Head over now to my new, Movable Type-powered web log here. My vanity site, as mentioned below, is iainmurray.org.
Goodbye, Blogger. It's been a bumpy ride, but not without its pleasures.
As Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out, this division itself rests on a deeper civilizational distinction: "This is perhaps the clearest indication that the world is divided between what some are terming the "Anglosphere" . . . and a group of failed empires--France, Germany, Russia, Islam--that resent American military and economic dominance." With the Muslim world sunk in hostility to the United States and Western Europe declaring its neutrality, Washington may find itself turning increasingly to its Anglosphere allies.
It is curious and irritating, therefore, that the Pew survey does not include the largest English-speaking country in the world, namely India. Yet even as France and Germany are moving away from a close relationship with the United States, India is establishing a new strategic alliance with Washington. As my colleagues in UPI, Martin Walker and Derk Kinnane-Roelofsma, have revealed in the last few weeks, Indian officials have been meeting with senior Pentagon figures to discuss the establishment of an "Asian NATO" that might eventually expand to include Singapore, Australia and Japan.
India's Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani, is currently in Washington and is expected to meet every senior administration figure, not excluding President Bush, to carry these discussions further. Even if the large prize of an "Asian NATO" is some way off, it is plain that a de facto U.S.-India strategic partnership already exists.
That partnership will be carried on in the English language. If military cooperation with the Aussies or Singapore comes about in due course, they speak the lingo too. The United States is linked to its main allies in both Europe and Asia by cultural ties that underpin a common strategic interest. A new, and unexpected, world order is taking shape--and world opinion will have to adapt to it.
Unfortunately, British law, at least from what I have read about how the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 was written and is interpreted by the courts, doesn't give any ... benefit to the resident. As the law has practically been used (and as has happened in the Martin case), the law establishes a level playing field between an intruder and his victim with respect to use of deadly force. You can use a gun against an intruder if he has a gun, and gives you reason to believe that he is going to use it against you.
I happen to think this is an extraordinarily stupid law. If everyone was equally strong, in equally good health, criminals didn't rely on unfair advantages (like a concealed handgun or knife), and didn't engage in unsporting behavior like multiple intruders (as was the case with Martin), this sort of Marquis of Queensberry rules approach might be mildly supportable in an academic "Wouldn't the world be wonderful if we could all get along?" sort of way. The problem is that Offences Against The Person Act was written when Britons, even criminals, seemed to operate on a more civilized level.
Over time, Whitman believes, status-conscious France and Germany began to treat nearly all criminals in the dignified manner once reserved for members of the nobility and political prisoners. America, disdainful of such status distinctions since the Revolution, came to treat everyone in the low-status manner befitting peasants and common criminals. The United States, he argues, moved to one-size-fits-all vengeance while Europe moved towards individualized, nurturing justice. American justice thus "tends not to treat offenders with respect"--which puts the nation at peril through its indifference to suffering.
Whitman has visited German prisons and read German guard-training manuals, but he doesn't appear to have done the same in the United States--and so he makes much out of European training-manual provisions and legal precedents requiring respectful treatment of prisoners, but he seems unaware that similar provisions also exist in the United States. French prisons, as Whitman concedes, are in some ways worse than their American counterparts. While he makes much of policies allowing French prisoners to wear their own clothes and have other petty comforts, he really doesn't make a convincing case that Europeans as a whole are much nicer to prisoners than Americans overall. They simply let them out of prison more quickly and suffer higher crime rates as a result. More disturbingly, Whitman's book has a strangely anti-democratic subtext. Whitman has many kind words for unelected European bureaucrats who run prison systems and, in one absurd passage, compares America's long prison sentences to Nazi torch-light rallies because both "lend themselves naturally to mobilizing mass support."
One way to think about mobility is to array wage earners into fifths, ranging from the lowest income quintile to the highest quintile. Mobility is then measured by the movement among the quintiles over time. Even after a single year, there is considerable movement:
* After one year, about one-third of the workers who were in the bottom income quintile move to a higher quintile; and about one-quarter who were in the top quintile move to a lower one.
* Of those who were originally in the intermediate three quintiles, about half move to another quintile.
There is even more movement over longer periods. Comparing the wages of workers of the same age over a 15-year time period:
* The percent of workers who remained in the same quintile after one year was 60 percent.
* The percent remaining in the same quintile fell to 43 percent after five years, to 33 percent after 10 years, and to 29 percent after 15 years.
These results also point to the importance of knowledge and skill, as measured by education and experience, in facilitating economic mobility. Individuals who have responded to the incentives implicit in the increased earnings inequality have experienced the greatest mobility. The implication is that public policies providing individuals and their families greater freedom and opportunity to invest in themselves and their children will have the greatest positive impact on economic success.
Perhaps going hand in hand with the decline of a structured society is the erosion of the religious foundations on which it was once built. One tends to suppose that in the 1950s, Britain was predominantly a church-going (and of course Christian) society, whereas this is no longer the case. In fact, nominal church membership has not fallen precipitately: in 1951 the estimated baptised membership of the Church of England was 624 for every 1,000 in the population; by 1996, it was still 511. [Source: Butler & Butler, "Twentieth Century British Political Facts".] In the 2001 census (the first to include a question on religion), 72% identified themselves as Christians and a further 5% as belonging to other religions - although many of these can be only nominal adherents, since when we asked in a 2000 survey only 62% of the adult public said they believed in God. (The census figure, it should be noted, includes children as well as adults.) Churchgoing is much lower than theoretical adherence to a religion, of course: in 1957, only 14% of adults said they had been to church on the previous (February) Sunday. By 1993, attendance had fallen to the extent that only 18% said that they ever went to church on a Sunday, but it was clearly a minority activity even at the time of the coronation.
But what has certainly changed is that there is more acceptance of "new age" spiritualism, and other supernatural phenomena, as well as scepticism about organised religion. One 1999 MORI Social Values question gets at this trend quite neatly: 65% of the public agree that "Personal spiritual experience is more important to me than belonging to a church". This leads to what some would describe as a more credulous society. For example, in January 1950, only 10% of the public told Gallup they believed in ghosts, and just 2% thought they had seen one. By 1998 we found that 40% now said they believed in ghosts, and 15% that they had "personal experience" of ghosts; 6% of the public, indeed, said they had based a decision on their belief in ghosts. In 1951, only 7% of the public said they believed in foretelling the future by cards and 6% by stars; in 1998, 18% of the public said they believed in fortune telling or tarot, and 38% in astrology (though we didn't ask specifically about using it to foretell the future).
The cosmologist ... says the most frightening risks are probably man-made.
"A hundred years ago, the nuclear threat wasn't even predicted ... but that threat still hasn't gone away," he said.
The arms race, after all, was fueled by science, and the field has a responsibility to inform a wide public of the risks in deciding how to apply scientific breakthroughs, he added.
"For the first time ever, human nature itself isn't fixed. Biotech drugs and genetic engineering are empowering individuals more than ever before," Rees said.
With rapidly advancing DNA technology, "even a single person could cause a disaster," Rees warned, ... Thousands of people have the ability to engineer viruses and bacteria to cause deadly plagues. Even if one such "weirdo" didn't kill many people, that type of biological terrorism would profoundly change daily life, the scientist warned.
Nanotechnology -- the subject of a recent Michael Crichton thriller about the havoc caused by runaway microscopic machines -- are also a potent threat, he said.
If the field advances far enough, rogue self-replicating nanotechnology machines -- feeding on organic material and spreading like pollen -- could devastate a continent within a few days, Rees said.
The dangers of global warming are also addressed in the book, subtitled "A scientist's warning: How terror, error, and environmental disaster threaten humankind's future in this century -- on Earth and beyond."
Rees does not discount the possibility of disaster caused by scientific experiments involving particle accelerators. "Perhaps a black hole could form, and then suck in everything around it," he cautions.
The British scientist calls for better regulation and inspection of sensitive data and experiments.
"We need to keep track of those who have potentially lethal knowledge," Rees said.
... the striking characteristic of the Bush administration on Europe, as France and Germany explore an openly anti-American policy, is that outside the Pentagon there is no policy. Congress holds no hearings. Other than finally threatening legal action against the EU's scientifically unjustified barriers against genetically modified U.S. food exports, the U.S. Trade Representative explores no other options. When the Estonians are ordered by Brussels to start raising their tariffs on American goods as a condition of joining the EU, Washington is silent.
Maybe they are simply discouraged. Twice in the 1990s then-U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor and his EU counterpart, Leon Brittain, negotiated a Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. Each time, the French vetoed it. Today, the Doha Round of world-trade liberalization is endangered by the EU's difficulty in scrapping its protectionist farm policies in the teeth of French vetoes. ...
Neither Congress and the administration has yet paid much attention to the EU convention, chaired by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, that is drafting a new European constitution. And yet in Giscard's proposals for a strong EU presidency, a common foreign and defense policy and an increasingly uniform judicial system, the implications for U.S. interests are serious.
The Bush administration would have allies all across Europe and the rest of the world if they openly singled out France for confrontation. The U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve would also have support is they pressed the question why the European Central Bank and the eurozone economy are stagnating and helping bring down the wider global economy. And it's odd that so few people in the U.S. media or politics wonder why not.
The U.S. Congress might find it useful to explore Kissinger's idea of joint hearings with the European Parliament into issues like farm-trade obstructionism. The price they might have to pay could be other contentious hearings on the Kyoto Protocol and global warming, or on U.S. policies in the Middle East. Fine. Bring it on. Americans have arguments here that too few Europeans have heard.
Where does this leave us? In limbo, is the answer. That is also where we are likely to remain for some time. I, for one, think that is the right decision for a country as sceptical as the UK about the implications of the currency union. And if you doubt this scepticism, take a look at how the government has approached this decision. It is because of British doubts that it has stressed the need for a clear and unambiguous assessment only of the economics. Not so much through its substance as through its style, this entire exercise shows that the British are not ready for membership.
In the clear
You can stand up straight and walk tall, no one's after you, unless they're trying to nick something from you! It's good to behave 100% correctly and to the letter of the law, though it's hardly life on the edge…
Based on your answers, we have calculated the maximum penalty for your crimes*:
Years in prison: 0 Potential fine: £0
Network Rail is not a joint stock company, but something called a not for profit company. You can say that again. Network Rail made a loss of £290 million in the year to March, and without some fancy accounting, it would have been much worse.
The Government has effectively had to underwrite Network Rail's £21 billion of debts (although yet more financial engineering has kept this mighty sum off the Treasury's books). Driven by cries about safety, spending is out of control and the company will swallow £12 billion in subsidy by 2006.
Despite burning through all this money, the Network Rail locomotive has allowed delays to rise nine per cent in the past year. A fare increase for passengers is imminent. Costs are so high and service levels so poor that one of its biggest customers, the Royal Mail, is abandoning mail trains after 170 years.
Instead of shareholders, Network Rail has 116 members, including busybodies from the Crime Concern Trust, the Royal Association for Disability & Rehabilitation, trade unions, and the Cyclist's Touring Club. They are entirely unaccountable. Standards of corporate governance and disclosure are extremely poor.
The members' role has a contradiction at the heart of it. We are told they have "similar rights to those of shareholders in a public company", yet "no financial or economic interest" in whether Network works.
Network Rail is a sort of Third Way on wheels. Tom Winsor, the rail regulator, believes it is a nonsense. He says a company with no shareholders is hard to incentivise. If he fined Railtrack for poor performance, it came out of shareholders' pockets.
But Network Rail has no shareholders, so just passes a fine on to the taxpayer or passengers in higher costs. "Shareholders with money at stake," said Winsor, "are far more likely to be responsive than public interest members.''
He said the Bank of England would be told to change the current inflation target of 2.5%, and that a new Europe-wide measure of inflation would be used.
Supporters of the euro have, by and large, accepted these facts of life. They agree, reluctantly, that Britain would at present be foolish to contract out its interest rates to Frankfurt. But they want the Government to bring about economic convergence. Convergence, one wonders, with what? With Euro-land's unemployment rate? With its burdensome regulations? With its high taxes?
If so, Gordon Brown is their man. One by one, the Chancellor has been ironing out the things that used to make Britain different from its neighbours, joining the social chapter, buying euros and, above all, raising taxes.
Significantly, his new taxes have been in areas where Britain used to enjoy a competitive edge over the rest of Europe. We had many more private pensions, so he taxed them. We had a higher rate of home ownership, so he raised stamp duty to continental levels. Now he has brought social security levies into line with the EU through his swingeing rise in National Insurance. How Mr Brown has come to be thought of as a eurosceptic is one of the wonders of our age.
1. Higher productivity. Britain has just slipped back into fifth place among the world's economies, behind France. Mr Brown's propensity to meddle brought a halt to the extraordinary surge in productivity which Britain enjoyed until 1997. His finicky schemes have created perverse incentives in the private sector, and raised costs for businesses.
2. Lower taxes. (And, equally important, simpler taxes.) Taxes are rising faster in Britain than in any other industrialised nation. The sheer complexity of the system is quite as harmful as the overall burden.
3. Public service reform. If nothing else, Labour has done us a favour by proving beyond any doubt that spending more on the public services does not necessarily improve them.
4. Fewer regulations. No government has imposed so many new rules on our businesses. A recent survey by the British Chamber of Commerce showed, with pretty convincing methodology, that the total cost of these regulations has been at least £20 billion since Labour came to power.
5. A balanced budget. At present, Mr Brown aims to keep the debt-to-GDP ratio steady over the economic cycle. This means, preposterously, that when the economy is growing, he aims to borrow more. A better target would be no net borrowing over the cycle.
Meeting these tests, of course, would make us less rather than more like the rest of the EU. Yet they would make Britain a wealthier country. There you have Labour's problem.
The European Central Bank President, Wim Duisenberg, put it thus: "I know why (Britain should join). I just don't know when"...
While Italians have accepted their new currency, and the loss of the lira, it has been less easy to accept the huge rise in prices that came with it.
They welcome the newfound freedom to travel without changing money, but mention the euro, and you will instantly be told that prices have doubled, yet wages have not.
For this reason, Britain's reluctance to join doesn't surprise people in Rome. ...
... few [Spaniards] feel passionately enough about the issue of the single currency to hold a grudge if Britain chooses not to join.
"If they want to keep the pound that's fine by me too," says Iguacelle Mateus, a young woman who lives and works in Madrid. ...
In this enthusiastically pro-European nation, Irish people know full well that the British have a pretty different take on Europe.
Alain, a 50-year old doctor, comments: "I wonder sometimes whose side the British are on - Europe's or America's. I'd like Britain to join the euro, but the British will have to decide first which is more important to them." ...
Only one person disagreed - Sybille, a 25-year old Parisian student. She said that by siding with America on Iraq, Britain had ruled itself out of Europe, and did not deserve to participate in the single currency.
The “screw-ups” were obsessively tracked by bloggers. Like British tabloid newspapers in hot pursuit of a wounded politician, they never gave up on their quarry.
Nevertheless, the clearest example of the bloggers’ ability to take scalps was the forced resignation of Trent Lott, the Republican Senate leader, after he was vilified for making a racist remark at a southern politician’s 100th birthday celebration last year.
Only when left-wing bloggers began to make a fuss did newspapers such as The New York Times begin to notice that anything was amiss. Eventually Lott was shunned by the left and the right, including Bush.