With little evident fanfare except in The Times, the government is apparently considering “wholesale privatisation” of the justice system. Perhaps there really is a law of averages, and that even this sorry administration will sometimes come up with a good idea in the same way that a blind marksman with a machine gun will occasionally hit the target. More likely, however, that the political compromises involved will produce the same kind of public-private hybrid which brought us our enviable public transport system.
This is a pity, because denationalising justice would bring it back into line with, and therefore more effectively promote, its true and original purpose. Since our conformity to social rules is based on a free acceptance of the duty to respect others’ rights in return for having to the right to enforce that duty on others, it follows that the more diverse objectives of the Crown or its representatives have in reality very little to do with the fundamental social contract. This is not merely a question of administrative efficiency, but of first principles. Read more
What do the tax affairs of multinational enterprises, the Nikkei crash and the Public Sector Net Cash Requirement have in common? To be sure, they have all been in the news this week, but this shadowy financial engineering, eye-watering price volatility and the foisting of our debt on unborn generations seem to share some nebulous characteristic which is as instantly recognisable as it is hard to define – a certain grubbiness, the quality of something unpleasant that we have become resigned to living with.
The sense that the whole economy is a hostile and dishonest place, that there is no pleasure or virtue to be found in it, is so much a hallmark of the modern world that it might almost be its distinguishing feature. If there is a single culprit, the smoking gun is surely grasped in the pallid talons of the monetary system, now so far from being an organic social convention, evolved to meet real human needs, that we should hardly be surprised that we no longer expect it to promote basic social decency. Read more
Determined to follow the successful example of Gordon Brown in all things, the government has taken up being casually offensive to its own supporters. Unfortunately for the advocates of this shrewd policy, contempt tends to breed contempt. John Wilkes, the original swivel-eyed loon if Hogarth’s cartoon is anything to go by, wrote in 1762:
“I should not hesitate a moment to prefer pledging patriot toasts with a set of sensible and spirited friends of their country, in Surrey, Sussex, or Buckinghamshire, to the drinking of chocolate with a weak, passionate and insolent secretary of state.” Read more
“People of the same trade seldom meet together,” wrote Adam Smith, “even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” In an apparent attempt to prove it, popular petroleum outfits BP, Shell and others, presumably encouraged by the well-received Libor story, have allegedly been manipulating obscure things in mysterious ways to achieve unquantifiable price changes.
Like the policeman in Casablanca, MPs are shocked, shocked, to discover that petrol prices have become so high, and are demanding urgent inquiries, which no doubt will somehow contrive not to notice that a £1.392 “litre” of petrol includes 57.95p duty and 22.15p VAT, so that 60% of the cost of filling your tank is immediately trousered by the very MPs who are demanding inquiries as to why it is so expensive. More entertainingly still, it seems that the tool which we intend to use to combat such abusive practices is the bloated corpus of misconceived competition law which facilitates these abuses in the first place. Read more
Special Ed Miliband argues that we should not have a vote on the European Union ‘because’ we should remain a member. We are not quite sure how these two things are related – surely, he is entitled to vote against leaving in a referendum, and if we all disagree with him it follows that we should not stay in the EU. “Jiminy Cricket,” he would say, “was I ever wrong!”
Or perhaps not. John Wilkes was familiar with this kind of political creature, which seems destined to remain with us through the centuries in spite of all efforts to eradicate them, like bathroom mould:
“This wretch [wrote Uncle Jack] preaches up the doctrine, that some part of mankind, nay, the most, are born slaves, who ought implicitly to be submissive to the caprices of a few, who by accident, knavery, or cunning, shall wriggle themselves into power. Read more
This weekend, Douglas Murray uses the well-known idea about the fox and the hedgehog to illustrate developments in British politics: a charming conceit first used by Sir Isaiah Berlin in a 1951 essay on Tolstoy’s philosophy of history, in which he quoted this seventh century BC fragment from Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Murray suggests that the established political class and its worldview is the fox, restlessly fidgeting with every conceivable category of social and economic life; and that the anti-political insurgency is the hedgehog, relentlessly drawing actions together, like the ancient Greek language itself, to march in rank towards a single and inevitable conclusion. We submit, however, that it should be quite the other way around. Read more