I once attended a lecture on “The functions of the excess profit of the monopolist” given by the Dean of Social Sciences, Professor Walter Hagenbuch to a large number of undergraduates at the University of Kent at Canterbury.
At that stage in my life I had not mastered the distinction between teleology and tautology. But I could tell a pile of uncritical junk from valuable analysis when I heard it and I never attended another economics lecture at the University. It’s a shame, because I found much later that there is a lot to be valued in the discipline.
Last night, for example, stumbling through Skidelsky’s biography of Keynes, I read the following quote form Keynes’s first commercially published book:
“How long will it be found necessary to pay City men so entirely out of proportion to what other servants of society commonly receive for performing social services not less useful or difficult?”
John Maynard Keynes (1913) Indian Currency and Finance
A good question. A provisional answer would be “at least a century”. It dawns on me (again) that labour markets are markets like any other. Whatever the Hagenbuchs might say, it’s a power thing. A bit of supply and demand and a few lines on a graph might help our materialist cause but in the end it’s down to who is on your side, who makes the rules, who polices the rules, and how easy it is to avoid the wrath of the mob. “Whatever You Can Get Away With” as I like to say.
I sent an email to my MP, Mr Stephen Williams of the Liberal Democrat Party. I have a feeling that if things go on as they are, this will be his last Parliament as an MP if one or two things don’t change. The Welfare Reform Bill, grinding into its final stages this month would be a source of shame for us all if it became law. What I sent him was this:
I don’t think any document could be as damning of the Coalition Government’s integrity or honesty as this.
I am sure you will press the case to all you are in contact with to stop the progress of the shabby Welfare Reform Bill 2010-11. There is no rhetoric that could excuse it.
There are no sides here. We act with humanity or we don’t. If you want more cash, put my tax up. If you want a lot more cash, ask the CEOs of the FTSE to contribute. If you want a massive fortune, scrap Trident.
My point is that however poor we think we are we do not have an absolute lack of funds. On the evidence of this Bill we have a pretty depressing set of priorities. I want you to do your bit to change the priorities being enacted by your Party and their less squeamish colleagues in Government.
Please feel free to plagiarise any of my words to send to your MP. My feeling is that if you write in your own style and spelling/typing mistakes it counts for more than a copied letter. MPs get a lot of standardised letters and emails. If you have never written to your MP before – try it! They aren’t bad people and they always reply if you have included your postal address (they want to know you are a constituent). Find out the name of your MP here: http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/
Well the grass looked greener on the other side. So I have gone to see if it really is. I wrote about “Shared Space” because it has been on my mind for the last month or so and there has been a sudden outbreak of interest in the topic. See:
When I moved to Bristol in June this year I was puzzled by the way that cyclists encroached on what I used to think of as pedestrian areas. Since then I’ve learned that many of these spaces are offically designated as “shared”. Cyclists and pedestrians are both welcome. Usually there is a sign to say so, sometimes not. There are lots of variants. Among them there are signs:
The sign at the very top of the this blog is a new one, painted earlier today on the road through Ashton Court Estate. In normal circumstances the road is closed to motor vehicles but barriers can be opened when estate vehicles need access. It is used a lot by dogs, runners, cyclists, walkers. older people, children and toddlers. With today’s lovely weather it was very busy. The warning sign “Cyclists Slow” was obviously relevant.
Having passed one or two small groups and a runner I saw a woman ahead of me with two dogs. One was on a lead, one was running cautiously ahead. I slowed, and from 20 yards or so rang my bell. I slowed to something like 5-10 mph. Easy running speed. The woman was walking in the same direction as me and had her back to me. She was in the middle of the road and didn’t react to the bell. So, moving to the right I passed her carefully with at least a yard between us. As I went by she jumped a short step, suddenly startled. I stopped. I apologised for surprising her. I asked if she had heard my bell (I explained that I didn’t like to surprise people). She smiled and took out her earphones, explaining that she had been miles away, listening to Radio 4. I smiled and cycled on, passing lots more people as I went. Among them was a group of four on bikes – three adults, and one toddler who enthusiastically replied to my bell with lots of ringing on her own. I also passed a man emerging from behind a van parked facing me on the road, getting ready to paint (I supposed) the second “Shared Path” sign.
It seemed to me that the levels of care and attention I needed to take on this wide, downward sweep of excellent paved road were quite high. There were no warnings of work in progress, there were plenty of dogs running loose, there were people immersed in their own thoughts and conversations, as well as someone “miles away” in the middle of the path listening to the radio. Pre-school and retired people were represented. It all made me feel very cheerful and content with the world.
But this was a long way from Exhibition Road in London or Elwick Square in Ashford. Ashton Court is a park – quite clearly intended for leisure, contemplation and relaxation. Exhibition Road and Elwick Square, though, have working traffic with deadlines and timetables and places to go. They attract a mixture of regular users and tourists, not necessarily in tune with each others’ priorities. Anyone frail, small, listening to Radio 4, or bewildered by an unfamliar cityscape is going to stay away.
In Bristol I avoid Castle Park where road-speed cyclists hurry through towards the Railway Staion and I read of difficulties on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path where sports cyclists and commuter cyclists have recently been buzzing past parents and children who are walking to and from a school.
Over 30 years of political emphasis on market freedom and “individual choice”, coupled with real economic anxiety have dulled our collective instincts and honed our drive for personal achievements. In such times as these, and with such immediate experiences of uncertain experiments around us, “shared space” looks like a real loser. Our roads and other public spaces are confused and threatening enough already. We need them to feel more predictable and more secure, not less. We need to have public space where no one has to play complex guessing games about what might happen at any moment.
A contributor to that radio broadcast sang the praises of ice rinks where there are no rules. Everyone weaves effortlessly round without collisions – this is how our shared spaces could be he claimed. He has obviously never been to Billingham Forum. The frail, the very young, the partially sighted, people with no interest in ice scating and people who are in a hurry to be somewhere else are all noticeably absent. Trained attendants are in permanent attendance though – gently correcting anyone who seems to be pushing their risk tolerance a bit further than good sense allows. The real ice rink (not the fantasy one) could hardly be a better focus for someone who wants to ponder the problems that experiments in “shared space” will need to consider.
As a regular cyclist of more than 30 years urban cycling I would rather cycle on ordinary well-maintained roads with the Highway Code more or less as it is. As a grandfather with young children who could cycle or walk to school unsupervised I would like them to have dedicated routes that suited their needs and that kept speeding bikes and cars well away. Sharing is for fun – not for the serious business of everyday life. Not in England right now, anyway. As I once heard Lord Soper say, long ago in a house of Lords debate on alcohol “When the Kingdom of God has been established on earth, perhaps …”
Post script. later in the day I had the great pleasure of sharing a narrow public highway:
Hawk Eyes Supporting Ginger And The Wildhearts on December 13th 2011
Even in a world that isn’t very friendly to bicycles, I enjoy pottering around Bristol and its surrounding countryside two or three times a week.
Inevitably I see a lot and think a little while I am out and about. I don’t get as cross as I used to about other people doing reckless, thoughtless or selfish things on the roads and paths. Most of their DNA and a lot of their experiences are very similar to my own. None of them have any more control over their world than I do. So I would like to be as considerate as my bad temper will allow.
Anyway, I’ve started blogging a bit and I hope to do a bit more. The first attempts were in Blogger – just over here. I decided to change to WordPress because one or two people suggested Blogger was a bit awkward for comments, and it certainly wasn’t all that straightforward for constructing and changing blogs. It’s good to learn new things.
This is by way of an introduction and a test. I have it in mind to write about the concept of shared space and the queer things I have heard and read about it in recent days.
I take photographs as well. There are lots more on Flickr just here
“The undersigned call on the Women’s Institute to reject Resolution 6calling for compulsory helmet laws and to focus instead on creating conditionsin which all members of society will feel safe and comfortable riding abicycle” link
At the time of writing, this statement has been signed by 750 people. It isaddressed to The National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI) by the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. The WI have a shortlist of 6 suggestions, one of which could form the basis of a WI national campaign if its local federations and annual conference agrees. Each shortlisted proposal is to be discussed locally and nationally. A summary ofthe WI’s procedure is here: http://www.thewi.org.uk/standard.aspx?id=26942
A bit of publicity for a cherished cause isno bad thing. But the signatories to the Cycling Embassy petition seem to me to be doing something a bit silly. For one thing, the WI is a voluntary organisation who have their own democratic procedures. They decide things for themselves. They have provided a briefing for members that is even-handed about the pros and cons of each proposal, with evidence that they have made efforts to find out about the views of interested parties (including the CTC) and to let members know about these.
At this stage, the idea that another voluntary organisation can petition a body that has not yet made a democratic decision isone that I don’t understand. A petition, in normal use, is a word that refers to a demand or request made by a group of signatories to a recognised authority who have the power to accede to the demand or request. In this case the WI is not a recognised authority. The WI might have influence, but it is not a statutory body and in any case, they haven’t finished deciding what to do. Sending them a petition is just a gimmick – a publicity attracting device.
The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has just got itself into a muddle here. They and those who are signing its petition are making themselves look a bit daft. (sadly, adding an ounce or two to the public perception of cyclists as a bit eccentric). A voluntary association with a specific interest has every right to campaign on whatever it wants to campaign on – calling on another voluntary association to stop a process that would lead to a campaign the Cycling Embassy doesn’t like reveals a fairly worrying lack of understanding of democratic processes.
To put it more simply the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, if it wants to, should campaign against compulsory helmets for cyclists. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, if it wants to, can publish opinions about the WI and one of the WI’s membership-generated proposals (even though it has not yet been accepted). But in my opinion The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain should not put itself or its supporters in the non-democratic position of calling on a voluntary association not to mount a campaign. They are meddling in someone else’s affairs.
Sorry, I have to say The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and the 750 “petitioners” have put themselves in a wrong place.
I do, incidentally, agree that compulsory helmet legislation would be a bad idea. As far as I understand it there is good evidence that segregated provision improves safety and that there is no equivalent evidence that compulsion to wear helmets changes the likelihood of casualties. Please let me know if I’m wrong on either of those points. They are, however,nothing to do with what I am saying about the folly of this petition.