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Recent Articles

Was it the Standard wot won it?

by DonaldS     May 3, 2008 at 1:32 pm

So, it’s the weekend after the week before, and an alliance of gameshow fans, 4×4 drivers, suburban curtain-twitchers, BNP second-preferences, Labourphobes and the thoroughly fed-up, mostly from places that don’t even count as London, have foisted a Thatcherite mayor on our generally left-leaning city. continue reading… »

“Grandad, what did you do during the Great Credit Crunch of 2008?”

by DonaldS     April 18, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Back in the day, when I were a lad in a grimy northern town, &c. &c. we used to give stuff up for Lent. Or, any road, we talked about it. I don’t recall actually giving much up personally, apart from Ferraris. continue reading… »

Dirty local politics

by DonaldS     March 28, 2008 at 1:05 pm

A letter dropped on the doormat yesterday. If you live on an estate (that’s council, not country), you may have had something similar.

RE: Proposed Removal of Recycling Bins on [road]

I am writing to inform you that we have received several complaints regarding the misuse of recycling bins on [estate]; due to the area round the bins becoming an eyesore. Currently we have placed this area on our weekend hot spot list and therefore a lorry removes all items round the bins on a Saturday morning. During the week the cleaner also has been instructed to ensure this area is tidy. Despite these efforts users of the recycling bins are constantly leaving recycling items outside the bins causing an eyesore.

We would like to offer an opportunity for residents who live near where the bins are situated to voice their opinion on this issue of whether they will be in favour of the bins being removed.

Yours faithfully

I live about 5 houses away, less than fifty yards. Overleaf there’s a few lines of space for me to fill in my views (and it would appear that I may not continue on a separate sheet…). It would be a waste of space, I guess, to use them to comment on the death of the comma in local govermnent communications. So,

I am not in favour of their removal. My 4-year-old puts her rubbish in the bin. Are we now outsourcing recycling policy in Hackney to a few slobs who can’t even manage that?

But maybe I’m just an old idealist. Can you come up with something better? You’ve got 2 sentences, 3 short ones tops, and an impeccably left-liberal brief.  I may even nick yours; the posting deadline is Monday.

The talking politics of abortion

by DonaldS     February 29, 2008 at 8:09 am

This piece was first published two years ago at The Sharpener and in an edited form in this book (as “Talk amongst yourselves, we couldn’t possibly comment”). It’s main hope – that Westminster politicians stop ducking the abortion issue – has come to pass. That is a development I welcome; and I stand by (most of) what I wrote then (some of it now in lost, much missed links). The piece also tries to define “what’s so special” about 24 weeks, though perhaps less elegantly than Unity. So now’s a good time for a re-run. It does seem, alas, that what we’re about to get elsewhere is tabloid drivel (via) rather than proper debate. I guess that’s what happens when professional politicos get involved.

One word absolutely not on the lips of political hacks, not even Tory political hacks, is… Abortion. Not this week, not any week. It’s impolite conversation inside the beltway.

But a post here last year (picked apart here) attracted over 250 comments. Just publishing the word is pure Google-juice. Everyone in the real world has an opinion, so why does nobody in political Britain want to discuss abortion in public? It can’t be that 186,274 (2001 data; pdf) annual terminations don’t warrant justification or inquiry. continue reading… »

What good did funding the arts ever do?

by DonaldS     February 18, 2008 at 9:59 am

So, who wants to hear a joke?

Q: What’s the difference between libertarianism and anarchism?

A: Under anarchism, the poor people get to shoot back.

Boom, boom. I guess that’s more a caricature than a joke, as such. Anyway, I’m not here for the standup. What I want to address is the arts, partly by way of reply to Chris’s post here last week, specifically the estimable libertarian objection to arts funding. In libertopia, arts funding is for private individuals. “There is no such thing as society” (some of them really write stuff like that, non-ironically), so spending on the collective is wasted. Immoral. Theft. In any case, the Dead Hand of the State (10,300 Google hits for a phrase I’ve never heard anyone actually speak) can only have a pernicious impact on private interaction, and what could be more private than art?

Let’s look at some evidence. continue reading… »

Markets, gone postal

by DonaldS     January 21, 2008 at 11:46 am

A trip to the postbox to return the execrable Black Dahlia to LoveFilm reminded me why marketizing public services will always fail. It’s that little slot on there that tells me when the next pickup’s due. Today it read SAT. Those Next Collection signs are very useful. It wasn’t so long ago that they were trustworthy. Not any more: they’re often days out of date at my local box.

The reason’s simple: whoever changes the signs doesn’t have the incentive to bother. Nobody’s checking every little detail of his job – nobody could. And these little extras – what we used to call public service – aren’t Big Picture stuff. (You could have said the same about clean hospital toilets until a couple of years back.) By turning my postman from a public servant into a rational economic actor, we’ve destroyed the small parts of his job that used to connect him with our lives in all their complexity. Marketization can only put incentives (targets, bonuses, competition) in place for a proportion of what he does, or did. The rest is deemed worthless, history. Or it’s left up to his own integrity, which we still expect him to display in his new daily life being pushed around by capitalists.

Now I’m not saying that I oppose the market running public goods; nor do I know whether this ‘public servant’ ever really existed, or even if s/he did, whether we could re-energize the corpse. But deciding where markets can be successful needs to be an empirical judgement: they appear to be better at running airlines than train networks; better at holiday camps than prisons.

And marketization isn’t a process we should be celebrating. When markets need to take over, it’s a sign of human failure, a necessary second-best option, not something anyone should be proud of, Left or Right. Smith, like Worstall on a good day, teaches us that self-interest can be useful, not admirable.

Also published here.

Have yourself a leftie little Christmas

by DonaldS     December 13, 2007 at 3:14 pm

It’s common knowledge on the left that Christmas is a pernicious racist-imperialist construct, an unholy alliance of Catholicism, Coca Cola and capitalism whose only function is the exploitation and repression of the international working classes. Well, bollocks to that. Christmas is a right laugh, a time for family, friends and frolicking whether you do the God thing or not.

But if we want those doey-eyed little ones looking up at us to have a future free from acid rain, hurricanes and summer floods, it’s time for a festive fightback. No, I don’t mean making common cause with the fundies, but what better day than the feast of Santa Lucia to publish a cut-out-and-keep guide to an enlightened Winterval.

Here are fifteen ideas to get us started; feel free to add your own below.
continue reading… »

Kidneys, coming soon to a high street near you

by DonaldS     December 6, 2007 at 2:29 pm

Consider this:

A kidney patient who travelled to the Philippines to search for a live donor has defended his decision to become a so-called “transplant tourist”.

Stories like this hit the bullseye of the inherent tension between ‘liberal’ and ‘left’ ways of looking at the world.

A liberal (even ‘libertarian’) solution would be simple: we should be allowed to sell a kidney. It’s our body, and we should be free to do what we want with it. The borders of the state must stop at the dermis. Liberty is that simple. Or simplistic.

A left analysis would first point out that the burdens of this ‘freedom’ would fall disproportionately on the poor. Should they need a kidney, they won’t be able to afford one. A rich person is unlikely to need to sell his; a poor person, the opposite. Kidney sellers will be poor; purchasers usually rich. A freedom isn’t a freedom unless its universal; it’s more like a privilege. Just like my freedom (or ‘right’) to buy a Porsche. In a system that relies on exploitation, what we call capitalism, words like ‘freedom’ are sometimes meaningless. (There’s an analogy here with smoking in pubs, but that’s another story.)

There’s really no ‘left-liberal’ solution to this, not in the philosophical sense anyhow. There’s also no place for supporting or condemning one man’s attempt to prolong his life. Perhaps the place to start is with common sense. Support for the BMA’s position on presumed consent is little more than acknowledging the existence of a market failure that can be corrected. Easily and liberally.

Swedes and Greens

by DonaldS     November 23, 2007 at 9:05 am

I’ve never been much of a joiner. Even though I’ve worked as a writer/journalist for a few years, I only sent my form off to the NUJ last month. The Union, the Tartan Army, the Tufty Club… and, er, that’s about it. Still, I have given recent thought to joining my local Green Party – so I read Dave Osler’s recent piece: Green Party: vehicle for the British left? (and there), with interest.

Like Dave, I doubt the Greens can build a systematic left-wing alternative to Labour, now properly classified as a ‘centre-right’ not a ‘left’ party. But I do believe the popularity of mainstream greenish politics offers something. A ‘moment’, perhaps, for slipping something with a progressive flavour in with the recycling. A reasonable place to look for inspiration is Sweden.

Sweden’s Green Party have just finished 8 years as junior coalition partners in a red-green government. Top of their list of achievements was the inauguration, in January 2005, of a so-called Alternation Leave policy. Under this scheme, 12,000 Swedes have the annual opportunity to take a government subsidized sabbatical from work (similar to parental leave, but without a baby). Three main conditions apply: employer consent is required; the vacancy may only be covered by recruiting from the pool of current unemployed; you may not work while on leave, except to start a new business.
continue reading… »

“The children are our future,” claim identity thieves

by DonaldS     November 20, 2007 at 7:08 pm

Still, on the plus side, another 25 million people have just realised that ID cards are what’s known in the trade as a Very Bad Idea.

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