State Primary School now dictating how children should walk

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A primary school in central London has announced that children must walk through corridors with their hands clasped behind their backs to “go shine in the world” (the school’s motto).

New headteacher of St George the Martyr primary school, Angela Abrahams, introduced the rule, known as the “university walk” to “strengthen pupil safety, further raise the aspirations of pupils and to maximise learning time“.

Parents in opposition to the rule have created a petition in response, arguing that it is “too dictatorial, too restrictive and very repressive“. Carly Taylor, mother of three, claimed: “hands behind the backs is associated with a loss of liberty and lack of trust”.
For many years, state schools have been compared to prisons. Critics highlight harsh punishments, strict dress codes, poor food quality and numerous surveillance cameras, as just a few examples of how schools are similar to prisons. The “university walk” rule undoubtedly gives merit to the comparison. The image of children being forced to walk with their hands clasped behind backs between lessons, would look very similar to that of prisoners being forced to walk with their hands cuffed behind their backs between jail cells.

Reverend Guy Pope, the school’s chairman, backed the rule, stating that “it is helping to make sure children arrive in class in the best possible frame of mind for learning, in a calm and ordered manner”. Unbelievably, Pope also claimed that “parents are not looking after the best interests of their children“.

rothbardThe quote is sure to have Murray Rothbard spinning furiously in his grave. In his book Education: Free and Compulsory, Rothbard argued that the key question in the education discussion is simply: should the parent or the state be the overseer of the child?

As parents are the literal producers of the child, it is obvious that they have the most intimate relationship with the child, therefore the parents are the ones most invested in the child’s personality and development. The state, on the other hand, has little regard for the child’s rights and individual personality, instead teaching uniformity, conformity and obedience, which this new rule is a perfect example of.

The Truth about the Investigatory Powers Bill

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After the UK government unveiled the Investigatory Powers Bill, which Edward Snowden described as “the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance program in the West”, the issue of government surveillance needs to be addressed again. If Snowden’s revelations achieved anything, it made us aware that we must be careful of everything we say, everything we read, everything we write, everywhere we go and everyone we communicate with, because it is all recorded by the government. Privacy is essentially dead, and the IP bill, according to Snowden, attempts to “fit the law around spying, rather than making spying fit the law”.

Freedom vs. Security

When it all comes down to it, government mass surveillance is about freedom versus security. The first point to make is government can’t give freedom, it can only take freedom. The great victories of liberty, whether it was the achievement of freedom of speech, or the achievement of many social freedoms and economic freedoms we enjoy today, all came about after long and hard fought battles between the people who wanted their liberty and the government who had taken it away. The right to privacy is one of these rights, and it would be a mistake and a dishonour to those who fought to achieve it, to give it up so carelessly.

Next, governments tend to argue that mass surveillance is necessary for national security. In the modern world, there is an existential terrorist threat, and so the citizens need to be spied on in order to keep them safe, or so the argument goes. Firstly, terrorism would be much less of a problem if Western governments hadn’t gotten involved overseas in the first place. The term ‘Blowback’ was coined by the CIA to describe the unintended consequences of interventionist foreign policy. The Isis members in Aleppo, Syrialatest example being how the US fuelled the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, by getting involved in the middle-east, and supplying rebels with arms. And so, governments are making us less safe by their own foreign policy.

Secondly, the threat of terrorism has been largely overstated by governments. Studies show that the number of Americans killed by terrorists is about equal to the number of people killed by lightning, by deer, or by peanut allergy. Yet, it would be absurd to give up our rights to deal with the deer problem, just as it would be equally absurd for the government to spend billions on prevent lightning.

Third point is that there is little evidence that suggests that mass surveillance has made people more safe. Experts say that NSA surveillance has played little role in foiling terror plots, and senators Wyden and Udall argued that “We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence.” A prominent report claimed that the collection of all phone metadata is not a necessary tool to combat terrorism, and the government “does not cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack,”

Nothing to hide, nothing to fear

We’ve all heard this argument. Most recently Conservative MP Richard Graham, speaking in defence of the IP Bill. Supporters of mass surveillance repeatedly say it, unknowingly quoting Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels – the originator of the phrase. The argument has been debunked time and time again.

Firstly, there is a much stronger case for the argument to be applied to governments than citizens. We live in a democracy, and the government is elected and funded by the people. Shouldn’t it follow that governments be completely open and transparent? After all “nothing to hide, nothing to fear”.

Second, there are many things that people had to hide which are now legal that used to be illegal. For example, it used to be against the law to be homosexual. Homosexuals used to have to hide the fact that they were homosexual to escape punishment from government. The civil rights movement, women’s rights, interracial marriage, gay marriage and so on would never have been allowed if nobody had anything to hide.

Finally, the best argument, comes from Edward Snowden, who said: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

UK Government announces “Most Intrusive Surveillance Regime in the West”

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The UK government have announced a new bill which expands surveillance powers, this time named the ‘Investigatory Powers Bill’ (IP Bill). The IP Bill requires internet providers to record the browsing history of every single person in the UK for up to a whole year. This information will be accessible by the police and security services, who will also have access to see the apps that people have used on their smartphones and tablet devices, and when they used them. The bill will also give police and security services new powers to hack into devices and networks.

The government claims that local authorities will not have access to the data, and only the websites visited will be recorded, not individual pages within the site. Further details about browser history can be requested by police and security services, but this requires Home Secretary’s approval.

Theresa_May_9670221_217757cIn defence of her bill, Theresa May argued that current laws on online surveillance were out-dated, and needed to be
modernised. She stated: “I am clear we need to update our legislation to ensure it is modern, fit for purpose and can respond to emerging threats as technology advances.” In addition, she argued that some websites have become “safe havens” for terrorists and serious criminals.

The Labour party pledged support for the bill, with shadow home secretary Andy Burnham claiming that the “safety of constituents” were more important than “party politics”. However, the Lib Dems, who tend to be the only party that defend civil liberties, are more sceptical. When in coalition government, they blocked a similar bill dubbed the ‘snooper’s charter’, and Nick Clegg has questioned whether there are flaws “under the bonnet” of the new legislation.

The government also plans to prohibit end-to-end encryption, which is the technology used by popular chats such as WhatsApp and Apple’s iMessage. But founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, has lambasted the plan, arguing that attempts to ban end-to-end encryption is “like trying to ban math, it’s just not going to happen.” He continued, claiming that “governments don’t understand technology very well” and encouraged Apple to stop selling iPhones in the UK if the law goes ahead.

Unsurprisingly, notorious whistleblower Edward Snowden, has come out in opposition to the bill. According to Snowden, the IP Bill legitimises mass surveillance, and is “the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West.” He pointed out that even just the logging of an IP address can be enough to deduce private information about an individual. It is important to note that the proposed level of online monitoring in the UK is illegal in the US, Canada and many European countries.

The UK needs a Negative Income Tax

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The current welfare system isn’t working. The Conservative government has set out to reform the system, most recently by attempting to cut tax credits. Naturally, this caused a huge backlash from the left. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn argued the plan will leave many working families worse off. Surprisingly, criticisms of the plan also came from the right. The decision caused a split within the tory party. Conservative MP Heidi Allen, notably stood in parliament and made a strong case against the plans. In addition, right wing newspaper The Sun, called plans to cut tax credits ‘Bonkers’, and the Adam Smith Institute argued that cutting tax credits undermines incentives to work, which is contrary to the governments narrative of making work pay.

The Adam Smith Institute produced a report titled: Free Market Welfare: The case for a Negative Income Taxarguing that, rather than cutting tax credits, the government should replace tax credits, Jobseeker’s Allowance, the Universal Credit, and most other major welfare payments with a single Negative Income Tax.

The Negative Income Tax isn’t a new idea. The idea was famously put forward by well-renowned economist Milton Friedman, over fifty years ago. However, perhaps now is the best time to consider adopting the plan.

What is it?

The Negative Income Tax (NIT) is a tax system which guarantees a minimum income for all. If someone is earning below a certain level, that person receives a credit from the government, guaranteeing them a minimum income. The great thing about NIT is that it bridges the gap between the left and the right. NIT provides a minimum income to individuals or families – satisfying the left, in a business friendly, free market way – which satisfies the right. Not only does the system lower the tax burden for all, reduce administration costs and balance the budget, it also radically simplifies the overly complex tax code, and bloated welfare bureaucracy.

Here’s an example of how it would work if the tax rate is a flat 25%, and if individuals receive £10,000 credit:

  • A person who earns £0 would pay £0 tax and would receive a £10,000 credit, making a total of £10,000
  • A person on minimum wage, who works 40 hours a week. would earn £13,520 per year. 25% is owed in taxes, so £2,380. They would receive a £10,000 credit, making a total of £21,140.
  • A person who earns £40,000 per year would owe £10,000 tax and would receive a £10,000 credit, making a total of £40,000. At this point they have broke even. Anyone earning above £40,000 would become real taxpayers.
  • A person who earns £100,000 would owe £25,000 tax, receive £10,000 credit, making a total of £85,000.
  • A person who earns £1,000,000 would owe £250,000 tax, receive £10,000 credit, making a total of £760,000.

Note, these figures have just been used as an example and for ease of maths, I am not advocating these numbers to be used.

As we can see, no one would earn less than a certain amount, in this case £10,000 a year, which would go a long way to solving the problem of homelessness and poverty. Rather than having different benefits and different welfare programs for different things, NIT replaces all these with a single payment. As Friedman once said: “Nobody spends somebody else’s money as wisely as he spends his own”, thus individuals have the freedom to determine how the minimum income they receive is spent.

In addition, instead of destroying incentives to work, like a lot of current welfare programs do, NIT always provides an incentive to work and earn more. NIT could also replace the need for a national living wage, and even national minimum wage, which economists have long argued destroys jobs and makes it harder for young people and low skilled workers to get work.

Government Response to Cannabis Petition Debunked

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Last month, 100,000 people signed the petition to fully legalise Cannabis in the UK. Under current rules, if a petition reaches 10,000 signatures, there will be a “response” from government. If a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, the petition will be “considered for debate in Parliament”. Although we don’t yet have the debate in parliament, the government has issued a response to the petition, which can be seen in full here. The response is disappointing to say the least, yet a little too predictable. It seems that the UK government still has an outdated view on the drug, and continues to ignore the evidence.

“Substantial scientific evidence shows cannabis is a harmful drug that can damage human health. There are no plans to legalise cannabis as it would not address the harm to individuals and communities.”

Although it is true that cannabis is not harmless and does cause some damage to human health, evidence is clear that it is much less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, two drugs which are legal. If it is government policy to regulate based on harm to human health, surely substances like alcohol, tobacco and even sugar would be Class A drugs, as they cause much more harm to individuals and communities. The graph below ranks drugs based on harmfulness to individuals and others:

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Interestingly, although heroin and crack cocaine are the most harmful to individuals; alcohol is the worst as it causes by far the most harm to others.

“Legalisation of cannabis would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families.”

This is just completely wrong, and ignores historical evidence of prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. After alcohol prohibition was repealed, crime rate – including organised crime, violent crime and corruption – dramatically reduced. In addition, we can point to more recent data in Colorado state after one year of retail sales and two years of decriminalisation. Marijuana possession arrests have dropped by 84% since 2010. Violent crime in Denver went down by 2.2% in the first 11 months; burglaries decreased by 9.5% and overall property crime fell by 8.9%. The statement also ignores the significant role that the war on drugs plays in creating the harms associated with drug dependency and the misery it causes to families. With the current laws, a young person that is likely unemployed or living in poverty, that is caught buying or selling cannabis, could either face lengthy jail time or a criminal record that makes it very difficult for them to get a good job and help that they need to make their way in life. And so, many of the harms that the statement refers to are a consequence of the drug laws, not of the drug itself.

“Despite the potential opportunity offered by legalisation to raise revenue through taxation, there would be costs in relation to administrative, compliance and law enforcement activities, as well as the wider costs of drug prevention and health services.”

At least the government now admits that there is potential economic benefits to legalisation. However, it is confusing for them to point out that there are administrative, compliance and law enforcement costs. Nobody is denying that. However, those costs are much higher when cannabis is illegal than when it is legal. Much more time and money would need to be spent on enforcing the drugs laws, in an attempt to suppress the drug trade when the drugs are illegal. Furthermore, Colorado, which is the fastest growing economy in the US, has created hundreds of jobs since legalisation, and the drug dispensaries contribute 10 times the tax revenue of a typical restaurant or retail shop. This tax revenue has been used for youth prevention services, education, mental health and community based developmental programs, all of which are much more effective in dealing with the drug dependency problem.

To conclude, not only is the government statement hollow, and lacking in evidence to support its claims, it also completely ignores relevant positive data from places like Portugal and Colorado, which have seen decreases in crime rate and drug use. Cannabis is, also, not as harmful as this statement makes out, and it is much less harmful than tobacco and alcohol. The public petition was a step in the right direction, it put pressure on the government to respond. Now, after this government response, there ought to be even more public pressure on the government, and the parliament debate needs to happen.

5 Quick Reasons Why Socialism Fails

With the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US, it seems that socialism is back and gaining large amounts of support. In my previous article, I was rather kind to Jeremy Corbyn, highlighting the positives that may come from his Labour party leadership. Within the article, the name ‘Corbyn’ could easily be replaced with ‘Sanders’, as they are both similar figures – they both are socialists. Although socialism sounds attractive in theory (who wouldn’t want free stuff, hey?) in reality socialism doesn’t work, hasn’t worked wherever tried and is a philosophy that is doomed for failure time and time again. For those who don’t know, pure socialism is a system in which the means of production are commonly owned, rather than privately owned. Typical features of socialist economies includes a large public sector, substantial welfare programs and high taxes. This article lists five reasons, in order of importance, of why socialism fails. So without further ado, here we go:

5.  High Tax Rates – One of the typical features of a Socialist system is the high levels of taxation that citizens are forced to pay for the provision of the considerable public services. When a large percentage of an individuals income is taken by the state, incentives to work are diminished, particularly when the public services are poor in quality. When socialists are questioned on who pays for the ‘free stuff’, the answer is always the same – “the rich”. In a graduated income tax system, the richest pay a much larger percentage of their income, which seems fair. However, at a certain point these rich people simply leave the country, taking their wealth with them, that would have otherwise been available for the public services. As a result, less money is available for the state to spend and public services suffer. Evidence of this can been seen in France, who adopted a 75% super-tax on the super-wealthy. French President Hollande was eventually forced to drop the tax as the richest either left the country or threatened strike action.

4. Victim Mentality – A problem with the socialist philosophy is that it encourages a victim mentality amongst its followers. Rather than empowering individuals by encouraging ambition and success, socialism instead blames the rich for all the problems of the poor. In life in order to solve problems, attain goals and become successful, traits such as self-awareness, self-discipline and personal responsibility are essential. However, socialism teaches none of these principles, and instead instills toxic characteristics such as envy and jealousy which keeps poor people down, ultimately helping nobody.

3. Subsidises Failure, Punishes Success – In this country, the government gives money to obese people. I don’t need to go into the negative consequences on health that obesity has, we all know. Yet, obesity is rising and the government is spending more and more on benefits to the obese. If, all of a sudden, a person that is obese starts making the right choices, becomes serious about losing weight, starts to eat healthily and begins to exercise, the benefits provided by the government are taken away. This takes away the incentive for an obese person to lose the weight and become healthy. And so, many obese people are simply happy to stay obese, so long as they keep receiving the benefits from the government. This is one example of how welfare programs actually subsidise failure and punish success, and it can be seen in many welfare programs which causes dependency.

2. Economic Calculation Problem – A fundamental flaw within the socialist centrally planned economy is the lack of rational economic calculation that can take place. In a market economy, there is a profit and loss system that provides signals based on consumer satisfaction. If the business is making a profit, we can assume that the consumer is being satisfied. However, if the business is making losses, then the consumer is not being satisfied and the business needs to change their strategy. A centrally planned economy, in which the state owns the means of production, does not have a functioning price mechanism, therefore information about desirability and abundance of a good is unavailable, which can lead to shortages of desired goods, and surpluses of unwanted goods. This ultimately has disastrous economic consequences.

1. Leads to Tyranny – The main reason why socialism fails is because it gives over too much power to the state. Not only is the socialist state substantial in size, having large amounts of control, but it is also coercive and incompatible with freedom. The simple fact is that man is corruptible by power, and power is what the socialist state most certainly has. Socialists commonly argue that the socialism we have seen in the Soviet Union, in Communist China and so on, is not ‘real’ socialism. This maybe true, however the fact is that these ‘not really socialist’ countries certainly set out to be really socialist. At some point somewhere along the line, these socialist regimes where corrupted and became tyrannical, resulting in the deaths of millions and millions of people. It is a pattern that we have seen time and time again almost wherever socialism has been tried. Whenever a state has substantial power, it almost always abuses that power. Which is why true and functioning socialism is simply unattainable.

Jeremy Corbyn: A libertarian view

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With staunchly left-wing candidate, Jeremy Corbyn increasing his lead in the polls, it looks likely that he will become the next leader of the Labour party. Not many would have predicted Corbyn’s rise to the top of the Labour party; just over a month ago bookmakers had Corbyn at 100-1 to win the leadership election, however he is now the strong favourite to take the role. The initial reaction of a typical libertarian is to face-palm and cry out “Socialism does NOT work!” However, upon further analysis, he does share some similarities with libertarians. and a Jeremy Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party may not actually be a bad thing.

Firstly, unlike the vast majority of politicians, he seems to be a decent and honest man who has a strong set of principles.  Regardless of whether you agree with his principles or not, it is refreshing to see a politician with a strong set of beliefs that he passionately believes in, and who speaks like a human being, not like a politician that has a strict team of campaign advisors rehearsing every sentence. Unlike most politicians, Corbyn does not shape his policies by toeing the party line, or by wetting his finger to see which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. He believes in his ideology, and the establishment hate him for it. The powers that be within the Labour party are desperate for Corbyn to not become leader. According to Tony Blair, the Labour party faces “annihilation” if Corbyn wins leadership; similarly Alastair Campbell has called upon voters to choose “anyone but Corbyn.” There is a resistance to Corbyn by the status quo, which libertarians can emphasise with.

Secondly, putting aside Corbyn’s disastrous economic policy, there is some common ground with libertarians. Corbyn follows a relatively non-interventionist foreign policy – he was passionately opposed to the Iraq war, and is against the idea of Britain doing whatever the U.S. asks it to. However, Corbyn does seem a little bit too friendly towards Hamas, unlike Libertarians who remain neutral towards both sides. Corbyn is also a Eurosceptic and has refused to rule out campaigning to take the UK out of the EU. Most libertarians see the EU as corporatist and undemocratic, and the left are finally beginning to agree. Corbyn has also pledged to cut taxes for small businesses, and has rallied against corporatism – the unity between the state and corporations.

Lastly, one of the most exciting prospects of a Corbyn Labour leadership, in my opinion, is the potential of a mainstream public debate over Socialism vs. Capitalism. Rather than the blandness of ‘he said, she said’ party politics that we usually see today, we would have an actual philosophical debate over the flaws and merits of both systems. See for example this Oxford university debate between Corbyn and Daniel Hannan about whether or not Socialism works: