Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

December 7th, 2002

German defence cuts

Germany seems to be taking the wrong approach to reducing its budget deficit. On the bright side at least they are trying to stay within the current spending rules, but by cutting defence spending they will reduce what little influence they have on foreign affairs. Additionally the cuts will not address the real problem Germany has – which is unemployment.

Hopefully we’ll see Schroeder’s coalition government collapse and elections called – although I’ve no idea how likely that will be. It seems it’s only with a change in government that we’ll see some serious economic reforms taking place and the long awaited drop in unemployment happening. One aspect of Germany’s current woes however is encouraging to hear: more Germans are looking to work elsewhere in Europe. The more that Europeans live and work in other parts of the EU the faster the EU will grow, and more importantly the more understanding of others will spread. I’m hoping to work on the continent myself one day, so I’ve got added interest in seeing others working throughout the EU.

December 6th, 2002

Paying for University

When I was at Uni there were no tuition fees – in fact I was given a grant by the government to help pay for my living expenses. Today fees are part of the British University system – but they don’t bring in enough funds to pay for the higher wages and better facilities that the UK needs to compete internationally.

For once there is a piece in the Guardian that I actually agree with almost completely: on how this University funding gap can be closed. There is one thing that must be said however, the proposal to use student loans in this way to cover tuition fees does not strike me as particularly “3rd Way”. The loan description given here is almost exactly the same as that introduced by the Conservatives (I had one by the time I graduated), and it’s only the interest rates and forgiveness clauses that set it aside from the common situation in the US. Still it’s good that this long outstanding issue is finally being tackled.

December 5th, 2002

Convention on Europe

As most will already know we are currently part way through the convention on Europe – the talking shop/convention that is meant to propose reform on what the EU is and how it should work. When it first started it seemed to me that it would inevitably produce a report that would be haggled over and negotiated into such a messy compromise that the resulting changes to the EU would not resemble any agreements made during the convention. However, as time has gone by, it seems that the convention is being taken fairly seriously, and there is a good chance that the resulting EU structure will reflect the results of it.

Everyone is trying to make their own power grab of course, but the important thing for me is that the question of what the EU is for is actually being debated fully with all of the options and ideas coming out. The one big achievement that should be welcomed is that the idea that the EU should have a constitution has been accepted by most (all?) of the major governments. This is a huge step forward in that it will define what the EU is in such a way that the basis of it’s existence can be explained to people without having to consider the scope of the latest treaty.

The battle is now on for what will be in the constitution, with the large powers generally in favour of a permanent (e.g. a 5 year term instead of the current 6 month term) president of the EU. This seems like a good move to me – however one of the big concerns I have is that the talk is not of this president being elected by popular vote, but rather selected by the heads of the national governments. It’s hard to predict how that will work out over the years, but if you want to bring the EU closer to the people then having them vote for someone to define the direction of it seems like the best bet.

The European Commission of course would rather see it’s power extended – I think this is a non-starter. I generally think that the EC does a fairly good job overall, the bureaucracy is fairly small compared to many governments, and they do push hard for members to respect and enforce EU law. Generally the EC is portrayed as being a large over-regulating body, but a lot of their work is instead about forcing members to open up their markets to competition, something that is good for all EU citizens. So why do I think they are wrong to push for more power? The one thing that the EC does that I’m not keen on is the proposal of legislation – to me this is something that elected government should do.

Many people have put together proposed constitutions for the EU (the most memorable one for me being the one the economist did). I’m not sure myself what I would like to see, except to say that I want there to be a strong directly elected component that has the power to overturn existing legislation and to propose new legislation. This would provide a simple and direct way for citizens to change the direction of EU legislation. The problem with acting through national governments is that EU level issues get left behind during election campaigns – and so despite politicians claims otherwise they do not represent the views of the people when dealing with issues at the EU level.

December 2nd, 2002

British Crime rates

Browsing through weblogs I came across a short posting on Instapundit regarding gun control and crime levels in the UK. Arguments over the quality of the survey withstanding I think there’s two major points here.

Firstly I agree 100% that the police telling people to avoid becoming victims of crime by changing their behaviour is an un-helpful response. There are two problems doing this:

  • It breeds fear. Just because there is a higher chance in London of having your mobile stolen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. In fact most of the time you can carry on using it in the same way that you do elsewhere, not be worrying about being mugged, and live a happier life because of it.
  • It stops the problem being tackled. The correct response to a large increase in thefts of mobile phones is to increase the penalties of doing so, not to try and avoid the crime happening by hiding mobile phones away. If you do hide your phone away to stop people stealing it then you are automatically making yourself a victim of fear, and because fear is not recorded in crime statistics, it looks like the problem is being ‘solved’. Deciding on a personal level that you want to hide your phone away is one thing, but pretending that it’s a valid approach to fighting crime is scary.

On the other point raised in the post though I have to disagree. Regardless of your intellectual views on rights to gun ownership I find the following sentiment to be equivalent to hiding away your mobile phone: “Gun control is bad in itself, but it can only exist in a setting in which the right to defend oneself against aggression has already been devalued in a way that makes crime much more rewarding, and hence much more common.”

To me the concept that law and order have broken down to the degree that you must go about protecting yourself against crime using firearms is an admission of defeat. What is the difference between living in fear – changing your behaviour by hiding your mobile away – and having to learn to use and own a firearm?

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

Email: colin at