[syndicated profile] crooked_timber_feed

Posted by John Holbo

Everyone’s complaining about the dumbness of the use-100%-of-your-brain premise for Lucy. (Which I expect is a bad movie.) I have an idea for a superhero that I think fixes this problem. Coaches are always yelling at players that they need to ‘give 110 percent!’ out on the field. So: what if someone actually figured out a way for you to do that? (Makes you think, eh!) You could have these amazing scenes where, after the super-sciencey treatment, the hero is being tested. Running on the treadmill, solving math problems, stacking raisins. In each case the guys in labcoats, gathered around the readouts are smiling, amazed. ‘Sir, we’ve done it! He’s using 110% of capacity!’

The point being: this guy (or gal!) is going to be able to beat Lucy, whoever she is. End of story. Mischief managed.

[personal profile] strangecharm
My chili is apparently good enough that tonight I've had my second "if you needed to marry somebody so you could stay in the country, I'd marry you" offer, which made me smile.

I am of course happily married and don't need to be married to stay here any more (or indeed to make chili for someone!), but that's hardly the point.
[personal profile] jimhines

My theme for 2014 seems to be a year-long scramble to keep up on everything. As evidenced by the fact that I HAVE A BOOK COMING OUT IN SIX DAYS!

Codex Born CoverOkay, it’s not a brand new book, but it is the mass market release of Codex Born, coming on August 5. And with that release, the ebook price should also be dropping very soon.

If you’ve been waiting for this, here’s a convenient set of links:

Amazon | B&N | BAMM | Mysterious Galaxy | Schuler Books | Indiebound

The paperback also includes the first few pages of Unbound, which comes out in January of next year.


Other stuff I’ve been meaning to talk about, or at least link to:

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

michaelchance: (Default)

"Memories of the Past"

Jul. 31st, 2014 09:11 am
[personal profile] michaelchance posting in [community profile] doctorwho
"Memories of the Past" by angstytimelord
PAIRING: past Jack/Doctor
SUMMARY: Based upon prompt 28A: Past.

Has just been added to Doctor Who gen stories page of the Doctor Who Slash page.

Crossposted to Chance's Archive.

Free Kindle Books.
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)

Tor's publicists are swift indeed

Jul. 30th, 2014 04:54 pm
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
Three Max Gladstone novels in hand, mere days after my request. Even better, via a shipper whose office is a few minutes away by iExpress, not lost out in the wilderness so even if I not happened to be next to door and able to hear the tap, I could have just nipped over to snag it.
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)

I do not have a pet squirrel

Jul. 30th, 2014 04:31 pm
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
But I think the opportunity offered itself this afternoon.

Nighthawks is now open

Jul. 30th, 2014 08:06 pm
[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by TSE

Home of the web’s best political conversation

Why not relax, and converse into the night on the day’s events in PB Night Hawks.

If you’re Hungry Like The Wolf for news on politics and betting, you’ve come to the right place on Planet Earth for political betting.

If you’ve always been a lurker, and have The Reflex not to post, Nighthawks gives you an opportunity to delurk, don’t worry, you won’t become Wild Boys or Wild Girls after posting.

The round up of recent events (click on the links below, and it will bring up the relevant link)

  1. Why won’t the Salmond / Darling debate be shown in England?
  2. Will the rise in GDP hand the Tories the election? The recovery may be feeble, but voters are rewarding the Tories as GDP rises – and the ‘cost-of-living’ is half the issue it was in 2011.
  3. Balls puts the Tories on the spot over tax cuts for the rich
  4. The shamelessness of Balls
  5. Scottish independence vote is too close to call
  6. Cameron condemned for immigration PR stunt
  7. Will we ever see the likes of Blair again?
  8. London orbital railway on mayor’s £1.3 trillion wishlist
  9. Frank Dobson: Labour needs to be ‘knocking lumps off’ this government
  10. The ECHR is a “British Bill of Rights”
  11. EU migrants more likely to be in work than Britons
  12. If a rematch of the 2012 presidential election were held today, GOP nominee Mitt Romney would top President Barack Obama in the popular vote, according to a new national survey.
  13. US economy bounces back with 4% GDP growth in second quarter
  14. Scottish independence: Remember 2014, the last golden summer of the old Britain.
  15. Tracey Gough fought the Underhill ward on Weymouth and Portland Council for UKIP in May. Now she’s contesting a Town Council election. Take a look at the description she has used
  16. Will a show about Scottish Politics be the next Game of Thrones?
  17. Saturday is 2,352nd anniversary of the only notable battle ever fought on the 2nd of August, as Alexander the Great defeated an alliance of some of the Greek City states in the Battle of Chaeronea
  18. Saturday is the 2,230th anniversary of a vastly overrated general getting lucky against a couple of inept Romans, at the Battle of Cannae, his rubbishness was eventually exposed at Zama
[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

Car dashboard. Photo courtesy of http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1445913 - some rights reserved

After a slow start, Britain is starting to catch up on putting the right measures in place to capture the coming driverless car revolution:

The UK government has announced that driverless cars will be allowed on public roads from January next year.

It also invited cities to compete to host one of three trials of the tech, which would start at the same time.

In addition, ministers ordered a review of the UK’s road regulations to provide appropriate guidelines.

As I’ve said before:

Think just how quickly driverless cars have developed in the last five years alone – and then think how long it takes to get planning permission, let alone build or fit out, a big public transport project. Public transport plans now should already be factoring in the high likelihood of a near future in which cars no longer need humans to drive them.

Some of the benefits like to accrue from this are brilliant – but do not require policy changes. A further improvement in road safety is likely for, as we have seen in other areas where automated machinery replaces humans in repetitive tasks, computers are more reliable, less sleepy and never drunk. Brilliant news for humanity (road deaths killed more people than genocides during the twentieth century after all), a useful saving for the NHS but not something which much knock-on policy impacts.

Other changes are likely to be more troubling. Think what a significant part of the local economy of some ethnic minority communities in some areas is provided by the minicab trade, for example. As mechanisation (driverless cars) drives out low-skilled workers (minicab drivers) there is no guarantee that the economic transition for those most affected will be smooth or quickly. The long-run benefits to us all may be immense, but as previous such mechanisations have shown, the short-run pain for some can be great.

There will also be a one-off regulatory requirement and opportunity as driverless cars start appearing, to set the rules under which they perform and before new entrenched vested interests and the inertia of history makes change hard. For example, from day one the tax treatment of driverless cars could strongly encourage sharing, so that we move away from the situation where one of the most expensive items in many household’s expenditure is also an item left unused for large parts of the day.

[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_forbes_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

One of the standards of Common Law jurisprudence on corporate entities is that one does not, as the phrase goes, “pierce the corporate veil”. The meaning of this being that if a company is a company then it’s treated as a company, not a partnership, just as one example. A subsidiary company is a company in its own right and there is no general rule that the company or people that own that subsidiary are responsible for its debts or policies. What the National Labor Relations Board has just done in a ruling is pierce that veil as far as McDonald’s is concerned and potentially has done so for anyone using the franchise/franchisee model. It’s most unlikely that this ruling is going stand just as it is, at least not without several more rounds of ever higher level litigation. It’s something that goes against the grain of this area of law (and economics) so much that it’s going to need the endorsement of the Supremes and or Congress to stand up in the long term.

The basic news is this:

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s could be held jointly liable for labor and wage violations by its franchise operators — a decision that, if upheld, would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide.

Business groups called the decision outrageous. Some legal experts described it as a far-reaching move that could signal the labor board’s willingness to hold many other companies to the same standard of “joint employer,” making businesses that use subcontractors or temp agencies at least partly liable in cases of overtime, wage or union-organizing violations.

McDonald’s doesn’t own (most) of the restaurants, unlike, say, Chipotle. It also doesn’t manage most of them, hire the staff at most of them, schedule the hours and so on. It’s also not responsible for the debts of most of the restaurants nor even for the usual insurance liabilities, utility bills and so on. The franchises are separate businesses from McDonald’s the publicly traded corporation.

There are various advantages to a franchise model: it’s possible for a company to expand much more quickly for example, as it can bring in the capital of the franchisees instead of being limited by what it can raise centrally. The franchisees themselves also bring themselves in as a sturdy level of highly profit motivated management: something that all corporations find difficult to recruit centrally. It’s also true that the model protects the central company from any effects of unionisation which is what prompted the complaints that led to this ruling.

There are also disadvantages: most notably that layer of profit motivated franchisees ends up getting a goodly chunk of the profits that the whole enterprise produces. That’s why some such chains use franchises and some don’t. Each corporation and set of management weighs those advantages and disadvantages differently.

This ruling obviously changes that known and settled law. We don’t, as that phrase up at the top suggests, try to look through the legal form of what is going on and then decide, well, maybe they’re all legally separate but we’ll treat them the same. No, not piercing the veil means that if the organisation is set up as different companies, each with responsibility for their own debts and each keeping their own profits well then, that’s what they are, separate companies. This NLRB ruling goes directly contrary to that settled legal idea.

As such it’s obviously a threat to all people employing franchising as a business model. And that’s much too large an area of the economy to be settled with this, essentially an administrative hearing. This will run and run until either the Supremes or Congress end up deciding one way or the other.

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Caron Lindsay

I am not a huge football fan. Unless it involves Inverness Caledonian Thistle, I really don’t care and even then it’s more of a spiritual thing. I don’t actually need to watch 22 men kick the bag of wind around the field. But my antipathy to the game wasn’t the only reason my heart sank when I saw the new Liberal Democrat campaign, “Bring the 2018 World Cup to England” this morning.

Certainly, having just had a month of nothing but football anywhere, I was screaming for respite. It’s bad enough on the other side of the world but if it were just over the border it would, frankly, be unbearable.

The main reason, though, was that I thought Nick Clegg’s recent calls for both Russia and Qatar to be stripped of their World Cups were really good. To be honest, they should never have been awarded to countries with such scant regard for human rights in the first place and wouldn’t have been a safe place for any LGBT football fan. Russia’s outrageous behaviour in Ukraine since has shown that it is simply not the right country to host a major international competition.

What worried me was the “Bring it here” element. It seemed a bit self-serving, if I’m honest, and I’m not the only one who thought that. Nick Barlow blogged hat this wasn’t the way to make the point:

[The petition]That’s currently on the Lib Dem website, and suddenly turns it from legitimate concerns about Russia to one of the countries beaten by Russia in the 2018 bidding trying to get revenge. It weakens the case against Russia hosting it by associating it with England getting the tournament instead and thus makes it into a contest of two countries, not weighing up the merits of one.

But then I got to thinking that maybe it is a good idea to bring the tournament here, even if I have to suffer endless references to 1966 on an unprecedented scale. Let’s face it, there’s a nasty culture around football. I wrote about it recently. There’s a whole load of sexism, homophobia and violence around the game both here and internationally. Why not say to FIFA that we would spend the next four years cleaning up our act and then host the most inclusive, fairest World Cup ever, restoring beauty to the game and making a whole new generation of people around the world get to love it? It would certainly test whether FIFA is ready to deal with these issues in its sport.

Oh, and one more thing. Instead of England, why not celebrate a “No” vote in the Sc0ttish referendum by making it a joint bid from Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That would save building new stadia and would be  a true celebration of our whole nation. And just think what we could do with the Opening Ceremony…

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

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is more than just a global warming denier. He’s a conspiracy theorist (calling warming a “hoax”) and, shockingly, hugely funded by the oil industry. Reading things he’s said about global warming is like perusing a denier’s playbook of nonsense.

So this story comes as no surprise to me, even as it elicits a long sigh: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) submitted a resolution simply acknowledging that global warming exists and poses a threat to the interests of the United States—which it does, on both counts.

Of course Inhofe blocked it.

Inhofe’s action was so egregious, so ridiculous, that Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) took to the floor and magnificently schooled him on reality. Watch:

It should be said that Whitehouse is a new hero of mine. Inhofe’s stance is stupidly dangerous: Global warming is real, the climate is changing faster than it has in thousands of years, and the fault lies in ourselves.

But denial is in the blood of too many of our representatives. It’s become a Republican mantra to say, “I’m not a scientist, but …” as if that excuses them to say any nonsensical thing they want. The proper response to a statement like that is what Charlie Crist, gubernatorial candidate for Florida, said: “I'm not a scientist either, but I can use my brain and I can talk to one.”

If only all politicians did that … and actually listened to them, instead of to the pipeline of dollars flowing to them to which they’re apparently beholden.

Tip o’ the thermometer to Amy Klobuchar and Michael Mann.

[syndicated profile] skepchick_feed

Posted by Rebecca Watson

Transcript follows! Support more videos like this on Patreon.

Before 1961, 1 to 1.5% of all babies born would, within the first week of their lives, experience bleeding from the nose or umbilical cord. It wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t fatal.

A smaller percentage, approximately 10 out of 100,000 babies, would experience later bleeding in the brain. Of those, 20% died and 50% were left with long-term brain damage.

Both of these bleeding issues were caused by a Vitamin K deficiency. In 1961, doctors started giving newborns intramuscular shots. This reduced the total number of babies with Vitamin K deficiency bleeding to approximately 0. There were only a few rare cases in babies with particular underlying diseases.

So in 1960, there were about 4 million babies born in the US, which means 300 to 400 babies got brain hemorrhages that year and so 60-80 babies died. Today approximately zero babies in the US die from Vitamin K deficiency thanks to one simple shot.

I know about this thanks to Dr. Clay Jones, who was on this past week’s Inquiring Minds podcast. He was talking about the subject because alarmingly, anti-vaccine fear mongers are encouraging parents to instruct doctors to not give their babies the shot. They believe the shot is unnatural, that it’s unnecessary, and that it’s painful. They also believe it causes leukemia thanks to one poorly done and since debunked study from the ‘90s.

In reality, there are no side effects to the shot aside from minor bruising around the injection. Doctors could avoid this by giving the Vitamin K as an oral dose, but studies show the oral dose is much less effective than the intramuscular because it may not properly absorb. It can be vomited up, other medicines could interfere with it, or parents can simply forget to give the baby the daily pill.

Dr. Jones points out that there was a recent rash of 7 cases of Vitamin K-deficient bleeding in newborns at one hospital. Of those, 4 were hemorrhaging in the brain, two of which required neurosurgery, and another baby had bleeding from the intestines. None of the kids died, but the worst cases will face serious seizures and developmental delays.

That’s bad enough, but how long before babies begin dying again for lack of a safe, easy shot they can get before they even leave the hospital? Once again we see the serious consequences that anti-science propaganda can have on the most innocent of people.

[syndicated profile] political_betting_feed

Posted by MikeSmithson

After the LAB lead dropped from 6% on Monday night to 1% last night there’s been a lot of discussion about the volatility of the firm’s out. In reality, of course, both of this week’s polls have been within the margin of error.

The numbers I most look out for are above – the monthly averages which are very telling. We see the rise of UKIP now fading a touch and due to drop further in July. We also see the decline of Labour from the dizzy heights of te low 40s at the start of last year.

The Tories have stayed remarkably stable while the LDs have slipped.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by The Voice

New EI Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has had lots of conflicting advice about what to do about the post of the Commission’s Chief Scientific Officer. Environmental NGO’s seem to want to get rid of the post while research organisations want to keep it. The Guardian reports:

The NGOs called the role, which was introduced in 2012 by current EC president José Manuel Barroso and has been occupied since then by a biologist at the University of Aberdeen, Prof Anne Glover, “fundamentally problematic”. Their letter argued that the non-elected role concentrated too much influence in one person, undermining research by the wider science community, while being non-transparent and unaccountable. The letter took particular issue with Glover’s pro GM crops stance.

The NGOs want the president to take advice from a number of independent sources. Other signatories included GM Watch and the Health and Environment Alliance.

In response, two more open letters were sent to Juncker on Friday, signed by numerous European scientific organisations, supporting the CSA role and its independence. One of the letters, with signatories including the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council, Sense About Science and the Royal Institution, states: “Policy makers or lobbyists who seek to remove scientists because they don’t like their findings or advice do so at the peril of their citizens.”

The Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists have put their views forward to Mr Juncker, saying that the position could do with a bit of reform, but they want it to stay. Here is their letter.

We write to you on the subject of the appointment of a new Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission; a post held until recently by Professor Anne Glover.

We commend the record of Professor Glover, the first postholder in this position, both in her role as an adviser and in promoting the pursuit and appreciation of science in Europe.

As a membership association promoting sound scientific advice within the Liberal Democrat Party and the United Kingdom, we were disconcerted to read the letter addressed to you from nine NGOs asking that you abolish the position of Chief Scientific Adviser. We feel strongly that Professor Glover’s record in establishing a respected and effective focus for science advice and promotion within the European Commission should be further developed and supported, rather than abandoned.

We are sympathetic to the demands of the letter that science advice should be transparent and open about divergent opinions, but feel that the proposed solution (taking advice from “a variety of independent, multi-disciplinary sources, with a focus on the public interest”) would instead leave the Commission more vulnerable to the influence of lobby groups.

We also recognise that scientific evidence is only one facet of policymaking. Indeed, on the subject of genetically modified organisms (the main issue which seems to have motivated the NGO letter), we feel it is important to distinguish between evaluating the safety of crops themselves (to consumers and the environment) and responsible implementation of agricultural and commercial activities involving GMOs. Recognising this distinction, it is more important for science advisers to be able to address evidence on an issue-by-issue basis.

For the purpose of drawing on an adequately broad base of expertise, we support the efforts of Professor Glover in launching a pan-European network of scientific advisers at this year’s Euroscience Open Forum as a means of sharing knowledge and best practice between science advisers from EU member states.

We believe that the key to confidence in political decisionmaking lies in transparent and accessible processes and active engagement with stakeholders and citizens. While we agree that there could be improvements made on both of these fronts, we feel that abolishing the post of Chief Scientific Adviser would undo much of the progress already made.

It seems like a call for a good old-fashioned evidence based approach to scientific policy making. Just what you would expect from Liberal Democrat scientists.


Amazon’s Latest Volley

Jul. 30th, 2014 02:40 pm
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Another day, another volley in the Amazon-Hachette battle, this time from Amazon, in which it explains what it wants (all ebooks to be $9.99 or less, for starters) and lays out some math that it alleges shows that everyone wins when Amazon gets its way.

Some thoughts:

1. I think Amazon’s math checks out quite well, as long as you have the ground assumption that Amazon is the only distributor of books that publishers or authors (or consumers, for that matter) should ever have to consider. If you entertain the notion that Amazon is just 30% of the market and that publishers have other retailers to consider — and that authors have other income streams than Amazon — then the math falls apart. Amazon’s assumptions don’t include, for example, that publishers and authors might have a legitimate reason for not wanting the gulf between eBook and physical hardcover pricing to be so large that brick and mortar retailers suffer, narrowing the number of venues into which books can sell. Killing off Amazon’s competitors is good for Amazon; there’s rather less of an argument that it’s good for anyone else.

2. Amazon’s math of “you will sell 1.74 times as many books at $9.99 than at $14.99″ is also suspect, because it appears to come with the ground assumption that books are interchangable units of entertainment, each equally as salable as the next, and that pricing is the only thing consumers react to. They’re not, and it’s not. Someone who wants the latest John Ringo novel on the day of release will not likely find the latest Jodi Picoult book a satisfactory replacement, or vice versa; likewise, someone who wants a eBook now may be perfectly happy to pay $14.99 to get it now, in which case the publisher and author should be able to charge what the market will bear, and adjust the prices down (or up! But most likely down) as demand moves about.

(This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.)

Bear in mind it’s entirely possible that Amazon sells 1.74 times as many books at $9.99 than at $14.99, but then Amazon deals with gross numbers of product, while publishers deal with somewhat smaller numbers, and the author, of course, deals with only her own list of books. As the focus tightens, the general rules stop being as applicable. What’s good for Amazon isn’t necessarily good for publishers, or authors.

3. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think it’s very likely that if $9.99 becomes the upper bound for pricing on eBooks, then you are going to find $9.99 becomes the standard price for eBooks, period, because publishers who lose money up at the top of the pricing scale will need to recoup that money somewhere else, and the bottom of the pricing scale is a fine place to do it. Yes, the mass of self-published authors out there will create a tier of value-priced books (this has already been done), and I’m sure in a couple of years Amazon will release another spate of numbers that will show how much more profitable $6.99 eBooks are as compared to $9.99 eBooks, and so on. But at the end of the day there will be authors and publishers who can charge $9.99, forever, and they will. If you destroy the top end of the market, the chances you destroy the bottom end go up, fast.

4. I think Amazon taking a moment to opine that authors should get 35% of revenues for their eBooks is a nice bit of trying to rally authors to their point of view by drawing their attention away from Amazon’s attempt to standardize all eBook pricing at a price point that benefits Amazon’s business goals first and authors secondarily, if at all. The translation here is “Look, if only your publisher would do this thing that we have absolutely no control over, then your own income wouldn’t suffer in the slightest!” Which again, is not necessarily true in the long run.

To be clear, I think authors should get more of the revenue of each electronic sale, although I’m not necessarily sanguine about letting Amazon also attempt to set what that percentage should be. Increasing authors’ percentages of revenue on electronic sales is an exciting new frontier in contract negotiations, he said, having walked to that frontier himself several times now. That said, I also think I should be able to get more of the revenue of each sale and have the ability to have my work priced at whatever the market will bear, without a multibillion-dollar company artifically capping the price I or my publisher can set on my work for its own business goals, which may or may not be in line with my own.

5. While this is not going to happen because this is not the way PR works, I really really really wish Amazon would stop pretending that anything it does it does for the benefit of authors. It does not. It does it for the benefit of Amazon, and then finds a way to spin it to authors, with the help of a coterie of supporters to carry that message forward, more or less uncritically.

Look: As Walter Jon Williams recently pointed out, if Amazon is on the side of authors, why does their Kindle Direct boilerplate have language in it that says that Amazon may unilaterally change the parameters of their agreement with authors? I don’t consider my publishers “on my side” any more than I consider Amazon “on my side” — they’re both entities I do business with — but at least my publisher cannot change my deal without my consent. Which is to say that between my publisher and Amazon, one of them gets to utter the immortal Darth Vader line “I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it further” to authors doing business with it and one does not.

(I notice in the WJW comment thread someone opines along the lines of “Oh, that’s like EULA boilerplate and it would probably not be enforceable in court,” which I think is a really charming example of naivete, not in the least because, as I suspected, the boilerplate also specifies (in section 10.1) that disputes between Kindle Direct users and Amazon will be settled through arbitration rather than the courts.)

Authors: Amazon is not your friend. Neither is any other publisher or retailer. They are all business entities with their own goals, only some of which may benefit you. When any of them starts invoking your own interest, while promoting their own, look to your wallet.

The economic base of virtue

Jul. 30th, 2014 02:30 pm
[syndicated profile] chris_dillow_feed

Posted by chris dillow

ResPublica's call for more virtue in banking looks like it is out of step with our times. This is an indictment not of ResPublica, but of our times. In fact, virtue is necessary for a healthy free market economy because virtuous men do the right thing without law, and so virtue is an alternative to an arms race between ever-increasing regulation and ever more cunning attempts to game such regulation. Free markets, in this sense, need a moral framework.

This poses the question: what is the economic basis of virtue? If you think this is a Marxian question, you'd be only half right. When Deirdre McCloskey says that markets promote virtue and Dan Ariely says that exposure to centrally planned economies promote cheating, they are agreeing (rightly) with Marx that "the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life."

Now, we know that bankers have been serial criminals. This tells us that there is something anti-McCloskeyan about the industry - that it breeds vice not virtue. But what? Here are six possibilities:

1. Short-term incentives. Annual or quarterly targets for sales or profits encourage people to meet targets now even if this means breaking rules: why bother helping your employer avoid a fine in a few years' time if you fail to make your targets and are sacked before then? Such targets thus create institutionalized criminality - in the sense that future punishments are discounted so heavily as not to be a disincentive. The Bank of England's proposals to claw back bonuses are an attempt to address this problem.

2. Whereas McCloskey might be right that competition for customers encourages virtues of trustworthiness, competition between traders doesn't. It instead breeds a dog-eat-dog mentality.

3. Neoliberalism can be performative; it doesn't just describe the world, but creates it. If you claim that people are amoral and self-interested and that government regulation is inefficient and undesirable, people might act in an amoral way and seek to evade regulation. And if you believe a (misreading?) of Friedman, that "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits" you will aim to maximize profits, come what may.

4. Mere proximity to money can encourage unethical behaviour, and self-interestedness (pdf).

5. Selection effects. Hierarchies can select in favour of some vices such as narcissism, overconfidence, and psychopathy.

6. Diffused pivotality. Big organizations can encourage vice by removing individual responsibility; we can justify behaving badly by believing that we're doing what the boss wants or that if we didn't do it, someone else would.

Now, I'm not claiming that these mechanisms are found exclusively in banks and nowhere else; I suspect that 5 and 6 help explain Ariely's finding that centrally planned economies encouraged cheating. Instead, what I'm suggesting is that there are some mechanisms - which are stronger and more prevalent in some places than others - which undermine virtue. To this extent, Alasdair MacIntyre is right and McCloskey wrong: we lack the institutional and cultural basis for an ethics of virtue.

In this context, ResPublica might have a point in advocating more diverse ownership and governance systems - because some of these might do a better job of promoting virtue than existing structures.

I don't know if they will. But I do know ResPublica is asking the right question, of how to promote the virtues in which a free market does serve the public good. The fact that so few people are taking up this point - preferring instead cheap sneers at the (albeit silly) call for bankers' oaths - makes me suspect that some on the right are more interested in shilling for the rich than in promoting a free market economy.        

[syndicated profile] lib_dem_voice_feed

Posted by Joshua Dixon

The challenges that young people face today are considerably different to what the previous generations faced. The baby boomers spent much of their lives enjoying a resilient and rewarding economy, with prospects of owning a house regarded as being the norm.

These days, as a young person, it’s not even a realistic goal, let alone normal. Between 2001 and 2011, house prices rose three times faster than wages. As a double whammy, we saw the recession hit wages and young people’s employment prospects particularly hard. Whilst unemployment is dropping, too many of us know young people settling for part-time work, zero-hours contracts and underemployment because they know that some work is better than none.

With these factors in mind, it is no surprise that the Office for National Statistics has revealed that 1 in 4 young people (aged 20 – 34) are still sharing their homes with their parents. Quite simply, we are an anchored generation, without the strength or ability to reach the surface for air.

But there are other barriers. We face a higher education crisis. I use the term crisis because it is becoming clearer by the day that the government is waking up to the fact that its current funding model is unsustainable, due to many debts never being repaid. Thankfully, campaigners have managed to fight off the latest quick-fix funding solution, the privatisation of student loans, announced by Vince Cable recently in response to a question I put to him at Social Liberal Forum conference. This would have once been seen as a niche issue, however a huge proportion of young people are now opting to access higher education, meaning that we can no longer treat it as such.

Whilst previous generation enjoyed a free education, the Sutton Trust revealed that current graduates will be saddled with enough debt that their repayments will be the equivalent to an extra 6p income tax. This would be the case for middle earners into their 50s, a time when many will already be struggling, particularly if they have families to look after.

I do not resent the elderly. They deserve help from the state. I don’t resent free bus passes, free TV license, the winter fuel allowance and pensions that ensure they retire in dignity. What I do resent is the notion that my generation is less deserving of a fair future. That somehow we alone should be left, unequipped, to navigate tough economic conditions set by the generation that caused this mess.

At its heart, intergenerational fairness is about taking into account future generations when making policy. For a sustainable future, economically AND environmentally, this must always be at the heart of the Liberal Democrats – inside and outside of government.


* Joshua Dixon is Chair of Hillingdon Lib Dems, and Membership Development Officer for the Social Liberal Forum

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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May 2014

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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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