A blog by Patrick Crozier

Words and a loon

October 05, 2002

Cowardice
Patrick Crozier

Over on The Edge, Iain Murray mentions the killings in Maryland. One of the comments is to the effect that whoever is carrying out these shootings is a coward.

Well, I disagree. Evil, verminous, wrong. Yes, I would use those words certainly. But cowardly? I don't think so. The penalties (whether death or life imprisonment) are severe. The chances are that he won't even get that far.

It is interesting that we always seek to belittle the courage of our enemies. The same applies to their sexual prowess - Hitler has only got one ball and all that. I have no problem in stating that many IRA men are extremely brave. Just wrong that's all.

Clarke attacks Duncan Smith
Patrick Crozier

From the Telegraph. For what it's worth, I gave up on IDS at the beginning of the year. I'll give a leader 100 days. After that you pretty much know what he's going to be like. The great shame is that he has never stood up and said what he really believes. Had he done so I think he would have done far better.

Anti-war man wins footpath fight
Patrick Crozier

This is a man who sits outside the Houses of Parliment everyday protesting. The local council wanted to evict him for obstruction but the judge said that that would infringe his human rights. In that case there's nothing for it. What we need is for a whole bunch of anti-Saddam protestors to go down there and occupy his site.

Time for Currency Restoration
Patrick Crozier

This prompts me to finally unveil my plan for currency restoration: to bring back pounds, shillings and pence at 1900 values.

The smallest unit of currency will be the farthing which will replace the 5p. A penny will be worth 20p while a shilling will be worth 2.40. A pound will be worth 48 not far off the present day value of a 1900 pound (50).

The great advantage of this is that now we live in non-inflationary times the new currency is unlikely to lose its value unlike the current crappy imposter. We will also be able to reconnect with our past and quickly be able to find out a) how much richer we are and b) how much cheaper most things are.

Things I've noticed
Patrick Crozier

Major's Arabic doppelganger - Mark Steyn - moderately amusing
Virgin hype hits buffers - I am pretty sure there are (or is) a new train on the West Coast Main Line.
From the Telegraph:

So up house prices continue to go, reflecting the chronic mismatch of supply and demand, and the world's most sophisticated mortgage market coupled to an increasingly Stalinist planning system.
So Theresa May describes herself as Chairman of the Conservative Party. And there was I thinking that she was all bad.

September 29, 2002

Why do poor people breed?
Patrick Crozier

This is something of a work in progress. I will try to update it next time I'm awake but in the meantime I would appreciate comments on what is already here.

This came out of a discussion I had at Brian's last Last Friday. I can't remember how we got on to the subject but the reasoning went as follows:

We know that poor people have more children. We know this because the populations of poorer countries are rapidly expanding while here in the West they are almost at a standstill.

But poor people are in the worst possible position to have children. They don't have any money. Healthcare, sanitation etc tend to be ropey. They die young so have less opportunity to breed. So, why do they?

Because they can't get contraception? I am doubtful about this one. It assumes that poor people don't want children. Is that really the case?

Because sex is fun and the entertainment alternatives are limited? So going down the pub is better than having sex with someone you fancy? I don't think so.

Those were a couple of the reasons put forward.

Maybe, we are looking at this question from the wrong angle. The assumption is that it is poor people who are aberrant. But maybe, it is the rich West who are the odd ones out. Let's face it throughout history people bred like rabbits. OK, so the survival rates were low but they still bred. Our current generation is almost unique in having a low birthrate. Why is that?

I think it is an important question. Negative birthrates are a quick way to extermination. As things currently stand unless immigrants take up the torch our civilisation is doomed.

Is it female emancipation? I do hope not.

Let me propose a new idea.

Comparative costs. In the last 100 years the costs of having children have massively increased while the costs of doing other things have plummeted.

On the family side the cost of providing a roof has gone up under the burden of planning regulations. Meanwhile, children are prevented for longer from making a contribution to the family budget.

On the non-family side a 100 years ago travelling to the next town would have been something you thought twice about. But now a whole generation have taken advantage of Round-the-World tickets. Lots of other things, from food to clothes to music have collapsed in price.

September 26, 2002

Up with Monarchy, down with Democracy
Patrick Crozier

There's a bit of a kerfuffle here in the UK about Prince Charles. Apparently, he has opinions of his own and has been expressing them in letters to ministers. Queue outrage from the usual suspects which goes something along the lines of "He's not elected how dare he meddle in politics."

The implication is clear: only democratically-elected politicians have a right to make laws.

First: no they don't. Our liberties are innate. They are ours by virtue of being alive. No one but no one has the right to take them away. They just think they do.

Second. Democracy doesn't work. It is difficult to put a date on when the UK became a democracy - indeed even now the vote is denied the under 18s, prisoners, the insane, members of the House of Lords and members of the royal family - but ever since the franchise began to be extended in the 1830s the British have seen a steady erosion of their liberties.

It is not difficult to see why. I think it was Thomas Carlyle who said something along the lines of "I doubt the collective wisdom of the individually stupid." He might have said a whole load more if he had been aware of public choice theory and the way that democracy legitimises legalised theft.

Yes, I actually said that. Democracy doesn't work. It may indeed be the guiding principle of our constitution. It may indeed be something we are encouraged to honour. Phrases such as "freedom and democracy" spring to mind. But it doesn't alter the fact. It doesn't work and it has to go.

So, what should we replace it with? Funny you should ask that but we could do a lot worse than read the works of Montesquieu and especially his masterpiece "The Spirit of the Laws".

Montesquieu was a French aristocrat who believed in liberty. He asked himself two questions (this was in about 1750, I think): Which country on earth is most free and what are the guiding principles of its constitution? Following an entirely empirical approach and after exhaustive (at least exhaustive on the part of his researchers) he came up with the country: Britain. He then started to look at its constitutional principles.

The first thing he found was that power was dispersed. The monarch had the power of appointment but could not raise taxes or make laws without the agreement of Parliament. The judiciary, although appointed by the monarch could not be sacked by him. So, their independence was guaranteed.

The second thing he found was that each element of the constitution was appointed in a different way: the Monarch and the House of Lords by birth, the House of Commons by (non-democratic) election and the Judiciary by appointment. This he believed was vital in making sure one could not dominate the other and hence that a tyrant could not seize power.

When the framers of the US constitution did their work they did little more than codify the British constitution of the day replacing the monarch with an elected President. This was their mistake.

Meanwhile in Britain we have had two hundred years of expanding democracy and an expanding state. Democracy has usurped power in Britain to the extent that to all intents and purposes we live in an elected dictatorship.

And this is where Prince Charles comes in. The monarch, in the form of his mother, is the last vestige of the balanced system. She still has (theoretically at least) some pretty impressive powers. She can dissolve parliament, appoint ministers and judges, declare war, negotiate treaties and block legislation. It is time that the monarch started using them and, failing that, it is absolutely vital that the monarch does not allow those powers to be removed.

I believe that given the right sort of intellectual support the monarch could very easily start regaining some of her/his powers. Elections themselves are usually fought over a very small number of issues. But the results of those elections are used to smuggle in no end of laws and taxes that no one voted for. A monarch would be entirely within his rights to say: "No one voted for that EU treaty, or ID cards, or compulsory metrication. If you want to get it past me, Matey, you'll have to fight an election. In the meantime concentrate on what you got elected for."

Of course, this doesn't mean that bad laws won't get passed. And it certainly isn't a shortcut to freedom. But it makes it less likely that those laws will be passed.

Monarchy, has been brought into disrepute over the last two and a half centuries. But as Hans-Hermann Hoppe (I think) has pointed out there are many advantages to a monarchy. The principle one is that a monarch is around for a long time and that (typically, at least) he wants to hand over something of value to his son.

Frankly, the history of a powerful (but not absolute) monarchy is far more impressive than a powerful democracy.

August 24, 2002

Modern Houses - Update #3
Patrick Crozier

Alistair Twiname replies:

Your councillor friend makes some good points about over regulation causing declining standards of housing. However the regulations encouraging minimum densities are very recent additions, the problem with modern housing is not a question of density, the number units per hectare of a typical Victorian development (Islington in London, Marchmont in Edinburgh et all) was way, way higher that what is currently built on Greenfield developments. yet these are the lofty spacious houses that we bemoan the loss of. The real problem is the developers' lack of imagination and skill in creating density, developers have decided that people would rather die than live in a terrace house or in a flat. They build detached rabbit-hutches with a garage instead of making decent terraces / tenements they have stuck to their formula and people bought it. Council's demanding higher density is more likely to be the cure rather than the cause of the problem. I am all for the reduction of the amount of regulation in the construction industry but the real problem is the lack of skill and understanding.

Building regulations, (which affect the sizes of doors, fire escapes etc) have made building a building a far more technical activity but I cannot see that as an excuse for poor building. Citing the 70s as a era that passed the building regs and repeated the formula is a fudge, that's what they did when they built Bath, Edinburgh and Bloomsbury 200 years ago.. the problem wasn't that they repeated, the problem was that they repeated something that wasn't worth repeating.

Maybe developers do lack imagination. But the question is why do they lack it now when they had such an abundance of it in the past? The other question is why isn't the market working to provide the sorts of properties that people want when it works so well in other fields like cars, chocky bars and mobile phones?

August 22, 2002

Modern houses - Update #2
Patrick Crozier

Alistair Twiname, who is an architect ie a real person who actually knows something wrote:

I reckon your right.. the vast majority of modern housing is drivel, although I'd say the worst of it is over.. some new houses are not all that bad (see Wayne H and Barratt)

Though one thing I'd say you miss is that whilst workmanship standards have dropped (something to do with having to pay builders enough to live on or some other commie nonsense) the actual performance of buildings in terms of waterproofness, thermal performance, heating, ventilation etc is far far superior. plus with new-ish technologies like galvanising steel and preserving timber they might not fall down as quick as I'd like them to. I'm not sure about the crampedness of houses getting worse either, compare the living space of a factory worker 100 years ago with today. I heard a statistic that said that if current houses continue to be replaced at the current rate the newest ones will be as old as the pyramids when they get replaced. Our problem is we don't have the mechanism to build very big chucks of city and towns and don't have the Victorian political/entrepreneurial muscle to do it any more. Still the lack of thought, organisation and brain power put into our housing is staggering.

That's a hell of lot of points in a hell of a small space. I enjoyed seeing the reference to large housing estates. As I understand it this was pioneered in Britain by the Metropolitan Railway. Yes, they built John Betjeman's Metroland. So, it seems they did a good job. Funnily enough, private Japanese railways have, in more recent times, done exactly the same. See Saito's paper on Japanese railway diversification. Once again their developments are regarded as being a cut above the rest.

Modern houses - Update #1
Patrick Crozier

TBHNT is something of a hobby blog - one that only occasionally gets updated, and so, only occasionally gets read. So, I have been overwhelmed with the response to my piece on modern housing especially since Brian Micklethwait plugged it on Samizdata.

John Harrison who in addition to having the dubious distinction of being an ex-university chum of mine is also a Conservative councillor wrote me a long e-mail about how he sees things from his end. He wrote:

You raise an interesting question about modern housing and whether smaller rooms and bad workmanship are caused by controls such as the planning regime. I would suggest that numerous different factors have an influence but the main ones are planning, building regulations, consumer choice and latterly new planning guidance such as PPG3.

Since Metropolitan Green Belts were established, there has been increasing pressure on builders to locate new housing on a diminishing supply of land within existing settlements rather than by spreading the suburbs further over green fields. So we end up with smaller houses as a result of less land being available for building. Under new Planning Policy Guidance 3, Councils are encouraged to seek increasing densities of housing so the trend is set to intensify.

The other influence of the planning system is that Councils try to extract planning gain, so that as part of a development, developers have to stump up cash for new roads, schools, and increasingly provide a proportion of the land for 'affordable' housing. So to make a site profitable, developers have to make enough profit out of the remaining land to cover the development of the whole site. This adds to the pressure on house prices because the 'affordable' housing does not add to the supply in the market since it is only available to those who can not afford to buy. This creates a further incentive for developers to cram as many houses as possible on the part of the site that remains theirs to sell. Of course, many housebuyers have little option but to buy the smaller houses since the prices have been pushed up by the planning system and these are all they can now afford. The reason for smaller rooms, I suspect, is that builders are responding to legitimate consumer preferences. Given a certain size of footprint for the property, would you rather have three bedrooms or four? Properties with more bedrooms sell for a higher price, even if one of those rooms barely gives enough space to rotate a feline.

Land and buildings are expensive and builders need to build to a timescale and budget that allow them to sell at a price that finds a buyer in the market. With all the costs loaded on them by planning policies and planning gain and affordable housing quotas, is it any wonder that the quality of the build suffers?

There is also the effect of the building regulations which increasing lay down standards which must be followed, prescribing all sorts of things from the width of doors to the steepness of staircases. Once a house design has passed the hurdles of this the builder will re-use it over and over again - the bland designs of the 1970s come to mind. Councils have, to some extent, learnt that this leads to very boring street scenes and to their credit, insist on variations in design to give some interest to the view but within all the constraints of the planning system, these variations are only cosmetic - a few different coloured bricks here and there; use of a few different 'standard' house designs through a street.

One comment and one question. I like the idea that the up-front costs of obtaining planning permission have an impact on the speed of development. The question is: if building is confined to urban areas why don't people try to build taller buildings? I imagine that if every building in the South East sprouted an extra storey the housing crisis would disappear overnight.

August 17, 2002

Why are modern houses so bad?
Patrick Crozier

I caught an item on last night's Newsnight on house design. Wayne Hemingway, the oh-so-trendy person-famous-for-being-on-TV had slagged off Wimpey homes for being unimaginative. Unexpectedly, they decided to call his bluff and asked him to come up with some ideas of his own.

I have to say I rather agree with Mr Hemingway. During the 1997 general election I was helping a friend canvass in Preston. One of the places we canvassed was a brand-new housing estate. It was one of the greatest exercises in pastiche I have ever seen. They seemed to have taken a few photos of pre-WWI houses and sought to recreate them down to the last detail. It's at this point that I realise that I don't know how to describe architectural features. Let's just say there were a variety of differently-coloured bricks, tiles on the front, white-painted barge boards and various other frills.

I couldn't make up my mind whether I liked it or not. On the one hand, these sorts of estates are a vast improvement on the amazingly bland private developments of the 1960s and 1970s. On the other, we are an astonishingly prosperous and advanced society. In concrete, steel and glass we have a range of materials that our ancestors could only have dreamt of. Other, more traditional materials are available at a fraction of the previous price. And all we can do is produce is pastiche. What does this say about us?

Walk round almost any British town or city and something will shout out at you. Almost all the desirable properties were built before World War One. Drop a martian in Britain and tell him nothing but the approximate date of construction of each building and he would have to conclude that something awful happened shortly after 1910.

A good friend of mine also points out that quality is way down. Houses and flats, nowadays are much smaller, room sizes are smaller and ceilings lower. Brickwork, carpentry and roofing are done in a slapdash and amateurish manner. I find it difficult to disagree.

Why is that? Is it all the fault of capitalism? Well, I think we can dismiss that one out of hand - just ask yourself what sort of house you want to live in and then ask yourself whether it was built by the state or private enterprise.

Now I would dearly like to blame socialism for all of this. I would dearly like to point out that the bigger the state the worse the housing. I would dearly like to blame this crisis on the rise of taxation and especially the phenomenon of planning controls. But I have a problem with cause and effect. Sure, we have planning controls and sure, we have bland developments but what's the connection. I really don't know. I sometimes play with the idea that planning produces some highly undesirable results. For instance that major housebuilders are firstly machines for obtaining planning permission and only secondly builders of houses. I also toy with the idea that because of planning controls, the market for property is so tight that people are prepared to buy almost anything.

Perhaps it's our obsession with home ownership. As I understand it, in 1914, the vast majority of people rented. So, you had a cadre of experienced landlords who knew what to look for. In such an environment contractors had to be very careful to do a good job or else they would miss out on repeat business.

I also can't help feeling that the high-rise disasters of the 1960s have a lot to do with it. The vast majority of these were built in a rush by the state. Many were built badly and those that weren't were filled with some of the most undesirable tenants imaginable. High-rise became synonymous with hell hole and new tall buildings were to all intents and purposes banned. The fact that there are many successful privately-managed high-rise blocks in North America was ignored but the damage to the cause of modernity was done.

Well that's my two cents. Any comments would be very much welcome.

August 14, 2002

Do we need a police force?
Patrick Crozier

The case of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman has made me wonder if we need a police force at all.

Here's how the alternative might work. We set up this huge internet-enabled database. The sponsorship would come from the many big companies who would like to be associated with it. People would log in to enter details of crimes committed. The crime would be logged. If it had taken place in the recent past, we could send out an immediate text alert to all mobile phones in the area. Something along the lines of: "Black mountain bike stolen - have you seen anything?" People could then report in to say "Oh yes, I saw one being ridden by so and so." This would also be logged on the computer and be made generally available. Private citizens could then follow up the lead. If they needed to gain entrance to a property they could apply to a magistrate for a warrant, though it is more likely that professionals would engage in this sort of thing. Once the lead had been investigated private citizens would report back and the lead would be marked as closed off.

The thing about the Holly and Jessica case that struck me was how willing the general public were to help and how hopelessly incapable the police were of responding to all the leads generated. This led to huge delays in following up leads. Had the general public been co-opted and organised into a lead-following force then it is quite possible that we would have got to the bottom of this far earlier.

Standards have dropped
Patrick Crozier

On Radio 4's Today programme this morning there was a discussion on the A-level situation. The two interviewees were Professor. Anthony O'Hear and Professor. Heinz Wolf, the nation's favourite German.

They were each given a set of papers from this year and an equivalent set from 1975. O'Hear was in no doubt: standards had dropped. Wolf, on the other hand tried to be nice about it. He said that the questions were different - in that you didn't have to write essays anymore. He said that examinations were different - more continuous assessment ie more chances for teachers to do all the work. And he said that the curriculum wasn't as broad. This was devastating stuff not least from someone who seemed to be trying not to be critical.

All this dovetails with my own experiences. When I took O Level French in (ahem) the early 1980s we were given papers from the 1960s as practice. We couldn't do them. We were defeated by both a much wider vocabulary and a much wider grammar. The same year I took O Level Maths and was dead chuffed with my results. However, I was taken down a peg or two when I discovered the next year when studying calculus that my mother had had to learn if for O Level.

The rot set in a long, long time ago.

August 06, 2002

Rageh Omaar live from Baghdad
Patrick Crozier

Rageh Omaar was being interviewed from Baghdad by Jeremy Bowen on this morning's BBC Breakfast show in one of those ghastly reporter to reporter interviews.

The topic of the interview was what ordinary Iraqi people think about the war. Quite unbelievably (or should that be "entirely predictably") the BBC's finest managed to warble on for a good five minutes or so without once mentioning the fact that Iraq is a tyranny.

Now forgive me for sounding just a little bit thick, but isn't it just possible that the prospect of being dragged away by the secret police and being subjected to torture followed by death or years in a labour camp, might have had an ever so slight bearing on what people said?

There was something else that the boys from the Beeb missed. Namely, does it matter what ordinary Iraqis think? And that brings us back to what it is like living in a tyranny. Your opinions don't count. Mind you, I if you had gone to the effort of sending a reporter and camera crew to Baghdad, you might be loath to own up that it had been a complete waste of time.

One remark caught my attention. According to Omaar, most Iraqis know perfectly well what is going on in the outside world because they have satellite TV. Now, I am way out of my depth on this one but is it really that difficult to control satellite TV? After all, dishes are pretty obvious. And if lots of people do have dishes are there, perhaps, other ways to control what people see? I just find it very difficult to believe that a regime like Saddam's would make so much effort to control other forms of media only allow a coach and horses through this one.