And then you get to things like City or some of the Heinlein juveniles, where you’re assured that the UN brought rationality to the world, one world government is wonderful and, as superabundance set in, humans shed religion as unneeded, and went forward to be perfect angels.
I’m not sure what caused this blindness that affected smart men in the fifties and sixties, and still affects academics, idiots and Marxists today, but I read that and I think “Okay, I can see how you thought this was plausible if what you looked at was the intellectual portions of middle America where religion was a social thing, and where the whole “brotherhood of man” was a believed fable. But can you imagine making Islam just “wither away” without major persecution, war and executions? Oh, heck, even Catholicism in the more traditional regions.
And then there’s tribalism. Perhaps the EU has made the Portuguese and the Spanish live in peace with each other (I think they’re biding their time, but that’s something else) what about the myriad little tribes in Africa, or even racial/tribal minorities in Asia.
How could they think the nature of man would pass away so completely?
I attribute it to lack of contact with other lands. I mean, the US is a huge country, and back then the industrial-news complex had absolute primacy. You really only got the other countries filtered through the lens of your colleagues in the media. And you only got even other segments of your own country filtered that way.
This was not malice, either. I’m here to tell you that understanding another culture — or even understanding that another culture really exists, and they’re not just sort of playing at it — is REALLY hard. Humans are very good at absorbing the conditions they’re born into and internalizing them as THE conditions, i.e. the only true ones, and then thinking of everything else as a bizarre variation.
Sarah A. Hoyt, “Time Zones”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-23.
February 16, 2017
January 14, 2017
Another brilliant bit of realpolitik from Yes, Minister, disguised as humour:
July 17, 2016
Ted Campbell is not in favour of the federal government’s nostalgic view of peacekeeping:
Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS wants us to follow France into the peacekeeping business because modern, 21st century UN peacekeeping can be, in some respects, seen as unwarranted Western interference in the internal affairs of Islamic states. Many Islamic leaders believe and teach that Islam is a complete socio-economic-political ‘package’: all that on needs to live a good life in this world and achieve paradise in the next is to obey the holy Quran. There is no need for laws or courts or institutions or banks or schools or anything else … just obedience, submission, to Islam.
Let us understand that the United Nations, as currently constituted and managed, is a failure at peacekeeping. It wasn’t always this way … there were times and places ~ Kashmir and Palestine in the 1940s, the Egypt-Israeli borders in 1956 when there was a peace to be kept between belligerents who actually wanted peace, albeit, in the case of Egypt’s Nasser, only until one felt ready for war again in 1967. It began to go wrong in 1960 … with the first UN mission to the Congo. There was no peace to be kept … a UN Force was inserted into a failed state and left to its own devices while a civil war raged around it. The UN used second rate troops (Irish, Malaysian and Swedish) where first rate ones might have done some good and the civil and military leadership, from Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld on down was somewhere between inept and ignored. In fact the UN peacekeeping effort was being used (misused) as a proxy for the larger Cold War. Canada and a few others became proxies for the Western allies; Poland a a few others stood in for the Warsaw Pact members and Sweden and India represented the non-aligned nations. It got worse in Cyprus, although a few lessons about the quality of troops were learned, as the mission devolved into a semi-permanent “holding action” that recognizes the de facto partition of the country. The UN has, literally, become a significant component of the (failing) Greek Cypriot state and the UN force because part of the status quo, making peace even more elusive.
Most UN peacekeeping missions since 1960s have been failures … some abject, others only relatively so. Mostly the UN “kept the peace” as an adjunct of the cold war. There is, in the 21st century, too often, no peace to be kept, especially not anywhere in Africa nor in the Islamic crescent that stretches from the Atlantic coast of North Africa all the way through to Indonesia and the Southern Philippines. and the UN does not want a mandate to make peace. The internal politics of the UN prohibit members from interfering in the “internal” affairs of others ~ notwithstanding what advocates of R2P (Responsibility To Project) (or even more ill considered doctrines like W2I (the Will To Intervene) propose ~ unless government almost totally breaks down. Then the UN may step in, under certain very controlled conditions: in Africa, for example, a robust, useful peacemaking force will not be tolerated, the force must be from the African Union and it must, first and foremost, protect the interests of the failed states neighbours. If the failed state is in “French Africa” then the French may send in the Foreign Legion to protect French interests. And this is the situation into which Justin Trudeau wants to send Canadian soldiers ~ preferably, he suggested during the 2015 election campaign, French speaking female police officers ~ to be UN peacekeepers.
As a quick rule of thumb, you only send in peacekeepers where there is already something resembling a peace to be kept. You don’t send in peacekeepers to create peace. That’s not their role: they’re not equipped or organized (or ever in sufficient strength) to do that.
April 20, 2016
At Sultan Knish, Daniel Greenfield calls for the establishment of a true Palestinian state:
A Palestinian state has never existed during any period in human history. Let’s change that.
The United States has spent billions of dollars trying to create a Palestinian state. It’s time that we finally got our money’s worth.
We’ve been putting money in the broken Palestinian slot machine in the metaphorical Palestinian casino (the real one was shot up when terrorists turned it into a base) for decades. It’s time to finally get our Palestinian jackpot.
But to make it happen, we need to be realistic.
Forget the peace process. Forget negotiations. They’ve never worked before. They’re not going to now. And there’s nothing to negotiate anyway.
There are almost a million Jews living on territory claimed by the PLO. Removing them would be the single greatest act of ethnic cleansing against an indigenous population today. It would also be impossible. But the same people who insist that the United States, a country of 318 million, can’t deport 11 million illegal aliens, think that Israel will somehow deport 1/8th of its own population if they just chant loudly enough about “occupation” outside Jewish businesses in London or San Francisco.
Ethnically cleansing 8,000 Jews from Gaza/Gush Katif led to nationwide civil disobedience, riots and, eventually, the fall of a political party and three straight terms for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Now imagine trying to deport 800,000 people from their homes simply because they’re Jewish.
And it wouldn’t just be the Jews alone being rounded up into trucks, buses and maybe boxcars.
52 percent of Arabs in East Jerusalem would rather be Israeli citizens than live under the PLO. Are we support to deport 100,000 Arabs from Jerusalem to make way for this imaginary “Palestinian” state?
How much ethnic cleansing do we have to do to make the Islamic colonial fantasy of Palestine real? It’s not going to happen.
Let’s create a real Palestinian state instead. And I don’t mean the PLO’s President for Life Mahmoud Abbas going down to the UN to give another speech. Abbas is on his 11th year of a 4-year term. The US spent $4.5 billion promoting “Palestinian democracy” and the last PLO election was ten years ago.
December 3, 2015
In Forbes, James Conca wraps up the latest IPCC Working Group reports’ comments on the viability of biofuel production from corn:
OK, can we please stop pretending biofuel made from corn is helping the planet and the environment? The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released two of its Working Group reports at the end of last month (WGI and WGIII), and their short discussion of biofuels has ignited a fierce debate as to whether they’re of any environmental benefit at all.
The IPCC was quite diplomatic in its discussion, saying “Biofuels have direct, fuel‐cycle GHG emissions that are typically 30-90% lower than those for gasoline or diesel fuels. However, since for some biofuels indirect emissions — including from land use change — can lead to greater total emissions than when using petroleum products, policy support needs to be considered on a case by case basis” (IPCC 2014 Chapter 8).
The summary in the new report also states, “Increasing bioenergy crop cultivation poses risks to ecosystems and biodiversity” (WGIII).
The report lists many potential negative risks of development, such as direct conflicts between land for fuels and land for food, other land-use changes, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity and nitrogen pollution through the excessive use of fertilizers (Scientific American).
The International Institute for Sustainable Development was not so diplomatic, and estimates that the CO2 and climate benefits from replacing petroleum fuels with biofuels like ethanol are basically zero (IISD). They claim that it would be almost 100 times more effective, and much less costly, to significantly reduce vehicle emissions through more stringent standards, and to increase CAFE standards on all cars and light trucks to over 40 miles per gallon as was done in Japan just a few years ago.
August 20, 2015
April 15, 2015
… boredom is the deadly secret weapon of the bien-pensant technocrats of the EU and the UN. “They wear outsiders down with the tedium of their arguments and the smallness of their fine print, so that by the time anyone else notices what they’re up to the damage has been done and it’s too late to do anything about it.”
James Delingpole, “Green Global Governance: How Environmentalists Have Taken Over the World”, Breitbart.com, 2014-06-25.
February 16, 2015
Within a couple of months of the Invergordon mutiny, Japan intervened in Manchuria, deaf to all the entreaties of the League of Nations. While, today, we are used to the fact that a ringing denunciation from the United Nations is probably the single most ineffective tool in international relations, the revelation of its predecessor’s impotence came as a disagreeable surprise. So many statesmen had placed their faith in collective security that the naked aggression of the Japanese left them floundering for a response. In 1931 the British people had more pressing concerns than remote Asian wars, but the lesson was not lost on Germany’s rising political star Hitler, nor the posturing Mussolini in Italy whose Fascist Party dreamed of a new Roman Empire.
Max Arthur, The True Glory: The Royal Navy 1914-1939, 1996.
February 10, 2015
Michael Brendan Dougherty looks back at the UN’s intervention in Kosovo and the situation in Kosovo after more than a decade and a half:
It’s been almost 16 years since a NATO coalition banded together to defeat Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević in Kosovo. Ever since, it has been exhibit A in the case for “humanitarian intervention.” A swift short war, a thug removed from power, a series of oppressions redressed. After the hostilities ceased, Kosovo’s government was overseen by the United Nations, and declared full independence from Serbia in 2008.
In the meantime, the U.N. bungled possibly the easiest show-trial in world history, letting Milošević score a lot of points from the stand as the trial dragged on longer than it took F.D.R. to declare war on Germany, mobilize a few million men, and beat Hitler. Milošević died of a heart attack in prison before his trial finished. NATO troops are in Kosovo, a decade and a half after the “short” 78-day campaign.
What’s the political scene like in liberated Kosovo? Well, here’s a story. Last week Aleksandar Jablanovic, an ethnic Serb who served in the cabinet as minister of communities, was sacked by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, in order to appease ethnic Albanians who were planning riotous protests against him. Kosovars threw rocks at government buildings. About 170 people were injured in the clash between protesters and police.
What did Jablanovic do to cause the unrest? He had described a group of Albanians as “savages” in January. Why? Because they had blocked (with the threat of violence) the route of Serbian Christians making a traditional pilgrimage to a monastery in Western Kosovo.
Sounds unpleasant, right? It gets worse. Unemployment in Kosovo is around 45 percent. (That’s not a typo.) The electricity is very unreliable, and Kosovars often don’t pay their electricity bills to the state. The government is considering canceling all debts that citizens owe to the government, to rebuild trust (and popularity) and start putting services on a firmer footing. About a third of Kosovars live on less than $2 a day.
But there’s also no doubt that Kosovo should serve as a permanent warning against the idea that humanitarian interventions are easy. The bombing was a perfect example of the moral hazard involved in “Responsibility to Protect” interventions. The roar of NATO jets so raised the stakes for Serbian forces and for Milošević, that Serbians killed five times as many people after the intervention became a fait accompli than they had before that time, under the theory that rubble makes less trouble.
July 25, 2014
Mark Steyn quotes himself extensively about the Palestinian refugees:
I’m often asked why I don’t write more about the Palestinian situation, and the reason I don’t is because the central fact of the dispute — the Palestinians’ Jew hatred — never changes. So I said what I had to say about it many years ago, and there’s very little to add. For example, in The National Post on April 18th 2002 I quoted an old Colonial Office hand:
“All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or, perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew,” wrote Sir John Hope-Simpson in the 1920s wrapping up a stint in the British Mandate of Palestine. “Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent.” Progressive humanitarianism, as much as old-school colonialism, prefers its clientele “helpless,” and, despite Iranian weaponry and Iraqi money and the human sacrifice of its schoolchildren, the Palestinians have been masters at selling their “helplessness” to the West.
In Europe, colonialism may be over, but colonialist condescension endures as progressive activism, and the Palestinians are the perfect cause. Everywhere else, from Nigeria to Nauru, at some point the natives say to the paternalist Europeans, “Thanks very much, but we’ll take it from here.” But the Palestinians? Can you think of any other “people” who’d be content to live as UN “refugees” for four generations? They’re the only “people” with their own dedicated UN agency, and its regime has lasted almost three times as long as Britain’s Palestine mandate did. To quote again from that 2002 Post column:
This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that “Chairman” Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back — and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. “The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews,” wrote America’s great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. “Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem … But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab … Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.”
Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren’t going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.
And so land won in battle from Jordan and Egypt somehow has to be ceded to Fatah and Hamas.
As I said, this is all the stuff that never changes, and the likelihood that it will change lessens with every passing half-decade. I wrote the above column at the time Jenin and the other Palestinian “refugee camps” were celebrating their Golden Jubilee. That’s to say, the “UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees” is older than most African, Caribbean or Pacific states. What sort of human capital do you wind up with after four generations have been born as “refugees”? If you’ve ever met a charming, urbane Palestinian doctor or lawyer in London or Paris, you’ll know that anyone who isn’t a total idiot — ie, the kind of people you need to build a nation — got out long ago. The nominal control of the land has passed from Jordan and Egypt to Israel to Arafat to Abbas to Hamas, but the UNRWA is forever, runnning its Mister Magoo ground operation and, during the periodic flare-ups, issuing its usual befuddled statements professing complete shock at discovering that Hamas is operating rocket launchers from the local kindergarten.
July 18, 2014
David Harsanyi responds to a silly post at Vox by Max Fisher:
This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.
A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he we an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.
It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.
I often hear people claim that the Israel-Palestinian situation is complex. It isn’t. It’s difficult to solve, indeed, but it’s not complex. One side refuses to engage in any serious efforts to make peace with modernity and with Jews. So, for those like Andrew Sullivan and some of the folks at The American Conservative, who argue that Israel is the one drifting from Western ideals, I think Douglas Murray has the best retort:
A gap may well be emerging. But not because Israel has drifted away from the West. Rather because today in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.
Update: Charles Krauthammer says this is a rare moment of moral clarity.
Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.
“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”
Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel–Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows Hamas’s proudly self-declared raison d’être: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.
Why? The rockets can’t even inflict serious damage, being almost uniformly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Even West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”
It makes no sense. Unless you understand, as a Washington Post editorial explained, that the whole point is to draw Israeli counterfire.
This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack.
To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance, and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.
May 5, 2014
James Conca on a recent UN report that isn’t getting attention:
It’s always amazing when a United Nations report that has global ramifications comes out with little fanfare. The latest one states that no one will get cancer or die from radiation released from Fukushima, but the fear and overreaction is harming people (UNIS; UNSCEAR Fukushima; UNSCEAR A-68-46 [PDF]). This is what we’ve been saying for almost three years but it’s nice to see it officially acknowledged.
According to the report, drafted last year but only recently finalized by the U.N., “The doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low. No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants. The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation. Effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms have already been reported.”
In addition, the report states, “Increased rates of detection of [thyroid] nodules, cysts and cancers have been observed during the first round of screening; however, these are to be expected in view of the high detection efficiency [using modern high-efficiency ultrasonography]. Data from similar screening protocols in areas not affected by the accident imply that the apparent increased rates of detection among children in Fukushima Prefecture are unrelated to radiation exposure.”
So the Japanese people can start eating their own food again, and moving back into areas contaminated with radiation levels similar to many areas of the world like Colorado and Brazil, which includes most of the exclusion zone. Only a few places shouldn’t be repopulated.
But if you want to continue feeling afraid, and want to make sure others keep being afraid, by all means ignore this report on Fukushima. But then you really can’t keep quoting previous UNSCEAR policy and application of LNT (the Linear No-Threshold dose hypothesis) to support more fear.
Note – LNT is a leftover Cold War ideology that states all radiation is bad, even the background radiation we are bathed in every day, even the 3,200 pCi of radiation in a bag of potato chips (yes, potato chips have the most radioactivity of any food, but they taste sooo good!).
Of course, if you’ve been actually following the events from three years back, this report will contain few surprises.
April 30, 2014
The Saudi government and the Russian government both called for Norway to correct its appalling record in (certain) human rights areas:
Saudi Arabia has criticised Norway’s human rights record, accusing the country of failing to protect its Muslim citizens and not doing enough to counter criticism of the prophet Mohammed.
The gulf state called for all criticism of religion and of prophet Mohammed to be made illegal in Norway. It also expressed concern at “increasing cases of domestic violence, rape crimes and inequality in riches” and noted a continuation of hate crimes against Muslims in the country.
The Scandinavian nation came under scrutiny during the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review, in which 14 States are scheduled to have their human rights records examined.
Russia meanwhile called for Norway to clamp down on expressions of religious intolerance and and criticised the country’s child welfare system. They also recommended that Norway improve its correctional facilities for those applying for asylum status.
An amusing co-incidence: while I was adding tags to this post, I typed “sau” to get the auto-fill “SaudiArabia” tag. The other tag that fit that pattern? “Dinosaurs”. H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.
March 28, 2014
James Delingpole agrees that the most recent WHO report on deaths due to pollution is shocking, but points out where the press release does a sleight-of-hand move:
Even if you take the WHO’s estimates with a huge pinch of salt — and you probably should — that doesn’t mean the pollution problem in some parts of the world isn’t deadly serious. During the 20th century, around 260 million are reckoned to have died from indoor pollution in the developing world: that’s roughly twice as many as were killed in all the century’s wars.
Here, though, is the point where the WHO loses all credibility on the issue.
“Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains,” Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health said.
“WHO and health sectors have a unique role in translating scientific evidence on air pollution into policies that can deliver impact and improvements that will save lives,” Dr. Dora added.
See what Dora just did there? He used the shock value of the WHO’s pollution death figures to slip three Big Lies under the impressionable reader’s radar.
First, he’s trying to make out that outdoor pollution is as big a problem as indoor pollution. It isn’t: nowhere near. Many of the deaths the WHO links to the former are very likely the result of the latter (cooking and heating in poorly ventilated rooms using dung, wood, and coal) which, by nature, is much more intense.
Secondly, he’s implying that economic development is to blame. In fact, it’s economic development we have to thank for the fact that there are so many fewer pollution deaths than there used to be. As Bjorn Lomborg has noted, over the 20th century as poverty receded and clean fuels got cheaper, the risk of dying of pollution decreased eight-fold. In 1900, air pollution cost 23 per cent of global GDP; today it is 6 per cent, and by 2050 it will be 4 per cent.
But the third and by far the biggest of the lies is the implication that the UN’s policies on climate change are helping to alleviate the problem.
October 21, 2013
In sp!ked, James Heartfield discusses a new book by David Chandler:
In his new book, Freedom vs Necessity in International Relations, David Chandler, professor of international relations at the University of Westminster, offers a masterful summation of the latest trends in policy internationally and domestically. The book lays bare the claims of governments to put people and their decision-making at the centre of policy. What Chandler shows to great effect is that the latest claims of policymakers and theorists to a human-centred approach result in something like its opposite. In a wide range of cases — from the United Nations’ Human Development Report to the Cabinet Office’s prioritisation of the ‘choice environment’ — Chandler explains how ‘human-centred’ policy is, in fact, very far from human-centred. The real aim is for people to align their behaviour and choices to the outcomes chosen by those in power, rather than deciding such outcomes for themselves. ‘Human-centred’ policy turns out to have as much to do with people deciding for themselves as the Ministry of Peace had to do with Peace, or the Ministry of Plenty to do with Plenty in Orwell’s novel.
Chandler draws attention to the irony of a worldview that imagines a much greater role for human action ending up making the case for greater restraints on freedom. As he explains, one of the marked prejudices of our times is that people have a far greater impact on the external world — for example, with the question of pollution — where mankind’s industrial output is held to threaten the very existence of life on the planet. Similarly, he observes, we have an exaggerated view of the way that our own health is shaped by the choices that we make. Political loyalties, too, are now widely seen as a great destructive force, limiting more positive outcomes.
But as Chandler explains, Sen’s own approach, enshrined in the UN Development Report, is less respectful of people’s own choices than you might expect. According to Sen ‘the outcome one wants is a reasoned assessment’ but ‘the underlying question’ is ‘whether the person has had an adequate opportunity to reason about what she really wants’. Building capacity turns out to mean building capacity to make the right choices — in other words, the choices that development economists think are the right choices. ‘Reducing risk-taking among youth requires that they have the information and the capacity to make and act on decisions’, explains the World Bank’s Development Report.
You’ll be free to make choices, as long as you’re careful to only make the approved choices. A very restrictive kind of “freedom” indeed.
Update: Also in sp!ked, Sean Collins talks about the introduction of so-called “libertarian paternalism” aka the nudge:
When Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness was published in 2008, it seemed like it might be a fad bestseller, like Freakonomics or one of those Malcolm Gladwell books.
Nudge authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, both American academics, proposed that government and employers should more consciously direct people to make ‘better’ choices in health, personal finance and other areas, in order to improve their lives. They gave the example of a cafeteria that lays out food in a way that encourages people to select carrot sticks over French fries or dessert. The authors label their approach ‘libertarian paternalism’: ‘paternalism’ because they want to steer people in a certain direction, and ‘libertarian’ because they would still offer people an array of choices (if you really want the chocolate mousse, you can reach under the counter at the back).
Although a new idea at the time, nudge was hardly a Big Idea. And yet governments around the world picked it up and ran with it, giving the concept more substance and longevity than might have been expected. As Sunstein has noted, the findings from his and others’ behavioural research have informed US regulations concerning ‘retirement savings, fuel economy, energy efficiency, environmental protection, healthcare, and obesity’. Sunstein himself implemented many of these measures in his role of Regulatory Czar in the Obama administration (described in his recently published book, Simpler: The Future of Government). In the UK, prime minister David Cameron set up a Behavioural Insights Team, also known as the ‘nudge unit’, in 2010. This has led to a variety of new policies and schemes directed at anything from obesity and teenage pregnancy to organ donations and the environment.