Sunday, 17 November 2013

The age of consent

Apparently a barrister in a set of chambers known as Hardwicke (it used to be Hardwicke Building but decided to get trendy and have a single word title, perhaps paying pretend experts a lot of dosh for the idea) has suggested that the age of consent for sexual intercourse should be reduced to thirteen.  On reading of her suggestion I cast my mind back more than forty years and tried to remember what happened in terms of jiggy-jiggy among my classmates.  

It was not difficult to remember.  There were the religious ones, saving themselves for the person their god has chosen for them.  There were the demure ones for whom sexual activity was not appropriate at the time.  There were the ugly (and usually spotty) ones who had no chance whatever they might have desired.  And there were those who felt it right at the time to have a stab at it, or, as the case may be, receive a stab.  

Names could be named because those who "did it" at the age of 13 were known to be doing so, but nothing would be served by giving the names.  What matters is the truth of what was happening and why.  

The why is really simple.  They did it because they decided to do it.  They knew it was against the law but they felt it was right for them at the time.  I have no idea how many, if any, now regret those actions, what I do know is that those who did it were among the most self-assured and wordly-wise boys and girls in my year.  

Needless to say I was in the ugly and spotty category and had to wait several years to learn the inadequacy of my sensual performance.  

The barrister who spoke-out is called Barbara Hewson.  You can read a little about her here.   I know Barbara Hewson and I know Hardwicke very well.  Barbara is not a crank she is a highly intelligent woman and thoroughly practical.  She knows that teenagers will play the jiggy-jiggy game whether or not their parents or the law like it and suggests that it would be better for the law to reflect reality than for it to criminalise something that involves no abuse and will happen regardless of any outside influences intended to prevent it.  

Naturally the BBC has swooped on her expression of opinion and given tacit support to those who criticise it as a molesters' charter.  No doubt they believe there is a host of dirty old men currently suppressing their urge to seduce thirteen year-olds who would lose all inhibitions were the age of consent reduced by three years.  We have to be realistic, no doubt there are some in that position.  Currently they fail with sixteen year-olds and will fancy their chances with younger prey.  But why will they fancy their chances with younger prey?  It seems to me there is only one answer, namely that younger girls or boys will have less strength to resist their "grooming".  Since we have to be realistic it seems inevitable that this would be the case because that is how human being are.  Yet it does not justify teenagers who in fact consent to sexual activity being subject to criminal prosecution simply because the law decrees their consent to be inoperative.  

Perhaps studies have been conducted into the effect of previous reductions to the age of consent.  If so it is tolerably clear they have not produced alarming results or they would have been all over the press and I cannot recall reading anything of the sort. In particular the age of consent for male homosexual activity has been reduced from twenty-one to eighteen and then to sixteen within the last fifty years, each proposed reduction being met by howls of indignation from those who predicted an epidemic of middle-aged men in dirty macs inviting impressionable young boys back to view their etchings.  As far as I know nothing of the sort has happened, although it is inevitable that more approaches will have been made than before and that more will have succeeded, the numbers of such do not seem to have caused panic in the police so it might be reasonable to infer that no real problem arose.  

I think it important not to be too flippant about this issue.  It is easy to say that using the power of age to make a sexual conquest is not a problem because abuse of that power is a criminal offence and anyone doing so is liable to prosecution.  That is the case but prosecuting such matters is difficult because everything usually happens between the participants with no external witnesses and the young complainant is, rightly, subject to cross-examination in court that he or she is usually less able to deal with than the older defendant.  

Barbara Hewson raised a point that is a true dilemma.  How do we de-criminalise genuinely consensual sexual conduct between young people and, at the same time, maintain protection against the exploitative dirty mac brigade, however large or small their brigade is? 

That dilemma actually raises a a false dichotomy.  Preventing the young from being exploited by older people is a matter of effective enforcement of the law whereas de-criminalising consensual activity is a matter of the law reflecting what actually happens and will always happen and, I would suggest, harms neither of the parties involved.  

I do not believe there is a massive horde of dirty old men in dirty old macs just waiting for the age of consent to be lowered so they can realise their previously unfulfilled dream of a bit of teenage totty quivering beneath their flabby torsos.  

Look, your old pervs fall into three categories.  There are those, very few in number, who don't care about the law and try it on anytime they can, for them the age of consent is irrelevant.  In reality they are of the same mind-set as the rapist.  Then there are those who keep to the law and will try their luck with anything legal, for them the age of consent is important because it draws the line between legal and illegal.  And there are those who just fancy someone regardless of age and law, for them it is an emotional matter of the connection they have (or think they have) with the object of their desires.  The second and third categories would never force themselves on anyone although they might be a terrible nuisance.   

An age of consent is an arbitrary line.  There is an argument - the argument made by Barbara Hewson - that it should reflect what young people do these days.  That is the view to which I subscribe, although I know too little about young people today to say whether it should be sixteen, thirteen or lower.  The threat of the dirty mac brigade falls away once one realises that they will only get some legal jiggy-jiggy with the consent of the other person.  Indecent approaches will be made and some will succeed and leave the young recipient of their two inches slightly upset and very disappointed, against that must be weighed the young people who have sexual intercourse because they both want to.  It is difficult to understand that their consensual activity should be a crime. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Moronic Mess from Miliband the Millionaire Marxist

Those of us interested in matters political feel a strange compunction to listen to speeches uttered by those who might be in position to turn their desires into law.  Today it was the turn of Miliband the Millionaire Marxist.  Today he showed what commentators on the radio seemed to consider his true colours.  

The speech itself was actually quite interesting with a sickly amalgam of sentimental sob stories, prices and income policies straight out of HG Wells' time machine, a novel variation on British Jobs for British Workers, proposals to nationalise land and wholescale criticism of the very policies he personally supported and put to the British people at the last two general elections (and some which he helped to create as a Labour Party policy advisor in the election of 2001). 

How refreshing it would be to hear a senior politician say "We introduced a policy which didn't work, we took a lot of advice, considered it carefully and thought it would work but we were wrong.  We are very sorry for our mistake and understand what you are entitled to doubt our judgment.  Nonetheless we now put forward a different policy and ask you to consider it carefully".  But no, for Miliband his previous policies are all the fault of the current government and he is and always has been right.  This fundamental and transparent dishonesty is displayed by the leaders of both main parties, less so by the leader of the third party, but is shown in full measure by the leader of the fourth party (the current Deputy Prime Minister).  One day they will realise people see through them and laugh at their inability to admit they make errors of judgment - we all do it, usually several times a day, and the absurdity of these superannuated oafs pretending to be different does them no favours.  

At the core of every one of Miliband's policy initiatives announced today is the belief that government has magical powers to influence the private sector economy for the good.  Now it goes without saying that different people will have different ideas of what is "for the good", but my point is valid regardless of anyones opinions on that.  You see, I ask what government can do and it is the answer to that question that explains why magic has nothing to do with it.  The answer is obvious provided you start from the correct position.  

The private sector comprises businesses providing goods and services (usually but not necessarily for profit).  By definition these businesses incur costs in making their goods and services available and can continue in business only for so long as the selling price matches or exceeds all the costs (they can, of course, run at a loss for a while but will eventually have to fold when lines of financial support are exhausted).  A business that makes a profit can do various things with it - retain profits for investment with a view to expanding the business, pay a dividend to investors and/or a bonus to staff, retain it to provide a cash buffer in case things turn south, give it to the Battersea Dogs' Home and more. 

From that starting point it becomes clear that the only things government policies can affect are costs, selling prices and profits.  Don't get it wrong, don't think government can do anything that affects a business other than to influence costs, selling prices or profits.  It cannot.  

We had examples of policies intended to affect all three of these in Mr Miliband's speech.  

Small businesses are to be taxed less.  The idea is to reduce costs by reducing the amount of tax that must be paid as everyday overheads.  He promotes this as a benefit being provided to small businesses by his government.  It is nothing of the sort.  He is proposing reducing an impediment to business that the current government, and the government of which he was previously a part, impose on business.  

He said this is a way to create more jobs.  For once I agree with him.  If you reduce the costs of business the prospect of profit is increased and, inevitably, so is the prospect of that business expanding and taking on additional staff.  The same applies to all cost imposed by government as overheads - land taxes, employer's National Insurance contributions, VAT and countless regulations that require expenditure to be incurred (usually pointlessly) on monitoring compliance with random targets and standards that have no substance beyond the egotistical commands of single-issue bigots. 

For big businesses he wants to take more of their profits in tax.  No reduction in costs for them, jobs that might be created by reducing the costs of big businesses are of no interest to him.  To the Millionaire Marxist big business is just a cash cow, to be milked and punished to the fullest extent possible.  How ironic it is that his plans require the big businesses he despises so much to make the largest profits possible.  

Having said that, taxes that apply before sales are made increase the prices businesses have to charge to break even.  An example I have given before is of a furniture manufacturer that spends £50 on raw materials and £50 on labour to create a table, leaving aside other overheads the table cannot be sold at £100 to achieve break-even.  Because VAT at 20% will have to be added the sale price must be £120.  There might not be a market at that level, although there might be at £105 or £110.  If you get rid of VAT and tax profits instead the business has an increased chance of expanding and creating more jobs.  Get rid of land tax (business rates) as well and and pre-sale costs fall further.  I am all in favour of taxing profits and dispensing with all taxes that stress profit-margins.  

Mr Miliband has put on the metaphorical hat he bought when supporting the policies of East Germany in his youth and decreed that electricity and gas prices will be frozen for 20 months if he becomes Prime Minister.  

Give me strength. Government dictating sale prices of any goods or services is a truly desperate policy.  Some of us are old enough to remember the prices-and-incomes policies that formed a cross-party consensus in the 1960s and 1970s.  Lest anyone does not know how it operated, by law prices and incomes could only be increased by the maximum figure dictated by government.  Yes, you read that correctly.  No matter how much the cost of imported raw products increased, that increase could not be passed on to customers if it resulted in the finished product going up in price by more than the percentage the government decreed to be acceptable, the manufacturer had to bear the cost or go bust.  No matter how much more profit a business earned in one year compared to the last, employees could not be given a pay rise greater than the percentage decreed by government.  It was utterly mad.  

Yet Mr Miliband obviously thinks it wonderful because he wants to do it again.  The first basis on which he sold it is entirely meritworthy, he claimed to want to keep energy costs down for the little people.  So say all of us, except those who supported the appalling Climate Change Act 2008 that requires the cost of energy to rise again and again.  Oh hang on a moment, the Climate Change Act was the only major piece of legislation piloted through the House of Commons by a certain Marxist Millionaire called Miliband when he was in government.  No qualms about hitting the little people in the pocket then, so what has changed?  If what has changed is that he has become an honest politician he would want to repeal all parts of his own legislation that increase cost for Mr & Mrs Ordinary, but no.  He wants to punish energy companies because they make profits.  It is no more sophisticated than that, as he admitted when giving the second reason for this proposed policy.  

He does not understand profit - he doesn't need to because he and his slimy brother inherited a fortune through careful tax avoidance and has oiled his way onto the political gravy train so there is no need for him to understand anything about anything other than his own self-interest.  

The full consequences of freezing electricity and gas prices cannot be foreseen although some things are pretty obvious.  Prices are likely to rise in advance of the freeze at least to counter 20-months of inflation, investment by the energy companies is likely to be reduced because they will have less money to invest and the pressure for crippling price rises once the freeze is lifted will be difficult to resist since 20 months of investment activity will have to be caught-up as soon as possible to try to keep the lights on. 

The Labour Party professes the desire to seek full employment.  For decades their means of seeking this has been to increase tax and create public sector jobs of little or no value.  Despite that unemployment has been higher at the end of every Labour government than at the beginning.  The only realistic chance of increasing employment is by reducing government impediments to business - both taxes that increase day-to-day overheads and taxes that reduce the funds available for investment.  You cannot expect a Millionaire Marxist to understand that, and poor Mr Miliband is no exception.