Monday, 27 January 2014

The morality of free markets, capitalism and self interest

Last year I had the very great pleasure of hearing the Ayn Rand Memorial Lecture at the Adam Smith Institute, delivered by Lars Seier Christensen, Co-Founder of Saxo Bank.

I was reminded of this today, when I read about Labour's plans for taxation. I also read Owen Jones' 'Agenda for Hope' (aka Agenda for Ruination), in addition, this particular Tweet caught my eye:
I will be honest, it stopped me in my tracks. I found it completely terrifying. He really believes that he (through the state) has a right to other people's money*.

And so I was reminded of Christensen's speech. His is an important message, and one we should all be spreading whenever we get the opportunity.

It's a long one, but extraordinarily inspiring. A transcript is available here, though I would urge you to find the time to listen to it properly.

I've selected a few quotes, to give you a bit of a flavour. I won't claim these are the most important bits, as the whole thing is important!

"Full blown socialism doesn’t work at all, and lesser degrees of socialism restrict to a higher or lower level the creation of growth and prosperity."

Saxo Bank's company statement includes its values, modelled on Atlas Shrugged - rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productivity and pride - and based on these:

"You may not be guaranteed a successful career or a great life – accidents, illness or other random elements may interfere – by applying the values to your work, but it is difficult to imagine that anyone could live successfully if he or she continuously disregards and violates these values."

"Pick-a-winner, corporate social responsibility, employment rules, affirmative action, the creation of fictional jobs and plain political popularity and obedience will then rule who prospers and survives in all industries, not just banking. Beware of this development,  for it is poison to capitalism and growth and to prosperity for all of you."

"We need to change the values, the morality and the misunderstandings, and to undermine the deliberate lies our politicians feed the electorate about what constitutes solidarity, justice and the common good. Is it solidarity to make people into losers and victims and leave them totally unable to care for themselves? Is the common good to stop businesses and investors from creating wealth and prosperity? Is it justice to regulate every aspect of a normal person’s life and continuously monitor his every move?"

*Note: I'm terrified and I'm not even rich. Or a high earner. Or anything really. I just think people's property is THEIR property. 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Nigel Farage was not being unreasonable

You saw the headlines. You know the story. Did you watch the full piece?

There are a number of issues raised by what Farage said, so I'm going to look at them point by point.

Women biologically make different choices to men

I believe that some of the gap between women and men choosing to stay at home with young children is down to socialisation. But to suggest socialisation explains it all, and biology nothing, is just ridiculous. Carrying a baby, giving birth, breastfeeding - these all increase the likelihood that a woman will want to stay at home with her child.

No, a woman is not a bad person if she wants to go back to work ASAP. No, a man is not less masculine for wanting to be at home with the baby. But that does not man biology has no part in this.

Note: Farage is not talking about women who give up their careers. He is talking about women who take maternity leave, which is often six to 12 months. He references 2-3 years in the above video, talking about women who take two lots of maternity leave.

Being out of work makes your value decline

Are we really having this discussion?

Of course it does. If you spend a year out of work, of course you will be behind when you go back. Being off work to look after a child doesn't change the 'out of work' part of this.

If, over a 10 year period, you take two years in maternity leave, you should not expect to be in the same position as a man or a woman who has worked for all of those 10 years. They have more experience and have done more work.

We need to be honest with women: career breaks can be damaging. I think most of us know that already. But at some point individuals may decide that taking care of their baby is more important to them than working through those extra years.

Fair play. Just don't expect your colleagues or employer to treat you as though you continued working.

In the City

Farage was speaking quite specifically about working in the City. And very specifically about roles where client relationships are important. His argument is quite clear: in that business the worker is worth as much as the clients they have loyal to them. When you take a break (for whatever reason) those clients still need services, and so go elsewhere. They then become loyal to that person, not you. Obviously.

Bottom line

If you take time out of your career, you are going to be playing catch up when you return to work, and may well never be able to fully achieve what you would have without the break. Looking after children during your leave does not change this.

And why should you expect it to? What of the men and women who make different choices and don't take time out: why should they get the same career results for more work?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Reforming the NHS and the importance of private providers

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."
- Winston Churchill

Nowhere is this 'virtue' more pronounced in Britain's modern left than on the subject of healthcare.

'The NHS is being privatised', 'the NHS has been sold', 'the NHS no longer exists'. These are all common phrases heard from the left.

They seem to be happy to accept substandard care, long waiting lists and real human suffering, as long as the horror is publicly run and equally shared. Private companies being involved in healthcare is considered to be awful. It doesn't matter if they offer shorter waits, better patient outcomes, and are even able to combine this with lower costs.

Impossible. How could they do all of that at once? (and make a profit on top? No way)

Welcome to specialisation, division of labour; the innovation associated with private enterprise that is incredibly difficult to replicate in bureaucratic government organisations.

The healthcare commissioner looks for the best price/quality combination they can find. The service provider realises that the only way to win contracts is to provide the best patient outcomes in the most efficient way. Having the proper people in commissioning positions is vital - as is having a multiplicity of providers to compete on price and quality.

When there is one monopoly provider, which knows it will get the business no matter how poor its service, horrific things like Mid-Staffs are sure to happen.

I leave you with the Aravind Eye Care System in India, an amazing business which receives no government or charitable funding, and has treated tens of millions of Indians - many of them for free or low cost. The business is successful because it has an excellent reputation and offers a tiered service. Those who can pay, do. And they receive a more luxurious hospital stay. Poorer patients pay little or nothing, and receive the same high quality care but more basic conditions.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

We must find a way to make assisted dying legal

Assisted dying must be made legal in the UK. It is vital that people have decision making power over their own lives, and ends, and that the suffering so many people wish to avoid is prevented.

As a libertarian, I have a number of beliefs about the individual's right to choose for themselves, but here I am writing from a deeply personal perspective, in reference to two of my own experiences.

The end of life

I nursed my Great Grandma to her death from metastatic cancer a few years ago. She had the very best of care - you could not expect more for any money. At home, with equipment provided including a hospital bed (making moving her around much easier), an excellent community care team led by specialist hospice nurses calling every day, and district nurses, GPs and paramedics all available 24/7 (all were required variously). There was an excellent system in place whereby all of her needs as she deteriorated were anticipated - equipment and pre-prescribed medications were kept at our house, so that any visiting medical professional could treat her without having to source these. Calling a paramedic out at 2am to reinsert a catheter was made much easier by having one on hand!

However, though end of life care can be done excellently (and I wish all families had the experience of ours), it doesn't take away the suffering. Dia-morphine does not take away the suffering. Sedation does not take away the suffering.

For the last few weeks of her life my Grandma largely lost the ability to communicate, but continued to have occasional heartbreaking lucid moments right to the end, where she wished to die (though I must emphasise in her case, her religious beliefs meant she did not want intervention to help her to die). She did not eat or drink and became skeletal. Her organs were shutting down. Her skin was breaking down, and nothing could stop the sores. It wasn't nice. Yes, she had the best care, and the best medication, but it didn't stop her hurting or knowing what was happening. She wanted to be peaceful, but we had to move her so very frequently to clean up messes as her organs shut down. For her, despite the vast quantities of dia-morphine, it was traumatic.

As I stated, she did not want intervention to help her die.

But me? I would. Absolutely. With certainty. Once it was end-days, the hope had gone, and the suffering outweighed what comfort I had got from my loved ones, I'd want to be off. I believe I should have to right to make that choice, and I believe it's right for people to help. What exactly would be achieved by preventing someone who is going to die and who has nothing but suffering ahead of them from making a choice to die sooner?

I am terrified that one day I will be in that situation, and no one will help me. Or worse, that my family will help me but risk prosecution. It is wrong that what could be a peaceful death, cutting out a big chunk of awful, is prevented by the law. 

Gathered in the kitchen the morning after she died, four members of the community care team who had been so excellent were gathering up leftover medication and equipment. "It's awful isn't it", they said "I wish we could help people along sooner".

They'd said the thing we'd all been thinking for weeks, but had been too scared to say out loud.

Living with pain

I'm no stranger to pain. I have Crohn's disease: a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects any part of the digestive system. It can cause some pretty serious pain. I've had stays in hospital where ridiculous amounts of morphine have done nothing for me. Triple doses and I'm still climbing the walls.

And so I think, what if that were it? What if Azathioprine, my current treatment, or other medications for Crohn's disease had not been invented? What if, with absolute certainty, that pain was all I was ever going to have? Where the only way to actually stop it hurting would be to sedate me. What if something else happened to me that made that the case?

What then?

It's so very easy for people to say life is precious and that we must preserve it. But sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it's ending, and that ending is hell on earth. The person who has the right to decide whether their life is still or not, is the individual.

Protecting vulnerable people

I understand that people have concerns about vulnerable people being coerced into an assisted death. Or that assisted dying would lead to worse palliative care arrangements. Or indeed, that if palliative care were better, people would not wish for assisted dying because death would be smooth.

I strongly believe that these legitimate concerns can be worked around. We already have advance statements which allow an individual to make decisions about their care in the future. You can decide whether you want to continue all medications or cut back just to painkillers and sedation. You can choose whether to be artificially fed and hydrated, or not. You can make advanced decisions about things like resuscitation, or if you'd be taken to hospital in the event of an injury (for instance, if cared for at home, you can choose to just be put back in bed should you break a hip).

This kind of decision making process could, and should, be extended to allow people to choose assisted dying. The law must be changed to respect the rights of the individual, and this means protecting them from coercion whilst allowing them to make their choice.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

All Women Shortlists

This post was triggered by an interesting Twitter exchange yesterday evening, on the subject of All Women Shortlists (AWS). This practice ensures that particular seats have a female candidate (and in safe seats, a female MP) by making the selection shortlist all female. In the past it has been most widely used by the Labour party.

Proponents of AWS work from the idea that we need more women in parliament. They claim this is vital to ensuring 'female interests' are properly represented in parliament, and that change is not happening quickly enough. Therefore, they argue, AWS are needed to increase female representation to a more acceptable level, and when a 'critical mass' of women MPs is reached, it will become self-sustaining.

I am not a fan of AWS.

I have two objections. The first is as a women: I find it patronising. If I want to be an MP I am perfectly capable of competing with men on equal terms, and do not need special treatment because of my gender. I believe equality is about making things like gender, race and sexuality - whilst an important part of individual identities - irrelevant in political decision making. These groups are large: they are not homogenous, and nor do they have aligned interests.

My second objection is as a voter: I want the best person for the job. It is my belief that the best person for the job is the person that thinks most like me on important political issues (free market, individual liberty, small state), not the one who shares the most characteristics with me. I would always prefer a male who shares my political views to a female who does not. In the case of a man and a woman both sharing my views, I ought to choose who I think would be the most effective MP regardless of gender.

As I have written on this blog previously, I have a problem with feminist politics anyway. The very idea of 'women's issues' riles me. As a libertarian, I believe in equality. In my philosophy you must correctly define who is a citizen, therefore enjoying those equal rights, freedoms and liberties. Each must be addressed equally by the law, and each must make free decisions about their own life. Women should of course be full citizens (along with any other group characteristic one cares to identify, such as race or sexuality - very few people question that - the issue is with wanting special treatment. 

You can follow me on Twitter @thinkemily.