.  If they do they will dilute their high academic standards.

3. At the maximum differential, students educated at state school, achieving A-level grades of around BBC were 7% to 8% more likely to achieve a good degree than their private school peers with the same grades.

This seems to indicate that at best the standard of schooling can improve the performance of more “average” ability A’ level candidates by up to 8%.  This is much lower than I expected, considering the considerable perceived difference between good quality and poor quality schools.  However this seems to confirm the importance of other nurture influences on education, such as peer group.

4. A much smaller study by Exeter University found that someone achieving AAB at A’ Level from a low-performing school or college had the same potential to succeed as someone achieving AAA at a high-performing school.

Assuming that the differential between pupils from good or even average state schools compared to “a high performing school” is even less, it seems that the maximum benefit from a very expensive private education is a single grade increase in only one of three A’ levels.  In most cases it will be less than that.  Again it proves the majority of the educational ability is inherent to the child and independent of schooling.

Conclusions in a relatively socially mobile, developed country such as the UK:

1. The type of schooling makes no difference at all for the brightest students.

2. Russell Group and Oxbridge universities should not discriminate according to school type.

3. Schooling makes a small difference (8%) for A’ level candidates of more average ability.

4. For those Universities making offers around BBB and CCC grades there is a good case for offering pupils from poor performing schools slightly lower grades (e.g. BCC or even CCC instead of BBC).

5. Parents should look at these statistics before spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on a private education.  If their intention is to get significantly better A’ level results for their children they will be disappointed.  This is poor value for money.

These research results seem to back up existing research that concluded that schooling has a limited influence on educational achievement.  At best it makes up 8% of the 40% which is open to environmental influence.  For the brightest students it makes no statistical difference.  Peer group, parenting and random life events (i.e. events which are not nature or nurture) make up the rest of the 40%.

These results will be exaggerated by social engineers and class-war socialists in order to further their case against elitism and further their positive discrimination policies.

It should be noted however that these statistics are only made possible because of the excellent job done by British teachers. They contribute to making the UK a relatively equal society.   These studies show that British society is now “equal enough” to allow talent and motivation to be rewarded regardless of the type of schooling.  In other countries, where children are more poorly educated, the type of school a child attends will make a bigger difference to their academic achievement.

Even early school provision does not make the impact many expect.  Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education team has just published research showing that in a worrying number of rich-world countries more than 15% of young people are “unqualified”. Those with a problem include France, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark—all high scorers for early-years provision. A good start is not enough on its own.

It is in our interest as a society that we have the best people in the right jobs. We all benefit from a genuine meritocracy. There should be no discrimination based on colour, class or sex. But this includes “positive” discrimination too. We should not be giving people a leg up because of a perceived injustice unless we can prove beyond doubt that they really have been disadvantaged.

Further listening on the genetics of intelligence:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born DifferentThree BBC Radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence.

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

References:

Pleiotropy across academic subjects at the end of compulsory education An article in Nature on the genetic effects to human intelligence and GCSE results in the UK.

Differences in degree outcomes: Key findings  (examines the extent to which a student’s background affects their chance of obtaining an upper second or first class degree)

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

Why Poorer Students Are Underrepresented In Top Universities – an Evolutionary Perspective

Why is there an academic north-south divide in Britain?

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

Genetic influence on GCSE results

Genetics and general cognitive ability : Article : Nature

Genetics – How Intelligence Changes with Age

Access : Childhood intelligence is heritable, highly polygenic and associated with FNBP1L 

Genes may play role in educational achievement

Access : Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic 

Genetic and environmental contributions to the covariance between occupational status, educational attainment, and IQ

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Politics and Economics

The 2008 Financial Crisis was Primarily a Failure of Socialism.

I’ll argue that the 2008 financial crisis was primarily caused by a failure of a socialist policy and exacerbated by socialist economics.

Mr. Miliband and Mr. Balls of the UK Labour Party believe that the 2008 financial crisis was primarily caused by a failure of capitalism.  To an extent this is true, but then few of us believed that capitalism is a perfect system, just the best system currently available.

But it was not Labour’s lack of regulation of the “casino banks” in the UK that started the economic crisis, although they may have accelerated its effects.  The initial spark was provided by the policy of “sub-prime” lending in the USA.  A policy of which Mr. Miliband and his socialist colleagues would have been proud.

In 1999 President Clinton effectively reversed the Glass-Steagall Act opening the way for the credit unworthy to engage in the property market.   For the Democrats it was positive discrimination; social engineering.   The left had long complained that the property market was allowing the already wealthy and Middle Class to profit from the property market boom.  By allowing the poor and economically unreliable to borrow money and buy their house was considered another blow for equality.  A huge amount of debt built up in a part of the economy that couldn’t afford the interest payments.  When asset prices started to fall many people defaulted on their loans leaving the banks with properties that were worth less than the value of the mortgage debt.

So Sub-prime lending was the spark.  It caused a brief economic downturn in many countries.  However in many left-leaning economies, which borrowed billions to spend on social engineering experiments, it went on to cause a crash.

Let’s be clear about the economic legacy left by the last Labour Government.  The deficit was a whopping £155,000,000,000 in one year!  Whilst I have heard many Labour politicians responsible for this eye-watering number blame it on extra spending required to avert an “world-wide financial crisis” created by bankers, the facts do not support this defence.

It was not a “world-wide” crisis as it affected only countries that ran up huge Government deficits (Greece and the UK being prime examples) or massive private deficits (Ireland).  This includes the US who refused to raise very low tax levels to meet spending obligations, and the EuroZone who cannot put taxes up any higher to match their totally out-of-control spending plans.  Many countries, including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China, Sweden Germany and much of South East Asia all avoided the worst of the crisis because their spending was more-or-less in line with their tax revenues.  Labour must take its share of the blame with the bankers, as it was them that ran up Government debt.

Also, Labour turned on the spending tap long before the 2008 – 09 financial crisis.

http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn99.pdf (see Fig. 4.1 on page 10)

Labour spending went from 36% of GDP in 1999-2000 to 42% in 2005 -2006 whilst revenue was broadly flat at 37% of GDP over the same period.  Increasing Government deficits is not new and the size of this early deficit was not unusual by historical standards.  But the key difference here is that Labour increased spending and debt during the boom which started at the end of John Major’s government.  We expect Governments to increase spending and deficits during a recession.  This is essential to cover increased unemployment benefits and lower tax revenues and smooth out the economic shocks that inevitably hit the most vulnerable citizens.  However, prudent Governments will then pay down debt during the boom times to allow more future borrowing when the economic cycle inevitable takes a turn for the worse.

Remember that the deficit is given as a percentage of GDP, which is much higher during a boom therefore the deficit is proportionally bigger.  Also, the last boom lasted for a long time, an unprecedented 16 years, allowing massive debt to build up if you were foolish enough to continue to borrow during this time.

The reason that Labour felt they could borrow with impunity, even during a boom, was it believed it had banished “boom and bust” economics.  Gordon Brown famously made this statement in the House of Commons. The world’s finances were linked for the first time by technology and Labour believed the massive global market could spread financial risks. Labour bet the country’s financial health on a belief that asset values would continue to rise, allowing borrowing against those assets.  Finally, Labour selfishly expected our disenfranchised children and grandchildren to pay back the debt sometime in the future, believing this was acceptable because it assumed the economy would be much bigger by then and they could afford it.  This is undemocratic and immoral. The consequence of all this is that Labour foolishly and arrogantly believed there would never be another downturn so could continue to spend above tax receipts.

Labour was wrong on all counts.  The connected global markets did not spread the risk, it spread the contagion, asset prices fell and the economy shrank increasing the debt to income burden.

So because Labour arrogantly believed there would be no more downturns they increased their profligate spending rather than pay down debt.  Consequently, when the financial crisis hit in 2008 there was no more credit available, which left the UK economy unusually exposed.

So, a socialist policy started an economic downturn, which socialist economics turned it into a crash.

Thanks to Labour the incoming coalition government had the unique problems of solving a massive economic slowdown with no ability to borrow more to smooth the worst effects.  They had to reduce spending when there was more need for the extra money.  An impossible task without causing major hardship.

Whether the coalition policies produced the best possible outcome given the disastrous economic hand they were dealt by Labour is difficult to judge.  This remains to be seen and history will be the judge.

Labour’s election prospects do not lie in trying to talk down the coalition economic performance or in justifying its recent economic mismanagement.  To win the next election they must address one key question:  Which party will best manage our new economic reality?

We have over a trillion pounds of debt, which is still rising due to an annual deficit of over 100 billion pounds.  All this must be paid down.  Combining this with an older population (with their large pension and healthcare needs) means we will have no more spare money for at least a generation. We must earn what we want to spend.  We cannot continue to borrow what we spend. Increased taxation can get nowhere near lowering the deficit, let alone the debt.

Massive public spending cuts are inevitable.

Labour must now convince the country that they can move from a party which financially supports in-work welfare benefit and uncontrolled public spending to one which puts financial prudence ahead of its social engineering experiments i.e. manage the country’s massively reduced public spending capacity for the foreseeable future.

The Labour front bench may believe they can do this, but I doubt that their political paymasters (Unite and the GMB unions) or the socialist Labour backbenchers will let them.  They have a social agenda not an economic one. The country may feel that there are other political parties with a longer history and proven innate instincts of supporting a smaller State and lower public spending.

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Politics and Economics

Answer these 5 questions before voting on Scottish Independence

First let’s look at some numbers to get this debate in perspective:

UK GDP – £2,435 Billion

Scottish GDP – £216 billion (8.87% of UK GDP)

London GDP – £452 billion (18.5% of UK GDP)

Edinburgh GDP – £12 billion (0.49% of UK GDP)

UK Debt – £1,377 Billion

Consider these 5 questions before voting in the Scottish referendum:

  1. The main driver of the UK economy is London and its knock on effect in the surrounding South East of England.  This is one of the few parts of UK that earns more income than it spends.   The current and future world income generators are the big international cities – London, New York, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore etc. etc. They are clusters of high value added service industries supporting the regional management of large multinationals with such things as financial services, legal services, management consulting, marketing, advertising and recruitment.   They attract massive international investment and provide talented and educated people with highly paid jobs. This creates wealth which trickles down to workers in the supporting industries and services.  Edinburgh is not a major international city, nor a major European city. Neither is Glasgow.  There can only be one regional hub and currently that crown belongs to London, making the creation of a second hub nearby very difficult.  Do the Scottish Nationalists have a detailed plan as to how they will elevate Edinburgh or Glasgow to the status of other major international cities?
  2. A currency union between an Independent Scotland and the UK could be a bad idea for both parties.  The UK wouldn’t want an independent Scotland to mismanage its economy to the detriment of the English, Welsh and N. Irish.  The three main UK political parties have said they would not allow an independent Scotland to use the pound.  Mark Carney, The Governor of the Bank of England, has said that “a durable currency union requires some ceding of national sovereignty” which would negate the notion of Scottish independence if it used the pound.  Also, the reasons that Scotland doesn’t want to join the Euro should also apply to a currency union with the UK.  The recent catastrophic economic collapse of Greece trying to operate within a currency zone shared with Germany is a sobering and relevant example as to why an independent Scotland should not share the Pound.   Do the Scottish Nationalists have detailed contingency plan as to how an independent Scotland could operate without the pound?
  3. Scotland’s two biggest banks, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and Lloyds have bank assets twelve times the size of its GDP. The equivalent multiple for the rest of Britain is below five; for Ireland on the eve of the financial crisis it was about seven. In another economic meltdown Scotland would struggle to rescue its banks. Do the Scottish Nationalists have detailed plan as to how they will manage their new banking system to avoid the recent problems of other small countries such as Iceland, Cyprus and Ireland?
  4. Scotland would find it difficult to get all 27 of the other member countries to agree admit them into the European Union.  Spain for one would not want to admit Scotland, as it would set a precedent for Catalan independence.  Spain has already blocked Kosovo’s membership bid because it broke away from Serbia.  There are other separatist movements within Europe which could cause some other countries to veto Scottish membership.  Do the Scottish Nationalists have a plan B for the possibility of independence outside the European Union?
  5. Scotland is seeking independence at the time their North Sea oil reserves are running out and at a time when large shale oil reserves are being discovered in England.  Do the Scottish Nationalists have a detailed plan as to how they will manage their future economy without North Sea oil?
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Politics and Economics

Why an independent Scotland should not share the Pound

Should an independent Scotland use the pound?  To see if this is a good idea for Scotland let’s take the recent real life example of Greece:

  1. Greek Government spending went out of control and they borrowed so much money they could not afford to pay the interest on the debt.
  2. Unions and left-of-centre politicians had pushed up salaries and labour costs to a point where its industries and businesses were becoming too expensive and were losing sales to cheaper more efficient competitors in international markets.
  3.  Unemployment was rising due to the failure of these businesses, which further pushed up Government costs with the increased welfare and unemployment benefits.

How does the Government get out of this seemingly intractable downward spiral? Before Greece joined the Euro, it had its own currency – the Greek Drachma.  What it would have done is devalued its currency.  This is how it works: Suppose on international money markets 100 Greek Drachmas is worth 1 Euro.  So a product which Greece was producing for 200 Drachmas costs 2 Euro in Germany. During the crisis the Drachma is revalued to 200 Greek Drachmas to 1 Euro. Now when Greece exports its products to Germany its prices are much lower.  A product which costs 200 Drachmas to make is now selling for only 1 Euro, whereas before it was 2 Euros.  This increases exports of Greek products to Germany which supports Greek businesses and creates employment.  The Greek government gets more tax from successful domestic businesses and has lower costs because there is less unemployment and associated welfare costs. Of course this also makes Greek imports more expensive.  Now if Greece wants to buy products and raw materials from Germany it has to pay twice as much.  To import a product from Germany which cost 1 Euro is now costing Greek businesses 200 Drachmas instead of 100 Drachmas.  This has the effect of causing Greek consumers and businesses to buy their products and raw materials from within Greece, which further boosts their economy.  It reduces imports and boosts domestic trade. Furthermore Greek workers are still on the same salaries, which have the same buying power within Greece.  They will not notice a difference to their living standards unless they go on holiday in Germany where they will find prices very high.  This will encourage them to holiday at home further boosting the Greek Economy.  Also Germans will find being on holiday in Greece very cheap, so they will come in larger numbers, further boosting the Greek tourist trade. So the ability to devalue a currency helps to smooth the problems of an economic crisis in poorly managed economies. Now let’s consider the options for the Greeks if they share the same currency as Germany. The Government cannot afford the interest payments on its loans and cannot borrow more so it must reduce Government spending and pay off some of the loans.  It must pay its workers less salary and reduce government spending.  Greek industries are uncompetitive so they must reduce their costs too.  They must also pay lower salaries and find further cost saving in its production.  This is not easy and lower salaries in Greece means lower spending by consumers causing the economy to slow further.  Germany has no incentive to buy Greek products or visit Greece on holiday, because it is just as expensive for them.  Unemployment stays high which increases the costs of the Greek Government in unemployment benefit.  This means less money for investing in Greek infrastructure and industry in order to make them more efficient. The situation is made worse for Greece if the German economy starts booming.  The value of the Euro will rise causing Greek exports to be even more expensive on international markets, which will cause their economy to slow even more.  This is because exchange rates are set at a level appropriate for the German Economy, not the Greek economy. Actually, the Eurozone crisis has helped German exports because it has made the Euro exchange rate lower than it would have been which makes German exports cheaper.  But the exchange rate is still too high to help Greek businesses.  Both economies have to be aligned otherwise the exchange rate will work in one country’s favour (Germany) and to the detriment of another country (Greece). To ensure that countries like Greece do not mismanage their economies to cause a crisis in the first place it is important that their taxation and spending policies are aligned with countries like Germany. This is what happens in the USA, which has a single currency and each state has broadly similar tax and spending policies (at least compared to Europe).  The exchange rate tends to be more appropriate for all states.  Also unemployed workers in a poor States like Michigan can easily move to a richer state like California.  This is good for Michigan because it reduces its unemployment levels and the associated welfare costs and provides much needed labour in California. However Greeks will find it harder to move to Germany because of language and cultural barriers. So what actually happened in Greece has been an economic disaster because they cannot devalue their currency.  They have had to cut costs, which means cutting salaries and axing jobs, which has increased unemployment benefits.  To prevent an economic meltdown the other Eurozone countries have had to give billions of Euros to Greece to prevent mass starvation and rioting.  Unless Greece was given this money it would have not been able to pay its massive debts which would have caused a major banking crisis.  Global banks would go bankrupt; savers, investors and businesses would lose all their money and the cost to the German economy would be much more than the cost of the bailout.  So they had no choice but to bail Greece out.  However, the Germans still resent having to give up their hard earned cash to make up for the economic mismanagement of another country.  To remedy this problem the Eurozone is now trying to align the tax and spend policies of its member states, which means individual countries are losing their independence.  i.e. their ability to set their own tax and spending levels. For this reason the UK would be very unwise to let an independent Scotland use its currency unless their economies were aligned in their tax and spend policies.  The UK would not want to have to bail out Scotland in order to save its own economy.  This effectively would mean that Scotland would need to have its budgets approved by the UK parliament, making a mockery of their notion of independence.  Likewise, Scotland would be unwise to use the pound because it wouldn’t be able to devalue in the event of a crisis.  Of course Scotland would have similar problems if it joined the Euro.  This is the very reason it doesn’t want to join the Euro!  Having its own new currency would also carry large risks as they would not have a large economy to protect it from wild fluctuations in the currency markets and it may have much higher borrowing costs. For a single currency to work there has to be similar tax and spend polices across the whole currency zone and there must be similar language and culture to allow workers to easily move to where the jobs are. Answer these 5 Questions before voting on Scottish Independence

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Genetic Explanations

Why Do Men Commit most of the Crimes?

Men are responsible for 86% of all indictable crimes in England and Wales, 88% of crimes against the person, 90% of murders, and 98% of sexual offences (all for the year 2012).

Capture_6

Testosterone is one of the factors but it is just one of the chemical messengers that make men more risk taking and aggressive.  The real question is why did men evolve to be more risk taking and aggressive in the first place?

There is an (incorrect) assumption that the behaviour and insecurities of men and women is received solely via “socialisation” i.e. an interaction with their environment.  For example a male preoccupation with aggression and risk taking is “caused” by being exposed to other male role models.  This incorrect assumption is based on flawed and discredited social “science” research that fails to correct for genetics.

1. We are a disposable container that has evolved to ensure genes get moved forward in time.  We die.  They don’t.  Any behaviour conferred by the genes on a species, which increases the likelihood of having more offspring, will ensure more of those genes are passed to the next generation.

2. Evolution takes a long time.  One tick of the evolutionary clock takes about 250,000 years.  i.e. we are virtually identical to our ancestors from 50,000 years ago.

Our male and female ancestors have had very different evolutionary pressure over the previous millions of years.

Human females have a pathetic ability to reproduce, having no more than a dozen pregnancies in their lifetime. Each pregnancy is life threatening and she will generally only produce offspring one at a time. Their fertility declines sharply at 35 and falls off a cliff at 40.  Human children are unusually vulnerable in infancy and take many years to reach maturity.  Women therefore engage in a long, energy sapping and life threatening investment in their children to ensure these (few) offspring reach childbearing age.  She must choose her mate with great care to ensure her offspring receive beneficial genes from the father, which in turn maximises the chance of her own genes prospering in the next generation.  It also means she must carefully and selflessly look after the few offspring she manages to produce.  She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.  So she evolved to be nurturing.

Human males produce 250,000 sperm every second and their number of offspring is limited only by their opportunity to impregnate willing (or unwilling) females.   They are fertile their whole life.  Two strategies would work to increase the number of their genes in the next generation.  1. Look after their offspring, nurture them and ensure they reach child bearing age  (i.e. copy the only strategy available to women). 2. Spread their sperm as far and wide as possible, have thousands of offspring and hope that some reach childbearing age.  A third alternative is the best.  Do both.  Men invest almost nothing in child rearing so it makes sense for them to take huge risks to have the opportunity to reproduce.

It is also worth pointing out why men are so disposable in evolutionary terms, whilst at the same time being more valuable for getting large numbers of genes in subsequent generations if they are very successful and / or out-survive other men.  A population of 100 women and one man has a good chance of survival.  A population of 100 men and one woman is probably doomed.  If men kill off their competitors (in a good war for example) the population can survive and the surviving men’s genes will massively prosper.  If women are killed off their genes won’t prosper due to their very limited ability to reproduce.   Evolution of genes explains why men will be more risk-taking, aggressive and competitive.  Evolution of genes explains why women are dramatically less aggressive.  It’s not in her genes’ interests if the whole population dies out. This also explains why men and women are more likely to put men in harms way and feel more protective towards women (reference: Moral Chivalry).

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for him having good genes) to ensure their own genes have a good chance of survival in future generations.  To prove high social status takes a bit longer so women tend to go for successful, older men (4 years older in the UK on average).

Men are programmed to advertise their success and achievements in order to attract a high social status mate.  It is worth taking risks to achieve this status because the genetic rewards can be enormous.  For example about 8% of the men in a large region of Asia have Genghis Khan’s Y chromosome.  He clearly had many willing and unwilling sexual partners but took great risk to achieve this.

Men will choose younghealthy, fertile (“attractive”) women because their chosen mate primarily needs to be fit to survive 9 months of pregnancy and the years of childcare that follows. Men have evolved to visually select a mate on this basis.  Women have evolved for millions of years with this pressure.  Women are therefore programmed to try to look young and attractive in order to find a suitable mate. Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.

I’m describing the is not the ought of human behaviour, and nothing here should make us believe we can predict the behaviour of individual men and women.  But please remember evolution is about survival of our genes and does not care one jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.

But to put the male of our species in context here are two relevant facts:
1. Men commit most of the crimes.
2. Few men commit crimes.

Actually we men evolved into a social, altruistic species, with a few violent exceptions.

Also whilst men commit most of the crimes, they are also its main victims:

Men are the main victims of violence and violent death

References:

Moral Chivalry

 

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Politics and Economics

Men are the main victims of violence and violent death

Many women in the media seem to feel that men don’t know what it’s like to be a victim.  This is something from which women suffer at the mercy of men.  Intuitively we believe this.  We feel protective towards women.  I have two teenage children and worry much more for my daughter when she goes out at night.

However it is my son who is immensely more at risk from an early, violent death.

In the UK men are the victims of 62% of violent crime.  They are also much more likely to die early and violently though accident and trauma. They account for 95% of work related deaths, 92% of motorcycle deaths and have three times the overall road traffic mortality rate as women.  Men account for 75% of suicides and are 68% of all murder victims.

And just to remind ourselves that as a society we are happy to put our young men in harm’s way, the statistics for UK military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan to May 2012 reports 582 male deaths and 8 female.

All the statistics seem to indicate that the world is a much more dangerous place for men than for women.

They have different and more fatal dangers than those that affect women.  However they are dangers nevertheless.

Men very much know what it’s like to be a victim.

References:

Accidental and Violent Deaths:

Men are considerably more likely than women to have an accident or to die at work. Almost four out of every five (79.5 %) serious accidents at work and nineteen out of every twenty (94.9 %) fatal accidents at work in the EU-27 in 2009 involved men.

(Ref: Health and safety at work statistics)

There is also a significant and notable disparity between the deaths caused by road traffic accidents between men and women, with men being over three times as likely to die from a road accident. 

(Ref: RAC Foundation 2009)

Obviously men take many more casualties in war than women because we are more prepared to put them in harm’s way.  The UK fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq to May 2012 were 582 men and 8 women.

(Ref: UK Fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq)

Violent Crime:

Men are more often the victim of violent crime than women: “The CSEW (Crime Survey of England and Wales), which measures the experiences of a representative sample of the population resident in households, provides a good measure of the volume of violent crime offences. It shows 2.1 million offences occurring, based on the 2011/12 survey, mostly against men (62%), mostly not reported to the police (56%), and with a relatively high proportion being repeat victimisations (24%).”

This is statistics from the Crime Survey of England and Wales is based on a survey of peoples’ experience of crime and includes crimes which were not reported to the police.

(Ref:  Office of National Statistics  page 3 and 6)

Suicide:

There were 4,552 male suicides in 2011 (a rate of 18.2 suicides per 100,000 population) and 1,493 female suicides (5.6 per 100,000 population).  i.e. 75% of all suicides are male.

(Ref: Suicides in the United Kingdom, 2011)

Murder:

In the UK 2011/12:  367 murder victims were male and 172 were female. This means that more than two-thirds of homicide victims (68%) were male.

In 2010/11, 435 homicide victims were male and 201 were female.

(Ref: Ministry of Justice Update 2012

Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2010/11)

 

Other References:

Why do men commit most of the crimes?

Moral Chivalry

Men and Crime

Why Crime Rates Have Fallen Over The Last 30 Years (hint: it’s not prison)

Focus on: Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, 2011/12

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Liberty, Politics and Economics

Real Democracy Lies in Purchasing Power not Committee Meetings.

In Ed Miliband’s Hugo Young Lecture this week he outlined his solution to unresponsive and unaccountable state services.  He proposes to give more power to the people. He wants to provide the public with more information.  He wants local people to be consulted about local decisions and he wants local government to take back more power from the centre.  Laudable aims, but how will this be implemented?

Labour will give power to the people so long as their decisions are constrained within their preconceived framework of socialist thinking. So the services would still be state run and monopolistic but the public would be allowed to influence the flavour or hue.  This is not power or freedom. It’s being imprisoned in a series of endless bureaucratic meetings, which will be dominated by a few activists who have the time and energy to expend on a narrow cause. This will inevitably include the type of full time agitators, anarchists and protestors we see objecting to fracking and busily occupying London.

Oscar Wilde’s remark that Socialism would never work because there aren’t enough evenings in the week seems to be accurate. Mr Miliband’s pledge that local people will be consulted on decisions is typical of Labour’s illusion that ordinary people are desperately clamoring to give up their free evenings to sit on the local committee for refuse collection or to influence the local clinical commissioning panel. The voice of the silent majority will remain just that because they have better ways to spend their time than arguing with a few highly motivated extremists. So it would not be very democratic either.

Real power lies with whoever holds the purse strings.    So instead we should introduce a voucher system, which we can all use to procure the type of local services we want.  For example, we would have the power to use our Medical Voucher to choose our own doctor, our Education Voucher to choose our child’s school and our Refuse Collection Voucher  to choose who empties our rubbish bin.   We would all get an equal opportunity to influence these services and providers will be kept on their toes because revenue would flow to those providing the best service.

However the public sector Unions and left-leaning politicians would become impotent under such a scenario. They only have power if we have no choice but to use their monopolistic services.   For this reason neither would allow it.  In reality they will constrain the decision making to the Henry Ford solution. You can have any colour you like so long as it’s black – or in this case, red.

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Genetic Explanations, Politics and Economics

Social Mobility in the UK has Declined because Society is more Equal.

The irony is breath taking.  Increased household income inequality and slowing levels of social mobility are the result of society becoming more equal.

Household income inequality is a hot topic in left-leaning political circles because it has relentlessly increased in recent decades, despite the last Labour Government spending billions of tax pounds trying to reduce it.

There is one obvious explanation being studiously avoided: Income inequality has increased in part because University-educated men and women are more likely to marry each other, rather than marrying partners with divergent education. Economists and biologists call the tendency of people with similar characteristics to marry “assortative mating.”

As a consequence, household income inequality has increased because education is strongly correlated with income—the better your education the more money you will typically earn.

The increased educational opportunities for women since World War 2 has led to many more of them to earning high salaries.  However there is a strong tendency for these women to marry men with similar education levels and earning potential, polarising them into a small number of high dual-income households.

Also the increased numbers of 18-year olds attending higher education and more equality in the workplace has allowed talented and motivated men and women from all parts of society to get on the professional job ladder.

Intuitively we should believe that more equality for men and women would increase social mobility, as men and women from all backgrounds have opportunities for higher education, to succeed in their careers and become more economically successful.

As predicted, social mobility surged after the 1940s but this has now mysteriously come to a screeching halt, despite society being more equal then ever.  Why?

First we must acknowledge that talent and motivation are largely heritable (i.e. we receive them through our genes).  The massive data from identical twin / adoption studies have shown that the “environment” of pupils before World War 2 accounted for some of the differences in a person’s eventual social and economic status by age 35. After these social based advantages were largely dismantled we saw a high degree of social mobility as talented and motivated individuals from all parts of society started to meet at Grammar Schools and Universities.

The advantages of upbringing have now largely disappeared. Similar studies since World War 2 (in the developed world) shows upbringing makes little difference to our eventual social and economic status, peer groups makes some difference but the largest driver is the genes for talent and motivation we inherit from our parents.  Our upbringing, education and experiences are transient, so the influence of different “nurture” experience on our lives will be diminished over time.  Our genes exert their influence consistently throughout our whole life.

Combine the fact that talent and motivation is largely inherited through our genes with one of the most passionate and time consuming aspects of human behaviour, i.e. finding a mate, and you have a very powerful natural force. Talented, motivated women generally seek and marry talented, motivated men.  They then generally have talented, motivated children. i.e. they cluster the genes responsible for these talented, motivated characteristics into certain sections of society. As these characteristics generally lead to higher earning potential they are more likely cluster in the affluent parts of society. Consequently talented, motivated children are not equally spread in our society. This is unfair, but I’m explaining the is not the ought. This biological process is called assortative mating.

This explains what we have seen in recent history. A strong genetic determinant of talent and motivation combined with a sudden dismantling of unfairness in society will lead to an initial surge in social mobility. However this social mobility will then fade as beneficial genes cluster into the affluent parts of society by the process of assortative mating.

This explains why private schools and affluent families provide a disproportionate number of students to top universities, and why they are providing slightly more now than 10 years ago.  As assortative mating continues its influence this trend is likely to continue, unless our politicians want to start choosing with whom we mate?

Top universities may be becoming less socially representative, but they are representing where the talent has clustered because in a relatively socially mobile environment, talented genes will cluster in affluent parts of society.

For new immigrants the social factors which have limited their progress until now are relatively recent, so we expect the genes for talent and motivation to be more numerous in poorer parts of their society as they haven’t had time to cluster in the more affluent parts of society.

This explains why poorer students for ethnic minorities out-perform their white peers.

Remember is not ought.

Our future is not entirely genetically determined and I have no doubt that good schools with quality teachers make a difference.  We should continue do everything we can to ensure that individuals from all parts of society have access to an excellent education and quality careers with equal opportunity to succeed on merit alone.

But the reason we see a slowing of social mobility and a polarisation of high income individuals into high dual-income households is because society is more equal, particularly for women.   If we are to have a serious debate on helping the “disadvantaged” we need to look at all causes of “inequality” and move away from the discredited 1960’s assumptions that it is explained by “nurture” and “class”, which is what most press articles on the subject imply. We should learn a little about evolutionary biology and genetics before making these wild assumptions.

It is in our interest as a society that we have the best people in the right jobs. We all benefit from a genuine meritocracy.  There should be no discrimination based on colour, class or sex.  But this includes “positive” discrimination too. We should not be giving people a leg up because of a perceived injustice unless we can prove beyond doubt that they really have been disadvantaged.

Governments should set their expectations correctly before spending billions more tax pounds trying to save all pupils from a “perceived” injustice. They should instead target Government spending on developing each child’s individual and innate talents and motivations.

References:

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different (three BBC radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence)

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

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Politics and Economics

There are clear limits to Socialist Economics – and the UK has passed them

In 2012-13 the UK Government is spent  £100,000,000,000 more than it raised in tax.  This is called the Government deficit.  This is less than the £155,000,000,000 deficit in 2009-10  (the last year of the Labour Government) but still unsustainable.  The difference in spending and tax revenue is made up by Government borrowing, which is bloating our £1,400,000,000,000 debt.  Can socialist economics eliminate the deficit, then start to pay down the debt whilst maintaining living standards?

Socialist economic logic:

Socialist economics has a predominantly social agenda not an economic agenda.  Its logic goes something like this:

“I need a certain amount of income to live a decent life therefore I am entitled to have it.

If I’m unable to earn this much myself then somebody else must make up the difference:

1.  My employer must pay me more for my efforts (minimum wage)….or

2.…. my next-door neighbour (who earns more than me) must give me some of their income (intra-generational redistribution of wealth)….or

3.…The Government must borrow more money, give some to me and get my children and grandchildren to pay back the debt (inter-generational redistribution of wealth)…..or

4.   ….a combination of 1,2 and 3.”

How far can we push these policies before they become detrimental to those they are designed to help?

Solution 1.  Minimum wage.

Setting a legal minimum wage can be a good way to ensure that workers have a fairer remuneration for their labour from their employer.  The trick is to put minimum wages at a level that benefits workers but not so high it puts the employer out of business or drives jobs to countries with cheaper labour.  Minimum wages put up the costs to businesses, which must be passed on as increased prices (causing inflation), which must be paid by workers.  Increased prices causes the businesses to be less competitive in global markets (causing unemployment).  There are two significant numbers regarding labour costs: $135 and $12. The first is what the average worker in the West earns per day; the second what the average worker in urban China earns.

What entitles the rich world’s 500 million workers to salaries ten times greater than the 1.1 billion workers in urban bits of the developing world?

(Full, brilliant article is here:    $135 – $12 = the pay gap the West can’t bridge.)

Solution 2.  Intra-generational redistribution of wealth – Taxation.

Western democracies accept that a certain level of wealth redistribution is healthy.  By reducing inequality we can ensure the whole country benefits from the talents of all its people and we enjoy a more peaceful, more harmonious, meritocratic society.  However, we are now paying much more for the increased number of elderly people in our society with their higher pension and healthcare costs.  This leaves less for working age benefits.

Remember in Britain more than half the adult population receive more in benefits than they pay in tax and the top 1% of taxpayers provide 30% of income-tax revenue.  So, the majority are supported by a minority of tax payers – i.e. the “rich” are already contributing.

Let’s try a thought experiment.  If we taxed everybody at 100% of his or her income we would collect very little tax.  Few people would work for no money.  If we set income tax at 0% we would collect no money. Therefore (logically) there is an optimum top tax rate whereby we collect the most tax.  Labour believed this was 40% for all but one month of their 13-year rule.  The current administration thinks it is 45%.  However all agree that taxing too much collects less tax.  We are just arguing about the correct percentage.

So can we squeeze the rich some more? A simple calculation:  Suppose we ask all people earning over £100,000 to pay an additional £30,000 tax per year on top of the tax they currently pay?  Totally ludicrous of course, as most earn little more than £100,000 and couldn’t find it, and those that earn significantly more (the one’s we all really want to tax) can easily move country and pay us no tax at all.  High taxes will also act as a disincentive for rich and talented individuals to come to the country in the first place.  So the constraints on incentives and resulting talent drain would make this whole concept fanciful as a way of raising revenue……but just for the sake of illustration let’s suppose it was possible…..

We have 500,000 people in the UK who earn more than £100,000 so (best case scenario) we’ve raised £15,000,000,000.  We’ve reduced the deficit from £100,000,000,000 per year to £85,000,000,000 per year.  Now what?

Solution 3. Inter-generational redistribution of wealth – Borrowing.

In the UK we have an annual £100,000,000,000 + deficit which is bloating our £1,400,000,000,000 debt.   The current interest payments are greater than the defence budget.   Money paid in interest is money not available for welfare, education, healthcare and investment.   Interest rates charged to countries are based on the risk of not getting back the money you lent.  Highly indebted countries pay higher interest rates to compensate for the extra risk.  This puts up the costs of borrowing even higher.  When the debt gets so big that a country cannot afford the interest payments nobody will lend it more money and its economy collapses – such as happened in Greece.  The UK is close to this debt limit so increased borrowing is no longer an option.

The current economic problems caused by our massive debt are obvious.  Moreover, effectively taxing our children and grandchildren so that we can have a better life now at their future expense is undemocratic and immoral. Taxation should be by consent and they have not voted for it.

There is a limit to how far we can push minimum wages, taxation and borrowing.  We have reached that limit.  We must now live within our means.

Perhaps Socialist economic logic is flawed?

How about:

“I need a certain amount of income to live a decent life therefore I must earn it.”

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Liberty

Sexual Harassment at Work and Liberty.

Should we legislate to prevent sexual harassment at work?

The sad fact of the matter is that there are many men who are simply socially awkward, particularly around women.

To find a sexual partner we must court. First we must subtlety make our intentions clear in an alluring way without being too explicit so as not to cause alarm. Thinking of something interesting and relevant to say is difficult. We dread saying totally the wrong thing. We agonise about how we look.  Have we chosen our clothes with care?   We worry about rejection and humiliation. This game also requires a large amount of social and emotional intelligence to accurately interpret the response of the target of our passions. This is a very stressful and difficult game to get right and involves significant social and cognitive skills. In most cases we need alcohol just to cope with the emotional turmoil, which also unfortunately impairs our judgment. Some people are subtle and clever at this game, most are average of course, but a few are completely useless. If you are also physically unattractive the odds are stacked completely against you.

I can recall a casual lunch as a young manager with my female head of HR. She had just returned from a conference on sexual harassment in the workplace. Her take on the whole issue was that any explicit or implicit sexual demands made based on one person’s authority over another were clearly wrong. A dismissible offence. However most of the sexual harassment cases she came across in her professional life could be classified as one person having sexual advances from a person from whom they didn’t want sexual advances. As the majority of these cases were between peers, power and authority were not part of the equation. Consequently many men (and they were mostly men) had claims of sexual harassment against them and were oblivious to having done something wrong. They had seen other men behaving in the same way and having their advances welcomed and then witnessed the relationship that followed.   Many of these sexual harassment claims came after sales conferences and training courses where alcohol had been drunk with colleagues in a social situation.

At the same company one of our male marketing managers was very tactile. He was very enthusiastic and passionate about his job and would get animated when talking about his marketing campaigns. To emphasise a key point in his discussion he would often grab my arm or shoulder. When walking he would often casually put an arm around my shoulder to signify camaraderie. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but neither did I interpret his behaviour as a sexual advance. He was just tactile. I’ve also had explicit sexual advances from women from whom I did not want a sexual advance, in a work situation, but being male I did not interpret this as a threat to my person or career.

I also watch with amusements professional footballers being sent onto the field of play with a friendly slap on the bottom from their coach or manager. The hugs and kisses after scoring a goal is legendary. Nobody checks with the goal scorer to see if they mind being touched. Does this mean any professional footballer can now allege sexual harassment?  This is their place of work after all.  Imagine the potential litigation income for retired footballers in need of some extra cash.  Or do we just make men touching women a special case?  Would that be sexist?    Will some unscrupulous colleagues exaggerate “touching” claims for professional gain or just pure vindictiveness?

Physical contact is an important part of being human and is a natural response to emotional situations.  Who doesn’t want to console a distraught child?  A tearful colleague?  Hug a friend with good news?  When does that contact become threatening or criminal?  Surely some of this is in the interpretation of the person being touched?

To what extent do we want to vilify and criminalise men (or women) who are just socially awkward, particularly if they’ve had a glass of wine too many?   When does social awkwardness become bad manners?  When does bad manners become a crime?

For many people the vast majority of their social interaction is through work.  Many people also meet their life-long sexual partners at work so it is clear that much consensual flirting and sexual activity occurs between colleagues.  Inevitably some will overstep the mark.  I’m very sensitive to the distress unwanted sexual attention causes women at work. It is clearly wrong and social pressure and education should be used to combat it. However using legislation to try to enforce a change is fraught with immense difficulty and countless shades of grey.  As proof try to craft a carefully worded, watertight piece of legislation.  One which protects women at work without either:  criminalising much innocent behaviour;  or having Taliban like policies enforced by employers and Governments which dictate with whom and under what circumstances consenting couples are allowed to flirt and have sexual relationships. This would be a gross violation of the human rights of everybody and impossible to enforce.  Sometimes we must accept there are no perfect solutions. To assume that anything which combats something which is wrong is automatically right is faulty logic. Often the remedy makes the situation worse. Women would feel slightly better protected in certain situations but their overall basic human rights would be greatly diminished.

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Genetic Explanations, Liberty, Politics and Economics, Religion

Why homosexuality is natural – an evolutionary explanation

Since Aristotle, we have philosophised a scientific and moral order to the world.  A “natural order” or “utopia” to creation.  A way things were meant to be.  If we acted against this order then nature would be disrupted and chaos would ensue.  This pre-supposition was incorporated into the major religions where it is assumed that God had a plan for creation and that His plan was “designed” to be harmonious.  If we could only understand what God intended for the world then we would know how to behave. But only religion knew how we ought to behave according to God’s design, because only religion knew God’s mind. Religion therefore got involved with “moral teaching”, which was a code of behaviour that God had intended and endorsed.

So religion expropriated moral behaviour based on a belief in a “purpose” or “design” of nature.  Men were men, and women were women, and they were meant to marry and have children.

However, unlike Aristotle’s assertion and accepted religious doctrine, evolution does not provide an “ought” for nature.   There is no intention in evolution.  Genes have no intelligence or sentience.  They are inert, self-replicating, complex molecules that have evolved over 3,500,000,000 years to build intricate life-support machines around them (living organisms) that help them replicate themselves.  We humans are a disposable container to further the interest of our genes.  We die, they don’t.

Evolution works by natural selection.  Each generation of genes has small random variations and mutations (some beneficial, most harmful) from which nature chooses the best characteristics using natural selection.  The beneficial behaviours survive and are amplified in future generations and the unbeneficial behaviours dwindle or die out.

Genes merely cover their options by providing random variation to ensure that whatever the future environment may be, some of them will be adapted to take advantage of it.

Without this evolution could not occur and we would still be living primordial slime.

So massive climate change, asteroid attacks, disease and any number of previous natural disasters has not wiped out life on our planet.  It just changes which genes (and therefore which species) are best adapted for the new environment.

So there is no “ought” in evolution.  There is no “intent” or a way things were meant to be.

So nature naturally provides variation in human characteristics and behaviour.  We have variations in skin colour, variations in hair colour, variations in aggressive behaviour and variations in intelligence.  And yes, variations in sexuality.  Some people are gay, some are heterosexual, and some can be anywhere on the spectrum in between.  So homosexuality is as natural as red hair or black skin or blue eyes.

Studies have shown that homosexuality runs in families, leading most researchers to presume a genetic underpinning of sexual preference. However, no major gene for homosexuality has yet been found.   But whilst much variation is directly caused by genes, we know that some variation is only indirectly caused by genes.  Recent studies in epigenetics have found a plausible mechanism for human homosexuality.  Epi-marks constitute an extra layer of information attached to our genes’ backbones that regulates their expression. While genes hold the instructions, epi-marks direct how those instructions are carried out – when, where and how much a gene is expressed during development.

Sex-specific epi-marks produced in early fetal development protect each sex from the substantial natural variation in testosterone that occurs during later fetal development. Sex-specific epi-marks stop girl fetuses from being masculinised when they experience atypically high testosterone and vice versa for boy fetuses. Different epi-marks protect different sex-specific traits from being masculinised or feminised – some affect the genitals, others sexual identity, and yet others affect sexual partner preference.

Epi-marks are usually erased and produced anew each generation, but recent evidence demonstrates that they sometimes carry over between generations and thus can contribute to similarity among relatives, resembling the effect of shared genes.  When sex-specific epi-marks are transmitted across generations from fathers to daughters or mothers to sons, they may cause reversed effects, such as the feminisation of some traits in sons and similarly a partial masculinisation of daughters.

So this mechanism can affect a developing foetus’ response to hormones in the womb which may affect brain development and sexuality.  But how can a genetic trait that causes sexual preferences which will not result in pregnancy and children survive generation after generation?   The reason that many people think homosexuality is “unnatural” is because it denotes behaviour which does not result in any future generations.  Natural selection should ensure that genes for homosexuality will die out.  Many believe the fear of persecution caused many homosexuals to marry and have children in order to fit into society, thus propagating these genes into future generations.  However,  mathematical modeling demonstrates that genes coding for these epi-marks can easily spread in the population because they only rarely escape erasure causing homosexuality in the offspring.  Genetic transmission of epi-marks between generations is the most plausible evolutionary mechanism of the phenomenon of human homosexuality.

So our knowledge that homosexuality has a genetic basis, which is subject to evolution by natural selection, would lead us to predict that homosexuality would be rare.  This is verified by the  results of the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles recently published in The Lancet.   It shows that 7% of men have had some sort of same-sex “sexual experience” and only 4% had physical sex with a man.  The percentage of females who say they have had a sexual “experience”, including kissing, with another woman was 16% and the number admitting to having sex with another woman was 8%.  However there are good evolutionary reasons why we would predict that homosexual behaviour in women would be greater than in men.  (See blog:  Is there a bit of lesbianism in all women? )

Now that homosexuality is accepted in modern societies there is less pressure on homosexuals to marry and have children in order to “fit in” and avoid persecution.  This could mean that there will be less homosexuality in the future because if there are genes which code for homosexual behaviour they would become even less common.  However the recent research into epi-marks suggests that homosexuality will never disappear.  It will just remain rare.

Gay Marriage and Liberty

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Genetic Explanations

Female Bitchiness and Unsisterly Behaviour – An Evolutionary Explanation

bullying

“Bitchy” girl behaviour is hard-wired in the female brain according to a study by Psychologist Tracy Vaillancourt  from University of Ottawa in Canada.

Young women are innately bitchy and behave badly towards other women they perceive as sexy. Instead of physically confronting a rival, however, they use verbal war-fare and petty vendettas. They give their opponent withering glances; incite other women to make bitchy comments behind her back; humiliate and belittle her; spread rumours about her; suggest they’re promiscuous and try to socially exclude her.   This behaviour is well known in culture and literature, for example by Jane Austen and Shakespeare, but why does it happen?  It seems this indirect aggression — what we call “bitchiness” — has an evolutionary origin.  Women have to learn ways to compete with other females to find suitable males with whom to reproduce. “Bitchy” behaviour is hard-wired in the female brain.

In Vaillancourt’s study, 86 women aged from 20 to 25 were secretly videotaped after being paired with a friend or a stranger and told that they were participating in a study about female friendship.  Half the waiting pairs were interrupted by a plainly dressed assistant in a T-shirt and jeans, who had her hair tied back. The other half were interrupted by the same woman who was now dressed provocatively in a low-cut blouse, short skirt and boots, with her hair loose and flowing.

Almost all the women reacted hostilely to the female dressed in a sexually provocative way. Their bodies stiffened and they appeared to be angry or uncomfortable. They stared her up and down and rolled their eyes or nudged their companion. When the woman left the room, many of them ridiculed her appearance and suggested that she was sexually available. When she had dressed conservatively on the other hand, she was barely acknowledged by the women and prompted no discussion when she left the room.

However the explanation as to why women behave in this way does not make sense until we understand that evolution is not about survival of the individual or even the species. Evolution is about the survival of the genes. The genes in men and women will have very different survival strategies. Men and women have evolved differently.

There is an (incorrect) assumption that the behaviour and insecurities of women is received solely via “socialisation” i.e. an interaction with their environment.  For example a female preoccupation with looking young and attractive is “caused” by being exposed to other attractive women in the media.  This incorrect assumption is based on flawed and discredited social “science” research that fails to correct for genetics.

1. We are a disposable container that has evolved to ensure genes get moved forward in time.  We die.  They don’t.  Any behaviour conferred by the genes on a species, which increases the likelihood of having more offspring, will ensure more of those genes are passed to the next generation.

2. Evolution takes a long time.  One tick of the evolutionary clock takes about 250,000 years.  i.e. we are virtually identical to our ancestors from 50,000 years ago.

Our male and female ancestors have had very different evolutionary pressure over the previous millions of years.

Human females have a pathetic ability to reproduce, having no more than a dozen pregnancies in their lifetime. Each pregnancy is life threatening and she will generally only produce offspring one at a time. Human children are unusually vulnerable in infancy and take many years to reach maturity.  Women therefore engage in a long, energy sapping and life threatening investment in their children to ensure these (few) offspring reach childbearing age.  She must choose her mate with great care to ensure her offspring receive beneficial genes from the father, which in turn maximises the chance of her own genes prospering in the next generation.  It also means she must carefully and selflessly look after the few offspring she manages to produce.  She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.  So she evolved to be nurturing.

Human males produce 250,000 sperm every second and their number of offspring is limited only by their opportunity to impregnate willing (or unwilling) females.   Two strategies would work to increase the number of their genes in the next generation.  1. Look after their offspring, nurture them and ensure they reach child bearing age  (i.e. copy the only strategy available to women). 2. Spread their sperm as far and wide as possible, have thousands of offspring and hope that some reach childbearing age.  A third alternative is the best.  Do both.  Men invest almost nothing in child rearing so it makes sense for them to take huge risks to have the opportunity to reproduce.

It is also worth pointing out why men are so disposable in evolutionary terms, whilst at the same time being more valuable for getting large numbers of genes in subsequent generations if they are very successful and / or out-survive other men.  A population of 100 women and one man has a good chance of survival.  A population of 100 men and one woman is probably doomed.  If men kill off their competitors (in a good war for example) the population can survive and the surviving men’s genes will massively prosper.  If women are killed off their genes won’t prosper due to their very limited ability to reproduce.   Evolution of genes explains why men will be more risk-taking, aggressive and competitive.  Men are responsible for 86% of all indictable crimes in England and Wales, 88% of crimes against the person, 90% of murders, and 98% of sexual offences (all for the year 2012).  Evolution of genes explains why women are dramatically less aggressive.  It’s not in her genes’ interests if the whole population dies out.

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for him having good genes) to ensure their own genes have a good chance of survival in future generations.  To prove high social status takes a bit longer so women tend to go for successful, older men (4 years older in the UK on average).

Men are programmed to advertise their success and achievements in order to attract a high social status mate.

Men will choose young, healthy, fertile (what we call “attractive”) women because their chosen mate primarily needs to be fit to survive 9 months of pregnancy and the years of childcare that follows. Men have evolved to visually select a mate on this basis.  Women have evolved for millions of years with this pressure.  Women are therefore programmed to try to look young and attractive in order to find a suitable mate. Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.

Women also need to recognise these traits in their competition (other women).  Women have evolved to easily know if another woman is attractive and it is in her genes’ interest that she competes in a physically non-aggressive way with any women considered a reproductive threat.  Women will also dislike other promiscuous women because they have a general interest in increasing the scarcity of sex, which increases their negotiating power with men.  Studies show that women in London use the same strategy as women in Bangladesh.  Moreover they’re all aware of what they’re doing.  They know that it hurts yet persist in doing it.

The peak period of this “intra-sexual competition strategy” is from 11 to 25, when girls and young women are dating.   However, whilst this back-stabbing behaviour persists into young adulthood it lessens as women mature.  Competition for a high-quality mate is important but once that has been achieved older women may shift their competition to the arena of motherhood and the quality of the children that they produce.

Of course the vast majority of women get on fine with other women, forming close, supportive, long lasting, altruistic friendships.  Just so long as they don’t try to steal another woman’s man.

I’m describing the is not the ought of human behaviour, and nothing here should make us believe we can predict the behaviour of individual men and women.  But please remember evolution is about survival of our genes and does not care one jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.

Why human societies dislike female sexual promiscuity – an evolutionary explanation

The Behaviour of Women and Why They Worry About How They Look – an Evolutionary Perspective

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Genetic Explanations

If 50% of the differences between our personalities and intelligence is Genetic, is the other 50% Nurture?

It is always wise before getting involved in a discussion of genetics and human behaviour to say a number of things up front before launching into a confusing analysis. I’ll argue that in the developed world nurture makes little difference to who or what we are.

  1. Evolution and genetics does not care a jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.  Evolution’s only driver is to successfully reproduce genes and move them forward in time inside the cosy environment of a living organism (e.g. us). We are a disposable container to further the interest of our genes.  We die, they don’t.
  2. Any behaviour endowed by the genes, which make us more likely to survive and have more children, will by definition cause more of that type of behaviour to be inherited in the subsequent generation.
  3. Evolution moves along at a glacial pace.  One tick of the evolutionary clock is approximately 250,000 years.  We are therefore very similar to our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.  Recent technical and social advances are largely irrelevant to our genetic make.
  4. Evolutionary genetics can go a very long way to explaining human behaviour.  Each species is hard wired to behave in a very specific way and this has been shaped by the mechanism of evolution my natural selection.  i.e. it explains the is of human behaviour.
  5. Any discussion about the ought of human behaviour cannot and should not be decided (or justified) by evolution.  Morals, ethics, the rule of law and civilised, evidence based debate are the only mechanisms for reaching a consensus of how we ought to behave.
  6. For evolution to work there needs to be variation in behaviour so that natural selection can do its work.  Each generation has random variation and mutation (some beneficial, most harmful) from which to choose the best characteristics using natural selection.
  7. That said, I believe the human species evolved as a social, altruistic species and it is very much in our interest to act in this way.

Much of the work on genes versus environment (nature vs. nurture) has relied on identical twin studies and adoption studies.  Identical twins share identical genes, so it is very useful to follow the progress of identical twins that have been separated at birth and brought up in different environments.  In this way we can measure the effect of genes, irrespective of environment.  This type of study can be compared with adoption studies, where we can compare the life of a child brought up in a specific environment, which is very different to that of their genetic parents.

There is an enormous amount of data from these studies, which are now backed up with studies of Molecular and Mendelian Genetics.

The conclusion is that at a population level, on average, something like 50% of the differences between our intelligence and personalities is genetically determined.  (I’ve laid a trap here for those who believe that nurture is the overwhelming influence in our life.  Careful you don’t fall into it!).

Many people seem to believe that talent (e.g. the ability to hit a tennis ball) may be genetically determined, but drive and ambition is not.  What evidence do they have?  The ability to concentrate, a desire for wealth and power, the desire to be caring and altruistic could be equally genetically determined.  We all know people with talent and no drive, and also sadly, people with drive and no talent.  To be wildly successful we need both.  Can drive and ambition really be learned?

Many other types of behaviour are typically attributed to learned behaviour by flawed sociological studies.  i.e. it is assumed the behaviour is learned from parents or close social group.  e.g. the majority of people who sexually abuse their children were sexually abused by their relatives, implying learned behaviour.  People who smack their children were smacked themselves, implying learned behaviour.  The income of a person is most likely to be predicted by the income of their parents (i.e. as a proxy for talent and drive), implying learned behaviour.  In no cases are these sociological studies investigated for a genetic component.

Individuals inherit genes from their parents.  Could it be that part of the behaviour is inherited through the genes?  i.e. genes for abusive behaviour, genes for violent behaviour, genes for drive and talent…..

Mix our knowledge of genetics with one of the most passionate and time consuming aspects of human behaviour, i.e. finding a mate, and you have a very powerful natural force. Talented, motivated, women generally seek and marry talented, motivated, men. They then generally have talented, motivated children. i.e. they cluster the genes responsible for these talented, motivated characteristics into certain sections of society.  As these characteristics generally lead to higher earning potential they are more likely cluster in the affluent parts of society.  Consequently talented, motivated children are not equally spread in our society, assuming we have a certain level of social mobility.  Remember I’m talking about is not ought.  This process is called assortative mating.  The identical twin / adoption studies have concluded that since the 1950s upbringing makes virtually no difference to our social status by the age of 35.  i.e. society is mobile enough in developed countries.   This makes sense, as any environmental influence is short lived, whereas we have our genes for life.

Now for the trap laid for the nurture lovers.  If 50% of our differences are genetic, then the other 50% must be nurture and open to social and political intervention, right?

The term “genetically determined” is very narrow.  It refers to traits and behaviours which are inherited through the genes.  Nurture is everything else.  For example we know that the hormonal, nutritional and chemical environment of a developing child in the womb has non-negligible effect on its future life.  What was interesting about the identical twin studies was not only what made them the same (their genes) but what made them different.  Identical twins share the same womb, same parents, same wealth, same schools, same teachers and are still different.  It is difficult to imagine genes controlling the exact wiring of the human brain as it develops.  Could it be that whilst the overall brain structure is genetically pre-determined, whether a neurone in a developing brain zigs to the left, or zags to the right before connecting with a neighbour is in fact random?  Maybe one identical twin gets bitten by a dog, or catches ‘flu or only gets the bottom bunk bed and these trivial experiences add up to a large difference overall.  Whatever the reason it seems that much of what we describe as nurture is also not open to manipulation by political social policies.

Also, if nurture was a dominant force, all siblings in a family would be the very similar on the basis they share a similar upbringing.  Anybody with more than one child knows that this is nonsense!

Finally to a point on meritocracy.  It is in our interest as a species that we have the best people in the right jobs.  We all benefit.  There should be no discrimination based on colour, class or sex.  But this includes positive discrimination too.  We should not be giving people a leg up because a perceived injustice unless we can prove beyond doubt that they really have been disadvantaged.

Many believe Private schools, well-connected parents and other things too subtle to mention all shape success. Few would disagree that the State has a role to play in dismantling some of these advantages to create a more level playing field.  But the part of nurture that is open to political manipulation is a very  small compared to everything else in a country that is already economically developed and relatively socially mobile.  We must learn to manage our expectations as to how much can be achieved with political meddling.  Unless that State wants to dictate with whom we marry?

Assortative mating ensures that genes for talent and motivation would be clustered in affluent parts of society.   However this is only a tendency.  Vast talent will be found in non-affluent parts of society because there are many more of them.  History tells us that well meaning meddling by the State merely consumes vast financial resources with no benefit, partly because we try to save everybody.  We would do better to spot talent and motivation early and nurture it, wherever it comes from. Concentrate our resources where we can make a difference.  i.e. targeted State intervention.

Who we are and what we become in a socially mobile, developed society seems to be a mixture of genes and luck with a little nurture thrown in. The best way to ensure success in life is to choose your parents with great care.  It is unfair.  Remember is not ought.

Further  Listening:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different Three BBC Podcasts on the genetics of intelligence.

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

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Politics and Economics

Why are Living Standards Dropping in the UK?

Let’s take a toy model analogy.

I earn £30,000 per year and spend £25,000 on consumption and £5,000 investing in the future.

I entrust my financial affairs to a Labour Chancellor who assures me I can spend £30,000 per year on consumption and £5,000 on investing in the future because “I’m worth it”.   So I borrow £5,000 a year for 10 years.

For 10 years I feel like I’m earning £35,000 per year.  I consume £30,000, invest £5,000 and life feels pretty good.

What I’ve not spotted, until it is too late, is that after 10 years I owe £50,000 and the interest is costing me 10% or £5,000 per year.

The financial crisis hits me, causing my income to drop to £28,000 (drop in GDP) and my consumption has increased to £32,000 per year (to pay increased unemployment benefits).  I am now also paying £5,000 in interest.

My consumption (£32,000) + interest (£5,000) is £37,000 without paying off any debt. My costs are now £9,000 more than my income (£28,000). And I have no money for investment.

Because I feel like an incompetent fool I hand over all my finances to a Coalition Minister.

He painfully cuts my consumption to £25,000 (what it should have been) but I still have to pay £5,000 interest on the debt and therefore need to borrow £2,000.  I have no money for investment.  Debt rises from £50,000 to £52,000.

Immediate effect:  I now have £5,000 less per year to spend on consumption and prices have risen – so I feel much worse off  (“cost-of-living crisis”) – and my debt has still gone up by £2,000 therefore my interest payments rise by another £200.  I still have no money for investment.

In the Autumn statement my income goes back to £30,000 (GDP growth) giving me an extra £2,000 to spend.  £200 goes on interest and £1,800 on investments.

Compared to 10 years of Labour Government this is how I feel:

1. My consumption has gone from £30,000 to £25,000 despite inflationary price increases, so my standard of living has fallen and I worry about paying fuel bills.

Of course my living standard is falling!  I’m comparing my current standard of living to a period when it was held artificially high by borrowing!

2.  My investments have gone down from £5,000 to £1,800 which will slow the pace of future economic growth.

3.  Interest is now £5,200 and rising

4. Deficit is down from £5,000 to £2,000 but…..

5……my debt is still going up.

Can anybody spot where the problem started?

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Genetic Explanations, Liberty, Religion

From where do we get our moral behaviour?

Since Aristotle, we have philosophised a scientific and moral order to the world.  A “natural order” or  “utopia” to creation.  A way things were meant to be.  If we acted against this order then nature would be disrupted and chaos would ensue.  This pre-supposition was incorporated into the major religions where it is assumed that God had a plan for creation and that plan was “designed” to be harmonious.  If we could only understand what He intended for the world then we would know how to behave. But only religion knew how we ought to behave according to God’s design, because only religion knew God’s mind. Religion therefore got involved with “moral teaching”, which was a code of behaviour that God had intended and endorsed.

It was consequently assumed that if we did not believe in God then our moral behaviour could not be guaranteed.   If we don’t believe in God what is to stop us murdering and raping?  If there is no retribution after death what is to ensure we live a good life?  Non- religious people were feared, excluded, subjected to violence and sometimes death.  Religious belief was considered the default position.  The term “atheist” is a strange word construct that confirms this thinking.  We are not normally described as something we are not.  We are not non-socialists, or non-Manchester United supporters.  Only non-believers.  In past times atheists would have been advised to play the game, go to church and pretend to believe in order to avoid persecution.

So religion expropriated moral behaviour.

But mankind is moral and ethical in the absence of religious belief.  There is no evidence that religious people are more moral than atheists. Or that they are more law abiding. In recent polls, 65% of British people said they weren’t religious and weekly church attendance in the UK is down to less than 2%.  No massive crime wave has ensued.  Violent crime is at a 30 year low.

So if it not religion, where do our morals come from?

Interestingly there are a number of psychological tests which can elucidate our moral compass i.e. establish what moral beliefs we all hold.  These tests can be applied to people from all different cultures and belief systems.  From these tests we can demonstrate that mankind shares an innate moral code, independent of religious indoctrination or cultural teaching.  This moral code is hardwired in the same way as much animal behaviour is hardwired.  It is part of human nature.

Most humans would feel bad about causing harm to another person. We would generally feel revulsion at seeing a child raped or an innocent murdered.  We feel compassion towards small, vulnerable children.  We look after our sick and dying.  We evolved as an emotional, social, altruistic species (but who admittedly can turn violent if threatened).  These behaviours of nurture, collaboration, teamwork, empathy and compassion have led to our success as a species.  Altruism works in evolutionary terms if an individual of a species has a reasonable chance of it being reciprocated.  This is the “is” of human nature.

However, unlike Aristotle’s assertion and accepted religious doctrine, evolution does no provide an “ought” to human behaviour.   There is no intention in evolution.  The Universe was not meant to be a certain way.  There are just random behaviours encoded by our genes that lead to us to be more or less successful in propagating our genes into the next generation.

Evolution occurs by the process of natural selection.  The beneficial behaviours survive and are amplified in future generations and the unbeneficial behaviours die out.

So it seems that our moral code actually has a Darwinist origin, not a religious origin!

Combine this force of nature with our intelligence as a species and our ability to learn, anticipate and interpret our environment and we have very complex “human” behaviour (a “culture”), which in developed countries now includes evidence based debate, democracy and the rule of law.  This is where we must derive our “ought” of human behaviour i.e. how we should behave.

If we combine our innate moral code with rational, evidence based debate, democracy and the rule of law we have a functioning society. A “civilization” that can even accommodate a few immoral miscreants that the variation component of the mechanism of evolution by natural selection throws up. Our intelligence as a species has allowed us to plan and control our own society.  Most of us have the ability to see how things would be if we allowed anarchy to predominate, so we work hard to create order, security and welfare.

So, we have an inbuilt, genetic, emotional behavioural code and a derived behavioural code from our experience and interaction with our environment.  Some things just feel wrong. Some things we rationalise as wrong.  Some of these emotional and rational codes we choose to call “morals”.

Religion was once beneficial.  It was a good way of creating social control through its teaching and threats of social exclusion and eternal damnation for those that misbehaved.  But now we have the ability to collect real evidence through scientific methods for our evidence-based debates.  We now have good-enough democracy and adequate rule of law.  We have superseded religion.

The negatives of religion are now outweighing the positives:  Illogical, irrational thinking; superstition; religious discrimination; the sinister underpinnings of Islamic Jihad and the barbaric treatment of women are all part of the same belief system.  The same irrational belief system underpins extreme Islam and the benign Church of England. If we condone one version, we must condone them all.  We can no longer claim that we should believe in an untruth (religion) because it is beneficial.  The balance has changed.  We must now free ourselves from the shackles of religious indoctrination.  As Steven Weinburg famously said, “with or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

We are right to challenge religious beliefs in order to create a better, more moral, more rational, fairer and more equal world.

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Genetic Explanations, Liberty, Politics and Economics

Why do we vote for a particular political party? Geography and genetics can play a role.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 12.30.57

 

Geography is more likely to dictate voting patterns in modern Britain than “class” or even income. Well-off people in the north are more likely to vote Labour and poor people in Kent are more likely to vote Conservative:

Leader Article

“The north has wealthy suburbs, like South Wirral, west of Liverpool. They vote Labour. The south has impoverished pockets, like north-east Kent. They vote Conservative.”

Reference

As well as geography dictating political behaviour there is good evidence that genetics may play a role as well.  Twin studies unequivocally demonstrate the heritability of politically related behaviour.  A collection of a dozen genes might be responsible for inclining people towards liberalism or conservatism. There are no genes for socialism or conservatism, or for prejudice or tolerance, any more than there are genes for Christianity or Islam. But a person’s genes can sometimes propel them more easily in one direction than another. Free will is a little freer to turn right than left, or vice versa.  Of course genes are inherited and tend to cluster in particular regions, even in today’s highly connected world.

Genetics and politics

It seems that reason, logic and informed debate play a smaller role in forming our voting patters than we might hope.  This means the electorate has less flexibility and “free will” to change the Government according to the prevailing needs of the nation. 

This is a particular concern at present as the overwhelming need is to reduce the cataclysmic UK budget deficit and national debt.  Each year we borrow more than 100 billion pounds that is swelling a debt that is already over a trillion pounds.  Tax increases will not get near reducing the deficit, let alone the debt, so massive spending cuts are inevitable.  We need to understand from each political party how they will manage our country’s new financial reality.

Even if the Labour leaders understood the need for reducing our colossal debt, their Union paymasters and back-benchers would not let them reduce public spending. The country should feel that there are other political parties that have more currently relevant instincts towards wealth creation, rather than wealth spending, and a strong, historically proven philosophical belief in a smaller State supported by lower public spending.

Even for entrenched Labour supporters there should be an understanding that there is a time and a place for Labour policies.  And that time is not now.  For the good of the nation many traditional Labour supporters must be persuaded to hold their nose and vote for somebody else. Unfortunately it seems they have less free will to change their vote according to circumstance than we might hope.

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Liberty, Politics and Economics

The 2008 Financial Crisis was Primarily a Failure of Socialist Economics

Mr. Miliband and the UK Labour Party believe that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by a failure of capitalism.  To an extent this is true, but then few of us believed that capitalism is a perfect system, just the best system currently available.  Mr. Miliband and his colleagues are very vocal at pointing out the failures of capitalism, but silent on the many everyday failures of The State, negating a credible socialist solution to our problems.

I’ll argue that the 2008 financial crisis was primarily caused by a failure of socialist economics.

Let’s be clear about the economic legacy left by the last Labour Government.  The deficit was a whopping £155,000,000,000 in one year!  Whilst I have heard many Labour politicians responsible for this eye-watering number blame it on extra spending required to avert an “international financial crisis” created by bankers, the facts do not support this defence.

It was not a “world-wide” crisis as it affected only countries that ran up huge Government deficits (Greece and the UK being prime examples) or massive private deficits (Ireland).  This includes the US who refused to raise very low tax levels to meet spending obligations, and the EuroZone who cannot put taxes up any higher to match their totally out-of-control spending plans.  Many countries, including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China, Sweden Germany and much of South East Asia all avoided the worst of the crisis because their spending was more-or-less in line with their tax revenues.  Labour must take its share of the blame with the bankers, as it was them that ran up Government debt.

Also, Labour turned on the spending tap long before the 2008 – 09 financial crisis.

http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn99.pdf (see Fig. 4.1 on page 10)

Labour spending went from 36% of GDP in 1999-2000 to 42% in 2005 -2006 whilst revenue was broadly flat at 37% of GDP over the same period.  Increasing Government deficits is not new and the size of this early deficit was not unusual by historical standards.  But the key difference here is that Labour increased spending and debt during the boom which started at the end of John Major’s government.  We expect Governments to increase spending and deficits during a recession.  This is essential to cover increased unemployment benefits and lower tax revenues and smooth out the economic shocks that inevitably hit the most vulnerable citizens.  However, prudent Governments will then pay down debt during the boom times to allow more future borrowing when the economic cycle inevitable takes a turn for the worse.

Remember that the deficit is given as a percentage of GDP, which is much higher during a boom therefore the deficit is proportionally bigger.  Also, the last boom lasted for a long time, an unprecedented 16 years, allowing massive debt to build up if you were foolish enough to continue to borrow during this time.

The reason that Labour felt they could borrow with impunity, even during a boom, was it believed it had banished “boom and bust” economics.  Gordon Brown famously made this statement in the House of Commons. The world’s finances were linked for the first time by technology and Labour believed the massive global market could spread financial risks. Labour bet the country’s financial health on a belief that asset values would continue to rise, allowing borrowing against those assets.  Finally, Labour selfishly expected our disenfranchised children and grandchildren to pay back the debt sometime in the future, believing this was acceptable because it assumed the economy would be much bigger by then and they could afford it.  This is undemocratic and immoral. The consequence of all this is that Labour foolishly and arrogantly believed there would never be another downturn so could continue to spend above tax receipts.

Labour was wrong on all counts.  The connected global markets did not spread the risk, it spread the contagion, asset prices fell and the economy shrank increasing the debt to income burden.

So because Labour arrogantly believed there would be no more downturns they increased their profligate spending rather than pay down debt.  Consequently, when the financial crisis hit in 2008 there was no more credit available, which left the UK economy unusually exposed.

Thanks to Labour the incoming coalition government had the unique problems of solving a massive economic slowdown with no ability to borrow more to smooth the worst effects.  They had to reduce spending when there was more need for the extra money.  An impossible task without causing major hardship.

Whether the coalition policies produced the best possible outcome given the disastrous economic hand they were dealt by Labour is difficult to judge.  This remains to be seen and history will be the judge.

Labour’s election prospects do not lie in trying to talk down the coalition economic performance or in justifying its recent economic mismanagement.  To win the next election they must address one key question:  Which party will best manage our new economic reality?

We have over a trillion pounds of debt, which is still rising due to an annual deficit of over 100 billion pounds.  All this must be paid down.  Combining this with an older population (with their large pension and healthcare needs) means we will have no more spare money for at least a generation. We must earn what we want to spend.  We cannot continue to borrow what we spend. Increased taxation can get nowhere near lowering the deficit, let alone the debt.

Massive public spending cuts are inevitable.

Labour must now convince the country that they can move from a party which financially supports in-work welfare benefit and uncontrolled public spending to one which puts financial prudence ahead of its social engineering experiments i.e. manage the country’s massively reduced public spending capacity for the foreseeable future.

The Labour front bench may believe they can do this, but I doubt that their political paymasters (Unite and the GMB unions) or the socialist Labour backbenchers will let them.  They have a social agenda not an economic one. The country may feel that there are other political parties with a longer history and proven innate instincts of supporting a smaller State and lower public spending.

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Liberty, Politics and Economics

Why Management Targets Become Ineffective

The use of targets usually has a desirable effect on the behaviour of managers for a year or two at most. After that the effects of overusing numerical targets can be detrimental for the following reasons:

1.Targets are only effective if the manager is largely in control of the parameters being measured.  In many organisations the management performance is affected by many factors beyond the control of any individuals, or even the whole organisation.  Prevailing economic factors and general market conditions, demographics, fashion, Government legislation, behaviour of competitors, competence of colleagues and peers etc. etc. can have a profound effect on individual performances. In particular it may not be appropriate to overuse numerical targets for public bodies such police forces and healthcare providers when so much crime and illness is caused by influences beyond their control  – changes in demographics, immigration, relative affluence and socio-economic factors to name but a few.

2. Targets can only be set against aspects of the job, which can be accurately measured. This can cause a bias towards “hard” numerical targets at the expense of more important “soft skill” aspects of the work. For example nurses can be set targets around number of patients treated, but cannot easily be measured and rewarded against the important “soft” skills of a caring bedside manner and patient empathy which lead to better patient care.

This type of “measurement” culture has caused a proliferation of Speed Cameras on our roads. In fact, driving over the posted speed limit accounts for less than 10% of road traffic accidents, whereas “driving without due care and attention” accounts for 40%. Measuring speed is easier than measuring attention levels or driving skills, so that’s where we put our resources. We take policemen of the road and concentrate on what can be easily measured rather than improving driving skills. This is lazy and ineffective.

3.      Soon after the targets are set the incumbent usually finds “short cut” ways to hit the targets required, making them ineffective. The problem here is that managers waste a lot of time and energy “gaming” the target setting system to their advantage, rather than actually doing their job. This will be particularly true if a large part of their remuneration is based on hitting certain “hard” targets. There are numerous examples of this, including those given in the article above. The classic example is the reporting of “profit” made in a business. A good accountant can quite legally adjust the books to show a wide range of profit levels allowing senior managers to choose the scenario which best suits their needs at the time.  Another good example was reducing waiting lists in hospitals. This was easily done my phoning all those on the waiting list and crossing off those which has got better, moved house or died whilst on the list. Hey presto! – the list is shorter.  New managers generally restate previous performance levels to a lower standard and blame previous incumbents for the short fall, so they can show better performance against a lower base. They can also redefine parameters being measured, use legitimate but misleading statistical analysis to show better performance and change the way the data is collected or collated. They can also just lie.

4.Having set targets an enormous amount of time, energy and money must now be spent in collecting endless amounts of data to see if targets are being made. Additional resources are used in collating the data, creating reports, reading and interpreting the reports and constantly adjusting targets and measurement criteria to keep up with the managers who are spending their time and energy finding ways of gaming the system. Endless, expensive debates then ensue as to whether the data has been correctly interpreted.

Eventually we find we are spending all our time and money collecting data and trying to catch each other out using statistics, rather than managing whatever it is we are supposed to be managing. Remember all this work and energy is only focused on aspects of the job which are numerically measurable.  Integrity, professionalism, judgement, interpersonal skills, empathy, care etc. etc. are difficult criteria to measure.

We cannot eliminate all target setting but perhaps we can allow more performance measurement based on soft, observable skills as interpreted by an experienced hands-on manager.  The “art”, rather than the “science” of management.

We should concentrate on getting the right people, in the right job with the passion and motivation to make a positive difference.  And then let them get on with it.  This should take precedent over arbitrary numerical targets.

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Politics and Economics

Could Global Warming be Beneficial to Mankind?

Greenpeace logic:

1. Is the world’s climate warming?  Yes

2. Is the climate warming man-made? Yes

3. Is it caused by higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels? Yes

4. Conclusion: Divert a fortune away from education, healthcare and welfare to combat global warming by reducing carbon dioxide levels.

Better logic:

1. Is the world’s climate warming?  Yes

2. Is the climate warming man-made? Yes

3. Is it caused by higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels? Yes

4. Is the consequence of global warming good, bad or neutral overall?  Don’t know

5. If the overall consequence is bad, how much will it cost us to adapt to the new climate? Don’t know

6. How much will preventing global warming cost? Don’t know

7. Do we know how to prevent carbon dioxide emissions without increasing other greenhouses gases and pollutants or having the lights go out?  Not yet.

8. Will any political system anywhere in the world spend a fortune today to prevent something which may happen in 100 years? Unlikely

9. Conclusion.  Answer 4,5 and 6.  If 6 is less than 5 and we can answer 7 we should act bearing in mind the difficulties of 8.

There is an opportunity cost here.  Money diverted from education, healthcare and welfare is also detrimental to the well-being of mankind.

Is preventing global warming worth it?

The debate has become sadly polarised.

On one side is the “environmental” lobby composed of self promoting eco-warriors / eco-terrorists who often have a hidden political agenda of anti-capitalism, anti-globalisation and Ludditeism, which is finding “environmentalism” a convenient Trojan horse.  Joining them is a strong lobby group that has a financial interest in the emerging “green” technology industries.  They insist that global warming is real, all its consequences are catastrophic and unless we act immediately we will experience a quick and conclusive Armageddon.

On the other side are the climate change deniers, who dispute a large body of peer reviewed scientific data that supports a model of global warming, caused by an increase in man-made greenhouse gases.  A large, well resourced lobby supports them with extensive financial interests of the fossil fuel industry.

Neither of these two groups can be trusted in a rational, evidence based debate because they have too many vested interests.

But the world is not just divided into those who believe in catastrophic manmade climate change and those that don’t.

There are many who accept that global warming is happening, and it is largely man made, but are still waiting for proof that it will be detrimental overall. 
 After all, the costs of preventing climate change are astronomical and this diverts funds from education, healthcare and welfare. 
 We need to know the money is going to be wisely spent.  I’m not a climate change sceptic, but I am a government-spending sceptic.

I’m wondering if the overall costs of preventing climate change could be more than the overall benefits of preventing it?  Or indeed, if there are actually overall benefits of global warming? 
There will be winners and losers, as ever.  Get ready for the debate to be biased by self-interest!

For example:

The vast majority of the world’s land mass is in the higher latitudes (Canada and Russia) where it is currently too cold to live. A few degrees of warming could transform these baron areas into habitable land capable of supporting human populations and vast food crops. As the climate warms the forests in these northern latitudes will have a longer growing season and will prosper further north, consuming carbon dioxide.  Forests and plants all over the planet will benefit from more carbon dioxide and warmth helping them flourish.  The worst projections predict warming over a hundred years or so, not next decade.  Mankind will migrate, as it has always done. There is time.

Global warming is creating milder winters rather than hotter summers.   In previous eras, when the climate was significantly warmer than now, the whole planet was tropical with a year round growing season and no winter.  Farmers in the warmer, wetter tropical Philippines can get three rice crops per year but only bother with two. Compare that to the single wheat crop in cooler climates.

What are now deserts once teemed with life, with rich forests and diverse wildlife. Until the world cooled and got drier. This cooling and drying devastated much of the life on the planet – look what happened in central Australia where there were once forests and a diverse ecosystem in its interior.  Global warming will mean a warmer, wetter planet and fewer deserts.

We can use our human ingenuity to adapt to other changes.  We won’t need glaciers if it rains every day.  The rain will make rivers, which can be dammed and controlled.  Dykes can protect low-lying land from the gradual increase in sea levels.   The Netherlands is already largely below sea level and their engineers have adapted commendably.  Human ingenuity can move plants and animals around the world that are already adapted to the new climate.  We don’t need the slow process of extinction and evolution by natural selection to take its slow and meandering course.

We must also do more work to prove that the proposed expensive climate change prevention schemes will actually work.  By rushing at this problem before we know the facts we could make things worse.  For example, many of the reservoirs which were built to create “clean” hydroelectric energy actually produce large amounts of methane which makes global warming worse than an equivalent efficient carbon fuelled power station.

The final question is whether we can, realistically, change the world’s climate.  Getting political consensus between the USA, China, India and Russia looks unlikely.  Australia and Canada are reversing their previous green policies.  The will and ability under any political system to spend a fortune now to prevent something that may happen in 100 years will be fragile at best.  We could end up with the worst case scenario.  i.e. spending a fortune on green polices to not prevent climate change.

Climate change inevitably means we must change and adapt, and as a species we have done this very well up until now. We’ve survived ice ages and deserts.

Manmade global warming is a fact with potentially detrimental and beneficial consequences.  We need to assess where the balance lies.  If the overall effect of climate change is detrimental we still need to assess the costs of preventing climate change and balance them with the benefits of preventing climate change.  Rather than spending the money on a futile attempt to change the world’s climate we may get better value by allowing a certain amount of climate change and spending the money on a combination of adapting to the new climate and education, healthcare and welfare instead.

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Liberty

Why Crime Rates Have Fallen Over The Last 30 Years (hint: it’s not prison)

There is no doubt that crime, particularly violent crime, has reduced significantly over the last 30 years in the developed world.

20130720_FBC856      inline_1540668a-ca6_674467a.jpg

Men are responsible for 86% of all indictable crimes in England and Wales, 88% of crimes against the person, 90% of murders, and 98% of sexual offences (all for the year 2012).  Young males commit many more crimes than any other group, so any influence on this group will disproportionately affect crime levels.

Criminal behaviour in young men is partly due to their naturally high levels of testosterone, which causes aggressive, risk taking behaviour across the animal kingdom. Our environment is now full of anti-testosterone pollutants.  These chemicals mostly come from medicines (including cancer treatments and the contraceptive pill) that enter our water supply via the sewage system. Some pesticides used in agriculture also act as anti-testosterones.  These chemicals are leading to the ‘feminisation’ of male fish and have been linked to falling male fertility in humans.  They may also be helping to reduce aggressive, risk taking, criminal behaviour as a welcome effect.

There is also good evidence that lead pollution from leaded petrol causes more violent aggressive behaviour, particularly in men.  Decreased lead pollution after the West moved towards unleaded fuel is compounding this positive effect on crime.

Another factor is the increased use of social media, which is keeping young men at home on Facebook and Twitter, rather than meeting in pubs and on the streets.  The use of video games by young men has also had a similar effect.  This may have contributed to the measurable national reduction in the consumption of crime causing drugs such as alcohol, heroin and crack-cocaine. In Britain, the current generation of 18- to 24-year-olds is a lot less likely to have tried an illegal drug or to drink than those ten years older were at their age, and the same is true in most European countries.

Demographics also play a role in the reduction of crime.  There are fewer young people overall than in previous generations and therefore fewer young men.

A recent study has suggested that liberal abortion policies can reduce crime by taking potential criminals out of the population before they are born.   A pregnant woman who does not want her child often does so for good reason. She may be poor, uneducated, unmarried, very young, living in chaotic circumstances or addicted to drugs or alcohol.  The boys born to mothers with this combination of circumstances are more likely to embark on a life of crime during their testosterone fuelled adolescence .  There is a direct correlation between those American states which legalised abortions in 1970s and a subsequent drop in crime rates 15 to 20 years later.  Also American states with the highest abortion rates in the 1970s experienced the greatest crime drops in the 1990s, while states with low abortion rates experienced smaller crime drops.  Since 1985, states with high abortion rates have experienced a roughly 30 percent drop in crime relative to low-abortion states.  By the same reasoning any policies which prevent unplanned pregnancies and teenage pregnancies should also have a demonstrable effect on crime rates 15 to 20 years later.

Other reasons for the reduction in crime is due to better policing and forensics. Better security on homes and cars and CCTV in our streets makes it more likely that a criminal will be caught.  The lower value of stealable items also now makes crime relatively uneconomic.   All these act as a disincentive to crime and stops many young men becoming criminals in the first place.

The drop in crime is less likely to be due the policy of locking people up in prison for longer. In Britain the prison population doubled between 1993 and 2012. But several countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia, have reduced their prison populations without seeing any spike in crime; so too have some American states such as New York, where crime rates have fallen fastest. Prison takes existing criminals off the streets, but in many places, the drop in crime seems to be down to people not becoming criminals in the first place. Between 2007 and 2012 the number of people convicted of an offence for the first time in Britain fell by 44%.

The decline of the traditional nuclear family and growing ethnic diversity has not unleashed the unstoppable crime wave many conservatives predicted. Religion cannot claim to reduce crime either. In recent polls, 65% of British people said they weren’t religious and weekly church attendance in the UK is down to less than 2%. Left-wingers who argued that crime could never be curbed unless inequality was reduced and wealth redistributed must also reassess their dogma. Their prediction that high unemployment and austerity would increase crime is equally wrong.

References:

Why do men commit most of the crimes?

Men and crime

Crime is plunging in the rich world.

Lead Pollution and Crime

The urban rise and fall of air lead (Pb) and the latent surge and retreat of societal violence.

Where have all the burglars gone?

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Genetic Explanations

Men and Women Evolved With Conflicting Interests – Why We don’t Always Get Along

Male_female_conflict

For millennia human kind has believed in a “natural order”, or a “utopia” to creation.  A way things were meant to be.  Since Aristotle we have envisaged a scientific and moral order to the world.  If we acted against this order then nature would be disrupted and chaos would ensue.  This pre-supposition was incorporated into the major religions where it is assumed that God had a plan for creation and that plan was designed to be harmonious.  Consequently men and women are “designed” to live together in perfect harmony – if only we could work out how!

Darwinism, whilst accepting that men and women have many areas of common interest, also accepts that they will have areas of conflicting interest.

First let’s review the fundamentals of Darwinism:

  1. Evolution is not about survival of the species (e.g. humans) it is about survival of the genes. We are a disposable container that has evolved to ensure genes get moved forward in time. We die. They don’t.
  2. Any behaviour conferred by the genes, which increases the likelihood of having more offspring in any species, will ensure more of those genes are passed to the next generation.  Consequently that “successful” behaviour is propagated and amplified.   This is a natural selection of “beneficial” genes.
  3. Evolution moves along at a glacial pace.  One tick of the evolutionary clock is approximately 250,000 years.  We are therefore very similar to our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.  Recent technical and social advances are largely irrelevant to our genetic makeup.
  4. Evolutionary genetics can go a very long way to explaining human behaviour.  Each species is hard wired to behave in a very specific way and this has been shaped by the mechanism of evolution by natural selection.  We don’t behave like cats or horses.
  5. For evolution to work there needs to be variation in behaviour so that natural selection can do its work.  Each generation has random variation and mutation (some beneficial, most harmful) from which to choose the best characteristics using natural selection.

Our male and female ancestors have had very different evolutionary pressure over the previous millions of years.

Human females have a pathetic ability to reproduce, having no more than a dozen pregnancies in their lifetime. Each pregnancy is life threatening and she will generally only produce offspring one at a time.  Human children are unusually vulnerable in infancy and take many years to reach maturity.  Women therefore engage in a long, energy sapping and life threatening investment in their children to ensure these (few) offspring reach childbearing age.  She must choose her mate with great care to ensure her offspring receive beneficial genes from the father, which in turn maximises the chance of her own genes prospering in the next generation.  It also means she must carefully and selflessly look after the few offspring she manages to produce. She (i.e. her genes) has no other choice.  Women evolved to be more nurturing.

Human males produce 250,000 sperm every second and their number of offspring is limited only by their opportunity to impregnate willing (or unwilling) females.   Two strategies would work to increase the number of their genes in the next generation.  1. Look after their offspring, nurture them and ensure they reach child bearing age (copy the only strategy available to women). 2. Spread their sperm as far and wide as possible, have thousands of offspring and hope that some reach childbearing age.  A third alternative is the best.  Do both.  Men invest almost nothing in child rearing so it makes sense for them to take huge risks to have the opportunity to reproduce.

Women will choose high social status men (a proxy for good genes) to ensure her own genes have a good chance of survival in future generations.  To prove high social status takes a bit longer so women tend to go for successful, older men (4 years older in the UK on average).

Men are programmed to advertise their success and achievements in order to attract a high social status mate.  Men will choose young, healthy, fertile (read attractive) women because their chosen mate primarily needs to be fit to survive 9 months of pregnancy and the years of childcare that follows.  Men have evolved to visually select a mate on this basis.  Women have evolved for millions of years with this pressure.  Women are therefore programmed to try to look young and attractive in order to find a suitable mate.  Much of this behaviour is hard wired, as is our sexuality and our urge to have sex with attractive members of the opposite sex.  Women also need to recognise these traits in their competition (other women).  Women easily know if another woman is attractive.

So whilst men and women have a mutual interest in looking after their mutual children, there are areas of conflicting interest.  As women can have few offspring it is in her genes’ interests to ensure the father spends all his time and energy looking after her children.  She will also feel an overwhelming urge to nurture her children.  Her genes have no other choice.  The father’s genes’ interests are better served by spending much of his time seeking different partners – particularly young, healthy and fertile (attractive) partners.  Women are more likely to seek commitment from a mate.  Men are more likely to be reluctant to give it.  Men will prefer younger sexual partners which over time act against the interests of his initial, older partners.

But some women are very attracted to totally inappropriate men who clearly act against her own interest.  The handsome, philandering, unreliable, lovable rogue.  Why?  Consider the scenario where a high social status male has a child with a particular woman and then leaves her and philanders his way around the world irresponsibly having hundreds of children with other women.  This is not good for the woman or her child.  But if this woman has a son which survives and inherits his father’s behaviour she will get many more of her own genes into future generations.  About 8% of the men in a large region of Asia have Genghis Khan’s Y chromosome.  He clearly had many willing and unwilling sexual partners.  However any woman’s genes attached to his will have prospered (particularly down the male line), even if the woman herself didn’t.  This is a good example of  a woman having different interests to men (she wants commitment and the man doesn’t).  It is also an example of a woman having different interests to her own genes – it is in her genes’ interest for her to be attracted to unreliable, philandering men, perhaps by convincing her that she will be the only one who will tame him and make him exclusively her’s!  The old adage seems to ring true – women marry men expecting them to change, and they don’t.  Men marry women expecting them not to change, and they do.

We have good evidence that men will generally find a woman less attractive if they find out she is in a sexual relationship with another man.  Women generally find men more attractive if they are attached (and therefore presumably attractive) to another woman.  Her genes will recognise that he may be a good bet in propagating themselves into the next generation because if one women finds him attractive then others might too. These characteristics are in the mother’s genes’ interests if they have a son together and the son inherits his father’s characteristics.  Again this behaviour is very much in the genes’ interests but may be against the interests of their host (the woman) .

This also may explain why many cultures favour sons over daughters.  No cultures favour daughters.  Sons are a much better way of getting lots of your genes into future generations than daughters – whether you are a man or a woman.

An interesting question:  would a mother object to a highly promiscuous son?  He would be a route to having more of her genes propagated into future generations.

Nothing here should make us believe we can predict the behaviour of individual men and women.  Also, I’m describing the is not the ought of human behaviour.  The ought of human behaviour cannot and should not be decided (or justified) by evolution.  Morals, ethics, civilised evidence based debate and the rule of law are the only mechanisms for reaching a consensus of how we as individuals ought to behave.  Evolution is about survival of our genes and does not care one jot about human happiness, fairness or equality.

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Liberty, Politics and Economics

The Economic Rape of Britain’s Youth

We should all feel sorry for Britain’s youth, not least because of the economic rape perpetrated on them by 13 years of Labour Government.

First, let’s be clear about the economic legacy left by the last Labour Government.  The deficit was a whopping £155,000,000,000 in one year!  This has now taken the debt to well over £1,000,000,000,000 that must be paid down by our children and grandchildren.

Whilst I have heard many Labour politicians responsible for this eye-watering number blame it on extra spending required to avert an “international financial crisis” created by bankers, the facts do not support this defence.

It was not a “world-wide” crisis as it affected only countries that ran up huge Government deficits (Greece and the UK being prime examples) or massive private deficits (Ireland).  This includes the US who refused to raise very low tax levels to meet spending obligations, and the EuroZone who cannot put taxes up any higher to match their totally out-of-control spending plans.  Many countries, including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China, Sweden Germany and much of South East Asia all avoided the worst of the crisis because their spending was more-or-less in line with their tax revenues.  Labour must take its share of the blame with the bankers, as it was them that ran up Government debt.

Also, Labour turned on the spending tap long before the 2008 – 09 financial crisis.

http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn99.pdf (see Fig. 4.1 on page 10)

Labour spending went from 36% of GDP in 1999-2000 to 42% in 2005 -2006 whilst revenue was broadly flat at 37% of GDP over the same period.  Increasing Government deficits is not new and the size of this early deficit was not unusual by historical standards.  But the key difference here is that Labour increased spending and debt during the boom which started at the end of John Major’s Government.  We expect Governments to increase spending and deficits during a recession.  This is essential to cover increased unemployment benefits and lower tax revenues and smooth out the economic shocks that inevitably hit the most vulnerable citizens.  However, prudent Governments will then pay down debt during the boom times to allow more future borrowing when the economic cycle inevitable takes a turn for the worse.

Remember that the deficit is given as a percentage of GDP, which is much higher during a boom therefore the deficit is proportionally bigger.  Also, the last boom lasted for a long time, an unprecedented 16 years, allowing massive debt to build up if you were foolish enough to continue to borrow during this time.

The reason that Labour felt they could borrow with impunity, even during a boom, was it believed it had banished “boom and bust” economics.  Gordon Brown famously made this statement in the House of Commons. The world’s finances were linked for the first time by technology and Labour believed the massive global market could spread financial risks. Labour bet the country’s financial health on a belief that asset values would continue to rise, allowing borrowing against those assets.  Finally, Labour selfishly expected our disenfranchised children and grandchildren to pay back the debt sometime in the future, believing this was acceptable because it assumed the economy would be much bigger by then and they could afford it.  This is undemocratic and immoral.

Labour was wrong on all counts.  The connected global markets did not spread the risk, it spread the contagion, asset prices fell and the economy shrank increasing the debt to income burden.

Consequently, when the financial crisis hit in 2008 there was no more credit available, which left the UK economy unusually exposed.

Labour’s profligate and selfish policies will materially affect the lives of today’s youth.  They will already struggle to pay the massive pensions and healthcare bills of the much larger, soon-to-retire baby boomer generation (particularly as Gordon Brown also spent the money saved for their future pensions).  Britain’s youth must now also pay back their own University tuition fees and living expenses, something their parents got for free. To additionally pay back our eye-wateringly large trillion pound debt is surely beyond the pale?

Interestingly, Britain’s youth seem to have more sense than their parents, and have rumbled the cause of this economic catastrophe:

“Young Britons are classical liberals: as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility.

and….

“Every successive generation is less collectivist than the last,” says Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, a pollster. All age groups are becoming more socially and economically liberal. But the young are ahead of the general trend. They have a more sceptical view of state transfers, even allowing for the general shift in attitudes”

See The Economist leader on this subject and the full article.

None of the old political parties match the political views of Britain’s youth.  They have a choice between illiberal (i.e. socialist) economics and liberal social policy (Labour) or liberal economics and illiberal social policy (Conservative).  Whilst valuing personal freedom Britain’s youth is fed up with collectivist, socialist economics .  They seem to think Boris Johnson has views most akin to their own.

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Liberty, Politics and Economics

Trade Unions Are An Anachronism

One has to ask what is the point of Unions in the context of all-powerful UK / EU employment laws?

The UK and EU offer such high protection to workers that it actively discourages employers taking on new staff, particularly full time staff. Higher unemployment (particularly youth unemployment) and a disproportionate number of part-time workers is a consequence.

The only added value of Union membership is to enable a certain minority of strategic workers to extort additional income from taxpayers and other workers with the threat of industrial action. This detrimentally skews the labour market causing major economic inefficiencies, which make us all worse off.  For example, because tube train drivers can economically ruin London with a damaging strike, they can extort extra income from other workers (fare-paying commuters and tax payers) and earn significantly more than hotel workers doing similarly skilled work.  London Underground staff are lavishly paid by public transport standards, with Tube drivers on basic pay of up to £52,000 ($85,000) by 2015.

They can also prevent the modernisation of an essential economic asset by insisting we have cash based ticketing offices in an era of cheaper automated vending machines and Oyster Cards that can be automatically topped up with cash online.  The Unions are also the reason we have drivers on tube trains in an era of cheaper, more reliable and safer driverless trains.   Transport for London faces a budget shortfall of nearly £80 million for 2013 and 2014. It cannot afford to ignore opportunities to cut costs and modernise for the sake of old-fashioned ticket offices or a confrontational union boss with a social agenda.

The final insult is that it locks away workers in out-dated and unproductive roles that could be doing something more economically useful.  Does anybody remember the Transport Unions forcing diesel trains to have a driver, guard and fireman? Anybody assuming moving to driverless train would cause unemployment should remember this era and swot up on the Lump of Labour Fallacy. Another example of a minority holding the majority to ransom is the National Union of Teachers ability to prevent the modernisation of our education system because a small minority of teachers can vote for strike action. We all vote for policies in general elections. Why should certain workers get an extra vote?

We have a new economic reality since Labour was last in power. Over a trillion pounds of debt, which is still rising due to an annual deficit of over 100 billion pounds. All this must be paid down. Combining this with an older population (with their large pension and healthcare needs) means we will have no more spare money for at least a generation. The UK must now earn what it wants to spend; it cannot continue to borrow what it wants to spend. Increased taxation can get nowhere near lowering the deficit, let alone the debt. Massive public spending cuts are inevitable.

To win the next election Labour must address one key question: Which party will best manage this new economic reality?

Labour must now convince the country that they can move from a party which financially supports in-work welfare benefit and uncontrolled public spending to one which puts financial prudence ahead of its social engineering experiments i.e. prudently manage the country’s massively reduced public spending capacity for the foreseeable future.

The Labour front bench may believe they can do this, but I doubt that their political paymasters (Unite and the GMB unions) will let them. They have a social agenda not an economic one. Unless Labour loosens the power of the Unions over its selection of leaders, MPs and policies the country will not trust them with its new, constrained economic reality.

I understand the important role played by Unions in securing workers rights in the latter part of the Industrial Revolution. But they have won the battle and served their purpose, which has been superseded by modern employment laws. They have become nothing more than a sinister anachronism, practiced in the art of blackmail and extortion on behalf of a tiny minority.

The Labour Party will have more credibility and electability without them.

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Liberty

Speed Cameras and Liberty

I’m not against using technology to catch criminals and provide evidence that will result in their conviction.

My problem with UK speed cameras is that they do this by trampling over the 3 hard-fought-for legal pillars of our legal justice system (which is immoral):

1. Presumption of innocence. We are expected to prove we were not driving to prevent prosecution, whereas it is normal for the police to provide evidence in other cases.

2. Right not to incriminate ourselves. The Notice of intended Prosecution bullies citizens in giving information, which would lead directly to the prosecution of themselves or their loved ones.

3. Right to remain silent. Remaining silent results in an inconvenient and expensive court summons.

The problem with Gatsos is that they rely on citizens providing the last and vital piece of evidence to make a prosecution. I understand that the European Court has ruled that this does not contravene our rights not to incriminate ourselves as it extracts only one piece of evidence.  Other evidence (the photograph of the car) is also required. However, the vital evidence is the identification of the actual driver at the time and this is forced from us by threats of an inconvenient, intimidating and expensive court summons. It also creates a huge dilemma if we can’t quite remember who was at the wheel at the time. Do we go to court (expensive, inconvenient, intimidating) or risk perverting the course of justice (possibly resulting in a prison sentence)?  An unpleasant dilemma for many law abiding citizens and one to which we should not be subjected.

I also note that many European countries do not have the presumption of innocence nor trial by jury. This legislation may be very European but it is definitely un-British.

In any case all this can be avoided by turning the camera around and getting a photograph of the driver. Such technology exists as they use it very effectively in Japan. That way the police have all the evidence they need. There would be no need to bully citizens into providing vital evidence and it would maintain the integrity of the three pillars of the British legal justice system.

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Politics and Economics

Why We Cannot Increase Taxes On The Rich

In the UK we have an annual £100,000,000,000 + deficit which is bloating our £1,400,000,000,000 + debt. The current interest payments are greater than the defence budget.

Remember in Britain more than half the adult population receive more in benefits than they pay in tax i.e. the majority are supported by a minority of tax payers – so the “rich” are already contributing.

Let’s try a thought experiment.  If we taxed everybody at 100% of his or her income we would collect very little tax.  Few people would work for no money.  If we set income tax at 0% we would collect no money. Therefore (logically) there is an optimum top tax rate whereby we collect the most tax.  Labour believed this was 40% for all but one month of their 13-year rule.  The current administration thinks it is 45%.  However all agree that taxing too much collects less tax.  We are just arguing about the correct percentage.

But can we squeeze the rich some more? A simple calculation:  Suppose we ask all people earning over £100,000 to pay an additional £30,000 tax per year on top of the tax they currently pay?  Totally ludicrous of course, as most earn little more than £100,000 and couldn’t find it, and those that earn significantly more (the one’s we all really want to tax) can easily move country and pay us no tax at all.  The constraints on incentives and resulting talent drain would make this whole concept fanciful as a way of raising revenue……but just for the sake of illustration let’s suppose it was possible…..

We have 500,000 people in the UK who earn more than £100,000 in salary (personal taxation, PAYE and Schedule D) so, best case scenario, we’ve raised £15 billion.  We’ve reduced the deficit from £105 billion per year to £90 billion per year.  Now what?

There are others who take their income in other ways e.g. company dividends, investments, trusts etc.   However these people are not tied to the UK by employment and can easily move to a more tax friendly country if the tax regime becomes punitive.  The recent experience of the socialist President Hollande of France in trying to raise significant tax from “the rich” shows that this is not practical.  He failed to raise any significant revenue.  Any increase in his take of tax was negated by a reduction in economic activity, as the incentives to do business in France were reduced, and rich citizens fled to Belgium, Switzerland and the UK.

Tax revenue will get nowhere near reducing the deficit, let alone the debt.  Micturition and hurricanes spring to mind.  Massive public spending cuts are inevitable.

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Education

A Case for Sending Teenagers to Boarding School

When my children started boarding at 11 they were the 5th consecutive generation of Amblers to go to boarding school in England.  My great-grandfather and grandfather’s parents had settled in India where they had a number of successful family businesses.   A lack of appropriate local schools amongst the indigo plantations and slate quarries of Bihar forced them to a boarding school in Brighton.  My father boarded in rural Wiltshire from age 8 whilst the Second World War was raging.  His father was working round the clock on a secret submarine sonar system. I boarded from 13 in the Home Counties to give my education stability whilst my parents worked in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Tanzania and the Philippines.  My two children subsequently boarded in the Home Counties whilst I worked in Japan, USA and Middle East. On moving to Dubai I anticipated not being moved by my employers within 5 years and gave them both the option of going to a good local British day school and living at home. They both politely declined.

I cannot speak for my great-grandfather (as I never met him) but all other members of my family regard boarding school as some of the happiest and most positive experiences in their life. Certainly their letters and photographs of this time is testament to this fact.  My father was particularly enthusiastic.

Perhaps it was the benefits of a stable school life where we made lifelong friends and concentrated on our studies.  With no “school run” we had more time for hobbies, musical instruments and playing for the First XI.  Combining this with the excitement of large amounts of international travel made this childhood almost idyllic. I certainly looked forward to the school holidays, particularly when my parents were in a new country, but I looked forward to going back to school and seeing my friends at the end of them.

I certainly never felt rejected and neither, on close questioning, do my children. Ultimately they chose to stay as boarders when given the choice.  Modern boarding is, after all, a giant sleep over.   Most teenagers would prefer to be with their friends than their parents in any case.

Boarding Schools teach social confidence, social tolerance and consideration of others when living together. I made great lifelong friends, many of whom I would never have bothered to get to know properly unless we were living in such close proximity.  Up to 40% of pupils in boarding schools are foreign, giving opportunities to make friendships with children from different cultures and (surprisingly) different social backgrounds.  The large numbers of bursaries and scholarships create eclectic boarding communities.

Foreign students at UK boarding schools

It was noticeably easier for me to take the relatively small step to University life. Spotting fellow boarders at University was easy during the first year as we were so much more confident and independent.  The average British University today has over 15,000 students from many different cultures and backgrounds.  This is a massive, bewildering experience and a giant step for many teenagers who have left home for the first time.  Without adequate preparation this can be overwhelming.

I find many parents totally against boarding on principle, fuelled by their own personal emotional feelings with little consideration for their children’s views.  When living in the USA a great many of our American friends and acquaintances were shocked at how cruel we were for sending our children to boarding school in England.  “I could never send my children away to school” was the typical response.  The emphasis was always on the “I”.  I would mischievously reply “but what would your children prefer?”  This often caused a hesitation and then an admission that their children would probably quite like the idea.  One even admitted that perhaps it was selfish to think only of her own needs as a parent.  Children are not pets, to be kept for our own amusement and satisfaction and to fulfill our parental nurturing fantasies.  They are independent beings with their own opinions.

I’m fascinated by the knee-jerk assumption made by many parents that the best way to bring up children is in a nuclear family (parents and children living in a single dwelling without extended family).  How real is the idyllic nuclear family?  Parents are often preoccupied with their careers, commuting, affairs, divorce and their own personal inadequacies and insecurities.  With both parents working the reality is more often the “latch key” teenager, with no adult supervision for much of their day.

Also, when in human history has the nuclear family been the norm?

Actually there are almost no periods of human history where we lived as a nuclear family apart from the brief period since WW2.  For most of our evolutionary past humans lived in small communities, extended families and tribes. Parents often died when their children were young, leaving them to be brought up by relatives.  Children routinely left home in their early teens to work, fight or to experience and explore the world. They were often sent away to be educated by living with friends and relatives and often abroad. Boys of all classes were sent into the British Navy as young as 10 and didn’t see their parents for years. They were fighting battles in their early teens and could captain a ship before 20. The working classes sent their children away to earn money.  They were often recruited into armies as baggage boys and drummers and left home for years to go on long campaigns.  Girls were sent away into domestic service.  The Romans and Greeks also had similar practices.  Of course I am not claiming that small children do not need to be with their mother, just that the long-term nuclear family is not a natural state.  We are a social species, after all.

There must be some reason why teenagers behave like… well, like teenagers.  Teenagers living in nuclear families can be troubled and troublesome.  Many a parent-child relationship is damaged by living in too close proximity during adolescence. Teenagers have evolved to be confrontational and contrary to ensure they strike out on their own – to be more independent.  Something needs to make them want to fly the nest, which is an evolutionary imperative.

Parents have not evolved to spend decades together either. In our evolutionary past we just didn’t live that long and bonding between parents for 10 years or so was perfectly sufficient to give any offspring a good start.  The modern divorce and separation rate is testament to this fact. Living with divorced or divorcing parents and witnessing their turmoil and warring can have an adverse effect on children.  Boarding school can separate them from much of this unpleasantness.

So teenagers were never meant to be part of a nuclear family and they naturally start flexing for more independence and more time with their peers.  So perhaps the best solution is to give it to them in a controlled way?  Boarding school can provide this halfway house between childhood and adult independence or University.

Boys particularly benefit from experiencing the different male role models that boarding schools provide. Dads at home believe they are indispensable, but the average father sees his children for less than a few hours during the working week. They are busy working and commuting and getting on with their own lives.  In any case, he is just one limited role model.  However good we Dads think we are there are other methods of getting through life. In our evolutionary past we had more exposure to extended family, grandparents and local leaders.  Modern life is dominated by mothers, female teachers, a limited peer group, separation, divorce and both parents absent at work.  Boarding school exposes young men to male teachers, housemasters, house tutors, team coaches and older boys in a familiar, stable environment.  Boarders therefore have a wider range of role models, strategies and behaviours they can draw on in later life.

Many regard the main advantage of boarding is to be set free from the stifling and claustrophobic environment created by over over-cautious, controlling, domineering and interfering parents. The parents, of course, would call this love.

Access to organised sport is also cited a good reason to send teenagers to boarding schools.  There are good practical reasons for adding “body” to the ethos of  “education for the mind, body and spirit”, and it goes beyond training our bodies to avoiding obesity and diabetes.  The British boarding school belief that the taking part in sport is more important than winning may seem old fashioned now, but makes perfect sense for them.    Question: How do you control 1000 adolescent males living in close proximity in a boarding school environment?  Answer: Wear them out.  By having all the boys on the sports fields five afternoons per week, working off their natural energy, frustration and aggression in a controlled and organised way, ensures they are too tired at other times to get into too much trouble.  A lesson the modern world would do well to learn, particularly in our inner cities.

Another aversion to the idea of boarding is giving your children to the care of “strangers”.  Perhaps this is why we prefer to send children to a local school (i.e. within UK) and spend much time assessing the 2000 or so boarding schools available to choose one which we think matches the character and interests of our children.  We choose an ethos and environment, which we find familiar and reassuring. There is a large difference between many of the schools.  Choose between sporty, musical, academic, artistic, dramatic, nurturing, adventurous, disciplined or liberal – take your pick – you’d be surprised at the variety.  We also vet the school and teachers carefully.  Parents often send their children to their alma mater perhaps to add to the familiarity.

In any case, people are only strangers for a short time.  It takes about a week at boarding school for them to become familiar.  You also get to spend 7 years or so with your new peers, so they become very familiar – more like brothers than friends.  I’m still in touch with many of my teachers and tutors for the same reason.  They become a part of your life.

Our whole life is a series of meeting strangers socially, in business and in everyday life.  Quickly assessing and evaluating strangers and then forming relationships with those useful to us is a useful life skill to learn.  Perhaps another advantage of the wider, more intimate social experience we get at boarding school.

And what of the expensive and time-consuming taxi service parents provide their teenagers?  The endless ferrying of children to and from school and their after school activities?    Latest evidence shows we spend six hours and 43 minutes a week taking our children to and from school and after school clubs, with an additional annual fuel bill of over £1700.  With more boarding school places the environment would benefit from less “school run” traffic congestion and less pollution.  The economy would benefit by parents and teenagers having nearly 7 additional hours to work and study every week.

The final objection to boarding schools is the eye watering cost.  A few prestigious schools charge annual fees well above the pre-tax income of the average family but there are many more reasonably priced private boarding schools.  Don’t forget that the top schools provide bursaries and scholarships for pupils with parents of more limited means.  Ask the school for details.  The tuition fees are typically 2/3 of these costs and there is a sprinkling of good quality State boarding schools, where parents need only find the boarding fees.   Savings would also be made on costs the child would have incurred at home.

The Government could help support boarding costs with tax deductions for parents that needed it and more state funded boarding schools could be created if there was sufficient demand. Our politicians are very vocal about wanting more “child care” provision to help working mothers, particularly politicians from left-of-centre parties.  But they are suspiciously quiet about demanding the provision of more State boarding school places for parents with teenagers.

There are many legitimate concerns about the psychological effect of boarding, particularly from a young age. This is led by Nick Duffell who has written articles and books on the psychological damage he believes boarding can inflict.  Clearly boarding is not suited to everybody, and despite my father’s happy memories, I agree with him that boarding from 8 is too young for many children.  However Mr. Duffell is making money from his psychotherapy practice and his books on the subject.  I wonder what proportion of children who went to boarding school have the problems he proclaims and how many of those would have had problems in life regardless of their schooling?  It is convenient to blame parents, teachers, schools and our circumstances for our own insecurities and inadequacies.

But for balance we should also consider how many other children have had fewer problems in life because they boarded? I know people who think I have had advantages in life because I boarded.  Many Guardian readers complain about the social advantages of boarding school and how unfair it is on people that don’t have this “privilege”!

Many who had terrible experiences at boarding school recall the prodigious use of corporal punishment, which has rightly coloured their opinion of boarding.  There was no corporal punishment at my father’s school (in the 1940s) or mine (1970s and 80s).  My Grandfather and Great-grandfather (and their brothers) all loved their school days.  They spoke fondly of their experiences and have many proud photographs recording their sporting achievements, school trips and great friendships.  Corporal punishment may have been a part of their life, but they never mentioned it.  Day schools also had corporal punishment and parents often used it at home – often quite brutally.  So perhaps they are confusing the punishment regime with boarding, leaving them with a loathing for the school but unable to separate which aspects caused them the most anguish. It is clearly a barbaric, violent and humiliating punishment and rightly consigned to the dustbin of history.  It has been illegal for decades.

Modern boarding schools are also very aware of the possibility of bullying and other types of abuse.  They have many policies and measures in place to detect and prevent them.  All pupils have access to an independent student councilor, a doctor and an on site medical professional – usually a nurse.  There is also a clear structure of pastoral care.  In addition all boarding schools are subject to regularly reviewed National Minimum Standards and a rigorous regime of independent inspection and assessment by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).  Prospective parents should review the latest ISI report on their website before making a decision on a specific school.  Other useful source of independent advice is  The Good Schools Guide, and Independent Schools Council.  Modern boarding is well regulated and provides a warm, pleasant and humane experience.   We should not confuse the old and new regimes.

Even Mr. Duffell is not against boarding per se, just from a young age.  “It could be OK at 15 or 16”, he states.  He also accepts that flexible boarding is obviously better. i.e. where children only board for a few days during the week and go home at weekends.

People not familiar with boarding schools often fail to realise that we put children in boarding school for the benefit of the children. Parents often have a hard time and need to prepare themselves.  My mother and wife cried on leaving their children behind.   I was looking forward to my son starting boarding school because I thought he would enjoy it.  I was right – he did.  But in all the excitement I had forgotten to take my own feeling in account, and missed him terribly.  Parents need to prepare themselves as they generally feel they miss out. The teenage children generally don’t.  In any case parents see their children 6 times per a year during major holidays and half term breaks.

Many modern boarding schools have weekly and flexible boarding options to fit in with parents’ work commitments.  Children come home at weekends or they can be day pupils where parents can book their children into the boarding house on an ad hoc basis according to their work commitments during the week.  This also allows both parents and teenagers to be eased gently into a boarding school routine.  The number of British children in boarding schools has increased recently as working parents seek an alternative to complex child care arrangements.  A total of 45,314 British children currently attend boarding school, up from 37,926 last year.  Among British families boarding is more popular among older children and especially for sixth form (children 16 to 18 years).

Boarding is a personal choice and positive one for a great many children.  The people best placed to know what is best for their children can only be the parents.  They need to assess the right child, at the right age for the right school.  Don’t judge their choice unless you have walked in their shoes.

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Liberty

Drugs and Liberty

Drugs are undoubtedly bad for our health and we could even make a case that recreational drug use is immoral. However this should have no bearing on whether drugs should be illegal or legal. It is clear there is no chance of the perfect solution where drugs can be completely eradicated from society. We must therefore decide what is the harm of having drugs illegal and compare that with the harm of having drugs legalised – and then choose the least bad option.

The main harm of making drugs illegal is that it creates enormous profits for some of the world’s most violent and unpleasant people, who murder, extort, bully and corrupt their way to power.  i.e. organised criminal gangs. It also supports corrupt regimes in some of the worlds nastiest countries and finances terrorism.

America’s attempt, in 1920-33, to prohibit the sale of alcohol (sensibly not copied in any other big country) inflated alcohol prices, promoted bootleg suppliers, encouraged the spread of guns and crime, increased hard-liquor drinking and corrupted a quarter of the federal enforcement agents, all within a decade. The drugs war has achieved all these things but, since the business is global, it has done so on an international scale.

Add to this the levels of crime conducted by users and addicts to pay the inflated prices, the high cost of law enforcement (police, customs, courts and prisons), the healthcare costs associated with poor quality and doctored products and the criminalisation of a nation’s youth and we have a very high cost to society for making drugs illegal.

Legalisation gives us the ability to easily reach out to users and addicts to educate them away from drug use.  We can also assure the quality of the product, making them safer and reducing the costs of treatment.  Tax revenue from the sale of drugs can be fed back into education programmes explaining the risks of drug taking.  Finally the poor producers in developing countries could get the financial benefits from a legitimate cash crop rather than the criminals in the current distribution chain.  In my opinion the biggest benefit would be taking an enormous source of revenue away from these nasty people in organised crime.

These benefits to legalisation must be balanced with a resulting lower social stigma from drug taking (if that was possible) and lower prices (to ensure nobody bought from illicit channels) possibly creating more users. But bear in mind that drugs are already very available in our society.  In any case most drugs users grow out of their habit if left alone.  Peter Cohen, of the Centre for Drug Research at the University of Amsterdam, followed a sample of cocaine users whom he describes as typical. After ten years, 60% had become completely abstinent and 40% remained occasional users. “Most drug users ultimately stop,” he says. “Drugs no longer fit their lifestyle. They get jobs, they have to get up early, they stop going to the disco, they have kids.”

So what is the least bad option – illegal or legal?  Governments already allow their citizens the freedom to do many potentially self-destructive things: mountaineering; bungee-jumping; cave diving; motor biking; alcohol and cigarette consumption; gambling and (famously) horse riding.  Some of these are far more dangerous than drug taking.

Perhaps John Stuart Mill was right. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.  Trade in drugs may be bad for our health, immoral and irresponsible, but perhaps it should no longer be illegal.

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Liberty

Prostitution and Liberty

So men often pay women for sex.  Some people want this practice to be banned and the purchaser prosecuted.  I’ve no doubt that the practice of women paying for sex is also not unknown.

If people are able to buy sex, if consent, the key principle in rape law, can be purchased with cash, it raises moral questions.  However, should it also raise legal questions?

What is the difference between:  a woman marrying for material gain and providing sexual favours in return;  a mistress who receives material support but remains faithful to one lover;   a woman that accepts expensive gifts from her lover;  a woman that receives expensive gifts from many lovers and a whore?  It is a spectrum but all have a component which puts a value on sex.  So how should we define “prostitution”?  In fact, in many consensual marriages in the Western world wives would soon find themselves ex-wives if they decided to withdraw the physical aspect of the relationship.  The same is true of husbands.  Sex is part of the deal.

Sex can be beautiful and poetic, urgent and base, purely recreational or merely mechanical for the purpose of bonding or procreation.  It may also be a solution to a physical need which can be bought and sold in different ways.  It is also a good way of controlling men.  The physical presence of women has been proven to make men more docile, less aggressive and gentler.  Boxers are told not to have sex before a fight because it reduces their aggression.   Many of the problems of the Middle East are caused by testosterone charged young men who do not have ready access to the calming effect of a physical relationship with young women.  They are sexually frustrated and this sometimes causes them to act irrationally, angrily and aggressively.

Sex is a continuum of intention and activity and can even be different things to the same couple at different times.

Why should The State have the right to tell consenting adults under what circumstances they are allowed to have sex?

(P.S. Human trafficking is already illegal).

Why human societies dislike female sexual promiscuity – an evolutionary explanation

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Religion

An Argument Against Faith Schools

If we accept the concept of “faith schools”, whatever the religion, we must also accept (by the same logic) Muslim schools that force young women to wear face veils or teach violent jihad. Consequently any extreme religion has permission to indoctrinate our children with any twisted ideology they can justify from their ancient religious texts.

When the British Government got behind the concept of “faith schools” they doubtless imagined a quaint Church of England primary school, with a form of Christianity bordering on the agnostic and staffed by benign well meaning vicars and Miss Jean Brodies in their prime.

In fact any religious indoctrination is a form of child abuse.

We do not have ”Conservative children” or “Labour children” or “Socialist Workers children”.  We accept that a child does not have the maturity and knowledge to give their consent to a political ideology.  We do not allow political activity in our schools, do not allow children to join a political party and we do not allow them to vote in a general election.

We believe the same is true of sexual activity.  We do not have “gay children” or “heterosexual children”.  Children cannot give consent to sexual activity until 16.

Restrictions on political and sexual activity is intended to protect naïve impressionable minds from the sinister manipulation of predatory adults.

We should have similar policies towards religion.

How can we have a “Jewish child”, a “Muslim child” or a “Christian child”?  Have they made an informed choice? Given their consent?  The sinister power of indoctrination over young and impressionable minds has been known to Catholics for centuries.  Their priests claiming, “if you give me a child, I will give you the man”.

No child should be forced to adopt any form of religious activity in schools until they are old enough to give their informed consent.  This would eliminate faith schools and the form of religious apartheid that exists in Northern Ireland and Glasgow.  It would starve extreme religions of their future brainwashed, indoctrinated disciples.  All Jewish and Muslim schools would be banned and all forms of religious clothing and adornment could not be worn in schools until the child is old enough to give informed consent.

Britain would still have complete religious freedom of expression, exactly the same as we have political freedom of expression and sexual freedom of expression.  But only when the person is old enough to give informed consent.

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Genetic Explanations

Why Poorer Students Are Underrepresented In Top Universities – an Evolutionary Perspective

 

Poor_Students_University

“Top” universities are under pressure to recruit poor students with lower grades and to do more to recruit more pupils from “poorer” backgrounds.

7% of children go to private schools and make up a much bigger proportion of top university places.  Intuitive logic leads us to believe that it must be the private schools that make the difference. So something must be done to level the playing field for equally talented poorer children.

However, there is little hard evidence that proves conclusively that good quality private schools give an unfair advantage.  So recently the UK Government’s university funding body did some research on 132,000 students to try to prove this “causal link” between good quality schools and academic success.   If this link was proven they could demand that pupils from poorer schools should be given lower grades to enter the top universities on the assumption that it would take higher levels of intelligence to get the same grades as pupils at better schools.  Surprisingly for many, the study showed the effect of the quality of schooling was much smaller than was imagined.  Astoundingly, for the very brightest pupils the quality of schooling made no difference at all to their ultimate academic success.

So this intuitive “conclusion” that affluent children attending good schools have an unfair advantage over equally talented children at poorer schools is not supported by the facts.

The expected “causal link” between academic success and private schools failed to take into account three massive confounding factors:

1. Personality and intelligence is largely genetically inherited from our parents.

2. We do not mate randomly.  i.e. we carefully choose our sexual partners.  This is a phenomenon called “assortative mating”.

3. We now have adequate social mobility so bright children eventually find their due place in society before they have children.

So how do these factors affect society? It perfectly explains these facts:

Let’s start by looking at a few seemingly unrelated facts:

1. The research highlighted in The Times on 17th June 2013 shows that the 24 largest research universities in the Russell Group admit a lower proportion of undergraduates from state schools and from poor families than ten years ago.

2. Children from wealthier families were nearly twice as likely to leave school with five good GCSEs, including maths and English, as those from poorer families — 63% against 36%.

3. After the ludicrously embedded class system in UK was largely dismantled after the last war we saw a massive surge in social mobility, which has now come to a screeching halt.

4. It seems poor white children do worse than poor ethnic minorities despite having a similar “poor” upbringing and environment. i.e. poorer outcome, same nurture.

5. Of the 20 top local authorities in terms of sending pupils to the prestigious Russell Group universities, 19 are in London and the south. Of the 20 worst-performing councils on the same league table, 18 are in the north.

Overwhelming evidence from identical twin studies, adoption studies, molecular genetics and Mendelian genetics give us a big clue. But it is difficult to piece all the strands together causing billions of tax pounds to be wasted on closing a “perceived” gap in equality.

First we must acknowledge that talent and motivation are largely heritable (i.e. we receive them through our genes).  The massive data from identical twin / adoption studies have shown that the “environment” of pupils before World War 2 accounted for some of the differences in a person’s eventual social status by age 35. For example, an intelligent working class child born into a 1920s Welsh coal mining community had little chance of getting to university.

After World War Two there was an enormous amount of social mobility due to Grammar Schools, public school scholarship and much improved State schools.  As the social restrictions in our society were removed children with the genes that coded for talent and motivation broke free.  This happened across Britain with working class children shooting up the social scale with talent in science, engineering, law, sports and the arts.

These talented people did well.  They earned a good living, achieved a higher social status and joined the affluent middle classes.  Combine the fact that talent and motivation is largely inherited through our genes with one of the most passionate and time consuming aspects of human behaviour, i.e. finding a mate, and you have a very powerful natural force. Talented, motivated women generally seek and marry talented, motivated men.  They then generally have talented, motivated children. i.e. they cluster the genes responsible for these talented, motivated characteristics into certain sections of society. As these characteristics generally lead to higher earning potential they are more likely cluster in the affluent parts of society. Also these talented genes will move and cluster to where the best jobs are.  i.e. in London and the South East of England.

This is unfair, but I’m explaining the is not the ought. This biological process is called “assortative mating”.   As these (now middle class) children had parents who were more affluent they also had a higher chance of being sent to a private school.

So effectively, genes for talent and motivation starting leaving the working class areas (such as coal mining villages) after World War Two and became middle class. 

We would predict that eventually we would see a more polarised genetic society as the genes for talent and motivation are slowly leached out of the working class areas.  Eventually social mobility will slow down and humanities educated journalists and politicians will scratch their heads and wonder why, and then conclude that more must be done to help the talented working class children who used to exist but have now mysteriously disappeared.

Genetic studies since World War 2 (in the developed world) shows upbringing makes little difference to our eventual social status, peer groups makes some difference but the largest driver is the genes for talent and motivation we inherit from our parents.  Our upbringing, education and experiences are transient, so the  influence of different “nurture” experience on our lives will be diminished over time.  Our genes exert their influence consistently throughout our whole life.

This explains what we have seen in recent history. A strong genetic determinant of talent and motivation combined with a sudden dismantling of unfairness in society will lead to an initial surge in social mobility. However this social mobility will then fade as beneficial genes cluster into the affluent parts of society by the process of assortative mating.

The top private schools are highly selective and have rigorous academic entry requirements.  This alone would explain why private schools have a disproportionate number of students at top universities.  Assortative mating further explains why private schools and affluent families provide a disproportionate number of students to top universities on merit, and why they are providing slightly more now than 10 years ago.  As assortative mating continues its influence this trend is likely to continue, unless our politicians want to start choosing with whom we mate?

Top universities may be becoming less socially representative, but they are representing where the talent has clustered because in a relatively socially mobile environment, talented genes will cluster in affluent parts of society.

For new immigrants the social factors which have limited their progress until now are relatively recent, so we expect the genes for talent and motivation to be more numerous in poorer parts of their society as they haven’t had time to cluster in the more affluent parts of society.

This explains why poorer students from ethnic minorities out-perform their white peers. i.e. same nurture but better outcome.

As the better paid jobs in the UK are predominantly in London we could also predict that there would eventually be a migration of talented genes from other parts of the UK to the south-east of England causing an academic north-south divide. This also seems to be the case (reference and explanation).

Remember is not ought.

The breathtaking irony is that social mobility has stopped because society is more equal. Social mobility has allowed genes that denote talent and motivation to cluster in affluent parts of society by the process assortative mating.

The class-war warriors and socialists had a laudable dream of equality whereby poor working class children would be fairly and equally represented in society.  They made the assumption that talented and motivated children were thrown up by society at random.  i.e. that talented and motivated children are equally spread across class and relative affluence.  So once “equality” was achieved they imagined a world where there would be a fair representation of working class originated talent in the top echelons of society in perpetuity.

They were wrong. Society is now much more equal, but because talent and motivation are largely genetically encoded the talent has just migrated to the affluent parts of society by the process of assortative mating.

Or put another way, intelligent and motivated individuals tend to increase their social and economic status in a relatively socially mobile society. It’s not the posh getting cleverer, but the clever getting posher.

Our future is not entirely genetically determined and I have no doubt that good schools with quality teachers make a difference.  We should continue do everything we can to ensure that individuals from all parts of society have access to an excellent education and quality careers with equal opportunity to succeed on merit alone.  But if we are to have a serious debate on helping “disadvantaged” children we need to look at all causes of inequality and move away from the discredited 1960’s assumptions that it is explained by “nurture” and “class”, which is what most press articles on the subject imply. We should learn a little about evolutionary biology and genetics before making these wild assumptions.

It is in our interest as a society that we have the best people in the right jobs. We all benefit from a genuine meritocracy.  There should be no discrimination based on colour, class or sex. But this includes “positive” discrimination too. We should not be giving people a leg-up because of a perceived injustice unless we can prove beyond doubt that they really have been disadvantaged.

Governments should set their expectations correctly before spending billions more tax pounds trying to save all pupils from a “perceived” injustice. They should instead target Government spending on developing each child’s individual and innate talents and motivations.

Further listening on the genetics of intelligence:

Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born DifferentThree BBC Radio programmes on the genetics of intelligence.

What makes some children smarter than others?  Professor Robert Plomin talks to Jim Al-Khalili about what makes some people smarter than others and why he’s fed up with the genetics of intelligence being ignored.

References:

Pleiotropy across academic subjects at the end of compulsory education An article in Nature on the genetic effects to human intelligence and GCSE results in the UK.

Differences in degree outcomes: Key findings  (examines the extent to which a student’s background affects their chance of obtaining an upper second or first class degree)

Twins early development studies

Differences in students’ GCSE results owe more to genetics than environment:

IQ is in the Genes

We can’t ignore the evidence: genes affect social mobility

One Cause of Inequality: More Rich Marrying One Another

Marry Your Like: Assortative Mating and Income Inequality

Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage

Why is there an academic north-south divide in Britain?

How Much Difference Does a Good School Make to Your Child’s Academic Achievement?

Getting ’em young (The Economist looks at the impact of early years education)

Genetic influence on GCSE results

Genetics and general cognitive ability : Article : Nature

Genetics – How Intelligence Changes with Age

Access : Childhood intelligence is heritable, highly polygenic and associated with FNBP1L 

Genes may play role in educational achievement

Access : Genome-wide association studies establish that human intelligence is highly heritable and polygenic 

Genetic and environmental contributions to the covariance between occupational status, educational attainment, and IQ

 

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