The David Laws paradox explains why I’m on the left


4:16 pm - May 30th 2010

by Chris Dillow    


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There are three lessons of David Laws’ resignation.

1. If you want to keep your job, following the rules has lexicographic priority over technical ability. Laws was widely regarded, even before the platitudes that followed his resignation, as  superbly able minister. This was not enough to keep him in a job. The message here is that it is better to be a prissy, priggish follower of rules than a man of any other virtues – which is a perfect recipe for mediocrity.

It is in this sense that I agree with James Forsyth, that there’s something very depressing about this affair.

2. Clever people can be stupid. Even if we allow for the fact that Laws’ ability is overstated – journalists and politicians are pathetically easily impressed by any knowledge of finance, statistics and economics – he is a smart fellow. And yet his expenses claim was very stupid. This confirms Dsquared’s old adage, that there are no general purpose experts.

3. Formal legal freedom is not sufficient to create real, felt freedom. Homosexuality has been legal for almost all Laws’ life, and yet – for reasons we needn’t speculate about – he felt he had to keep it “secret from everyone I know for every day of my life.” In a very important sense, then, he was unfree.

The message here is that mind-forg’d manacles can enslave us even when laws do not.

But where do these come from? Social pressure – actual or perceived – is one. But in other contexts, poverty is the origin, as it leads to low aspirations: it’s notorious that many people don’t apply to Oxbridge because “it’s not for the likes of us”.

Herein, I think, lies the tragic paradox of Mr Laws. As an Orange Book liberal, he emphasised the value of legal, formal freedom whilst perhaps overlooking real, felt freedom.

But as a human being, he demonstrates that there’s more to freedom than mere law. This – perhaps more than anything else – is why I am on the Left

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About the author
Chris Dillow is a regular contributor and former City economist, now an economics writer. He is also the author of The End of Politics: New Labour and the Folly of Managerialism. Also at: Stumbling and Mumbling
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Reader comments


1. Justin Nelson

I disagree: he claimed expenses to which he was not entitled. He was intelligent enough to know he was not entitled. He was rich enough not to need to claim. Despite this, he did claim.
PS: It has *nothing* to do with him being gay – he made these choices

Great piece. I mean, properly great piece. I wish this were in a newspaper tomorrow morning.

Good call. Might add

4. If you’re skirting the edge of the rules and you know it, be careful about portraying yourself as a paragon of virtue and criticising others, especially in such an obvious and reproducible way as on your website.
5. People will be less forgiving of ‘unusual arrangements’ whatever the practical reasoning behind them, if they are at the taxpayer’s expense. Especially when you are already wealthy.

The Tessa Jowell lesson applies – no, it’s “not that unusual” to have a couple of mortgages and be shifting 6-figure sums between you and your partner, but it’s entirely outside the life experience of the vast majority of actual and probably Labour voters.

4. Lady49Monet

Where I would agree with your comments on the whole, I still cannot get my head round why he even bothered to claim expenses in the first place. He was clearly extremely concerned about his sexuality being made public he wasn’t prepared to give up cash to try and maintain it. This wasn’t just rule breaking it was a deliberate act of defiance against the system provided to protect the public purse. I have just walked out on a job after 22years rather than continue to pander to a target driven service that leaves children at risk. Sometimes you have to make personal financial sacrifices in order to maintain your principles and I am not a millionaire.

He also had no plan on how was going to tell his friends and family about this his naivety is staggering. The media were bound to find out and then they would find out in the most distressing way possible. I don’t know how good he is but ability has to be accompanied by a moral and principled stance otherwise you could end up with a George Osbourne.

Justin; he was entitled to claim expenses for a 2nd home living in London. If he’d been open about the relationship (like, say, Bradshaw), he could legitimately have claimed for more. The only reason he’s in the wrong is his desire to keep the relationship secret, if it’d been open, then he could’ve put in for half hte mortgage.

He was wrong to make the claim, as Chris says in the post, but his motives weren’t fraudulent.

6. Nick Cohen is a Tory

1. If you want to keep your job, following the rules has lexicographic priority over technical ability. Laws was widely regarded, even before the platitudes that followed his resignation, as superbly able minister. This was not enough to keep him in a job. The message here is that it is better to be a prissy, priggish follower of rules than a man of any other virtues – which is a perfect recipe for mediocrity.

Number of points , he was only in the job for a week, so how on earth can you say he was a superbly able minister. Unfortunately we all have to follow laws Chris, however prissy, that is how a society doesn’t collapse into anarchy. Also I didn’t hear you moan when Labour politicians were getting a good kicking over the expenses row. Also note Dale and Staines and other Tory bloggers and their attitude towards the row has suddenly changed. Massive hypocrisy.

2. Clever people can be stupid. Even if we allow for the fact that Laws’ ability is overstated – journalists and politicians are pathetically easily impressed by any knowledge of finance, statistics and economics – he is a smart fellow. And yet his expenses claim was very stupid. This confirms Dsquared’s old adage, that there are no general purpose experts.
So stupid, he can’t be honest or capable about his own personal expenses but you want to trust him to cut the jobs of thousands of low paid workers which by all accounts he was quite happily going to do

3. Formal legal freedom is not sufficient to create real, felt freedom. Homosexuality has been legal for almost all Laws’ life, and yet – for reasons we needn’t speculate about – he felt he had to keep it “secret from everyone I know for every day of my life.” In a very important sense, then, he was unfree.
This is nonsense. There is now no problem with Laws having a gay partner especially in the most socially liberal of parties. I find the “shame of gay” excuse and using this, as the most disgusting part of the whole affair.
Name ONE newspaper who would have a problem with Laws having a gay partner.
It is not the fifties.

Blah blah blah. He’s a neoliberal doctrinaire and has been both a theorist and practitioner of an anti-social ideology, which makes him an anti-social ideologue. Good riddance to him.

As far as sympathy for him is concerned: Bizarre that people should be weeping for a millionaire neoliberal’s problematic sex life, but not for the millions of people who will be affected, badly, by his and Osborne’s cuts.

@ MatGB

Wouldn’t his relationship be MORE secret if he just DIDN’T claim for expenses? A measely 40K that is chikenfeed to him but a lot of money to me?

I don’t care if he is entitled. Many were entitled to do all sorts of stuff during Nazi germany. Many are entitled to do many things that are unethical BUT do they do it? No.

It’s about integrity.

The problem with your political junkies is that you don’t leave in the real world, esp Lib Dem ones. You just don’t get it and intellectualise everything to make it ‘all okay’.

That isn’t right.

The layman hasn’t had your years of political speak/indoctrination and maybe until the rules in this country changes, people will continue to never understand how the political system actually works in this country.

Tory-Libs made themselves out to be better then Nu lab. ‘New Politics’. Just shut up. There is no such thing with all those corrupt slime balls who are so part of the system, they don’t even know how it feels to struggle day in and day out for food.

If Ant&Dec hadn’t gone around like two love birds whose sh*t don’t stink and just said, ‘right lets get to work, we’re not messaihs’, this wouldn’t have happened like this.

Anyhow, the Tory papers are turning on the Lib Dems. See Lynne’s article in The Mail and see ALL those comments ‘slagging off the Lib Dems’.

Oh well, I predicted this but was told be fellow Lib Dem party members that ‘no, this is a good thing and we’ll finally get the respect we deserve’

Aha.

(fall out guys)

Really, I think the point about whether he should have claimed or not is redundant. That episode is over.

This is the real point of Chris’ post: But as a human being, he demonstrates that there’s more to freedom than mere law.

Ranters

Wouldn’t his relationship be MORE secret if he just DIDN’T claim for expenses? A measely 40K that is chikenfeed to him but a lot of money to me?

Yes.

With the amount of money though? That much, in rent, for a period of years, isn’t actually a huge sum of money. Jennie and I are in a tiny back-to-back in West Yorks, over 5 years we’d pay £25K in rent. I’ve lived in London, what Laws was actually paying for the quality of accommodation was low.

I also, personally, dislike the line (that you’re not taking but I’ve seen) that rich people shouldn’t claim expenses. I want more successful people (like Laws and Cable) to enter politics. I don’t want to put them off by means testing expenses.

Now, the rest of your rant appears predicated on the idea that a) coalitions should never happen (in which case let’s go back to two party duopoly and keep the shitty electoral system) and b) there’s no nuance, everyone correcting any points of fact on the Laws case is by default defending everything he did.

I’m not, neither is anyone else really; what he did was wrong, haven’t actually seen anyone say otherwise, as Chris says above, even very smart people can be stupid.

“Nick Cohen is a Tory” (why can’t use use a pseudonym that isn’t annoying to type?).

You seem to miss the point regarding the shame of gay thing; it’s not about newspapers, it’s about family. I know a lot of people of a conservative, religious nature who still have a problem with homosexuality. Most of them are roughly the same age as Laws parents. With whom he hadn’t discussed this with, at all.

Everyone you know might be nicely metropolitan and liberal. I can assure you that not everyone in this country is. But, y’know, don’t allow facts to worry you too much.

11. Charlieman

I need some time to reflect on the definitive argument. But I’ll pick one point up.

@Chris Dillow, OP: “2. Clever people can be stupid.” Indeed, universities are jam packed full of people that annually fail to have their car serviced successfully or can’t operate a deep fat frier.

The most common course experienced by under grads is statistics. In order to demonstrate the existence of outliers, this course will be delivered by a 6’4″ lecturer who is a traditional Mini enthusiast or a sport technique expert who can’t tie shoe laces.

In the role from which David Laws has resigned, did we need a financial wonk? Laws did not directly direct economic policy, and if he was a restraint on Osborne, he can be replaced. Laws’ primary role was to find cuts that have the lowest social and economic repercussions. I think that the job requires a very catholic mind, and that wonkiness is not the desired attribute.

12. Marksany

Please explain why this means you are of the left, I’m sure it’s plain to you, but I don’t see it.

13. Nick Cohen is a Tory

You seem to miss the point regarding the shame of gay thing; it’s not about newspapers, it’s about family. I know a lot of people of a conservative, religious nature who still have a problem with homosexuality. Most of them are roughly the same age as Laws parents. With whom he hadn’t discussed this with, at all.

Everyone you know might be nicely metropolitan and liberal. I can assure you that not everyone in this country is. But, y’know, don’t allow facts to worry you too much

Sorry matt but use an acroynm.
Sorry I don’t buy this at all. I come from as working class area where most the people are conservative with a small c. They have no problems with gays. I really do think you are defending a guy who broke the rules purely because he is part of the coalition government. If he was Mandelson you would quite happily see him thrown to wolves.
Also has Laws parents attacked him no, also are you a parent, you know if your kids are gay and to be honest it doesn’t matter

@10

I also, personally, dislike the line (that you’re not taking but I’ve seen) that rich people shouldn’t claim expenses. I want more successful people (like Laws and Cable) to enter politics. I don’t want to put them off by means testing expenses.

The argument, of course, is that if people are going into politics purely for the perks then they’re not particularly decent people for the job. The average wage in this country is £25K IIRC – Laws is a millionaire and his previous job gave him a £100K+ salary. That’s what was disgusting about the original expenses scandal – already very, very, wealthy people taking the piss out of ordinary folks by claiming for cleaning, second homes, hedge-trimming etc etc et fucking cetera. Even a bog standard MP is on £60K+ p/a – that’s over double the average wage (and over six times the NMW). The Laws fiasco merely highlights that there are still money grabbing soulless scumbags running the country (D. Cameron (est wealth – £40million) also comes to mind).

“I think that the job requires a very catholic mind, and that wonkiness is not the desired attribute.”

I can follow that but by many news reports, Conservatives give the highest policy priority to reducing the fiscal deficit by cutting public spending without – apparently – appreciating the consequences of that course for aggregate demand.

We are hugely reliant on growing export sales to boost demand but the Eurozone economy is evidently very fragile, UK business investment in the first quarter of this year was running 11% down on the same period a year ago, and UK consumers are being encouraged to save more and pay down debt.

If public spending is being cut, just where is the demand to come from to maintain recovery out of the recession?

Conservatives don’t seem to inderstand macroeconomics. That’s the worry.

Interesting post but I disagree with (or misunderstand) some points.

Re: point 1: I think it can be fairly argued that Laws broke the rules in the letter but not in spirit. However the fact, for someone of his wealth, it is that it would have been no sacrifice to keep to the rules. I don’t think someone who prefers not to break the rules in that scenario is a “prissy, priggish follower of rules” which is what your wording implies.

Points 2 and 3 are absolutely valid but I fail to see how they can be placed in any simplistic way on the left-right political spectrum.

That “clever people can be stupid” encourages me to support systems of organization that don’t rely on the concept of infallible expert leaders. That makes me more inclined to support policies which make government more accountable and transport and which gives more power to everyday citizens. Sometimes that is part of a left-wing government’s agenda, sometime it most definitely is not.

That “formal legal freedom is not sufficient to create real, felt freedom” is also entirely true but often it is the Left that seems to believe you can legislate utopia. One of the ideas behind Cameron’s Big Society is that there is a limit to what laws can achieve. Personally I think it’s true that legislation isn’t enough, but that there is still a lot which legislation can achieve.

Personally the expenses scandal has simply reminded me that corruption comes in all political colours but made me more inclined to support the political colours which have the best policies for combatting that tendency. Yellow, in the UK’s case.

Cross-posted at http://yoomoot.com/bookmarks/david-laws-resignation-and-its-implications-for-government-freedom-and-left-wing-values-chris-dillow/

I disagree on the third point. In fact, I would say it is bordering on the offensive to claim that just because someone wants to keep some aspect of their sexuality private, that means they are somehow instrinsically less free than someone who feels able to come out. It is a choice, with related trade-offs. We all present various aspects of ourselves at different times and to different extents of publicity. It may be bad that Laws was unable to come out, but it doesn’t have much to do with political liberty.

I mean, being attracted to one gender is just one data point about one’s sexuality, which is also just one aspect of one’s personality. Why make that intrinsically part of an authentic identity that it is somehow unfree to be unable to share in public? It is the fallacy at the bottom of identity politics.

Chris Dillow.

1. You should follow the rules that you would expect others to follow. Whether the rules are unfair, they are there for a reason. If you cannot follow the rules you should look at your career choice.
2. Clever people can act dishonesty. There was nothing ‘stupid’ in what he did. He was trying to conceal his relationship and dishonestly claimed for money for living with partner. It only became ‘stupid’ when he was caught. It was ‘dishonest’ the second he submitted the claim and he must have known that.
3. The homosexual aspect is not relevant here, he was trying to hide a sexual relationship and made a false claim to cover that up. Had he been covering a heterosexual relationship (for whatever reason) then he would still be wrong in my, (and I suspect most of us) eyes.

Laws had been making this claim for years and must have been aware that his claims were suspect right-throughout the expenses scandal. He could have referred himself to the Standards committee then, at a time when MPs all around him were being knocked down around him like skittles. For reasons best known to himself he chose not to say a dickie bird. I bet he felt safe in the knowledge that he got ‘away with it’. He also had the opportunity to discuss this with Clegg/Cameron at the time of his appointment. I think he had three options to him when he became an MP.

1. Came out of the closet at the time. However he did not want to do that, and I can respect that decision. I don’t need an explanation to his reasons.
2. Move into a house on his own and claim, quite legitimately, for that house. He could have forgone any claim at all, of course. Instead he chose the ‘third way’
3. Produce an internal monologue to justify dishonestly claiming that his partner was merely his landlord. So no joint bank account means no partner? Um, ok, would a housing benefit claiment get away with that?

Of course the first two would meant that he would made sacrifices in his life, so it was probably easier to make a false claim than to choose between his mother and partner.

19. the a&e charge nurse

“But as a human being, he demonstrates that there’s more to freedom than mere law”.

Yes, one must never overlook the freedom to be greedy, a seemingly universal trait and one that transcends, race, colour, or indeed sexual orientation, it seems?

I like this article.

I think David Laws’ sexuality is 100% irrelevant though.

Utterly, utterly irrelevant.

21. Yurrzem!

Laws wasn’t stupid, I believe he knew what he was doing. He knew the rules and stretched them. His main concern was to conceal his relationships from friends and family. Perhaps he even felt that by claiming expenses as he did that he was adding an extra layer of subterfuge to hide his sexuality? We will find out later whether his actions were within the rules or not.

All this demonstrates is that skeletons can leap out of closets at the most inconvenient moments. Anyone aiming for high office should bear this in mind and dust out ther closets before they reach the top. What surprises me is how some of them haven’t done so yet. Perhaps its because he’s Lib-Dem and never expected to attain office?

There seems to have been a rush to convict Laws before any authority has examined his case, so perhaps we should all be cautious about our assumptions. He will be a loss to us all if a brake on the more extreme actions of Osbourne has been removed.

I suppose the most damning criticism of all MPs who have exploited the expenses system by stretching the rules is to consider how a benefit claimant might be treated under similar circumstances. Morally this should be the standard applied and perhaps its why so many people are angry when this happens.

22. JaneDerbyshire

Good points. I don’t much like Mr Laws’ politics, but I do feel for his predicament.

“Formal legal freedom is not sufficient to create real, felt freedom.”

So true – he never had the courage to come out to his family? Perhaps the rest of the country matters less – much less – than his Mum. And now she knows and she sees him lose his fantastic new job at the same time.

Yes, clever people can be stupid.

23. Roger Mexico

A good article. It’s interesting how the whole affair is encouraging reflection in some people rather than glee. A few points to add that seem to be being ignored at least in the comments:

1 It’s not just about money. Like it or not the sexuality issue does come into it because the 2006 rule change gave Laws the following choices:
(a) Come out and admit Lundie was his partner and presumably reconfigure their finances to continue claiming the money.
(b) Stop claiming the money and thereby implicitly admit they were partners.
(c) Change his address, causing the taxpayer to fork out for presumably not-much-used accommodation. Or, if he didn’t claim for it, the situation would either look like odd or like (b) in the HoC records.
He actually did (d) nothing: which got him in the mess he is now; but all the alternatives would effectively have outed him.

2 The fact that Laws is a millionaire is irrelevant. We are talking about expenses here. No business would expect employees to meet any expenses incurred in the line of work out of their own pockets. Is anyone suggesting that we should only have rich people as MPs so they don’t need to claim expenses?

(Actually I’m a bit dubious about the millionaire stuff as there isn’t anything much in the Register of Interests and he raised the extra money for Lundie’s property by extending the mortgage on his Yeovil property.)

3 Actually why is it wrong to rent off a relative/partner but OK to rent off a friend? Surely the only relevant point is whether the rent is fair? Mind you £950 pm plus £74 tax plus bills looks a bit steep to me for south of the river. It’s probably right if he was splitting all costs with Lundie (which ironically would be OK according to everyone).

Alternatively maybe we should insist that all out-of-town MPs should start shagging a property-holder within 3 miles of Westminster. Now that would save the taxpayer money.

4 The way the HoC has dealt with whole expenses mess is appalling. They need to stop reacting to each random “scandal” with new rules to bolt the stable door, and lay down sensible principles to cover what should be in government terms a small and uncontroversial item of expenditure. Let’s face it any middle-ranking civil servant or minister can probably waste more money in a day than the whole amount claimed by MPs.

What they don’t need is the new behemoth of IPSA with its Board and its eight-person “leadership team” to do the job for them. Though I notice that, despite taking over control of expenses, they don’t yet actually seem to have taken on anyone yet lowly enough to process them.

5 Schadenfreude is not an attractive emotion. Even if your heart is singing within you, it looks better if comments are “more in sorrow than in anger”.

If he was an ordinary bloke fiddling housing benefit ( cos housing benefit fraud is basically what this is ) he’d be in jail asap …i hope the CPS are preparing a case against him .

“He’s a millionaire so shouldn’t claim expenses”….well, yes, sorta.

Not that that is a direct quote from anyone but….if you had a million pounds, were a millionaire (and I mean really had a million, cash to invest, not housing or pensions or some such), so, what would you get from it?

Current short term interest rates are 0.5%. So you’d get £5,000 a year from sticking it in the bank. Or you could put it in gilts….inflation adjusted say….and you’d get maybe £10k, £15 k.

Sure, you can take some more risk, get dividends from shares perhaps…..£40k a year? 4%?

Yes, OK, sure, I know, getting the minimum wage for doing nothing, taking no risk….well, actually, that is my point. If you’re a “millionaire” these days about what that gets you in risk free investment terms is the minimum sodding wage.

Actually, he was paying £950 a month (wasn’t he?) in rent. That is about the minimum wage of £11,500 a year….and about the amount you would get if you were a millionaire and had lent that to the government.

Yes, (sadly) he had to go and so on but my point here is that “being a millionaire” doesn’t actually mean all that much now.

Got to say I am not sure why everyboddy is so head over heels about him being “able ” and “clever”. After all, we are leftists not technocrats. Give me a sightly less able minister with a commitment to progressive principles social justice any day, over somebody who who uses his great ability to push Britain in the direction of free markets and inequality. Personally I am very happy to see him politically crippled even if the means are less than ideal.

“Give me a sightly less able minister with a commitment to progressive principles social justice….”

There is a use for blogs after all!

At last I understand John Prescott…..

28. Jeremy Hayes

I have one question: what do you mean by ‘lexicographic priority’?

Tim Rand living in his fantasy world again.

” “being a millionaire” doesn’t actually mean all that much now.”

Against the vast majority of people who are not worth a million, even if you count their house, and pension.

Another example of the rich scrounging of the state, and the fake libertarians defending them. Priceless.

@28

“Lex” is latin for law. So if something has “lexographical” priority, or is “lexically prior”, it means that in terms of the law/rules that is the thing that is done first.

So if I had a principle of justice broken into two parts:

2a. – People must have equal opportunity and not be discriminated against on grounds of race, gender, sexuality etc
2b. – Inequalities are to be permitted only to the extent that they make the worst-off as well-off as they otherwise would be

and say that 2a. is “lexically prior” to 2b., that would mean that if some action could make the worst-off better-off than they otherwise would be but it would mean discriminating on grounds of (say) gender, then this would be disallowed because 2a. was “lexically” prior to 2b. – i.e. when it comes to making decisions 2a. wins and has to be observed before we get to 2b.

Incidentally, that’s John Rawls’ second principle of justice (more or less), and he lexically ordered them that way.

@25

Yes, (sadly) he had to go and so on but my point here is that “being a millionaire” doesn’t actually mean all that much now.

LOL

Jeremy Hayes @ 28,

I’d have thought a lexicographic priority was, err, ‘a’.

Seems to meet the definition.

“Yes, (sadly) he had to go and so on but my point here is that “being a millionaire” doesn’t actually mean all that much now.”

Tim, you really do talk out of your arse sometimes.

It’s astoundingly obvious to most people that the benefits of being a millionaire extend somewhat beyond the interest arising from wisely investing a million quid in gilts.

FFS.

34. Shatterface

‘Clever people can be stupid.’

Hence the phrase ‘If you are do clever, why aren’t you smart?’

35. Chris Baldwin

“Laws was widely regarded, even before the platitudes that followed his resignation, as superbly able minister.”

Sort of strange, since he didn’t really have the time to do any ministering.

36. Oliver Pereira

I agree with your third point. Legalising same-sex relations (not “homosexuality”, by the way, which is an orientation and has itself never been criminalised) is not sufficient to break down the barriers that prevent people from feeling free to be open. A lot more needs to be done to that end.

On the other hand, I disagree with your opening point (or, at least, the impression that I got from it), and don’t really understand your conclusion. To my mind, being “on the left” means supporting egalitarianism. Everyone should be treated as equals. Now, correct me if I have misunderstood you, but your opening point seems to be that a person should be excused from following the rules if they have sufficient technical ability. You seem to be advocating an unequal society in which ordinary people are governed by rules that an elite of particularly able people need not follow. This is precisely the sort of pretend leftism that has historically ruined many attempts at socialist movements, resulting in societies just as unequal as those that they replaced, and that was parodied by George Orwell in “Animal Farm”. Every true leftist should hold their leaders to just as high a standard as they hold everyone else to; otherwise, the leaders just start to take liberties.

The problem with David Laws’s treatment is not that he was expected to follow the same rules as everyone else – of course he should have done – but that the rule that he broke was itself unfair and discriminatory. If David Laws had not been in a relationship with James Lundie, then his claiming of public funds for rent would have been within the rules. He is therefore being discriminated against solely for his choice of relationship, which – from a socially liberal perspective – is just plain wrong.

All MPs should be expected to follow the same rules, with no exceptions. However, nobody should be expected to follow discriminatory rules. Such rules need to be challenged, and then struck out. Then nobody need follow them at all.

“It’s astoundingly obvious to most people that the benefits of being a millionaire extend somewhat beyond the interest arising from wisely investing a million quid in gilts.”

Sure….my point is simply that it’s not as much as it once was.

We still, culturally, have this idea that being a millionaire means that you can just sit back and do nothing and watch the cash roll in from your “investments”.

You can’t. 50 years ago being a millionaire meant that you very much could. You could own, just as an example, 100 houses mortgage free in London for a million. Today you might be able to get two.

That £10-£15 k a year from safe investments was 20-30 times the minimum wage. Now it’s one times the minimum wage. Heck, the average household in the bottom 10% of the income distribution now gets over £10k a year in benefits…..the same as our millionaire will get from investing his million in gilts.

We still use the word “millionaire” as a synonym for potentially being idle rich…..which is indeed what it used to mean. Inflation has meant that the capital required to be so is now in the £10-£20 million range. That’s what is needed to be getting a professional income without actually having to do the professional work.

Being a millionaire nowadays just doesn’t have the meaning which is still ascribed to it.

It’s a minor point, but is Laws really as rich as people make out? He only spent seven years in the City, at a time (87-94) when salaries were lower than now. A graduate trainee in 87 – which is what Laws would have been then – would have been lucky to make £25000 a year (I know – I was that trainee). Of course, salaries rise sharply 2-3 years in, but fixed income management didn’t have a reputation as a spectacular payer.
The easiest way to get rich from such a career would have been to have bought a house in the early 90s and let house price inflation do its work.
This piece in the Mail – yes I know! – hardly describes a wealthy man:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1282538/David-Laws-secretive-party-didnt-know-address.html

39. Shatterface

He’s a Lib Dem. If he was a Tory or a New Labour MP where you’d expect his constituency to be socially conservative if not downtright homophobic I might have some sympathy for him hiding his sexuality but what he is saying to his voters is ‘I don’t trust you to be liberal.’

“my point is simply that it’s not as much as it once was.”

Well thanks for that searing insight…

Next up from Tim: “Of course, it used to be all pounds, shillings and pence, you know. Yes. Yes.”

“Next up from Tim: “Of course, it used to be all pounds, shillings and pence, you know. Yes. Yes.””

Oh do stop being silly. It’s all been downhill since the abolition of the silver groat. Any fule kno that.

@39 isn’t the suggestion that he hadn’t told his mum, rather than that he was worried about his constituents finding out?

43. Richard W

38. chris

‘ It’s a minor point, but is Laws really as rich as people make out? He only spent seven years in the City, at a time (87-94) when salaries were lower than now. A graduate trainee in 87 – which is what Laws would have been then – would have been lucky to make £25000 a year (I know – I was that trainee). Of course, salaries rise sharply 2-3 years in, but fixed income management didn’t have a reputation as a spectacular payer.
The easiest way to get rich from such a career would have been to have bought a house in the early 90s and let house price inflation do its work.
This piece in the Mail – yes I know! – hardly describes a wealthy man: ‘

He was obviously precocious being a Vice President at JP Morgan in his twenties. Retiring a multi-millionaire at 28 from fixed income seems implausible. However, he was Head of US Dollar and Sterling Treasuries at Barclays de Zoete when sterling had to withdraw from the EERM on Black Wednesday. He probably made enough from that episode to leave two years later for a political career.

“Lex” is latin for law. So if something has “lexographical” priority, or is “lexically prior”, it means that in terms of the law/rules that is the thing that is done first.

I hate to be a pedant but this is completely wrong. “Lexicographical order” actually comes from the Greek word “lexicon,” meaning vocabulary, and it has the name it does because it resembles the ordering found in a dictionary.

The mystery is this:

Where did Laws’s reputation come from? He’d only been doing the job three weeks!

And the fact he got himself into such a major – yet easily avoidable – hole is evidence of the opposite, in my opinion.

His wealth, whatever its extent, is even more irrelevant than his sexuality. Either you think MPs should be able to claim expenses for their costs or you don’t. It would certainly be possible to mount an argument that the expenses should be means-tested. But it’s daft to say that he “should” have decided that the ability to claim expenses didn’t apply to him within the current system. I started out from that position myself a few days ago, by the way, but there’s no getting round the fact that it would be unfair.

By way of analogy, benefits claimants are often encouraged to check they’re getting their full entitlement. Last time I looked the official tax credits guidance encouraged people to get themselves on to the tax credits system even if they weren’t entitled, just in case they become entitled in future. Unions tell members whose jobs have perks “use it or lose it”. It’s hypocritical of us to not realise all this cuts both ways.

On the op-ed. I’m not sure I get point 3. It seems to stop just when it’s about to make its point. How, exactly, does the left seek to produce “real, felt freedom”? I can only assume from some of the responses that the link between the two is a kind of fuzzy, indistinct warm feeling that’s obvious to people on the left. Can you explain further for the benefit of the rest of us? Is this basically about positive discrimination and “freedom to”? Or have I got totally the wrong end of the stick?

47. Truth Talker

“The message here is that it is better to be a prissy, priggish follower of rules than a man of any other virtues – which is a perfect recipe for mediocrity.”

David Laws did not just “break a rule”, he stole £950+ every month for five years. For a lot of people that’s a salary for an entire year. It doesn’t matter how many other “virtues” he has, what he did was disgraceful.

@ Nick

Where is the fallacy? It’s perfectly arguable that people can be constrained by conformity or societal expectations (see J.S. Mill for this). If they are in fact constrained by these things (“mind shackles” or whatever you want to call them) then you can take the political position that people are better free than unfree, and so you should work to free them from conformity or restrictive conditions that are not based in law (e.g. poverty). Libertarians insist that you should only try and free people from the shackles of the law, other people are liberal in a more wide ranging way. You can’t just say “oh well, that type of freedom is not political freedom” – that’s surely just an attempt to define away the “positive freedom” position.

Why do you find it offensive that the author suggests that it is constraining when feeling *unable* to come out? Surely it’s just obvious?

“100 houses mortgage free in London for a million. Today you might be able to get two”

Not quite 100, but a million will get you around 7/8 houses (maybe more) in a deprived area of the UK. Housing benefit will then give you a decent return, and as each house ends up rising in value when the area gets it’s turn at regeneration money you’ll make decent capital gains as well.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Sarah Hayward

    RT @sunny_hundal: Bang on! RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  2. johnhalton

    "Legal, formal freedom" vs "real, felt freedom". Why Orange Booker Laws may have valued one over the other. http://is.gd/cvKAr /by @libcon

  3. Anthony Babajee

    RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  4. James Hepplestone

    An interesting way of looking at it! RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  5. DonaldS

    Yes RT @johnb78: This is good -> Chris Dillow @libcon The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  6. Shibley Rahman

    RT @sunny_hundal: Bang on! RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  7. Joe Otten

    RT @dalekcat: The David Laws paradox explains why I’m on the left http://bit.ly/9slhXR

  8. Richard Leyland

    RT @hackneye: Yes RT @johnb78: This is good -> Chris Dillow @libcon The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  9. jimthehedgehog

    RT @johnb78: This is good -> Chris Dillow @libcon The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  10. Mike Power

    A crock of shit. http://is.gd/cvNa3 It was personal choice that kept Laws in the closet, not sociological shortcomings.

  11. Liberal Conspiracy

    The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  12. sunny hundal

    Bang on! RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  13. Rachel

    RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/cthLbx

  14. Dick Smith

    RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  15. ashleyelizaball

    RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  16. John Band

    This is good -> Chris Dillow @libcon The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  17. James Brown

    RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  18. James Graham

    RT @libcon: The David Laws paradox explains why I'm on the left http://bit.ly/czUVLZ

  19. dalekcat

    The David Laws paradox explains why I’m on the left http://bit.ly/9slhXR

  20. yeomanphill

    "mind-forg’d manacles can enslave us even when laws do not" How very true #davidlaws http://xrl.in/5hmc





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