The Archbishop of Canterbury (May) appears so fixated on the problems of markets that he seems unable to pin blame where it belongs. It is notable, for example, that he criticises “profit” orientated tendencies in education at a time when government control is at its zenith.
It is perfectly possible for people to obtain education, library services, books and music through markets whilst taking a completely high-minded and non-materialistic view of education. Markets provide an effective means for signalling what people really value to those who are in a position to meet their needs. Until the 1940s much education worked in that way—as do the markets in books and CDs today. Indeed, Prospect itself operates in a market for high-minded ideas! It is also possible for government to provide education whilst taking a wholly materialistic and utilitarian view, as has increasingly been the case since the 1980s. The more government has taken control of education from the market and civil society, the more utilitarian education has become.
Editorial and programme director; Institute of Economic Affairs
Perhaps we are finally having a sensible discussion on civic virtue. If the Skidelskys are repairing to Aristotle as the starting point, all the better. It seems to me his virtues—temperance, prudence, courage and justice—are more than adequate for the life well led. The problem for western culture is that we have subsumed them to the false morality of liberty. The church and the state have been complicit in this—a point the reviewer seems reluctant to mention—so I would not look to either to force this discussion. Best to find a clear-eyed evangelist to generate grassroot support. Simon Cowell might be available.
Your May issue contained two rather different definitions of “The Good Life.” One was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s description of a life free from the tyranny of universal exchangeability. The other was Hugh Hefner’s vision of urban sophistication at the birth of. A neat, if unintended, illustration of the truth of that great American idiom, “different strokes for different folks.”
Communist involvement in drugs is an unproven allegation (Chris Patten, May). What’s not in doubt is that the place was awash with opium when the Kuomintang were in charge, and that drug addiction, which vanished under Mao, made a small return after “opening up.” I’m glad to see that Chris Patten is finally using the proper name for Beijing: in his book East and West he insisted on saying “Peking,” long after China had changed the official English version of the city’s name.
Via the Prospect website
Miliband: must do better
Currently Labour is too divorced from the reality of the communities we represent, and the lives of too many of our members (“I’m Labour’s biggest critic,” May). But what is needed now is more meat on the bones. Miliband should be looking to get parliamentary candidates selected and organisers arranged—and soon, if the abstract objectives of “engagement” are to be achieved.
The current way of doing things is broken. Changing it will take willpower, hard work, time and crucially money.
Sam Knight presented an interesting perspective on Poland (“Europe’s Star,” May). Indeed, the country is doing well in these uncertain times. Poland isn’t burdened by involvement in the subprime mortgage market; it also boasts a reasonably well-balanced economy that recently underwent a number of structural reforms, while managing to avoid financial or political instability.
Nonetheless, some factors are often omitted when listing the reasons behind this apparent success—namely, the ambition and entrepreneurial spirit of the Polish people. Close to half of Poland’s young population (aged over 18) is enrolled in tertiary education institutions, with one of the highest rates of students in Europe attending technical universities. Low labour costs, although previously considered as one of the catalysts for growth in Poland, have now become a thing of the past. So even if some jobs are relocated, other more sophisticated employment opportunities will become available in Poland.
Ambassador of the Republic of Poland
The right to happiness
Both David Goodhart and Jonathan Haidt (“Last hope for the left,” April) show that one can maximise human flourishing, community harmony by recognising that most people value “the in-group, authority and the sacred,” not just autonomy and altruism. Goodhart makes the excellent point that a diverse community can become more harmonious through mutual allegiance. For example, in the late 1970s the US military recognised that a focus on individual rights was harming cohesion and effectiveness, and so they switched emphasis to mutual duties. This greatly reduced racial antagonism; today the military is probably the least racially antagonistic part of a highly racially divided society.
It seems to me then that for those liberals who favour the total victory of rights-autonomy, then atomised, mutually hostile societies are necessary or even desirable, since autonomy, not human happiness, is the overriding goal, and all else is dispensable. Haidt and Goodhart appear to wish to reconcile autonomy with human happiness, which to my mind is a better approach.
The war on drugs
Luis Rubio highlighted significant political and security obstacles to the potential success of any legalisation of drugs in Mexico (“Lost war on drugs,” May). However, he has also created a straw man in claiming that those who advocate legalisation see it as a panacea.
In reality, most serious analysts make the distinction between legalisation and decriminalisation, and see such legislative changes as only one necessary element of a successful strategy. Other programmes would also need to be implemented, including separating the law enforcement and military elements of tackling drug-related organised crime; disarmament and reintegration programmes for former cartel members; and radically increasing funding for drug education and treatment programmes in the United States.
The difficulties that Rubio has highlighted are nothing compared to the failures of the current “war on drugs”: a strategy that is destroying the countries of Latin America in order to protect those of North America. Alternative strategies, including legalisation, must be seen as imperative.
Executive director, Open Briefing & co-author of “Rehabilitating the war on drugs”
Robert Fry (“A strategic own goal,” May) is right when he says western intervention in Iraq released energies across the region that we cannot control and never fully understood. This is one of the great challenges for strategic thinking: rolling the geopolitical dice—even for clear and good motives—without more than a hazy sense of what scores might come up and whether we are capable of responding to the next round.
But that existential uncertainty about the effects of our actions in different parts of the world is worse now than it was 30 years ago. The generation of post-colonial diplomats and officials who understood the dynamics of regions like the greater Middle East has not been replaced by a cohort with the same background and deep experience.
The communications revolution puts efficiency way above experiential understanding in modern diplomacy. That is not likely to change, so our diplomacy would do well to think in 18th-century terms and draw expertise from the commercial sectors working across such regions. The fences between public diplomacy and commerce have long been too high.
Director general, Royal United Services Institute
Sam Leith may be right to believe that the “troll” Liam Stacey was jailed for the racist element in his tweets (“The age of the troll,” May), but he is wrong to think “there’s no law against being offensive in general.”
The Public Order Act 1986, Part I Section 4A (inserted into that Act by Section 154 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994) makes it a crime intentionally to use “abusive or insulting words” so as to cause “alarm or distress” to another person. The concept of racial or religious aggravation was added by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, Part II Section 31 as further amended by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, Part 5 Section 39.
The legislation allows the defence of being “inside a dwelling” and having no reason to believe the offending words can be heard or seen outside it; so a well-contained domestic row is not necessarily a criminal offence.
Monkeys and typewriters
Surely Martin Rees (“One universe among many,” May) is wrong in suggesting that the number of failures on the part of the typing monkeys aiming to reproduce the works of Shakespeare “that would precede eventual success is a number with about a million digits.” As the occurrence of a successful outcome is the result of random events, it is just as likely to arise immediately as it is to be at any other stage of the exercise.
Similarly, it cannot be definitely stated that a replica of our Earth “would” occur far beyond our horizons; it could equally well be immediately proximate.
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