28 January 2011

Sharing the pain

Motorists hit by the soaring cost of petrol could be spared the 1p a litre rise in fuel duty due to come into force in April. Sharing the pain of rising oil prices between the Treasury and the motorist through the ‘fair fuel stabiliser’ is also still being considered, it was confirmed yesterday. Cancelling the 1p tax increase would cost the Treasury around £600million in the next financial year at a time of acute belt-tightening in the public finances. But Chancellor George Osborne is planning to help cash-strapped motorists either by scrapping the rise or by reforming the fuel tax system through the stabiliser. (Daily Mail, 28 January 2011.)

Sharing the pain between the Treasury and the motorist? What does that mean but sharing it between pensioners and younger people, whether taxpayers or on benefits? Or, actually, sparing those on benefits from any pain at all, and making sure that it is only pensioners, university graduates and the middle class (so-called) in general who are squeezed until the pips squeak. If the Treasury subsidises motorists at all, it will have to take the money to do so away from some other sector of the population. We know that pensioners are the preferred milch cows (from, among other things, David Willetts’s book The Pinch).

27 January 2011

The state can alter the terms when it wishes

Of course all discussion about pensions these days is about who really ‘needs’ or ‘deserves’ anything. Of what relevance is it that some decades ago state pensions were supposed to be determined by contributions? Why should retrospective legislation matter anyway, nobody thinks it does now.

Such issues in themselves could easily take a book to deal with.

They like to increase state pensions, if at all, by reference to the CPI (Consumer Price Index) rather than the RPI (Retail Price Index). The RPI is more realistic than the CPI, but not much, because it leaves out much of what is really essential, such as servants, and going abroad to get things which in this country can only be got by exposing oneself to abuse by the medical ‘profession’. (A live-in housekeeper now costs £75K per annum.)

However, what makes the CPI even less realistic is that the cost of housing, renting or mortgage, is stripped out. Perhaps it is thought justifiable to use this index because ‘housing benefit’ is available to those who are prepared to expose themselves to the scrutiny of agents of the collective, and are able to prove to their satisfaction that they have no saved or inherited capital, etc.

Whenever a ‘benefit’ is provided by the state on abusive terms it can be ‘stripped out’ from the supposed ‘cost of living’ – meaning cost of keeping physically alive without being able to do anything.

So the cost of ‘medicine’ can be stripped out by those in charge of pension legislation, as well as ‘housing’, because you are supposed to find the NHS an acceptable substitute for what you might previously have been able to get by paying for it.

When the state pension became means-tested, the part you had of right, with no questions asked, started to fall in real terms, even more than it had been doing. In effect this meant that the ‘basic’ state pension itself became means-tested, since those pensioners who qualified for the new ‘benefit’ – pension credit etc. were also eligible for other ‘benefits’. So, in the eyes of those in charge of pension legislation, there was no need to consider, as part of the cost of living of un-means-tested pensioners, anything which they could get as a ‘benefit’ if they became ‘means-tested’ pensioners who qualified for other ‘benefits’.

The impact of increased fuel costs on pensioners is another cost which the pension legislators can disregard because those pensioners who qualify for the supplementary pension are able to go on the ‘social tariff’. (See earlier post.)

Another fuel-cost reducing ‘benefit’ for which those who qualify for certain other benefits are eligible, including those qualifying for the means-tested part of the pension, is a loft insulation allowance to cover the cost of insulating your house so that your energy consumption, and hence fuel bills, will be reduced. But those who only receive the ‘basic’ (non-means-tested) part of the state pension do not qualify for this.

The state pension was the only ‘benefit’ available ‘as of right’ once the qualifying contributions had been paid, and no doubt this fact was resented, and the intention was and is still to let it ‘wither on the vine’.

When the Crossman Scheme was introduced in 1970, the aim was supposed to be to provide a state pension of about half the average national wage. The average national wage is now about £25K, and if Charles McCreery and I were each receiving half of it, we would have £25K between us with which to continue working towards setting up our independent institution.

It would certainly grease the wheels better than the £10K we now receive between us, although it would not go far towards setting up and running an academic institution, in which to commence our proper forty-year academic careers.

When I was at the Society for Psychical Research in the early sixties, ‘graduated contributions’ were deducted from my tiny salary and I was sent pieces of paper telling me that I would receive so many pence a year extra (earnings-related) pension one day.

This certainly gave the impression that the eventual pension was supposed to be comparable with that provided by a commercial contributory scheme, as did the fact that businesses could only ‘contract out’ of the state pension system by setting up a really generous and well-run alternative.

What does it matter what impression was given, or even what statements were made? The idea lapsed long ago that an individual needed to know what was legal and what was not, so that he could plan his affairs in view of his own interests as he conceived them to be.

Arthur Seldon, discussing a 1957 report entitled ‘National Superannuation’, says:

The new graduated pension was not designed to have a financial fund, as those on which occupational schemes are based. Then what was to be the pensioner’s guarantee? ‘... confidence can be placed in the survival in perpetuity of a government in Britain.’ From a political scientist of Mr. Crossman’s stature, this is a claim that not everyone will accept ... ‘The State,’ said Aneurin Bevan in 1954, ‘is a sovereign body and can alter the terms of the contract when it wishes without asking anybody. It did in 1931, and it has done it over and over again.’ (Arthur Seldon, The Great Pensions ‘ Swindle’, 1970, pp. 67-68.)

The relevant departments of my unfunded independent university are effectively censored and suppressed. They have been prevented for decades from publishing analyses of the complex issues involved, while misleading and tendentious representations of them have continued to flood out from socially recognised sources. I hereby apply, for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed university research department, to all universities, and to corporations or individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.

25 January 2011

A Hero of Our Time

From time to time, pieces of research are published by universities, or statements are made by journalists, suggesting that compassion is a fundamental piece of psychology, hardwired into human behaviour, and that ‘individualism’ overrides the fundamental human need for group solidarity. At the same time, modern novels frequently portray people behaving badly towards one another, although the authors are usually identified with left-wing ideology.

A remarkably realistic portrayal of human psychology is found in a novel by Mikhail Lermontov, a pre-communist Russian writer. Lermontov was probably himself moving towards a socialist position, having sufficiently offended the Tsar by his criticisms of conditions of living in Russia to be sent into exile in the Ukraine. Lermontov was clearly IQ-ful as well as upper-class, having lived on his grandmother’s estate as a boy and made use of the extensive library to read widely, in English, French and German, as well as Russian.

In his novel A Hero of Our Time, the narrator is a Russian officer who, as he passes from place to place, needs at one stage to take lodgings in a certain house in a very poor and rundown village on the seashore. In this house, which has a bad reputation, he finds living an old lady, a blind orphan boy who has been taken in and supported (presumably for his usefulness in fetching and carrying, in spite of his blindness) and a fey and sexy young woman (described as a ‘daughter of the sea’).

The Russian officer becomes curious and inquisitive about what is going on, and discovers that the household is engaged in, and supported by, a contraband operation which involves sea-borne visits from the young woman’s boyfriend. The woman becomes afraid that the Russian officer knows too much and may inform on them, so she tells her boyfriend (Yanko), and the whole smuggling operation breaks up. This is the final conversation between Yanko, his girlfriend, and the blind boy, overheard by the Russian officer in hiding (my translation):

“Listen, blind boy!”said Yanko “Tell ... that I won’t work for him any more. Things have turned out badly and he won’t see me any more. And tell him, if he had paid me better for my hard work, then I might not have left him. He will not be able to find anyone as intrepid as me.”

After a silence Yanko continued: “She [the young woman] is coming with me, she can’t stay here. Tell the old woman from me that it is time for her to die, she has lived a long time, one must know when it is time to end one’s life. She won’t see either of us again.”

“And me?” said the blind boy, in a voice that harrowed me.

“And what are you to me?” was the reply. ... he put something in the boy’s hand and said, “Well, buy yourself a cake.”

“Only that?” said the blind boy.

“What more could you expect?”

I heard coins ring on the stones. The blind boy did not pick them up ... the boat vanished across the sea ... I started to hear what sounded like a person crying, and realised that it was in fact the blind boy crying, and crying, crying ... I was deeply moved.

Then the narrator of the story gets his chance to leave the village where he has been forced to stay. He never knows what became of the old woman or the blind boy. The episode concludes with some disclaimers on the lines of “What business is it of mine to concern myself with human happiness and misfortune ... What fate threw me into a group of honest smugglers whom I obstructed and disturbed like a stone thrown into quiet waters?”

It seems to be a paradoxical feature of modern literature that modern writers, fully aware of the modern socialist ideology which surrounds them, and apparently in complete sympathy with it, simultaneously present human nature in their works of fiction as quite the opposite of compassionate. Their awareness of the unpleasant realities of human psychology seems not to affect their commitment to a world view which depends on believing otherwise, nor indeed to their implicit demand that others commit to it too. In fact, this may appear as a psychological syndrome, in which apparently incompatible features arise from the same underlying motivation.

But Lermontov, in spite of any incipient socialist ideas which he may have had, was living in a pre-communist society. So the psychological syndrome involved in his describing human interactions with such cynical realism was not exactly the same.

Brief analyses such as these should be being expanded into research papers, but this is unlikely to happen unless Oxford Forum is supported.

20 January 2011

Local oppressors: so much better

The Mail led the way in highlighting how NICE, the Government’s drugs rationing body, was denying life-prolonging treatments to cancer patients purely on the grounds of cost. ... Of course, the NHS does not have unlimited funds, and on occasion patients must be told No – however heartbreaking this may be. But these decisions must be taken by doctors who know the person best. Not by bureaucrats sat in regional offices. (‘One more injustice’, editorial page, Daily Mail, 21 November 2010. )

And how is that supposed to help? Instead of an explicit universal prohibition, a subjective decision will be made by ‘your’ doctor who has his own reasons for knowing how much he will enjoy depriving you of something you will really suffer from not having. He may know that you are middle-class, send your children to non-state schools, have a high IQ, and so on. Just how much each individual doctor hates a particular characteristic is variable, but I do not see any advantage in that.

Better to have a blanket prohibition based on some objective criterion, however arbitrary, and to have to pay to get the refused treatment if you do not qualify. You are over the age of 57, or you are over 6 foot tall? Then you do not qualify for the free medication, and can only get it by paying for it. Actually it is quite likely that many of those refused the treatment would be willing and able to do so, as they would be more likely to fall into the category of bourgeois over-achievers or intellectuals, who are more likely to be refused things than those who are regarded as acceptably down and out.

There is certainly no advantage to the individual in having decisions about himself made by members of the local community who think they know him well, compared to having them made at a distance by bureaucrats. It is not that the latter are likely to be well-intentioned towards him, but that the damage which is intended can be more accurately directed by members of the local community, including one’s ‘own’ doctor.

In my own case, I was prevented from taking advantage of the legal possibility of taking exams (including degrees) before the ‘normal’ age, by the hostility of the local community, including some relatives, who knew too much about my father and myself.

The most I ask of society is that it should express the will of the majority in a blind and imperfect way. That would at least give one a sporting chance of survival. (Celia Green, The Decline and Fall of Science, 1976, p. 173)

18 January 2011

A very poor deal

The Great Pensions ‘Swindle’ by Arthur Seldon (*) was published in 1970. I have never found this book at all easy to read, as Arthur Seldon was himself a politician and finds various arguments for and against different forms of taxation and redistribution far more meaningful than I do, as they depend on many unexamined assumptions.

However, in the course of discussing some past debates, he draws attention to two fundamental weaknesses in the state pensions system.

(1) That universal pensions could not be affordable at the proposed level if the annual out-payments had to be taken from taxation on a year-by-year basis, i.e. if no cumulative fund were built up to provide a capital basis, out of the income of which pension payments would be made.

Beveridge, in 1941, said at one point:

“It seemed to me right to make pensions as of right ... genuinely contributory; for pensions there must be a substantial period of contribution.”

The “substantial period” he recommended in the Report was 20 years. This advice [i.e. to build up a fund] was ignored. (p. 58)

People were misled, at least initially, into believing that they were paying into a contributory scheme, and that what they eventually received would reflect what they paid in.

However, Arthur Seldon’s book makes it clear that this was never in line with the ideas of many politicians. Should people be able to get better state pensions by contributing more? That was a controversial idea even then, and by now surely few would support it openly.

(2) The other way in which the state pension scheme was always a swindle (on the electorate by the government) was that the contributions paid in would have been enough to pay for much higher pensions. People are seldom aware of the potency of compounding interest, and if money is invested and the interest ploughed back as increments to the original capital, over a period of years the original capital is multiplied by a factor which is surprising to the unsophisticated.

I have done a rough calculation of this effect, and it comes out that if you save one tenth of your salary (assumed constant for simplicity) for 40 out of 45 years, compounded at 5%, then at the end you will have saved a capital sum capable of generating (at 5%) about 75% of your salary in perpetuity. By contrast, what the state currently takes in as National Insurance contributions is well in excess of 10% of people’s salaries, whereas the basic state pension it pays out is equal to only about 20% of the average national wage.

In 1970, Seldon’s comments on the Crossman scheme which was then proposed, included the following:

The only thing that is clear is that most people would be paying, as tax-payers and consumers, more than they think they would as employees. Young people especially will be paying in contributions for 30 or 40 years that could have brought them really high pensions if invested at high yields of interest. (p. 78)

The relevant departments of my unfunded independent university are effectively censored and suppressed. They have been prevented for decades from publishing analyses of the complex issues involved, while misleading and tendentious representations of them have continued to flood out from socially recognised sources. I hereby apply, for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed university research department, to all universities, and to corporations or individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.

*Arthur Seldon, The Great Pensions ‘Swindle’, Tom Stacey Books, 1970

17 January 2011

The pensions swindle and euthanasia

The Daily Mail is working on the idea that we should not want to live beyond a certain age and should be pleased for the qualified sadists (medical doctors) to do us in when they think fit. Cilla Black does not want to live beyond the age of 75, it is said, and now Max Hastings comes out with ‘Thanks to medical science, most are in better shape than any previous generation of our age.’

The idea is, no doubt, that it is on account of ‘medical science’ that one in six will become a centenarian. If I get there it will certainly not be on account of 'medical science, as I have always shunned the medical ‘profession’, which has become ever more stupid, unprincipled and sadistic over my lifetime (as I gather from accounts of other people’s experiences).

When IQ was admitted to exist, it was also admitted that high IQ was correlated with longevity, whether as a result of genetic factors or because people with a realistic and forethoughtful approach to life were more likely to avoid the hazards that often led to death at earlier ages.

Most of us would say that we shall not want to continue if we lose our minds: it is tragic to see very old people who have lost contact with reality vegetating for years in the lounge of a care home, head drooping or staring blankly into space. The irony is that when we reach this state, we become incapable of making rational decisions about our own future or anything else.

Better by far (in my opinion) to have no ‘care homes’ at all, at least none financed by the state. What happened before the onset of the Welfare State was that if a person became too dysfunctional to support himself, and had not enough savings of his own or supportive relatives, then he succumbed to adverse conditions and was found dead at home or on the streets without having fallen into the clutches of the medical ‘profession’. Conscious or subconscious motivation of his own may have gone into his failure to provide for and protect himself, but he was not, on the whole, exposed to having decisions made for him by doctors concerning whether it was in his interests to go on living.

No doubt there is a hidden link to the pensions swindle here. Governments do not wish to go on paying the pensions that people were promised, so they need people to agree to euthanasia. Journalists such as Max Hastings, or entertainers such as Cilla Black, must therefore give a strong hint to the population that it would be sensible to let doctors pull the plug when deemed appropriate. They must provide a (notional) example to others by saying they might choose this option for themselves, though they need not necessarily stick to their suggestion when it actually comes to it. I believe it is what modern politicians and economists would call ‘a nudge’.

After two-thirds of a century of Welfare State ideology more people than ever before are reaching the age of 100. They live longer because, among other things, they are provided with money to buy food whether they could otherwise pay for it themselves or not, and medical treatment for all diseases, including obesity and alcoholism, whether or not they could or would pay for it themselves. Also they are prevented by legislation from exposing themselves to various risks which they might not themselves have avoided. And so they are at less of a disadvantage in comparison with the few who would live to a hundred anyway on account of high IQs and/or realism and forethought. Doesn’t that sound fair?

But then, having protected the dysfunctional from the consequences of their accident-prone ways of life, there is too large a population to be provided for out of taxation, so all must have their life-span curtailed, including those who are still functional and would have been so anyway. What could be fairer than that?

From cradle to grave – the social workers will be waiting to whip away your baby if they think there is a risk you will not look after it in the right way; the doctors will be waiting to put you down if they think you would prefer not to go on living, or would prefer not to if you had the right attitudes.

Socialism is incompatible with individual liberty. Capitalism alone protects it.

14 January 2011

How the hell can I go on holiday?

In connection with the previous post, my colleague Fabian has commented to me that nowadays, even if someone felt as I did about the hopelessness of their position in being deprived of an academic career, they would feel too inhibited to admit it, perhaps even to themselves.

In fact I myself wished not to violate social taboos, but I was certainly very strongly aware of the hopelessness of my position as the dominant and overriding consideration in my own mind, and it is not realistic to give accounts of what I said, in these early situations, which often had such far-reaching consequences, without mentioning my own mental processes.

I was always having to find alternative ways of replying to questions without breaking the social taboo. So when Lady McCreery asked about holidays, I might, if a direct and natural reply had been possible, have said, ‘How the hell do you think I can go on a holiday at all, when I have been thrown out without a usable qualification, I have no tolerable way of earning money or of drawing income support (as I would not be supposed to be qualified for any job that I could accept) and my college will give me no support in any plan to get a qualification or to get appointed to do anything that I really could do, whether supposedly “qualified” or not?’

So my reply about curling up with a book on theoretical physics has to be seen as an attempt to say something that was true, but not too violating of social taboos, and which would probably have been true even if I was on a suitable academic career track. I never did set much store by changes of scene per se, and the holiday I remember as having got quite a lot out of when I was eleven had included the reading of H G Wells’s Outline of History, and a popular introduction to atomic physics.

If I had been in a normal life I might have considered going on holiday for some particular variation of intellectual input, and because other people considered it a natural thing to do, probably something like the summer school at Grenoble University which I had been prevented from going to when I was 15. So I might have been able to reply to Lady McCreery, ‘Oh, I usually like going to France or Germany, but I might go to Italy next year.’

As for Lady McCreery’s description of me as ‘patronising, offhand and humourless’, to the extent this was not just projection, whatever in my manner seemed to her to support such a description may well have arisen from my awareness of my horrific position, in which I certainly had no social identity. My position was exceedingly grim, and to the extent that my outlook came across, she might easily describe it as humourless. Comfortable or cheerful it certainly was not.

Similarly, when I met Charles’s sister Sarah, if I had had any normal social identity by which to be introduced, I might have avoided the humorous self-dramatisation. As it was, what I said was true of the underlying realities of my position, and would have been so even if Charles had been able to introduce me as an Oxford professor of physics, chemistry or anything else. In that case, there would have been no need for me to give any further account of myself.

Since the time the events described took place, I have observed many other illustrations of the type of behaviour referred to (in fact it has been a constant feature of my life ever since I was thrown out), and I have concluded that it is part of a general syndrome. People seem not to notice your bad position, talk to you in ways which call for responses from you that are incompatible with that position, and then express surprise or contempt when you do not make adequate responses of the required kind – or, when you make efforts to do so without entirely denying the facts of your life, they mock those efforts. It is pragmatically useful to assume that they are not really unaware of the underlying realities, but that they are enjoying the fact that they can put you under socially sanctioned pressure to distort yourself, and can denounce you to others if you fail to do so.

13 January 2011

An MP and the Education Minister: joking about my position

With regard to the events described by Charles McCreery in the previous post:

I always felt that I was in a most unnatural position of intolerable deprivation in having been thrown out of Oxford with no recognition of my need to get back onto a normal university career track (meaning normal for me) as soon as possible.

And so when anyone started to talk to me as if getting to know me, or even interacting with me about something, I was always surprised at their failing to recognise the obvious, and not saying ‘What a terrible position you are in! We must find a way of helping you to get back.’

When they did not show any signs of recognition and instead talked to me about holidays, or criticised the way I interacted with people, I was always shocked and amazed, although I said nothing. I was not in a normal life, and until I was, nothing like holidays, or concealing my awareness of people’s hostility towards me (I was called ‘tactless’ for failing to make my antagonists sound sweetly reasonable), could be expected of me. A down-and-out living in a packing case cannot be expected to welcome visitors to tea in the same way as a person living in a semi-detached with lace curtains.

And then again, if a person is in a terrible position so that their only chances depend on someone being prepared to make an exception in their favour, surely responsible influential people would be especially careful not to say damaging things about that person. Obviously the ‘Celia of the universe’ slander, like so many others, could only be damaging to any chance I had of a benefactor recognising the anomaly of my outcast position.

Charles refers to his conversation with Norman St John Stevas in the presence of the then Education Minister – just the sort of person that I thought should be interested in hearing about how so anomalous a situation could have arisen, and feel it his business to remedy it. But here was Norman talking about me, in front of him, as being associated with a ludicrous slander that distanced me from any possibility of being regarded as an exceptionally able, but otherwise perfectly normal and respectable, academic who was only prevented by an egregious anomaly from re-entering a suitable career at a senior level.

12 January 2011

A student of the universe

The following is an account which my colleague Dr Charles McCreery has sent to the prospective biographer of his father, the late General Sir Richard McCreery, which describes two further episodes concerning my interactions with his family.
I attach a copy of a piece which Dr Green blogged recently which refers to her first (and virtually only) meeting with my mother.

This occasion dates to a time when, as I have already mentioned, far from cutting myself off from my family, I was attempting to include them in my chosen line of work, and before I had realized that these attempts were futile, indeed counter-productive, inasmuch as they were used by my family to generate fresh canards of a destructive kind.

In this instance my mother emerged from the meeting (I had left them alone together) looking triumphant, and saying: ‘I sized her up immediately: completely humourless’.

In fact it might be argued that it was my mother who had displayed the sense of humour failure on this occasion. During the interview she had asked my colleague where she went for her holidays. Dr Green had not been able to afford a holiday for years; or perhaps I should say that, having been driven out from Somerville without a research grant, she had chosen to save every possible pound from her small salary from the Society for Psychical Research towards being able to buy a house in Oxford.

To avoid making my mother appear tactless, Celia had replied to the effect that her idea of a holiday was to curl up with a book on theoretical physics.

My mother reported this exchange to me with apparent glee, as if it supported her ‘humourless’ assessment.

My family apparently suffered a similar sense of humour failure following my sister Sarah's first (and, again, virtually only) meeting with Dr Green. The latter is given to making layered or provocative remarks of a would-be humorous nature to people she considers open to such things, and on seeing my sister for the first time she felt, rightly or wrongly, that my sister fell into this category. Accordingly, she introduced herself to my sister by saying, ‘I am a student of the universe from Oxford.’ Both elements of this statement were true on a literal level, since my colleague specialized in theoretical physics during her first (maths) degree. It could, of course, also be taken on a more philosophical level, if someone was so minded.

This utterance became transmuted by my family into something not at all humorous, and seriously damaging, namely ‘I am Celia of the universe’. This slanderous version proved to have much more staying power than the real one. Decades later (in 1987), I met Norman St. John-Stevas (as he then was) while he and the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, Kenneth Baker (now Lord Baker of Dorking), were queueing outside the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford to vote in the election for Vice-Chancellor of the university. Norman came out with: ‘And how is Celia of the universe?’ This was despite the fact that Dr Green and I had met Norman on more than one occasion in the intervening years and we had both corrected him in person as to what Celia had actually said. Clearly the risible and slanderous implications of the distorted version had far greater appeal.

As my colleague remarks in another of her published aphorisms: ‘The mature person never tells the truth when a lie will do.’(1)

(1) Green, C., The Decline and Fall of Science, Hamish Hamilton, 1976, p. 169.

10 January 2011

Civilisation and capitalism

Capitalism is often referred to pejoratively, as in this quotation from popular author Oliver James.

Selfish Capitalism, much more than genes, is extremely bad for your mental health.

Oliver James is an Old Etonian who has managed to succeed in modern society, but who does nothing to help us, who have been less fortunate than himself.

Last year my colleague Dr Charles McCreery attended an Old Etonian reunion dinner at Blenheim Palace at which Oliver James was supposed to be present, although Charles did not see him there. Charles was attempting to raise awareness of our situation among the Old Etonian population, but neither Oliver James nor any other of them has taken any interest in finding out about our needs for help of all kinds.

* * *

Civilisation does not arise because anyone wants or appreciates it. It is an unstable and accidental by-product of commercialism, superimposed on a population which has a long-standing property-owning (capitalistic) hereditary aristocracy. Until the commercialism arises, the aristocrats do not arouse hostility on a significant level, because their abilities are fully engaged in stressful and excoriating activities, such as defending and running their estates, fighting in wars, etc.

With the advent of commercialism, however, some of them start to be free to use their abilities in ways to which they are well-suited, which they are getting something out of, and which may lead to extensions in the understanding of reality, such as scientific enquiry, exploration or composing music. This arouses hostility because they are seen as ‘too happy’ (as I was before I was prevented from taking the School Certificate exam at 13) and they are then described as ‘leisured’ and ‘idle’.

The next stage is that democracy sets in, partly on account of the idealistic respect for individuality which the ‘privileged’ elite has started to develop. Unfortunately, this transmission downwards of aristocratic values, such as self-determination, means that the incipient civilisation is doomed. Instead of liberating autonomy-loving instincts, the extension of freedom liberates destructive impulses. The possibility of owning property on a scale sufficient to provide freedom of action is rightly recognised as the most important thing to be destroyed, and society heads back to a state of communistic tribalism.

This is the inevitable result of democracy; the majority of people have no interest in maintaining a situation in which at least a few people have the freedom (i.e. capital) to use their abilities in a way which suits them, so capitalism and thus individual liberty become eroded, as is now happening. This is in spite of the fact that a relatively civilised society was in some ways advantageous to the general population.

* See here for an interesting twist on James’s affluenza theory.

07 January 2011

The absurdity of the ‘social tariff’

Recently there was a proposal that the winter fuel allowance, paid to those over 65, should be effectively means-tested by being paid only to those who already qualified for some other means-tested benefit. Those receiving the basic state pension, but not the supplementary income support, would stop receiving it, thus noticeably increasing the disadvantage of not qualifying for the supplement.

Probably this was considered too obvious a form of means-testing, so this benefit (winter fuel allowance) was continued as payable to all over a certain age, regardless of their assets. But what has now been surreptitiously introduced is another form of energy-related concession, which will (effectively) be means-tested: the so-called ‘social tariff’ of the energy companies.

One is now informed that if one is over 60 one ‘should be better off’ on the ‘social tariff’, though one can only find out if one is eligible by ringing up one of the energy companies. So now, presumably, there will be less need for pensions to be adequate, since all who cannot ‘afford’ energy will not have to pay for it. This will therefore probably drop out of the ‘cost of living’ used to assess pensioners’ needs, in the same way that the cost of healthcare has dropped out of it, since you are supposed to regard the ‘free’ NHS as an acceptable alternative to medication for which you might formerly have wished to pay.

No, the newspaper says, if you are on the ‘social tariff’ the supplier will not worry if you are late paying your bill but (although the newspaper does not say so) they may of course notify the social services to see if you would not be better off in a ‘care home’. As, of course, they might when you make your first telephone call to them to find out whether you are eligible for the ‘social tariff’ .

When the state pension started to be effectively ‘means-tested’, and to ‘wither on the vine’, I thought that however far it fell below one’s real needs it would at least have to preserve some relationship to the cost of the most basic physical needs. But no. Never underestimate the cunning of governments.

How about food and clothing suppliers being made to set up ‘social tariffs’ as well, so that the cost of food and clothing will vary according to the means of the purchaser?

Then it would not matter if the basic state pension is clearly inadequate to pay for the costs of living in food and clothing, as well as gas and electricity.

06 January 2011

More on the state's infidelity

I wrote previously about what the government has now announced it will not pay to Christine and Fabian by delaying the age for receiving pensions, although they are both already fully paid up (or very nearly so) after decades of hard work in making qualifying contributions out of a low and often non-existent income without ever getting into debt. Only of very recent years has the threat arisen of changing the pensionable age from that which was known and expected throughout those decades.

Of course, old-fashioned private pension schemes could not get away with breaking their contracts in this way. Perhaps modern ones can if the government legislates that they must. The government itself, of course, can claim that it cannot afford not to without damaging its provisions to the real needs of foreign aid, the medical and educational oppressions, and social interference of every kind. It would not do at all if someone were rewarded for conscientiousness in making voluntary contributions by getting a pension of greater value than the benefits which could be claimed by the unforethoughtful. You might call that elitism.

Recently a new pension scheme was proposed which would not depend at all on contributions made, but only on some years of residence in the country. Those who had made contributions under the old scheme would receive their pensions under the old system, which would be less.

With a bit of delayed reaction time, it started to be suggested that it might not be fair for those who had paid contributions to get less than those who had not, and I think it has now been reluctantly agreed that those who had paid into the old system would get their pensions upgraded to the level of the new system.

The changing face of paternalism

In my piece about Christmas Benefits, a lady receiving benefits is quoted as saying that if the government gives her money she has a right to spend it as she pleases and should not be criticised for doing so. Evidently there is sufficiently general sympathy with this view of the matter for many people like herself to continue receiving similar forms of support with no detailed enquiry into the use that is made of them. (I am not suggesting detailed enquiries should be being made. Apart from anything else, it would be prohibitively expensive. In principle I agree that if the state gives an individual enough taxpayers’ money for him or her to save out of, that is the individual’s business. The problem is that it is not realistic to go on paying benefits on this scale.)

The attitudes which I have encountered throughout my life, and certainly from the time when I was prevented from taking the School Certificate exam at 13, have been diametrically opposed to the permissiveness and generosity which is shown to people in the position of the Christmas Benefits lady.

When I was 21, thrown out at the end of the ruined education with no usable qualification, I found that I could get a research grant from Trinity College, Cambridge to do a postgraduate degree, which I hoped would get me back on to an academic career track. Rosalind Heywood at the Society for Psychical Research, presumably not yet in focus on my unacceptable outlook, and thinking of me as of any other impoverished young student, suggested at that early stage that I should apply to the Parapsychology Foundation in New York for supplementary funding, to which she would evidently give her influential support. I remember discussing with W H Salter and Sir George Joy in the office how much I should apply for, and Salter said in a throwaway manner, ‘Americans always give enormous grants. See what you think you really need and apply for twice as much.’

In fact I saved money throughout the period of my postgraduate degree at Oxford (in spite of taking more taxis than other people would have done) by making the most economical arrangements possible, and continuing with the policy which I was already applying to my paltry SPR salary of regarding only half of my income as available for spending.

At various stages during my postgraduate studies, Rosalind became suspicious and tried to force me to give an exhaustive account of how every penny was disposed of. I was not very good at making up an acceptable cover story. I am sure that many students spent a lot more than I did, but I was not in focus on their most expensive activities, and most of what I spent the money on was unacceptable.

Eventually, at the end of the Trinity College grant, it became necessary to obtain funding for the next stage. I did not conceal from my chief supporters, Sir George and Salter, that I had saved a couple of thousand pounds. Both of them, at different times, appeared shocked at my saving money, but the income from my capital was clearly trivial, so Salter, overcoming his horror and dismay, filled in ‘negligible private income’ on application forms for funding.

However, no funding at all could be obtained from any source, and all prospective support broke down. So I was forced to finance myself and any associates without any outside funding, and without being eligible for ‘income support’ since, as I have explained before, I could not apply for ‘social security’ as I was not considered qualified for any job that I could have accepted.

The rigorous withholding of support continued for years, in fact until the present day, and I suppose the idea was that I would be forced to run down my small capital until even that tiny piece of independence was destroyed.

At the end of the seven-year covenant from Cecil King, Lady Hardy (wife of Sir Alister Hardy and sister of the Bursar of Somerville) asked a friend of mine what we were going to do when the King money ended. Would we be leaving the house in the Banbury Road? ‘Well, no,’ my friend said. ‘We will be continuing to live there as before.’ And, my friend said, Lady Hardy’s face dropped unmistakeably, which implies that Lady Hardy was anticipating as a pleasurable experience my being thrown out on the streets without a salary or a roof over my head. Being deprived of this anticipated pleasure was enough of a disappointment for this to show visibly in her expression.

One may contrast this situation with Miss Bookey’s apparent pleasure and enjoyment of my joyful happiness on having the opportunity to get ahead in the Lower Fifth.

At the end of the King money, one might have expected senior academics, enquiring into the position of much younger people attempting to do progressive research in a situation of great difficulty, to be doing so in order to examine ways and means of replacing at least some parts of the vanishing support, so that the aspiring and hard-working young people could carry on.

In fact everyone was always obviously pleased at any misfortune that befell us, and obviously displeased at any disaster we managed to avert.

Miss Bookey, and the Reverend Mother before I was prevented from taking the School Certificate exam, clearly represented an attitude that had only been possible to an earlier generation, of being pleased to see an exceptional person deriving benefit from their ability, and being glad to have the opportunity to help them do so.

You could call both attitudes paternalism, in the sense of thinking you know what would be ‘right’ for someone. In one case you think it is right to help them, in the other that it is right to ruin them.

03 January 2011

Your name will be up there one day

The following is an extract from a piece which my colleague Dr Charles McCreery has sent to the person who is planning to write a book about his father, the late General Sir Richard McCreery. It gives some background to my post about the sacrifices of sadism, which refers to his father paying his Eton school fees.

I started to read when I was three. By the age of five I was reading Biggles books, of which there were a large number in the house. When I was four and my sister was six we acquired a governess, Miss Gigg. At first she gave us lessons separately, on account of the age difference (my sister is a year and nine months older than I). However, it soon became apparent that I was able to keep up with my sister academically, and the governess gave us lessons together.

In this context it may be relevant to mention that I was told that the whole of my sister’s boarding school (St. Mary’s, Wantage) was once given an IQ test, and that my sister came top.

When I was sent to boarding school at the age of nine, I came top of the introductory class and my colleague Celia Green remembers me telling her soon after we met (in 1963) that the lady who took this class, Miss Wright, on one occasion looked at a list of boys who had won scholarships to public schools in the past and said, ‘Your name will be up there one day’.

However, my parents gave me to understand that the reason for my apparent exceptionality was that I had had a governess from the age of four. They then colluded with the headmaster to prevent me from taking a scholarship to Eton.

As one of Dr Green’s aphorisms points out, ‘It is very easy to make someone into a failure; you have only to prevent them from being a success.’