Saturday, September 07, 2002
In both cases, the objection is that they stop "truely democratic" elections. The Electoral College favours small states over large states: like the first past the post system, it can lead to the creation of governments who had less popular support than their opponents.
But, even ignoring the undemocratic credentials of a large number of the UN's members, the system doesn't even pretend to democracy. China, with a population of over a billion, gets the same number of votes as countries less than a thousandth the size.
Of course, even on a democratic basis of voting, the West would be in a minority, and the UN might well be even keener to vote itself Christmas, condemn Israel and ignore the human rights records of many of its members. But until that point, why do people think such a ridiculously mis-shaped voting system wil produce the right "moral" decision? Democracy's the least bad system we have, and provides little guarentee that the "right" thing will be done. Certain restraints on democracy could, potentially, enhance the moral dimension of policy. But a system that gives Syria, Libya, Iraq, Zimbabwe, North Korea, etc an equal vote in deciding what to do with every other state doesn't fill me with confidence.
Wednesday, September 04, 2002
The prices are pretty significant, but these are some pretty hard-core courses. For example, there's one on the philosophy of Isiah Berlin which should be excellent (though I don't know the course tutors, they seem up on the subject). There's a time commitment of 5-9 hours a week for ten weeks, of which 2-3 is expected to be spent on online discussion and live chat. All for the low-low price of $249 plus extra for a copy of the course materials. Though priced quite highly, this seems like genuine academic study (at an undergraduate level, say).
It may not extend out the world of knowledge to new people, but it would be a great way to keep mentally alive - I'm almost tempted to sign up. If I win the lottery, I will, and tell you how it goes.
The obligatory "Current events" section seems filled with courses, including one by Strobe Talbott, the guy who did Russia policy for the Clinton administration. There's a course on the US Constitution by a Pulitzer Prize winner I don't know and one a course entitled "From Plato to Nato" written by Alan Ryan (whose work I've not read and don't know, but gets about a bit, and who seems to have picked out a neat ramble through intellectual history finishing in "Marx: How to Be Wrong about Everything (Why NATO Turned Out to Be Needed after All)"), and, in the one condescension to science (technology strictly), there's a course on the theory and practice of how computers work.
No-one could attempt to get through all the courses at anything like a sensible rate. So there's enough there to keep any rich bored readers busy.
Tuesday, September 03, 2002
Um, it's what it says on the tin. The occassionally wacky, but occassionally wise, pressure group Liberty have set up a directory of your rights in the UK. For those of us living here, it's probably a helpful way to find out what you can do about X,Y or Z abuse of state power (or thing your neighbours are doing you dislike...). The rest of you can marvel at how well/badly/hypocritically our rights are being protected. Nothing from me here on the philosophy of it all ("thank "God"", I hear you say, ironically).
Entertainingly concerning items are a decision holding that trespassing travellers cannot automatically be evicted by the courts as that may "interfere with [their] right to respect for [their] home" - it be illegal to gather video evidence of such trespass, and that prisoners may or may not have the "right" to start a family. I'm sure you can find other interesting items, as well as some useful advice in plain English.
(sorry, couldn't resist....)
Sunday, September 01, 2002
"Rapid growth and development for suffering people is in some mysterious sense "unsustainable", as if the word has coherent meaning in this context. It has none. "Sustainable development" theory is voodoo science at its worst; pure gobbledygook.
Sustainable for how long: 10, 100, 1000, a million or a billion years? For whom? Advanced people with unknowable future technology and resources? What must be sustainable? Utilisation of "non-renewables"? Why not consume them? They are resources only if used. For how long must we conserve them? Must our decendants, by the same twisted logic, do likewise? Forever?"
Of course, what the planet can bear is pretty important. And improving the welfare of the poor of the world matters (IMHO, probably more than grasping at very partial solutions to problems we don't yet understand and can't seriously affect).
However, the most cited stat showing how dreadful the world is should be an argument for rapid industrialisation and bringing the Third World up, not dragging everyone else down. The number is the "dollar a day" stat, showing how many people live on less than a dollar (or, now, often two dollars) a day*.
Assume GDP per capita in the UK is £20,000 p.a., and that GDP per capita growth has been 2.5% per year over the last 200 years, since the industrial revolution began. Call it $30,000 US dollars. The number you come out with seems to be $214.96 per year, or 59 cents a day (39 pence, or £143.30).
That's not a realistic modelling of the UK - GDP movements have been very erratic. But the marvels of compound growth can get you rich quick. Some poor nations have seen 7, 8 or 9% growth over several years. Assume 8% growth in GDP and population growth of 3%, and a starting income of $365 per head. Even given the growth in population, per capita GDP reaches $10 a day in 50 years, and $30,000 in 95. Rapid economic growth can, though probably won't, make rich people of the poor of the world in less than a century. It's a long time. But it's possible, even if it will require fast sustained growth - over time, the birth rate would drop, thus enabling rapid expansion at lower growth rates.
It can be done: the Guardian itself said:
"In 1960, Senegal and South Korea had a GDP per head of $230. By 2000, South Korea had a per capita GDP of $8,910, even after the setback of the Asian economic crisis. Living standards in Senegal, however, had barely improved, with GDP per head at $260."
The question is how to turn Senegal into a South Korea. The Guardian suggested South Korea's success was partly because it was able to nurture its industries behind trade walls. Free traders might query this, and certainly would point out the collapse of the chaebol, their massive industrial conglomerates, in recent years was because they had been protected from competition so long they couldn't handle the eventual freeing up of Korean markets and the inefficiencies it exposed.
Regardless, the West should play fair. If Senegal is to be asked to trade free, as is in its long-term interests, then so should we. Farm subsidies, steel subsidies, textile tariffs and quotas - they should all fall. Let the poor become rich through their own efforts, assisted by lessons and investment from wealthier nations. Its the only way that any countries not in on the ground floor of industrialisation has made it - those who've tried other routes have fallen by the wayside. And the easiest way to let people buy themselves prosperity is by letting them sell you what they have, at a fair price. Gifts to someone you've beggared for your convenience aren't charity - they're blood money. The West should face up to the hard tasks of reforming protected sectors of the economy, and enjoy the savings that ensue.
* a number that understates wealth in rural areas due to people growing their own food, gathering materials etc, but that's a matter for statisticians, and may be estimated in some versions of the stat.