Quieter deeds of longer gestation

We live in shrill, hysterical times where the media (social, print and broadcast equally) gorge themselves on the public’s prurient fascination with the sexual misdeeds of the celebrated. The air is wearyingly thick with manufactured outrage, boiled up in the echoing vats of Facebook and the 24-hour news channels.

So, David Aaronovitch’s column in yesterday’s Times is timely and welcome:

David Cameron is a privileged Old Etonian who will be remembered for calling and losing a referendum that will have an enormous impact on our lives. No one likes him any more. But, as Jim O’Neill reminded me, Cameron is also the politician who, possibly more than any other in the world, began taking action to avert the disaster that could prevent antibiotics working. …

Like Cameron on antibiotics, once Thatcher was convinced of the science of ozone layer depletion and that it was caused by man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), she badgered the rest of the world into taking action. She gave a magnificent speech to the Royal Society in 1988 and then another a year later to the UN general assembly making the case for altering behaviour in order to safeguard the future. …

George W Bush, the fabled half-chimp, half-man who couldn’t pronounce words properly and who invaded Iraq. Which must be his eternal legacy, must it not? I interviewed him in 2007 and he wasn’t at all stupid. He told me then that one reason he was impatient with the UN was just how long it took to get anything done. “We’ve been developing this programme to fight malaria,” he said. “We just decided to do it, so we got on with it.”

In 2005, having been convinced that malaria could be eradicated, Bush set up the President’s Malaria Initiative. Since then the initiative has bought 320 million antimalarial treatments, given out 140 million mosquito nets and delivered 175 million diagnostic tests. Since 2000, deaths from malaria worldwide are down by 50 per cent.

It’s not easy to look beyond the outrage of the moment and value the importance of quieter deeds of longer gestation.

 

Image: cnn.com

Build more or cut immigration – @MattwRidley

Matt Ridley’s Times column on the UK’s infrastructure challenges.

As ever, it’s an objective and data-driven argument:

Of the 1,447 people that Britain added every day in the 12 months to the end of June last year, roughly 529 were births minus deaths, 518 were net arrivals from the European Union, and 537 net arrivals from elsewhere, minus 137 departing British citizens. Given such a flow, our unemployment rate of 4.3 per cent and employment rate of 75.1 per cent are remarkable, if not miraculous. We are one of the world’s great workplaces, which, of course, is why people come.

and …

Though a densely populated country, Britain is not in any sense running out of land. Only about 7 per cent of the land area is classified as urban, rising to almost 11 per cent in England. But of that 11 per cent a great deal is still not concrete: gardens, parks, water and so forth. So the actual paved-over percentage, even just in England, is about 2.27 per cent according to the National Ecosystem Assessment in 2012, and more like 1 per cent for Britain as a whole. This is why a flight over southern England, let alone the Pennines, gives a very different impression from a car journey through the ribbon development along the roads: there is vastly more farmland and woodland (13 per cent of Britain and rising) than concrete.

As so often these days, we suffer from a long-standing failure to have made the case.

Here is the column in the Times.

Here is the same column from Ridley’s own blog, which includes links back to the data sources.

Over decades, we have failed to make the case for development.

We had the Brexit vote (at least partly) because we failed to make the case for immigration.

People deify that nice Uncle Jeremy Corbyn because we failed to make the case for free markets.

Is the shrill intolerance of no-platforming, safe-spacing, snowflake students the result of past failure to make the case for free speech?

 

Photo by Stephen Crowley on Unsplash

Philip Hammond eyes £1bn budget raid on freelancers – @TheSundayTimes

The Sunday Times reports that the Chancellor is considering another attack on sovereign professionals. The concern seems to be, as before, “disguised employment” and the Sunday Times’ coverage is couched in terms of “levelling the playing field” and “significant tax advantages”.

The reality of course is different.

When running properly, individuals operating through personal services companies are each individual businesses carrying all the risks of business and not enjoying the corporate comfort blanket benefits of traditional employment. If the cost to the client company is higher than employing a traditional employee (and often the fully loaded costs are not as far apart as crude comparisons of “day rates” suggest), then the client business benefits from flexibility and agility that no commitment, on-demand services provide.

A tax raid risks damaging the supply of this important flexibility while also increasing the cost to client firms. This has already been seen in the public sector where restrictions similar to those imagined here have already been implemented. It’s a short-sighted and ill-considered move.

Does “disguised employment” actually exist? I’m sure it does. A number of recent court cases suggest that there has been a trend for some employers to seek the cost benefits of using freelance contractors whilst retaining all of the control traditionally associated with  “permanent” employment. Those cases should rightly be pursued, but not by painting the self-employed as either downtrodden, abused workers or system-abusing fat cats.

Being a sovereign professional is a choice. It has real benefits – not least in flexibility – but it comes with risks, costs and responsibilities. A suitable test of employment would investigate the extent to which those risks are real, rather than simply punishing providers of needed skills through a flexible model.

 

Photo by Lily Lvnatikk on Unsplash

New enemies threaten the Enlightenment – @mattwridley

Matt Ridley has a thought-provoking and concerning column in today’s Times, arguing that these politically correct times of snow-flake students, timid academia and craven politicians threaten the foundations of western, Enlightenment thought.

He concludes:

… the spread of fundamentalist Islam, the growth of Hindu nationalism and Russian autocracy, the intolerance of dissent in western universities and the puritanical hectoring of social media give grounds for concern that the flowering of freedom in the past several centuries may come under threat. We have a fight on our hands.

Read the full column, here.

 

Image: Peter Walton on mattridley.co.uk

 

Shorter lives or shoddy statistics? – @TheSundayTimes, @CapX, @Worstall

Two articles on Michael Marmot’s odd assertion that the (relatively) recent government policy of austerity was the “obvious candidate” for stalling the growth of UK life expectancy.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot is, of course, well-known as the man behind the famous Whitehall Studies that showed the connection between stress, life-expectancy and control or autonomy in the workplace.

He deserves attention because of his groundbreaking research. However, his recent comments on the effect of government spending cuts upon lifespan seemed odd. Is it plausible that a relatively recent government policy would have such an impact on a long term measure?

In the Sunday Times, Nigel Hawkes takes issue with the conclusion:

So is the UK really the sick man of Europe? The statistics suggest not. Figures from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical body, show that between 2014 and 2015 life expectancy fell across the EU as a whole, and — in sharp contrast to what Marmot says — that falls in Germany, France and Italy were steeper than in the UK.

Between 2000 and 2015, life expectancy rose by three years in the UK, and by very similar amounts in other countries (3.2 years in France, 2.8 in Italy and 2.4 in Germany). Yet growth has slowed everywhere since 2010, and between 2014 and 2015 went into reverse.

He continues…

Life expectancy is also falling in America. We need to find out why, not waste time and damage trust in academics by claiming “the cuts” are to blame.

Scotland has free social care and additional disbursements from UK taxpayers that allow it to spend more on the NHS than England does, yet still has life expectancies far below England’s.

France and Germany are often held up as examples of well-funded healthcare systems, in contrast to the NHS. Yet we’re all in the same boat, and it’s sinking. Not a great moment to engage in petty political point-scoring.

And, points to more plausible alternatives including the flu and the unwinding of long-term effects:

Better health in childhood is linked to better health as an adult, so today’s elderly could have childhood care — antibiotics and vaccines — to thank for their long lives. Since most of the improvement in children’s health was in place by 1950, when today’s 70-year-olds were infants, it may be that the benefits to adult mortality are finally playing out.

On CapX, the Adam Smith Institute’s Tim Worstall takes issue with the underlying statistics:

 In fact, no one is measuring the expected lifespans of those being born today. What is being measured is the age at death of those who were born 60, 80 and 100 years ago.

So because we cannot measure how long people are going to live, we use a proxy: how long did people live? Sure, this has its uses, but, just as GDP doesn’t measure human utility (the important thing), we need to recall that this, too, is just a proxy – not the thing itself. Remember this, and Marmot blaming the past seven years of austerity doesn’t quite make sense.

For example, we now insist it’s the early years which make the most difference to lifelong health and thus presumably lifespan. Which means that the generation now dying was influenced by what happened in the 1930s and 1940s. You know, Depression, Second World War and even the creation of the NHS. Not recent Tory policy.

And, he makes an interesting point about domestic migration:

We know that richer people live longer than poorer in general. But it’s also true that people migrate as their economic circumstances change. So those people living longer in Kensington were not necessarily born there, nor those dying young in the Gorbals. Being poor is likely to lead to migration to areas where housing is cheap –  and getting richer vice versa.

In fact, this also applies to the emptying out of Appalachia that Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton has remarked upon. Average lifespans seem to be declining there, unprecedented in modern times. Yet all other reports seem to show that those who manage to get out to go to college don’t come back – the very group which we’d expect to have the higher lifespan is leaving, bringing down that average. So it’s entirely possible that the length of lifespan of no single individual has changed, it’s just that the composition of the group being studied is changing.

Both articles are worth a read.

 

Photo by Piron Guillaume on Unsplash

Looking from left to right, and right to left

A couple of articles this week on perspective, and especially why those on the political left often state a marked distaste for those on the right.

The Adam Smith Institute’s President Madsen Pirie makes the case that the real difference between the two is not attitude but method:

The left typically favour the use of state power through high taxation, nationalization and the fixing of prices.  The centre-right typically favour relatively free markets, private enterprise, and prices that respond to changes in supply and demand.  Their case is that these usually achieve more sure and more rapid economic growth than can be attained by collectivist planning and state controls.  The left pursue greater equality, whereas the centre-right seek to promote greater opportunity.

In Wednesday’s Times, Daniel Finkelstein takes issue with the left’s disdain (“True socialism always ends with the Stasi”):

Hatred of Conservatives is common currency on social media, and at Labour conferences you can buy mugs with the words “Never kissed a Tory” on them.

… Not unreasonably, many Conservatives are quite hurt. It’s never nice to be thought evil by someone. And the misunderstanding, that Tories are like Mr Burns out of The Simpsons, is quite frustrating. There is also something quite amusing about people who check someone’s position on free schools before they kiss them.

Both worth a read.

 

 

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

Atlas and Albion – @TheEconomist

The Bagehot column in this week’s Economist contemplates an Atlas Shrugged-like future for Britain.

The combined result of Brexit and Corbyn could be the dystopia that Rand warned about: a stagnant society driven by resentment of the successful. The flight of talent will not only have a knock-on effect on the wider economy, as high earners who would have spent money in London or Leeds start moving to Paris or Frankfurt. It will also reduce the state’s revenues, since the top 1% of earners pay almost 30% of income tax and the top 10% pay nearly 60%.

 

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:King_Alfred_Statue,_Winchester.jpg