Category Archives: government

Lockdown must end very soon

It seems inevitable that the government will soon announce an extension to lockdown, and that it will be made more severe. Most of us will have several more weeks of being confined to homes, probably only except for trips to the supermarket or doctor. For many people, that means solitary confinement, in small flats with no garden. Even murderers in prison area allowed out for daily exercise.

Lockdown is due to be ‘reviewed’ soon, but it must end soon. The ongoing costs will be too damaging if it is allowed to continue, not just economic cost but extra deaths, mental health issues and lingering social and political damage

UK Health Authorities and Government negligence got us into this mess, but they are still making serious blunders

The handling of COVID by both the government, the health authorities and the police has been pretty poor so far. If you disagree, consider the following.

Experts have been warning frequently for decades that one of the biggest risks faced by humanity this century would be pandemics – every competent futurist has certainly always had it in their top three risks. They have been warned frequently that global travel and large city living would enable the very rapid spread globally of any new virus and that any time, a new outbreak could happen that would mean millions could die. Government cannot claim they did not have good warning that we would face a major pandemic. In fact, we’re fortunate this one only kills 0.66% of those it infects, it could have been far worse, it might have been 30%. Yet government and especially its Department of Health was very badly unprepared, with far too few incubators, intensive care beds, even face masks, let alone ensuring the ability to rapidly develop testing capability or vaccines. This unpreparedness goes back several governments. Hancock is doing his best and can reasonably claim he hasn’t been in that job long, but his many predecessors can’t escape condemnation. For example, I could never understand how someone who believes in homeopathy could possibly be be made Minister of Health, or why a PM would expect someone with such beliefs to have good analytical skills.

We knew COVID was a such a potential risk before the first cases were allowed to enter the UK.

In the weeks following, even though they knew large numbers of infected people were coming into the country, government did nothing. It didn’t close the airports. It made no attempt to prevent flights from infected areas, no attempt to check passengers even for obvious symptoms such as fever. It didn’t even give passengers any appropriate health guidance other than weakly suggesting they should consider self-isolating if they develop symptoms. It allowed passengers from infected area to be huddled closely together with others at passport control, greatly facilitating cross-infection. It made no attempt to quarantine anyone likely to be infected or to track their contacts. In short, government sat and watched as the virus spread beyond control, even helping it to do so.

During all that time, while it asked vulnerable people to isolate themselves, it allowed the idiot mayor of London to reduce tube services, forcing those who needed to travel into close proximity on platforms and trains, again facilitating the spread of the virus.

Faced with the choice to limit the virus coming into the UK, finding, isolating and contact tracking the manageable number of infectees, our government negligently watched as the virus became widespread. Its early policy was to achieve ‘herd immunity’, which needs 80% or more people to become infected. Many would develop serious symptoms and suffer terribly and many would go on to die horrible deaths. The estimated 250,000 deaths from a herd immunity approach contrast starkly with the few dozen that might have resulted from the alternative early action approach.

The governments response then changed to a ‘flatten the curve’ approach, still accepting that most people would be infected, but limiting the number of simultaneous cases to the small numbers the unprepared NHS could cope with. Because of their previous actions, they had little choice. They hoped that eventually, a vaccine might be developed, in 18 months or so.

When the virus seemed to be spreading too quickly, instead of reducing the rate of spread by concentrating on the gaping holes in their approach – allowing people to be crammed together in tube stations and passport control, and still letting others enter the country – they decided instead to introduce lockdown for a large part of the population, regardless of the level of infection in different areas, varying by as much as a factor of 20. Those people would suffer lockdown, while many others would still be crammed together spreading infection. In low infection areas, that lockdown could only reduce a small figure by a small amount. In other areas with high infection, a stricter lockdown would have achieved far more.

Many areas of London have very high infection rates. Given the 75% reduction in traffic, it would be extremely simple to lift London traffic controls and encourage as many as possible to use their private cars, especially for those living in the most infected areas, greatly reducing cross infection in the tube system. Instead, one of the heads of Public Health England made the comment that she was ‘slightly alarmed’ by the switch of travel from public transport to private vehicles. PHE has also stated that there is no point in wearing masks (a simple mask may not prevent you catching the virus, but they will greatly reduce how many virus-laden particles people emit when they talk, cough or sneeze and therefore will reduce the rate of infection. It may well be the case that PHE wants to reduce demand by the public for scarce masks so that enough will be available for those who need them, but if so, they should say so and not talk rubbish). I find it more than slightly alarming that people with such poor analytical skills should be in positions of decision making. Masks should be worn, prioritizing availability if need be to high infection areas.

People are still travelling between areas of very high infection and areas with very low infection. Many people in low infection areas will be needlessly infected. This will increase deaths. If we must have lockdown, there are far better ways to arrange it. Cellular lockdown, restricting travel between areas of markedly different infection rates would greatly reduce spread.

Even separating people from high and low infection areas in public transport would only require a simple ‘red and green’ trains system. Yet it seems beyond the comprehension of our authorities.

Some police forces have been intimidating people who are driving to open areas to exercise. Although a very few areas might attract occasional crowding greater than town footpaths, generally, urban footpaths will have far more joggers, walkers and cyclists, so exposure during exercise will generally be far higher by forcing people to exercise locally. That will increase cases and deaths. Closing parks and National Trust Gardens is similarly stupid and counter-productive. People will die because of that stupidity. Rather than take the side of common sense and logic, government threatens the people with stricter confinement if they continue to try to enjoy the outdoors, even when they are spread out.

Making it very hard to exercise away from other people will deter many people from doing so. Just when they have the greatest need to maintain peak fitness in case they become ill, their ability to do so is being reduced by officious police and busybodies. That will result in more deaths.

Watching such ongoing stupidity and negligence, I have very little confidence left in our government to make good decisions. I do not believe continuing lockdown is the right policy.

Lockdown

The current one-size-fits-all policy of lockdown is highly questionable, another mistake in a long line. A smarter form might have been justifiable to recover from the mess poor previous decisions got us into, but looking from where we are now, lockdown must be lifted soon, or it will cost far more than it saves.

Mental Health Costs

I was already self-isolating before lockdown, being ‘at risk’ but I don’t find isolation difficult. I’m introvert, normally work from home, and don’t normally leave my home more than a few times a month. I have a nice house and garden and a fantastic partner. So I have barely felt any change and am not suffering. Many are not so fortunate.

Many people live in tiny homes with no gardens and must find it distressing, especially those accustomed to going out frequently. Others live alone and many of them will be feeling very lonely. Still others will be experiencing relationship breakdowns, some of which will not mend when it’s all over. Lockdown will already be taking a severe toll on many people’s mental health. As lockdown continues the mental health costs will grow enormously. Some have already died via suicide and murder. Many more will follow, many will suffer extreme stress or fall into severe depression and start to suffer the wide range of ailments associated with those, especially many who are watching their business collapse.

Loneliness is a terrible problem that affects millions, particularly the old, and is known to contribute to ill health and death. Lockdown obviously is increasing loneliness for very many people, and will result in an unknown number of extra deaths.

Relationship breakdown as people are forced to live with each other 24/7 is inevitable. This is a well-known cause of stress, suicide and health reduction and will cause deaths directly and via reduced ability to deal with infection. Families of those concerned will also be affected.

Domestic violence is likely to increase similarly.

People’s energy bills will increase as they are confined to home. Many who already struggle to pay them will be greatly stressed by increased costs. Stress directly contribute to illness and deaths. If some old people who are already vulnerable have to turn down the heating because of worrying about energy bills, that will make them more physically vulnerable and mean even more deaths.

Death Costs

We now have some figures on the nature of the infection and its lethality. The Lancet suggest that 0.66% of those infected will die. If everyone were to be infected, that would be 430,000 UK deaths, and we’ve heard estimates around that before. On the other hand, the coronavirus app results suggest that as few as 25% of people have already been infected, suggesting future deaths due mainly to COVID might only be a few thousand (the majority of people dying who have COVID on their death certificate had other underlying issues and many would have died anyway, or soon).

Without testing of statistically large enough randomized samples in each area, we really have no idea and the government is flying blind. Letting everyone out and not doing anything at all to limit infection might result a few thousand or a few hundred thousand more deaths caused primarily by COVID. We simply don’t know. What we do know is that to be at the higher end, the mortality figures would need to be that high and almost everyone would need to be infected, but firstly, we can strongly limit infection by implementing sensible policies, and secondly, if we do that, we will have a vaccine in time to prevent most people becoming cases. So the high end is far too high. If we lifted lockdown now in low infection areas and later in higher infection areas after we have significantly reduce infections by better policy implementation and some optimised testing, future deaths would likely be between 5000 and 20,000, a wet-finer estimate, but probably no wetter than the models government seems to be relying on.

Not everyone lives in homes with good ventilation. Some in poor quality housing will have a higher infection rate from both COVID19 and other diseases due to poor ventilation.

Many people still rely on coal or wood fires, both of which produce particulates that can cause breathing difficulty and contribute to respiratory-related deaths.

The deaths costs from the above causes will be high, probably running into hundreds if it is allowed to continue more than another week or two, and that has to be offset against any gains. But there is an even bigger factor that will worsen if continued lockdown causes severe economic damage. As well as the factors above, some economists have done their analyses and suggested that due to the inevitable recession – up to 17% drop in GDP – far more future deaths will result from economic decline than will be saved by lockdown. For a change, even though they’re economists, I’m not inclined to disagree.

Economic Costs

In terms of saving lives, there are many ways to save lives so with finite funds, we should spend where the most lives can be saved for given funding. If we only save 5000 lives, but spend £500Bn to do so, that works out at £100M each! The NHS currently won’t provide a drug unless it is likely to add an extra year of quality life for less than £30,000. A typical 65-year old dying of COVID today would only expect to have another 20 years of life on average, so the NHS won’t pay more than £600k to keep them alive if they were dying of something that isn’t COVID. Many of those dying are much older than 65 and most have other underlying factors that make their life expectancy much less than normal. Using the same valuations,, an average spending limit of £250k seems more realistic. At £250k each, even the highest current estimate of 250,000 deaths would have a cost limit of £60Bn. On harsh economic terms, we could save more lives by helping those with other illnesses if the cost will exceed £60Bn. If you look a little further, various studies over the last decade have shown that tens of thousands of deaths in hospitals result from negligence, errors and poor hygiene. We could reduce those even more cheaply.

So the cost of lockdown makes no sense in terms of the economic cost of saving lives – there are more cost-effective ways. We could save far more for the same spend.

Social Costs

But there is still another major cost: society. If you are on social media, you will have noticed the rising tension, the conflicts between those who believe in this policy versus those who believe another one, the ones who want to comply versus dissenters, the rule violators versus the snitches.

Confidence in the police is being strained to breaking point, as is confidence in government. NHS worshippers abound, but so do those who believe shelf stackers and binmen are just as important.

Inter-generational conflict will increase. The young see their futures being thrown away to buy a few more years for the very elderly who would die soon anyway.

There will be strong resentment of the private sector worker watching their pension evaporate while the public sector worker next door has their gold-plated pension protected. People who were laid off and have to survive on Universal Credit will likely resent others having 80% of their previous income paid by the state, as will those who had to watch their businesses thrown under a bus with receive no compensation at all. Everyone will have to pay, but only some were protected.

Many of these growing tensions, resentments, conflicts and tribal conflicts will not vanish when it’s all over. Scars will remain for decades. The lingering social costs may well be as high as the economic and death costs.

Political Costs

Finally, we should consider that politics will change too.

Privacy, freedom, free speech and respect for the authorities will be permanently damaged. Social cohesion is an important part of the foundations of democracy.

Respect for the police and the principle of  ‘policing by consent’ has already been eroded by some police gleefully abusing their power like bullies appointed school prefects.

Being left with enormous bills and a trashed economy, with many businesses dead, it will take decades to recover. We already know the huge effects of austerity in politics, but are rapidly adding enormously to the already massive national debt so future austerity will be deep and long-lived.

We can also be sure that this will not be the last virus. In a year or two there will be another, and because of the poor handling of this one, reactions by society and the markets will be even more panicky, and we may take more economic hits. We may take generations to get back to ‘normality’.

Summary

Whichever angle you look at it, lockdown is the wrong solution. It has high mental health costs, it saves fewer lives than freeing everyone, and costs more per life than almost any other way of saving them. And it comes with very high social and political costs.

Whether you look at it from an economic angle, a pragmstic angle or are trying to be compassionate, it still makes no sense.

It should end soon.

 

 

Will China be the global winner from COVID?

A joint blog by Tracey Follows, Bronwyn Williams and ID Pearson

Will China be the global winner from COVID?

There have been many conspiracy theories about China suggesting that the virus was deliberately made. We may never know the whole truth.

Regardless of that, it is clear that, however unlikely, there is a greater than zero chance the virus could have been man-made. More importantly, a new virus could be man-made. Now that the West has shown its economically suicidal response to this one, there is a massive temptation for any rogue regime or terrorist group to produce a GM virus variant that is as or more lethal, as or more contagious. Death cults that want population reduction (such as environmental reasons) might well consider sponsoring such virus production in secret labs.

There is already one clear win for China: No-one is really debating democracy versus authoritarianism as it pertains to Hong Kong any more. But then no-one is really debating that choice anywhere because nation-states like the UK, France and USA, built on the core notions of freedom, have removed liberty and imposed a lockdown. Indeed, the few governments who have resisted – or even just delayed draconian encroachments on hard-won human rights to freedom of speech, movement and trade have found themselves cast as at best ignorant and at worst downright villainous by the popular press. This, despite the fact that the epidemiological and economic data and models projecting the socio-economic costs of the various paths of action (or inaction) available to authorities are questionable at best, downright misleading at worst. Perhaps Friedrich Hayek put it best when he said “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”. In other words, when faced with incomplete information, the first priority for any government should be to do no harm. When it comes to complex systems, seemingly simple solutions can have serious unintended consequences. This, however, is easier said than done in the face of an imminent threat when citizens, accustomed to having their every need met by their leaders are baying for someone to do something. This may well prove to be the biggest threat of all because populations can get awfully content being told what to do and relying on authorities to make all the tough decisions for them. Some may even be persuaded that this kind of big state, this kind of total state, isn’t really so bad after all.

The trouble is that authoritarian measures – such as state surveillance of health and cellular data and restrictions on freedom of movement or trade – adopted during times of crisis do not tend to simply disappear after the short term threat is passed.. As military men and women will tell you, it is much easier to get into wars than to get out of them. Likewise, it is much easier to lose civil liberties than it is to regain them. Have any governments who have removed or restricted citizen rights outlined any form of exit strategy for how to return those privileged post pandemic? No. The long-term normalisation of surveillance and authoritarianism driven by short-term fear threatens to create a global generation of Stockholm syndrome sufferers, grateful to the generosity of their gilded cage key keepers.

Result: China 1  – West 0

Perhaps what is most notable is that there have been several pandemics in recent memory: Zika, SARS, Ebola, swine flu, bird flu. None of these caused similar panic. The question is why. The answer lies in the way the current crisis has been handled by both mainstream and social media, both of which thrive on the spread of panic (a viral disease in and of itself), and panic, in turn creates an opportunity for authorities to capitalise on the crisis and consolidate both power and capital to their own ends. New deadly diseases emerge from nature frequently and next time the first news breaks on a future outbreak, the panic cycle we have witnessed in recent months is likely to repeat itself. Panic buying will follow, the media and the public will demand action, stock markets will fall, governments will be tempted to rush to close airports and print more money and take on more debt, and so on so as not to be the last man standing. That means that future outbreaks, however caused, will likely cause panic, confusion and likely major economic damage.

After spending tens or more likely hundreds of billions of pounds to get through COVID19, it may well be the case that the economy is only starting to recover before the next outbreak. The economy may not recover properly until we can end that cycle.

However, China, with its now proven technology to control its people, its centralised economy, and its much more compliant populace, conditioned over centuries of dictatorial rule to obey or face the consequences, would be more able to avoid such crashes.

The West will learn that the only way to avoid coming off second best in a crisis is to emulate its opponent, further eroding human rights and freedoms in the process. 

That is, of course, the rub: liberty has proven to work for the West in the long run. However, in the short run, there are trade offs. Authoritarians can do things that free men and women will not. From current events and reactions, it does not appear that the West has the short term courage (or citizens with the personal responsibility) to pay the price of long term liberty.

China 2 – West 0

Even as it becomes clear that China covered up the initial outbreak, denying other nations the benefits of foresight, and manipulated mortality rates, skewing economic and epidemiological models that could have been used to make better policy decisions, we may never know the full extent of China’s responsibility for this one. However, we can be sure they won this round, and will be the long term winners too, if our response here in the West is anything to go on.

About Tracey Follows

company: https://futuremade.consulting

twitter: twitter@traceyfutures

side hustle: https://www.femalefuturesbureau.com

Forbes contributor: tracey follows 

About Bronwyn Williams

Bronwyn Williams is a futurist, economist and trend analyst, who consults to business and government leaders on how to understand the world we live in today and change the world’s trajectory for tomorrow. She is also a regular media commentator on African socio-economic affairs. For more, visit http://whatthefuturenow.com

Twitter: twitter@bronwynwilliams

About ID Pearson

Dr Pearson has been a full time futurologist for 29 years, tracking and predicting developments across a wide range of technology, business, society, politics and the environment and is a chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society and Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science

twitter: twitter.com@timeguide

timeguide.wordpress.com

Don’t listen unquestioningly to ‘experts’

Listen to the experts! Follow the science! Shut up, you aren’t an epidemiologist! You’re probably as sick of hearing those remarks as I am.

An expert is generally regarded as someone who has been doing something for so long (10k hours or more) that they have become highly proficient at it. If you do a task 5 hours a day for 200 days a year, it takes about 10 years before you could be regarded as an expert. Nevertheless, there are many experts in every field, and some have a lot more than 10k hours. However…

The vast majority of experts are specialists, working in a particular field. They have vast knowledge and expertise – in that field. They may be somewhat knowledgeable in some other areas, especially if they are closely related, but their degree of knowledge generally becomes lower as you move further away from their core field.

Other experts are generalists. In engineering circles, they are often called systems engineers. In medical circles, they might typically be GPs or general surgeons, or vets. They typically have similarly sized brains, intelligence and knowledge to specialists, but their expertise is spread more thinly across a broader domain, often a much broader domain. Depending on career history, they may still have some regions where they are more knowledgeable than others, but their most important skill is considering many different but interacting parts of a system simultaneously.

“Epidemiology is the study and analysis of the distribution, patterns and determinants of health and disease conditions in defined populations.” Epidemiologists are therefore exactly the sort of people we need right now to advise on the distribution, patterns and determinants of health and disease conditions. I wouldn’t dare to think I know better than an expert epidemiologist in that regard and neither should you.

Outside that well-defined domain, their expertise quickly evaporates and they quickly lose their claim to expertise. I would not bother to ask an epidemiologist for their advice on many other important factors such as politics, economics policy, nutrition, cardiovascular health, exercise or mental health factors of lockdown, loneliness, transport policy, policing, sociology, relationships, divorce or family breakdown.

COVID affects all of the above areas so we need people who can consider all of them, considering all the interactions within the system. That means generalists, not specialists, since no human brain can be expert in all relevant fields. Generalists can make informed decisions on the best overall approach. They would consider inputs from epidemiologists of course, but also inputs from experts in all the other fields too, assimilate and then consider the entire system.

I would suggest therefore that government and media are giving far too much attention and power over decision making to one particular expert group – epidemiologists – and giving far too little consideration to the whole system and the generalists who are the appropriate experts in that domain.

Indeed, even politicians are somewhat generalist. Few have any particular field of expertise other than those skills needed to persuade people to vote for them.

However, an intelligent PM like Boris should be able to make a good overall judgement on the best overall approach to dealing with COVID, taking due account not just of ‘the scientific advice’ but of all the relevant factors – the pain, suffering and deaths resulting from the spread of COVID, social and health issues related to lockdown, the many factors governing the health of the economy, the massive future debts that will need to be repaid and the inevitable severe austerity resulting, social cohesion, the trust in the police, justified fears about state intrusion, mass surveillance, loss of liberty, and many more.

He should certainly not be abdicating decision making to people who are only expert in one of those areas.

And neither should you.

 

Reducing infection rates – common sense

We could greatly reduce suffering, deaths, economic damage and duration of lockdown if the authorities were to apply some basic principles.

Restrict travel between high and low infection areas

Some areas are much more highly infected than others. Travel from highly infected areas to much less infected areas should be severely restricted. The gain from doing so is far higher than by restricting other travel.

Restricting travel within high infection areas will also achieve greater gains than doing so in low infection areas.

Red and green trains

Instead of all trains being made available to everyone, red trains would carry groups more likely to be infected and would be used by people who either live or work in a high-infection area. Green trains would be used by those who both live and work in low infection areas. There doesn’t need to be a very high difference before statistical gains are achieved. Any station would receive a few red trains, then a few green ones.

A further derivative would be to have red and green supermarket hours to separate those who work exposed to high risk from those who aren’t.

Both of the above rely on separating groups that have very different infection rates and both are quite robust against moderate cross-infection.

Travel profiles indicate most effective use of limited testing

We already target health workers and carers, but what about the rest of the population?

The faster we can identify infected people and isolate them, the more we can reduce the rate of spread, the number of total infections, overall suffering, and deaths. Given very limited testing capacity, we must optimise our approach. Some simple reasoning applies.

First, there is little point in testing those in lockdown. It would be nice in an ideal situation but we aren’t in one. The few who become infected will still emerge if they become ill enough.

The rest fall in two categories. One group travels mostly alone in private vehicles. A few will come into contact with large numbers of people through their work. If we can identify those high-contact groups, they can be allocated a higher priority.

Those travelling most on public transport are much more likely to become infected, coming into more frequent contact with infected strangers and once they become infected, are likely to infect many more. Concentrating testing on them will achieve the greatest efficiency at finding (and removing) infected people from the mix. The more infected people that can be found and removed from public transport, the faster the virus will be controlled. We know who uses public transport most via their payment cards. We  also know that those using red trains will have higher incidence than those on green trains.

Simple logic therefore shows that limited testing should therefore be applied in the following priority:

  1. Front line carers
  2. Most frequent travellers on red-train public transport
  3. Less frequent travellers on red-train public transport
  4. Most frequent travellers on green-train public transport
  5. Less frequent travellers on green-train public transport
  6. Those living in red areas who travel mostly using private transport
  7. Those living in  green areas who travel mostly using private transport
  8. Those in lockdown who must still venture out sometimes
  9. Those in total isolation

This isn’t 100% optimised, but it is close enough.

The rise of Dr Furlough, Evil Super-Villain

Too early for an April Fool blog, but hopefully this might lighten your day a bit.

I had the enormous pleasure this morning of interviewing the up-and-coming Super-Villain Dr Furlough about her new plans to destroy the world after being scorned by the UK Government’s highly selective support policy. It seems that Hell has no fury like a Super-Villain scorned and Dr Furlough leaves no doubt that she blames incompetent government response for the magnitude of the current crisis:

Bitmoji Image

Dr Furlough, Super-Villain

“By late January, it should have been obvious to everyone that this would quickly grow to become a major problem unless immediate action was taken to prevent people bringing the virus into the country. Flights from infected areas should have been stopped immediately, anyone who may have been in contact with it should have been forcibly quarantined, and everyone found infected should have had their contacts traced and also quarantined. This would have been disruptive and expensive, but a tiny fraction of the problem we now face.  Not to do so was to give the virus the freedom to spread and infect widely until it became a severe problem. While very few need have died and the economy need not now be trashed, we now face the full enormous cost of that early refusal to act.”

“With all non-essential travel now blocked”, Dr Furlough explained, “many people have had their incomes totally wiped out, not through any fault of their own but by the government’s incompetence in handling the coronavirus, and although most of them have been promised state support, many haven’t, and have as Dr Furlough puts it ‘been thrown under a bus’. While salaried people who can’t work are given 80% of their wages, and those with their own business will eventually receive 80% of their average earnings up to £2500/month whether they are still working or not, the two million who chose to run their small business by setting up limited companies will only qualify for 80% of the often small fraction of income they pay themselves as basic salary, and not on the bulk of their income most take via dividends once their yearly profits are clearer. Consequently many will have immediately dropped from comfortable incomes to 80% of minimum wage. Many others who have already lost their jobs have been thrown onto universal credit. The future high taxes will have to be paid by everyone whether they received support or were abandoned. Instead of treating everyone equally, the state has thus created a seething mass of deep resentment.” Dr Furlough seems determined to have her evil revenge.

Bitmoji Image

With her previous income obliterated, and scorned by the state support system, the ever self-reliant Dr Furlough decided to “screw the state” and forge a new career as a James-Bond-style Super-Villain, and she complained that it was long overdue for a female Super-Villain to take that role anyway. I asked her about her evil plans and, like all traditional Super-Villains, she was all too eager to tell. So, to quote her verbatim:

“My Super-Evil Plan 1: Tap in to the global climate alarmist market to crowd-fund GM creation of a super-virus, based on COVID19. More contagious, more lethal, and generally more evil. This will reduce world population, reduce CO2 emissions and improve the environment. It will crash the global economy and make them all pay. As a bonus, it will ensure the rise of evil regimes where I can prosper.”

She continued: “My Evil Super-Plan 2: To invent a whole pile of super-weapons and sell the designs to all the nasty regimes, dictators, XR and other assorted doomsday cults, pressure groups, religious nutters and mad-scientists. Then to sell ongoing evil consultancy services while deferring VAT payments.”

Bitmoji Image

“Muhuahuahua!” She cackled, evilly.

“My Super-Plan 3: To link AI and bacteria to make adaptive super-diseases. Each bacterium can be genetically enhanced to include bioluminescent photonic interconnects linked to cloud AI with reciprocal optogenetic niche adaptation. With bacteria clouds acting as distributed sensor nets for an emergent conscious transbacteria population, my new bacteria will be able to infect any organism and adapt to any immune system response, ensuring its demise and my glorious revenge.”

laugh cry

By now, Dr Furlough was clearly losing it. Having heard enough anyway, I asked The Evil Dr Furlough if there was no alternative to destroying the world and life as we know it.

“Well, I suppose I could just live off my savings and sit it all out” she said.

 

HS2 is world class stupidity

£106Bn is the new estimated cost of HS2, with a new delivery date of 2040

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/20/hs2-costs-government-review-west-midlands-manchester-leeds

We hear figures in the billions all the time, and I guess politicians especially lose their sense of what they really mean. A few billion here, another few billion there, so £106Bn just sounds like a decent sized public infrastructure project, equivalent to a few power stations, what’s the big deal? Let’s do some simple sums to find out and get some perspective.

The money has to come from tax and regardless of the diverse routes it takes, people ultimately pay all that tax. There are 66.5 million people in the UK, so that’s only £1600 each. Most of those people will never or hardly ever use HS2.

However, according to the Office of National Statistics, HMRC, only 31.2 million of those people pay income tax, so they contribute an average £3400 each. But actually the top 50% of those, 15.6 million people, pay 90% of the tax, so that means HS2 will effectively cost them £95.4Bn, a whopping £6115 each. I could go more sums but you get the point.

It’s a fair bet that the half of UK taxpayers paying over £6000 each for HS2 could write a long list of things they’d rather have than the option to buy an expensive rail ticket that might save some people, but probably not them, 20 minutes on a journey to London, but for most people might actually take them longer if they have first to get a slow train to one of the privileged HS2 stations.

6000 quid, each, 12k for a professional couple. For a slightly faster train? Remember, the original spec was for very fast trains, but they had to wind the speed down because it was discovered that trains might sometimes derail due to lethal combinations of aerodynamics and subsidence, so the realistic spec is about 150mph, compared to 125mph for a normal intercity.

This is the economics of the madhouse.

Trains are 19th and 20th century technology. 21st century technology allows driverless pod systems that would be far cheaper, far more versatile, far more socially inclusive, and far faster end to end. Pods could carry people or freight. Pod systems could start off mixing with conventional trains by grouping to make virtual trains. As antique old stock is gradually upgraded, along with stations, we would end up with a totally pod-based transport system. Pods could just as easily run on roads as on rails. The rails could be ripped up and recycled, railways tarmacked over, and public transport could seamlessly run on roads or the old railways. With potential occupancy of up to 95%, compared to the 0.4% typical of conventional rail, the old railways could carry 237 times more traffic! That wouldn’t eliminate congestion – there would still be some choke points – but it would make one hell of a dent in it. It would be faster because someone could have a pod pick them up at their home or office, maybe swap onto a shared one at a local node, and then go all the way to their destination at a good speed, with hardly any delays en-route, now waiting for the next scheduled train or having to make pointless journeys to get to a mainline station. They could simply go straight to where they want, and save much more time than HS2 would ever have saved.

Pod systems could serve the whole country, not just the lucky few living near the right stations. Fixing ‘the North-South divide’ still favours pod systems, not HS2. Everyone benefits from pods, hardly anyone benefits from HS2. Everyone saves money with pods, everyone is worse off with HS2. Why is the idea still flying?

The problem we have is that too few of our politicians or senior civil servants have any real understanding of technology and its potential. They are blinded by seeing figures in billions sever day, so have lost their understanding of just how much £100Bn is. They are terrified of pressure groups and always eager to be seen to be doing something, however stupid that something might be if they examined it.

HS2 is a stupid idea, world-class stupidity. It is 20th century technology, an old idea long past its use-by date. It locks in all the huge disadvantages and costs of old-style rail for several more decades We should leapfrog over it and go instead for a 21st century solution – cheap driverless pods. We’d save a fortune and have a far superior result.

 

 

Can you claim to be on the right side of history?

On several major issues, we all need to decide where we stand. We can obfuscate and waffle and use distractions and other tricks to avoid discussing them and perhaps having an argument, or losing friends if we make our position clear, but your conscience knows what you think, and whether you do anything about it or try to hide.

I’ve lost a lot of social media followers and quite a few former friends by repeatedly laying out my own opinions on controversial issues such as climate change, trans rights v women’s rights, antisemitism, capitalism v socialism, freedom of speech and what I often call the new dark age. I don’t have any grandchildren yet but hope one day I will, and if any of them ask me what I thought and said and did when big decisions were being made around now, I will either be proudly able to say I was on the right side of history, or – and we all must accept this is always a possibility – that I got it wrong, that I believed and said and did the wrong things.

We all live in different information environments. We have different friends, different educations, different personalities, and consume different media. Some of it is not our fault, some of it is results of personal choices. You can’t excuse yourself for not being aware of something if you choose to only ever read media that ignores that issue or always puts heavy spin on it. That’s your free choice (though it is certainly getting harder to find media without bias).

Elections are a time where such personal choices come to the fore.  Us Brits have to vote this week, my yank followers are deep in the very long run up to theirs. In both cases, the decisions are more about big moral issues and will have deeper consequences than most previous elections. Our choice counts, not just for this election, but for our future consciences, for the notional personal account we could give our descendants in the world we have helped architect (or opposed).

It’s not for me to tell you how to vote – it’s your decision and your conscience you’ll have to live with years down the line. My blogs and tweets lay out my own positions on the important issues frequently and my regular readers will know them. But this is my blog, so I’m happy to lay them out briefly again. Maybe it will help think more about your own positions.

Antisemitism: I don’t know if I know any Jews (I don’t know anyone who has told me they are), but I do know that antisemitism is wrong. The Holocaust was only possible because many people stood by and let it. I will not be one of them now. If anyone votes for an antisemitic party, they are complicit in antisemitism. If Jews feel they have to leave the UK because an antisemitic party gains power, that will be shameful for the UK, and anyone who helps them gain power should feel deeply ashamed. It has become very clear that Labour is currently an antisemitic party. I have voted for them several times before, but I will certainly never vote for them again while they are antisemitic.

Capitalism v socialism: Capitalism works. Socialism doesn’t. A socialist government would make it much more difficult for people to lead comfortable lives, including the poorest in our society, and would leave massive debts crippling our children and grandchildren. I don’t want that on my conscience.

Climate change: we have seen some warming in the last few decades. Some of that is likely caused by nature – mainly ocean and solar cycles, but some of it, an unknown amount, is probably caused by humans. CO2 emissions of course but also deforestation, pollution, industry, farming, and all of our personal lifestyle choices. I believe we should not be complacent about any of these, and should work towards a cleaner environment and better stewardship, including developing better forms of clean energy. However, although I want a cleaner world with better environmental stewardship, I most certainly do not agree we are in a ‘climate emergency’, that we are all doomed if we don’t dramatically change our way of life immediately. I believe much of the information we are presented with has been distorted and exaggerated, that the climate models predict too high levels for future warming, and that deeply reduces solar activity likely to last until around 2050 will provide a cooling effect that at least offsets warming, and perhaps even results in net cooling. Consequently, nature has effectively give us a few decades to carry on developing solar and fusion energy technology, that we can invest gradually as free markets incentivise development and reduce the costs, and that we do not need to spend massively right now, because the problem will essentially go away. By 2050, CO2 output will be a lot less than today, the real warming we see by then will be much smaller than is often predicted in the media and there is therefore no real reason to jeopardise our economies by massively overspending on CO2 reduction while the associated costs and lifestyle impacts are so high. Massively spending on scales wanted by XR, the Green party etc, would cause huge harm to our kids’ futures with no significant benefit. If we want to spend huge sums of money, we have a duty to aim for the biggest benefit and there are plenty of real problems such as poverty and disease that could use those funds better. Waste trillions on pointless virtue signalling, or make the world a better place? I know where I stand. None of my local candidates come out well here.

Trans rights v women’s rights: I support trans rights to a point, but we are quickly passing that point, and now eroding women’s rights. Women have had to fight long and hard to get where they are today. In my view, women being forced to accept former men competing with them in sports (or indeed in any field where biological men have an advantage) is unfair to biological women. Having to share changing rooms and lavatories with people who still have male genitalia is unfair to biological women. Deliberate conflation of sex and gender as a means to influencing debate or regulation is wrong. Encouraging young children to change gender and schools preventing parents from even knowing is going too far. Given the potential life consequences, great care should be exercised before gender change is considered and it seems that care is not always present. Making it illegal to discuss these issues is certainly going too far. If someone feels they are in the wrong body and wants hormone treatment or surgery, or if they want to cross-dress or call themselves by a different gender, I don’t object at all, and I’d even defend their right to do so, provided that doing so doesn’t undermine someone else’s rights. Women are a vulnerable group because of physical and historic disadvantages compared to men, and in conflict between trans rights and women’s rights, I think women’s rights should take priority. Good luck with finding a party that agrees.

Freedom of speech and the new dark age: I believe people should be able to say what they want and others should be able to challenge them. I believe in a few sensible restrictions – e.g shouting “FIRE” in a crowded cinema, or deliberate incitement to violence. I disagree with the concepts of hate speech and hate crime, invariably used to close down debate that is essential for a free and cohesive society. Making the law into a tool to restrict freedom of speech (and thought) has already resulted in harm, and has created a large and rapidly growing class of ‘truths’ that everyone must give lip service to even if they believe them to be wrong. They must also lie and state that they believe them if challenged or face punishment, by the law or social media mob. This is simply anti-knowledge. It inhibits genuine progress and the development of genuine knowledge and it therefore inhibits quality of life. Even naming such anti-knowledge is punishable, and it has already caused a high degree of self-censorship in journalism and blogging, so you must use your own judgement on what it includes. My censored thoughts on the new dark age are here: https://timeguide.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/the-new-dark-age.pdf. Again, most parties seem very happy to take us further into the dark age.

I could have picked many other policies and issues. Every reader has their own priorities. These are just some in my mind today.

I don’t think any of the parties come out well today. For many people, spoiling their vote is a valid alternative that officially says they’re not prepared to support any of those on offer on the ballot paper. Others will vote for who they see as the lesser of evils. Others will happily support a candidate and turn a blind eye to their associated moral issues.

Your conscience, your choice, your future memory of where you stood. Choose well.

 

After Brexit: EU RIP

My wife is Swiss so I tend to notice Swiss news. The EU and Switzerland have been fighting lately, with this update today, the Swiss banning EU stock exchanges in retaliation for the EU locking Switzerland out of its exchanges: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2019/06/24/swiss-ban-eu-stock-exchanges-row-brussels-escalates/

The Swiss are a small nation compared to the UK, France or Germany, but they seem to do a hell of a lot with few people: banks, CERN, hosting the Global Economic Forum and acting as a neutral base for very many international negotiations, as well as being famous for chocolate, coffee, coffee machines, cheese, fondues, steel, numerous high tech industries, as well as their winter sports prowess, scenery….. And now they’re falling out with the EU, for the severalth time. So I wonder, when we leave the EU, and are making strategic alliances with other nations of compatible cultural values (strong work ethic, freedom, tolerance of others, democracy) with whom we can do great things, Switzerland ought to be pretty high on our natural allies list. Norway also has a not-quite-perfect arrangement with the EU, so they too would make a good nation to invite to a new economic alliance. So, the UK, Norway and Switzerland potentially forming a new Common Market, you know, just like that thing that formed ages ago that everyone wanted to be in, before the idiots-in-residence decided to force us all into a United States of Europe and eradicate democracy.

Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, probably Finland but I don’t know Finland well (Belgium, who cares?) would also be very tempted to say goodbye to the EU and join us. That would leave Germany to pay for everyone else, and various surveys have suggested most Germans would be happy to leave the EU even before that, which is why they don’t get asked. The French are the same, their leaders boasting about how clever they are not offering a referendum because they’d get the wrong answer, being even more exity than the Brits. But the pressures would increase too far if these other countries were leaving and joining a better club. So given a few years of the EU heading down hill and the grass on the other side getting greener and greener, the EU might not be able to keep any of its Northern countries.

The new Eastern countries have mixed approaches to life. Some have a very strong work ethic, encouraging hard work and risk-taking to get a better life, and they might well form their own block, or join the new one. The others are more similar to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, and would likely join with them and possibly Turkey too, to make a less prosperous Southern Union. In fact, France might find it hard to decide which of the two to join, the Northern or Southern Unions.

Every time I see another news headline about internal EU problems, relative economic decline, shutting of borders and a more aggressive attitude by un-elected bureaucrats toward forcing a United States of Europe, this end game looks more and more likely. It’s what I predicted before the referendum, and I have even more reason to think that way now.

The EU will die, maybe over 10, 15, 20 years tops. By 2050 we will have some sort of Northern Union and Southern Union, perhaps an Eastern Union too, or they might just divide between the other two. Brexit is just the first domino in the line.

Last one out, turn off the lights.

I won’t publish  comments on this article. Write your own blog if you want.

The caravan and migration policy

20 years ago, fewer than half of the people in the world had ever made a phone call. Today, the vast majority of people have a smartphone with internet access, and are learning how people in other parts of the world live. A growing number are refusing to accept their poor luck of being born in poor, corrupt, or oppressive or war-torn countries. After all, nobody chooses their parents or where they are born, so why should people in any country have any more right to live there than anyone else?  Shouldn’t everyone start life with the right to live anywhere they choose? If they don’t like it where they were born, why shouldn’t someone migrate to another country to improve their conditions or to give their children a better chance? Why should that country be allowed to refuse them entry? I’d like to give a brief answer, but I don’t have time. So:

People don’t choose their parents, or where they are born, but nor did they exist to make that choice. The rights of the infinite number of non-existent people who could potentially be born to any possible combination of parents at any time, anywhere, under any possible set of circumstances is no basis for any policy. If lives were formed and then somehow assigned parents, the questions would be valid, but people don’t actually reproduce by choosing from some waiting list of would-be embryos. Even religious people don’t believe that their god has a large queue of souls waiting for a place and parents to be born to, assigning each in turn to happiness or misery. Actual people reproduce via actual acts in actual places in actual circumstances. They create a new life, and the child is theirs. They are solely responsible for bringing that life into existence, knowing the likely circumstances it would emerge into. The child didn’t choose its parents, but its parents made it. If they live in a particular country and choose to have a baby, that baby will be born with the rights and rules and all the other attributes of that country, the skin color, religion, wealth and status of its parents and so on. It will also be born in the prevailing international political and regulatory environment at that time. Other people in other countries have zero a priori political, social, economic or moral responsibility towards that child, though they and their country are free to show whatever compassion they wish, or to join international organisations that extend protection and human rights to all humans everywhere, and so a child anywhere may inherit certain internationally agreed rights, and countries will at some point have signed up to accept them. Those voluntary agreements or signings of international treaties may convey rights onto that child regarding its access to aid or  global health initiatives or migration but they are a matter for other sovereign bodies to choose to sign up to, or indeed to withdraw from. A poor child might grow up and decide to migrate, but it has no a priori right of entry to any country or support from it, legally or morally, beyond that which the people of that country or their ancestors choose to offer individually or via their government.

In short, people can’t really look any further than their parents to thank or blame for their existence, but other people and other countries are free to express and extend their love, compassion and support, if they choose to. Most of us would agree that we should.

Given that we want to help, but still don’t have the resources to help everyone on the planet to live in the standard they’d like, a better question might be: which people should we help first – those that bang loudly on our door, or those in the greatest need?

We love and value those close to us most, but most of us feel some love towards humans everywhere. Few people can watch the migrant caravan coverage without feeling sympathy for the parents trying to get to a better life. Many of those people will be innocent people running away from genuine oppression and danger, hoping to build a better future by working hard and integrating into a new culture. The proportion was estimated recently (Channel 4 News for those who demand sources for every stat they don’t like) at around 11% of the caravan. We know from UK migration from Calais that some will just say they are, advised by activists on exactly what phrases to use when interviewed by immigration officials to get the right boxes ticked. Additionally, those of us who aren’t completely naive (or suffering the amusingly named ‘Trump derangement syndrome’ whereby anything ‘Fake President’ Trump says or does must automatically be wrong even if Obama said or did the same), also accept that a few of those in the caravan are likely to be drug dealers or murderers or rapists or traffickers or other criminals running away from capture and towards new markets to exploit, or even terrorists trying to hide among a crowd. There is abundant evidence that European migrant crowds did conceal some such people, and we’ll never know the exact numbers, but we’re already living with the consequences. The USA would be foolish not to learn from these European mistakes. It really isn’t the simple ‘all saints’ or ‘all criminals’ some media would have us believe. Some may be criminals or terrorists – ‘some’ is a very different concept from ‘all’, and is not actually disproved by pointing the TV camera at a lovely family pushing a pram.

International law defines refugees and asylum seekers and makes it easy to distinguish them from other kinds of migrants, but activist groups and media often conflate these terms to push various political objectives. People fleeing from danger are refugees until they get to the first safe country, often the adjacent one. According to law, they should apply for asylum there, but if they choose to go further, they cease to be refugees and become migrants. The difference is very important. Refugees are fleeing from danger to safety, and are covered by protections afforded to that purpose. Migrants don’t qualify for those special protections and are meant to use legal channels to move to another country. If they choose to use non-legal means to cross borders, they become illegal immigrants, criminals. Sympathy and compassion should extend to all who are less fortunate, but those who are willing to respect the new nation and its laws by going through legal immigration channels should surely solicit more than those who demonstrably aren’t, regardless of how cute some other family’s children look on camera. Law-abiding applicants should always be given a better response, and law-breakers should be sent to the back of the queue.

These are well established attitudes to migration and refugees, but many seek to change them. In our competitive virtue signalling era, a narrative constructed by activists well practiced at misleading people to achieve their aims deliberately conflates genuine refugees and economic migrants to make their open borders policies look like simple humanitarianism. They harness the sympathy everyone feels for refugees fleeing from danger but and routinely mislabel migrants as refugees, hoping to slyly extend refugee rights to migrants, quickly moving on to imply that anyone who doesn’t want to admit everyone lacks basic human decency. Much of the media happily plays along with this deception, pointing cameras at the nice families instead of the much larger number of able young men, with their own presenters frequently referring to migrants as refugees. Such a narrative is deliberately dishonest, little more than self-aggrandizing disingenuous sanctimony. The best policy remains to maintain and protect borders and have well-managed legal immigration polices, offering prioritized help to refugees and extending whatever aid to other countries can be afforded. while recognizing that simple handouts and political interference can be sometimes counter-productive. Most people are nice, but some want to help those who need it most, in the best way. Moral posturing and virtue signalling are not only less effective but highly selfish, aimed at polishing the egos of the sanctimonious rather than the needy.

So, we want to help, but do it sensibly to maximize benefit. Selfishly, we also need some migration, and we already selfishlessly encourage those with the most valuable skills or wealth to migrate from other countries, at their loss (even after they have paid to educate them). Every skilled engineer or doctor we import from a poorer country represents a huge financial outlay being transferred from poor to rich. We need to fix that exploitation too. There is an excellent case for compensation to be paid.

Well-managed migration can and does work well. The UK sometimes feels a little overcrowded, when sitting in a traffic jam or a doctor waiting room, but actually only about 2% of the land is built on, the rest isn’t. It isn’t ‘full’ geographically, it just seems so because of the consequences of poor governance. Given sensible integration and economic policies, competently executed, immigration ought not to be a big problem. The absence of those givens is the main cause of existing problems. So we can use the UK as a benchmark for reasonably tolerable population density even under poor government. The UK still needs migrants with a wide range of skills and since some (mainly old) people emigrate, there is always room for a few more.

Integration is a growing issue, and should be a stronger consideration in future immigration policy. Recent (last 100 years) migrants and their descendants account for around 12% of the UK population, 1 in 8, still a smallish minority. Some struggle to integrate or to find acceptance, some don’t want to, many fit in very well. Older migrations such as the Normans and Vikings have integrated pretty well now. My name suggests some Viking input to my DNA, and ancestry research shows that my family goes back in England at least 500 years. Having migrated to Belfast as a child, and remigrated back 17 years later, I know how it feels to be considered an outsider for a decade or two.

What about the USA, with the migrant ‘caravan’ of a few thousand people on their way to claim asylum? The USA is large, relatively sparsely populated, and very wealthy. Most people in the world can only dream of living at US living standards and some of them are trying to go there. If they succeed, many more will follow. Trump is currently under fire from the left over his policy, but although Trump is certainly rather less eloquent, his policy actually closely echoes Obama’s. Here is a video of Obama talking about illegal immigration in 2005 while he was still a Senator:

https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4656370/sen-barack-obama-illegal-immigration

Left and right both agreed at least back then that borders should be protected and migrants should be made to use legal channels, presumably for all the same common sense reasons I outlined earlier. What if the borders were completely open, as many are now calling for? Here are a few basic figures:

Before it would get to UK population density, the USA has enough land to house every existing American plus every single one of the 422M South Americans, 42M Central Americans, 411M Middle Easterns, the 105M Philippinos and every African. Land area isn’t a big problem then. For the vast majority in these regions, the average USA standard of living would be a massive upgrade, so imagine if they all suddenly migrated there. The USA economy would suddenly be spread over 2.5Bn instead of 325M. Instead of $60k per capita, it would be $7.8k, putting the USA between Bolivia and Guatemala in the world wealth rankings, well below most of Central and South America (still 40% more than Honduras though). Additionally, almost all of the migrants, 87% of the total population would initially be homeless. All the new homes and other infrastructure would have to be paid for and built, jobs created, workforce trained etc. 

Even the most fervent open borders supporter couldn’t pretend they thought this was feasible, so they reject reasoning and focus on emotion, pointing cameras at young families with sweet kids, yearning for better lives. If the borders were open, what then would prevent vast numbers of would-be migrants from succumbing to temptation to better their lives before the inevitable economic dilution made it a worthless trip? Surely opening the borders would result in a huge mass of people wanting to get in while it is still a big upgrade? People in possession of reasoning capability accept that there need to be limits. Left and right, Obama and Trump agree that migration needs to be legal and well managed. Numbers must be restricted to a level that is manageable and sustainable.

So, what should be done about it. What policy principles and behaviors should be adopted. The first must be to stop  misuse of language, particularly conflating economic migrants and refugees. Activists and some media do that regularly, but deliberate misrepresentation is ‘fake news’, what we used to call lies.

Second, an honest debate needs to be had on how best to help refugees, whether by offering them residency or by building and resourcing adequate refugee camps, and also regarding how much we can widen legal immigration channels for migrants while sustaining our existing economy and culture. If a refugee wants to immigrate, that really ought to be a separate consideration and handled via immigration channels and rules. Dealing with them separately would immediately solve the problem of people falsely claiming refugee status, because all they would achieve is access to a refugee camp, and would still have to go through immigration channels to proceed further. Such false claims clog the courts and mean it takes far longer for true refugees to have their cases dealt with effectively.

Thirdly, that debate needs to consider that while countries naturally welcome the most economically and culturally valuable immigrants, there is also a good humanitarian case to help some more. Immigration policy should be generous, and paralleled with properly managed international aid.

That debate should always recognize that the rule of law must be maintained, and Obama made that argument very well. It still holds, and Trump agreeing with it does not actually make it invalid. Letting some people break it while expecting others to follow it invites chaos. Borders should be maintained and properly policed and while refugees who can demonstrate refugee status should be directed into refugee channels (which may take some time), others should be firmly turned away if they don’t have permission to cross, and given the information they need to apply via the legal immigration channels. That can be done nicely of course, and a generous country should offer medical attention, food, and transport home, maybe even financial help. Illegal immigration and lying about refugee status should be strongly resisted by detainment, repatriation and sending to the back of the queue, or permanently denying entry to anyone attempting illegal entry. No country wants to increase its population of criminals. Such a policy distinguishes well between legal and illegal, between refugees and migrants, and ensures that the flow into the country matches that which its government thinks is manageable.

The rest is basically ongoing Foreign Policy, and that does differ between different flavors of government. Sadly, how best to deal with problems in other countries is not something the USA is known to be skilled at. It doesn’t have a fantastic track record, even if it usually intends to make things better. Ditto the UK and Europe. Interference often makes things worse in unexpected ways. Handouts often feed corruption and dependence and support oppressive regimes, or liberate money for arms, so they don’t always work well either. Emergencies such as wars or natural catastrophes already have polices and appropriate agencies in place to deal with consequences, as well as many NGOs.

This caravan doesn’t fit neatly. A few can reasonably be directed into other channels, but most must be turned away. That is not heartless. The Mediterranean migration have led to far more deaths than they should because earlier migrants were accepted, encouraging others, and at one point it seemed to be the EU providing a safe pickup almost as soon as a trafficker boat left shore. The Australian approach seemed harsh, but probably saved thousands of lives by deterring others from risking their lives. My own solution to the Mediterranean crisis was:

https://timeguide.wordpress.com/2015/04/19/the-mediterranean-crisis/ and basically suggested making a small island into a large refugee camp where anyone rescued )or captured if they managed to make the full trip) would be taken, with a free trip home once they realized they wouldn’t be transferred to mainland Europe. I still think it is the best approach, and could be replicated by the USA using a large refugee/migrant camp from which the only exit is back to start or a very lengthy wait from the back of the legal migration queue.

However:

My opening questions on the inequity of birth invite another direction of analysis. When people die, they usually leave the bulk of their estates to their descendants, but by then they will also have passed on a great deal of other things, such as their values, some skills, miscellaneous support, and attitudes to life, the universe and everything. Importantly, they will have conveyed citizenship of their country, and that conveys a shared inheritance of the accumulated efforts of the whole of that countries previous inhabitants. That accumulation may be a prosperous, democratic country with reasonable law and order and safety, and relatively low levels of corruption, like the USA or the UK, or it may be a dysfunctional impoverished dictatorship or anything between. While long-term residents are effectively inheriting the accumulated value (and problems) passed down through their ancestors, new immigrants receive all of that for free when they are accepted. It is hard to put an accurate value on this shared social, cultural and financial wealth, but most that try end up with values in the $100,000s. Well-chosen immigrants may bring in value (including their descendants’ contributions) greatly in excess of what they receive. Some may not. Some may even reduce it. Whether a potential immigrant is accepted or not, we should be clear that citizenship is very valuable.

Then analysis starts to get messier. It isn’t just simple inheritance. What about the means by which that happy inherited state was achieved? Is one country attractive purely because of its own efforts or because it exploited others, or some combination? Is another country a hell hole in part because of our external interference, as some would argue for Iraq or Syria? If so, then perhaps there is a case for reparation or compensation, or perhaps favored immigration status for its citizens. We ought not to shirk responsibility for the consequences of our actions. Or is it a hell hole in spite of our interference, as can be argued for some African countries. Is it a hell hole because its people are lazy or corrupt and live in the country they deserve, as is possible I guess, though I can’t think of any examples. Anyway, heredity is a complex issue, as is privilege, its twin sister. I did write a lengthy blog on privilege (and cultural appropriation). I probably believe much the same as you but in the hostile competitive offence-taking social media environment of today, it remains a draft.

Sorry it took so many words, but there is so much nonsense being spoken, it takes a lot of words to remind of what mostly used to be common sense. The right policy now is basically the same as it was decades ago. Noisy activism doesn’t change that.

 

With automation driving us towards UBI, we should consider a culture tax

Regardless of party politics, most people want a future where everyone has enough to live a dignified and comfortable life. To make that possible, we need to tweak a few things.

Universal Basic Income

I suggested a long time ago that in the far future we could afford a basic income for all, without any means testing on it, so that everyone has an income at a level they can live on. It turned out I wasn’t the only one thinking that and many others since have adopted the idea too, under the now usual terms Universal Basic Income or the Citizen Wage. The idea may be old, but the figures are rarely discussed. It is harder than it sounds and being a nice idea doesn’t ensure  economic feasibility.

No means testing means very little admin is needed, saving the estimated 30% wasted on admin costs today. Then wages could go on top, so that everyone is still encouraged to work, and then all income from all sources is totalled and taxed appropriately. It is a nice idea.

The difference between figures between parties would be relatively minor so let’s ignore party politics. In today’s money, it would be great if everyone could have, say, £30k a year as a state benefit, then earn whatever they can on top. £30k is around today’s average wage. It doesn’t make you rich, but you can live on it so nobody would be poor in any sensible sense of the word. With everyone economically provided for and able to lead comfortable and dignified lives, it would be a utopia compared to today. Sadly, it can’t work with those figures yet. 65,000,000 x £30,000 = £1,950Bn . The UK economy isn’t big enough. The state only gets to control part of GDP and out of that reduced budget it also has its other costs of providing health, education, defence etc, so the amount that could be dished out to everyone on this basis is therefore a lot smaller than 30k. Even if the state were to take 75% of GDP and spend most of it on the basic income, £10k per person would be pushing it. So a couple would struggle to afford even the most basic lifestyle, and single people would really struggle. Some people would still need additional help, and that reduces the pool left to pay the basic allowance still further. Also, if the state takes 75% of GDP, only 25% is left for everything else, so salaries would be flat, reducing the incentive to work, while investment and entrepreneurial activity are starved of both resources and incentive. It simply wouldn’t work today.

Simple maths thus forces us to make compromises. Sharing resources reduces costs considerably. In a first revision, families might be given less for kids than for the adults, but what about groups of young adults sharing a big house? They may be adults but they also benefit from the same economy of shared resources. So maybe there should be a household limit, or a bedroom tax, or forms and means testing, and it mustn’t incentivize people living separately or house supply suffers. Anyway, it is already getting complicated and our original nice idea is in the bin. That’s why it is such a mess at the moment. There just isn’t enough money to make everyone comfortable without doing lots of allowances and testing and admin. We all want utopia, but we can’t afford it. Even the modest £30k-per-person utopia costs at least 3 times more than the UK can afford. Switzerland is richer per capita but even there they have rejected the idea.

However, if we can get back to the average 2.5% growth per year in real terms that used to apply pre-recession, and surely we can, it would only take 45 years to get there. That isn’t such a long time. We have hope that if we can get some better government than we have had of late, and are prepared to live with a little economic tweaking, we could achieve good quality of life for all in the second half of the century.

So I still really like the idea of a simple welfare system, providing a generous base level allowance to everyone, topped up by rewards of effort, but recognise that we in the UK will have to wait decades before we can afford to put that base level at anything like comfortable standards though other economies could afford it earlier.

Meanwhile, we need to tweak some other things to have any chance of getting there. I’ve commented often that pure capitalism would eventually lead to a machine-based economy, with the machine owners having more and more of the cash, and everyone else getting poorer, so the system will fail. Communism fails too. Thankfully much of the current drive in UBI thinking is coming from the big automation owners so it’s comforting to know that they seem to understand the alternative.

Capitalism works well when rewards are shared sensibly, it fails when wealth concentration is too high or when incentive is too low. Preserving the incentive to work and create is a mainly matter of setting tax levels well. Making sure that wealth doesn’t get concentrated too much needs a new kind of tax.

Culture tax

The solution I suggest is a culture tax. Culture in the widest sense.

When someone creates and builds a company, they don’t do so from a state of nothing. They currently take for granted all our accumulated knowledge and culture – trained workforce, access to infrastructure, machines, governance, administrative systems, markets, distribution systems and so on. They add just another tiny brick to what is already a huge and highly elaborate structure. They may invest heavily with their time and money but actually when  considered overall as part of the system their company inhabits, they only pay for a fraction of the things their company will use.

That accumulated knowledge, culture and infrastructure belongs to everyone, not just those who choose to use it. It is common land, free to use, today. Businesses might consider that this is what they pay taxes for already, but that isn’t explicit in the current system.

The big businesses that are currently avoiding paying UK taxes by paying overseas companies for intellectual property rights could be seen as trailblazing this approach. If they can understand and even justify the idea of paying another part of their company for IP or a franchise, why should they not pay the host country for its IP – access to the residents’ entire culture?

This kind of tax would provide the means needed to avoid too much concentration of wealth. A future businessman might still choose to use only software and machines instead of a human workforce to save costs, but levying taxes on use of  the cultural base that makes that possible allows a direct link between use of advanced technology and taxation. Sure, he might add a little extra insight or new knowledge, but would still have to pay the rest of society for access to its share of the cultural base, inherited from the previous generations, on which his company is based. The more he automates, the more sophisticated his use of the system, the more he cuts a human workforce out of his empire, the higher his taxation. Today a company pays for its telecoms service which pays for the network. It doesn’t pay explicitly for the true value of that network, the access to people and businesses, the common language, the business protocols, a legal system, banking, payments system, stable government, a currency, the education of the entire population that enables them to function as actual customers. The whole of society owns those, and could reasonably demand rent if the company is opting out of the old-fashioned payments mechanisms – paying fair taxes and employing people who pay taxes. Automate as much as you like, but you still must pay your share for access to the enormous value of human culture shared by us all, on which your company still totally depends.

Linking to technology use makes good sense. Future AI and robots could do a lot of work currently done by humans. A few people could own most of the productive economy. But they would be getting far more than their share of the cultural base, which belongs equally to everyone. In a village where one farmer owns all the sheep, other villagers would be right to ask for rent for their share of the commons if he wants to graze them there.

I feel confident that this extra tax would solve many of the problems associated with automation. We all equally own the country, its culture, laws, language, human knowledge (apart from current patents, trademarks etc. of course), its public infrastructure, not just businessmen. Everyone surely should have the right to be paid if someone else uses part of their share. A culture tax would provide a fair ethical basis to demand the taxes needed to pay the Universal basic Income so that all may prosper from the coming automation.

The extra culture tax would not magically make the economy bigger, though automation may well increase it a lot. The tax would ensure that wealth is fairly shared. Culture tax/UBI duality is a useful tool to be used by future governments to make it possible to keep capitalism sustainable, preventing its collapse, preserving incentive while fairly distributing reward. Without such a tax, capitalism simply may not survive.