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Monday, 30 March 2015

A Sermon

[I imagine that I am in a Catholic parish, that each parishioner has been encouraged to invite a friend, neighbour or relative. Bizarrely, I have been asked to preach a welcoming sermon.]

Good morning. It is good to see so many of you here. Some of you are here at the personal invitation of one of our regular worshippers. You are very welcome.

My remarks are very general – a mile wide and an inch deep (JR). There are many relevant topics that I could address that I do not address.

Christianity is under attack. Christians are persecuted in many countries where they are in a minority. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Christians are killed every year. We rejoice in the faith and fortitude which they display. The saints (and many were martyred) are our pride and joy. At the same time we grieve over every Nigerian Christian done to death or sold into slavery. We are appalled when Coptic Christians, whose tradition goes back nearly two millennia, are murdered in cold blood.

Christianity is under attack in the West. You will all have heard of ‘the new atheists’, hard core materialists who allege that teaching Christianity to our children is a form of abuse. It is about this attack that I wish to speak this morning.

The first thing to say is that in grand scheme of things these atheist materialists are in a tiny, tiny minority. This doesn't mean that they are wrong (though they are). But they swim against the tide of humanity. At all times and in all places, until very recently, nearly all human beings have intuited that their own sense of right and wrong and, indeed, the very existence of the universe are clues to a divine purpose. Even in the secular west this is probably true of most people, if they bother to think about it at all. If this is you, the new atheists despise you. Perhaps they ought to find more deserving targets for their contempt. Perhaps they should get out more.

Some of the new atheists have a belief in ‘scientism’. In other words, they proclaim that Science is the only way we have to know and understand the world. Matter, energy, space and time are all that exist. Science deals with matter energy, space and time. So, according to their assertion, Science is all we need to explain or understand the universe. This is, I venture to say, self-evidently false.

There is more to the universe than matter, energy, space and time. Think for a second or two. There is beauty; there are right and wrong. Science can tell us nothing about right and wrong, nothing about beauty.

I would go further and say that they are self-contradictory. That Science is the only way we have of knowing and understanding the world is not a scientific statement. Let me repeat: when a materialist says that Science is our only reliable tool for making sense of the world, he is not making a scientific statement – so when he says it, we have no reason to pay any attention to him. It’s not Physics, not Botany, not Geology, not Astronomy – it is pure dogma. I am not sneering at dogma – we have plenty of dogmas or doctrines that are not scientifically proven: the doctrine of Creation, the doctrine of Original Sin, the doctrines of the Incarnation, of the Resurrection and of Redemption. More than you can shake a stick at. Some doctrines are very hard. We do not claim to prove any of them by experiment in a laboratory. We believe that our doctrines are revealed to us by men and women whose thirst for God has enabled them to draw near to Him. The atheists say, ‘Only Science reveals Truth’ and they want us to believe this is True; but they neglect to give us a scientific reason for believing that it is True. Truths are revealed only by Science – except this one, which I made up.

I have been talking about Scientism, which I think is clearly false. It falls at the first fence. I would hate you to think that I am anti-Science. I am not. I am almost reverent about Science. The scientific method has allowed us to discover an enormous amount about the physical world. The astonishing technology we enjoy in this century is the fruit of Science. But Science does not come from nowhere. What we think of as the sophisticated (mind-blowing) Science of our time has developed at an increasing rate since the sixteenth century, with one discovery after another providing scientists with new questions, some of which they have succeeded in answering.

This not to say that people before the sixteenth century were dunces. They built astonishing cathedrals and they made rational observations about cause and effect. They knew what caused babies. Civilisations as different as Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Babylon and Ancient Greece developed practical technologies undreamt of by even more ancient hunter-gatherers and even they invented the bow and arrow.

It is the worst kind of arrogance to belittle our forefathers. But my point is this: what we think of as the scientific method (observation, hypothesis, experimental testing, as well as refutation), which took off in the1500s, gathered pace in the 1600s, moved through the gears in the eighteenth century and achieved warp speed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, happened in a corner of the Asian continent which we call Europe – Christian Europe. Brilliant men and women (from Copernicus to Marie Curie) worked tirelessly to discover true things about the universe. Why did this not happen in Japan? They are at least as intelligent as Europeans. Why not in India? We know that Indians have done some of the most spectacular mathematics in history. Why was it in Catholic Europe that Science with a capital S was born?

I am not alone in believing that it is Catholic doctrine (dogma, if you like) which provided the soil in which Science took root. Catholics believe that the Natural World springs from the mind of God and that it is therefore supremely rational. It cannot be self-contradictory. We also believe that God made us in His image. We believe that He has free will and that He has endowed us with free will. He is creative and has blessed us with creativity and reason. God creates ex nihilo, out of nothing. We can make no physical thing except with the materials He has provided but we can create hypotheses to explain the natural world. But, to match the real world, in other words to explain it, our hypotheses, our theories, have to be congruent (like two triangles with the same sides and the same angles) with the natural world.

This view, that our minds (which are rational) can make sense of the universe (which is rationally constructed) has not been held by all peoples at all times. Animists, who believe that every tree, every stream, every rock, every cloud, every breeze is endowed with a ‘spirit’ which bloweth where it listeth, are not likely to create the edifice of modern Science. According to this view, we ‘persuade’ things to happen by appealing to, by propitiating the spirits. Our Muslim brothers and sisters never refer to the future without a pious ‘inshallah (if God wills it)’. Some have declared that it is impious to (as they would have it) make predictions about God’s world. I applaud their piety but it is no wonder that modern Science did not take off in the Muslim world.

In my view and, I think, in the view of many historians and philosophers, a direct line can be traced from Catholic theology to modern Science.

People who take a different view from me allege that there was a huge conflict between Religion and Science and that Science won. This, I believe, is a narrative with not a shred of evidence. Bad Science is driven out by good Science; and, inshallah, bad religion is driven out by good religion. There’s the conflict.

So, without Catholicism you won’t get Science. For me, the case is clear. You may not agree; but I hope, at least, that you will grant a case can be made.

I am prepared to go further – much further. We like Science, right? What else do we like? I like Human Rights! If I, as a Catholic, believe that every human being on the planet is made in the image of God, I should tremble at the thought of placing my goals ahead of his – especially at the thought of cruelly exploiting him for my benefit. Universal human rights (specifically, the rights of non-Catholics) were first articulated by scholastic theologians who condemned the vile treatment of South Americans by Spanish conquistadores.

It was an atheist, Ayn Rand, who said that every man is an end in himself (can’t get more Catholic than that) not the means to the end of another. St Paul himself could not have put it better. It seems to me that the very concept of human rights makes the best sense in the context of Catholic theology. Curiously enough, egalitarianism cheerfully sacrifices individuals (on the guillotine, in the gulag and in the killing fields of Cambodia). Stalin made my case very eloquently: ‘Death of individual is tragedy; death of millions is statistic’.

What else do we like? We like Democracy. I confess that I have reservations about democracy. I agree with Winston Churchill that that it is the worst form of government apart from all the others which have been tried. CS Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and many other books and essays, put it best when he said, ‘Democracy is to be desired not because human beings are so good that their aggregate decisions will be good but because human beings are not good enough that any one should be in charge’. That is a paraphrase.

Catholicism has given us Science. Catholicism has given us Human Rights. Catholicism has given us (implicitly) Democracy. What’s not to like? Oh, and Salvation – the only free lunch.
I hope you will come back. I hope you will be a much better, more thoughtful Catholic than I am. And more charitable.

I will close by citing some findings that I think are relevant. There is no doubt at all that religious people are happier than non-religious people. In America, surveys show that the happiest people are orthodox Jews and Evangelicals. They stay married and therefore bring up children who are less likely to succumb to drugs and crime. They therefore contribute to the future. Religious people are healthier, as well as happier.

If you care at all about yourself, your children and society as a whole – be a Catholic.

God bless you!


Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Debate which Wasn’t

I thought that Cameron did less badly than Milliband.

My problem with political ‘debate’ in Britain is that there are no colours nailed to the mast. I blame the electorate more than the politicians. Sadly, I think that our electorate is dismally stupid. They have never, for one second, asked themselves questions like these:

Is inequality good or bad – or simply a fact of life?

Is taxation good/bad/necessary/a necessary evil?

These unasked questions make it impossible for me to engage with the so-called debate on our political platform.

The NHS features heavily in the ‘debate’. Brits are prohibited from questioning its provenance. It is our ‘national religion’. It sucks. The NHS is founded on the principle that no-one should ever feel the slightest anxiety about falling ill – duh?

Is it right that government should take from those who have and give to those who have not? Madison said ‘No’. Successive US governments have denied his principle: I cannot undertake to put my finger on that article of our Constitution which mandates provision for the purposes of benevolence (I paraphrase). He was right. Government is not about benevolence, though much of our ignorant electorate think it is.

Right government is about protecting us from tyranny. But they tyrannise us.

We are not given the principles by which our parties would govern us. They are easy to determine. The left has a single pernicious principle: government can and should ‘do good’ whenever and wherever it can. And they know? Who are the opposition? Perhaps it is not the job of government to ‘do good’ whenever and wherever it can. This is not a question we ever hear articulated.
The sickening consensus does not address any fundamental questions. We cannot have a meaningful policy debate without going much deeper than Paxman takes us. He is clever; he can make anyone look stupid. Paxman never challenges us to think about whether the NHS is a good thing. I think it is a very bad thing. And I’ll tell you why if you challenge me.

It is a horrid fact that first principles are almost never discussed. Programmes like Question Time are conducted on the assumption that you should be obliged to pay for any misadventure that befalls me. Perhaps we should talk about this assumption. Has it been established? I don’t think so.
In Britain there are two factions: Labour (and the Lib/Dems) accept it as a given. Conservatives (badly represented by the Tory party) are hesitant. Both major political parties are for governments doing stuff. Everything government does costs us.

We are approaching a general election. The outcome may be bad or catastrophic. Ever since 1945 we have had catastrophic Labour administrations, followed by anodyne Tories, which have (sometimes) improved our economic situation – a bit.

The problem has always been the electorate – you and me. The left always appeals to the individual’s self interest. The right (the inarticulate right) fails to appeal to first principles.

I would love to hear a politician who wants my vote appeal to my political principles. They characteristically appeal to (what they perceive) be my self-interest. And I am insulted.




Wednesday, 25 March 2015

My Internet Connection has Crashed

This happens more often than I would like; but not so often that it drives me away from the Internet.

I sometimes think that this happens to prompt me to think about my blog. Well, it often does. My posts often arise from what has happened during the day. Today Tony came to sort out a few domestic problems for me. My new washing machine was not working. Tony surmised that it was not working for the same reason my old washing machine was not working; namely that it was not draining – and he found the cause, a revolting lump of fat and fluff in the drain. He fixed it, as he fixes most things. I now have a washer-drier which is new and which works.

Tradesmen are problem solvers. Politicians are not – at least not to the same degree. You don’t call upon a plumber or an electrician unless you have identified a problem – eg my f**king washer doesn't wash. It was a real problem, which presumably had a real cause.

Politicians, on the other hand, identify problems for you and then, from the depths of their own philosophy impose a solution. There is too much inequality. There isn't. Too much inequality (they say) leads to a host of ills. The fact is that some people have enough and some people don’t. 

Progressives have one solution: take from those who have and give to those who don’t. They ignore the immorality of taking (it is theft) and they ignore the immorality of encouraging dependency. It is hard to say which is the more immoral. They choose to ignore the obvious reason that some people do not have enough. There is not enough wealth in the economy. People are not encouraged (by taking responsibility for themselves) to create wealth, by producing what others want. They are positively discouraged from creating wealth. The miracle is that entrepreneurs create as much as they do, in spite of absurd regulations and swingeing taxes.

It bears repeating that the (perhaps) necessary evil of taxation is staggeringly inefficient. In addition to the actual cost of providing the ‘service’ in question, taxes cost a lot to raise and a lot to disburse – dead money. This is a fact hidden from us. Just suppose that we could quantify the benefit to the UK public of, for example, the NHS. How much does it cost in addition to collect the necessary taxes and how much does it cost in addition to spend the money, in terms of bureaucratic salaries and other expenses?




Sunday, 22 March 2015

Evangelisation

What is the Roman Catholic Church in England doing about evangelisation (aka the Great Commission)? As far as I can see, the square root of bugger all. Any commercial organisation which took as relaxed a view to ‘marketing and sales’ would have dismal prospects. I am told that my parish church, St Ann’s in Stretford, used to have seven masses every Sunday, every one packed out. Now we have three, with room for at least fifty more worshippers at each one. This is a fact which demands a response. Nobody is responding.

The situation in the C of E is worse. At least our clergy believe in God. I have known two C of E clergymen who don’t. One used to lie routinely about attendance figures.

The Salford Diocese website makes reference to ‘social responsibility’ and ‘child abuse’. All well and good; but what kind of influence will we have if we continue to haemorrhage members?

I don’t even know who to talk to about my anxiety.

It seems that a few years ago there were discussions about falling attendance. One suggestion was that there should be ‘greeters’ at the door who job would be to hand out missals and newsletters. Splendid – but not enough.

It seems that the Church has not reacted to the general culture’s loss of interest in religion. The First World War was a massive blow to religiosity, unsurprisingly. Catholic families provided a certain momentum and that momentum has been fading ever since. For a hundred years the Church authorities have neglected a crisis. When a priest is given charge of a parish, is he told that he has a responsibility to halt and to reverse any decline in attendance? It seems not. Salespersons are given targets and are rewarded for achieving and exceeding them. Virtue is rewarded – and it should be.
Virtue is the bedrock of society. Capitalism and Democracy require virtuous citizens. Christianity has been the bedrock of virtue in the West. Without Christianity virtue is not even on the agenda. We are in trouble.

Clearly, the clergy are not alone in being in dereliction of duty. Ordinary lay people should, of course, do more. But the clergy are our leaders. They should challenge us. But they don’t. Their sermons are anodyne. When did you last hear a sermon that challenged you intellectually?




Saturday, 21 March 2015

Climate Change

I know I have made reference to this topic in previous posts; but I have been listening to lectures and debates on the subject recently and I think there are a few observations that are worth making.
The first observation is that the ‘alarmists’ are nearly all on the political left and that the ‘sceptics’ are nearly all on the political right. This is very curious because (superficially, at least) climate change is not a political issue. Left and right agree that clean water and clean air are good and that polluted water and polluted air are bad. It’s quite easy to determine whether or not the water in your well or coming out of your taps is dirty. You can readily tell whether you are breathing clean air or not. The easiest test is to blow your nose. We like clean.

We may note in passing that countries organised by leftist principles do not have a good record when it comes to clean air and water.

There are four questions we have to ask with respect to what used to be called ‘global warming’ and which has been re-christened ‘climate change’.

Is it happening? Is it bad? Is it our fault? What should we do?

Is it happening? Almost everybody agrees that climate changes. We have ice ages and interglacial periods. It is certain that we have been emerging from a cold period. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were cold – ice fairs on the Thames etc. The temperature since the mid-1800s has definitely risen. In very cold periods we are obliged to use artificial means to sustain life and this is expensive. We burn wood or coal and our dwellings are more costly to construct.

We know for sure that in some periods in the historical past have been warmer on average. Greenland is called Greenland because it used to be warmer and fecund. We also know that grapes, which like warm temperatures, used to be grown in the north of England. The Roman period was another warm period in the historical past.

So, the answer to question one is: Yes, we are coming out of a cold period. For all we know, the trend may soon be reversed, as some scientists prophesied in the 1970s.

Is it bad? Most of us like warm climates, which is why we choose the Seychelles or AndalucĂ­a for our holiday destinations over Finland or Mongolia. Statistically, it certain that cold weather kills fragile human being in vastly greater numbers than warm weather. Obviously, very very high temperatures would be bad for us. We could not live on Venus, even if the atmosphere were conducive to human flourishing.

The answer then to question two is: No, warm periods are better than cold periods. Food is easier to grow and we don’t need to spend so much on hypocausts and central heating.

Is warming our fault? Indubitably we make the environment warmer. Cities are always warmer than the surrounding countryside. We do produce carbon dioxide by exhaling, by burning any fuel, by keeping livestock. Physicists tell us (reliably) that CO2 does trap heat in the atmosphere, as does methane. They also tell us that nearly all the CO2 in the atmosphere comes from natural sources – volcanoes, ants, etc, etc. Our contribution is vanishingly small.

Is it our fault? No, not noticeably. Temperatures and carbon dioxide have fluctuated wildly in the past, when our contribution was negligible.

What should we do? The obvious answer is: Nothing.

We in the West live lives of unparalleled comfort, thanks to cheap energy obtained from coal and gas (plus hydro and nuclear). We are very lucky. I am very grateful for my warm, comfortable life. To deny this comfort to the ‘third world’ is as wicked as progressive politicians who succeeded in life as a result of grammar schools and then denied this ladder of success by destroying those very same grammar schools. Cheap energy has given us refrigeration, which preserves not only food but life-saving drugs. A revolting parallel is the denial to the third word of DDT. We used it to free ourselves of death dealing insects. We now deny it to Africa, where thousands of children die every year from malaria, borne by anopheles mosquitoes.

And it is here that we come up against the left-right divide. The leftist perceives a problem (which may not exist). He uses his political power to implement a solution. Almost always his solution means that people die. Leftists always claim the moral high ground; they feel good about themselves. Their victims are no less dead.





Friday, 20 March 2015

Corkage

Not many restaurants do this nowadays; but there was a time when it was common for restaurants to allow you to bring your own wine and to charge you a modest sum for opening it. Needless to say, if you objected to this system, you didn’t go back.

I was listening to a bitter complaint from Kevin about the price of wine in restaurants. He had encountered a restaurant which charged 5 times the off-licence price for a bottle of Chateau Plonque. He thought this was ‘unjust’. I see no injustice here – perhaps a certain commercial ineptitude. The restaurant has no means to compel me to buy their wine.

People like Kevin are very quick to associate injustice with commercial enterprises. But it would never occur to him to suggest that it is unjust to force us all to pay for inflation-proof pensions for sometime government employees, simply because they are sometime government employees. To me this is iniquitous. The injustice is plain.

I once needed an electrician. The guy who turned up charged me £40 simply to reset a fuse. In my opinion, he was a greedy bastard; and I shall never use him again. Do I accuse him of injustice? No!

Yemen

What a sad country. Today over 100 people were blown up in their mosques by a rival Islamic sect. What can you say? Stay away from Yemen. IS have this week murdered over a dozen tourists in Tunis - and a policeman and a cleaner in the national museum. Stay away from Tunisia. We in the West are dismally ignorant of economics. In the Muslim Arab word things are beyond dismal. They are totally dependent on the West’s need of oil and the West’s desire to holiday in their countries. Without the West they would be in the toilet. Fracking offers us the opportunity to be independent of middle eastern oil. Let’s take it. Pull the chain.



Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Crooked Timber of Humanity

I asked in an earlier post if Jonah Goldberg was quoting when he referred to “the crooked timber of humanity”. Well, it was the title of a book of essays by Isaiah Berlin, who had the phrase from Immanuel Kant: "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."

Despair, right? As a properly introspective human being, you know that you are imperfect, that you fall short of the ideal? Of course you do. But you also know that not every deed you have ever done was wicked, or done from wicked motives.

It is an evocative phrase. It evokes for me half-timbered houses, some of the loveliest of buildings in Britain. Indeed, it is the approximate symmetry of these structures which gives them their beauty – one bent timber is laid against another.



Monday, 16 March 2015

Original Sin

There are many hard theological doctrines: the doctrine of the Trinity is very hard. There is no way that you could arrive at this from first principles or by mere observation. The doctrine of Redemption is not easy – just how does it work? The doctrine of Creation is not hard at all; Science comes daily closer to a position from which Creation is the obvious answer. But the easiest doctrine to accept is the doctrine of Original Sin. Switch on the TV; buy a newspaper; examine your conscience. “The best of us is no damn good”, to quote West Side Story.

As the great Jonah Goldberg says, “We are made from the crooked timber of humanity,” (is he quoting?).

CS Lewis in Mere Christianity begins his argument by demonstrating that we all accept that there is a moral law and that we are all offenders. This is unarguable. We know it by introspection. The doctrine of Original Sin is fundamental to Christianity (and Judaism). The Genesis story dates the sin to our first parents. This may be an allegory. Whether or not it is an allegory is moot. Perhaps we are descendants of more primitive creatures – who may have been innocent of sin (as animals are). This we know of ourselves: that we offend against the Natural Law. We may be better at identifying sin in others than in ourselves – no surprise there.

A fundamental truth about human beings is a fundamental Christian doctrine. Rousseau denied it. Progressives deny it. Their fundamental assumption is patently wrong. For them, it is something corrupt in society that makes us do bad things. There is logical fallacy here. If we are fundamentally good, how can society be corrupt?

Our moral and political problem is this: how should society be ordered to eliminate (or, at least reduce) the consequences of bad behaviour? Clearly, according to the progressives, by eliminating corrupt institutions (for which they have no explanation, in view of their assumption that we are naturally ‘good’).

Facing the facts is always a smart policy. Here’s the fact: we are bad – not always but essentially. So, policy should always and everywhere to encourage good behaviour and to discourage bad behaviour, to arrange things so that good behaviour is always and everywhere rewarded – and vice versa. This is not to say that police forces and courts should punish the wicked (although this may be necessary) but that the consequences of feckless behaviour should be visited upon the feckless. We do the opposite, whether in the case of benefit claimants who choose not work or in the case of financial institutions which are bailed out after making disastrous decisions. Fecklessness should always and everywhere reap its own reward.

My fecklessness may have consequences for my family. Rescuing my family may entail duties on my neighbours. Rescuing me does not.

Here’s the point: people respond to incentives. If society rewards good behaviour (thrift, hard work and honesty), then people will be thrifty, work hard and will not routinely cheat each other. If we make it easy to be a free rider, some people (quite a lot) will take advantage. The welfare state makes us feel virtuous; by voting for it we persuade ourselves of our beneficence. The fact is that it is corrupting – encouraging vice in others is wicked. What is more, the resources to pay for our welfare state are looted from the most productive. This is simple theft. And it is spectacularly wasteful. If our youth were brought up to regard self-reliance as normal and noble, to regard self-indulgence as pitiful and shameful, nearly all adults would be real grownups. If we were a society of grownups, what limits would there be to our productivity and prosperity?  




Friday, 6 March 2015

A Momentous Month

I will have been in my new flat for three weeks tomorrow. With nearly every day it becomes more like a home. In a couple of weeks I will have a sofa-bed. Within three weeks I will have new blinds. I still have a few storage problems because, in spite of strenuous efforts, I failed to dispossess myself of enough clutter before I left my terraced house. Today, my handyman and friend, Tony, fitted a couple of ‘grab-rails’, which make getting in and out of the shower a much less alarming process. He drove me to Tesco and I bought a new TV, by far the most sophisticated I have ever watched. Tony then connected it for me. Also today my friend Lesley has helped me to get to grips with the washer-drier. She is so practical!

I am very lucky to be able to call on the assistance of such folks. I am now learning to shop on line from Tesco – what a great business, greater by far than the NHS.

I am a very fortunate man.

Here’s what I would like to do (if you were lucky enough that I were in charge) with the NHS. I would sell it hospital by hospital, GP practice by GP practice, ambulance service by ambulance service to businesses like Tesco, Asda and Bupa (or anybody who believed they could make (sacred word) a profit. I would distribute the proceeds equally to every man, woman and child in the UK. Then I would slash the taxes needed to run this behemoth. Almost everybody would be much better off. They would be able to buy healthcare or health insurance to suit themselves AND they would be able to contribute to charities for the indigent.

Then I’d move on to state schools. There are so many of these ghastly institutions that it would probably take longer. I imagine that Eton College Plc, Malborough College Ltd (plus Tesco) would find it easy to raise the finance to buy them and make them work. Abolishing the Dept for Education and Science would save a fortune. Rich and poor alike would have more money (after more taxes were slashed) to buy the schooling for their children that they actually wanted. The cost of education would necessarily fall. Education charities would spring up – our richer population would have the cash and the incentive to ensure the children of the poorest were not illiterate and innumerate.

Where next?

Well, under my scheme (please note that I want nothing to do with specific policies in specific schools or hospitals), each individual would be so much richer that they would be casting about for ways to invest their surplus income. Employment would soar. The need for benefits would plummet.
Would I reprieve a few ‘safety net’ services? I think not. Bureaucracies have no incentive to limit themselves. Would there be casualties? Probably. Would they exceed the casualties suffered under our current system? I think not.

It would take more years than I expect to have left to implement other necessary reforms (sound money being one of the most important). Sound money, as opposed the fiat system now in operation, would prevent government from looting us by inflation – in addition to the lawful looting which is taxation.

Of course, by some people’s lights this would be described as free markets gone mad. Is it possible to deny that what we have now is a welfare state gone mad? No.

I would be for these changes for two reasons: efficiency and morality. It is patently obvious that free enterprise runs things better than governments. Yes, they take a profit for what they do. Making a profit by undertaking risk, investing creativity and hard work – who could reasonably object? Rationality is in short supply these days – alas! When governments run things, they do not look to make a profit. Instead, they ‘administer’ each and every gruesome programme. This is fabulously expensive. Average return on capital for a free market enterprise is a few percentage points. The cost in admin for each programme is a hefty proportion of what is actually doled out.

Capitalism is far more moral than the alternative. Real virtues are rewarded: thrift, hard work etc. Failure is punished – sometimes in sad circumstances. When a state school fails, money is shovelled in to ‘remedy’ the situation. When a supermarket fails, it fails and other entrepreneurs have a chance to buy the assets and have a go. In the third world there are many examples of poor people choosing to spend money on private education, rather than send their children to ‘free’ state schools.

Capitalism is free exchange. Every exchange is based on the fact that each party takes part in the expectation of being better off. This is a fallen world. Sometimes we regret an exchange – we learn, it is to be hoped. Capitalism is about learning – about information. No government department has a fraction of the information required to run public services. They have a pitifully poor record of learning from mistakes. The opportunities for corruption are rife. A particular favourite of mine is pensions for state employees – paid for by taxpayers. A headmaster, who may have done an OK job, gets an inflation proof pension paid for by many people who get no such benefit – this is corrupt.

Well, good night. I am not asking for your vote. I wouldn’t have the chutzpah to fight the vested interests.




Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Abortion Continued – Would You Kill This Baby?

A thought experiment which has occurred to me since my last post: You are presented with a live scan of two foetuses (at exactly the same stage of development). You do not know which is which. One is the offspring of married parents who are thrilled at the prospect of the birth. One is the accidental product of a casual union of two people who are not in a position to bring up a child. Both are healthy. Each has an equal chance (as far as you can tell) of growing up to make a contribution to society. The choice is yours. Press button A and the first baby dies. Press button B and the second baby dies. Button C and they both live – Button D and they both die. Don’t press D – you will go to Hell. Which of the remaining buttons can you press and remain a moral human being? Only C. QED.

It IS that simple.




Abortion

Abortion is not the hot political issue in the UK that it is in the USA. This is probably because a majority of American electors identify themselves as religious believers. I visited Florida a few years ago and was amazed at the number of churches. On Sunday mornings it was plain to see that most of these churches were well attended. Nearly all Catholics and Evangelicals are ‘pro-life’, as are most other denominations.

I am a Catholic and a staunch supporter of SPUC (The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children). For me, this is not a shades-of-grey issue. Abortion is murder. Try as I might, I find it impossible to twist my mind into a state of sympathy for the ‘pro-choice’ position.

A mother and father who find themselves the parents-to-be of a wanted child would be justifiably outraged by any crime or negligence which caused the miscarriage of their baby – a week, a month or six months after getting a positive result from the GP. We would all share this outrage. We would grieve with them for their loss. Their grief and ours would stem (partly) from a sad sense of what might have been: a healthy baby, a happy toddler, a successful scholar or sportswoman – a mother.

What is the difference if the pregnancy is not convenient? A deliberate ending of the pregnancy would involve exactly the same sad sense. What if both parents were not equally overjoyed by the impending birth? If one parent were under pressure to consent to a ‘termination’? What if both were equally appalled by the consequences for themselves if nature were to take its course? There is no difference. The consequence for the baby would be the same. The attitude of the parents is of no consequence. The baby, the toddler, the scholar, the sportswoman, the mother would be (in circumstances increasingly horrible to imagine as time progressed) snuffed out and discarded. A miscarriage caused by crime or negligence makes us weep. The deliberate destruction of an exactly equivalent foetus (baby) is justified as ‘a woman’s right to choose’. Where is the logic? Nowhere.

I think this constitutes an indictment of our sentimentality. The murder (and there have been alarmingly many in recent years) of small children revolts us. When it takes place in the dark before the child is born, it is something to be ignored. Indeed, we acquiesce to being taxed to pay for it!

And this at a time when contraception is effective and cheap.

We are, as a society, in full flight from consequences. The state indemnifies us from the consequences of our actions. We have become worse people, infantilised.

Are there any arguments for the ‘pro-choice’ position? A few weak ones, perhaps. What about rape? The rape was the fault of the rapist, not the baby. What about incest? Igualmente. What about if the mother’s life is endangered? A vanishingly small proportion of cases, in some of which we may find ourselves confronted with a moral choice. In nearly seventy years I have never encountered such a case – lucky me!

Abortion is Murder – there are no two ways about it.



Monday, 2 March 2015

A New Role for Legislatures

I astonish myself. Here am I, a critic of governments, suggesting that there should be a new role for our elective representatives. This came to me in a flash and it is not well thought out.

It must be clear that our legislatures make mistakes – huge mistakes; but when the laws are passed, we are stuck with them. Life is an experiment. We make decisions; we have regrets. As individuals, we sometimes have the wit to learn from our mistakes. Sometimes the decisions we make are catastrophic, there is no undoing them. The best we can hope for is to avoid making similar disastrous decisions. In the case of legislation (let us take minimum wage laws as an arbitrary example), the law is passed and it has consequences – perhaps good, perhaps bad, perhaps a mixture. The minimum legal wage is raised. Some people clearly benefit, some other people are thereby priced out of the labour market. Young, inexperienced, unskilled people are prevented from putting a foot on the bottom rung of the employment ladder. They never get the chance to gain experience and skills. The legislation hurt them. But the legislation remains.

What I am proposing is that every law should be on probation, after it comes into effect. Twelve months (maybe 18 months) after raising income tax rates (for example) Parliament should be obliged to revisit the issue. They would have three options. First (and most draconian), the law would be repealed and its effects would be undone (for example, the money should be refunded). Second, the law would be repealed and the law books would revert to the status quo ante, third, the law would stand, its benefits having been demonstrated.

The objection I foresee is that this would place a huge burden on lawmakers. I see this as its greatest appeal. Large scale legislation would be dis-incentivised (what a ghastly phrase). Obamacare would never make it through Congress. Think of the chaos if it were unceremoniously scrapped a year later. Legislating would be a minefield. Our current legislators waltz into unmapped territory, blithely secure that they have made the world a better place. But what if they (or their successors) recognised that their blitheness had been unjustified?

The amount of time available for new legislation would be dramatically reduced. Time is in short supply and would be more so if debates had to take place on every year old piece of law-making.
The debates would be unprecedentedly well informed. Supporters and opponents of each piece of legislation would be able to say, “See, it worked (or didn’t work).”

Society would be become a laboratory. We keep what works, if we decide to. We dump what doesn’t. I think Edmund Burke is cheering me from Heaven.

The ‘ten year option’ has just occurred to me. After ten years every law passed and confirmed would again be subject to the same process. The poor bastards wouldn’t know whether they were coming or going.

Another example would be repeal of the laws against homosexual activity. Pass this law and review it a year later. Has society collapsed? Repeal the repeal or confirm it.

The legislative process would be almost completely constipated. You and I would be better off.
Sleep on it. Wake up and decide if it was good idea.

Tinkering should be a legislative principle. Major changes are dangerous; minor changes can be corrected.






Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Grace of God

Those who claim that ‘the capitalist system’ is one of dog eat dog have it completely the wrong way round. All systems other than free markets depend on coercion to operate. Under capitalism the only way to succeed is by serving your fellow man. For sure, many corporations depend on government regulation to protect their profits – but that is not capitalism!

Made in the image of God, we are creative and we have free will. God has designed the world so that we can benefit by serving one another. We are fallen; so we don’t as much as we should. Under capitalism prices fall and wages rise; under capitalism the poorest are fed. It is miraculous – literally. It is hard to think of plainer evidence of God’s grace.

Some entrepreneurs become rich. Many rich entrepreneurs contribute handsomely to charity. Envy of the rich is self-destructive; and it is a sin.

I confess myself baffled by the widespread hostility to capitalism. We should be on our knees, giving thanks for living in a (partly) capitalist society. What is all this claptrap about income inequality? We are unequal in every imaginable way. You may be better looking or brainier than me. Who would think it right for you to be mutilated to reduce the disparity in looks or nous? The idea is preposterous and repulsive.

Thrift, energy, ingenuity and hard work are good. Envy is bad. Socialism is founded on envy and implemented by force.

Adam Smith spoke of the ‘invisible hand’. He did not identify it as the hand of the Almighty; but it is not much of a stretch.