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Estelle Morris

Estelle Morris, formerly Secretary of State for Education has resigned. She did so because she felt that she was not up to the job. She believed herself to be incompetent.

Well, of course she is incompetent. They are all incompetent. There's Gordon Brown stuffing up the economy with ever more regulation. And David Blunkett turning the country into a police state thugocracy not to mention Alistair Darling's cunning plan to spend billions to little effect on the railways and to saddle future generations with the debt.

Incompetence is what government does best. Damn it, it's about the only thing it does.

Actually, the fact that Estelle Morris is incompetent and knows she is, makes her an ideal candidate for the job. Any job.

The dangerous ministers are the ones who think they know what they are doing. These are the sorts of ministers who jam up the Commons with pointless legislation while frittering away ever greater sums of public money for ever less result.

We need far more of the Estelle Morris sort - the sort who don't think they know what they are doing. We need ministers who are fully aware of their eye-watering incompetence and act accordingly. The self-aware incompetent will make great efforts to reduce his workload. He will know that every decision he makes will be wrong so he will start reducing the number of decisions he has to make. He will reduce the size of his department, abolish legislation and cut back the budget.

Come back Estelle, all is forgiven.
posted by Patrick Crozier 10/26/2002 07:54:00 AM


The benefits of a low crime rate

You don't have to look at government statistics to know that Japan has a low crime rate - the evidence is right there in front of you. Japan is extraordinarily clean. There is almost no litter (remember littering is still an offence, even in the UK), few fag butts and even very little chewing gum. There is some graffiti but you have to go looking for it. Vending machines are everywhere selling drinks, cigarettes and newspapers. I never saw one with even a hint of vandalism. Trains are free of the litter, graffiti and glass graffiti that commuters in the UK have learnt to treat as a fact of life. At Tokyo airport I saw people leave their bags outside as they went into the loo.

But there is another aspect of Japanese behaviour which I can't help but think is related. It is the extraordinary consideration for others that the Japanese show one another. On trains people don't have mobile phone conversations except in the vestibules. They are asked to keep phones on vibrate and they do. I was never inconvenienced by that annoying tish-tish sound from a Walkman. On station platforms people line up in neat queues by marks on the platform edge. That way there is no unseemly huddle outside the train door.

As I said, I can't help but think that a low crime rate and consideration for others are related. If this is true and human nature is universal it's pretty bad news for the idea of crime and punishment. You can punish people as much as you like but if that basic consideration for others isn't there you will never succeed.

It is also (potentially) rather bad news for my own crime manifesto. My way would be to relegalise guns, relegalise self-defence, relegalise drugs and privatise public space. Oh, and allow the owners of that public (now private) space to impose whatever law they feel like. But Japan seems to do it without any of these things. (Err, I'm not sure about the self-defence bit.)

It's a mystery.
posted by Patrick Crozier 10/21/2002 05:28:00 PM


Don't write off the Japanese - a response

Back at the dawn of blog time - that's March this year - Brian Micklethwait wrote an article entitled Don't write off the Japanese in which be mused on Japan's future.

Now, I would like to claim that having spent a week there I know everything but of course I don't. So, I'll confine myself to a few observations which may or may not lead to some... conclusions.

One of the big themes of Brian's piece was the idea that Japan might be about to lurch in the direction of free markets. The problem is that Japan is pretty much there already. Take taxation. As I understand it Japan's taxation rate is about the same as in the United States. It has regulation, plenty of it, but what major economy doesn't?

I have a personal interest here. In 1990 I started working for Phillip Oppenheim, then a Conservative Party MP. Shortly afterwards (nothing to do with me I'm afraid) he published a book called "The New Masters". In it he demolished many of the myths surrounding Japan's success. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) was far weaker than usually supposed. Business could and did stand up to government. Taxation was low; regulation benign. Keynes didn't get a look in.

Another theme was the idea that the Japanese keep their rows to themselves. This is allied to the idea that the Japanese don't have opinions. Which is odd because I have not met a Japanese yet who didn't have stacks of opinions.

One of the most fascinating examples of this appears in the book/poem "Requiem for the Battleship Yamato" by Yoshida Mitsuru. He was a junior officer on the Yamato (the biggest battleship ever built) in 1945 when it was ordered out on a suicide mission. Everyone knew it was a suicide mission and the officers kept asking themselves "Why us?"

OK, maybe not a major league row but there has been a huge one in recent weeks. About a month ago the Bank of Japan attempted to auction off some debt - debt that was to be used to buy shares in Japan's bankrupt banks. The auction was undersubscribed. This is the first time this has ever happened.

The Bank of Japan then came up with the quite extraordinary claim that it did what it did in order to show how stupid the FSA (Financial Services Authority - another arm of government) was being. Anything but quiet. From my own specialist area I am aware that there are all sorts of rows about new roads and railway lines. And this is all rather genteel in comparison with the violent convlusions which presaged the Meiji Restoration or the rise of the military in the 1930s.

As I understand it the causes of Japan's current problems are fairly straightforward. In the early 1990s, the property market collapsed. A huge swathe of business effectively went bust under the weight of loans secured on property. But the banks wouldn't admit it so propped up the businesses. Then the banks went bust. But the government wouldn't admit it and has spent the last decade propping them up. And now the government is going bust.

It's going to be nasty when it happens but I believe Japan will sort itself out very quickly. Deep down Japan is in good shape. It has excellent infrastructure, a well-educated workforce, a low crime rate and a leading position in many high-tech industries.

People are quick to suggest that the Japanese only ever copy but already they are the main innovators in areas such as mobile phones. And anyway, this is a well-trodden path. The Americans, too, copied like crazy until one day, kaboom, and you had Woodrow Wilson telling Europeans how to run things. And where, exactly, did we get the printing press from all those centuries ago?

So to sum up (or should that be conclude?) although I think things are bleak and that there will be a crash and that Japan will recover I think it will be able to do so without any great cultural convulsion - all the elements are pretty well in place right now.
posted by Patrick Crozier 10/20/2002 01:01:00 PM

What Would Happen If the Police Just Went Away?

by Warren Tilson on

I just love this article. I'm not sure I entirely agree with it but it says a lot about just how damaging the police can be.
posted by Patrick Crozier 10/20/2002 01:40:00 AM

Libertarians for tyranny

Peter Cuthbertson has replied to me. Obviously his views are rather more subtle than I first thought.

What he seems to be saying is that although in principle he is in favour of drugs legalisation, at present society is in such a morally degenerate state that the consequences of a free market in drugs would be very severe indeed.

He says he wants to avoid the drugs debate which is fine by me because in fact he has initiated an entirely new one - on timing.

I have to confess that I have never really felt that there is much question about it - freedom now. But maybe there are elements of freedom that ought to be delayed. I don't think drugs is one of them but certainly when it comes to road privatisation I think things would have to be thought about. I would certainly not like see people being prevented from going outside their front door.

The reason I think drugs should be relegalised now and in one go is not because I don't think people will do some pretty stupid things - they will. My belief is that after a brief period of madness responsibility will prevail - not least because the pool of irresponsible people will have been diminished.

There is also a tactical reason. I think it is far better to get all the pain over at once. The long the pain goes on the easier it is for wishy-washy politicians to put spanners in the works.

I have one other quibble. He describes illegal drugs as "wicked". To my mind "wicked" is an adjective which can only apply to a being capable of moral choice.
posted by Patrick Crozier 10/20/2002 01:12:00 AM



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