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.


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.

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

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.

Genetic Explanations, Liberty, Politics and Economics

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

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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.”


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.

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. (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.