A question of fish, defending the Speaker and responses to the riots
August 24, 2011
What the UN really needs

Mohamed ElBaradei (August) is right to call for radical reform of the UN, but does not go far enough. To end the conflict of interests that paralyses the organisation, the UN’s primary role of safeguarding international security should be separated from its humanitarian role. Freed from each other, both bodies could discharge their roles as they see fit, operating from different headquarters—perhaps in New York, Geneva and either St Petersburg or Hong Kong.

Among the many benefits, this system would limit the need for Security Council approval of humanitarian missions—much in the interests of those in Palestine, Tibet and elsewhere.

Martin BradleyStaffordshire

A question of fish

Despite our recent dispute with Iceland over their irresponsible fishing of the shared mackerel stock, Scotland and Iceland share a strong mutual interest in safeguarding our respective fishing communities. As Sam Knight (August) reports, Iceland now appears to be moving away from an approach that strengthens so-called “quota kings.” This is a good thing: we are extremely concerned that any expansion of quota trading will see heritable assets cashed in for short-term gain, depriving new entrants access to the industry. The threat of historic fishing rights ending up in the hands of multinationals must be resisted, if we are to ensure both of our fishing communities have a sustainable future.

Richard Lochhead MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment

In defence of the Speaker

I think the Speaker (August) is doing an excellent job. His use of Urgent Questions, his support for stronger committees, and the development of the backbench business committee have all helped to make parliament a more challenging place for government—as it should be.

John Redwood MP

Not very modern

Edward Docx (August) is too kind to postmodernist philosophy. It could not have “affected the politics of gender, race and sexuality” immeasurably for the better. If, as Jean-François Lyotard alleged, the arguments against discrimination were simply “different discourses,” they could not, by definition, have any bearing on the “discourse” of those defending the old attitudes. Instead, the liberalising trend of the second half of the 20th century has a much longer history, dating back to the Enlightenment. As Docx himself acknowledges, postmodernist philosophy led only to “an odd species of inert conservatism.”

Alan BaileyLondon SE8

The baby boomer debate

A selection of responses to “My Generation” by Rachel Wolf (August). To read it in full, and for more comment, visit: www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/baby-boomers

I come from New Zealand, and have much sympathy with Wolf’s views. Baby boomers are making a fortune on housing investments, while my generation has been slugged by student debt and high rents. There’s no chance of saving due to the spiralling cost of living. Add an uncertain job market with low wages, and almost no one my age (mid-30s) can buy their own home without parental assistance.

HelenVia the Prospect website

We are all in big trouble if the generation Rachel Wolf and I belong to ends up less affluent than our parents’. For 200 years, economic growth has left each generation earning more than the last. Real earnings are now twice as high as they were 40 years ago—and we have the iPads and holidays to prove it. Moreover, it is not true that our parents’ pensions are unaffordable. In July, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) confirmed that the state pension system is on a sustainable footing for the next 50 years. Britain can afford decent old-age provision. The OBR suggests that between 2015 and 2030, public spending will need to grow by 2.5 per cent of GDP in response to population ageing. Spread over 15 years, this could be achieved almost invisibly—for example by continuing to raise income tax thresholds only in line with prices.

Andrew HarropGeneral Secretary, the Fabian Society

Wolf is right to call for reform of pensions, but she fails to apply the same logic to other areas, such as the cost of housing. She assumes that the kind of homes her parents and grandparents had are a right, rather than a privilege for a relative few. Resisting more suburban blight of the countryside will be better for the long-run health of the nation. On our small island, with the growing scarcity of resources, we must embrace higher density living in greener cities, and the sharing and recycling of such resources. Our obsession with home ownership is a pointless cultural fetish.

Anna ZimmermanGreenwich School of Management

Simply building more isn’t the answer; making second and third and fourth-home ownership unprofitable and socially unpopular is. (In other words, disincentivising buy-to-let landlords.) There is no real deficit of homes, it’s the accessibility of existing homes that’s created the mess we’re in.

Paulina HurwitzVia the Prospect website

There isn’t a shortage of housing; there is a surplus of population.

David JanesVia the Prospect website

Perhaps the most absurd notion is that the boomer generation have engineered a situation where they are stuck with adult children at home, paying for their education, mortgaging their homes so their children can buy their own, and having to “work till they drop.” This doesn’t sound like a very profitable theft. Baby boomers must keep working, we are told. But every person over 65 in a job must be preventing a younger person from having one. Can I look forward to a follow-up article from Rachel Wolf entitled: “Our parents have stolen our jobs”?

Trevor JonesAdelaide, South Australia

Yes, my generation had it different, but mostly because we were brought up to save for our first home and car. My two children, in their late 20s, are exceedingly well travelled and own a multitude of shiny products and clothes. Instead of grasping the need to save, their generation appears to have learned only how to obtain easy credit, contributing to the problems we now face.

AndrewVia the Prospect website

Riots: who’s to blame?

Responses to “The riots at the end of history,” by David Goodhart, published 9th August on Prospect’s blog. More, and February’s “The New Age of Protest,” at: www.prospect-magazine.co.uk

Paul Dove says:

David Goodhart should apologise for his unfounded slur that this is essentially a black problem. The rioters in Enfield, Eltham, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Salford, Nottingham and Birmingham were predominantly white. The riots were nothing to do with race and everything to do with grotesque economic disparity.

Harry says:

In effect, Goodhart is asking: “why don’t they all get a job?” Simple, there aren’t any.

Frank says:

It is clear these were not protestors with genuine grievances, but petty criminals running amok. If David Cameron ordered the police to crack down hard—and now—the British public would love him for it.

Tim Flannery says:

Until we know more about those rioters, we won’t know why they rioted. You don’t destroy institutions you feel you have a stake in—and the rioters were not only kids, but middle-aged men and women too.

Art says:

Part of the blame must lie in our ultra-materialistic culture, a byproduct of the 1980s and our broadly liberal economy. Of course, Thatcher didn’t set out to create the absurd nihilistic materialism that led people to “go shopping” in JD Sports. But a certain sort of wheeler-dealer capitalism, a disdain for boring, German-style industry, a fascination with financial wizardry—all have helped create a culture where “get rich quick” is respected. In this sense, the political right is to blame.

But so is the left. Our materialist culture lacks the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps self-reliance of the US. We have combined a perception of vigorous capitalism with a ramshackle, dependency-generating welfare state that encourages the poor to believe nothing is their fault.

Finally, it is nonsensical to blame “multiculturalism.” No one would suggest there is a culture called “looting” that we should respect for its diversity. That said, we must move away from moral relativism, placing less emphasis on “shared values” and more on just “values”—which are: obey the bloody law. Work hard. Expect life to be difficult.

David Goodhart carries on the debate: www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/riots-goodhart

Have your say: letters@prospect-magazine.co.uk