A metaphor for the economy

Having been reading Fred Clark's blog at the Slacktivist for some time, I've been very struck by his argument that it is not only possible for us to do something about the stagnation of economies, it's actually a moral duty.

Now, Fred approaches his moral decision-making from a Christian, Baptist, evangelical viewpoint. In fact, he is the one man solely responsible for salvaging 'evangelical' as anything other than a term of abuse in my lexicon. However, one of the things I respect most about him, is that he bases most of his reasoning on good secular reasoning that is accessible to all of us, whatever our faith (or lack of it).

Now, while Fred is very USA-centric, a lot of his arguments apply to the UK as well. However, it's all too easy to do a down-home, folksy argument about household budgets. For instance, this. So, I want to find a way to put in terms that bring it home.

So, we have Sam Smith. Samuel? Samantha? Who knows. All we know is, that Sam is an electrician. As an electrician, Sam does emergency repairs, upgrades, major remodelling of internal wiring, Portable Appliance Testing, the works. So in the recession, Sam's income has dropped quite sharply. People still need emergency repairs, and PAT is a legal requirement, but the upgrades and remodelling has dropped off a lot, as has new construction.

So Sam, who used to be on £40,000 a year, has dropped to £25,000. Times are tough, and Sam's savings have disappeared to cushion the blow and cover current expenses. The mortgage is still there, demanding paying.
And now, as one blow on another, Sam's van is breaking down. It's been everywhere, carrying Sam's tools all over the place from one job to the next. It probably won't last much longer.
So Sam has a big decision to make: take a small loan to fix up the van for a little while; take a large loan to buy a new van; or wait for the van to break and then only take jobs in walking distance; which will, incidentally, drop Sam's earnings to more like £12,000 a year.

Bring it back to the macro scale of the entire economy. Yes, we have a lot of debt; paying it off takes money. At the moment, we are not stuck for ability to borrow more money; and cutting government spending GIVES US LESS MONEY TO PAY OFF OUR DEBT.

Sorry about the shouting, but it's true.

Time to reconsider spending cuts, maybe? Yeah.

Keynes was right. He remains right. The fact that we failed to control spending and build a cushion of budget surplus when times are good, does not make cutting the way to escape a recession.


Tottenham background:

As riots have kicked off in London, the default opinion seems to be "Crush the animals".

It's hard to do or say anything that looks like condoning the explosion of violence, now spreading to Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and beyond, which has claimed lives, brought severe injuries, and caused many millions of pounds in damage.

However, I'm aware that however much we might like to think so, other people are not animals; nor are they mindless. So that tells me that there are thousands of people around this country who are so lost, or so disaffected, or something, that they see rioting and looting as a better option than whatever else they'd be doing. So we should expect the rioting areas to have worse numbers on a range of measures, including but not limited to:

5 A*-C grades at GCSE as a measure of education
Crime rates
And also number of young people (15-24, say) as a percentage of population.

So let's see what we get for Tottenham.

Unemployment rate at 10% amongst 18-24 year olds. This is purely for those on Job Seekers Allowance; those on other benefits such as Incapacity may well be functionally unemployed but aren't counted in these figures. For the area overall at all ages, the unemployment rate including other benefits is 17.0%. Based on a newspaper report in a local paper from July, Tottenham had 6,000 JSA claimants and 121 jobs at that point.

So if you're a resident of Tottenham you have a 17% chance of being unemployed. If you are part of that 17% and actively job hunting, you have [all else being equal] a 2% chance of getting any job you apply for.

Now let's add in the education aspect. According to league tables, 41% of Tottenham pupils get 5 A*-C GCSEs. So a substantial majority are functionally unqualified. Even if they are actively jobseeking, there will be many applicants for every job, so little hope of even a dead-end, part-time job to supplement their benefits, let alone actually live off.

Now let us add in the fact that the local council, under pressure from central government, have made 75% cuts to their youth services budget, including closing most of the youth centres in the area.

Oh, and a final bonus, the crime rates in the local area range from slightly above to nearly double the national average.

Looting is never a productive or useful option. Rioting rarely is; I don't think this is one of those rare occasions. And people have died.
But see it from the perspective of a young person in Tottenham, for a moment: what else do you have to do? And what, exactly, have you got to lose?


As contributed to a forthcoming Atheism 101 on the Slacktiverse:

Billions of years passed before my birth; billions of years will pass after my death; and I could
easily not have been born at all.
Does this make my life meaningless or worthless? No, no more than it is not worth going to see a
play because it will end. My life is contingent, not required as part of the course of the universe, but
that makes my very existence a most wonderful opportunity..
I used to call myself a Christian, because my parents are, and it was part of the cultural backdrop
(Anglican Church specifically). I'm not sure I ever believed it, though I have always rather enjoyed
some of the hymns. However, it wasn't until I was about 13 that I began seriously asking myself
whether or not I believed, and the immediate trigger was my parents asking whether I wanted to
be confirmed. The more I thought about it, and the more questions I asked, the more I realised the
concept of God meant nothing to me. It quite literally does not compute. The way I'm wired, I don't
think it is possible for me to believe in God without seeing Zir personally, and even then my first
thought would be to doubt my sanity.
As such conventional Christianity is clearly a non-starter for me, but I did spend a while wondering
whether I could take much from this Jesus bloke. And I...wasn't especially impressed. The Golden
Rule, while nice, had been stated earlier. Love thy neighbour is a useful principle, but again hardly
earth-shattering. And there remained teachings about slavery and the place of women that made me
deeply uncomfortable.
So that left me with a need to explore and discover what my principles and values where, and what
they were based on. And here, a couple of Christians were very helpful, along with another atheist.
In rambling, long-running conversations in the school library we sometimes explored, sometimes
railed against each others' ideas. Over several years we each founded our thinking much more
firmly as the weak foundations were struck away. We never reached agreement, and that taught
me one more lesson I needed - that intelligent, educated, well-meaning people can fundamentally
Some of the things I was told horrified me; such as R's assertion that zie would do anything God
demanded; anything at all, no matter how immoral; or when J said that God had commanded his
people to destroy the Canaanites. And this was the thing which brought me to realise that a rigid
moral code based on a revelation was, bluntly, dangerous. I am and remain wary of individuals who
will put principles before people, be those principles Christian, communist, neo-liberal or any other.
My life is my own. I try to do right because it is right, not because it is written. And my greatest
hope is to pass to my children a better world than I was born into, in some small way.


Wedding fun

So this weekend, the fiancee and I went to the wedding of a chemistry friend of hers. His new wife is an evangelical Christian, so the wedding was going to be very happy-clappy and Jesus-loves-me, and I went prepared for that.

All of which went down as expected; a priest who's informal and rather excitable, lots of songs that go on about how wonderful Jesus is but otherwise sound like generic pop-rock, that sort of thing. I don't mind that, after all marriage is a deeply personal thing, and people should go about it in the way that means the most to them.
There was one thing that really bothered me though, and I was made very uncomfortable by it; that is, the vows. This is where the bride was made to promise that she will follow the groom's lead in their marriage.

This is England in the 21st century, and we have an intelligent woman with a strong personality who promises to follow her husband's lead in all things, before her friends, family and congregation. What IS this shit!?

For the record: this does represent fairly well my immediate reaction in the moment. I evinced shock and turned to my fiancee, which she told me later made her feel much better about it, as it reassured her she wasn't the only one noticing how howlingly wrong that was.

Marriage, at least to the two of us, is a partnership of equals. That does not mean each of us has to lead exactly 50% of the time, that we are failing if the division of labour is not half-and-half on effort input, or anything stupid like that.
It does mean though that sometimes she leads, sometimes I do. Some housework is my responsibility, some is hers. Small decisions are made some by her, some by me; big decisions are made in consultation between us.

And seriously, while it isn't all smooth sailing, the decisions we make together have better results than the ones we make apart. Two heads really are better than one.

So why, why, why, would you solemnize the relationship you want to build your life around by distorting and devaluing the dynamic that makes it so practical as well as fun?



Okay, fisking time:

First, a little background. An old schoolfriend of mine has turned uber-Muslim, and has recently been engaging in email exchanges with me to attempt to win me around to his point of view. Sometimes this is entertaining, and other times it is infuriating. Anyway, sometimes he puts the burden of effort on me, by demanding that I read various treatises on the internet and respond to them. The following is my take on one such, as I read it (found here if anyone's interested).

Praise be to Allah, the Almighty, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Universe, and peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, last of the Prophets, and upon all those who adhere to his example until the Day of Judgement.
Well, I think we can see *your* point of view, when you can't start writing without this.

Faith is the foundation upon which the whole structure of nations is based. Therefore, the progress of each nation is dependent upon the maintenance of its faith and ideology.
Factually wrong. The modern nation state developed as a way of welding together disparate peoples and political interests to win wars; as such it occurred earliest in England and France as they contested the Hundred Years War. While Kings used religion as one more tool to join the nation together, they also used language, culture, geography and warfare to do so. Moreover, the progress of nations has often been set back substantially by "maintenance of its faith" - view France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and how the Netherlands and England both benefitted substantially from the aftermath. Equally, look at 16th Century Spain and the fallout from the expulsion of both the Muslims and the Jews. Progress is dependent upon tolerance.

Thus, all Prophets (peace be upon them) have called for true faith. Every Prophet told his people from the very beginning, "Worship Allah, the Almighty. You have no other god but Him".(1) "We assuredly sent amongst every people an Apostle, (with the command), Serve Allah and eschew evil".
Monotheism is a relatively late development in human religion; and there are many tribes and peoples around the world who did not encounter monotheistic religion until relatively recent times (well after Mohammed, who is claimed to have been the last prophet). As such, this is either a gross mis-understanding of history, or a flat lie.

This is because Allah the Almighty created all people to worship Him alone and set up no associate to Him. "I have only created jinns and men that they may worship Me".
God of the gross insecurity complex. Rather than creating creatures to live their own lives, he creates them to worship him. A bit pathetic for an omnipotent being.

Worship is the exclusive right of Allah owed to Him by His creation mankind. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) once said to Muath ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him): "Do you know what duties and rights people have towards Allah'? The duty of mankind towards Allah is to worship Him and attribute no partner to Him. The right of mankind is that Allah will not torture those who do not attribute any partner to Him".
Now, just as a quick aside, this is meant to be a treatise about "the Truth of Monotheism". I'm not seeing much by means of argument towards that end.
Anyway, how horrifying is that bit? (Bolding is my emphasis). So apparently it is right, that Allah will torture anyone who says Allah has a partner. The all-good, all-mighty, all-knowing God is in favour of torture? Hahaha. I'll have to remember this for next time someone claims Allah is good. [A reflection of 7th century Arabian attitudes rather than a timeless god, I hear you cry? Why yes, perhaps it is. Check one against divine inspiration.]

This right of worship is the foremost right of Allah owed to Him by His people.
Right, let me state this clearly: when someone has done you a favour, you do not owe them worship. Even when that favour is creating you ex nihilo, you owe them gratitude; you owe them respect, perhaps. But not worship.
"Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him." (5) "Say : Come, I will recite to you what Allah has really forbidden to you : Join not any-thing as equal with Allah".
And we see that this is an argument not for theism against atheism, but an argument for monotheism against polytheism. Not just that, but an argument for those who believe in Allah.

This right has priority over all other rights because it is the foundation upon which all other precepts of the religion (of Islam) are based.
Incorrect. The right to life has priority over all other rights; followed by a variety of rights, depending on how you prioritise, but basically including personal autonomy, freedom of conscience, and so on. Human rights are real and important to civil society. The rights of Allah are meaningless, especially for those of us who are not convinced he exists.

Therefore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) during the thirteen years of his preaching in Makkah, constantly called upon people to observe this right of Allah and forbid any partner to Him. The Holy Quran in most of its verses, has confirmed this concept and negated any resemblance to Him. Every Muslim in his five daily prayers pledges to Allah to observe this right by saying, "You alone do we worship and only Your assistance do we seek".
So? You have the right to your religious beliefs and observances, but why on earth should I care what rights you believe your sky daddy has, or how long your prophet inveighed against having alternate sky daddies?

This great right is referred to as the singleness of worship, deity or objective and purpose. This monotheism is ingrained in man's nature. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said "Every child is born with a (pure) innate character. His parents may turn him to become a Jew, a Christian or Mazdist" (8). Therefore, believing in the oneness of Allah is innate and original, whereas idolatry is spurious and unnatural.
Factually incorrect. While children naturally think magically, they do not naturally think of deities. Everyone is born atheist; many are taught otherwise. Do you really think that a newborn has knowledge of a deity? If so, evidence please.

Man will deviate from the right path only because of false upbringing and surroundings. Allah the Almighty stated in the Holy Quran "Mankind was one single nation, and Allah sent messengers with glad tidings and warnings; and with them He sent the Book, in truth, to judge between people in matters wherein they differed".(9) Simarly, He, the Almighty, also stated in they Holy Quran "Mankind was but one nation, but differed later".
Mankind has never been a single nation; tribes have coalesced into cities, then into empires, then into nations. There are currently some 190 nations. What is more, mankind has never followed one religion.

Moreover, Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with him) said, "Ten centuries lapsed from Adam to Noah (peace be upon them and all people adhered to Islam during that perished". (11) Ibn-ulQaiyim, the learned scholar, commented on this by saying "This interpretation (by Ibn Abbas) of the above verse is correct."(12) He cited examples from the Holy Quran to support this idea an confirmed it in his commentary, "The Meaning of the Quran".
There was no Adam, there was no Noah, and so this story is meaningful.

The first incident of polytheism took place among the people of Noah when they exceeded the limits of respect for their saints and started worshipping them despite exhortation by their Prophets. As it is stated in the Holy Quran "And they have said (to each other), abandon not your gods : abandon neither Wadd for Suwa, neither Yaguth not Yauq".(13) Bukhari quoted Ibn Abbas as saying that "The above names were those of pious men among the people of Noah. When these pious men died, Satan suggested to the people of Noah that they erect statues of those pious men in their homes and call the statues by these pious men's names. Thus, people did so, but did not worship the statues. The statues, however, in later generations become idols to be worshipped."
Polytheism is the earlier development, by far. Polytheism to henotheism to monotheism is a development that can be traced in Judaism, on a similar path in Hinduism, and probably in other religions as well. There is archaeological and textual evidence for this, and I'll take that over the assertion of Ibn Abbas any day of the week.

And...that's the end of page one. Of 13. Might cut this off now and consider coming back to it in another post, before this turns into a true monster.


Reminders of hostility

Walk past a poster advertising a talk by someone who considers himself to be a Christian Atheist, and find the word atheist angrily scored out to make it illegible.

Now, I know this is nothing compared to what some people go through every day in e.g. the Bible Belt, where they have to hide an essential part of themselves lest they lose their job, their family, their friends. There are still those who feel we shouldn't exist here though, and it's worth remembering that.


Resurrection etc

I want to keep this going a bit more regularly, so here goes with a shorter post, to get myself back into the swing of things.

Things to do:
1) collect "Marriage Authority" from Registrars.
2) get copy of Demon Haunted World (Carl Sagan) from departing student for £4.
3) book visit to the winery, for which we have paid, and which we can't seem to book. They'll probably say they're fully booked again and there's nothing until August or whenever... (yeah, yeah, okay #firstworldproblems).
4) Find a house in Birmingham. Step one of which is find a semi-competent estate agent in Birmingham, and yes thereby hangs a tale...
5) Find a job in Birmingham
6) Finish writing one of several ongoing projects.
7) Learn C#
8) Sleep. No, wait, there's a pub quiz tonight (insert other options more exciting than sleep here).

Now, 1) should be no big deal. Just a bit of paper, which if I damage or crush will get me murdered by an irate fiancee. That's fine, I run that risk every day anyway.
The second is purely a matter of turning up at the right time with £4.
The third is going to take a phone call that I'm really not feeling.
Then things get difficult. See why the list is in this order? Heh