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Posted by Tim Harford

Undercover Economist

“The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same . . . generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” This anxiety about the stupefying effects of cog-in-a-machine manufacturing sounds like a line from Karl Marx. It is, in fact, from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations.

As the anniversary of Smith’s death was this week, it seemed like a good moment to reflect on the Scottish philosopher’s warning about the deadening effect of repetitive work. Smith knew that specialisation and the division of labour weren’t about to disappear, so he advocated publicly funded schools as a path to more fulfilling work and leisure.

The emergence of mass production lines made Smith’s words seem prophetic; but many repetitive jobs have since been taken by machines. So, has his warning about stultifying work been rendered obsolete?

The Wealth of Nations is almost a quarter of a millennium old, and we should not expect every word to ring true today. But correctly read, Smith’s anxiety continues to resonate — and not just for people with repetitive jobs, but knowledge workers too.

The modern knowledge worker — a programmer, a lawyer, a newspaper columnist — might appear inoculated from Smith’s concern. We face not monotony but the temptations of endless variety, with the entire internet just a click away. All too easily, though, we can be pulled into the soothing cycle of what slot-machine designers call a “ludic loop”, repeating the same actions again and again. Check email. Check Facebook. Check Instagram. Check Twitter. Check email. Repeat.

Smith would not have dreamt of a smartphone, but what is a ludic loop but “performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same”?

Smith was concerned about jobs that provided no mental challenge: if problems or surprises never arose, then a worker “has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention, in . . . removing difficulties which never occur.”

For the modern knowledge worker, the problem is not that the work lacks challenge, but that the challenge is easily ducked. This point is powerfully made by computer scientist Cal Newport in his book Deep Work (US) (UK). Work that matters is often difficult. It can be absorbing in mid-flow and satisfying in retrospect, but it is intimidating and headache-inducing and full of false starts.

Email is easier. And reading Newport’s book I realised that email posed a double temptation: not only is it an instant release from a hard task, but it even seems like work. Being an email ninja looks professional and seems professional — but all too often, it is displacement activity for the work that really matters.

A curious echo of Smith’s warning comes in Robert Twigger’s new book Micromastery (US) (UK). Mr Twigger sings the praises of mastering one small skill at a time: not how to cook, but how to make the perfect omelette; not how to build a log cabin, but how to chop a log. There is much to be said for this. We go deep — as Newport demands — but these sharp spikes of skill are satisfying, not too hard to acquire and a path to true expertise.

They also provide variety. “Simply growing up in the premodern period guaranteed a polymathic background,” writes Twigger. To prosper in the premodern era required many different skills; a smart person would be able to see a problem from many angles. A craft-based, practical upbringing means creative thinking comes naturally. “It is only as we surge towards greater specialisation and mechanisation that we begin to talk about creativity and innovation.”

I draw three lessons from all this. The first is that learning matters. Smith wanted schooling for all; Twigger urges us to keep schooling ourselves. Both are right.

The second is that serious work requires real effort, and it can be tempting to duck that effort. Having the freedom to avoid strenuous thinking is a privilege I am glad to have — but I am happier when I don’t abuse that freedom.

The third lesson is that old-fashioned craft offered us something special. To Smith it was the challenge that came from solving unpredictable problems. To Twigger it is the variety of having to do many small things well. To Newport, it is the flow that comes from deep immersion in a skill that requires mastery. Perhaps all three mean the same thing.

Smith realised that the coming industrial age threatened these special joys of work. The post-industrial age threatens them too, in a rather different way. Fortunately, we have choices.

“The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments,” wrote Smith. So whether at work or at play, let us take care that we employ ourselves wisely.


Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 21 July 2017.

My new book is “Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economy” – out last week in the UK and coming in a few days in the US. Grab yourself a copy in the US (slightly different title) or in the UK or through your local bookshop.

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Posted by Tim Worstall

We are nowhere near these systems in so many areas it’s just ludicrous to think we can exit the EU in April 2019.

But I think it may be worse than that. After forty years of being in the EU I think we may find that the demand of creating independently what was previously possible only because it was shared may be insurmountable, as well as being beyond the capacity of our economy because the costs will be so great.

At sometime this realisation will dawn. Then, as I said in a tweet yesterday, someone in politics is going to have to realise that we just can’t leave the EU: it’s simply not technically and economically possible for the UK to replicate its systems, let alone in any way that gives us anything but a massive diseconomy of scale.

Those who would rule us are insufficiently competent to even negotiate our way out of a treaty.

But, still, of course, they should have greater power over our lives.

Round and Round The Mulberry Bush

Aug. 18th, 2017 12:30 pm
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Posted by Tim Worstall

So Spudda thinks that a Guardian article about neoliberalism is worth a read.

I wrote about that neoliberalism article using Spudda as an example of why The G is wrong here.

And so we dance around, eh?

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Posted by Harry Hayfield

Park on Peterborough (Lab defence)
Result: Labour 1,713 (50% unchanged on last time), Conservative 1,375 (40% +5% on last time), United Kingdom Independence Party 176 (5% -3% on last time), Liberal Democrat 109 (3% +1% on last time), Green Party 83 (2% -2% on last time)
Labour HOLD with a majority of 338 (10%) on a swing from Lab to Con of 2.5%

St. Mary’s on Forest Heath (Con defence)
Result: Conservative 338 (50% +11% on last time), Labour 276 (41% +9% on last time), Green Party 60 (9%, no candidate last time) No UKIP candidate (28% last time)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 62 (9%) on a swing of 1% from Lab to Con

Riverside (Con defence) and Southcourt (Lib Dem defence) on Aylesbury Vale
Result: Conservative 301 (35% +4% on last time), Liberal Democrat 286 (33% +17% on last time), Labour 210 (24% +6% on last time), United Kingdom Independence Party 48 (6% -30% on last time), Green Party 23 (3%, no candidate last time)
Conservative HOLD with a majority of 15 (2%) on a swing of 6.5% from Con to Lib Dem

Result: Liberal Democrat 456 (37% +8% on last time), Conservative 386 (32% +10% on last time), Labour 270 (22% -1% on last time), Green Party 58 (5% -1% on last time), United Kingdom Independence Party 54 (4% -17% on last time)
Liberal Democrat HOLD with a majority of 70 (5%) on a swing of 1% from Lib Dem to Con

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Posted by Tim Worstall

Steve Bannon seems to be thinking that the US, and presumably by extension the other North Atlantic economies, are fighting a trade war against China. This is wrong, for trade is mutually beneficial. That is, it benefits us to be trading with China, it benefits China to be trading with us, we all get richer together the more trade we do. This is because, as economists put it, trade is positive sum, not zero sum.

This is also true of another country getting richer. If they are richer then that must mean that they are more productive–these are the same statement. You become richer by being more productive, becoming more productive means you are becoming richer. And if other people are more productive then that means that they are, quite obviously, producing more, more that we can then trade with them for.

So, whether we’re talking about trade or just the simple economic growth of another country their doing more makes us richer again. It’s all positive sum, we are not made poorer by their economic growth.

But Bannon does still seem to think China’s growth is a bad idea:

Steve Bannon expressed anger that the crisis had forced the US to postpone plans for tougher trade sanctions on China to enlist its support in putting pressure on North Korea. “We’re at economic war with China,” he said in an unguarded interview. “On Korea, they are just tapping us along. It’s a sideshow.”

This is simply wrong, as I say, their doing better means that we do better at the same time.

“The economic war with China is everything,” he said. “We have to be maniacally focused on that.”

It’s difficult to even understand the concept that he’s aiming at. China makes all those iPhones–we get to consume them. What’s “war” about that?

Responding to Mr Bannon’s remarks, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said there was “no winner in a trade war” and that both sides benefited from trade. “We hope the relevant people can refrain from dealing with a problem in the 21st century with a zero-sum mentality from the 19th or the 20th century.”

As I’ve said before, isn’t it odd when it’s the communists who manage to get the effects of trade correct?

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Posted by Kirsten Johnson

One of the key elements in my campaign for election as Oxfordshire County Councillor was the cut in funding many of the Children’s Centres throughout Oxfordshire.

The closure of the Maple Tree Children’s Centre, Wheatley, in my patch inflamed the local community. Many parents and carers relied on the services and support provided at the Children’s Centre for health advice, parenting support, breast-feeding counselling, and meeting other local parents/carers.

This has been a big local issue. Our new Oxford West and Abingdon MP, Layla Moran, secured a debate in Westminster Hall on Children’s Centres. She moved that, “That this House has considered the role of children’s centres in tackling social inequality.”  You can read the full debate here.

Of those children’s centres slated for closure, communities were given the opportunity to keep their centres open. Residents of Wheatley rallied and a group was set up. The hope is that they will re-open the Maple Tree Children’s Centre from September, albeit with more limited services.

My gripe is this: why cut funding for services which support the newest members of our society? Yes, savings needed to be made, but I would argue this is a false economy. Providing support for young parents, for single-parent families, for carers, for the children themselves, gives children a much better start in life.

These centres also build community. I remember when my three girls were young, and how my husband and I took it in turns to access local play groups, health visitor clinics, etc. The friendships made, and the peer-support offered, were invaluable.

Relying on volunteer groups to run these children’s centres is an ask too far. These centres should be government-funded services. They need to be offered and run for the benefit of local communities.

Families and children need support from day 1. Cutting these services is endangering children and isolating families. And, to reiterate Layla’s point, does not help tackle social inequality.

* Kirsten Johnson is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Oxford East and a member of the Federal International Relations Committee.

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Posted by Tim Worstall

Global income distribution over time

The Guardian has decided to go off on one again, telling us all how neoliberalism, in its global application, has destroyed everything that is good and holy about society. To replace it with, yes, you guessed it, the mere calculation of the markets.

There is a certain problem with this idea of course, in that Hayek (correctly noted as the founder of that modern neoliberalism) never did in fact say that all should be subject to the market. Only that it’s a damn useful method of organising much of society. The definition of “much” being the interesting point of course.

There’s a more specific problem here as well:

Last summer, researchers at the International Monetary Fund settled a long and bitter debate over “neoliberalism”: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a “neoliberal agenda” for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Well, no, that’s not what that IMF paper did at all. What it in fact said was:

There is much to cheer in the neoliberal agenda. The expansion of global trade has rescued millions from abject poverty. Foreign direct investment has often been a way to transfer technology and know-how to developing economies. Privatization of state-owned enterprises has in many instances led to more efficient provision of services and lowered the fiscal burden on governments.­
However, there are aspects of the neoliberal agenda that have not delivered as expected. Our assessment of the agenda is confined to the effects of two policies: removing restrictions on the movement of capital across a country’s borders (so-called capital account liberalization); and fiscal consolidation, sometimes called “austerity,” which is shorthand for policies to reduce fiscal deficits and debt levels. An assessment of these specific policies (rather than the broad neoliberal agenda) reaches three disquieting conclusions:
•The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly difficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries.­
•The costs in terms of increased inequality are prominent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda.­
•Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.­

That is, the IMF thinks that deregulation, the openness of economies to trade, even the privatisations, are just great. Metcalfe then goes on to insist that we must judge neoliberalism by its results.

It isn’t only that the free market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers – and the losers, looking for revenge, have turned to Brexit and Trump. There was, from the beginning, an inevitable relationship between the utopian ideal of the free market and the dystopian present in which we find ourselves; between the market as unique discloser of value and guardian of liberty, and our current descent into post-truth and illiberalism.

Moving the stale debate about neoliberalism forward begins, I think, with taking seriously the measure of its cumulative effect on all of us, regardless of affiliation.

To do so we should probably look at what has happened to the world since neoliberalism started to be practised, that seems reasonable enough. 1975 seems a good enough starting date, that’s just before Reagan and Thatcher. And I think that most critics of neoliberalism do indeed date its enacting to around that date, a little later perhaps. At which point Max Roser.

Global income distribution over time

That’s such an important image that I’ve used it up at the top too. Because what has been the effect of neoliberalism upon the world? The poor have got rich. And ain’t that a decent recommendation for a system of economic management? Perhaps we should do more of it.

There are those who disagree of course but then they’re not really according with reality, are they?

What he, and what most, won’t say is that it means that this current model of capitalism is dead. It is no longer entrepreneurial. It no longer innovates. It no longer provides work. It does not aspire to do so. It only seeks to make money out of money. And that’s why society can no longer afford it. The decade has been a death throe for neoliberal capitalism. What that record low represents is the dying note for markets that no longer work. But the new has yet to be born.

It’s really very difficult indeed to combine that statement with the greatest reduction in human poverty in the entire history of our species. Very difficult indeed.

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Posted by Caron Lindsay

That’s a headline I never thought I’d write.

Online TV channel Core TV has been interviewing new MPs. It’s not a traditional political interview and is meant to be a light-hearted introduction to our new law makers.

Our Jamie Stone’s effort will make your mind boggle. It’s hilarious and has to be seen to be believed. Enjoy.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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Posted by Tim Worstall

Much waffling is going on about what should be the trade deal that Britain has with the remnant European Union after Brexit–the correct answer being, of course, that Britain should adopt the only sensible and rational trade stance it is possible to have, unilateral free trade. The point here being that it is the imports which are the important part of trade, it is the imports which make us richer. Thus why would we want to place our own barriers in the way of what makes us richer by having import tariffs or restrictions?

This is made clear in a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs this morning (disclosure, I did a small piece of work for them some years ago) and they make all the right points:

Leaving the European Union without a deal in place would not spell disaster for the UK economy, according to a free market thinktank advocating trade with the rest of the world over a “hamstrung” deal with Brussels.

Despite repeated warnings that leaving without an agreement would hurt British companies and consumers, the report from the Institute of Economic Affairs, published on Friday, says the UK could remove all import barriers to achieve lower prices for consumers, increased productivity and higher wages.

This is indeed so, consumers will be better off with no import tariffs. Further, no import tariffs will make British industry more productive, leading to us all getting richer over time.

The primary objective of trade policy should be to promote the interests of UK consumers, not producers. The UK’s best post- Brexit trade policy should therefore be to trade as freely as possible with the rest of the world.

Free Trade would bring considerable benefits to the UK. These benefits include lower consumer prices, greater productivity and higher wages. Free trade is also progressive in its impact: the poor benefit proportionately more than those who are better off.

It is in the interests of UK consumers and UK importers generally to buy as cheaply as possible, which implies that tariffs are a form of self-harm. The UK should therefore commit to a policy of unilateral free trade with the rest of the world, thereby eliminating all barriers to imports, and it should do so regardless of whether other countries impose tariffs on their imports from the UK or not.

This is all wholly and entirely correct. The full report is here. A vast amount of empirical work on this subject has been done by Patrick Minford. Leaving the EU, thus leaving the restrictions the EU places upon our trade with the rest of the world, then also adopting this rational position of unilateral free trade whatever others do, will grow the UK economy by 3 to 4%. That’s not huge, true, but it’s not chopped liver either. A simpler discussion of the points made is here.

There are two effects here, one the short term one directly to consumers. That is, we trade in order to gain access to those things which foreigners make better or cheaper than we do. So, why would we tax those imports, the very things we trade in order to gain? Therefore, no tariffs or constraints upon imports makes consumers richer. Huzzah!

The second effect is upon the performance of UK companies in a free trade environment. Interestingly, this is half covered in another report today:

Encouraging more foreign businesses to set up in the UK may help to solve the country’s chronic productivity problem, analysis by the Bank of England has suggested.

Work by two central bank economists published on the Bank Underground blog showed that foreign-owned companies are at least 50 per cent more productive than their British-owned counterparts and the gulf is widening.

Being exposed to the productivity of foreign owned companies within the UK economy is, in this economic sense at least, exactly the same a being exposed to the productivity of foreign owned companies in foreign by having no import restrictions.

Drawing on a unique UK firm-level dataset that merges data from the ONS business and innovation surveys, we show that foreign-owned companies are more productive than domestically owned firms and that their presence boosts domestic labour productivity. We suggest three reasons why: foreign-owned companies invest more in R&D; they are better managed; and they collaborate with other organisations and promote the diffusion of ideas.

The point is not that Johnny Foreigner is more productive just because he’s Johnny Foreigner. Rather, it tends to be only the most productive firms in any economy which export, or which set up operations abroad. Thus both, the exports (imports to those who receive them) and the foreign operations are more productive in general, either than the economy they come from or the one they go into. The same is true of our own firms that either export or invest abroad. As before:

However, over the longer term it’s the impact upon productivity which is the most important. It’s a general truth that it’s the best firms, the most productive ones, who export: thus having imports means that local, domestic, firms are subject to the competition of the best producers around the world. Simplistically put this means that they either buck up their ideas or go bust. Thus the longer term impact of trade is nothing to do with exports at all: nor is it to do with who puts what barriers in the way of our exports. The real impact in that longer term is upon our own domestic productivity from being exposed to imports. And thus the impact of a trade regime in that longer term is not how open are others to our exports but how open are we to imports?

This is so well known that even when Osborne pressed the Treasury into that report about how disastrous Brexit would be they got this part right:

Economic openness
The ultimate objective of economic policy is to increase living standards through the creation of jobs, rising household incomes and low and stable prices for consumers. Bank of England
analysis cites substantial evidence that greater economic and financial openness boosts living standards by raising productivity. HM Treasury has also demonstrated the link between
openness and living standards.The benefits of trade in terms of increasing productivity are well understood.
As set out in Box A, greater openness to trade creates a larger market which the most productive firms expand to serve. Openness also increases competition between firms, enhancing
the incentives for domestic firms to innovate or adopt new technology. It increases returns on investment, and encourages UK firms to make greater use of new technologies, either
by improving the quality of inputs, or through the more effective adoption of technological innovations. Greater openness to trade also increases consumer choice and reduces prices.
Lower trade costs give consumers access to cheaper imported goods and competition reduces the price of domestically-produced goods.
At the same time, openness to cross-border investment also has productivity benefits. It allows firms more access to finance and better matching of capital, which ultimately supports
economic growth. Taking advantage of the opportunities presented by economic openness has become increasingly important with the globalisation of the world economy. Global trade has grown on average over 2 percentage points faster than global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) every year over the past 5 decades.

Unilateral free trade is the only sensible post-Brexit trade option for the UK to adopt. We’ve even done it once before, in 1846, and it made us all very much richer to do so.

There is another report out today on this subject as well, from the Institute for Government. Which says of a reversion to WTO terms that:

No deal would mean trading with the EU on WTO terms, with no preferential access.
This means that the UK would have to apply the same tariffs on imports from the EU as
it did on imports from any other country with whom it did not have a free trade
agreement – and the EU would have to apply its tariffs to the UK. This is what is
referred to as trading with ‘most favoured nation’ status.

Indeed it does and as above we gain from the imports, we gain more from imports with no tariffs or restrictions upon them. Therefore, of course, we should simply have that unilateral free trade with the world so that we gain more. Do note, as many don’t, that “WTO tariffs” means that we must charge all the same, as they say here. It doesn’t mean that we have to charge anyone, or rather we don’t have to charge ourselves tariffs on imports from anyone. If our tariff rate is zero for all then that’s WTO tariffs.

The net effect of all of this is that we should indeed, post-Brexit, simply be having unilateral free trade with the world. There is no other logical stance to take about the subject, the only fair trade is free trade. And here is the draft treaty for us all:

1) There will be no tariff or non-tariff barriers on imports into the UK.

2) Imports will be regulated in exactly the same manner as domestic production.

3) You can do what you like.

4) Err, that’s it.

Nothing else is needed, we’re done.

Ain’t conservatism grand?

Aug. 18th, 2017 09:47 am
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Posted by Tim Worstall

Allow me to introduce you to an intensely conservative body – the Trussell Trust and the network of food banks around the land. They certainly don’t sound very conservative, given their incessant clamour that government must do something. But they are – and in the very best possible manner.

Micromanagement or what?

Aug. 18th, 2017 08:56 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Health officials believe the move is needed as people are consuming 200 to 300 calories too many each day.

The government is claiming to be able to manage calorie intake by 10% or so each day.


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Posted by Bernard Aris

It was interesting to read the free daily “Worldview” newsletter put out by the Washington Post yesterday.

Talking about the unprecedented spectacle of an American President equivocating about how evil heavily armed, swastikas and KKK regalia-wearing racists and neo-Nazis are, the WP draws our attention to how these scary shenanigans embarrass the foreign allies and friends of the USA, especially those who (out of national interests, seldom out of personal sympathy) so far tried to get into Trump’s “good allies” book. The WP takes Theresa May as its case in point in this aspect.

They remind us of the spectacle of May visiting Trump’s White House in January, holding his hand and trumpeting that the “Special Relationship” was well and continuing.

The WP thinks this show of support was a contributing factor when May, a wooden campaigner anyway, held her snap election in June, losing her majority and seeing her ministers returned with lesser majorities. Trump surely didn’t help, attacking London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The WP only quotes May seeing “no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them”, saying she didn’t mention Trump by name, and her then going on about Big Ben being silenced. WP concludes she is still too cautious to explicitly condemn Trump, contrasting her overall treatment of Trump with the more distance-keeping approach of Merkel and Macron. The WP mentions Tory criticism of Trump from for example minister Sajid Javid MP.

The WP also points to the remarkable “milquetoast” reaction of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, with his son even trying to put the emphasis on the “Antifa” counter-demonstrators.

But (in my opinion) someone who will be especially embarrassed is the Dutch-born Republican Trump selected for his ambassador in the Netherlands: Pete Hoekstra.  Hoekstra will know this hurts Dutch feelings towards the USA and  especially Trump. Hoekstra, born in 1953 in the Netherlands (his family emigrated 1956 to the US) represented the US federal House district (in Michigan) with the most voters of Dutch descent in 1992-2010. His parents and family will have told him of the German occupation of the Netherlands, which was more intense and brutal than other (Wehrmacht-occupied) European countries, and his former constituents will have known about it too. Hoekstra and his evangelical constituents are Trump enthusiasts, but these Trump equivocations hurt a very raw Dutch nerve which can override that sympathy. And Hoekstra knows his reception in The Hague will be overshadowed by these shenanigans whatever Trump says or does next.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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Posted by Robert

A few years ago the Russian government introduced a set of ridiculous regulations on how art can be produced in the country. It prohibited swearing in films and TV shows, and mandated that books containing LGBTQ content be sold in plastic wrappers.

Insisting that such books are packaged like this introduces a stigma. It places LGBTQ literature into the same conceptual category as pornography which makes it less likely that readers will buy the books, or that readers will have the books bought for them.

Naturally, this affects book sales for Russian publishers, and some have taken extreme steps to avoid having their books placed in the stigmatised category. Last week, fantasy author Victoria Schwab revealed that her Russian publisher had bowdlerised the translation of her Shades of Magic series.

Alison Flood reported on this for the Guardian, quoting yrstrly for English PEN.

The propaganda law itself was roundly attacked by free speech organisations. “Once the Russian government introduced the illiberal restrictions on the way LGBTQ content can be packaged and sold, it was inevitable that authors would find that their freedom of expression curtailed, as has unfortunately happened to VE Schwab,” said Robert Sharp at English PEN. “The aim of this law is to discourage diversity in publishing, and it has turned Russian publishers into censors. This ill-conceived law is harming Russian culture and should be scrapped.”

Authors such as Patrick Ness and Victoria Aveyard have also condemned the editing.

The main lesson from this story is that Russia is sliding into homophobia-inspired censorship. Authoritarian governments often find that it is in their interest to suppress minority or alternative lifestyles and their expressions in art. It is a practice that must be resisted and condemned whenever we get the chance.

But there is also something to be said about the mechanism of the censorship. Note how the Russian government itself has not censored Schwab’s work. Her publishers have done that on the government’s behalf!

Apologists for the law might point to the regulations as being relatively benign. “No words are being censored!” they will cry. “The book is still freely available!” they will protest, and they will be correct. But what the Shades of Magic travesty demonstrates is that even small restrictions can have serious knock-on effects. This is a lesson we all need to remember when we consider the free speech challenges in our own societies.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

I WILL be the Duchess of Beaufort, says Tracy Ward: Estranged wife of the Duke’s heir reveals couple are still married and talks will go on to negotiate their separation


The Duke of Beaufort’s death this week at the age of 89 has provoked much speculation about who will be the new duchess.
Would she be Tracy Ward, the 58-year-old actress turned environmental campaigner, who’s been estranged from the Duke’s colourful son and heir, the Marquess of Worcester, for the past four years?
Or would she be his mistress, Georgia Powell, 48, the beautiful writer he’s determined to marry?

As far as I know at least this works as with the King. The Duke is dead, long live the Duke. The new Duchess is therefore whoever he is legally married to at that moment.

That is, Ms. Ward is the new Duchess.

Not that it bothers me all that much to be honest. My only connection with that is having poached pheasants off the estate at Badminton. Well, sorta.

At dusk they’ll come out onto the back roads to get a bit of grit for their gizzards. If you were to hit one with a car and then pick it up to take home and eat then that’s poaching. If you hit one with a car and then someone else picks it up to take home and eat that’s roadkill, not poaching.

To eat well you therefore need two cars.

On that hard border between NI and I

Aug. 18th, 2017 07:51 am
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

We’ve the occasional military type around here. No doubt some have served in NI. A technical question.

The EU is thinking about that having to be a hard border. Properly dividing EU from non-EU. My own thought is that this has never been a hard border. I mean never. It’s just the 6 county boundaries and counties aren’t particularly defined by defendable geographic features. OK, we’re not talking military, obviously, but to have a hard border you do need one of two things.

1) Geographic features which produce the border. Nice wide rivers, high mountains, steep ravines, things which just make it easier to define and guard against crossings.

2) The Berlin Wall.

We’re not going to do 2, obviously. But my intuition, and this is the question, is that NI/I just doesn’t have 1 either. There’s this field, then that one, and that’s about it for some to much of it.

Which was rather the problem when there was that military stuff, wasn’t it?

The final bit being, OK, given some people who know the area, is there in fact any manner of making that a hard border without a wall/fence?

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart has said he’ll risk going to jail rather than report what’s said to him in the sacrament of confession, even if what’s confessed relates to child sexual abuse.

His latest comments, made on ABC radio, were responding to a recommendation from the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse to make reporting child sexual abuse allegations mandatory in institutions including when an allegation is made in religious confession. Failure to report would be a criminal offence.

The recommendation is one of a suite of proposed reforms to improve transparency and reporting of sexual abuse and improve the law’s effectiveness to apprehend sexual abusers and protect children.

Archbishop Hart wouldn’t report something said in confession by a child who’s been abused or by an abuser. Non-Catholics don’t understand confession, he said. Confession is sacrosanct, above the law, which is what makes it different from other forms of telling. It’s communication with God of a higher order.

You can believe it or not, as you wish, but it is what they believe and they’ll be sticking to it.

There is an added piquancy to this particular tale:

When I was 16, I went to confession. I wish the priest had reported what I’d told him


When I was 16, I went to confession for real. I’d been sexually abused by a Catholic high school teacher and her husband. I went to see a priest on the suggestion of one of my abusers, because I was so upset.

The priest I saw gave me absolution which didn’t make me any less upset. I can’t remember what the penance was. He didn’t do anything about what I told him as far as I know. I guess he maintained the seal of confession, the higher order communication with God in Archbishop Hart’s terms. I wish he had done something, reported what I’d told him to my school, parents or the police, because I’d have been far less harmed. What happened to me after that time has had lifelong consequences. I was a child who had a child. The priest let me down badly.

Perhaps reporting it to the police, the headmaster, might have helped a bit?

The Catholic church is not above the law. It’s not above anything. It’s down here on Earth with the rest of us and ought to be more concerned about protecting children than protecting its practices.

No, you’ve really not grasped the internal driver of the Church, have you? Sure, you can believe it or not, as you wish, but they certainly think that they’re dealing with the next world, not this one.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Forest fires have cut off a town of 2,000 people in Portugal, as firefighters struggle to control two large blazes in the centre of the country.

“It’s impossible to leave or to enter Mação because of the flames and the smoke,” Vasco Estrela, mayor of Mação, told Lusa news agency.

The blaze erupted on Tuesday evening, and by Thursday morning it had surrounded the town. “It is continuing unabated,” he said.

This is all a couple of hundred miles north of here. But we’re getting he smoke. The whole area from Albufeira to Faro was covered in smoke yesterday. The winds are just blowing it all down here.

We do get our own fires down here, obviously, but we tend not to have the forests, so we get scrub fires.

It’s also worth pointing out something else. This isn’t so much a product of the current heat. It’s, as summer fires usually are, a product of a wet winter. The land around here always dries out in the summer. We usually don’t see rain for 7 or 8 months, not in any quantity at least. So, all the vegetation does dry out, every year. A wet winter means more winter growth, thus more vegetation to dry out when the summer comes.

The same is true in California, climactically very similar. It’s a wet winter with lots of growth that is the warning sign for a bad summer fire season.

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Caron Lindsay

Three by-elections took place for Aylesbury Vale District Council last night. We successfully defended two seats and missed out on another by only fifteen votes:

And there was good news from Epping where Cherry McCredie gained a Town Council seat from the Conservatives by some margin:

Congratulations to all involved – and huge thanks to Ian Hardman for making sure voters had an option to vote Liberal Democrat in Peterborough.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

Four council by-elections this week, all in England: two Conservative defences, one Labour defence and one Lib Dem defence.

The results? No seats changing hands with Lib Dem candidates in three of the four contests and a near-miss in gaining a seat from the Conservatives.

Disappointing not to see a Lib Dem candidate, but the party did not contest this ward either in the four previous elections since it was created on its current boundaries.

Commiserations to Jason Bingley who missed out on winning for the Lib Dems by just 15 votes. Although the Lib Dems didn’t quite gain the ward, it does show continuing recovery in the area following the gain of a county ward covering part of the area from Ukip in May. Top trivia: the Labour candidate had signed a Conservative Party nomination paper in May.

Congratulations to Sally-Anne Jarvis and the team.

These by-election results round-ups cover principal authority by-elections. See my post The danger in celebrating parish and town council wins for your own party for the reasons to avoid straying too often into covering town, parish or community council by-elections.

Get by-election results by email

If you sign up for my daily email with the latest pieces from this site, you’ll also get included as a little bonus the full set of council by-election results each week:

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[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

The ‘work hard, play hard’ medical student who burns the candle at both ends, consuming prodigious quantities of alcohol before an early morning anatomy class, has long been a staple of university life.

But a new survey carried out for the British Medical Journal suggests this stereotype is now little more than a myth.

Merely one in ten future doctors currently exceed the Government’s recommended weekly alcohol limit, and a quarter profess themselves to be completely teetotal.

It’s going to get worse too.

matgb: Artwork of 19th century upper class anarchist, text: MatGB (Default)

British Liberal, house husband, school play leader and stepdad. Campaigner, atheistic feminist, amateur baker. Male.

Known to post items of interest on occasions. More likely to link to interesting stuff. Sometimes talks about stuff he's done. Occasionally posts recipes for good food. Planning to get married, at some point. Enjoying life in Yorkshire.

Likes comments. Especially likes links. Loves to know where people came from and what they were looking for. Mostly posts everything publicly. Sometimes doesn't. Hi.

Mat Bowles

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October 2015


Stuff and nonsense

I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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