Beginning of a new file here …


Tim Adams, Observer, 8.9.13, reviewing a new book on economics, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, says the authors are starting from the “provable belief that scarcity captures the mind”. For example: “A 1946 study of hunger revealed not only the obvious – that, faced with starvation, food of any kind would be eaten and plates licked clean – but also that the brain was hijacked entirely by this need.”

Scarcity of time, money, etcetera, similarly tunnels the brain to the need, sums up Adams. He goes on: “This ‘scarcity trap’ provides an explanation for unpalatable truths, the authors argue. It shows why the poor are more likely to be obese … less likely to send children to school … least likely to wash their hands or treat water before drinking it … the poor are not just short of cash. They are short on bandwidth.”


John Naughton, Observer, 8.9.13, quotes Keynes: “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

Naughton is leading to the point that Ronald Coase, who died last week at 102, forecast the growth of internet monopolies back in the 1930s. He had noticed that big companies shut market forces out of their internal activities by taking over supply lines, rather than going to the trouble and expense of negotiating with them – “transaction costs”.


Matthew Parris, Times, 7.9.13: “If G.K.Chesterton had written nothing more in his life he would still deserve his literary pedestal for one quote: ‘Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.’”

Parris comments: “They (economists) get it right 95 percent of the time … by assuming tomorrow will be like today, which 95 percent it is.  But the 5 percent of the time when tomorrow is unlike today is the only time we actually need economists to warn us. And they rarely do.

“Perhaps if we stopped calling them economists and renamed them augurs we’d be halfway to cutting their professional status down to size. For what it’s worth, here’s my own augury – as unwelcome to Tories as to the Left: that government has precious little influence over economic growth one way or the other.”



Reference: Sunday Telegraph, May 25, 2005.

Those of us who were always a bit hesitant about the western mission to fight for democracy might enjoy Setting The People Free, a history, by Douglas Dunn, of how democracy came to mean what it now appears to mean.

Alasdair Palmer, reviewing the book in the Sunday Telegraph, said the book started by setting the record straight on the Athenian experiment with rule by mass vote in the 5th century BC …

“The citizens of Athens made a series of catastrophically bad choices. For the next 2,000 years, democracy was seen as an infallible recipe for anarchy, social dislocation and disaster.”



Victoria Coren, Observer 20/12/09, satirised “the sort of person who uses the phrase Political Correctness Gone Mad’ … “If women insist on making such a fuss abt hvg tr tits groped; if homos must get all queeny abt being beaten up in t army; if Asian policemen complain in such hysterical fashion abt being called Mr Jibber Jabber and passed over f promotn; it serves tm all right wn Christmas is cancelled.” 



The Week mag, 14.11.9, quoted from Sunday Times article, Wasted: The Betrayal of White Working Class and Black Caribbean Boys, from report published by Centre for Policy Studies and written by Harriet Sergeant, middle-class white journo who started takingClapham gang lads out …

“They … were stunned when I stopped for petrol. ‘In all my days,’ said Mash, ‘I have never met a person who fills their tank to the brim.’”


Lynsey Hanley has  some good observation in Estates: An Intimate History (Granta), based on growing up in The Wood, Birmingham. Extract in Guardian Mag 13/1/7 complained that newspapers always report that recidivists “live on this or that estate as though it were a matter of course that they would” and added…

“every reference to a council estate is prefixed with the word ‘tough’, as though bare-kuckle boxing is the leisure activity of choice for every British person who doesn’t own their own home”.

But she also describes the scene outside her current home, on a London estate, like this …

“Drunks, to a man and woman on crutches, clobber one another with cans of Special Brew on their patch next to a trio of burnt-out Daleks posing as recycling bins. In the summer, the young-but-old girls join them, often with their babies, wandering in circles all day between the off-licence the pub and, when hungry, the chip shop, spending whatever they have left on cigs and mobile-phone credit. It’s a gutting kind of personal squalor, to have nowhere to go but this terrible square …”



Philip Collins, former Blair speechwriter, was good on Miliband and Balls struggling to reposition themselves on welfare and spending in Times 7.6.13 –

 “Mr Miliband is really late on the economy and welfare. This week could and should have happened long ago. Whether late is better than never remains to be seen. On welfare, the test will be in the policy detail but the chances are good. On the economy, Labour is coming from a lot further back and Mr Miliband and Mr Balls need to return, time and again, to the same tune, at the same pitch, that they have sung this week. Mr Miliband has had a tendency to say a great deal once but not much twice, which is what you do when you are not entirely sure what you are trying to say.”



The Week of 13.4.2013 quoted some astonishing figures from Harriet Sergeant in the Sunday Times

“Forget the workers vs. shirkers argument. The big problem with welfare today is the tax credit system, and the uneven way this regime – designed by Gordon Brown – affects the low paid, favouring working mothers over all else. I recently spoke to a young ex-offender who had spent most of his 20s in and out of jail but had decided to go straight and get a job. He now earned £928 a month after tax, but once he’d paid rent and council tax, he’d just £328 to live on. He realised he was better off on benefits. Now imagine he had a sister, a single mum with two young children, who earned the same amount. Add her salary to the means-tested benefits she’d get through the tax credit system and she’d end up with a monthly disposable income of £3,152. Or consider a recent study that compared six notional single parents all working for the NHSk, on salaries ranging from £14,154 for a clerk to £30,460 for a ward sister. Once tax credits were applied, they all ended up with about £37,800. How can that be fair? Tax credits are a crude, unaffordable tool of redistribution that stifles incentive.”


On the NHS …

Telegraph letter, June 2013:

SIR – Has anyone asked why we need more doctors (“We need thousands more A & E doctors, says Hunt”, report, May 28)? Between 1960 and 2011 the population rose from approximately 52.4 million to 62.6 million: an increase of approximately 20 per cent. Over the same period, medical school intake rose by more than 70 per cent.

Between 1999 and 2010 the number of consultants alone increased from 21,410 to 35,781, an increase of some 65 per cent, and between 1999 and 2009 the number of NHS managers increased by 82 per cent.
There have been many reports of increased waiting times and imminent failures of A & E departments but in view of the actual figures none of the explanations make much sense. The increase in doctors, consultants and managers far outpaces the increase in the population.

Technological advances have made outpatient investigation easier and much faster. If these statistics were transferred to any other organisation the obvious conclusion would be an increase in inefficiency. Would this degree of incompetence be tolerated in any structure other than the NHS?

L S Illis

Emeritus consultant neurologist

Lymington, Hampshire.



In the course of a report from Greenham Common in Gdn 8..6.13, Zoe Williams shifted my perspective a little with her memories …

“I went as a kid, and remember the depth of the divide, between protesters and everybody else. There wasn’t always hostility. (Although I do recall a woman glaring on a bus. She was wearing a badge that said RAGE, which turned out to stand for Residents Against Greenham Extremists. ‘I hate stupid peace,’ said her angry eyes, ‘and I’m going to face down this eight-year-old until she hates it too.’)

“There is always a feeling that you step out of society when you protest against a war. You are no longer a shopper or a leisure centre user, or a neighbour or a person who goes to a pub. You no longer have a constellation of interests. All you are is your (your mum’s) cranky worldview. It’s like being naked.”

Full original at http://tinyurl.com/qbhu9nc/



Peter Millar, Sunday Times, 31.3.13: “There is a joke doing the rounds of Berlin bars: ‘St Peter wants a new coat of whitewash on the Pearly Gates. He asks an Albanian for a quote. The man says E600: E300 for the materials and E300 for my labour. A German says E900: 300 for materials, 300 for labour and 300 for the tax I have to pay on it. He then asks a Greek who says E3,000 – 1,000 for you, 1,000 for me, 300 to get the Germans to look the other way and 400 to hire an Albanian to do the work.”


On  TAX and LAND:

Letter in Times, 3.9.12, fm Prof. Roger Sandilands, Strathclyde Uni:

“Eamonn Butler argues against a wealth tax because we should ‘encourage people to build up productive capital’. However, as director o t Adam Smith Inst, Mr Butler shd heed t clear distinctn tt Smith drew btwn man-made capital and ‘god-given’ land.

“In T Wealth O Nations (1776), Smith wrote tt ‘landlords, like all other men, love to reap whr ty never sowed, and demand a rent even f its natural produce’.

“This … both t ethical and efficiency case f radical fiscal reform tt wd switch fm t taxatn o labour and enterprise towards t capture o t underlyg renal value o t UK’s rural and urban land as t most natural source o state revenue.

“Unlike labour and man-made capital, land is fixed in supply and can neither be hidden nor moved abroad. W its zero labour cost o productn, land’s rental value is a buoyant bt unearned social surplus determined entirely by t growth o populatn and income.

“Justice and prosperity wd thus best be served if we each compensated society accordg as we enjoy exclusive possessn o greater or less valuable land, rather tn accordg to our greater or less work and genuine capitalist enterprise.”



The Observer of Sept. 3 06 ran Martin Amis’s attempt to empathise with one of the terrorists who drove planes into the World Trade Centre on Sept 11 01 – “The Last Days Of Muhammad Atta”.

At the heart of it was this observation:

“Muhammad Atta was not religious; he was not even especially political. He had allied himself with the militants because jihad was, by many magnitudes, the most charismatic idea of his generation. To unite ferocity and rectitude in a single word: nothing could compete with that.”



In April 2005, Harry Mount, in the Daily Telegraph, came up with the idea of a Political Animal identification guide which included the following examples – (now in need of some updating)…

White collar on striped or coloured shirt – Conservative.
Chinos – New Labour. Cords – Conservative.
Purple suit with matching shirt, like Jonathan Ross – Labour.
Cycling without lights or helmet – Conservative.
Cycling with helmet, beard and child seat – Liberal Democrat.
Calling herbal tea “lesbian tea” – Conservative.
Greeting people with “How do you do?” – Conservative.
Replying “Good thanks” – Labour.
Greeting people with “How ya doing?” – Labour.
Replying “Very well thankyou” – Conservative.
Drinking sancerre or chianti – Labour.
Drinking claret or rioja – Conservative.
Making wine at home – Liberal Democrat.



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