Letters: November 2012

Prospect readers have their say
October 17, 2012
To submit a letter, please email letters@prospect-magazine.co.uk. Suggested maximum 200 words

The morals of money Michael Sandel’s carefree assumption that economic books should be the preserve of the world’s rulers (“If I ruled the world,” October) tells us much about the world we might create if his ideas were embraced. His insistence that trade in a free market pollutes the product traded is plain wrong. As moral beings, we instinctively distinguish between activities which involve cash and those which do not. The former do not contaminate the latter. Sandel wishes to ban the word “incentivise”. It’s less clear where he wants to ban the practice. But, in essence, he toys with the idea of banning parents from providing cash rewards for children reading lest a social more develop by which reading for free cannot be a joy. He should be more trusting about individuals’ abilities to make moral and practical judgements in a free society. Those who value such a society should hope his position as our ruler remains an idle fantasy played out in the pages of Prospect. Mark LittlewoodDirector, Institute of Economic Affairs

Michael Sandel’s piece was good but failed to address the needs of the less well-off. Until they have the same choices as the better off, Sandel’s distinctions made between moral value and money’s worth will seem academic. D DubowskiVia the Prospect website

Distant democracy Why has it become customary to portray Scotland as led by a seemingly detached “colonial power down south” (“Tartan timidity,” October)? The UK government is elected by Britain as a whole, with each citizen of England, Scotland and the rest of the UK having an equal vote, and thus equal representation. In an independent Scotland, Scots would have the same representation, but those elected would make decisions closer to home. I fail to see how this is any more democratic. Supporters of an independent Scotland must stop blaming Westminster for making poor decisions on issues that affect Scottish citizens. This is not England’s government out to get the Scots—we vote for it, too. Jennifer MortonAberdeen

Ahead of a referendum on Scottish independence, there surely must be a debate on Northern Ireland’s future status. With its history and location, it seems natural that “Ulster” should be incorporated into an independent Scotland. It makes no sense for it to be linked with a potentially separate England and Wales. Hugh GilfedderLincoln

Too late for Italy The actions of Mario Monti and the EU (“Saving Italy,” October) will only prolong the agony of the euro crisis for the people who matter: the citizens; the tax payers whose money is being thrown away on a scheme most A-Level economics students could pick huge, gaping holes in. Monti is an unelected stooge of the European Commission; a man they could trust to keep the project “on track” and whose very position in Italy is an insult to democracy. His proposed summit against “populism” (that’s “democracy” to you and me) is a clear example of why the euro project will eventually fail: because it is a political project without legitimacy and the markets and the people will eventually reject it for good. Nigel Farage MEP, leader of the UK Independence Party

Being Chinese As a Chinese person living overseas on a long term basis, I agree with most of what Mark Kitto said (“Criticising China,” October). The education we received gives us cold feet when given a chance to criticise our faceless leader. Personally, I still try to avoid political confrontations, even after watching other countries’ elections, protests and face-to-face debates with their leaders. I love watching, but still am nowhere close to participating. I hope this will change in the near future, but like the title of your earlier article (“You will never be Chinese,” September), I will never be a foreigner. “Justabludger”Via the Prospect website

Dignity in work Frank Field argues the welfare system disincentivises work (“Rebuilding Beveridge,” October). I agree means testing devalues work but, in my experience of being on minimum wage, that wasn’t the main thing that discouraged me from working. On minimum wage, welfare is used to top up your earnings because they are far too low to live on. Employers who pay such low wages don’t place much value on their staff so the relationship can become abusive. I found little dignity working on minimum wage as the management structure seemed to be based upon treating those at the bottom as little more than slaves. I would like to see the welfare system stopped from subsidising employers who do not create long term value and the money diverted into something more worthwhile. Jonathan ReeveVia the Prospect website

The enemy of enterprise? Gavyn Davies states, “the Liberal Democrats would have to accept that their general approach to taxation is the enemy of enterprise” (“The unfortunate Mr Osborne,” October). That, surely, is an opinion and not fact. The average FTSE 100 director earns over £2m. Is it unreasonable to expect those people to be taxed at a higher rate? Would that really discourage enterprise? And what about evasion of corporation tax? Ian K WatsonCarlisle

The confidence fairy The October issue’s Diary considered Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow a “surprise bestseller.” The book’s status as one of this year’s most influential reads is worrying. Kahneman is a psychologist, not an economist—despite being a Nobel laureate in economics. His book shows that only too clearly. There has rarely been a time when a broader behavioural approach to consumer and investor attitudes needs to be investigated for clues as to how sustained economic recovery may be achieved. Despite Gavyn Davies’s dismissal of the “confidence fairy” (“The unfortunate Mr Osborne”), unless she can be successfully summoned to our aid, we (and Obama) will remain in the doldrums. An earlier generation of behavioural economists, with an understanding of real world economics, would have well understood this. Michael JeffersonProfessor of International Business and Sustainability, London Metropolitan University

Budget busting gas Dieter Helm trots out tired arguments for an old technology (“The great gas debate,” October). Gas is an expensive, polluting import that will make the UK likely to bust its carbon budgets and thousands of families to bust their household budgets. Recent price rises have hit hard. Shale gas will be no solution, as supplies are neither cheap nor sufficient in Europe. Deutsche Bank and others suggest that extracting gas in Europe will be more costly than in the US and the International Energy Agency predicts that prices will rise. Helm’s claim that US emissions have fallen is correct. But data shows that between 2008 and 2011 a larger cause of falling emissions was renewables, not gas. Doug ParrPolicy director, Greenpeace UK

Shot in the foot I was surprised to see in the October “Letters” the wrongful use of the phrase, “shot in the foot.” This dates from the first world war when suffering soldiers deliberately shot themselves in the foot. Unable to get their boots on, they were shipped back to England. My mother was a volunteer, nursing many of them in military hospitals. Elizabeth Bowtell Via email