Friday, December 22, 2006

How human rights always lead to human wrongs

A comment from Britain

Jeremy Bentham described the Declaration of the Rights of Man by French revolutionaries as “nonsense on stilts”. Nice rhetoric, but ultimately unsuccessful. Since 1789 the idea of human rights has thrived. It now even has its own day. This year’s Human Rights Day, was dedicated to the war on poverty. Bentham was right. The idea that we all enjoy certain rights, not because any legal system gives them to us, but simply because we are humans, is silly. But, in the 18th century at least, it was beneficial silliness.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are born equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that amongst these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These statements are not self-evident. They are not even true. They are gobbledygook. Yet they inspired the Constitution of the United States, one of mankind’s great achievements.

Alas, once nonsense is up and running, it is hard to rein in. Initially, our self-evident human rights were simply protections against the abuse of power. Today, entitlements to all manner of goods are making themselves evident to human rights oracles. Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, claims that we have human rights “to food, to work, to healthcare and housing”.

This inflation has changed the politics of human rights. Whereas human rights once supported limited government, they are now invoked in favour of the welfare state and the maximal government it requires. Which is why the human rights movement, although well intentioned, has become a malign force.

In an article to mark Human Rights Day this month, Ms Arbour claimed that poverty is caused by human rights violations. It is true, of course, that if people had food, healthcare and housing, they would not live in poverty. But it is absurd to say that lacking these things causes poverty. Lacking these things is poverty. Why do millions of people lack decent food, healthcare and housing? That is the question.

The human rights lobby sees poverty as an essentially legal problem. All humans are entitled to food, healthcare, housing and so on. But countries where poverty is common have failed to enshrine these entitlements in law. If they embraced human rights, poverty would be legislated out of existence.

If you are tempted to agree, perhaps you will also like this idea. The government should enrich us by passing a law that entitles all Brits to an annual income of at least one million pounds. The difficulty, of course, is that Britain’s GDP is considerably less than one million pounds per person. It is impossible to provide everyone with this income.

The same goes for the more modest entitlements that human rights enthusiasts claim to be universal. Providing every citizen with decent food, healthcare and housing exceeds the productive capacity of many poor countries. Mauritania’s annual GDP, for example, is only $400 per person. It would be nice if Mauritanians were richer, but declaring that they should be will not help. Entitlements to wealth do not create wealth. On the contrary, they hinder wealth creation.

To see why, consider a less absurd entitlement. Suppose Gordon Brown introduced a minimum household income guarantee of £40,000. This may appear possible, since British GDP is now £52,000 per household. In fact, the policy would soon defeat itself. Only dedicated Protestants would continue to work. Those whose efforts would earn them less than £40,000 would not bother, and nor would those who earn more, given the tax rates that would be required to fund this entitlement. With mass indolence, the average household income would soon fall well below £40,000, whatever the law said we were entitled to.

Poor countries are not exempt from the perverse incentives created by entitlements. In fact, they are more vulnerable to them. Where labour is less productive, even modest entitlements will undermine the incentive to work. In Britain we can guarantee all citizens food, healthcare and housing without destroying economic incentives. But this is because we are already rich. Such entitlements would devastate less developed economies.

The causes of poverty are debated by economists. Yet most agree that property rights are essential for wealth creation. Without them, wealth cannot be accrued. And if people cannot accrue wealth, they have little incentive to create it. Why invest capital and effort in a business if you cannot feel secure in your ownership of it, and of the profits that flow from it? Communism and anarchy create poverty in the same way: by undermining property rights.

Property rights are not universal entitlements. If I own some land then you do not own it. You lack entitlements that I enjoy, such as the profits made by farming that land. Such inequalities are inherent to property rights. Which may explain why human rights activists do not care for them. In an 800-word article on fighting poverty, Ms Arbour did not once mention property rights. Instead, she lamented “unequal access to resources” — something entailed by private ownership of them.

Tens of millions of Chinese have worked their way out of poverty in recent years. It was not achieved by extending human rights law in China. Nor is it an “economic miracle”. It is a predictable consequence of establishing property rights.


Official British paranoia about "hate crime"

Contrary to UK government expectations, Englishmen just don't behave like Muslims

After the bombings in London on 7 July 2005, the British state exerted at least as much energy keeping a watchful eye on the white hordes as it did trying to find out who detonated the bombs. Many predicted a swift and unforgiving `Islamophobic backlash'. Police officers were posted outside mosques. A National Community Tensions Team set about monitoring anti-Muslim incidents around the country and provided intelligence to the government and police. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, issued a plea for calm, warning against that `temptation in some' to make Muslims a `scapegoat'. Brian Paddick, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, called for everyone to keep their eyes peeled for hate on the streets.

Even doctors' surgeries were enlisted in the post-7/7 spying game. One primary care trust sent an email the day after the bombings asking staff to watch out for signs of hate: `At a time of raised tensions such as this, it is important that all staff challenge racism and prejudice in a positive way.' A union official called on progressives to take a stand against the `backlash' against `our Muslim brothers and sisters'.

Backlash? What backlash? We now know that the post-7/7 fantasies of an anti-Muslim pogrom were just that: fantasises, fuelled by an excitable and unfounded view of the white working classes as ignorant and given to violent outbursts. Figures published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) last week show that for the year 2005-2006 (which covers 1 April 2005 to 31 March 2006, thus including the aftermath of the bombings) there were prosecutions for 43 cases of religiously aggravated crime. That's right, 43. Far from being a backlash, this figure is socially insignificant, representing a minuscule minority of overall crime for 2005-2006. The `backlash' predicted by so many turned out to be a handful of mostly minor incidents carried out by drunks and losers.

As the Director of Public Prosecutions said as he presented the figures - sounding somewhat perplexed - `the fears of a large rise in offences appear to be unfounded'.

Some of the headline coverage of the stats has chosen to focus on the percentage rise in prosecutions for religiously aggravated offences. `The Crown Prosecution Service's Racist and Religious Incident Monitoring report for 2005-2006 shows an increase in prosecutions on the previous year for both types of offence', says the CPS press release. `Religiously aggravated cases rose by 26.5 per cent.' That seems to be true. But in this instance, 26.5 per cent represents a mere nine cases: there was a rise from 34 prosecutions in religiously aggravated cases in 2004-2005 to 43 in 2005-2006. Fewer than half of these religiously aggravated incidents in 2005-2006 can definitely be said to have targeted Muslims: of the 43 cases, Muslims were victims in 18 of them, Christians were victims in three, and a Sikh was a victim in one. In the remaining 21 cases, the actual or perceived religion of the victim was not known (more of which in a minute).

If you go you beyond the press release and dig into the CPS report, you'll see that this means there were fewer prosecutions for religiously aggravated cases involving Muslims as victims in 2005-2006 than there were in 2004-2005. In 2004-2005, there were prosecutions for 34 cases of religiously aggravated crime, in which the victim's actual or perceived religion was Islam in 23 cases; in 2005-2006, there were 43 cases of religiously aggravated crime, in which the victim's actual or perceived religion was Islam in 18 cases. This means that the number of prosecuted anti-Muslim crimes fell from 23 to 18 in a year in which we were warned of an ominous rise in anti-Muslim hate.

Of the 43 cases in 2005-2006, around one quarter involved assault or harassment against the person. The charges prosecuted included: 21 for religiously aggravated public disorder (shouting in the street, etc); 10 for religiously aggravated criminal damage (graffiti, smashing windows, damaging religious buildings, etc); nine for religiously aggravated assault; and three for religiously aggravated harassment. So, 72.1 per cent of the prosecutions involved public disorder or damage, and 27.9 per cent (or 12 cases in real terms) involved assault or harassment.

It is worth asking what constitutes a religiously aggravated crime. When does public disorder become `religiously aggravated public disorder'? The CPS says it uses a `similar definition' for religious incidents as the Macpherson report into the investigation of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence used to define a racist incident. So a religiously aggravated incident is an incident perceived to be religiously aggravated by the victim or any other person. With such a sweeping subjective definition of religiously aggravated crime - where it is the perception of the victim or any bystander that counts - the really shocking thing is that the police books aren't overflowing with religiously aggravated whispers, allegations and prosecutions.

So subjective is the definition of a religiously aggravated offence that in 21 of the 43 prosecutions in 2005-2006, the actual or perceived religion of the victim was unknown. What can this mean? Presumably that some of the crimes were victimless; maybe, for example, someone was prosecuted for shouting generally anti-religious remarks in a public place. It is also noteworthy that the CPS report refers to a victim's `actual or perceived religion'. This might mean that some of the `Muslim' victims of religiously aggravated crimes were not Muslims, but rather were only perceived as such. Perhaps some were Sikhs verbally assaulted as if they were Muslims. It seems you can be a victim of Islamophobia even if you are not a Muslim.

The police and other bodies positively trawled for evidence of anti-Muslim hate post-7/7. London's Metropolitan Police published a leaflet titled `Communities Together Can Help Fight the Effects of Terrorism in London' - and by `effects of terrorism' they didn't mean injuries or rubble, but that imagined anti-religious backlash. The Met promised to respond `quickly and robustly' to prejudice and hate, and provided phone numbers for different organisations for those who felt `vulnerable, confused and angry' or believed they may have been `a victim of prejudice'. The Islamic Human Rights Commission ran ads on an Islamic TV channel encouraging Muslims to report harassment, which can be `anything from verbal abuse, nasty looks to physical assault.' The Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism also encouraged more reporting of anti-Muslim incidents, and said Islamophobia can include anything from physical assault to not being shown `respect' in public life.

Taking into account the widespread predictions of an anti-Muslim backlash, the open-ended definition of a religiously aggravated crime, and the cynical hunt by the police and unelected, self-serving groups for any hint of harassment or danger post-7/7, it is fairly remarkable that the number of prosecutions of religiously aggravated offences in 2005-2006 was only 43, and 18 for cases where Muslims were known to be the victims. Post-7/7, while the government, police, church and various worthy self-defined community groups feverishly predicted a rise in hateful violence, the vast mass of the population seem to have remained peaceable and tolerant, simply getting on with their everyday lives.

Looking at the nature of some of the religiously aggravated crimes of 2005-2006, it is clear that anti-religious hatred is not a real social force but rather something indulged in by sad and often drunk individuals. Look at the cases highlighted in the CPS press release, presumably because they were seen as among the most dramatic. One incident of religiously aggravated common assault involved a defendant who refused to pay for his meal in an Indian restaurant and then subsequently submitted a waiter (who was Muslim) to verbal abuse and physical assault. In another, a Turkish Muslim woman and her teenage daughter were waiting at a bus-stop when a drunk shouted abuse at them and spat on the ground near where they were sitting; as the women boarded the bus the man spat in their direction and `his spittle [made] contact with their upper body clothing'.

These are nasty incidents, and it sounds as though both men need to be put firmly in their place. But they also sound like the kind of inebriated incidents that happen fairly frequently around the country. I've witnessed numerous arguments and scuffles in Indian restaurants on Saturday nights, often involving a bunch of drunks making ignorant racist remarks at waiters. And who hasn't had that uncomfortable feeling of being approached by a drunken loudmouth, often shouting and swinging his fists, while waiting at a bus-stop or sitting on a train? These two religiously aggravated incidents - flagged up in the CPS press release as examples for journalists to use - reveal nothing about society at large. Rather they show what most of us already know: there are some dickheads out there.

The two cases do, however, highlight dangers behind the authorities' religious hatred agenda. The man who refused to pay for his meal in an Indian restaurant and shouted at the waiter was sentenced to six months' imprisonment - six months. The judge admitted that `it would not have been custody if the offence [had] not been religiously aggravated'. The drunk at the bus-stop was sentenced to three months' imprisonment. Here, the authorities are explicitly punishing people not only for what they do, but also for what they think; not only for their actions, but also for their thoughts, for the fact that they `hated' someone. This takes us into the realm of thought crime, where a man who pushes an Indian waiter and calls him a `f*cking c*nt' is likely to be get a slap on the wrists, while the man who pushes the waiter and calls him a `Muslim c*nt' can be thrown in jail for six months. It may be a crime to push a waiter; but should it be a crime to hate a waiter or his religion?

Finally, as in most hate crime debates, the aim of this overzealous punishment of individuals who commit religiously aggravated crimes seems to be to `send a message' to the rest of us. The authorities are using these cases to tell us they are serious about stamping out religious hatred and `hate speech'. This degrades the law and any idea of natural justice. Individual cases are effectively turned into showtrials, as the law is used to correct what are seen as backward attitudes among the populace. Individuals are punished particularly harshly for something they said or thought while committing a crime, while the rest of us are patronised by police officials and judges who think we are backward and prejudiced. This is less about justice, and more about social engineering - and such a project is far more poisonous and divisive than anything a pissed-up buffoon could do on a Saturday night.



A school has had to apologise after a class of children aged 9 and 10 were told that Father Christmas does not exist. The shocking assertion was contained in a worksheet which asked the children to compose a Christmas letter. The worksheet handed to the Year 5 pupils said “many small children believe in Santa” but that his letters were actually handled by an official at the Post Office. To make matters worse, the pupils were then asked to compose a reply to one of the “small children” explaining why a request for presents was being turned down.

But the main explaining had to be done when the children went home. Their parents, some unbelievers themselves, had to explain why not everything that you are taught in school may be true.

Jackie Jackson, the head teacher of Ladysmith Junior School, Exeter, has written to parents to apologise. She said that the class teacher had downloaded the worksheet in error from an educational resources website. She said: “The choice of this worksheet was a genuine mistake by a teacher, which we are very sad about. Having three children myself, I understand how parents feel. “The last thing we wanted to do was take away the positive and magical side of Christmas and I have wished all the families a happy time. “I have apologised to the parents and this worksheet will never be used in the school again.”

The apology came after a complaint by the parents of one nine-year-old pupil. The child’s father said: “My wife and I make a special effort to keep the belief in Santa in our daughter’s mind as we believe it adds to the magic of Christmas for her and her four-year-old brother. “What gives the school the right to decide when children should know the truth about such a harmless matter when knowing the truth takes away that little bit of magic?” Other parents with children at the 490-pupil school agreed. Sam Horn, 28, whose children, Charlotte, 6, and Kieron, 8, believe in Father Christmas, said it was up to parents to discuss with a child whether he is real. “Kids grow up too quickly these days. Children should have the right to stay innocent for as long as possible. Teachers don’t have the right to decide these things.”

Another parent said that her child had brought the worksheet home with her. “When I saw it I instantly realised what it meant. It is not up to anyone apart from the parent. I have received no apology. The damage is done.” Some unbelieving parents were less concerned. Sally Jones, 32, said her children Cory, 10, James, 8, and Tasha, 6, knew “the truth” about Father Christmas. “I don’t think it will come as a shock to many children of that age,” she said. “I don’t think any harm has been done. “Children don’t care as long as they get what they want for Christmas. The only advantage of Santa for a parent is that you’ve got someone to blame if children don’t get what they want.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said that there was no official policy on Father Christmas and it was up to individual schools to decide what to tell pupils. Leaving a glimmer of hope for those of us still expecting a visit, he added that the DfES was not able to comment on the existence or otherwise of Father Christmas.



In an attempt to deflect blame for MRSA from where it really belongs -- dirty hospitals and negligent staff

Doctors have been banned from wearing ties in an effort to contain the spread of superbug MRSA. An NHS trust has told hospital staff, including senior consultants, that the wearing of ties and "other superfluous clothing" could result in disciplinary action. The rules have been introduced by the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust in a bid to reduce its rate of MRSA infection, which is one of the highest in England. The new dress code policy also bans staff involved in direct clinical care from wearing jewellery, watches, scarves and wraps.

But doctors say the new rules stem from political correctness rather than scientific evidence and fear that patients will have less confidence in casually dressed medics. One consultant, who works for the trust but did not want to be named, told the Sunday Times: "If you come to see a consultant, you will be greeted by an open-neck-shirted doctor who will look as if he is the hospital DJ, but will in fact be the consultant." Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, which represents primary care trusts, and wears a bow-tie at his GP surgery, told the paper: "This is political correctness rather than science. Patients need to be able to respect and trust their doctors and going around without ties might damage that relationship."

Earlier this year the British Medical Association suggested that doing away with functionless items of clothing such as ties may help reduce rates of MRSA and other hospital acquired infections. Over 3,500 cases of MRSA blood-stream infection were reported in NHS hospitals between October 2005 and March 2006 and the number of deaths where the superbug is mentioned on death certificates has increased each year from 1993 to 2004. A spokeswoman for the trust said action was needed to improve infection control rates and that the new measures were introduced following consultation with staff.


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