Tag Archives: free markets

Why the universal wage is a non-starter

Robert Henderson

The universal or citizen’s  wage is finding favour in various political quarters. This is remarkable because it is very obviously hopelessly  impractical.

The idea of the universal wage is  that every adult in a society should receive  a payment from the state. It is predicated on these two rules:

  1. The payment should be enough on which to live.
  2. It will replace all forms of direct welfare which provide money to the individual. Indirect welfare such as healthcare and education would continue as now.

If the payment is  not enough to live on then it will  be impossible to do away with  welfare  payments because not every  person can be assured of a job  which pays enough to allow them  to live by combining the universal wage with  their earned money.  Moreover, there will always be substantial numbers who cannot find work for substantial periods of time.  Then there are the  old who are over retirement age,  children and  the disabled or ill who cannot work. Again, unless the universal wage is enough to live on,  benefits in the shape of additional payments would have to be made which  would  again break the second rule described above.

The amount needed to live

At what level should the universal wage be set? In the UK it would be difficult for any  person to provide for all their basic needs on  less than £10,000 pa and in most parts of the country £10,000 would be grossly inadequate if the person does not own  their own home or live in council housing or its like.

It would be possible to pay different amounts according to the cost of living in different parts of the country, but that would mean reintroducing large scale public administration to work out who gets what. That would breach  the second rule.

To allow a person to live in any part of the country when they have to pay  a private market rent or bear the burden of a huge mortgage  would probably mean a universal wage of £20,000 although even that would be pushing things in London and other parts of the South East of England.

£20,000 might fund a single person, but even two people living as a family would find it difficult to raise children on a combined £40,000  if they did not own their home or  live in affordable housing in much of the UK.    If we are to believe the  estimates  the media   frequently make of  what it costs to raise a child in the UK we would think £10-15,000 a year would be required for each child .   The Fostering Network   charity estimates that the weekly maintenance cost of a baby is £164 and for a 16-year-old  or older £245. Most people will think that is much higher than most parents actually spend,   but £5,000 a year on average for a  child is probably realistic.

The population of the UK was  officially  estimated at 65 million in 2015. It has probably risen to about 66 million by now,  but for the sake of arithmetical co0nvenience I will take the population to be 65 million.  In  2015 the age distribution was as follows:

UK Population   0 to 15 years (%)               16 to 64 years (%)            65 years and over (%)

65,110,000             18.8                                           63.3                                              17.8

Rounded to the nearest whole number that is 81% over the age of 16 and 19% under the age of 16. That gives approximately 52 million  people over the age of 16 or older and 13 million people under the age of 16.

If the £20,000 adult payment is used  (52 million x £20k)  that would  cost    £1,08 trillion.

If the £5,000 under 16 payment is used  (13 million x £5k) that would cost       £130 billion

Total  Cost                                                   £1.38 trillion

That is greater than the estimated UK Government expenditure for the present financial year,  viz:

Estimated Government revenue and expenditure for the year 2017/18 

Revenue        £744 billion

Expenditure  £802 billion

Clearly the £20, 000 adult and  £5,000 child  universal wage would be impossible  as the cost  is not far short of twice the total estimated expenditure by the UK government for the financial year  2017/18.  Even if the universal wages for adults and children was half that it would cost  nearly £700 billion leaving just over £100 billion to fund  for everything else a government is expected to provide such as healthcare, education, defence and roads. Clearly £100 billion  would be a hopelessly inadequate for that task.

But dismal as those figures are the position is far worse because the government’s tax revenue will be set to plummet because if the universal wage is enough to live on  two  things will happen:

  1. Many people will opt to work fewer hours, take less demanding jobs or cease paid employment altogether.
  2. Consumption will shrink substantially reducing tax paid on purchases.

Hence,  trying to fund the universal wage by orthodox means  through would meet with  a double problem, far less money coming in and far more going out. A wonderful recipe for governmental  financial catastrophe.

As this would be a permanent state of affairs government borrowing would not be a solution.  There  would be nothing to stop a government attempting to pay  for the universal wage  by doing what has been done with Quantitative Easing (QE) , namely, magic it out of thin air, but that would lead to at best hyperinflation and at worst the complete  collapse of the currency.  That experiment would not last long.

What is certain is that simple arithmetic tells you the universal wage is completely impractical It   fails because it  either has to be set at a level which would allow the individual to live without working, which means it is  far too expensive,  or its proponents are driven back to making additional payments for those who cannot live on the universal wage because of different regional costs of living (particularly the cost of  housing)  or circumstances such as old age or disablement or sickness.


2016 and the future

Robert Henderson

What has changed over the past year?

The grip of the Western globalists is slipping.   They do not   realise it yet but their day is  almost done. Their ramshackle ideology,   a toxic blend of open borders politically correct internationalism  and what is crony capitalism but called by  those with a vested interest in it neo-liberal or laissez faire  economics , has wrought as it was certain to do,  rage and increasingly despair amongst  the majority of electors in Western states who are increasingly turning to  politicians that at least have some grasp of what is necessary to preserve  the viability of Western nation states.

The most  optimistic possibility for the West  is that  parties which do have some real attachment to what the great mass of people seek will be both elected and when in office carry through their pre-election promises.  But this is far from certain. It does not follow that what will replace globalism will be a politics which reflects the wants and needs of Western voters because the existing elites may drop all pretence of being anything other than an authoritarian clique and go in for wholehearted suppression of any dissent.  There are already signs that  this might happen with  the  growing willingness  amongst Western  elites  to  censor  political ideas, potent examples of which have been the  recent conviction of Gert Wilders in Holland for inciting racial hatred by saying there should be fewer Moroccans in  Holland , while in the UK  the  Prime Minister Theresa May has just sanctioned the putting into law of a definition of anti-Semitism so broad that any criticism Jews or Israel could be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Much will depend on how Donald Trump’s presidency develops.

In Britain the  EU referendum  has dominated everything both before and after the vote to leave in the political year .The anti-democratic mind-set of those who wanted to remain in the EU has been nakedly shown by colossal attempts to  sabotage the result of the referendum through legal  and political action and an incessant bleat about how they want a soft Brexit not a hard Brexit when only  Brexit  exists.

Something which the government calls Brexit will  eventually emerge,  but it could easily  be  a beast which is  directly at odds with what the British people voted on when they went to the polls on 23rd June, namely, for a clean break with the EU.  If this government, or conceivably its successor, concludes  a deal which stitches the UK back into the EU with  such things as free movement of EU citizens into the UK, the UK paying for the “privilege” of remaining in the Single Market and the UK being subject to the European Court of Justice, there  is surely a serious risk of political violence. But even if that  is  avoided British politics would be seriously curdled by such a betrayal.

The other  pressing political  need  is  for an  English parliament and government  to balance the devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. A procedure to have only  MPs sitting for  English seats  voting on English only legislation  (English votes for English laws  or EVEL for short)  began a trial in 2015,  but  it  has few teeth because  it is difficult to disentangle what is English only  legislation, not least  because  MPs  for seats outside of England argue  that any Bill dealing solely with English matters has financial implications for the rest of the UK and , consequently, is not an England only Bill. Nor does EVEL allow English MPs to initiate English only legislation. Most importantly  England , unlike Scotland,  Wales and Northern Ireland, is left without any national political representatives   to concentrate on purely English domestic matters.

The House of Lords review of its first year  in operation makes EVEL’s  limitations clear:

The EVEL procedures introduced by the Government address, to some extent, the West Lothian Question. They provide a double-veto, meaning that legislationor provisions in bills affecting only England (or in some cases, England and Wales, or England and Wales and Northern Ireland), can only be passed by the House of Commons with the support of both a majority of MPs overall, and of MPs from the nations directly affected by the legislation.

Yet English MPs’ ability to enact and amend legislation does not mirror their capacity, under EVEL, to resist legislative changes. The capacity of English MPs to pursue a distinct legislative agenda for England in respect of matters that are devolved elsewhere does not equate to the broader capacity of devolved legislatures to pursue a distinct agenda on matters that are devolved to them

The most dangerous general global threats are plausibly these in this order

  1. Mass immigration, the permitting of which by elites is the most fundamental treason because unlike an invasion by force, there is no identifiable concrete foreign enemy for the native population to resist. Yet the land is effectively colonised just the same.

2 Uncontrolled technology, which leaves the developed world in particular  but increasingly the  world generally,  very vulnerable  to suddenly being left without vital services if computer systems fail naturally or through cyber attacks.  Judged by the number of reports in the mainstream media the frequency of personal data being hacked and major computer systems  going down, most notably banks, is increasing. This is unsurprising because both state organisations and private business are remorselessly  forcing  customers and  clients to use web-based contact points rather than deal with a human being.  This in itself makes life unpleasant and for older people in particular most difficult.

In the  medium  term –  probably within ten years –  there is the existential  threat  to humans of general purpose robots being able to cause a catastrophic  drop in demand by taking over  so many jobs that demand collapses because huge numbers are rapidly made unemployed.  To that can be added the development of military robots which have the capacity to make autonomous judgements about killing humans.

The  general lack of political concern and a seemingly  universal inability of those with power and influence to see  how robotics and AI systems generally  are rapidly  developing is astonishing. Time and again when the subject of robots and AI systems is raised with such people they will bleat that new jobs will arise due to the new technology, as new technology has always created jobs, and these developments will provide the jobs for humans.

This is sheer “it’ll never replace the horse” ism .  Intelligent robots and AI systems will not only take existing jobs,  they will take most or even all of the new jobs that arise.  This is the potential catastrophe that humans face from robots and AI,  the rapid loss of such  huge amounts of employment  that the economic systems of both the developed and the developing world cannot function  because of the loss of demand,  not the SF style scare stories about intelligent robots making war on humans.  The other thing that  politicians do not seem to understand is that when there are  robots and AI systems sophisticated enough to do most of the jobs humans do, the loss of human jobs will occur at great speed. We can be certain of this for two reasons; our experience with digital technology  is of rapid advances and robots and AI systems will be able to design and build even more advanced  robots and AI systems, probably  very quickly.

Aside from digital technology,  advances in genetic engineering and ever more radical transplant surgery raise the question of what it is to be a human being if full face transplants are now available and the possibility of things such as a head being transplanted in the not too distant future.   We need to ask ourselves what it is to be human.

  1. Islam – serious unrest is found throughout the world wherever there are large numbers of Muslims.
  2. Ever increasing general instability. Contrary to Steven Pinker’s view that the world is becoming more peaceful, if civil conflict is included things are getting worse.  Formal war may be less easy to identify , but ethnic  (and often religious ) based strife plus repression by  rulers  is so widespread outside the West that it is best described as endemic. Globalisation =  destabilisation because by making the world’s economic system more complex , there is simply more to go wrong both economically and socially. Sweeping aside  traditional relationships and practices is a recipe for social discord.  All of economic history tells you one thing above all else: a strong domestic economy is essential for the stability of any country.   The ideology of laissez faire, is like all ideologies,  at odds with  human nature and reality generally and its application inevitably creates huge numbers of losers when applied to places such as China and India.

The most dangerous specific  threats to global peace and stability are:

–              The heightened tension between China and the rest of the Far East (especially Japan) as a consequence of China’s growing territorial ambitions.

–              China’s extraordinary expanding  shadow world empire which consists of both huge investment in the first world and de facto colonial control in the developing world.

–              The growing power of India which threatens Pakistan. An India/Pakistan nuclear exchange is  probably the most likely use of nuclear weapons I the next ten years.

–              The increasing authoritarianism of the EU due to both the natural impetus towards central control and the gross mistake of the Euro.   This will end either in a successful centralisation of  EU power after the UK has left the EU  or the attempt at centralisation will lead to a collapse of the EU.

The Eurofanatics  continue to play  with fire in their attempts to lure border states of Russia into the EU whilst applying seriously damaging sanctions to Russia. It is not in the West’s interest to have a Russia which feels threatened or denied its natural sphere of influence.

–   The ever more successful (at least in the short run) attempt of post-Soviet Russia to re-establish their suzerainty over the old Soviet Empire and Putin’s increasingly martial noises including substantial re-armament.  However, these ambitions will be likely to be mitigated by the plight of the Russian provinces of the Far East where there is unofficial Chinese infiltration of the sparsely populated and natural resource rich land there. Eventually China will wish to capture those territories.

Robert Henderson 17  12 2016

The Emperor’s New Clothes (2015) – It’s the rich wot has the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame.

Robert Henderson

Narrator: Russell Brand

Director:   Michael Winterbottom

This documentary shamelessly mimics  Michael Moore  with a large dollop  of  “The smartest guys in the room” thrown in for good measure.  The end  product is a tepid imitation of Moore’s style   and a rather better pastiche of The smartest guys in the room.

Like a Moore documentary there is much in the film which is shocking: the greed and irresponsibility of the bankers:  the overt or tacit  collusion of  politicians which allowed  bankers to be effectively unregulated  in the run up to the 2008 crash; the failure to punish  with the criminal law any of those who were responsible for the banking crash; the ability of the likes of  Fred Goodwin  (the erstwhile CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland)   to walk away with a pension worth hundreds of thousands a year after wrecking  through his megalomania for expansion  one of the largest banks in the world. More generally the film also makes much of the  growing inequality in Britain.

Sounds intriguing? But the problem is Brand, unlike Moore, never manages to get to quiz any of those responsible or even to  embarrass them  by getting close enough to shout questions at them.   This is in large part simply a consequence of Brand /Winterbottom choosing a subject – bankers’ recklessness –  where getting to speak  to the culprits was a  obvious non-starter.  But  that makes a large part of the  film’s  approach  an anticipatable and hence avoidable  mistake.

A fair bit of the film features Brand arriving at the head of office of, say,  a high street bank, daringly entering the  public foyer  and then hitting a brick wall of indifference as he is left to grill receptionists and security guards on the wickedness of their employers.   The result  is  underwhelming the first time he uses the ploy, but moves from underwhelming to  irritating as the  device is repeated several times.  The nadir of this  “beard them in their lairs” tactic  is  Brand’s  arrival at the home of  Lord Rothermere  (whose family own amongst other publications the  Daily Mail) to tackle Rothermere about his non-dom status. After  Brand  had vaulted over a wall to show his rebel devil-may-care  tendencies, the scene ended with him conducting a meaningless conversation with a bemused housekeeper via an answerphone.  There was a vapidity about all these scenes which robbed them of their potentially humorous situational content based on the incongruity of what Brand was asking rank and file employees.  In the end it was simply Brand behaving boorishly.

All of this tedious , ineffective and self-regarding guff is wrapped within an ongoing theme of  Brand  “going back to his roots”   to  his childhood  town of in Grays in Essex.  (Brand is part of what Jerome K Jerome  called “Greater Cockneydom”).   He is  certainly much  friendlier  in his dealing with the  white workingclass than the vast majority of those on the Left these days who  tend to approach them  with all the delight of someone trying to avoid dog excrement on a pavement,  but there is a cloying quality to his relationship with those he meets as though he is playing in a rather ham fashion  the  part of a cockney sparrow returning  to its  long deserted nest.   He is also rather too keen to prove his street cred- there is an especially  cringeworthy episode where Brand  vaults a underground barrier and claims he has dodged the fare.  More damagingly perhaps, was that  hanging over his  words on the state of the have-nots and the misbehaviour of the haves hung  the fact that Brand is a rich man, a fact he tried  to address by trying to make a very feeble  joke indeed  about the fact.

Ironically Brand  displays a strong conservatism with a small ‘c’  when he laments the change from the Grays of his youth as a place where  the shops were run by local people and  “all the money spent in the town stayed in the town” to a modern Grays of boarded up shops and multinationals who suck the money and by implication the sense of community out of the place.

That is too black and white a view of then and now, but I can sympathise with Brand’s general nostalgia for the not so distant past. My memory tells me  that people were generally more content  forty years ago.  The trouble is that Brand completely fails to do is address the thing which has most dramatically changed places such as Grays namely, mass immigration, which of course is all part of the globalist ideology he purports to loathe.    That he should avoid the immigration issue is unsurprising because it is part of the credo of the modern Left that it is nothing but an unalloyed boon, but it does undermine horribly the credibility of the film as  an honest representation of reality .

The most nauseating part of the film involved Brand using an audience of  primary school children (at his old school) to  get his message across  by feeding them with the most intrusive sort of leading questions along the lines of  “Bankers earn zillions of pounds a year while the person who cleans their boardroom takes home fifty quid a week: is that fair?”  The children were charming, but using children as ideological props is a cheap shot at best and abusive at worst.

The film is at its best  when Brand is working from a script with  crisp graphics and commentary  in the style of The Smartest Guys in the Room. The  cataloguing of  the excesses of the financial industry and the stubborn refusal of the authorities in Britain to bring criminal charges against any board member of  the institutions which were responsible,   even the banks  which required  bailing out by the taxpayer, was  angering. Comparing this escape  from punishment  by high ranking bankers (who invariably  left  loaded with huge amounts of money on their departure from the offending banks)   with the many, often quite severe,  custodial sentences handed out to the 2011 rioters for stealing items worth at most a few hundred pounds and often for much  less  showed a reality that lived up unhesitatingly to the old refrain  “It’s the rich wot has the pleasure and the poor wot gets the blame” .

There is also some strong stuff about the growing inequality in Britain and the thing which with frightening speed is creating a massive generational divided, namely, the grotesque cost of housing which has removed from most of this generation any chance of buying a property  and forcing people  increasingly into extremely expensive  private rented accommodation.   But here again, the immigration issue was left untouched.

The film missed  several important ricks.  One of the scandals about the way bankers have been able to walk away from the 2008 crash without any serious action being taken against them is  that there has been no attempt to apply  the provisions in the Companies  Act  relating to directors behaviour. These provisions  allow the removal of personal limited liability  from  directors  where they have behaved in a reckless fashion. Remove their limited liability and creditors, including the government on behalf of taxpayers,  could seek  every penny they hold.

Then there is the extraordinary fact that the shareholders of the bailed out banks  still hold shares worth something.  The banks  were irredeemably insolvent when the Labour government bailed them out. The shareholders should have lost everything.  This fact  went unexamined.

But the film’s greatest  failure is to spend far too  little time role that politicians played in the economic disaster through their lack of regulation and the aftermath of the 2008 crash.  For example,  there was nothing on the  Lloyds TSB’s  takeover of  the HBOS which ended up capsizing Lloyds.  This takeover was done at the behest of Gordon Brown  and turned Lloyds TSB from a solvent bank with a reputation for prudence and caution into a bank which had to be bailed out by the British taxpayer. The bank is now the subject of a civil action by disgruntled shareholders who claim they were misled by  Lloyds about the state of HBOS.

Much of what Brand dislikes  I also dislike. Like him I deplore  globalisation because it is destabilising at best and dissolves  a society at worst ; like him I think it a monumental scandal that neither the main actors in the financial crash nor the politicians who had left the financial services industry so poorly regulated  were ever brought to book; like him I am dismayed  at the growing inequality in Britain  and the particular  disaster  that is the ever worsening British housing shortage.  But the film offers no coherent or remotely practical  solution to the ills of the age. It is simply a rage against the machine and like all such rages ultimately leaves its audience dissatisfied after the initial adrenal surge of sympathetic anger.

Wall Street, the Wolf of Wall Street  and the decline of moral sense

Robert Henderson


Wall Street (1987)

Main cast

Michael Douglas  as Gordon Gecko

Charlie Sheen as Bud Cox

Daryl Hannah  as Darien Taylor

Martin Sheen as Carl Fox

Terence Stamp as Sir Larry Wildman

Hal Holbrook as Lou Mannheim

Sean Young as Kate Gekko

James Spader as Roger Barnes

Director Oliver Stone


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Main cast

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort

Jonah Hill as Donnie Azoff

Margot Robbie as Naomi Lapaglia

Matthew McCaughey as Mark Hanna

Kyle Chandler as Patrick Denham

Rob Reiner as Max Belfort

Director  Martin Scorsese,

Twenty six years lie between Wall Street and The Wolf of Wall Street (TWOWS) hitting cinema screens. Wall Street is fiction, although there are reputedly people in real life from whom the film’s main characters were developed, for example  Sir Larry Wildman is supposedly drawn from  on the British financier Sir James Goldsmith. The Wolf of Wall Street (TWOWS) is based upon the autobiography of a Wall Street trader Jordan Belfort. How much of that is fact  is debatable, although the general tone of the man’s life given in the book  is plausible.

Both films  begin their action in 1980s. Both deal with the shady world of finance. Both are vehicles for the unbridled egotism of their main characters.    There the similarity between them ends.  Wall Street is about  corporate raiders, men who seek to take over companies and then  asset strip them,  sell them on  quickly for a profit or run them as a business for a while, reduce costs (especially by cutting jobs ) and  then sell them . The main criminality involved in the film is insider dealing.

TWOWS  is simply about making a fast buck and the faster the better, with not even a show of doing anything beyond making money.   These people use   any method from the huckster selling of penny shares to insider dealing and celebrate each success in the spirit of the man successfully  running a hunt-the-lady scam in the street.  They are the masters of the universe and those who lose out are suckers.   There is zero concern for or even awareness of the greater general good of a society in the film.

The protagonists in Wall Street are a young stock trader Bud Fox, and a corporate  raider  Gordon Gecko.  Bud idolises Gecko and manages to work his way into Gecko’s circle by passing on privileged information to him, information which he has received from his father Carl who is a union leader at Bluestar Airlines.

Once inside Gecko’s circle  Bud  sheds  his morals and is content to help Gecko  engage in insider trading until the point where he discovers that he is being used as a catspaw by Gecko , who is trying to take over Bluestar  to dissolve the company in order to access cash in the company’s overfunded pension plan. Bud rediscovers his conscience after a fashion and outmanoeuvres Gecko by making an agreement with  Wildman – whom  previously he had helped Gecko to  defraud  through insider trading when Wildman wanted to take over a steel company –  to buy a majority shareholding in  the airline on the cheap  and run it as a going concern.  In doing this his  motivation is more revenge for being betrayed than suddenly being disgusted with what he had become under Gecko’s influence.

DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort is a trader who loses his job  with a Wall Street broker when the firm crashes, moves into boiler-room trading in penny shares (which are barely regulated and allow for huge commissions to be charged to naïve investors who are often buying shares which are next to worthless). He makes a small fortune doing this.

Belfort then decides to strike out on his own account in rather more up-market  surroundings. With a friend , Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill),  he sets  up  a suitably Ivy league sounding firm of brokers Stratton Oakmont.  They operate on the principle of “pump and dump”  (artificially inflating a company’s share price by tactics such as spreading false rumours or simply buying heavily and then selling the shares rapidly). Stratton Oakmont is given lift off by an article in Forbes magazine which calls Jordan a ‘twisted Robin Hood and the “Wolf of Wall Street”,  which appellations prove a first rate recruiting sergeant for Stratton Oakmont  with hundreds of young stock traders flocking to make money with him.  From that point on he becomes seriously rich.

What the films do admirably  is show the difference between the cinematic portrayal of  the American financial world  in films released  in 1987 and 2013.   To refresh my memory I watched Wall Street again before writing this review. The striking thing about the film is how restrained it is compared with TWOWS.

Michael Douglas’  Gordon Gecko is far more disciplined than DiCaprio’s Belfort.  He  has some semblance of intellectual and arguably even moral  justification for what he does, most notably in a scene where he is addressing a shareholders’ meeting of a company he is trying to take over. This is where Gecko utters the most famous words in the film “Greed is good”. The words have serious context. Gecko is peddling  the laissez faire  line that competition is an unalloyed good because it is the agency which creates natural selection amongst companies and it is only that which keeps an economy healthy. He also  puts his finger on a real  cancer in big business: the development of the bureaucratic company where the company is run for the benefit of the senior management rather than the shareholders. Gecko  rails against  the huge number of senior managers on  high salaries  in  the company he wishes to buy, a business  which has done little for its shareholders.  Whether you agree with the raw natural selection argument in business  – and I do not – at the very least it shows that the likes of Gecko feel the need to  justify what they do, to provide an ethical cloak for their misbehaviour.

There is also a serious difference in the general behaviour of  Gecko and Belfort.  Gecko  for all his faults is not a libertine. For him money is both an instrument and an end in itself. It gives him power and status, a medal of success in his eyes and the eyes of the world he inhabits.  There is purpose in Gecko.  He enjoys the material trappings of wealth but is not overwhelmed by them. In Belfort there is merely an ultimately empty grasping of licence  with drugs,  whores  and absurd status symbols such as an outlandishly large yacht , which his ego drives him to wreck by ordering the ship’s captain to sail in weather which the captain tells him is unsafe to sail in. He acquires a trophy girlfriend , He dumps his wife. There is no solid foundation to any part of his life.

The other big general difference between the films is ethical.  Wall Street has a moral voice which acts  as a  foil to Gecko’s amorality.   Bud Fox’s father Carl puts the case against capitalism red in tooth and claw. After Bud’s  discovery of Gecko’s attempt to buy Bluestar Carl’s dissenting ideological  voice  is added to by Bud. In TWOWS there is no moral voice or pretence by Belfort (or any other character) that what they are doing has any social function or ethical content. Instead the public are simply viewed as a bovine herd to be milked as ruthlessly as possible.  The fact that what is being done – whether it be selling penny stocks in a boiler room or using insider information in more sophisticated company –  is no better than a confidence trick does not cause Belfort and his fellow participants the slightest discomfort only unalloyed joy. They are getting rich at the expense of suckers. It’s all a game whose only end is to make the individual rich and to be rich is a validation of their existence.

Gecko and Belfort end up in prison, so in that respect at least they honour the old American  film tradition of never showing the criminal getting away with it, although  in the case of Belfort he ends up in a place which is not so much a prison as a country club.

Both films are strong in all the technical ways – script, plot, characterisation and acting – that are used to judge films. Michael Douglas’ is a more studied performance than that of  diCaprio who brings an amazing energy to the role.  But arresting as Douglas’ performance is  the film the film has ample space to fill out other characters. Indeed, in terms of screen time it is Bud who wins out.

DiCaprio’s   Belfort has strong claims to be the  best performance in an already  long career, but it utterly dominates the film and consequently the other characters have little room to develop than TWOWS.  They either remain one rather dimensional or like Matthew McConaughey  appear only in cameos.

The quality of the films as films is reason enough to watch them, but their primary value , as a pair,   is their charting, unwittingly,   of the decline of moral  sense between the 1980s and now.








Civitas Meeting  – The trouble with Europe  19 May 2014

Robert Henderson

The sole speaker was Roger Bootle of the Daily Telegraph and Capital Economics

Bootle was  promoting his book The trouble with Europe.  The main thrusts of his argument  were

–          Europe is a declining political and economic power.

–          The growth rate within first the EEC and then the EU has been poor overall compared with economies outside the EU.

–          The EU has undermined European economic performance through promoting too generous welfare states.

–          That much of the regulation comes not from the EU but national governments within the EU.

–          That the EU has smothered competition between nation states and this has hindered innovation and enterprise.

–          That Europe’s period of  greatest world dominance was a time of intense competition between European powers.

–          That EU countries have suffered a loss of identity through mass immigration and those with empires had  a further blow to their national self-confidence through their loss.

–          That European elites have had their energies eaten up with trying to create uniformity within the EU to the detriment of such things as investment and productivity.

–          That the Euro is the biggest  economic disaster the EU has suffered,  dwarfing the Common Agricultural Policy.

–          The EU as it is presently constituted is obsolete.

Bootle laid down his terms for Britain  remaining within the EU: an end to ever closer union,   a guarantee of no second class status for the UK if she remains a member, a reduced EU budget, repatriation of powers to EU member states. National governments to be empowered to reject EU legislation and restrictions on the free movement of labour.

These conditions  are  so improbable that it is reasonable to conclude that Bootle in reality wants Britain out of the EU. If Britain does leave the EU, Bootle is in favour of what he called the WTONLY option if a good free trade agreement with the EU cannot be arranged. The WTONLY option is to simply leave the EU and then rely on World Trade Organisation rules to give Britain access to EU markets.

During questions it was heartening to see how many of the questioners were utterly hostile to the EU, despite the fact that many  of those there came under the heading of the great and the good, the sort of people who would normally be considered unvarnished  Europhiles.   Most promisingly, voices were raised against the wholesale takeover by foreigners of British business and the ill effects of multinationals.

I raised the question of how Britain should deal with the mechanics of leaving bearing in mind that the entire British political elite were Europhiles who would do everything to subvert the wishes of the British electorate by stitching Britain back into the EU through an agreement which included the four so-called EU freedoms, the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour within the EU. I suggested to Bootle that Article 50 was a poisoned chalice which would enable British politicians to do just that.  Rather surprisingly Bootle said that he did not think that the mechanics of leaving were important.  I was not able to question him further because of the number of people wanting to ask questions. However, I have addressed the subject and others in the email I sent to Bootle after the meeting. If I receive a reply I will add it to this blog post.


E mail sent to Roger Bootle 31 5 2014

Dear Mr Bootle,

A few points I  was unable to put to you at the Civitas meeting of  19 May.

1. How much do you think the status of the  Euro as  the second largest reserve currency has contributed to the survival of the Euro?  I enclose a note on this at the bottom of the email.

2. You advocate giving both sides of the story, of admitting that leaving the EU will not be without costs both material and moral.  The problem with that is twofold.

a) political knowledge and understanding amongst the electorate  as a whole  is  minute. Most will respond to the fear factor points not the reassuring points simply because they do not know enough to assess the situation rationally.

b) all the STAY IN camp will be peddling is the fear factor. Hence, the electorate will be hearing the fear factor language from both YES and NO camps but only the reassuring points from those who wish Britain to leave.

3. How the UK leaves the  EU is not a trivial matter as you suggested. The danger is that regardless of the wishes of the electorate ,  the British political elite will stitch us back firmly into the EU if they are given a free hand over the negotiation. This is so because we have a political class – especially the leading members of the class –  which is  overwhelmingly prepared to act as Quislings (Quislings in the service of the EU in particular and internationalism in general) to ensure that Britain does not escape the tentacles of the EU.

Of course such a betrayal could apply regardless of whether article 50 is activated or a simple repeal made  of the various Acts binding  us into the EU, but  Article 50 carries far more dangers for those who want us out of the EU than a simple repeal of the Acts  would do.  If Britain accepted the legality of Article 50  we  would have to put up with any amount of prevarication and dirty tricks for two years.  Worse,  the time to reach any  agreement between Britain and the EU under article 50 can be extended if both parties agree.

As those negotiating on behalf of Britain would inevitably be politicians who have sold their souls to the “European Project”, the odds are that they would use any obstruction and delay by the EU to justify making an agreement which would practically speaking nullify the vote to leave.  As sure as eggs are eggs, the agreement would  place  us  firmly back into the EU’s clutches  by signing Britain up to the four EU “freedoms” (freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour)  and all the rules regulating the single market.  If the break with the EU is done simply by repealing the various Acts which bind us in, our politicians will not be able to use the restrictions and difficulties raised by Article 50 as an excuse for selling the voters down the river with an agreement such as I have described.  Instead, they would have to take full responsibility for whatever they agree to.  Article 50 is a particularly toxic poisoned chalice.  Don’t drink from it.

It is essential that before any referendum takes place that all mainstream UK parties make it clear that whatever  agreement  is reached by those negotiating on behalf of Britain this should only be ratified if the British people vote for it in a second referendum.  Unless this happens the political class will give us something which binds us back into the EU.

5. It is a dangerous argument to claim that competition between governments is a good thing if you are relying on the historical example.  In your Telegraph article Europe’s politicians must embrace competition or face slide into obscurity (19 May) you write:

It is very striking that Europe’s golden age, when European countries bestrode the world and European influence was at its height, was an era of competition between nation states. Admittedly at times this competition went too far and spilled over into war …

The reality of European history is that it has been primarily a history of war as far as you care to go back. War not peace has been the norm. The period of European ascendency was no exception to this and because of technological developments became more and more efficiently brutal.    Use the European historical example and you are simply inviting the Europhiles to say “Told you so. Nation states can’t be trusted to behave”.

6. At present I also have a problem with  all political discussions  and especially those referring to the economy.   We are within striking distance of the production of general purpose robots which will be able to do not only most of the jobs humans now do but most of any new ones which arise.   The implications of this are so profound that they bid fair to render any political solutions or policies currently in play obsolete.  Politicians should be planning for such developments but they are simply ignoring them.  If you read  these two pieces you will see where I am coming from:



Yours sincerely,


Robert Henderson




Civitas meeting: Transforming the market: Towards a new political economy

Civitas meeting: Transforming the market: Towards a new political economy 13 November 2013

Speaker: Dr Patrick Diamond

Diamond’s talk was based on his recently published Civitas tract http://civitas.org.uk/press/EAdiamond.html

Diamond is firmly in the NuLabour camp, having been involved in various positions servicing the last Labour government,  including that of  head of Policy Planning in 10 Downing Street. He now holds several academic positions at London and Oxford universities. He is also a Labour councillor for the London Borough of Southwark.

What is his recipe for “transforming the market”?  This extract from his Civitas tract give the bare bones of it:

“The government is an enabler, directing strategic investment to growing sectors and firms, providing fertile conditions for entrepreneurship.

The government is a  regulator, managing the inherent volatility and instability of markets, while promoting competition in product and capital markets.

The government is an equaliser, ensuring the supply of public goods and human capital helps the least advantaged, while ensuring the basic distribution of household income accords with basic principles of fairness and social justice.

And the government is an innovator , promoting experimentation, technological adaptation, alongside the discovery of new markets, services and the advancement of knowledge.” pp49/50

This has the ring of someone reciting a catechism whose end is in its saying not in its doing.

Diamond’s  buzzwords for curing the ills of the British economy are decentralisation and localism. This dovetails with the Labour version of the Tories’ risible “Big Society” which I heard  John Cruddas  outline not so long ago (https://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/one-nation-labour-work-family-and-place-a-taste-of-labours-next-election-propaganda/). Read this in conjunction with this report and you will have Labour’s economic and social programme  for the next general election.

There is a good deal of “back to the future” in his  programme. He wants to create a ‘super ministry” combining the Department of Business,  Innovation and skills (BIS),  the Department of Communities and Homes and some Treasury functions to “ decentralise and devolve economic power away from London.”  Older readers will be irresistibly reminded of the first Wilson government in the 1960s when work, and especially public sector work, was to be sent to the less prosperous parts of Britain. Thankfully Diamond  at least spared us any ancient embarrassing rhetoric such as “the white heat of technology” or “picking winners”, but that is what he thinking.

Diamond’s wish to see Britain’s economy “rebalanced” away from services and towards manufacturing also resonates with Wilson’s desire to shift more people into manufacturing. This he attempted  to do with arguably the most absurd tax ever introduced in Britain, the  Selective Employment Tax (SET).  This  was placed on service companies only, the idea being that this would make more people seek manufacturing jobs  because service employers would find it more expensive to employ people and the number of service jobs would fall. In turn the hope was that manufacturing wages would be lowered because of increased competition for such jobs. This last was an heroically optimistic scenario because of the power of the unions at the time.

SET failed for the wondrously obvious reason that it increased the costs of service employers without improving the circumstances of manufacturers, whose wages remained  much the same,  while demand for  their goods was at best not increased and at worst might have even fallen if unemployment in the service sector rose due to the increased cost imposed by  SET and reduced overall demand.   This meant manufacturers could not employ more people.  All  SET could do in the circumstances of the 1960s,  if it had any effect at all,  was reduce employment and/or raise retail prices.

So many things are to Diamond’s mind “too centralised” or  overly  concentrated in particular areas .  Apart from  general economic power and government,  he pointed to banks, infrastructure such as airports and even the Arts. Leaving aside whether localising affairs is desirable, there is an inherent problem with making things more local and decentralised. There needs to be not merely the bricks and mortar of regional banks and companies, councils with much more responsibility and so on, there needs to be a class of people who can handle such responsibilities at the local and regional level. None exists at present. Nor can such a class be created by conscious policy.  It is something that happens, if it happens at all, naturally.

At one time Britain did have a healthy political and managerial class who were willing and able to assume the burden of exercising local power. But that class grew naturally from the fact that the whole of society was of necessity  conducted at the local level because of poor communications. But from the advent of the railways onwards localism became less and less the natural state of affairs.  We have now reached a  point where the exercise of  political power and initiative  at the local level  is feeble because those with real political ambition do not see serving at the local level as important. It is all very well to lament this and say power and influence should be shifted back to the local level but how able and ambitious people can be persuaded to confine themselves to local government is another matter. Frankly, I doubt whether the clock can be turned back.

As part of his worship of the local Diamond is much taken with Germany with its regional banks, workers directives  and technical schools.  He wants Britain to copy them. In this he is making the profound but common error of believing that what works in one society will work in any other society. This was doubly  odd because he recognised in one part of his talk (and does so in his written tract) that the transfer of methods from one society to another was problematical, but still went on as though the problem did not exist when he got to the detail, such as it was, as to what should be done in Britain.

Germany is decentralised because that is the way it has always been. A latecomer to the nation state (1870), the German state has always been in practice a federation with some of the larger components such as Saxony and Bavaria having histories as substantial kingdoms in their own right.  The consequence is that regionalism comes naturally to Germany in a way that it never would do in Britain and especially England,  because England has been centralised in the sense that it has been a kingdom encompassing those with a broad common ethnicity for many centuries. In modern Germany the sixteen Lander form political entities which each  have both size and a separate history   to create and maintain  regional loyalty. In England there are no such hard core regional loyalties. Regional sub-divisions of England are no more than geographical expressions, the South West, the North West, the South East, Midlands and so on.  Even the North East – the  region of England often put forward as having the strongest regional identity – is far from being an area  with a separate identity around which all the inhabitants can coalesce.

Diamond’s scheme for remedying the ills of the British economy has many other weaknesses. He is sold on predistribution.  This is, almost inevitably these days, an ideological import from the USA.  It is the political equivalent of selling snake oil to the ill.  The idea is that silly old traditional methods of redressing inequality such as progressive tax regimes and benefit support (which actually work) are forsaken for ethereal aspirations that  encourage long-term investment,  providing good quality public services, particularly healthcare and investing in the skills of the young , workers on company boards, a minimum wage pegged to inflation and so on.  The problem is these will not work while mass immigration and relatively free trade exists both in terms of imports and the export of jobs through outsourcing.

The broad sweep of Diamond’s ends I would have sympathy with, the re-industrialisation of Britain, greater material equality, an end to the worship of markets, long term planning by companies and so on.  The problem is his means. They will not work because he is always trying to work within the context of both a market economy and globalisation. Take his strategy for manufacturing. To increase this, especially in terms of making it much broader as well as larger in GDP terms, some form of protection would have to be used, be that traditional controls such as quotas and tariffs or state control of vital industries together with fiscal measures to ensure the price of essential goods and services are within the reach of the poor.   We can be sure of that both because economic history has no example of a country industrialising except by protecting its domestic market and because simple logic tells you that it is impossible to compete across the economic board  with countries whose labour forces are earning a fraction of British wages, who have scant regard for health and safety and whose governments ensure that it is very difficult to enter their markets by economic regimes which are anything but laissez faire.

Diamond’s attempt to get round this problem is for Britain to concentrate on high-tech industries. There are two problems with this. The first is strategic whereby it is dangerous for any country to leave itself at the mercy of world events by being unable to produce a wide range of products either at all or in sufficient quantity to tide the country over in an emergency.

The second difficulty is the sheer impossibility of creating  sufficient jobs to employ enough of a  large population like that of the UK to compensate for the export of lower tech, lower skilled work. Even if it was in theory possible, it would be impossible to find enough people capable of  high tech work because the way IQ is distributed means that even in a country with a strong average IQ such as Britain will have huge numbers of people who have mediocre to poor IQs –for example, there are around 6 million people with IQS of 80 or less in the UK.  Thus two reasons for a broad-based economy come together: the impossibility of providing enough high tech, high skill jobs and the need to cater for the less able in society.

The audience questions and remarks

What was heartening was the anger which quite a few of the audience (it was a deliberately small gathering of around 25) expressed about the way British governments had failed to protect British companies and British economic interests generally. “Britain is becoming a servant economy” was probably the best of the comments summing up where Britain is headed if the current laissez faire policies continue to be followed.

These points were made by other members of the audience:

–          The takeover of  British companies by foreigners was made much easier with the abolition of the Mergers and Monopolies Commission  (which had a public interest test)  and its replacement with the Competition Commission (which has no public interest test but simply a test for the proportion of the market a takeover would involve).

–          Manufacturers comprise only 11% of GDP but 50% of British exports.

–          Manufacturing jobs are generally better paid than service sector jobs so their loss is more keenly felt both by the individual and in terms of GDP.

–          Foreign direct investment is often concerned with the acquiring of British assets rather than new investment.

–          Energy costs are killing manufacturing in the UK.

The owner of JLS Ltd, John Mills (who is currently the largest Labour Party donor and a one-time Camden Councillor),  advocated a deliberate 20%  devaluation of the pound . I have discussed this with him on another occasion and the problem with it is this: starting the devaluation is easy enough, but stopping it   at the level you want it is not. The danger is that the currency  will deflate way beyond the desired point because the brakes fail to halt the decline in its value.  It is also worth remembering that the value of the Pound against major currencies has dropped 20% or so since Lehman Bros failed in 2008.

I managed to make a few points. These were:

1. That it is impossible to rebuild manufacturing except behind protectionist barriers, official or unofficial, the proof of this statement being the fact that it has never been done.

2. Most immigrants are not engaged in highly  skilled work but low-skilled or unskilled jobs, which in itself gives the lie to the idea that immigrants are doing jobs which Britons could not or would not do. I further pointed out that many of these jobs involve dealing with the British public  – in shops, cafes, call centres and so on – and that many of those  so employed have completely inadequate English. To claim that a foreign worker who cannot speak fluent English is a better employee in such posts than a native English speaker is a self-evident nonsense.

3. That British unemployment, especially youth unemployment, cannot be cured while our borders are effectively open both because of the EU and the unwillingness of all the major parties to halt immigration from outside the European Economic Area.  (Diamond flatly refused to discuss the question of immigration, contenting himself with “We shall have to differ on immigration”).

4. Diamond stated in his talk that healthy economies relied on “efficient, effective and non-corrupt public sectors”. I broke the dreadful truth to him that Britain no longer has such a public sector. Privatisation (especially PFI) has greatly increased the opportunities for corruption in public service. Increase the opportunities and corruption increases. It is a very simple equation.

Diamond accepted that corruption had  worsened in central government public service but bizarrely claimed it had reduced in local government circles. The reality is that corruption has increased not decreased in local government because so much of local government work has been contracted out. Diamond attempted no justification for his claim merely asserted it. (It is a very strange thing but I have never been to a meeting dealing with the same general subject area as this one where anyone other than me  has raised the issue of corruption, this  despite the fact that there are regular examples of it in the mainstream media).

Privatisation has also reduced the efficiency of public services, because  where used it destroys the chain of command within the public service.  This occurs because where there is a private contractor involved the public service provider cannot instruct those employed by the private contractor but must work through the contractor’s management. This can lead to very complex arrangements.  I gave the example of major London hospitals where there are  routinely PFI contracts for the food, the laundry, the ward cleaning and the maintenance and cleaning of the multi-media installations (TV, phone, internet).

5. That giving more power,  including greatly increased borrowing powers,  to local councils is  a recipe for disaster because of the lamentable quality of the large majority of councillors. I urged anyone around the table who doubted this to go and view their local council in action, especially in the committees and subcommittees.

6. The laws which allow directors who do not meet their statutory responsibilities to be punished are rarely enforced. I gave as examples the provisions within the Company’s Act to remove the personal; limited liability of directors and to ban people from being directors.   I pointed out that these provisions  had not been used against any of the directors of RBS, HBOS, Lloyds or  Northern Rock, despite their extremely reckless behaviour.  Had the limited liability of directors such as Fred Goodwin been removed the directors could have been sued for every penny they had.  As for banning directors, I told the meeting that from my own experience with the Inland Revenue of  trying to get even the directors of tinpot concerns banned  was well nigh impossible and that to get a mainboard director of a Footsie 100 company banned was in practice impossible unless the director was convicted of a criminal offence against the company such as embezzlement.

What needs to be done

If Britain’s economy can be reshaped it can only be done with a judicious use of protectionist measures, the renationalisation of vital services such as the utilities  and an end to mass immigration.  Diamond will not even consider doing any of this.

There was one issue which I did not get a chance to raise  because of the constraints of the meeting.  Nor was the issue touched on by Diamond or any of the audience. It concerned technological changed.  Robotics and 3-D printing bid fair to turn our economic world upside down. I include below links to a couple of articles which deal with problems they will create. Just in case you are tempted to say Oh that’s just sci-fi, especially in the case of robotics, go online look at the latest robotic developments, for example, a humanoid robot which can walk over rough ground (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10360951/Meet-Atlas-Boston-Dynamics-unveils-robot-that-can-walk-on-rocks.html)

and a humanoid robot that has human eye movements very well imitated. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/10413987/Meet-ZENO-R25-the-first-affordable-human-robot.html)

The implications of Robotics are explored in these essays:



Making plans on the basis that our economy and society will remain in broad terms similar to what it is now is a mug’s game.

Robert Henderson 29 11 2013

Bruges Group International Conference 9 11 2013

Which Way Out?


Prof. Tim Congdon  (Economist)

Prof. Ivar Raig (Tallinn University)

Prof. Roland Vaubel (Mannheim University)

Ian Milne (Banker and Industrialist)

Prof. Patrick Minford (Prof of Economics Cardiff Business School)

Christopher Booker (Telegraph journalist)

Dr Richard North (Long time EU campaigner)

Mary Ellen Syon (Irish Daily Mail Journalist)

Kieran Bailey (15-year-old who is shortlisted for the Brexit prize)

This conference is important because it brought together some of the people who are likely to be part of the public face of the OUT campaign if and when a referendum is held on Britain’s future in the EU.  Frankly, it was not encouraging,  both because there was great deal of conflict between the views of this supposed panel of Eurosceptics and  many of the proposals had a Utopian ring for they did not take into account the likelihood or otherwise of their plans being put into operation.

Prof. Tim Congdon

Congdon was the most forthright of the speakers. He wants Britain out of the UK full stop: no Lisbon Treaty Article 50 exit,  just the Westminster Parliament repealing the Act which binds Britain  into the EU. His main reason for taking this stance was that to commit to the use of  Article 50 would mean accepting its legitimacy. That has its dangers because if its legitimacy is accepted before  Britain activated the Article , the EU might extend the maximum two year waiting period the Article stipulates  before a member state can leave to a much longer time.  As this would require a Treaty change over which any member state would have a  veto I think this is not a realistic threat provided a referendum is held soon.

Nonetheless, Congdon’s instincts are right,  for to tie us into a two year waiting period would allow the EU to create a good deal of mischief. Using the Article 50  route would also provide an escape route for our Europhile political elite because they could argue that b ecayuse of the Article the best deal they could get was one which left us still within the coils of the EU, for example, a similar  relationship with the EU to that of Norway or Switzerland, both of whom are signed up to the so-called four EU freedoms: the freedom of unrestricted movement within the European Economic Area (EEA) of capital, services, capital and labour.

Congdon was just as unequivocal on the claims that Britain would lose greatly if she  left. He pointed out that the vast majority of UN member states were not EU members but were able to trade successfully both generally and with the EU, and cited various examples of countries, some small,  outside the EU which had made treaties with much larger nation states  such as the USA and China.  Congdon also made  much of the EU’s declining share of world trade, which is only around 12% now and is set to decline further.

As for Britain needing a plan as to what exactly she would do after leaving the EU before leaving, Congdon said this was completely unnecessary and cited the fact that some  65 independent  countries today had gained their independence  from Britain without having such a plan.

I agree wholeheartedly with Congdon’s  overall strategy,   but there is a presentational problem with the man. This is the first time I have heard him speaking in person. I was astounded by the eccentricity of his delivery.  He would be speaking normally when suddenly he would explode into what I can only describe as an hysterical rant. This he must have done at least half a dozen times in his twenty minutes or so of speaking. As he is very likely to figure in any OUT campaign this is worrying. It is odds on he will not go down well with the general public, because eccentricity of any sort, even that which has some charm,  will alienate as well as attract and frankly this  was not an engaging eccentricity.

Congdon was also caught out by a questioner from the audience. He had cited the recent Canada-EU trade treaty as evidence of what could be done by Britain once she is outside the EU.  A questioner asked him for details of the treaty. Congdon had to admit he did not know what they are. That is just plain sloppy. If you are going to cite something as evidence common-sense tells you to mug up the facts  because as sure as eggs are eggs you will be challenged on the evidence.

Prof. Roland Vaubel

Vauble detailed the vested interest of  the various  instruments of the EU – Commission, Parliament, Court of Justice.  In every case centralisation of EU powers increased their power. Hence, he saw no likelihood of any repatriation of substantial powers unless Article 50  is activated.

As for the process of leaving, Vauble took a legalistic approach. He  maintained that the activation of Article 50   was the only way Britain could leave the EU because he considered the acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty by Gordon Brown made any other exit  illegal.    The answer to that is simple: treaties signed by a government which cannot be repudiated by a future government are utterly undemocratic.

Assuming Britain activated Article 50, Vauble said that the EU elite would give nothing much  to Britain over the two years and the odds were that at the end of two years no agreement would have been reached and Britain would simply exit the EU without any agreement.  Because of this Vauble claimed that Britain had to have a strategy for what was to happen after Britain left without a Treaty. Vauble’s solution was for Britain to make alliances with other EU members, especially the smaller ones.  His overall message was that Britain could not survive on her own.  Vauble further envisaged that a Britain which had left the EU and had some form of alliance with other states, both within and without the EU, could act as a lever to change the centralising tendencies of the EU.  He seemed much  more interested in using Britain as a tool for other states’ ends than suggesting  the best strategy for Britain.

Prof. Ivar Raig

Even making considerable allowances  for the fact that English was not his first language, Raig was an awful speaker, mixing incoherent passages with statements of appalling banality , all delivered in what I can only describe as a prolong yell.

Out of the incoherence came a desire for Britain to wrap itself in another  supra-national bloc, in this case one based on North America, Germany, Scandinavia and other Northern European states. This he grandiosely labelled the New Atlantic Project. Like Vauble he believed Britain would not be able to go it alone.

Ian Milne

Milne was in  favour of using Article 50, although he was less committed to it under all circumstances than Raig and Vaubel.. For Milne activating the Article was more a question of showing willing to preserve legal form than a commitment to observe it.  If the EU showed they were going to be obstructive after  Britain activated the Article, then he was happy for Britain to simply leave by making a unilateral declaration.

He was far from pessimistic about Britain being able to negotiate a reasonable settlement with the EU, not least because of the disruption of EU’s  trade with Britain if there was any serious delay.  Milne emphasised how advantageous the EU’s trade with Britain is to the EU , both because of the large trade deficit Britain runs every year with the EU and the supply of goods to EU businesses such as the German car industry.  He also pointed out the rest of the world would not take kindly to uncertainty because they also had an interest in Britain and the EU resolving their differences.

The most useful part of his speech was his detailed plan for how the exit should be administratively planned. He wanted a Ministry for EU Transitional Arrangements (META) set up to manage the business. He took his inspiration from large projects such as the Olympics and Crossrail.

There are contentious points in the detail of his ideas, not least his rather too trusting belief in the efficiency of private industry compared with public service. But his basic idea of a ministry devoted solely to the administrative, economic, legal and political issues arising from our departure is sound because it will be a complicated business.

The problem with his plan is that it is difficult to envisage any conceivable British government implementing it,  not least because for a government to develop such a detailed plan would be to hamstring both the government of the day and any future government.

Prof. Patrick Minford

A decent speaker but completely out of touch with reality because he is in thrall to the laissez faire quasi-religion. A clear example of a man being captured by one of Richard Dawkins’ memes, in this case by a very harmful one. The problem with Minford is that he has spent his entire working life in either public service or academia. This allows him to maintain his fantasy of  perfect markets with perfect information without the evidence of real life intruding.

Minford wants out of the EU because he has the fashionable but untrue idea that the British are in favour of free markets and free trade while the other EU members are locked in a socialist mindset.  Towards the end of his offering he made the comment that the British had always been free traders including during the Industrial Revolution.  This was a truly incredible statement because the British Industrial Revolution occurred whilst  Britain operated arguably the most successful protection system ever seen through the Navigation Acts and the Old Colonial System. That  tells you Minford either has a very tenuous grasp of economic history or is willing to deliberately fabricate to maintain the plausibility of his ideology.  He might also ask himself how unions became so powerful in Britain  if support for free markets and free trade is so heavily stitched in British minds.

From this misreading of both British history and indeed  her current realities,  Minford  built his case for leaving the EU.  He wants Britain to depart  because he views the EU as a protectionist syndicate which prevents Britain from following her supposedly free market ways.

Having laid out his general scheme of objections to the EU he wandered into the ground of employment and extolled Britain as a far superior job creator than most of the EU whose unemployment was much higher. This difference he attributed to Britain’s free market instincts.  From there he moved to the question of immigration and blithely told the audience that immigrants do not take jobs from Britons. He produced what he fondly imagined to be a knock down argument by trotting out the crude classical economic argument about how Britons would find jobs if only they would accept lower wages (which would be facilitated by less welfare provision)  or were better qualified.   This caused a good deal of anger amongst the audience with quite a few calling out.

When questions were taken I managed to get myself called. I told the meeting that on the question of immigration and jobs I had special knowledge from my time as an Inland Revenue investigator. I proceeded  to detail some of  the ways that huge numbers of jobs never came onto the open British market because of foreign gangmasters employing only their own nationals, ethnic minority employers employing only their own people, foreign companies bringing in their own nationals and the recruitment of foreigners for jobs by not only British companies but British public service employers.  I further pointed out that around 5 million people who were counted as being in work in Britain were not meaningfully employed because they had to draw benefits to provide a living wage. If this 5 million is added to the 2.5 million officially unemployed, the real rate of unemployment in Britain is running at over 20% (the official unemployment rate using the Labour Survey count  stood  at 7.7% for 2.49 million unemployed in October 2013).  That is not so very different from much of the Eurozone.

Having done that,  I  attacked the idea that Britons were wedded to the idea free market economics, pointing out the evidence against this belief such as I have already mentioned, and ended by asking from where exactly Minford got his fantasy view of Britain and the British. All of this was very warmly greeted by the audience and many came up to afterwards to express agreement.

What was Minford’s response? It was feeble to the point of embarrassment. He just kept on repeating various forms of “You are wrong” with  absolutely no attempt to address the detailed objections I had raised to his words.

On the plus side he did reject the “Norwegian Option” on the grounds that it would not only tie us into the single market legislation but force acceptance of the four so-called EU freedoms, namely, the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour within the European Economic Area.

Minford was also on the right track when he pointed out the quite small part of the British economy which is devoted to exports (he put it at 10%).  He was also generally confident of Britain’s ability to be successful outside of the EU.

Christopher Booker

Booker is a promoter of the use of Article 50 as the only means by which the EU could be forced to open negotiations.  That begs the questions of what negotiations would result with the Europhile  British political elite bargaining for Britain and the probable response of the EU if Britain simply announced it was leaving.

The answer to the former question is that the Europhile politicians  who would be leading the British side of the negotiations would try to tie Britain firmly back into the EU. If Britain simply repudiated the European Acts which have led to  her entanglement in the EU by repealing them that would make it much more difficult for the British political elite to tie us back into the EU. This is  because Britain would immediately start operating in a post-EU world and British politicians would have to adapt to that reality whether they liked it or not.

As for the response of the EU elites, they would be unlikely to do much by way of creating heavy protectionist barriers against Britain both because of their healthy trade surplus with Britain and the many economic links between Britain and the rest of the EU and because of  the World Trade Organisation’s regulatory framework which binds its members to pretty tight restrictions on protectionist barriers.  It is also human nature to be more respectful to those who adopt strong dominant action than to those who display weak cringing behaviour such as has been the norm for British politicians dealing with the EU for over twenty years.

If leaving the EU means we cease to be covered by the many treaties signed by the EU which currently apply to  Britain (Booker said there are around 700), so  much the better for that would force a re-evaluation of the ones we wished of which to continue to be members.  It is wildly improbable that Britain would be denied independent membership of any it chose to sign up.

Booker is also a supporter of the “Norwegian Option”.  Hence, much of what he says about wanting Britain to be free of the EU grasping hands is pointless at best and dishonest at worst because the Norwegian Option” would still leave Britain within the coils of the EU.

Mary Ellen Synon

By far the most interesting speaker because she was the most realistic. Synon has worked in Brussels for many years and she is under no illusions about the corrupt and self-serving and above all ideological nature of the EU. Synon  said there are instructions to Eurocrats about the language they use in public. They never say people always citizen as in “a citizen of the EU” The word country is used as little as possible and if a Eurocrat is talking about his own country he or she will says “the country I know best” not “my country”. She was generally scathing about  British and other EU politicians.

According to Synon said the 2017 date for a proposed referendum was  chosen because Britain will take the six-month rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers in the second half of 2017. This would give Cameron (or anyone else who is PM) and various cabinet members a great deal of opportunity to bring EU summits to Britain and to posture regularly in front of the cameras.

Synon is sceptical about a referendum being held even if Cameron is PM after the next election. She thinks he will try to wriggle out of it as he wriggled out of the promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.  I think is  unlikely because the situation will be rather different to what it was with the Lisbon treaty.  The latter  was accepted by a British Government before Cameron came to power. In this case he would be remaining in power. In addition, Cameron has nailed his colours very firmly to the referendum mast.  It would be immensely difficult for him to renege on his promises because he would have no one else to blame but himself if the promise was broken.

But even if  there is a referendum and it is won  by a large majority,  Synon thinks that the EU will do what they have done with other referendum reverses such as the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty first time round. They will try to engineer another referendum. In the Irish case they did this despite a healthy vote against ( 53.4 percent against, 46.6 percent in favour) in the original referendum.

The tactic was dependent on the existence of willing collaborators in the Irish government. Synon had  no doubt that a Cameron government would find such collaborators, not least because questioned by the Spanish newspaper La Pais in April 2013.  Cameron was asked whether, in the event of a vote to leave the EU this question: “Would you be willing to leave the Union?”  He replied  “I would not”. (Synon described Cameron as collaborator).

Using the Irish example as a template, Synon then outlined in gory detail what were likely to be Cameron’s tactics if a vote to leave occurred .  The government would not accept the vote. There would be a questioning of whether the electorate had understood what they were voting for. This would be followed by the commissioning of  an opinion poll  designed to  either reject the result of the referendum outright or provide a pretext to hold another referendum  on the grounds that the electorate had not understood what the first referendum really meant.

In Ireland another referendum had to be held because the constitution required it. In Britain there is  no such requirement.  The British government could simply ignore the referendum result unless Parliamentary action forced either another referendum or the respecting of the vote of the referendum which had been held that  returned a vote to leave the EU.

Synon’s full notes for her speech can be found here http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84482

Dr Richard North

North began his speech by saying no referendum could be held in  2017 because David Cameron has committed himself to “substantial re-writing” of the Treaties before referendum.  This  he claimed would  require an Inter-Governmental Convention (IGC) which would take several years to convene, agree changes and have the changes ratified by the various member states, some of whom would have a constitutional  requirement to put the matter to a vote. In principle, Britain would be one of them because of the  referendum lock” provisions in  the European Union Act of 2011. This requires any substantial change to the EU treaties to be put to the British electorate. In addition, the 2015 European Parliament elections would mean that before any IGC could be called the newly elected Parliament would have to approve a new Commission, a process which North believes would take until the end of 2015. (http://www.eureferendum.com/blogview.aspx?blogno=84483)

The obvious objection to that is the fact that the EU has shown itself willing to disregard legal niceties when it suits them. Moreover, it all depends on what “substantial re-writing” would mean. It could be that Cameron (if it is he doping the renegotiation) will simply be tossed a few insignificant bones which the EU elite can claim can be managed within the present treaties. Alternatively, the British government might simply say this is the fruit that  our negotiations have born and they will be incorporated into EU law in due course if the vote is to accept them and stay in the EU. It should be remembered that the Wilson renegotiation which led to the 1975 referendum were put to the British electorate without  a Treaty change.

The interesting part of  North’s speech dealt with the  amount of law  coming from Brussels which is in reality merely Brussels rubber-stamping decisions made by  other supranational bodies. (North claimed that it was most of the EU regulations we toil under).   This law is  called Dual International Quasi Legislation. It derives from what North describes the   EU as having become, namely,  “part of a nexus of legislative bodies, linking international agencies of the United Nations with regional, national and local bodies, to form one continuous, seam-free administrative machine.” (http://eureferendum.blogspot.co.uk/2007/03/sucess-of-eu.html)

The rather shadowy  bodies  which make such laws  are  the likes of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, (http://www.codexalimentarius.org/) which sets standards for  the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (http://www.ipcc.ch/)  and the Bank for International Settlements (http://www.bis.org/about/index.htm).  The rules agreed by such bodies  go through the  EU  legalising process on what is known as the “A List” without a vote.

Although the process may be rubber-stamping,  it is worth noting that the EU is not legally bound to accept such agreements. However, it suits the EU elites’ purposes to do so because it fits with their anti-democratic supranational agenda for it restricts who makes the decisions to an even smaller group  than would be the case if the EU instigated the regulations.

North is in favour of using Article 50 as an exit vehicle. He gives no sign of appreciating the potential damage which two years of prevarication by the EU could do or the opportunities for active collusion with the EU elite  by the British elite to trap  Britain  once more within the tentacles of the EU.

His idea of using the “Norwegian Option” as a staging post to full independence is wishful thinking,  because once a new settlement is reached it is highly improbable that a further referendum would be held for many years if at all, not least because the “Norwegian Option” would tie us into the four so-called EU freedoms and the  general single-market obligations.

Kieran Bailey

He spoke confidently but,  unsurprisingly for a 15-year-old, said nothing of obvious importance. His appearance smacked too much of gimmickry.

An unasked question

Had I had the opportunity I would  have posed a question which went unasked, namely, what should be done to tie down Cameron (or any other PM) to what will happen if there is a vote to leave the EU? We need to know before the IN/OUT referendum what the British government is committed to.

What should be done?

If a referendum is to be won the OUT camp must put forward a coherent and attractive message which goes to the heart of British people’s fears and anger resulting from British membership of the EU.  Talking legalistically about invoking Article 50, negotiating for a relationship similar to that of Norway or Switzerland  or mechanically reciting mantras about free markets and free trade will not do that. Indeed, it will drive voters away.

The British resent and distrust the EU because of the impotence of the British government and legislature to prevent EU law taking precedence over the will of Parliament. However, they are often unclear about which areas of policy have been subcontracted to Brussels. The OUT campaign must keep hammering home exactly how much cannot be done while Britain is entrenched within the EU.

The most important EU issue in British minds is indubitably  immigration. That should be made the focus of the OUT campaign. Indeed, the more it becomes an anti-immigration campaign the better because mass immigration affects from the entirety of life. The primary ill is simply the fact that huge numbers of foreigners coming into Britain change the nature of Britain both generally – think of the laws against speaking freely and those imposing “non-discrimination” dictats  on the grounds of race and ethnicity – and particularly, for example, here parts of the country are effectively colonised by those of a certain ethnicity or race.

Then there are the secondary ills which immigrants bring: the undercutting of wages, the removal of jobs from the open British market by ethnic minority employers who either employ only those of their ethnicity  and   foreign gangmasters who supply only those of their own nationality, the use of the NHS, the taking  of housing (especially social housing) which forces up rents, the overcrowding of schools in areas of heavy immigrant settlement, the drawing of benefits  by immigrants very soon are they arrive in Britain  and  a disproportionate propensity for crime.

A full throated campaign against these ills, which should encompass non-EEA citizens in Britain as well as EEA citizens, would be something the British electorate would instinctively and enthusiastically   respond to.  It would also allow those speaking for the OUT campaign to vividly illustrate the extent that the EU affects British life in all the important political policy areas.

The danger is that those running the OUT campaign  will, because of the grip that political correctness has on modern Britain, turn away from immigration as a major plank in their platform or  even shun it altogether.  That will guarantee either a lost referendum or allow  Britain to be re-stitched into the EU with something like the “Norwegian Option”.

Royal Mail and ideology

Robert Henderson

The starting gun for the privatisation of the Royal Mail has been fired t(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/royal-mail/10303689/Royal-Mail-privatisation-Government-confirms-flotation-within-weeks.html).

As with the banks,  the taxpayer takes the losses  and private business gets the profits. To prepare Royal Mail for privatisation the taxpayer has taken sole responsibility for the Royal Mail’s pension fund . They have done this  because its liabilities are huge and no private investor or business would take Royal Mail  on with the pension fund attached.

The pension scheme is closed to new members, which means that over time the liabilities will decline as pensioners die. However, that will take a long time and the liabilities are huge and uncertain.

The pension fund had estimated liabilities £33bn in the 2012/13 accounts (http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/hc1314/hc01/0149/0149.pdf).  This figure had risen by nearly £3bn in a year:  “The total pension scheme liability increased, from the date of transfer on 1 April 2012, from £30.547 billion to £33.378 billion at 31 March 2013.”

The scheme is “an unfunded defined benefit scheme providing pension and lump sum benefits on retirement and  death to members and former members of the Royal Mail Pension Plan (RMPP), and their dependants, in respect of their service up to 31 March 2012. The scheme is closed and has only pensioner and deferred members. As this is a closed scheme, there are no employer or employee contributions, the on-going pension payments and other payments are funded from the consolidated fund”  (Ibid)

The key words here are “unfunded” and “funded from the consolidated fund.  That means it is like the  Old Age Pension, namely, funded out of taxation.

The Pension Fund was supposedly made shipshape and Bristol fashion by the government  pumping in £2.2 billion in 2012.  However, after the first year of operation after the taxpayer bailout the “Royal Mail Group is facing an extra £300m annual bill from its pensions, one year on from a multi-billion-pound deal that was supposed to have solved its pension issues once and for all ahead of a public listing.” (http://www.efinancialnews.com/story/2013-05-31/pensions-talks-return-to-haunt-royal-mail?ea9c8a2de0ee111045601ab04d673622)

What can be expected from a privatised postal service

The experience of every other large privatisation apart from BT is of rising prices and decreased service.  Even in the case of BT the comparative success of the privatisation – the landline connections for phones and broadband are still dependent on BT’s  control of the network – would probably not have occurred if the mobile phone revolution had not taken place and  introduced genuine competition into the telecoms market.

There are a number of reasons why a privatised Royal Mail will go the same way as the likes of British Rail and the utilities.  To begin with there is the VAT exemption which is bound to vanish. As   it is a public organisation Royal Mail  does not pay VAT on most of its products: a privatised Royal Mail will almost certainly pay VAT on all of its products. The present position with VAT  is this:

“Royal Mail products that remain exempt from VAT, in addition to free products


1st and 2nd Class (stamps, online, franking, account*)

Special Delivery™ Next Day (stamps and franking)

Standard Parcels

Recorded Signed For™ (if purchased with a VAT exempt service)

Keepsafe™ (personal and business)

*1st and 2nd class account is a new product that was launched in April 2012. This is a Universal Service which does not qualify for volume related discounts. Royal Mail also offers a 1st and 2nd class service called Business Mail which is available on account. Volume related discounts are available on this service for larger postings and VAT is liable



Surface Mail

International Signed For

All HM Forces Mail (BFPO)

Inbound Mail

Redirections within UK (personal and business) “


All those exemptions will  be under threat with privatisation,  not least because  EU competition commissioner is likely to  be after them like a shot as the exemptions would be viewed as illegitimate state aid ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2305592/Price-class-stamp-soar-1-just-years-Royal-Mail-privatised-campaign-group-warns.html) . There will also be challenges by private postal companies and TNT Post UK has already said they will try to get the courts to rule that “ the exemption should be removed from all Royal Mail services apart from stamps and services directly connected to the obligation it has to provide a universal service six days a week”. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/steve-hawkes/10309856/Legal-fight-threatens-Royal-Mail.html).  If successful that would put 20% VAT on bulk mail deliveries.  In time, it is reasonable to expect even more dramatic challenges to any VAT exemption.

Then there is the question of raising capital. The official line is this: “ To help protect the future of the universal postal service, we aim to end Royal Mail’s dependence on unpredictable funding from the taxpayer and allow them future access to private capital. We will do this by selling shares in Royal Mail. “ (https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/ensuring-the-future-of-the-universal-postal-service-and-post-office-network-services)

On the face of it this is a nonsense statement.  As a matter of simple fact the British government can raise money by way of borrowing far more cheaply than a private company, no matter how large, can do (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/21/royal-mail-public-sector-privatise).

The claim becomes less odd if the real reason why capital cannot be raised by Royal Mail is the EU competition commission’s resistance to  state aid. The commission  is especially keen on stamping on state aid  in relation to EU postal services, which it desperately wants to see in private hands or at least with a mixture of private and public providers competing on the same basis, as it seeks to have a uniform postal service throughout the EU ((http://ec.europa.eu/competition/sectors/postal_services/cases.html).  It is probable that a publicly owned  Royal Mail would not be allowed to raise cheap money through the offices of the government because the assistance  would not be available to other private postal competitors and, hence,  would be judged as unfair competition by the EU competition commissioner.

But not all state aid is bad in the EU commission’s eyes.  They  were willing to collude  with the  UK government to prepare Royal Mail for privatisation by allowing what amounts to massive state aid through the removal of the deficit laden Royal Mail pension fund from Royal Mail , viz:

“The European Commission approved UK plans to relieve the Royal Mail Group (RMG) from excessive pension costs relating to its past monopoly position and to provide RMG with restructuring aid consisting of a debt reduction of GBP 1089 million (around EUR 1311 million). The Commission concluded that RMG’s revised restructuring plan would ensure a sustainable future for the group in its twofold function of providing universal postal services and of granting access to its delivery network to other providers in the UK. Moreover, the plan negotiated with the Commission included appropriate measures to minimise distortions of competition induced by the aid (IP/12/260).” (Ibid)

The sale is also ostensibly  odd in that it comes at a time when  Royal Mail is making a solid profit  (£400 million in the past year). However, the strangeness of the decision vanishes when it is realised that  the Royal Mail has been deliberately fattened up for privatisation  by the massive price increase in the cost of postage stamps in 2012 (First class stamps rising from 46p to 60p and second class from 36p to 50p.  Parcel charges have also risen substantially http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17859782. Incidentally, iIt is a moot point how much of the £400million profit arose from people buying huge numbers of stamps at the pre-rise prices, but nonetheless the increase in profitability is too large to be  ascribed to that one off event alone ).

The obligation to maintain the universal  postal service (UPS )  – the obligation to deliver  post anywhere in the UK at the same price six days a week –  is protected by the Postal Services Act 2011 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2011/5/introduction) and the  EU Postal Services Directives (http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/post/legislation/index_en.htm). However, once Royal Mail has private shareholders  this could change, especially if a majority private shareholder emerges. This could easily occur  if much more than 50% of shares are sold  to the private sector . The intention of  the government is for a  majority of shares  to be in private hands  with the rest held by the government. The  percentage to be retained by the government might be very small  and this is suggested strongly because ministers  has been very coy on the matter of the size of government’s holding .  It could be as low 10% for all we know.

If a majority shareholder does emerge,  they  will inevitably argue that they cannot compete with other private operators who are not bound by the UPS. Their complaint could well be upheld either by the UK or the EU competition authorities on the grounds of practicality, that is, the impossibility of running Royal Mail as a private business when it has the  UPS obligation which its competitors do not have to honour.  If the VAT exemption is lessened or even abandoned altogether, that would  add to the argument to dilute or even remove entirely the UPS obligation. It is worth  remembering that the so-called “golden share” held by the government in Jaguar cars was limply given up by the government  not that many years after being introduced (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1989/dec/06/golden-shares).

The UPS is under attack already from retailers who rely on posting goods to customers. They are under no obligation to use Royal Mail. This means they can charge whatever they like for postage within the UK and there are claims that some online retailers are charging multiples of the postage cost  which Royal Mail would charge for deliveries to out of the way addresses. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-24069354).  This will be happening because  the contracts the retailers  have agreed with postal providers other than Royal Mail will stipulate that this must be done.  If Royal Mail had retained its monopoly of small parcel deliveries (or even had the size of parcels in its monopoly increased) this would not be able to happen with anything like the same frequency.

The privatisation of Royal Mail also threatens the Post Office network, which is now an entirely separate organisation, Post Office Ltd.  Governments have been cynically undermining the Post Office for decades with a gradual removal government services which bulked out the postal services. The threat is not immediate because “We have committed £1.34 billion of funding for the network from financial year 2011 to 2012 to financial year 2014 to 2015. This will enable the Post Office to maintain and modernise its network to help safeguard its future.” (https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/ensuring-the-future-of-the-universal-postal-service-and-post-office-network-services). However,   looking ten years or so ahead it is probable that the cry will go up from politicians that the Post Office is a white state-owned elephant because there is every chance that a privatised Royal Mail will refuse to continue the contracts with the Post Office which currently exist on the grounds of cost and convenience.  

Why the privatisation is happening

Royal Mail would be perfectly viable as a public service if the old monopoly of letter post and small parcel post was maintained. It is true that email and other forms of digital messaging have reduced considerably the number of letters sent. But this drop has been offset by the considerable increase in parcel post arising from e-commerce, an increase which is likely to continue for quite some time.    Indeed, with the monopoly restored and modern sorting machinery being introduced, Royal Mail would almost certainly be able to make enough for necessary  future investment  whilst keeping postal rates moderate.   A cheap postal system would be a considerable boost to the economy generally.  The Post Office network could also be underpinned by the use of the offices as collection points for goods ordered through the Internet.

If that is so why is privatisation being driven through so ruthlessly  for transparently false reasons? The answer is ideology. The globalist, laissez faire ideology has infected to a lesser or greater degree all of Britain’s major political parties.  That  ideology dovetails with the supranational mentality engendered by the EU , commitment to  which is at the British political elite’s political core. It is doubtful if any senior British politician  not firmly committed to either laissez faire  globalism or the EU; most are committed to both. That is the simple truth.

Royal Mail privatisation – an act of ideology not of necessity or prudence

Robert Henderson

The announcement of the privatisation of the Royal Mail  by  the Business Secretary Vince Cable (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/royal-mail/10172284/Royal-Mail-lined-up-for-3bn-float.html)  is the marriage of the Thatcherite  privatising Zombie which has infected the whole of the mainstream British politics linked to the mania for “competition” exhibited by the EU (http://ec.europa.eu/competition/sectors/postal_services/overview_en.html).  The two ideologies – that of market economics and the goal, pursued with pathological determination,  of an ever expanding equalisation of trading conditions throughout the EU dovetailed perfectly.

The public sees Royal Mail as a public service. This is unsurprising because it has been in public hands since the 17th century and the provision of a universal delivery service to every part of the country for a standard charge existed from the time  Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp and the penny postage in the mid 19th century until the EU  interfered and ended the monopoly on letter post and small parcels in 2010.

There are clearly much broader questions of social  utility  than the cost or otherwise to  the taxpayer.  But even on the narrow and vulgar question of cost to the taxpayer there is no solid case for privatisation. Provided the letter post and packages up to a size which encompasses  the large majority of packets sent is  kept as a state monopoly,  the service could be relied upon to remain in the black whilst keeping postal charges low.  Even with the considerable weakening of Royal Mail’s monopoly over recent years it is still delivering healthy profits, viz: “ The state-owned delivery company said pre-tax profits jumped to £324m from £201m last year and a loss of £165m in 2011. Underlying operating profits soared 165pc to £403m from £152m in 2012” ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/royal-mail/10070998/Royal-Mail-delivers-profits-fit-for-flotation.html).

It is true that letter numbers have  declined  considerably in recent  years, by 25% between 2006 and the end of 2012. Nonetheless, the volume is still considerable  with 16 billion letters being sent to 28 million addresses  in 2012 (http://media.ofcom.org.uk/2012/03/27/ofcom-announces-measures-to-safeguard-the-uks-universal-postal-service/). Even with the ever growing use of digital communications, it is difficult to see letters dwindling to an insignificant number in the near future. Moreover, a good deal of the recent letter decline can be attributed to the ever growing cost of postage,  with second class mail for small letters now being 55p (large letters 69p) and first class  mail  60p (large 90p) (http://www.royalmailgroup.com/first-and-second-class-stamp-letter-prices-unchanged). In 1840 when the penny post was introduced a letter of any size could be sent for one old  penny. At 2012 prices that would be 87 old pence today (7/3) , or 36 new pence.  (http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/inflation/calculator/).  In real terms the  modern cost of a first class large letter is nearly three times as much as its 1840 predecessor. Bearing in mind the benefit of modern sorting technology  and transport and a great reduction in the number of deliveries per day,  it is rather surprising that the cost of post has risen hugely in real terms in modern times rather than dropping.

Parcel post costs have also risen sharply for those sizes of parcel  most likely  to be used: “2kg [parcel] was previously £5.30, but this will now rise to £8 if it is bigger than 45cm by 35cm by 8cm.” (2013  –  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9965562/Cost-of-posting-parcels-to-rise.html and http://internetretailing.net/2013/04/online-retailer-speaks-out-as-royal-mail-changes-parcel-pricing/#sthash.4EFUCLqr.dpuf) )

These price rises have been permitted by the regulator Ofcom simply to prepare the Royal Mail for privatisation. If Royal Mail remained in public hands, with the old letter post and small parcel monopolies restored, the cost of postage could be reduced considerably because profit would not be a prime driver of the cost . In fact, with the current profits being made, even if the present situation was maintained substantial postage price reductions could be made.  The current large profits are only needed to make Royal Mail  attractive to prospective buyers of the business.

But even If the worst came to the worst and Royal Mail regularly made a loss, and the taxpayer had to  directly subsidize the cost, this would still be a benefit to the general public because it would ensure that an important public service was maintained at a price the public could afford.

The really good news for those who want  Royal Mail to stay as a public service is the immense growth in parcel post because of the already hugely expanded and ever expanding increase in Internet buying. In May 2013 this accounted for 9.7% of all retail spending excluding automotive fuel (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rsi/retail-sales/may-2013/stb-rsi-may-2013.html#tab-Internet-Sales). There is every reason to believe it will continue to grow substantially as people get more and more comfortable with buying online and the opportunities to buy in shops diminishes as more and more close The Centre for Retail Research estimates that stores will decline  from 281,930 today to 220,000 in 2018, a decline of 22% (http://www.retailresearch.org/retail2018.php).  This growth in parcel post will more than cancel out the reduction in revenue from  letters.

Practically allied to Royal Mail is the Post Office . Until  April 2012 Royal Mail and the Post Office were  effectively part of the same organisation, albeit as agencies of varying status. (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmbis/84/8405.htm).  Now the Post Office is to be, legally, an entirely separate state-owned organisation.

A Commons committee in 2012  recognised  its public service function: “The Post Office remains an essential service which is extensively used. A third of the UK population—just under 20 million people—and half of all small businesses visit one of over 11,500 post offices every week.] The Post Office is one of the country’s largest cash handlers, processing around £70 billion of cash and £636 million of coinage every year. “

The official view of the Post Office networks future is rosy: “[In 2012] Paula Vennells, Chief Executive of Post Office Ltd, supported the proposals and set out her ambition for the Post Office:

If I have a vision, it is to have 30,000 post office outlets, not 11,500. It is to have standalone electronic drop boxes for mail packets. It is to have ATMs in railway stations. It is to have identity kits in town halls and libraries, all branded ‘Post Office’. But until we transform the current network and make it more sustainable, that becomes just an ambition.” (ibid)

This seems wildly improbable in the context of a privatised Royal MailAlthough  a ten year deal to maintain the existing Post Office network was agreed by the government in 2012,   it is probable that the network will be severely reduced in the not too distant future . It has already suffered a considerable contraction –  there are 11,500 Post Offices now compared with 20,000 in 1990. Many of the remaining offices,  and especially the  sub-post offices,  are struggling   because government services such as TV licence renewal have been removed from the Post Office remit and  there is a  general move towards online government services (in which the user increasingly has no choice but to use the online service) will worsen  the lot of Post Offices, especially the sub-post offices. (http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1678139/Post-offices-death-by-a-thousand-cuts.html).   Politically it will be much easier to reduce a stand alone state-run Post Office network  in size or even do away with all together than one attached in some way to the Royal Mail, especially if the privatised Royal Mail and its other private competitors decide not to use  Post Offices  as parcel pickup points and the government can keep pointing the Post Office network as “a burden on the taxpayer”.   The network It does require a public subsidy but this is minute in the context of national expenditure – it was  £150 million in 2010/11 ((http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmbis/84/8405.htm)

There is little experience of privatised postal services  because there are few anywhere  in the world and those that have been privatised – Sweden, Finland and New Zealand – have only done so within the last 20 years.   However, a 2007 European Commission report on the liberalisation of postal services within the EU  found a common theme, namely, a reduction in post offices and increased postal charges (http://www.boeckler.de/pdf/wsi_pj_piq_post_europe.pdf).  That is exactly what is to be expected when private operators are allowed  into a state service.

Does anyone  honestly doubt that privatisation will make matters worse? After all, every major British privatisation of public  services,  apart from telecommunications  where there can be real competition,  has resulted in higher charges for at best unimproved and at worst inferior services.  Why should this privatisation be any different?

Here is a media doubter Vikki Woods writing for the free market Daily Telegraph  : “ Vince Cable said in the Commons that the time had come for the Government to step back from Royal Mail and allow its management to focus on growing the business. The sell-off “is practical, it is logical, it is a commercial decision… It is consistent with developments elsewhere in Europe where privatised operators produce profit margins far higher than the Royal Mail but have continued to provide high-quality and expanding services.” Oh, yes? He says “expansion” but I hear “shrinkage”. The universal service obligation was only five days across Europe back in 2011, and now various national mail companies are sucking their teeth and suggesting three days a week would be good. “(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/countryside/10176212/Our-postman-delivers-a-sack-of-bad-news.html).

I suspect that many will have the same fears.

The Royal Mail is already much diminished from what it was. There is only one delivery a day; the cost of postage has risen massively  and much of the Post Office counter service which includes a good deal of postal work – recorded and registered letters, airmail, special delivery and so on –  has gone because of the massive reduction in Post Offices.   How long before the universal letter post obligation is reduced from six days to three days or two days? How long before a single universal charge for the whole country is abolished and hard to service areas such as the countryside are charged much more than the cities?  How long before door-to-door letter post  deliveries are replaced by deliveries to central collection points ?

Privatisation is a fraud on the public for its is selling that which belongs to everyone.  Where privatisation of state assets involves selling them  to the general public  it is a confidence trick on a par with the conman who “sells”  Nelson’s Column to  tourist.   Britons  who purchase shares in a privatised company are buying what they already own.  Think about that fact and don’t be a sucker.

The public is being doubly stung with this privatisation.  Not only will they almost certainly have, based on the experience of privatised postal services abroad, a more expensive and less comprehensive service within the foreseeable future, the funding of accrued Royal Mail pensions up to 31 March 2012 will remain as a charge on the taxpayer (http://www.royalmailpensionplan.co.uk/) rather than the new privatised company.  In short, the taxpayer is left with the debts while the buyers of  Royal Mail walk away unencumbered with the historical pension obligations.

This is something which does not need to happen. It would be perfectly possible to retain a state-owned universal postal service which would not make a loss, would make sufficient money to keep modernising  and would be much cheaper to use. All that would  be required is the political will to say no to the EU and revert to the old letter and smaller parcel monopoly.  This  privatisation is simply an ideological decision and has nothing to do with the  viability of a state-run postal service in this country.

This could well be a highly unpopular privatisation because the public  overwhelmingly view  Royal Mail as a service and have become jaundiced by previous large privatisations such as the energy and water industries, all of which have  resulted in raised prices and no great improvement in the service they provide. It could  well cost the Tory and Lib Dem parties dear at the next election.   (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/royal-mail/10050074/Poisonous-privatisation-of-Royal-Mail-will-cost-the-Conservatives-votes-in-2015-Bow-Group-warns-Tory-MPs.html). If it does, they will have only themselves to blame.

Technology out of control

Robert Henderson

I have previously examined  how robotics has the potential to make unviable both consumer based  economic systems based on the market and free trade between countries and the vast potential they have for creating economic and social  upheaval  in any industrialised society (https://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/robotics-and-the-real-sorry-karl-you-got-it-wrong-final-crisis-of-capitalism/).  A short recap of these difficulties will set the scene for the less obvious threat posed by other emerging technologies.

When general purpose robots are available they will not only be able to do the jobs humans do now but any new jobs arising from the technology. This is a wholly new situation because all previous technological advance has created new jobs which can only be done by humans.

In such circumstances there will be a choice for any  society: ban robots in the society  and  goods produced by robots in foreign countries or suffer  a catastrophic and unmendable unemployment and the subsequent catastrophic loss of demand.

Alternatively, a society could be organised predominantly on a command economy basis with  the robots producing most of the goods and providing  most of the services with  human beings acting purely as consumers apart from those needed to do whatever jobs robots cannot do or  it is deemed dangerous for them to do. There could also be a peripheral human economy consisting of those producing art or artisan goods for a niche market.

General purpose robots are the most obvious and comprehensive threat to the  economic arrangements of the advanced world, but there are other emerging  technological advances which either already exist as practical tools for general use or will do so in the not too distant future.

3D Printers

A favourite SciFi  invention is the universal replicator, a machine which produces whatever a person wants. We are not there yet but the first significant steps have been made with the 3D printer.

3D printing has the potential to undermine any society based on mass production for high volume  consumption.  If everything can be reduced to an electronic blueprint, in principle anyone can  produce anything. This is  because  3D printers will not only print from ready-made programs. Any object can be scanned and then the scanned information in digital form may be used to print the object.  All that will be required is the requisite printing equipment with the physical materials to create the object required.

This will raise a number of problems for private business, both in terms of what they will be producing and supplying and because of the intellectual property implications.  Imagine a world in which, say, the individual human can produce 75% of the manufactured goods they require simply by printing them.   That is not so far-fetched as it might seem. Consider your own life. What would you think it obviously  impractical for a 3D printer to produce?  Almost certainly a house, quite probably a car.  Perhaps anything large and complicated.

Large is not an insuperable problem even for the present  because  parts  of any object could  be produced with a 3D Printer and then assembled, quite probably by a robot.  A Dutch company DUS Architects are already testing out the proposition that a house could be printed out (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/ultratravel/the-next-big-thing/10110195/The-worlds-first-3D-printed-house.html)

Complexity would not be an absolute  barrier  because a printer could print from the centre to the perimeter or an object.  Using that technique  a complete car could be printed out.  A house would be a stretch because of the problems of foundations,  but it might be possible to print a house in its entirety on foundations created by  humans or robots.  In principle anything could be produced whole provided it was not larger than the capacity of the printer used to print it.

3D printing  has the potential to create immense economic difficulties.  If it was used widely traditional manufacturers would at best find the demand for most of their goods either vanishing altogether or dropping very sharply.  Wholesalers would be rendered unnecessary in great swathes of industry because they only thing they would have to deliver would be a computer programme to the individual 3D printer. Retailers might still have a life as showrooms for the printed product, but it would be a much reduced service because people would probably be more and more content just to view a model on the Web or one printed out by a friend. Perhaps a holographic representation of the article to be printed  would be provided before printing.

Price would also be a consideration. There is good reason to believe that items printed would be cheaper than those made in factories because there would be no overheads beyond the machine’s purchase, its maintenance, the materials used for printing and the energy used. A parallel with 2D printing can be made. It is much cheaper to print text or images on your home printer than give the work to a commercial printer.  There is also the possibility that the materials for creating 3D printed artefacts could be reused, just like  plasticene, over and over again. If  an item was not liked or a  print went wrong there would be only the cost of the energy used to print to be borne.

But 3D printing could go way  beyond the manufactured goods we have now. If anything can be reduced to a computer programme and the correct ingredients by way of the ink substitute created to put into the 3D printer why could not anything physical not be created including food?  Organic material has already been used in 3D printing as we shall see. It might even  be possible in the more distant future to manipulate atoms to create whatever elements are required, just as the  sun causes different elements  to form.

The macro economic effects   of widespread 3D printing would be catastrophic because there would be, as with general purpose robots,  a huge loss of demand  due to a widespread  loss of employment as  industrial, wholesale and retail activity was severely reduced.  A company which makes and  supplies  computer programmes rather than making and supplying physical things is going to need a  tiny workforce  compared to a manufacturer with their  factory or the wholesaler or retailer with their warehouse.

In the beginning when 3D printers are  very expensive less than user-friendly,  there would  be businesses which would set up 3D printing shops  just as there are 2D print shops now.  But the likelihood is that as time goes on and 3D printers become cheap and user-friendly ,  businesses  doing the 3D printing for customers will become defunct or at least very much reduced. In any event such businesses  will  indubitably require far fewer staff than traditional manufactures.

What is it to be human?

3D printers represent an existential  threat as well as an economic one. The reproduction of human parts has already taken its first tentative steps using  3D printers – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/9849212/New-3D-printing-technique-could-speed-up-progress-towards-creation-of-artificial-organs.html)

If it is possible to print a kidney why not a complete human being ?  Assume there is a situation where a complete body could be replicated. Think further and imagine that not only the physical construct of the body can  be replicated but also the  mental element of a person. This might be done by simply replicating a brain with the replication process exactly copying the brain in all its facets, including the brain’s  operational state,  at a point in time so that the resultant artefact would be an exact copy of the original just as a copied computer file is an exact copy of data at a point in time.  Even more removed from the original person would  be a means of reducing  the entire mental construct of a person to a digital representation which could be stored as a computer file and then downloaded into other machines, artificially created bodies  or even other human beings.

That might seem something which is way into the future, but consider the speed with which technology is already advancing, how we have moved from physically huge computers fifty years ago to tiny devices with many times the power of the most advanced  computer made in the 1960s. The temptation to offer a modern version of “It’ll never replace the horse” is strong but equally doomed to ridiculous failure.

Think on two questions:  (1) if  individual humans can be replicated  what is it to be human?   (2) Once everything  can be  reduced to digital data or indeed data in any form, where does reality begin and end? I would suggest only in the concept of things rather than the physical reality of them.

Self-Organising materials

Another future disrupter of  market economies is self-organising materials. Imagine a material which did not have a fixed state but could assume different states to perform different tasks. Such a material could perform as a  wondrously enhanced Swiss Army knife  without the need to have  any permanent specific tools, viz:

 A. System Functionality

We aim to create a system of sand grain sized modules that can form arbitrary structures on demand. Imagine a bag of these intelligent particles. If, for example, one needs a specific type or size of wrench, one communicates this to the bag. The modules contained within first crystallize into a regular structure and then self-disassemble in an organized fashion to form the requested object. One reaches in, grabs the tool, and uses it to accomplish a meaningful task. When one is done with the tool, it goes back into the bag where it disintegrates, and the particles can be reused to form the next tool. Such a system would be immensely useful for an astronaut on an inter-planetary mission or a scientist isolated at the South Pole. Even for the average mechanic or surgeon, the ability to form arbitrary, task-specific, tools would be immensely valuable in inspecting and working in tight spaces.(Self-Disassembling Robots Pebbles: New Results and Ideas for Self-Assembly of 3D Structures (http://groups.csail.mit.edu/drl/wiki/images/5/5d/RobotPebblesWorkshop-GilpinRus-ICRA10.pdf).

This system uses electromagnets and a subtractive system. It begins with a quantity of the grain sized modules and removes those which are not needed for a specific item, just as a sculptor starts with a block of marble and creates by removing material. Unlike a sculpture when the object is no longer required the totality of the grain size modules reforms until it required to form  an object again.

That is self-organising materials as tools, but any object could in principle be so created, even complicated machines. All that would be required is a form of self-organising  material  flexible enough to  translate any  digital map into a real object.

The effect of widespread use of self-organising materials  would mean that much of traditional manufacturing would become unnecessary. That would have serious effects on demand because employment would be substantially reduced.

Intellectual property

The wholesale removal of production and supply by innovations such as 3D printing and self-organising materials have  serious  implications for intellectual property.    If everything is reduced to a digital representation,  where will ownership of ideas and physical  creations lie?  At present it is possible to have patent(s)  in an object, but what if anything can be scanned and  a 3D print made from the scan? Who could claim that a patent had been infringed if the item complained about  was the results of a scan produced by the person making the 3D print?  That would not be the equivalent of someone taking an object or process and simply reproducing it by physically duplicating by an act of copying.   Rather, it would be akin to the situation where someone photographs a painting then mass reproduces the photograph.  There would be no obvious breach of patent  because the copies would be of the photograph taken of the painting not of the painting itself and the creation of a photograph is an act of artistic creation in itself .

In such circumstances patent rights would become effectively null and void.  If there was an attempt to reform patent law to include replication of an original patented design,  however reproduced, if it was identical or even merely  had a large degree of similarity with the scanned object,   it is unlikely that it would be enforceable. That is  because  all any person wishing to replicate an object would have to do to put themselves arguably beyond a patent would be to manipulate the data from the scanned object  to make it other than identical with the original object which was scanned and then argue the changes were sufficient to constitute something different in quality to the scanned original object.   That would be a never ending playground for the lawyers as people squabbled over what constituted a significance similarity.

There would also be an obvious reason why enforcement would fail: the sheer numbers of people copying things, with most of them doing it simply for themselves or at least on a very small scale. The patent holders would be faced with a similar problem to that faced by the creators of digital material such as films or music who still suffer massive breaches of copyright.  Patent holders  would  be overwhelmed by the numbers  of breaches.

There could also be problems over copyright. A person who scanned an object would be creating a digital data map of the object. That would be an original creation. Who would own the copyright of the data map? Presumably the person who scanned it, for the data map they have created is original.  If the data map was then sold to others there would  be a direct conflict between the rights of the patent holder of the scanned object and the rights of the copyright holder who created the data map. How could that be resolved? Frankly I doubt whether it could be in any coherent or effective legal manner. If copyright was legally denied to those who created a data map by scanning, such a law  would almost certainly have general implications for copying anything by any means, even including the copying of a painting by painting a copy.

Disruptive technological advances  do not have to dramatic or completely novel

General purpose robots and self-organising materials  are genuine  novelties in the sense of having no antecedents, but less novel  and exotic  technological advances  also contain threats of social and economic disruption.  Think of the effect that the automation of a single machine dedicated to one general type of  activity might have. An automated sewing machine  meets  that description and there are serious attempts being made to produce one:

Fully Automatic Sewing of Garments Using Micro-Manipulation

FBO – DARPA has provided $1.25 million for Softwear Automation to develop a complete work-cell called a Beta Unit for fully automated sewing. That includes a numerically controlled sewing machine that tracks fabric movement by observing passing threads and under servo control moves the fabric under the needle stitch by stitch. Complete production facilities that produce garments with zero direct labor is the ultimate goal.

The military’s annual clothing budget at $4 billion dollars and employs about 50,000 people.

The US annual import of sewn items is approximately $100 Billion per year.

The technology proposed appears to allow cutting and sewing at costs LESS THAN in China. There is only one basic innovation required; that the metric of motion should not be meters or inches but rather thread count in the fill and warp directions. (Wovens and leather like materials need a slightly different measure.) This leads to THREE fundamental technical issues that have largely been solved and discussed below as well as more routine engineering development.

“The automation process proposed by Dickerson works something like this. First, an “overhead, pick-and-place robot” grabs the necessary pieces of fabric and places them at the head of a sewing machine. The appliance itself would be equipped with “machine vision” capabilities, specific enough to spot and track individual fabric threads. That intel would “provide fabric location information” to actuators that operate the sewing machine’s needle and thread, and “budgers” — motorized balls, underneath the sewing machine that latch onto the fabric via vacuum seal — that move the material to and fro.”  http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/06/fully-automatic-sewing-of-garments.html

If such a machine is invented much of the emerging economies of the developing world would be lost  because of their  very heavy reliance on producing clothes. And that is just one machine. Other basic manufacturing processes currently relying on cheap labour in places such as China and  India  could be and almost certainly will be invented.

What should be done?

Governments should be considering  the implications of any disruptive new technology and planning to deal with the problems they create, for example, by deciding now whether to ban or restrict the use of general purpose robots or to rejig the way a society produces goods and provides services, rather than wait for the reality of the new  technology to be upon us.

Dispiritingly,  governments  are, with the notable exceptions of GM foods and alleged man-made climate change,  ignoring the potential  dangers technology can  present.  In most instances the potential dangers are not even part of the  mainstream political discourse, not least because  there are no powerful and well funded  interest groups lobbying  about technologies such as robotics.

The irony is that GM foods and man-made climate change either present no proven danger (GM foods) or have no proven foundation (man-made climate change),  while dangers posed by technologies such as  general purpose robots and  3D printing contain  very real and obvious dangers

Why do GM foods and man-made climate change appeal to many while  fears over technologies such as robotics and 3D printing lack a  public voice? Probably because digital technology has become so much a part of our lives.   Most people simply think of the idea of robots and 3D printing as simply a development of what they already use and increasingly interact with on a quasi-human level.  Green issues are set apart from such everyday experience.   There is also probably an element of people thinking they will be treated as SF addicts at best and  unbalanced at worst if they start  raising fears about robots, 3D printers  and suchlike. They should put aside their fears of being embarrassed and think about the practical  implications of such technologies.

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