Saturday, November 28, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
 Hey, did I just create a new euphemism for 'privatise'?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
From shopkeepers, tradesmen, and attorneys, they are become statesmen and legislators, and are employed in contriving a new form of government for an extensive empire, which, they flatter themselves, will become, and which, indeed, seems very likely to become, one of the greatest and most formidable that ever was in the world. (WN, IV.vii)(Incidentally, Bk IV, ch. viii is stellar, and well worth reading.)
Sunday, November 22, 2009
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself any idols.
- You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God.
- You shall observe the sabbath day and keep it holy.
- You shall honour your father and mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
- You shall not covet.
Friday, November 20, 2009
An immigration tariff is a charge levied on immigrants wanting permanent residency within a nation. As a means of applying price theory to a nation's immigration policy, it is generally advocated as an alternative to existing bureaucratic procedures as a means of moderating or better regulating the flow of immigration to a given level. (wiki)I don't really believe in restrictions on immigration at all, but I recognise that my own view is never going to be very popular. So politically, I want to find the least damaging way to deal with immigration, and this tariff is, at least at first inspection, as attractive a policy as any other and more so than most.Although a price is not entirely without artifice, it is not as artificial as a cap. Charging for entry results in a boost to the national exchequer; it allows the UK to trade on its reputation; and the charge would be sufficiently high to differentiate skilled and unskilled workers.One could imagine a charge of, say, £5,000 a year or £100,000 for indefinite leave to remain (or figures of that order), which would mean that economic immigrants would have to expect to earn quite a lot in order to make it worthwhile. But if they do earn a lot, then their presence is in fact welcome.I don't expect that people would always pay the full whack up front: I would think that employers would be willing to pay the (annual) fee and then deduct against salary (there's probably a more tax-efficient way of doing the same thing), and for the self-employed, I can well imagine immigration loans could become a worthwhile business opportunity.The benefit of this approach is that the most profitable immigrants will be best able to shoulder the burden. In other words, the central bureaucracy can give up trying to assign a points-value to different skills and qualities, and let the market do it. Then once the market has assigned its value, the bureaucracy simply sets a bar over which those market-valued immigrants hurdle. No need for central points-based policy: one number does the trick! It saves money on civil servants, and it makes money on immigrants.Now, I've not thought this through thoroughly, but it seems to me to be a far more reasonable policy than a points-based system . Not asylum, obviously, and also not students. Economic immigration is currently dealt with through the points system.
 It's not a policy many parties adopt. Even the (UK) Libertarian Party, which seeks open borders agreements as a long-term goal, is a points-based party. (src)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I will say this, however, in defence of the Archbishop. He was asked to speak at the TUC's Economics Conference. What was he supposed to say?He then goes on to suggest I might have a suggestion. Owing to an bizarre conflict between my browser and his comment box, I find myself frequently unable to comment there. This is such a time. Since I do have a suggestion as to what the Archbishop should have said, let me make it here:'No!' It's not in the job description of an archbishop to deliver speeches to organised labour. However, he agreed and had to say something. I would suggest an exposition of the parable of the workers from Matthew 20. You remember: it's the one where the master of the house goes out and hires workers from the marketplace throughout the day. At the end of the day, he pays them for their work, starting from the workers he hired last. Each gets the same amount, about the going rate for a day's work, and this understandably riles the workers hired earlier on.It's guaranteed to shock trades unionists, and he gets to do his job preaching a gracious God, rather than avoid it by waffling about Tobin taxes.
Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel honoured himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!”And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will make merry before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honour.” (2 Sam. 6:20–22)You remember the story: David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, and he dances with all his might before the Lord in celebration of the fact that God's presence is now seen to be, as it always had been without being so seen, at the centre of the kingdom. But what does this vignette show us of David? There are some contrasts and some surprises.
- We see a king of Israel whose self-conception is as a servant of Yahweh.
- To the proud and the powerful, he is the despised servant; but to the lowly and humble he is the esteemed king.
- He is the chosen one over the house of Israel, but will humiliate himself to Yahweh's glory.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
David Cameron sees government and society as different things.The spirit of Thatcherism, of course, was to say that there is no such thing as society. Her defenders argue she was taken out of context, and to an extent she was, but the quote did come to typify the kind of effect her policies had on the UK: atomising and individualising in ways which were sometimes good and sometimes bad. David Cameron has found a way to encapsulate his own position which is to accept what Thatcher did which was necessary while distancing himself from the 'I'm all right, Jack' attitude which ultra-Thatcherism can breed: 'There is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state.'So imagine my surprise to discover Lord Mandelson criticising the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition for trying to distance himself from Thatcher's legacy. By turns, Mandelson damns Cameron for being Thatcherite and then for distancing himself from Thatcher. Of course, that is usual political knock-about, but it puts Mandelson in an interesting position; a position which is worth drawing out and re-iterating because of its profound implications.You see, in order to criticise Cameron for drawing a distinction between state and society, Mandelson has to adopt the position that the state and society are not different. Unfortunately, this point of view has some rather dodgy antecedents:
— Lord Mandelson in yesterday's Mirror (src)
Totalitarianism is a political system where the state … recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. (wiki)It is profoundly revealing that one of the architects of the New Labour project thinks it a necessary article of orthodox political faith that state and society cannot be distinguished, because it is a clear statement of what the public have grown, and are growing, to suspect: whether it is identity cards or education policy, this government's operating assumption is that it can run quite literally everything in society, and do so better than anyone else.As a political philosophy, New Labour has been unstructured, to our occasional amusement: at one PMQs, a backbencher asked Blair for his political philosophy, and the bemused PM waffled about the NHS. But just because New Labour has been unstructured doesn't mean it has been a philosophy-free zone. The lack of philosophical infrastructure has given commentators free rein to speculate wildly about what underpinnings might exist, and in the course of those fervid debates some commentators have accused New Labour of swapping principle for power. I think in his piece for the Mirror, Lord Mandelson has quite inadvertently revealed a more accurate summary: New Labour has elevated power to the level of philosophical principle. It has no need of gulags nor of any Two-Minute Hate, because it is not your grandfather's totalitarianism, but rather it is what Hal G. P. Colebatch damned as 'the first modern soft totalitarian state.' (src)(Thanks: Scott Kelly at the CPS.)
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Private 'police' provoke concernThe growing number of private security companies policing UK streets is a worrying development, senior police figures say.[On on estate in Darlington,] residents pay between £2 and £4 a week to have their homes included in regular patrols and to receive an instant response if they need help. … But the vice chairman of the Police Federation, which represents officers, said such firms could cause problems. Simon Reed said: "We have got people who have certain powers, we are going to see them in uniform. Potentially there is confusion there for the public and who are they actually accountable to? (src)The worrying thing about this is that the vice chairman of the Police Federation doesn't have any idea about the relationship between being paid for a service, and being held accountable for the service provided. The usual police are accountable (ultimately) to the electorate, most of whom pay council tax and are therefore the purchasers of those policing services. In like manner, these residents are using private security to supplement the basic service provided by the police, and so the private security are accountable to those residents who are purchasing their services. 'Simples!'The private security firms don't, generally, even have greater powers than a citizen: they can use the power of citizen's arrest, they can have a word with unruly children, they can be a visible presence of people able and willing to step into potentially difficult situations. I'm not about to defend everything they do, but the very wealthy have used private security perfectly legally for years: why should the residents of a community, harried by crime, not have the same recourse?And if the police are that worried about the situation, there's a simple way for them to convince residents not to pay for the extra protection: start providing the security residents want. Otherwise, they may find that they are held directly accountable to the electorate through directly-elected police chiefs, and that's not necessarily the better of the two roads.
(b) Cutting spending, mostly. Benefits and public sector reform are long-term savings for short-term pain; I would stop bailing out the banks and use the money to invest in genuine long-term savings, e.g., Iain Duncan-Smith's ideas on welfare reform.Digby Jones: (a) If I get this wrong, it'll be embarrassing. Mostly casual work (look, I'm still a student), and so of course I've never employed anyone etc.
(b) £65,000 is a pretty hefty salary anyway, and the PM never listens to me or he wouldn't be doing this silly policy. Vote with the constituents. If the constituency party is hollering, on the other hand…Jeremy Paxman: (a) Yes, but I'm not telling you. Seriously, the prospect of MPs going demob-happy is unnerving. MPs are also meant to be experts in Parliament. Two terms and they're just getting used to it; why get rid of them then?
(b) Presenting Newsnight and blogging.Michael Boyce: (a) Oo-er, sailor. No idea. I think it was about £33bn recently, on a total envelope of £600bn, so about 5% recently. In 1997, not a clue.
(b) Well, if you don't know, we're in trouble. I'm not paid to understand those things; you are.Camila Batmang…: (a) Not a foggiest. The idea isn't for MPs to be experts, you know.
(b) Ah, but intelligent communication and domestic violence are, arguably, mutually exclusive.John Kay: (a) At last, a normal question. A bit over a trillion quid nominal. Call it £1.2tn.
(b) Nobody knows… or at least, every economist has an opinion (sometimes, more than one, just to be sure). I say it was US federal meddling in the domestic mortgage market which stoked an increase in the money supply to a point which was unsustainable.Andrew Roberts: (a) Oh, easy, wasn't he the Speaker who said (something like) 'I have no mouth to speak but should this Parliament direct me'?
(b) See (a). Clearly he asserted that Parliament is sovereign over its officers. He also, implicitly, suggested that Parliament was sovereign over the monarch, because he refused to answer to the monarch but instead to Parliament alone.Niall Dickson: (a) No real idea. How about Norway, UK, Germany, Ireland, France?
(b) Local would be a start, really. It's a few miles away from achieving that. But if you mean how to run a hospital, MPs are not meant to be the experts at that: hospital administrators are. Most of our governmental problems stem from ministers thinking that they are the experts, so I am, and shall remain, your cheerfully non-expert representative.Prue Leith: (a) Well, that all depends on where you shop, Prue m'dear. For me, I get a loaf of bread for about 60p, four pints of milk for a pound (don't buy pints you silly girl, it's frightfully expensive that way), and I don't buy butter, I buy margarine for 60p for 250g. But you probably shop at Waitrose, whereas I am poor and frugal.
(b) I live on my own, boohoo, so plainly no. But I would if I lived with my family, of course.Hilary Synnot: Iran, isn't it? The naughty little chappies.
(b) What, in a sentence? It's got something of a chequered record, that's for sure. It also generally fails to be very liberal, which rather wrecks the whole premiss of the question.James Lovelock: Great, I'm being held accountable to a madman. Welcome to democracy. (a) In, or to? It feeds plants and is emitted by animals (as well as burning processes and volcanoes). It also creates a 'thermal blanket' of sorts, which holds the Sun's heat in more effectively.
(b) We'd all be dead within a year, probably.Michael Rees: (a) Ooh, the Monty Hall problem. Luckily, I'm a genuine, real-life mathematician, and I know this one. Switch.
(b) Ask a scientist, you dope. Doesn't mean I'd nod like a donkey and do whatever Dr. So-and-so tells me, but of course I'd take the advice into consideration in coming to a view.Stephen Glaister: (a) Too much.
(b) Too much on all three counts. (Ha!)David Turner: (a) Probably Italy or France. Definitely not the US, and I doubt us either. Let's say France.
(b) When you say 'private schools', who's paying? State-funded independent schools are the way forward.Richard Dawkins: Guess what tune he's playing. (a) Oh, come off it, of course not. What do you take me for?
(b) Well, you're not my cousin, unless there's something my parents never told me. Taking you in the terms I think you intend, I'm sceptical of the value of evolutionary theory in explaining everything about where humans came from. So, I might add, are some of your evolutionary biologist colleagues (who also dislike Dawkins for turning into a media darling and losing touch with the world of research), and they ought to know.Mike Lynch: (a) I am working towards a PhD in mathematics, if the Jury Service doesn't wreck it totally. I use computers daily, and have written moderately more complicated programmes than 'Hello world'. 'Nuff said?
(b) Cut taxes on small businesses. But I'm uneasy about picking winners, because MPs aren't meant to be the business experts. Businessmen are, so I'll leave picking winners to them.Simon Kuper: (a) Blimey, not a clue. I doubt it was Norwich, somehow.
(b) Quite the reverse. Think of the revenues they earn for their clubs: it would be immoral not to pay them their fair share.Will Self: (a) I dunno, but I know a good Irishman joke about Ulysses.
(b) In a truly Pythonesque moment, there is NO question (b). Crack tubes!David Primrose: (a) Christianity, Churchianity, Liberalism, Atheism, Agnosticism and Apathism. No, lemme have a do-over. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.
(b) Er, I'm roughly-speaking a Presbyterian. Does that answer your question? In case it doesn't, I'm a prospective MP, not an expert in running fractious and theologically-mixed churches. Let it run itself, if it can. (Detecting a theme here?)Bill Bryson: (a) LA is an exceptional case in an exceptional country. The US has vastly more space than we do. I also can't tell the assumptions you're making.
(b) Dunno. What am I, a wildlife expert?An interesting, and occasionally amusing, set of questions. Part of the interest comes because they illustrate the underlying managerialism which infects British politics. The experts in their fields all expect MPs to be about as expert as them, and you might detect from my answers an exasperation with this idea.MPs are not meant to be experts in running schools or hospitals or businesses or anything else. (I have in mind for this blog a new strapline: 'Those who can, do; those who can't, go into politics.') Since they're not the experts, they should be in the business of freeing up the real experts, who can be found in institutions and businesses up and down the country, to do what they know best to do. Deregulation: because MPs are incompetent, and they don't get magicked with competence when they go into Whitehall.Have a go: see if you are too much of an expert to be an MP.(Thanks: David Blackburn at the Spectator.)
Friday, November 13, 2009
Immigration causes problems!!!! We're going to be over-run!!!!!!! The population's heading for 70 million and that would be a disaster!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Yep, that's about the level of the debate. Of course, you can't stop the population hitting seventy million unless we force-sterilise every woman on these shores, which might cause some greater problems. The 'over-run' complaint gets dressed up with culture, but dig deeper and you discover that being 'over-run' with Australians or Poles worries people far less than being 'over-run' by people who are rather more, um, different than that. And as for immigration causing problems?You only really hear from the people who experience problems. Those who benefit directly — for we all benefit indirectly — rarely speak up, because there's not a lot they can really say. So compare and contrast these two lists:
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Conservapedia's guiding principles [of biblical translation] are: Framework against liberal bias, not emasculated, not dumbed down, utilize powerful conservative terms, combat harmful addiction, accept the logic of hell, express free market parables, exclude later-inserted liberal passages, credit open-mindedness of disciples, and prefer conciseness over liberal wordiness. (src, my emph.)(Thanks: Scott Clark.)I'm liking the idea of free market parables: the parable of the Good Samaritan is ripe for some free market application. That Thatcher thing about the Samaritan needing money to help the victim in the first place is old hat, though. How's this?'There was once a man who went from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and left him for dead. Now, a priest went by but crossed over to the other side. And so did a Levite. But then came a Samaritan, who lectured the robbed man about the need to carry a gun when going on a dangerous journey, and about the perils of travelling without insurance. He then left, cursing his stupidity for being fooled into giving away a lesson for which someone else might have paid.'Or how about that awful socialist parable about the workers in the vineyard?'A master of a house went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. And he did it again throughout the day at different times. When the end of the day came, he paid them what he had promised because contracts should be respected. Oh, and he had promised piecework, because he valued the result of their labour rather than the labour in and of itself.'Then there's that absolutely abysmal story about a man who went to his friend: remember that one?'Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him"; and he will answer from within, "To you, nine denarii for the three, can't say fairer than that, and I'm cutting me own throat. For that price I'll throw in a sausage-inna-bun if you like. Look, I've got someone else wants them, I'll have to hurry you."'On the plus side, the wise virgins do, essentially, tell their foolish counterparts, 'Buzz off and go to Tesco, it's open 24-7, you know.'But yes, that book's full of dodgy non-free-market parables. It's almost like Jesus thinks that his kingdom works differently from the world around us, but plainly that would be nonsense. It's obvious: you can't run a kingdom where people get what they haven't worked for. For whoever heard of one who would bankrupt himself to give his people riches?
As the Group seeks to develop a broader international general insurance and reinsurance business, the establishment of the Group's holding company in the Netherlands should provide the Group with a stable commercial, legal, regulatory and fiscal environment from which to operate. … Many of the Group's principal competitors already enjoy substantial tax benefits arising from their domicile; benefits not currently available to Brit.The UK is no longer seen by them as a stable environment in which to do business, nor one which is economic in terms of its taxation arrangements. Oh dear.In 2007, Brit Insurance paid some £36mn in corporation tax (2008: £12mn). Sure, on a UK budget of £630bn, that's not much, but how many 'not muches' do we want to be losing when we have such a wide fiscal deficit?
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Money. It is as if Mr Cameron believes solving poverty is a spiritual mission that can be achieved through some sort of collective goodwill, and that it is mostly government that forces people to be poor. The truth is that whether the state spends or someone else does is secondary: what matters is what is spent. (src)I neither watched nor read the speech, but from the coverage I caught, it sounds like a fair comment. However, the Guardian's words belie the politics of most of their commentators, who are committed to the principle that unless the state spends the pound, the purchase was in vain.I think that is short-sighted. Smaller government need not mean directionless governance. The state is able to use smart, strategic interventions to achieve its goals with the grain of human nature and interests, rather than against the grain with an army of bureaucrats.It does this by using its power and its funds to create and alter incentives in specific instances and to specific ends. By altering incentives in this way, it creates an environment in which private funding is able to get on with the delivery of the government's policy. Let me give some examples of this kind of approach in action.Housing benefit. We are agreed that housing benefit ought to be paid so that those who are in real hardship can still have a roof over their heads. The state has an interest in ensuring that such people are housed adequately, but also in obtaining value for money. How to obtain value for money? The really 'big government' approach (which is not the UK policy) is to employ civil servants to allocate housing to benefit claimants. A 'smaller government' approach is to split the difference between the maximum housing benefit a claimant could receive and the rent which they pay. All of a sudden, housing benefit claimants have an immediate interest in value-for-money as well, and both parties benefit every time a claimant uses that scheme to improve their value-for-money.Carbon emissions. If carbon emissions are going to cause the climate to change irreparably, then we need to cut those emissions. How do we do this? The 'big government' approach is to fund research programmes and to ban offenders, like the incandescent lightbulb. A 'smaller government' approach would be to tax carbon emissions: as the prices of fuels and 'dirty' electricity increase to reflect the additional tax burden, there will be incentives for private research into ways to economise and into alternatives, which do not attract the tax.Schools. Everyone wants their local schools to be the best it can, but how do we get there? The 'big government' approach is to employ a host of inspectors, to impose top-down targets, and to plan everything at the national level. One 'smaller government' approach is to allow anyone to enter the state education sector under relatively loose conditions and pay those schools per pupil, which means that they have an incentive to attract pupils. They will achieve this sustainably when parents are confident that the school is a good-quality institution.I think it is this vision of a government offering the incentives to which wider society responds — 'society' including businesses, charities, co-operative groups, citizens' teams and more beside — that is the driving idea behind Cameron's conservatism. I note with frustration that the same vision appears not to be driving health policy, but I think as visions go, it's far more attractive than a dull monolith of state-driven services. It empowers and involves citizens in the delivery and the assessment of policy, rather than treating them as passive recipients of the government's tender mercies. Surely that has to be genuinely progressive?
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Friday, November 06, 2009
In August last year, Julian Critchley, the former director of the Cabinet Office’s anti-drugs unit, called, incredibly, for the legalisation of drugs. ‘I think what was truly depressing about my time in UKADCU’, he leaked, ‘was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, the government and voluntary sectors held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves.’ With anti-drugs unit directors like this, who needs scotch-egg-munching Legalise Dope lobbyists? (src)Quite. There are three sets of harms associated with drugs abuse: the user, the user's immediate social circle, and wider society.The user suffers harms as a result of the drugs themselves, but also as a result of drugs 'cut' with toxic substances, poor needle practice, and uncontrolled usage conditions. Legalisation cannot deal with the harm intrinsic to the drug itself, but if drugs are legalised, proper regulation can mitigate the other problems.The user's immediate social circle suffers the distress of seeing someone's life wrecked by drugs abuse. Again, there is a certain amount of this that the law cannot deal with, but some of the distress stems from the potential for criminal charges, some of it stems from secondary problems which arise as a result of users' unregulated environment (such as infections derived from poor needle practices), and some of it would be improved by better rehab opportunities, which a rounded drugs policy would aim to provide.Society at large suffers harm in terms of burdens on social and health services, as well as the problems associated with gangs, dealers, and the crime committed by users in search of a fix. Again, there is a core which legalisation cannot tackle, but it will do a lot to undermine gangs' revenue streams, push dealers out of business, and by reducing the price of drugs it will also reduce the amount of drugs-related property crime.At present, drugs policy amounts to variations on prohibition, with drugs categorised as Banned, Very Banned and Extremely Banned. That's just a way for politicians to send signals, and science can be of no help in that kind of decisions. However, regulation will bring the science into its own as a real aid to policy-makers' decisions: take rehabilitation, education and quality assessment to name but three.Again, lest anyone think I'm pitching to become a pot-head myself, let me quote Black towards the end of his piece:
Calling for the legalisation of drugs should not be confused with celebrating them.I come here not to praise drugs, but to bury prohibition, for the course is obvious: legalise and regulate drugs. It's the best way to keep everyone safe.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
[Ill and confined to the house, and] idly perusing a few websites I was faced with a ‘tooth whitening’ miracle cure, risk-free trial.It was cheap and it is featured at the top of the Google sponsored links, which I assumed they filter fairly carefully.So, without a morsel of fear (as the old rhyme has it) I clicked onto the website and followed the instructions to receive my $1.95 trial pack (including discount code reduction – you see how smart I am even when feeling at death’s door!).I entered my credit card details, completed the delivery details and hey presto! – I was stuffed!The $1.95 had turned into $11.90, because it’s a delivery to UK (even though they knew this because I had to enter the address before pressing confirm, and the postage total had remained at zero).In addition I have now made a commitment it seems to pay $87.62 plus an ongoing monthly direct debit on my credit card, unless I return the first pack within 14 days at my own expense. (link)My advice? Fret less about how you look. ;-)
(Thanks to Burning Our Money and Alex Massie.)
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
As a theoretical physicist , it might be expected for me to back a scientist against the politicians, but I'm with Prof. Sir David King, who was quoted in September's PhysicsWorld as saying that scientists had to be 'prepared to be hard-nosed' if they were going to give scientific advice, and accept that government ministers do not always do what their scientific advisors think they ought to. That is not to say that they should be pig-headed and ignore the advice: but they may not always act along its lines. Politicians ought to be making their decisions on the basis of all the available evidence, of which the science is a part.
So I'm against this idea of government by experts. It is fundamentally un-democratic to charge unelected, unaccountable scientific advisors with making government policy. We cannot be absolutist and make science the only criterion for policy. However, that does not mean I fully take the government's side, either. (And as for Chris Grayling, I reject the man and all his works.) It is fairly clear that the politicians have been criticising Prof. Nutt for making scientifically-justified, true statements. That is madness. They should acknowledge where the science lies, and then say that other factors (e.g., the Daily Mail) have made them act differently.
But actually, my view is even more hard-line than that. If government by experts is fundamentally un-democratic, then government by ministers is still not particularly democratic. Sure, they are accountable to the public — well, to their constituencies, which is a better mandate than the scientists have — but the best way to 'take a vote' on cannabis is surely not to ask how many people want it banned, but rather to let people choose to use or not as they see fit.  Is not the most democratic way to treat drugs policy to let people make their own minds up?
 In a mathematics department. This makes my credentials conveniently slippery. Mostly, I'm a mathematician, but on this one, I'm quite definitely a theoretical physicist.
 At this point, it's probably worth remarking that I have never used, nor do I intend to use, cannabis.