Tuesday, 18 September 2007

I love Richard Dawkins

He's chair for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford and does it brilliantly.

I read a lot of popular science stuff and listen to lectures, but no one has explained any theory of science as easily to me as Dawkins has Darwin and natural selection. In various articles, the 1991 Royal Institute Christmas Lectures and The God Delusion he does it brilliantly. I guess that's because biology is just easier to explain than fundamental physics which I usually read about, which is heavily mathematical. But anyway I thought I had a familiarity with evolution, it's the stuff we all did in secondary school - random adaptations to the environment, meaning future generations are equipped better to pass on there genes. However, I still had doubts as to the probability of all of life evolving until Dawkins brilliantly explained the 'spreading out of improbability' across thousands of millenia. 'climbing mount improbable' is the analogy he uses, rather than one massive leap from simple single cell bacteria to, say, a human eye it's rather a graduated approach.

The idea of the origin of life is fascinating. I've come across pan-spermia before, but never really gave it much thought. To think that somehow a massively improbable event occurred and a self replicating bunch of amino acids eventually formed DNA and natural selection took over to produce everything in the world. Just wow.

I also like how Dawkins deals with epistemological questions, he tends to treat them as junk and that only the material world exists. There's just something deeply unsatisfying to me about positing a meta-physical world, outside the material universe where god exists. I've attempted to read some philosophy discourse on the matter, but to be honest it just gave me a headache. I don't have any particular strong answers for arguments for a world outside materialism other than that it an axiomatic assumption that we simply do not need to prove. Every theory starts somewhere, we might as well start from the premise only the material world exists and that is all there is. Godel even proved that even mathematics as to have a little faith, it's axioms cannot be proved and inquiry cannot continue past a certain level.

However Dawkins falls into the trap that I'm always accusing economists of - mathematical philosophy without empirical evidence. He posits the multi-verse theory as an explanation of how the fundamental constants (strong/weak force etc) just happen to be at the correct levels in order to create a universe capable of harboring life. Dawkins posits that this may be perhaps one of a multiverse. The constants could be widely different in differing universes in the multiverse, however, due to the anthropomorphic principle - the principle that the universe is the way it is because if it wasn't we would be unable to observe it, we necessarily evolved on the perfect universe, where all the fundamental constants were ideal. If we didn't, we would not be here to observe it.

Whatever the brain world/multiverse theory is, it is not a theory of empirical physics. It's purely mathematical, and as far as I'm aware, not falsifiable much like string theory. It'll forever be a theory of philosophy or like any economic theory you care to adduce. This is precisely the trap that Dawkins rightly concludes that theists fall into - imagining worlds outside the material universe. However, it seems to be fine if you have lots of fancy maths to back up your philosophy rather than extravagant philosophic reasoning.

Some other things about evolutionary psychology interested me too. The idea that natural selection does not necessarily lead to senses capable of interpreting the true, objective universe. Truth is of no Darwinian utility, only passing on genes is; so what makes us think we can trust our senses? This is obviously the old epistemological question of how we know anything. However, I'd argue we aren't slaves to our senses any longer. We, for whatever reason, evolved the mental acuity to perform complex mathematical operations and mathematics gives us an objectivity that, perhaps, our senses lack. Pure speculation, but I think the reason why quantum mechanics seems to make no sense to us is precisely because we've evolved to understand the macro-world, not the quantum one. But mathematics, for some unknown reason, is our gateway into this world. So we can probe deeper and deeper, and hopefully experimentally confirm.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Ideas for a paper: Hi-defintion supply and consumer demand - the manufacter of wants

I read alot of AVS's HD forums it's mostly people 'debating' about what format is better, Blu-ray or HD DVD. The debates get so anal that there's a huge thread over "it's not HD-DVD, it's HD DVD". Yes, seriously.

Anyway I got thinking this morning about the manufacter of wants, rational consumers, IP & 0 marginal cost issue in classical economics and the whole HD media. Especially this article:

Why the Full HD hype? The real story—the one you won’t read in a lot of reviews, and certainly not in any ad—is that profit margins are plummeting swiftly in the TV manufacturing industry. While this is nothing short of fantastic for consumers, it’s also nearly catastrophic for TV makers. They need to sell us bigger TVs, because they make more money on bigger sizes. And they desperately need a “step up” feature to persuade us that a slightly more expensive medium-sized LCD or plasma is better than a slightly less expensive one. Full HD spells “performance,” while 720p and 768p are “value.”

Now home theatre geeks like myself and other AVS members aside this is so accurate. 1080p TV sets are ridiculous unless it's >50". I have a 720p projector displaying on a 108" screen and the resolution is better than my 32" CRT. So, a 1080p 32-42" is just a waste, unless you sit in front of it like a computer monitor. 1080p is only a real gem for his front projector owners, but how many are actually out there?

So all this petty bickering on forums aside, I'm wondering just how much the market demands HD and how much is created by corporations. Psychologically are there any studies showing that people with 'average' vision can tell the difference, at what distances? The justifications for DRM include loss of $35bn sales a year, what's the methodology behind these stats? In sum, I think the current format 'battle' will be a good example of 21st century business competition and how it reacts to consumer demands.

Random ideas:

meta-analysis of available quality studies.
Justifications for DRM and ever expanding IP laws.
R&D costs in comparison to marketing costs.
Rent-seeking behaviour/abuse of dominant positions/tying etc. - Recent DG Competition investigation might be a source.
Manufacturer of wants

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Jewish only Roads in Israel

The common defence or reply to bringing up the fact that Israel has "Jewish only" roads is "they're not Jewish only, they're Israeli, Arab Israeli's can use them as well".

This is wrong, at least in a legal sense.

In The Attorney-General of the Government of Israel v. Eichmann the Israeli Supreme Court at paragraph 38 held that Israel is "the sovereign state of the Jewish people". Therefore yes, the roads are for Israeli's. De jure this means that only Jews. The law is pretty plain here. You could argue de facto Arab's are permitted to use them, but I haven't been able to find any scholarly reliable evidence for either side, all I see are rants.

Alan Dershowitz seems to think this is no big deal. In a debate with Noam Chomsky, who just cited Eichmann he states:

Oh, that's like saying that British roads are roads of the sovereign Anglican people.

This is a joke. I've read quite a few cases in my time and have never come across this definition. "English men" is common, rights are for "English men". I don't have access to Westlaw anymore so can't do a proper search, but I'm sure I won't find such nonsense - perhaps only in the ancient cases.

Only fundamentalist states attribute religion to national identity in law. Israel is, sadly, such a case.

Edit: In the English constitution our Head of State is actually, legally, "defender of the faith" which is singular. At least it didn't provide a faith but the racist term needs to be changed.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Washington-based think-tank, Institute for Defence Analysis on why Rolling Thunder had not achieved its goals. Its advocates failed to appreciate the fact

well-documented in the historical and social scientific literature, that a direct, frontal attack on society tends to strengthen the social fabric of the nation, to increase popular support of the existing government, to improve the determination of both the leadership and the populace to fight back, to induce a variety of protective measures that reduce the society's vulnerability to future attack and to develop an increased capacity for quick repairs and restoration of essential functions. [1]

How true today.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Property is Theft!

Well, only the type of property that derives both internationally and domestically from the principle: "might is right".

Leif Wenar has written a gem of a paper, Proprety Rights and the Resource Curse. There's a good summary of it here.


The resource curse afflicts poor countries with valuable resources like oil and diamonds. Such countries are prone to repressive governments, civil wars, and slower growth. The article argues that the resource curse often results from a failure to enforce property rights: the property rights of each country's people in that country's natural resources. This right is widely affirmed in international law, but violated when dictators and civil warriors sell off a territory's resources in circumstances where the people could not possibly authorize those sales. Firms that buy resources from repressive regimes are therefore receiving stolen goods, and passing these stolen goods on to consumers. Using a widely accepted metric, the article shows that at least one in every eight barrels of oil currently entering the United States has been stolen from its country of origin. [snipped]

The jist of the paper is that the system of property rights cited by dictators and corporations is a relic of the Westphalia era of international law. It does not take into account the modern development of a bars on aggression and human rights violations. The international community should enforce these rights, especially property, in order to prevent good title passing from dictators to corporations. Corporations can extract oil, but they know they may be subject to legal action, since no bona fide title has passed. They will be presumed to be put on notice when international monitoring agencies report back that there are grave human rights violations in the relevant country.

Some extracts:

Because of a major flaw in the system of international trade, consumers in rich countries unknowingly buy stolen goods every day—gasoline and laptops, drugs and jewelry, cars and magazines. The raw materials used to make these goods are taken from the poorest people in the world—by stealth and by force.

The plainest criticism of global commerce today is that it flouts the first premise of capitalism. Firms currently transport huge quantities of stolen goods to consumers, violating property rights on an enormous scale. The first priority in reforming global commerce must be to replace theft with trade.

On Nigeria

Between 1965 and 2000, Nigeria received a very substantial percentage of its GDP from oil revenues that totaled about $350 billion. However, in the 30 years after 1970, the percentage of Nigerians living in extreme poverty ($1/day) increased from 36 percent to almost 70 percent—from 19 million to 90 million people. The oil revenue contributed nothing to the average standard of living, and indeed the period of oil exploitation saw a decline in living standards. Moreover, inequality in Nigeria simultaneously skyrocketed. In 1970, the total income of those in the top 2 percent of the distribution was equal the total income of those in the bottom 17 percent. By 2000, the top 2 percent made as much as the bottom 55 percent

There is also no reason why the ideas proposed should not also be applied to domestic corporations. As I've argued earlier, Enclosure Acts stole the common property of people to a wealthy elite who could then profit off them. This is the route of all capitalism, at least in the UK. So, why is this property not theft? It is exactly the same as the paradigm example Wenar cites - Equatorial Guinea. There Obiang had political opposition jailed, tortured and killed and officially proclaimed himself as a god who is "in permanent contact with the Almighty". Is this so different to the judicial murder carried out on capital statutes in England for customary behaviour such as wood taking? Or transportation as punishment for gleaning, which usually involved torture at the hands of slave owners in the colonies? Or any different from the Monarch of England claiming their authority from God? I'd say no.

Of course there is a wealth of difference to where the UK is now compared to Equatorial Guinea. However, the principle still applies - corporations garnered their power illegitimately and need to make restitution.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Copyright Nazi propaganda

A court in Belgium has ruled that an Internet Service Provider bears the responsibility for stopping illegal file-sharing on its network. Although the ruling was made in Belgium, it relies on the E.U. copyright directive and may set precedent for the entire Union according to IFPI, an organization that represents the recording industry world wide.

According to the IFPI this could set a precent for the entire EU.

This is rubbish.

Firstly, the assertion by the IFPI that a ruling in a lower Court in Belgium sets an EU wide precedent is ludicrous. Only the European Court of Justice can do that.

Furthermore, each State has its own implementing measures for the EU Directive (it isn't a Regulation), this varies country by country. The Belgium decision would only set precedent for that countries Statute.

Secondly, I know vicarious liability is excluded in the UK's implementation of the Copyright Directive by Sections 97a and 191(j)(a) which requires a service provider to have "actual knowledge of another person using their service to infringe copyright". So unless the ISP is specifically informed about infringement they won't have to do anything.

The Directive also has common carrier provisions. Recital 27 of the Copyright Directive

the mere provision of physical facilities for enabling or making a communication does not itself amount to communication within the meaning of the Directive
This makes it express that ISP's do not come under the Directive.

Poor decision and needs to be appealed.

Friday, 6 July 2007

UK Inflation

Interest rates went up today, to 5.75% because of continuing inflationary pressure. BoE statement:

"Although pay pressures remain muted, the margin of spare capacity in businesses appears limited and most indicators of pricing pressure remain elevated. The committee judged that, relative to the 2% target, the balance of risks to the outlook for inflation in the medium term continued to lie to the upside."

However, this isn't strictly true. Overall prices have risen only by 0.4% down from 0.5% last month. However, it is house prices that are the main issue, which has risen by 10% (annually).

The inflationary pressure is mostly likely caused by house prices, surely a case of demand-pull inflation. There's a market failure somewhere in that the private sector isn't jumping into the housing market to build new properties at the required rate. Perhaps this is a combination of local government planning permission problems as well as (maybe) cartel like behaviour.

Nonetheless, the government can step in and reduce house prices without punishing ordinary mortgage payers who barely get by as it is. Just fix the supply problem! Interest rates are a very blunt measure and will cost the economy down the line. The structural problems need to be solved and supply needs to increase. Gordon Brown has said he'd do this, lets hope he does.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

The First Law and Economics school

Current Law and Economics scholarship is ideologically underpinned by neo-classical economics, especially that of the Chicago school. Richard Posner is probably the foremost proponent of this school and the area owes a great deal to his academic output during the 70's.

Posner, very basically, sees the common law as a means to attain wealth maximization which in his view is Kaldor-Hicks efficency [Duxbury:401]. I think this is a very concise and neat summation of all his, and most Law and Economics research. Most of the solutions Posner advocates can be summed up and derived from this type of efficiency. All legal rules should adhere to this simple question - does it lead to an efficient outcome? Statutes with their middlesome democratic character are seen as negative to the development of efficent economic law.

Unfortunately, because nearly all of modern Law and Economic scholarship is rooted in Chicago school ideas, it similarly has all the weaknesses of it and it's inherent ideological bias for the current proprieties classes. Real solutions are assumed away for theoretical progress and there is no need for morality. For example, the inherent mis-trust of governments from Chicago schoolers leads to normative Antitrust jurisprudence which, bizzarly, believes that government interference is harmful. Bizzare because that is the very point of Antitrust law - a democratic check on tyrannical corporations that abuse their monopoly powers. Bork's The Antitrust Paradox is key in this regard. The academic output during the time of Bork's book led to workshops to indoctrinate federal Judges in the religion of Law and Economics. Neil Duxbury in his widely respected book tells it best:

"In the mid-1970s, at the University of Miami, Henry Manne establsihed a Law and Economics Centre offering a two-week intensive training programme in economic analysis for federal judges" the "programme was to provide judges with basic economic training [but] has been widely criticized for embodying a distinctively Chicago-inspired, pro-corproate, anti-antitrust agenda". [Duxbury:360-61]

Most of the funding even came from corporate donors [ibid] and thus emerges "an image... of corporations funding the Law and Economics Centre to persuade federal judges that legal regulation of corporate activity is foolhardily and unnecessary" By 1983 over a third of the Federal judiciary has attended the all expenses paid course and there is strong evidence that judges consequently applied Chicago style analysis towards antitrust cases [Duxbary:361 n305]

Even worse, the Regan administration was responsible for the appointment of 47% of judges sitting on the federal district courts and courts of appeals [1]. The Supreme Court nominations during the Regan administration were all heavily Chicago inspired - Posner, Bork and Frank Easterbrook. It is clear what is happening here, the White house was stuffing the Courts with a pro-corporate judiciary that deified anti-intervention. Antitrust jurisprudence seems to evolve without much Statutory meddling, so Regan was free to dictate his Friedman inspired economic policy through stealth - without a democratic check.

In sum, the normative antitrust theories of the Chicago school were becoming positive law by a combination of indoctrination, corporate funding and the Regan-Bush I administration.

The First Law and Economics School

Far from indulging in blatant extreme right wing policies, the first Law and Economic school was pleasantly empirical. Rather than believing in legal fictions that all parties to a contract have equal bargaining power, they looked to the empirical evidence. Their Economic theory seemed to borrow heavily from Marxist idea of "formal equality leads to substantive inequality".

Lochner era cases decided that the state legislation that attempted to equalize bargaining power was illegal. It held religiously to the fiction that there is a right of free contract. This was heavily criticised by academics at the time. People like Robert Hale, Karl Llewellyn, John Dawson and John Dalzell showed that the purported economic freedom by which the Supreme Court swore was not freedom, it was "merely freedom to engage in economic coercion" [Duxbury:324]

These Law and Economics scholars were not religiously taking premises of laissez fair economic theory, they were actually seeing what it leads to in the real world. Such an analysis is indicative of Marxian jurisprudence. Even supporters of social-Darwinism and laissez fair theory knew that the Courts have no business legislating a corporate agenda; as Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said in his dissent in Lochner the case was "decided upon an economic theory which a large part of the country does not entertain." and the Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer's Social Statics."

The early history of the corporation, this but one example of it, shows how it was judicial activism not the legislature that was responsible for the power they presently have. Cases like Dodge v. Ford leading to the pathalogical persuit of profit at all costs. Santa Clara County leading to the fiction of 'corproate persons' and endowing them constitional rights, that were intended only for real persons


Duxbury, Patterns in American Jurisprudence
1) Sheldon Goldman, 'Regan's Judicial Legacy' Judicature 72 (1989)

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Property and Coercion in the Absence of Government

Thoughts on Robert Hale's "Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State"

Hale’s central thesis is that the distribution of income depends on the relative power of coercion which the different members of the community can exert against one another. Central to his argument is that private property is the source of all coercion.

“In protecting property the government is doing something quite apart from merely keeping the peace. It is exerting coercion wherever that is necessary to protect each owner, not merely from violence, but also from peaceful infringement of his sole right to enjoy the thing owned.” [472]

Thus when the government enforces private property rights of capitalists, it oppresses labour. Unless X sells his labour for wages, X will not be able to eat. There are no alternatives to being coerced by capitalists to work, so the argument goes, as X owns no land X is unable to grow his own food without express permission from the legal owner (since trespass is actionable per se). The usual way to gain permission is to sell labour, which, in turn goes back to the capitalist. “They can escape, of course, by going without the product. But that does not prevent the payment being compulsory, any more than it prevents the payment of the government tax on tobacco from being compulsory” [473]

However, this coercive power is weakened by the fact that the capitalist’s customers and labourers “have the power to make matters more or less unpleasant for him”. Customers have their legal power to withhold access to their cash, the labourers to withhold their services. What ever is given beyond the minimum upkeep to replenish the workers physical and mental faculties is either by reason of the employer’s sense of moral obligation or a competitive constraint.

The absence of governmental interference will have no impact on the level of coercion in society. Rather it would likely exacerbate it. Hale mentions the usual reasons: inequality of bargaining power, monopolies restricting supply etc. However, Hale concedes that unless ‘economic science’ invents new tools to quantify the level of freedom in society, this is not testable to fact.

Hale makes some very strong arguments against proponents of Libertarianism, in this case Thomas Nixon Carver. He writes of Carvers proposed libertarian scheme “has the appearance of exposing individuals to little coercion at the hands of the government and to none at all at the hands of other individuals or groups.” However since all private property is coercion, this claim is false.

The beauty of Hale’s paper is that it shows how libertarians presuppose that the current distribution of wealth is fair and this is ideologically motivated not simply a neutral concept or ‘state of nature’ as they suppose. As I pointed out in my earlier post, this ignores the social and historical relationships that went into the current state of affairs. As another blogger outstandingly explains:

a right of public access is no less a valid form of freedom than is a right to private property. Freedom to use common land and resources is restricted by private property rights, which replaces it with a (particular individual's) freedom to dispose of property, and exclude others from use of it.

What I found surprising is this is Hale is no extreme left winger, let alone Marxist. He was a Law and Economics Professor at Columbia and a key member of the legal realist school.


Robert L. Hale, "Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State," 38 Political Science Quarterly (1923), 470-478.

Friday, 29 June 2007

David Card - An Emperical Economist

I have a big problem with economics as it's currently taught. The 'Nobel' prizes are won by abstract mathematical economists that have no real world value what so ever. They plug in ridiculous axioms and make so many assumptions to just make their theories work. The sad thing is that these prescriptions are lapped up by policy makers because it turns political choices into market realities. Thus, outside democratic choice.

Take one example, the Coase Theorem. I came across this theory in a Tort class. Law professors love to analyse legal problems with economic tools, because the majesty of purported objective formalism gives a good rationale for an overall encompassing theory of tortious jurisprudence. Thus the Theorem becomes "The starting-point for [The] economic analysis of law" [Markesins & Deakin's:26].

I was intrigued at such an ambitious claim, rarely in jurisprudence does one concept shed light on everything. The only exception I can think of is Hart's distinction between primary and secondary rules, which does a pretty good job of exposing the rest of his legal theory - but even that is general theory, not based on an actual area of practiced law. But much like Hart's primary and secondary rules, which have no evidential basis[p44] - nor does the Coase Theorem, which assumes there are no transactions costs and externalities are quantifiable. This is ridiculous, and free market proponents of the Chicago school advocate this as a viable alternative to Pigovan Taxes.

I was pleased to read an interview by David Card, an economist I hadn't heard of. To surmise his findings in his career

  • The minimum wage does not have an effect on employment levels.
    • "small raises in the minimum wage won't have much of an effect [on employment levels].
  • "Skill-based technical change' does not explain wage inequality [in the US].
    • "Like a lot of other ideas in economics, I think that “skill-biased technical change” can be pulled off the shelf and used to explain inequality in a very superficial way"
    • SBTC holds that people with lower skill should have slower wage growth than people with higher skill. Women, have lower wages, evidence of their lack of skills. However, during the 1980's women did far better than men. Over the 90s women's relative wages were stable.Basically
    • Basically, the trend in the female labour market shows trends SBTC predict.
  • Immigration
    • imigration has minimal effect on unskilled domestic labour
    • "the best available evidence is the effect is on the order of a couple of percents nationwide over 25 years"

Card's summation of the economics profession as a whole is also bang on:

Economics as a whole is really a combination of two kinds of people: those who are very practically oriented and those who are more like mathematical philosophers. The mathematical philosophers get most of the attention. They deal with the big unanswerable questions. Labor economists try to be more scientific: looking for very specific predictions and trying to test these as carefully as possible. The mathematical philosophers get very frustrated by labor economists. They come up with a broad general theory, and we tell them it doesn't fit the evidence.

And this is the problem I have with anarcho-capitalist proponents. Take one example off a message board

it is a well known law of nature (economics) that a monopoly can neither efficiently nor effectively provide goods or services because of the lack of market input in the determination of production values and proper allocation of resources.

This is absurd. Theories of economics and laws of nature are not the same thing. Einstein's theory of relativity is a law of nature, but even physicists aren't so arrogant to call this theory, that has been empirically proven thousands of times, a law. Off hand I can think of examples of efficient monopolist state supplied healthcare, which is far more efficient than the private market.

Furthermore, if theories of Chicago school economists were theories of nature, they would have an essential property of a theory of nature - symmetry. Which means that relativity applies on earth as it does on the moon as it does in a distant galaxy. Also mere mortals cannot break laws of nature, the keyboard I'm typing into cannot teleport over to mars (microscopic quantum tunnelling aside!), but I can easily be an efficient monopoly supplier - if I disobey the first commandment (axiomatic assumption) of free markets - the profit motive. Healthcare is a good example; people are motivated by more than money.


Markesins & Deakin's, Tort Law 5th Ed.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Rebuilding Iraq

Iraq has been given out to massive US corporations to rebuild with no competitive tender. In stark contrast to the liberal free market (not to mention democratic) principles dictated for others, contracts are won on Bush family nepotism. Apologists for the process proclaim that the US based corporations are simply the best at what they do. I always thought that was for the wonderful market to decide? Or for some unknown reason, Arabs are simply unable to reconstruct for themselves; as Kenneth Pollack writes, in Foreign Affairs "the Iraqis have proven frustratingly unwilling to participate actively in reconstruction. To some extent, this passivity is a common feature across the Arab Middle East".

Racist assertions aside, which have no evidence adduced, let’s look at an example of ‘passive’ Arabs doing it themselves.


Hezbollah serve as a good example of what popular domestic based reconstruction can achieve, despite lack of billions of dollars in support. When Israeli aggression in South Lebanon 1982 (on the pretext of evicting the PLO 'terrorists' of course) forced thousands of Shiites to flee north, they settled in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The once middle-class district turned into a shanty town as the desperate population swelled into areas not designed for living. The city dump and sewer proved the only place Shiites could build. As Hala Jaber, the Arab journalist writes "The government felt threatened by the influx of refugees and did not lift a finger to improve the situation" [Jaber:146]. The Christian Druze in power took care of Christian areas but neglected the Shiites.

As a result Hezbollah tackled the Shiite situation themselves. With Iranian help, they embarked on what amounted to building social welfare infrastructure for the Shiite's. Of course, this wasn't all benign; Iran saw the dire conditions the Shiites faced as fertile ground for exporting its revolution. By 1988 The Interior Ministry officially registered the Islamic Health Committee and Jihad al-Bianna (the social welfare arms of Hezbollah). They covered charitable, humanitarian and social work, business ventures, health and educational programmes. They were licensed to construct schools, hospitals, clinics, centres for higher education, research institutes, orphanages, centres for the physically handicapped, even investing any capital it receives from Iran or through Islamic taxes, using the profits of which to pay for more community based projects.

Jihad al-Binaa is also well versed in repairing damage caused by Israeli shelling and bombing. One of their first large scale projects was to rebuild the village of Maydoun, which had been become a ghost town after a massive Israeli ground and air assault and in 1992 alone, they had rebuilt 957 homes [Jaber:157] destroyed by Israeli aggression. It's worth looking at the accounts of the organisations and contrasting them with the US. In 1992 the Relief Committe distributed:

1,988,670.87 USD$ to 6,885 families [Jaber:149]
and a further 916,149.45 USD$ given to families 'in dire financial difficulties' [Jaber:150]

The United States, on the other hand has spend billions and has no idea where the money goes as the Guardian revealed.

· Bremer maintained one slush fund of nearly $600m in cash for which there is no paperwork: $200m of it was kept in a room in one of Saddam's former palaces

· 19 billion new Iraqi dinars, worth about £6.5m, was found on a plane in Lebanon that had been sent there by the new Iraqi interior minister

· One ministry claimed to be paying 8,206 guards, but only 602 could be found

· One American agent was given $23m to spend on restructuring; only $6m is accounted for

It should also be noted that these welfare schemes work on Islamic principles which require taxes to be given by the well off (Khums), socialist in nature of course. Iran also funds a great deal of this, but all we hear in the press is how they channel money through to 'terrorist organisations' bent on "eliminating Israel off the face of the earth". Perhaps the truth that welfare works is an even worse for the administration and the corporate press, so that is why we do not hear about it.

Lessons for Iraq

If the CPA was serious about reconstructing, instead of lining the pockets of its masters friends and family, they should have engaged Iran. Iran would have setup welfare stations in Iraq, just like in Lebanon. Arabs are not stupider or less inventive than any other race, they can freakin reconstruct for themselves - as the record shows. But of course a Shiite majority 'bribing' minorities by welfare could perhaps lead to a united Iraq, who would use her billions in oil for herself and not restrict supply so ExxonMobil enjoys record profits.


Jaber, Hezbollah: Born with a Vengance

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Morality and Property Rights

Just read some interesting ideas from Marxist economics that have answered a conundrum in my mind - the morality of expropriating wealth to redistribute it and the infringements of liberty therein.

In an ideal society, tax would be progressive, in order to raise revenue for various welfare projects (schools, hospitals etc.). This would obviously involve a redistribution of wealth from richer to poorer. Let me make explicit this doesn't entail equal, merely a minimum standard for everyone which no one can fall below and thus a Lorenz curve that's closer to x=y.

Now the proponents of libertarian schools of thought proclaim that such tax is theft and an infringement of liberty. However, in a Marxist analysis; which I believe to be accurate, this ignores the historical and social relationships that resulted in the current state of affairs. The world was not created spontaneously in the present. What is now is not what will always be; there's causation to be considered - that is, historical reasons why we are where we are.

To quote Robert Freedman's excellent summary of Marx's idea of 'Commodity Fetishism'

"Bourgeois economists are prone to study the exchange relationship between commodities forgetting that was the relationships between material things really expresses is the social relationships between people. Thus when Ricardo and others speak of value, rent, wages, profit, interest etc. as though they were inevitable categories of economic life (without respect to time or culture), they obscure the class character of social relationships. These economic forms, really only characteristic of capitalism, appear to be eternal and therefore just. The superstructure which rests upon these forms - ethical, legal and social - also appears eternal and just, instead of being the manifestation of a special form of social organization in a particular historical period". [Freedman :p50]

This struck me as quite profound. I've come across Commodity Fetishism in my jurisprudence classes, however I've never thought of it as above. Perhaps this was because I'd not had the experience researching English legal history, as I now do. Which brings me to the evidence of Marx's theory:

Enclosure Acts in England

Prior to the rise of capitalism, great areas of land where used by free Englishmen (and women) to graze their live stock, take wood and glean land for crops. These lands had been used from time immemorial, and only for the purposes of each family and communities need. There was no expropriation of vast amounts of land by a single person. Once the aristocracy realised that a profit could be made from owning land they perused radical illegal agenda. Douglas Hay, the respected legal historian summarises it best:

"a law of 1769 suggests how the class that controlled Parliament was using the criminal sanction to enforce two of the radical redefinitions of property which gentlemen were making in their own interests during the eighteenth century. The food riot was an organised and often highly disciplined popular protest against the growing national and international market in foodstuffs, a market which alarmed the poor by moving grain from their parishes when it could compel a higher price elsewhere, and which depended on a growing corps of middlemen whom the rioters knew were breaking Tudor and Stuart legislation by wholesale trading in food... Some mills had been torn down in the nationwide riots of 1766 and 1767, and the 1769 act plugged a gap in the law by making such destruction a capital offence. If death for food rioters was an excellent idea, so was transportation for enclosure rioters. Within three days the bill was enlarged so that gentlemen busy on the expropriation of common lands by Acts of Parliament were as well protected as the millers." [Hay p21].

Indeed once their land had been stolen by Parliament (in the moral sense of course) people were unable to take wood, or glean it. Parliament enacted a wealth of capital offences criminalising such customary behaviour. 17th and 18th Century English legal history really shows us where the current elites garnered their power and John Locke's was their intellectual apologist justifying this property grab.

So, why it isn't an infringement of liberty to redistribute wealth? Private Property is a legal concept that is not immutable. Private property jurisprudence has changed radically over the years, as Hay showed prior to the 17th Century; its present form was unfathomable. A non-democratic Parliament thus pushed out common law rights and expropriated lands for new landed gentry. In turn, this is of course where the large corporations of today base their (realty) property rights. That is all it is – a legal basis stemmed from Locke’s jurisprudence. As Marx believed, “[t]he superstructure which rests upon these forms - ethical, legal and social - also appears eternal and just”. And there in lies the answer to the conundrum – our morality has been shaped by the current state of social relations. What seemed alien to the masses in the 17th Century, namely, vast amounts of private property, seems natural to us now. Why? Because Locke’s legal concepts have reflected back on morality.

It’s is an elementary moral truth that ‘stealing is wrong’. (I do not wish to indulge in Meta-Ethics, so let’s raise this to a postulate). Thus, massive amounts of wealth that are taxed by a truly representative democracy are, de facto, theft or an infringement of liberty. Traditionally this is justified on grounds that one of society’s aims – liberty - is justifiably infringed by another one of its core aims: equality. The current trend in scholarship tends to be that “politically important values like equality and liberty are in deep conflict with one another so that comprise among them is necessary” [Dworkin p26] However, I do not believe this is so, at least not in the case of massive amounts of property owned by colossal trans-nationals purely because such concentrations of wealth have only occurred because of the Enclosure Acts and via undemocratic means. The holder of vast amounts of property, who is complaining that redistributing some of it is theft has to prove he is the rightful owner, he cannot appeal to morality to do so because that land was immorally taken away from the masses – all he can do is appeal to a legal right, which inevitably changes over time.


Dworkin, Justice in Robes
Hay, Property, Authority and the Criminal Law in Albion’s Fatal Tree
Freedman, Marx on Economics

Monday, 4 June 2007

My legal essays

I thought I’d upload the papers/essays I wrote while at law school at The University of Birmingham. The quality varies, the first year papers are awful (apart from the Mental Health Bill). The final year ones are of the highest quality. Hopefully it’ll help out current students and aid research, especially the final year papers. I’ve put the marks I attained next to each title in [square] brackets.

All papers are 10 credits, apart from the Dissertation which was 30 credits.

If you would like to cite any essays just use Patel, D. Essay Title, Available Online http://law.newoffspringalbum.com [2006].

1st Year (2003/04)

Public Law - Discuss the proposition that the United Kingdom is acquiring a codified Constitution by a process of stealth. [64 ]

[doc] [html] [pdf]

Contract law - Doctrine of Unconscionablity [47]

[doc] [html] [pdf]

Criminal Law and Justice - Evaluate Present Mental Health Legislation and Assess the Likely Impact to Offenders or Those Likely (as defined by the draft bill) to Offend Due to Any Proposals to Reform. [68]

[doc] [html] [pdf]

2nd Year (2004/05)

Legal Foundations of the European Union - “Some commentators have argued that the commitment of the European Court of Justice to fundamental rights has provided the EU with the much needed ethical foundation which it lacked on account of its origins as a Common Market and the constant emphasis on economic goals.” Discuss this statement in the light of recent developments. [63] [doc] [html] [pdf]

Jurisprudence 1 - The Outcome of a case is determined neither by the facts nor by the law. Findings of fact and statements of law are used only to justify the decision of the judge. Do you agree? [64] [doc] [html] [pdf]

Jurisprudence 2 - Proclaiming the importance of the concept of the 'rule of law' is just a modern form of unjustifiable idolatry. Do you agree? [62] [doc] [html] [pdf]

Final Year (2005/06)

Environmental Law 1 - What are the main obstacles for effective environmental law? [74] [doc] [html] [pdf] *the title was long and fancy, but unfortunately I did not make a note of it anywhere. This is the essence of the paper.

Environmental Law 2 - To what extent has the EC evolved from a pure trade entity into an organisation which effectively protects the environment. What difficulties has it faced and will it face in the future? [81] [doc] [html] [pdf]

Tort case Note: Watkins v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] EWCA Civ 966 [68] [doc] [html] [pdf]

Dangerousness - Dangerousness is a Dangerous Concept [74] [doc] [html] [pdf]

Dissertation - An Enquiry into Anarchist Jurisprudence [68] [doc] [html] [pdf]