Democratic Values… or … A Brief Homily on Using Values as Starting Point for Discussion, Not an End of Conversation

The ERS are conducting a members’ survey.

 

One of the questions is

 

Can you tell us the 3 democratic values or principles that are most important to you?

 

The space for the answer implies that a concise response is required.

 

I struggled with the question. Here are the notes of my struggle.

 

For me, there are in a democratic society two tensions that need to be paid attention to. 

 

I think you get better decisions if you involve more people in the decision making process and if the decisions are made as close to those who are going to affected by them as possible. On the other hand, some endeavours are best undertaken at a scale larger than can be effectively managed by getting all the people affected in a room and talking the issue through. There are specialist skills and knowledge required in many decisions. There is a tension between taking decisions as closely as possible to the people and our society organising itself in the most efficient and effective way. A solution for this is that we collectively delegate responsibility for managing our common endeavours to individuals or small groups.

 

The second tension is between the will of the majority and the individual. These are the questions about where the rights of the community to influence the lives of individuals start and finish and the rights of individuals to conduct their lives in ways that cause distress to the community. Some of these rights are the right not be interfered with. Others are the right to actively do something. Freedoms from and freedoms to. Often it is expedient to ignore these rights

 

There is a third issue, I don’t think it’s a tension, because for me the principle is obvious and non-negotiable. People should have an equal share in the management of their communities. The practicalities are harder.

 

The structures and institutions that we put in place affect how much of share people get in practise.  Representative democracy focused on a large chamber where people stand up and talk which is mediated by short television interviews suits a certain type of person. Governing ourselves using internet forums would suit a certain type of person. Whatever systems and institutions we create we are going to advantage some people and disadvantage other.  We should seek to minimise this effect when we design them and we should seek to find other ways for those disadvantaged to participate in our collective decision making to ensure that they are given fair and equal practical access.

 

 

There are some pretty big questions floating around here.

 

What is clear to me is that these tensions are not resolvable in all cases for all times into a single set of rules.  We should not be afraid of the cost or effort required to govern ourselves or to reflect on the quality of thought and conversation that we all bring to our collective government. The tensions implicit in common government require constant dialogue and reflection.

 

 

But I was asked for three values – so here are mine, as pithily as I could put them. They are the starting point for my conversation with democracy and come with an implicit reminder to myself that unless these values are taken out and tested and examined in real life every day they are just platitudes.

 

When making community decisions we should ensure that all individuals have an equal share of power, both in theory and in practise.

 

That we should make decisions as closely as possible to those people affected by those decisions and where delegation of decisions, management or administration  of our common endeavours is required we should ensure that those whose take on those delegations are accountable to those whose power they have borrowed, in theory and in practise.

 

That both individuals and communities have rights that ought not to be violated and duties that ought to be fulfilled no matter how expedient it would be otherwise, we should agree on these foundational rights and duties in advance and express them as clearly as can, so that everyone can understand their rights and obligations, in theory and practise, and where a dispute exists about these rights and duties these should be resolved by disinterested individuals in as open a way as possible.

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And So To Work

And So To Work…

Or

… Now that the Referendum is Behind Us, Some Preliminary Thoughts on What I Will Be Looking At

There are three Big Issues for me. They are the Economy, the Environment and Constitutional and Electoral Reform.

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Safe Seat Blues

Safe Seat Blues

or

… A Brief and Hazardous Analysis of UK Seats Contested Under First Past the Post and the Alternative Vote Systems

Looking at two very different UK seats under both First Past the Post and Alternative Vote indicates that the incumbents of safe seats may be in for a fight come the next election and parties and voters will have a range of new opportunties if the voting reform referendum yields a Yes result.

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Posted in Alternative Vote, First Past the Post, Voting Reform | 1 Comment

A Subtle Transfer of Value

A Subtle Transfer of Value…

or

 ..The Impact of Benefit Reform on Labour Rates for Unskilled Workers An attempt to reduce the benefits bill by £15 billion pounds represents a significant transfer of wealth from the poor to the well off. At first glance this transfer will be from the un-working poor to the working well off. I think there may also be a transfer from the working poor to the working well off. Benefits reform may drive claimants into the jobs market and therefore reduce wages for people already working in low skilled jobs.

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Defining the Double_Dip

Defining the Double-Dip..

or …

Towards a Brief Taxonomy of W-Shaped Recessions and Some Analysis of Recession Types in Recent UK Economic History.

There has been much talk recently of a “double-dip recession” in the UK. What is a double-dip recession? The term does not appear to be defined academacally. A double-dip is clearly a W-shaped period of GDP growth, with a recession, followed by some growth, followed by another period of economic contraction. I am going to have an attempt to define the term and see which recent recessions, if any, have been double dip recessions.

As this is an essay about doubles I am going to trial two definitions of “double-dip recession”.

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Too Small to Regulate

Too small to regulate…

or

…Inching towards a significant change in the size distribution of market participants in the UK Electricity industry.

Typically building significant new generation capacity is a big deal.  In every sense of the phrase.  The electricity policy of the UK government is largely about negotiating with large, vertically integrated utility companies about generation plants that are each about 1% of the UK’s installed capacity. Utility companies have focused on large developments.  Certainly, the ones you have heard of have.  The government has taken an interest in micro-generation and put in place some policy measures and financial incentives to encourage small scale generation.  The government recognises the potential of distributed small and micro-scale distribution.  However, by and large, the real action has been on giga-watt sized plant.  This post explores how technological and market changes that are unfolding now may change the demographic of electricity generation market participants and some of the implications for policy makers and large scale investors.

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Posted in CHP, Feed-in Tariff, Micro-Generation, UK Energy Markets | Leave a comment

Why Met Gate Matters…

Why Met Gate Matters…

… or Applied Transactional Cost Management Strategy in an Environment of Cronyism.

There are two elements to a successful strategy; creating value and appropriating value. By value I mean, usually, wealth but not always.  It’s not always the case that if you bake the pie you get the biggest piece, sometimes you have to pay the guy who owns the oven. That is okay where you know how the pie is going to be allocated and believe that the system is fair.  You strike the best deal you can.  Where there are good rules and people stick to them, we can all get on with creating value for ourselves and to share as we see fit.  When the system is corrupt people will think twice about how much effort they put in to creating value.  Met Gate matters because it raises questions about how fairly the people who set the system’s rules are behaving.  This ulitimately leads to poor economicy performance.  It is an issue of corporate goverance.

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Do Ants Dream of Empire?

Do Ants Dream of Empire?

I once saw a number of anthills in the Australian bush from the vantage point of a tall tree.  You could clearly see the home territory of each anthill from the area around it that the ants had cleared.  You could see the sphere of influence of each, the zones of conflict and Green Lines.  You could see the impact the colony had had on its environment. Trails lead away from each anthill, placing each one in the centre of a network of enterprise.  Fallow areas surrounded each territory, marking areas where conflict made it unproductive for anyone to forage. You could see that the ants were up to something, something big.

You couldn’t see the actual ants. They were too small to be noticed and were quietly getting on doing their day job. As a consequence of individual diligence their tribe controlled large parts of the jungle floor. I wondered if the ants knew what they were doing.  Were they solely focused on doing their work or did ants dream of empire?

I am an accountant, in my mid-thirties.  I live in Scotland but I’ve lived in Australia and England too. I used to be a lawyer and I’ve studied Entrepreneurship. I’m studying economics. I used to think my politics were progressive until the current government started using the word about itself.

More and more I come to view the world through the lens of economics.  It’s not the only answer but I find it a useful way to frame the question.

Like the Australian ants of my youth I think most people just quietly get on with their lives. They are focused on their own situation and most of the time, they don’t think about the long-term whole-world impact of their behaviour. Why would they?  I don’t?

I’m starting this blog for two reasons.

Firstly, I want to understand my own politics better.  I used to be very certain about what the answer was but I’m not sure I even understand the question any more.

Secondly, I want to contribute to the debate on the two big issues of the 21st Century.  How do we react to climate change?  How do we organise our economy now that we have reached an Age of Abundance? How do we manage the conflict between the two issues.

So I hope this blog will be a series of well reasoned essays on political and economic issues of the day and that by being forced to think about them from first principles I will uncover, or rediscover, what I believe but lost some time ago.

I also hope to apply some accounting and economic logic to the problems of climate change and energy policy.  I want to discuss what we do now that we have, on average, enough wealth for us all to live a comfortable fulfilled life but that the wealth is not held evenly enough for all of us to enjoy that life.

 I want to have the kind of conversation about policy that you can’t have in the letters page of the Daily Mail.

I welcome your input.

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