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1. Scots wha play: an English Shakespikedian Scottish independence referendum mashup

THE DATE: 18 September 2014, Fateful Day of Scotland’s Independence Referendum

THE PLACE: A Sceptred Isle

DRAMATIS PERSONAE:
Alexander the Great, First Minister of Scotland
Daveheart, Prime Minister of the Britons
Assorted Other Ministers, Attendant Lords, Lordlings, Politicos, and Camp Followers
Three Witches
A Botnet of Midges
The Internet (A Sprite)
A Helicopter
Dame Scotia
St George of Osborne
Boris de Balliol, Mayor of Londres
UKIP (An Acronym)
Chorus

ACT I: A Blasted Heath.

Enter THREE WITCHES

When shall we three meet again,
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

When the referendum’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

That will be when Salmond’s gone.

Where the place?

Hampstead Heath.

Better Together unto death!

Is that your phone?

Daveheart calls: anon! –
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the plebs and filthy air.

[WITCHES vanish.]

ACT II: The Scottish Camp (Voters at Dawn)

Enter a SMALL FOLKS’ CHORUS, Botnet Midges,
Who flap their wings, and then commence this chant:

See here assembled in the Scottish Camp
The Thane of Yes, Lord Naw-Naw, Doctor Spin.
Old folk forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But we’ll remember, with advantages,
This Referendum Day. Then shall that name
And date, familiar as our household words –
Alex the Great, the eighteenth of September –
And many, many here who cast their votes,
A true sorority, a band of brothers,
Long be remembered — long as “Auld Lang Syne” –
For she or he who votes along with me
Shall be my sibling; be they curt or harsh
This day shall gentle their condition:
Scots students down in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed, they were not here,
Casting their votes in this our referendum.

ACT III: On Arthur’s Seat, a Mount Olympus
Near the Scots’ Parliament at Holyrood

Proud Edward Milibrand, Daveheart, Nicholas Clegg,
And Anthony a Blair perch on the crags
With English Exiles. Now Lord Devomax speaks:

Stands England where it did? Alas, poor country,
Almost afraid to know itself, a stateless
Nation, post-imperial, undevolved;
Still sadly lacking its own Parliament,
It commandeers to deal with its affairs
The British Parliament, whose time it wastes
With talk of what pertains to England only,
And so abuses that quaint institution
As if it were its own, not for these islands
Set in a silver sea from Sark to Shetland.

[Exit, pursued by A. Blair]

ACT IV: The Archipelago (High Noon)

Enter THE INTERNET, A Sprite, who sings:

Full fathom five Westminster lies;
Democracy begins to fade;
Stout, undevolved, John Bull still eyes
Imperial power so long mislaid;
England must suffer a sea-change
Into something small and strange,
MPs hourly clang Big Ben:

DING-DONG!

Come, John Bull, and toll Big Ben.

ACT V: South London: top floor of the Shard

Boris de Balliol, St George of Osborne,
Attendant Lords, and Chorus Bankerorum,
Et Nympharum Tamesis et Parliamentorum

Sheet lightnings flash offstage while clashing cymbals
Crescendo in a thunderous night’s farrage.

ST GEORGE: Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!
Ye exit polls and hurricanoes spout!
Come, Boris, here’s the place. Stand still.

How fearful

And dizzy ’tis, to cast one’s eyes so low!
The crows and choughs, that wing the midway air
Seem gross as bankers’ apps: here from this Shard
See floors of smug short-sellers, dreadful traders
Inside a giant gherkin, and the City
Fraternity of inegalite
Spread out around us while its denizens
Appear like lice.

ATTENDANT LORDS: Scotia and Boris, hail!

BORIS: O Bella, Bella Caledonia,
Hic Boris Maior, Londinii Imperator,
Ego –

Fanfare of hautboys, bagpipes, and a tucket.

ST GEORGE: A tucket!

BORIS:                             Tempus fugit.

CHORUS:                                                    Fuckaduckit!

Pipers, desist! Your music from this height
Has calmed the storm, and, blithely, while we wait
For the result to come from Holyrood,
So charms the ear that, clad in English tartans –
The Hunting Cholmondesley, the Royal Agincourt,
And chic crisscrosses of the National Trust –
Our city here, ravished by this fair sound
Of tweeted pibroch, YouTubed from the Shard
To Wapping, Westminster, and Heathrow’s tarmac,
While gazing up from bingo and Big Macs,
Brooding upon our disunited kingdom,
Stands all agog to hear Dame Scotia speak.

Scotia descends, ex machina helecopteris

HELICOPTER: Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

SCOTIA: O England, England, your tight cabinet’s
Sly Oxbridge public-schoolboy millionaires
Fight while your country sinks beneath their yoke;
It weeps, it bleeds; and each new day a gash
Is added to those wounds: new Europhiles
Repulsed, the world repelled; England whose riots
Failed to stop students’ fees for your own folk
Or to contain their escalating cost.
Sad, catastrophic, calculating drones
Miscalculating loans, kicking the arts,
England betrayed by Scoto-Anglish Blair
Into wrong wars and then to Gordon Brown,
Jowled lord of loss and light-touch regulation.
O England, England! Rise and be a nation
United under your own Parliament!
Methinks I am a prophet now inspired
And thus, inspiring, do foretell of you:
Your Europhobia must not endure,
For violent fires must soon burn out themselves;
Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short.
Learn from the Scots: plant windfarms, make yourself
A Saudi Arabia of tidal power,
Though not of gender; learn, too, from the French,
There is no need to stay a sceptred isle,
Scuffed other Eden, demi-paradise;
No fortress, built by UKIP for themselves,
Against infection in their Brussels wars;
Be happy as a nation on an island
That’s not England’s alone, a little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea,
Which serves to link it now with all the globe,
Or as the front door to a happy home,
Be, still, the envy of less happier lands,
And set up soon an English Parliament,
Maybe in London, Britain’s other eye,
Maybe in Yorkshire, so you may become
A better friend to Scotland whose folk love
This blessed plot, this earth, and independence.

She zooms northwards.

Heading image: Macbeth by John Martin (1789–1854). Scottish National Gallery. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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2. China’s economic foes

China has all but overtaken the United States based on GDP at newly-computed purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates, twenty years after Paul Krugman predicted: “Although China is still a very poor country, its population is so huge that it will become a major economic power if it achieves even a fraction of Western productivity levels.” But will it eclipse the United States, as Arvind Subramanian has claimed, with the yuan eventually vying with the dollar for international reserve currency status?

Not unless China battles three economic foes. One is well-known: diminishing marginal returns to capital. Two others have received less attention. The first is Carlos Diaz-Alejandro. Not the man, but the results uncovered by his research on the Southern Cone following the opening up of its capital account that culminated in a sovereign debt crisis and contributed to Latin America’s lost 1980s. If the capital account is liberalized before the domestic financial system is ready, the country sets itself up for a fall: goodbye financial repression, hello financial crash. The second is the “reality of transition”: rejuvenating growth requires hard budgets and competition to improve resource allocation and stimulate innovation, counterbalanced with a more competitive real exchange rate. This is the principal insight from the transition in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), which was far simpler than anything China faces.

China was able to raise total factor productivity (TFP) growth as an offset to diminishing marginal returns to capital, especially after joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, and faster growth was accompanied by a rising savings rate. But TFP growth is hard to sustain. Any developing country targeting growth above the steady state level given by the sum of human capital growth, TFP growth and population growth (the latter two falling rapidly in China) will find that its investment rates need to continually increase unless it can rejuvenate TFP growth. China’s investment rates have risen from around 42% of GDP over 2005-7 (prior to the global crisis) to 48% in recent years even as growth has dropped from the 12% to the 7.5% range. Savings rates have hovered around 50%, reducing current account surpluses (numbers drawn from IMF 2010 and 2014 Article IV reports).

Hall of Supreme Harmony, Beijing.
Hall of Supreme Harmony, Beijing, by Daniel Case. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

This configuration has forced China to choose between either investing even more, or lowering growth targets. It has chosen the latter, with its leaders espousing anti-corruption, deleveraging, environmental improvement and structural reform to achieve higher quality growth. The central bank, People’s Bank of China (PBoC), has reaffirmed its goal of internationalizing the yuan and liberalizing the capital account.

China’s proposed antidote is to “rebalance” from investment and exports to domestic consumption. But growth arithmetic would require consumption to grow at unrealistic rates, given the relative shares of investment and private consumption in GDP, even to meet scaled-down growth targets. Besides, households need better social benefits and market interest rates on bank deposits to save less and consume more. Hukou reform alone, or placing social benefits received by rural migrants on a par with their urban counterparts, could easily cost 3% of GDP a year for the next seven years as some 150 million additional people gain access to such benefits—quite apart from the public investment needed to upgrade urban infrastructure, according to calculations shared by Xinxin Li of the Observatory Group. And the failure to liberalize bank deposit rates has led to the rise of “wealth management products” in the shadow banking system. These “WMPs” offer higher returns but are poorly regulated and more risky.

Indeed, total social financing, a broad measure of credit, has soared from 125% to 200% of GDP over the five years 2009-2013 (Figure 2 in the July 2014 IMF Article IV report, with Box 5 warning that such a rapid trajectory usually ends in tears). Local government debt was estimated at 32% of GDP in mid-2013, much of it short-term and used to fund infrastructure projects and social housing with long paybacks. Housing prices show the signs of a bubble, especially away from the four major cities. Corporate credit is 115% of GDP, about half of it collateralized by land or property. While the focus recently has been on risks from shadow banking, it is hard to separate the shadow from the core. Besides, WMPs have become intertwined with the booming real estate market, a major engine of growth yet the centre of a “web of vulnerabilities” (to quote the IMF) encompassing banks, shadow banks, and local government finances. A real estate shock would ripple through the system, lowering growth and forcing bailouts. The gross cost of the bank workout at the end of the 1990s was 15% of GDP in a much simpler world!

2014 began with fears of a hard landing and an impending default by a bankrupt coal mine on a $500 million WMP-funded loan intermediated by a mega-bank. The government eventually intervened rather than let investors take a hit and risk a confidence crisis. And starting in April, stimulus packages were launched to meet the 7.5% growth target, a tacit admission that rebalancing is not working. But concerns persist around real estate. Besides, stimulus will help only temporarily and China is likely to be facing the same questions about growth and financial vulnerability by the end of the year.

With rebalancing infeasible, and investing even more prohibitively costly, virtually the only remaining option is to spur total factor productivity growth: China is still far from the global technological frontier. This calls for a package that cleans up the financial sector and implements hard budgets and genuine competition, especially for the state-owned enterprises (SOEs), while keeping real exchange rates competitive. The real appreciation of the past few years may have been offset by rising productivity, but continued appreciation will make it harder for the domestic economy to restructure and create 12 million jobs a year to absorb new graduates and displaced SOE workers.

In sum, China must heed Diaz-Alejandro. No one knows what the non-performing loans ratio is in China and few believe the official rate of 1%. If the cornerstone of a financial system is confidence and transparency, China is severely deficient. This must first be fixed and market-determined interest rates adopted before entertaining hopes of internationalizing the currency. China must also accept the reality of transition; the formidable remaining agenda in the fiscal, financial, social, and SOE sectors reminds us that China is still in transition to a full-fledged market economy.

The combination of a financial clean up and the policy trio of hard budgets, competition, and a competitive real exchange rate will improve resource allocation and force innovation, boosting total factor productivity growth. But doing this is hard—that’s the essence of the “middle-income trap”. Huge vested interests will be encountered, evoking Raghuram Rajan’s description of the middle-income trap as one “where crony capitalism creates oligarchies that slow down growth”. Dealing with this agenda is the Chinese leadership’s biggest challenge.

The era of cheap China is ending, while the ability of the government to virtually decree the growth rate has fallen victim to diminishing returns to capital. Diaz-Alejandro and the reality of transition are no less important as China seeks a way forward.

Headline image credit: The Great Wall in fall, by Canary Wu. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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3. Scottish Women and the Vote

Scottish women are said to hold the key to independence, as they predominate in the ‘no’ camp. Men have been repeatedly estimated from poll data to be around 50:50 for and against, while those women who were sure of their intentions were 60% against.

This has been represented as an alarming gender divide, but a look at the history of women fighting for the vote in Scotland shows they have long been resolute in their positions, more concerned with what politics could do in real life than the grandstanding of political ideas, and much more internationalist than their sisters south of the border.

The Scottish route to women’s suffrage started in 1867 with the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage; similar societies were established in Manchester, London, and Dublin. Later these suffragists were joined by the suffragettes, who attracted considerable publicity for arson, vandalism, and hunger-striking in the cause, to the disdain of the constitutional campaigners who thought this sort of behaviour counter-productive. This major division in tactics has served to obscure the fundamental similarity of both campaigns as both sides were directed towards the same objective: for women to have the vote on the same basis as men, which was then on a property-owning franchise. They also both steered away from engagement in other social activities. The vote was all-important, it was a millennialist objective, which once achieved would inaugurate an era of social justice and peace. Other social activity was at best a distraction and could wait till after the advent of the franchise. For this reason English suffragists such as Millicent Fawcett were not involved in important campaigns like those against the Contagious Diseases Acts and for temperance, whatever their personal views may have been.

The Great Procession and Women's Demonstration, 1909 on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Photograph taken by James Patrick. The People's Story, Edinburgh Museums & Galleries. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
The Great Procession and Women’s Demonstration, 1909 on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Photograph taken by James Patrick. The People’s Story, Edinburgh Museums & Galleries. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Scottish women took another path, with a much more inclusive vision of the purpose of political activism. For them the vote was one of a number of issues on which to campaign, and temperance was another. Using the vehicle of the Scottish Christian Union, Scottish women allied with the American Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the most powerful women’s suffrage organisation in the world.

The temperance cause was part of a set of progressive measures as disparate as anti-slavery, ‘social purity’ (sexual control), universal education, and promoting enhanced domestic skills to the poor. All had women as prime movers or playing a prominent part – the so-called ‘feminine public sphere’. Scottish women embraced this ‘woman’s mission’ with a vengeance, for example eagerly seizing on the municipal vote which was granted to Scottish women in 1881, in order to favour candidates who wanted strict alcohol licensing. Other areas of activity included such practical institutions as the Glasgow Samaritan Hospital for ‘diseases of women’ and rescue homes for ‘female inebriates.’ It has been said that alcohol more than slavery or suffrage or any other single cause politicised American women. Megan Smitley in The Feminine Public Sphere (MUP, 2009) has convincingly argued that the same can be said for Scottish women.

In the United States the Women’s Christian Temperance Union saw through enfranchisements state by state, and sent out missionaries to New Zealand (which became the first nation to enfranchise women in 1893) and to Australia (which started enfranchising with South Australia in 1894). Isabel Napier, who was National Superintendent of the Suffrage Department of the Scottish Christian Union, grew up in New Zealand and retained strong links. “When Suffrage became law in New Zealand all their influence was thrown on the side of Temperance Reform,” she said, “and so you have the advanced laws that now obtain.” WCTU speakers toured Scotland from the Shetlands to the Borders, hosted by the Scottish Christian Union.

In contrast, English women considered the US temperance campaign vulgar and did not welcome WCTU speakers; they feared the ‘Americanisation’ of their field. Nor did English and Welsh temperance organisations officially support women’s suffrage (though individual members doubtless did).

The importance of this tradition of social activism for the independence debate has been that Scottish women were not moved by the same arguments as men. The ‘Braveheart tendency’ of independence at all costs as a patriotic ideal, regardless of the consequences, has had limited feminine appeal. As Lesley Riddoch wrote in The Scotsman: “Toughing out controversy and appearing to spoil for a fight may earn respect from male commentators and small armies of cyber-angry, anonymous men. Clever dick answers, snide-sounding put downs and swaggering arrogance turn off watching women as swiftly as they appear to engage watching men.” That was the level at which most of the independence campaign was fought, however, leading to a frantic late catch-up as more ‘woman friendly’ policies were rolled out.

The issues that women took most interest in were: How would either side deal with child poverty, low pay, and poor housing? What could be done about the European-wide disgrace of poor health and low life expectancy in parts of Scotland? Finally (and in a manner that would be instantly recognisable to nineteenth century prohibitionists) how to deal with the appalling levels of alcohol abuse in Scotland which are so damaging to personal health and family life?

Such practical matters of national renewal were often drowned out by masculine bluster.

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4. RestUK, international law, and the Scottish referendum

With Scotland voting on independence on 18 September 2014, the UK coalition government sought advice on the relevant law from two leading international lawyers, James Crawford and Alan Boyle. Their subsequent report has a central argument. An independent Scotland would be separatist, breaking away from the remainder of the UK. Therefore, the latter (known as restUK or rUK) would be the continuator state – enjoying all the rights and duties of the existing UK, while Scotland would be new state having none of rUK’s rights and especially no membership of any international organizations it enjoys now as part of the UK. The bargaining power of rUK as to what it might concede of the UK’s rights would be complete, e.g. with respect to a common currency. This legal opinion has created a confrontational atmosphere around the referendum vote and caused anxiety among Scottish voters about to ‘jump into the unknown’.

It is essential to unpack the distracting complexity of the expert international law professionalism of this advice. Firstly, Crawford and Boyle gloss over the actual legal circumstances of the contract of union between Scotland and England, in particular that the Union was a bargain among powers equal in the eyes of international law at that time. More specifically, the England which, with Wales, concluded the Treaty of Union is exactly the same entity standing opposite to Scotland now as then (leaving aside the North of Ireland which has the option under the Belfast Agreement of leaving the UK by referendum).

There is no international standard, in the event of a dissolution of a union, which can provide any objective criterion to determine that Scotland is the breakaway entity. In international law, recognition of new states is largely a matter of the political discretion of existing states. It depends on an international consensus, or lack of it, where political preference may or may not trump any possibly objective standard of political legitimacy, e.g. self-determination by democratic consent. The vast amount of state practice which Crawford and Boyle’s legal opinion displays is misleading insofar as there is, in fact, no definitive legal marker of guidance. This is shown by the fact that England is the continuator state because it is larger than Scotland. Legally, there has to be a continuator state. But since this obviously cannot be Scotland, it must be England. Even Scotland assumes this to be the case.

Scottish Parliament Building. © andy2673 via iStock.
Scottish Parliament Building. © andy2673 via iStock.

It is necessary to focus upon an international legal history of the individual states, rather than the more general international law offered by Crawford and Boyle. The Anglo-Scottish Union displays a phenomenon that Linda Colley has referred to as the composite state. This is where two or more sovereign nations agree to merge their highest governmental level institution (parliament) into a single state made up of several nations – a state-nation – but other lesser local institutions might remain. In the Europe of the 15th to the 17th century this was a common phenomenon, the most celebrated being in Scandinavia, involving Sweden, Denmark and Norway in a variety of partnerships from the Kalmar Union (1397) onwards. The logic of these partnerships was that they were always open to renegotiation. Now, this is precisely what the English generously recognize in the Edinburgh Agreement. The logic of the composite state does not cover the many cases in which a core nation forms itself into a state and then jealously guards its territorial integrity against dissident minorities, which are then regarded as separatist and destructive of national unity. It is possible that an aura of this type of scenario runs through the legal opinion of Crawford and Boyle, although they have to accept the consensual context of the advice they are being asked to give.

The real issues facing Scotland have to be confronted on a basis of equality and mutual consent in accordance with the international law established as apposite for this case. These issues are a matter of history, not merely that of the 17th-18th century, but also the evolution of the 1707 Treaty of Union (implemented through separate Acts of Union passed in the Scottish and English Parliaments) to the very recent past – especially the Thatcher years and the neo-liberal revolution in English-dominated UK politics. It has to be recognized that there are profound differences of social philosophy now between Scotland and England around the issue of neo-liberalism and the defense of community. These provide good reasons to revisit that 1707 bargain. This revisiting should be on the basis of complete equality. The sharing of common institutions of the United Kingdom, such as the currency, would have to be negotiated after reaching an agreement in which neither side – as so-called continuator state – would have a higher standing.

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5. Shamrock and Saltire: Irish Home Rule and the Scottish Referendum, 1914-2014

This is the centenary year of the enactment of the third Home Rule Bill, as well (of course) as the year of the Scottish referendum on independence. Yet the centenary conversation in Ireland and the somewhat more vigorous debate upon Scots independence, have been conducted — for the most part — quite separately.

While it would be wrong to push the analogies too far, there are some striking similarities – and some differences – between the debate on Home Rule in 1912-14, and the current debate upon Scottish independence. These similarities (and indeed distinctions) might well give food for thought to the protagonists within the Scottish ‘Yes’ and ‘Better Together’ camps — and indeed there is evidence that both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond have ruminated accordingly.

One critical difference between Ireland in 1914 and Scotland in 2014 is that of militancy — Ireland on the eve of the First World War being an armed camp comprising the Ulster and Irish Volunteer movements, opponents and proponents of Home Rule, as well as the British Army. The Scottish political debate has not been militarised, and there is no evidence that it will become so (the Scottish National Liberation Army, for example, has never posed a significant threat). Modern Scottish nationalism has developed as a wholly constitutional and pacific phenomenon.

Of course mainstream Scottish nationalism has only recently, through successive Holyrood elections, emerged as a majority phenomenon. But it has never had to encounter the challenge (faced by Irish nationalism a century ago) of returning a majority of elected representatives, while being lengthily resisted in London.

One aspect of the Irish experience in 1914 was that a fraught constitutional debate, heightened political expectations, and the delaying or disappointment of those expectations (with Unionist resistance and the onset of War), combined to make a highly volatile political chemistry. The hardening expectations of change across Scotland in 2014 mean that national (as well as social and economic) aspirations may need to be quickly and sensitively addressed, whatever the result of the referendum.

Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Irish Unionist Party, inspecting members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The UVF were founded in 1913 by the Ulster Unionist Council to resist the implementation of Home Rule. Q 81759 Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.
Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Irish Unionist Party, inspecting members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The UVF were founded in 1913 by the Ulster Unionist Council to resist the implementation of Home Rule. Q 81759 Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.

One critical dimension of this militancy in 1914 was the trenchant support given to Ulster Unionist paramilitarism by the British Conservative leadership — this in part a symptom of the profound divisions in British and Irish politics and society precipitated by the debate over Home Rule. It is striking that both the Home Rule issue in 1914 and the referendum in 2014 have each attracted an unusually broad range of declarations of allegiance from a complex array of interest groups and individuals. In 1914 there was a high level of ‘celebrity’ endorsement and intervention over Home Rule: taking literary figures alone, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came out as a Home Ruler, while Rudyard Kipling was a strong Unionist. In 2014 Irvine Welsh has declared in favour of independence, while J.K. Rowling is against. Ian Rankin provides a case-study in the complexity (and profundity) of division: he is an agnostic on the issue, but is clear that his characters would have strong opinions. So, Inspector Rebus joins the unionists of 2014 (though the actor Ken Stott, most recent of the TV Rebuses, is reportedly in the ‘yes’ camp).

The analogies between Home Rule and the debate on Scottish independence extend much further than the ‘A’ list, however. The substantial strength and challenge of Home Rule sentiment produced striking intellectual movement before and in 1914 — just as the strength of the movement for Scots independence has produced similar movement a century later.

In 1912-14 the constitutional impasse over Home Rule in fact helped to stimulate support for (what was then called) ‘federalism’ among some of the Unionist elite, including even Edward Carson. In terms of the (nearly) equally weighted forces fighting over Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has now moved to embrace the idea of a federal United Kingdom; and he has been joined or preceded by others, including (for example) the Scottish Conservative journalist, David Torrance. Discussion of a possible English parliament was broached prominently in 1911-1914 and again in 2014. Both in 1914 and in 2014 it appears that the constitutional shape of the ever-malleable United Kingdom is once again in transition — but because unionists are now shifting no less then nationalists.

And indeed some Scots Nationalists have moved towards embracing at least some of the symbols of the British connection. John Redmond, the Home Rule leader, emphasised monarchy and empire in his vision of Irish autonomy during the Home Rule era, partly through personal conviction, and partly in terms of subverting unionist arguments. In similar vein, Alex Salmond (despite a strong tradition of republican sentiment within the SNP), has embraced the ‘union of the crowns’ as SNP strategy, and has in recent years referred deferentially to the Queen (‘of Scots’), and her central place in an independent nation.

Here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s century-old debate on Home Rule speaks to the current condition of Scotland. Indeed here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s wider experience of Union chimes with that of the Scots.

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6. The Scots and the Union of 1707: surly then, uncertain now

The Union of 1707 – which by uniting the English and Scottish parliaments created the new state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain – was enthusiastically sought by some Scots and grudgingly accepted by many more, even if most people would have been happier with a federal union. What until recently most historians had missed was the identification with the Union of Scottish politicians and their supporters who had suffered under the later Stuart regime. In some cases they’d been forced into exile in the Low Countries They were backers of the Revolution (of 1688-90) in Scotland, which they saw as truly glorious. They advocated union as a means of securing the gains of the Revolution (constitutional monarchy, the re-establishment of Presbyterianism and certain civil liberties) and keeping the Jacobites’ hands off the imperial crown. This was a union based on Whig principles – religious, civic and economic. It was effected, as far as Scotland was concerned, through the persistence of a number of driven individuals some of whom had advocated closer union with England in 1688-9, and were still around in 1706-7 to vote for this in the Scottish Parliament.

I take issue with the centuries-old shibboleth that in 1707 the Scots had been, in the words of Robert Burns, ‘bought and sold for English gold’, by a ‘parcel’ of roguish politicians. The Union of 1707 was not the betrayal of the Scottish nation its critics had long asserted, a measure to be overturned if Scotland was to be set back on its rightful constitutional trajectory – not as a stateless nation within the British union state but as an independent nation state.

Yet support for the Scottish Nationalists in Scotland has grown strongly since the 1970s, along with disenchantment with the British state and Westminster. Scots’ identification with Britain has fallen sharply, with most Scots now feeling more Scottish than British.

Union Jack and Scotland, by Julien Carnot. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via
Union Jack and Scotland, by Julien Carnot. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

It’s pretty clear that the Union is more vulnerable today than at any previous time since the Jacobite risings of 1714-5 and 1745-6. The props upon which it was built either no longer apply – its core purpose was to ensure that Queen Anne was succeeded by a Protestant (thereby excluding the Catholic claimant, James Edward Stuart, later the ‘Old Pretender’), or are less important. Presbyterianism, the security of which was enshrined (in theory at least) in the first of the two acts that comprised the Union agreement, has ceased to matter for most Scots. Scotland’s economy is no longer under-developed – unhindered access to the English market and to England’s Atlantic and Caribbean colonies were attractions even for Scots who were otherwise opposed to incorporation.

In short, there is a case for saying that the Union is past its ‘sell by date’. Those who are keen to maintain the United Kingdom need to come up with a vision for a Union for the 21st century – or at the very least a rationale – of the kind that inspired Scots to push for such an arrangement in 1707. Many more rallied to defend it – sometimes by risking life and limb – against the Jacobite incursions of 1715 and 1745. Until recently the main pro-Union campaign, Better Together, has been criticized for emphasizing the negative aspects of Scottish independence – ‘project fear’ – rather than the positive virtues of the Union.

Yet support for Yes Scotland – the separatists’ campaign – is (at the time of writing) apparently no higher than around 40% of the electorate, suggesting that when the referendum vote happens, on 18 September this year, a majority of Scots will vote No. Comparison with other nations in Europe that have recently struggled for and achieved independence may tell us something – not least that Scotland’s experience of union with a bigger neighbor has been somewhat less oppressive. Like being in bed not with an elephant as some allege, but a teddy bear. And that currently, notwithstanding its failings, more Scots than the nationalists hoped for still feel comfortable within the Union. It’s a habit that’s lasted for more than three centuries. As things stand, not enough people have found compelling reasons to give it up.

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7. The US Supreme Court should reverse Wynne – narrowly

Maryland State Comptroller of the Treasury v. Brian Wynne requires the US Supreme Court to decide whether the US Constitution compels a state to grant an income tax credit to its residents for the out-of-state income taxes such residents pay on out-of-state income.

Brian and Karen Wynne live in Howard County, Maryland. As Maryland residents, the Wynnes pay state and county income taxes on their worldwide income. The Maryland income tax statute provides that Maryland residents who pay income taxes to states in which they do not live may credit against their Maryland state income tax liability the taxes paid to those states of nonresidence. However, the Maryland tax law grants no equivalent credit under the county income tax for out-of-state taxes owed by Maryland residents on income earned outside of Maryland.

When the Wynnes complained about the absence of a credit against their Howard County income tax for the out-of-state income taxes the Wynnes paid, Maryland’s Court of Appeals agreed. Maryland’s highest court held that such credits are required by the nondiscrimination principle of the US Constitution’s dormant Commerce Clause. The absence of a credit against the county income tax induces Maryland residents like the Wynnes to invest and work in-state rather than out-of-state. This incentive, the Maryland court held, may impermissibly “affect the interstate market for capital and business investment.”

For two reasons, the US Supreme Court should reverse. First, Wynne highlights the fundamental incoherence of the dormant Commerce Clause test of tax nondiscrimination: any tax provision can be transformed into an economically equivalent direct expenditure. No principled line can be drawn between those tax provisions which are deemed to discriminate against interstate commerce and those which do not. All taxes and government programs can incent residents to invest at home rather than invest out-of-state. It is arbitrary to label only some taxes and public programs as discriminating against interstate commerce.

Suppose, for example, that Howard County seeks to improve its public schools, its police services or its roads. No court or commentator suggests that this kind of routine public improvement violates the dormant Commerce Clause principle of nondiscrimination. However, such direct public expenditures, if successful, have precisely the effect on residents and interstate commerce for which the Court of Appeals condemned the Maryland county income tax as discriminating against interstate commerce: Better public services also “may affect the interstate market for capital and business investment” by encouraging current residents and businesses to stay and by attracting new residents and businesses to come.

There is no principled basis for labeling as discriminatory under the dormant Commerce Clause equivalent tax policies because they affect “the interstate market” of households and businesses. Direct government outlays have the same effects as do taxes on the choice between in-state and out-of-state activity. If taxes discriminate against interstate commerce because they encourage in-state enterprise, so do direct government expenditures which make the state more attractive and thereby stimulate in-state activity.

Snow Clouds Over a Snowy Field, Patuxent Hills, Maryland. Photo by Karol Olson. CC BY 2.0 via olorak Flickr.
Snow Clouds Over a Snowy Field, Patuxent Hills, Maryland. Photo by Karol Olson. CC BY 2.0 via olorak Flickr.

Second, the political process concerns advanced both by the Wynne dissenters in Maryland’s Court of Appeals and by the US Solicitor General are persuasive. Mr. and Mrs. Wynne are Maryland residents who, as voters, have a voice in Maryland’s political process. This contrasts with nonresidents and so-called “statutory residents,” individuals who are deemed for state income tax purposes to be residents of a second state in which they do not vote. As nonvoters, nonresidents and statutory residents lack political voice when they are taxed by states in which they do not vote.

Nonresidents and statutory residents require protection under the dormant Commerce Clause since politicians find it irresistible to export tax obligations onto nonvoters. The Wynnes, on the other hand, are residents of a single state and vote for those who impose Maryland’s state and local taxes on them.

In reversing Wynne, the Supreme Court should decide narrowly. The Wynnes, as residents of a single state, should not receive constitutional protection for their claim to a county income tax credit for the out-of-state taxes the Wynnes pay. However, the Court’s decision should not foreclose the Court from ruling, down the road, that credits are required to prevent the double income taxation of individuals who, for income tax purposes, are residents of two or more states. Such dual residents lack the vote in one of the states taxing them and thus require constitutional succor which the Wynnes do not.

Dissenting in Cory v. White, Justice Powell (joined by Justices Marshall and Stevens) argued “that multiple taxation on the basis of domicile” is unconstitutional. Since the Wynnes are taxed by only one state, the Supreme Court need not now confront this issue again. However, the Court should decide Wynne in a fashion which allows the Court to revisit this question in the future by holding that credits are constitutionally required to prevent the double taxation of dual residents.

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8. The economics of Scottish Independence

economic policy with richard grossman

On September 18, Scots will go to the polls to vote on the question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” A “yes” vote would end the political union between England and Scotland that was enacted in 1707.

The main economic reasons for independence, according to the “Yes Scotland” campaign, is that an independent Scotland would have more affordable daycare, free university tuition, more generous retirement and health benefits, less burdensome regulation, and a more sensible tax system.

As a citizen of a former British colony, it is tempting to compare the situation in Scotland with those of British colonies and protectorates that gained their independence, such as the United States, India/Pakistan, and a variety of smaller countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, although such a comparison is unwarranted.

Historically, independence movements have been motivated by absence of representation in the institutions of government, discrimination against the local population, and economic grievances. These arguments do not hold in the Scottish case.

  • Scotland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. It is represented in the British Parliament in Westminster, where it holds 9% of the seats—fair representation, considering that Scotland’s population is a bit less than 8.5% of total UK population.
  • Scotland does have a considerable measure of self-government. A Scottish Parliament, created in 1998, has authority over issues such as health, education, justice, rural affairs, housing and the environment, and some limited authority over tax rates. Foreign and defense policy remain within the purview of the British government.
  • Scots do not seem to have been systematically discriminated against. At least eight prime ministers since 1900, including recent ex-PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were either born in Scotland or had significant Scottish connections.
  • Scotland is about as prosperous as the rest of the UK, with output per capita greater than those of Wales, Northern Ireland, and England outside of London (see figure).

Because the referendum asks only whether Scotland should become independent and contains no further details on how the break-up with the UK would be managed, it is important to consider some key economic issues that will need to be tackled should Scotland declare its independence.

Graph showing UK Gross Value, created by Richard S. Grossman with data from the UK Office of National Statistics.
Graph showing UK Gross Value, created by Richard S. Grossman with data from the UK Office of National Statistics.

Since Scotland already has a parliament that makes many spending and taxing decisions, we know something about Scottish fiscal policy. According to the World Bank figures, excluding oil (a resource that is expected to decline in importance in coming decades), Scotland’s budget deficit as a share of gross domestic product already exceeds those of fiscally troubled neighbors Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and Italy. Given the “Yes” campaign’s promise to make Scotland’s welfare system even more generous, the fiscal sustainability of an independent Scotland’s is unclear.

As in any divorce, the parties would need to divide their assets and liabilities.

The largest component of UK liabilities are represented by the British national debt, recently calculated at around £1.4 trillion ($2.4 trillion), or about 90 percent of UK GDP. What share of this would an independent Scotland “acquire” in the break-up?

Assets would also have to be divided. One of the greatest assets—North Sea oil—may be more straightforward to divide given that the legislation establishing the Scottish Parliament also established a maritime boundary between England and Scotland, although this may be subject to negotiation. But what about infrastructure in England funded by Scottish taxes and Scottish infrastructure paid for with English taxes?

An even more contentious item is the currency that would be used by an independent Scotland. The pro-independence camp insists that an independent Scotland would remain in a monetary union with the rest of the UK and continue to use the British pound. And, in fact, there is no reason why an independent Scotland could not declare the UK pound legal tender. Or the euro. Or the US dollar, for that matter.

The problem is that the “owner” of the pound, the Bank of England, would be under no obligation to undertake monetary policy actions to benefit Scotland. If a sluggish Scottish economy is in need of loose monetary policy while the rest of the UK is more concerned about inflation, the Bank of England would no doubt carry out policy aimed at the best interests of the UK—not Scotland.

If a Scottish financial institution was on the point of failure, would the Bank of England feel duty-bound to lend pounds? As lender of last resort in England, the Bank has an obligation to supervise—and assist, via the extension of credit—troubled English financial institutions. It seems unlikely that an independent Scotland would allow its financial institutions to be supervised and regulated by a foreign power—nor would that power be morally or legally required to extend the UK financial safety net to Scotland.

At the time of this writing (the second half of August), the smart money (and they do bet on these things in Britain) is on Scotland saying no to independence, although poll results released on August 18 found a surge in pro-independence sentiment. Whatever the polls indicate, no one is taking any chances. Several Scottish-based financial companies are establishing themselves as corporations in England so that, in the case of independence they will not be at a foreigner’s disadvantage vis-à-vis their English clients. Given the economic uncertainty generated by the vote, the sooner September 18 comes, the better for both Scotland and the UK.

Headline image credit: Scottish Parliament building, by Jamieli. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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9. The Dis-United Kingdom

OUP-Blogger-Header-V2 Flinders

Is the UK really in danger of dis-uniting? The answer is ‘no’. But the more interesting answer is that the independence referendum is, to some extent, a red herring. The nationalists may well lose the referendum but they have already won the bigger political battle over power and money. All the main political parties in the UK have agreed give Scotland more powers and more financial competencies – or what is called ‘devo-max’ irrespective of what happens on 18 September.

Viewed from the other side of the world the Scottish independence referendum forms part of a colonial narrative that underpins a great deal of Australian life. Some commentators take great pleasure in forecasting ‘the death’ of the United Kingdom and the demise of the English. Michael Sexton’s headline in The Australian, ‘Scotland chips away at the English empire’, is high on hyperbole and, dare I say, even colonial gloating. It sadly lacks any real understanding of British constitutional history and how it has consistently managed territorial tensions. The UK has long been a ‘union state’ rather than a unitary state. Each nation joined the union for different reasons and maintained distinctive institutions or cultural legacies.

The relationships among and between the countries in the UK have changed many times. Like tectonic plates, the countries rub and grate against each other but through processes of conciliation and compromise (and the dominance of England) volcanic eruptions have been rare. In the late 1990s devolutionary pressures were channeled through the delegation of powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament. Different competencies reflected the extent of popular pressure within each country and since the millennium, with the exception of Northern Ireland, it is possible to trace the gradual devolution of more powers. Wales wants a Parliament, Scotland wants a stronger Parliament – but few people want independence from a Union that has arguably served them well.

But has the Union really served the Scots so well? It is true that the UK as a whole and not justScotland has benefitted from the North Sea Oil revenues. ‘It’s Scotland’s oil!’ might have been the Scottish Nationalist Party’s slogan in the 1970s but it captures a sentiment that underpins today’s debates. It also overlooks the manner in which Scotland also receives a generous slice of the financial pie when public funds are allocated. Fees and charges for many public services that exist in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are absent north of the border. The nationalists argue that public services could be increased if Scotland had more control over North Sea Oil but they play down the fact that many analysts believe that the pool of black gold is nearly empty and that an independent country would have to take its share of the UK’s national debt. Depending upon how the debt-cake is cut this would be a figure around £150 billion.

The UK Government claims Scots would be £1,400 better off if they stayed in the union, the Scottish government claims that they would be £1,000 better off with independence but the simple fact is that independence is a risky game to play for a small state – the political equivalent of Russian roulette in an increasingly competitive and globalised world. There are lots of questions but few answers. On independence would Scotland remain in the European Union? How would an independent Scotland defend itself? What currency would they use? What kind of international role and influence would an independent Scotland have? Would a ‘Yes Vote’ be good for business? What happens in relation to immigration and border controls? What would independence mean for energy markets? The simple fact is that there are no clear answers to these basic questions. The nationalists understandably define many of these questions as little more than ‘scare tactics’ but independence must come with a price.

Union Jack and Scotland, by Julien Carnot. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.
Union Jack and Scotland, by Julien Carnot. CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Flickr.

Nationalists (such a tired and simplistic term in a world of multiple and overlapping loyalties) may argue that independence is about culture and identity, heart and soul – not bureaucracies and budgets and I would not disagree. The problem is that when stood in the voting booth the Scottish public is likely to vote according to their head (and their wallet) and not their heart. The twist in the tail is that support for Scottish independence has at times been higher amongst the English (and that is 54 million people compared to just five million in Scotland) than the Scottish. Therefore if the referendum on Scottish independence was open to the whole of the UK, as many have argued it should be, Scotland may well have been cast adrift by its English neighbours.

And yet the strangest element of this whole Scottish independence debate is that the model of independence on offer has always been strangely lacking in terms of … how can I put it … independence. What’s on offer is a strange quasi-independence where the Scottish Government wants to share the pound sterling and the Bank of England, it wants to share the British army and other military forces and what this amounts to is a rather odd half-way house that is more like greater devolution within the Union rather than true independence as a self-standing nation state. The risks are therefore high but the benefits uncertain and this explains why the Scottish public remains to be convinced that the gamble is worth it. The latest polling figures find 57% against and 43% in support of a ‘yes’ vote but a shift to the ‘no’ camp can be expected as the referendum draws closer and the public becomes more risk averse.

But does this really matter? A ‘yes vote’ was always incredibly unlikely. Mass public support has never existed and the referendum is really part of a deeper power game to lever more powers from London to Scotland and to this extent the game is already over. Devo-max has already been granted. The 2012 Scotland Act has already been passed and boosts the power of the Scottish Parliament by giving it a new ability to tax and borrow along with a number of new policy powers. (The most important new measure – giving the parliament partial control over setting income tax rates in Scotland will come into force in 2015.) Since this legislation was passed the three main political parties in Westminster have all agreed to devolve even more powers, specifically in relation to tax and welfare.

Mark Twain famously remarked that ‘reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’ and I cannot help but feel the same is true in relation to those who like to trumpet the death of the United Kingdom. The Scottish independence referendum is highly unlikely to amount to a Dis-United Kingdom or the ‘unraveling’ of the union. It may amount to a ‘looser’ union but the relationship between Edinburgh and Westminster has always been one of partnership rather than domination. My sense is that what we are witnessing is not ‘the end’ as some commentators would like to see it but the beginning of a new stage in a historical journey that has already lasted over three hundred years.

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10. Policing by the book

Entry to the UK police force is changing. With Policing degrees are now available at over 20 universities and colleges across the UK – and the introduction of the direct entry scheme in a number of forces – fewer police officers are taking the traditional route into the force.

We spoke to officers, students, and course leaders to get their opinions on the relationship between theory and practice. Does a Policing degree make you a better officer?

On a personal level, a degree can help some students put their own career and practical training into context. Richard Honess had a “positive experience” in completing his Bachelor’s degree in Policing. “I now have a greater understanding of why we do what we do and the context of where our powers and policies originate; and why senior officers make the decisions they do. I have been able to merge my love of the job with my interest in science and scepticism with the development of ‘Evidence Based Policing’.”

“I have been bitten by the academic bug and I about to commence a Masters by Research in Policing, the ultimate in career development with a view to becoming a research ‘pracademic’!”

Experienced officers can also learn a thing or two. Darren Townsend operated as a Constable with 22 years’ service before deciding to take his degree. “The course opened my eyes completely around how policing worldwide operates, decision making processes especially in the wake of political interference, miscarriages of justice, [and] theory behind certain techniques of crime control.”

“In addition to all the operational aspects it has provided me with some fascinating ahandbook fro cademic reading which has generated an even greater interest in my chosen career which I believe will lead me to a greater professional performance and be far more open to opposing ideas, embrace positive change, and understand the difference academia and research can make to my already wide expanse of operational policing knowledge.”

However, some question whether academic study is really the best way to achieve the necessary skills. One contributor, who asked to remain anonymous, challenged the application of degrees in the field. “I personally do not possess a degree of any sort. My qualifications both within the police and previously in electrical engineering are more vocational. I have yet to see the benefit of policing degrees within policing and will be interested to see if, over time, they do improve policing. At lower levels of policing (up to inspector) I cannot foresee their worth: it is about communication and common sense at the front line.”

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Police line, by Ray Forster. CC-BY-SA-NoDerivs 2.0, via Flickr.

Paul Connor is series editor of the Blackstone’s Police Manuals and is a Police Training Consultant offering support for those sitting promotion exams. “Possession of a degree in any subject illustrates an ability to apply oneself and to learn but this does not equate an automatic right to pass every examination that follows in your life. This certainly applies to the OSPRE® Part I examination.”

“College of Policing research indicates that there is a correlation between the possession of a degree and success in OSPRE® Part I but a significant number of candidates without a degree pass the examination just as a significant number with a degree fail.”

The relationship between university research and its application in the field has also been put under scrutiny. Emma Williams is the Programme Director of the BSC Policing (In Service) degree at Canterbury Christ Church University. “Conversations about collaboration between universities and policing have never been so rife. Austerity and the need for resources to be used effectively have resulted in the College of Policing supporting the evidence based policing agenda and the commissioning of research by universities. Having spent eleven years in the Metropolitan Police as a senior researcher I am fully aware of some of the barriers that prevent research findings being fully implemented.”

“Officers can sense a loss of professional judgement when research further drives operational delivery and it can be seen as prescriptive and top down. Our degree programme fully encourages officers to use research and academic knowledge to assist them in their own decisions but to use it alongside their own experiential knowledge. Having knowledge of both the political and social context in which policing has developed and an understanding of theory and how it can assist them in their roles is in my opinion critical for this relationship to develop.”

The variance between theory and practice also raises questions about the structure of the degrees themselves. Susie Atherton previously worked on a police and PCSO training programme at De Montfort University. “It was very clear which were the ‘academic’ modules vs the ‘police training’. I do think there could have been better integration. We had to adapt and respond to their needs to make sure the academic modules did fit with their role, but this weakened their credibility as academic social science modules.”

“The new BA programmes promise employability through combining a three year policing studies degree with the Certificate in Knowledge of Policing. My worry is students who want to be police officers could leave after gaining the CKP, as undertaking this alongside 4 academic modules will be onerous and challenging. Students will perhaps question why they need to gain a full degree to get a job as a police officer, incurring 2 more years of fees, unless they wish to take advantage of direct entry. I am also aware of how valuable life experience, working in schools, military service and other roles are to the police service – transferable skills and knowledge about the world which cannot be gained doing a degree.”

“Fundamentally, if such programmes are to work, like any programme, they need proper investment, leadership and to respond to student feedback. Any weakness in these areas would jeopardise the continuation of programmes, but I do think policing programmes are vulnerable, simply because there are other options available”

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11. Moving from protest to power

Now that the National Guard and the national media have left, Ferguson, Missouri is faced with questions about how to heal the sharp power inequities that the tragic death of Michael Brown has made so visible. How can the majority black protestors translate their protests into political power in a town that currently has a virtually all-white power structure?

Recent experiences demonstrate that moving from protest to power is no easy task. For 18 days in 2011, hundreds of thousands of protestors filled Tahrir Square in Egypt to bring down the government of Hosni Mubarak, but three years later, the Egyptian military is back in power. Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protestors encamped in Zucotti Park for 60 days in the fall of 2011, but few policies resulted that help ameliorate the income inequality they protested. Both of these movements, and many others like them — from Gezi Park in Turkey to the Indignados in Spain — were able to draw hundreds or thousands of people to the streets in a moment of outrage, but lacked the infrastructure to harness that outrage into durable political change.

Protestors in Ferguson risk the same fizzle unless they can build — and maintain — a base of engaged activists and leaders who will persist even after the cameras leave. Transformation of entrenched power structures like a military regime in Egypt, or structures of inequality and state-sanctioned police force in the United States happens only when there is a counterbalancing base of power. That counterbalancing base of power, has to come from the people.

How do people, in these instances, become power? Research shows that building collective power among people depends on transforming people so that they develop their own capacity as leaders to act on injustices they face. Transforming protest into power, in other words, starts with transforming people.

Howard University Ferguson Protest" by Debra Sweet. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
“Howard University Ferguson Protest” by Debra Sweet. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

So how are people transformed? Research shows that 79% of activists in the United States report becoming engaged through a civic organization. Every day, thousands of civic organizations across the country, from the NAACP to the Tea Party, work to transform people into activists to win the victories they want.

Yet many of these organizations are still unsure of the best way to build the kind of long-term activist base needed in Ferguson. Many organizations know how to craft messages or leverage big data to find people who will show up for a rally or one event. Few organizations know how to take the people who show up, and transform some of them into citizen leaders who will become the infrastructure that harnesses energy from a week of protest into real change.

I spent two years comparing organizations with strong records of ongoing activism to those with weaker records to try to understand what they do differently. I found that it comes down to their investment in building the motivation, knowledge, and skills of their members. Turning protest into power begins with creating opportunities for people like the residents of Ferguson to exercise their own leadership.

Consider Priscilla, a young organizer working in the rural South to engage people around shutting down coal. When she first started organizing, Priscilla spent all of her time finding people who would show up for town halls, public meetings, and press events. She devoted hours to writing catchy messages and scripts that would get people’s attention, and asked her volunteers, mostly older retirees, to read these routinized scripts into the voicemail of a long list of phone numbers.

After several months of this work, Priscilla was exhausted. She wanted something different. An experienced organizer told her to invest time in developing the leadership of a cadre of volunteers, instead of spending all her time trying to get people to show up to events. Others scoffed at this advice: volunteers don’t want to take on leadership, they said. They want to take action that is easy, makes them feel good, and doesn’t take any time.

“Occupy Wall Street” by Aaron Bauer. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

Priscilla decided to give it a try. She reached out to a group of likely volunteers to ask them to coffee. She began to get to know them as people. When some agreed to volunteer, she sat them down and explained the larger strategy behind the town hall meeting they were planning, instead of handing them a long list of phone numbers to call. Then, she asked the volunteers what piece of the planning they wanted to be responsible for.

Priscilla started spending her time training and supporting these volunteers in the tasks they’d chosen to oversee. With her help, these volunteers developed their own strategies for getting media for the event, identifying a program of speakers, and leveraging their own social networks to generate turnout. When the big day arrived, more people showed up than Priscilla would have been able to get on her own. More importantly, after the event was over, she also had a group of volunteer leaders exhilarated by their experience running a town hall and eager to do more.

Instead of just getting bodies to fill a room, Priscilla had begun the process of developing leaders. Instead of just coming to one rally, those leaders stayed with and built the campaign that eventually shut down the coal plant in their community.

There are talented organizers on the ground in Ferguson trying to do just what Priscilla did: give residents opportunities to develop the skills and motivation they need to make the change they want. Only by developing those kinds of leaders will organizations in Ferguson develop the infrastructure they need to turn the protest into real power for the residents who feel disconnected from it now.

When Alexis de Tocqueville observed America in the 1830s, he famously wrote that civic organizations are the backbone of our nation because they act as “schools of democracy,” teaching people how to work collectively with others to advance their interests. De Tocqueville is as right today as he was 174 years ago. We have always known that people power democracy. What protests from Occupy to the Arab Spring to Ferguson are teaching us is that democracy can also power people.

Headline image credit: “Occupy Wall Street” by Darwin Yamamoto. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

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12. What constitutes a “real” refugee?

Refugee identity is often shrouded in suspicion, speculation and rumour. Of course everyone wants to protect “real” refugees, but it often seems – upon reading the papers – that the real challenge is to find them among the interlopers: the “bogus asylum seekers”, the “queue jumpers”, the “illegals”.

Yet these distinctions and definitions shatter the moment we subject them to critical scrutiny. In Syria, no one would deny a terrible refugee crisis is unfolding. Western journalists report from camps in Jordan and Turkey documenting human misery and occasionally commenting on political manoeuvring, but never doubting the refugees’ veracity.

But once these same Syrians leave the overcrowded camps to cross the Mediterranean, a spell transforms these objects of pity into objects of fear. They are no longer “refugees”, but “illegal migrants” and “terrorists”. However data on migrants rescued in the Mediterranean show that up to 80% of those intercepted by the Italian Navy are in fact deserving of asylum, not detention.

Other myths perpetuate suspicion and xenophobia. Every year in the UK, refugee charity and advocacy groups spend precious resources trying to counter tabloid images of a Britain “swamped” by itinerant swan-eaters and Islamic extremists. The truth – that Britain is home to just 1% of refugees while 86% are hosted in developing countries, including some of the poorest on earth, and that one-third of refugees in the UK hold University degrees – is simply less convenient for politicians pushing an anti-migration agenda.

We are increasingly skilled in crafting complacent fictions intended not so much to demonise refugees as exculpate our own consciences. In Australia, for instance, ever-more restrictive asylum policies – which have seen all those arriving by boat transferred off-shore and, even when granted refugee status, refused the right to settle in Australia – have been presented by supporters as merely intended to prevent the nefarious practice of “queue-jumping”. In this universe, the border patrols become the guardians ensuring “fair” asylum hearings, while asylum-seekers are condemned for cheating the system.

That the system itself now contravenes international law is forgotten. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan asylum-seeking mothers recently placed on suicide watch – threatening to kill themselves in the hope that their orphaned, Australian-born children might then be saved from detention – are judged guilty of “moral blackmail”.

Opening ceremony of new PNC headquarters in Goma (7134901933).jpg
Population fleeing their villages due to fighting between FARDC and rebels groups, Sake North Kivu the 30th of April 2012. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti (from Opening ceremony of new PNC headquarters in Goma). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Such stories foster complacency by encouraging an extraordinary degree of confidence in our ability to sort the deserving from the undeserving. The public remain convinced that “real” refugees wait in camps far beyond Europe’s borders, and that they do not take their fate into their own hands but wait to be rescued. But this “truth” too is hypocritical. It conveniently obscures the fact that the West will not resettle one-tenth of the refugees who have been identified by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees as in need of resettlement.

In fact, only one refugee in a hundred will ever be resettled from a camp to a third country in the West. In January 2014 the UK Government announced it would offer 500 additional refugee resettlement places for the “most vulnerable” refugees as a humanitarian gesture: but it’s better understood as political rationing.

Research shows us that undue self-congratulation when it comes to “helping” refugees is no new habit. Politicians are fond of remarking that Britain has a “long and proud” tradition of welcoming refugees, and NGOs and charities reiterate the same claim in the hope of grounding asylum in British cultural values.

But while the Huguenots found sanctuary in the seventeenth century, and Russia’s dissidents sought exile in the nineteenth, closer examination exposes the extent to which asylees’ ‘warm welcome’ has long rested upon the convictions of the few prepared to defy the popular prejudices of the many.

Poor migrants fleeing oppression have always been more feared than applauded in the UK. In 1905, the British Brothers’ League agitated for legislation to restrict (primarily Jewish) immigration from Eastern Europe because of populist fears that Britain was becoming ‘the dumping ground for the scum of Europe’. Similarly, the bravery of individual campaigners who fought to secure German Jews’ visas in the 1930s must be measured against the groundswell of public anti-semitism that resisted mass refugee admissions.

Opening ceremony of new PNC headquarters in Goma (6988913212).jpg
Population fleeing their villages due to fighting between FARDC and rebels groups, Sake North Kivu the 30th of April 2012. © MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti (from Opening ceremony of new PNC headquarters in Goma). Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

British MPs in 1938 were insistent that ‘it is impossible for us to absorb any large number of refugees here’, and as late as August 1938 the Daily Mail warned against large number of German Jews ‘flooding’ the country. In the US, polls showed that 94% of Americans disapproved of Kristallnacht, 77% thought immigration quotas should not be raised to allow additional Jewish migration from Germany.

All this suggests that Western commitment after 1951 to uphold a new Refugee Convention should not be read as a marker of some innate Western generosity of spirit. Even in 1947, Britain was forcibly returning Soviet POWs to Stalin’s Russia. Many committed suicide en route rather than face the Gulags or execution. When in 1972, Idi Amin expelled Ugandan’s Asians – many of whom were British citizens – the UK government tried desperately to persuade other Commonwealth countries to admit the refugees, before begrudgingly agreeing to act as a refuge of “last resort”. If forty years on the 40,000 Ugandan Asians who settled in the UK are often pointed to as a model refugee success story, this is not because but in spite of the welcome they received.

Many refugee advocates and NGOs are nevertheless wary of picking apart the public belief that a “generous welcome” exists for “real” refugees. The public, after all, are much more likely to be flattered than chastised into donating much needed funds to care for those left destitute – sometime by the deliberate workings of the asylum system itself. But it is important to recognise the more complex and less complacent truths that researchers’ work reveals.

For if we scratch the surface of our asylum policies beneath a shiny humanitarian veneer lies the most cynical kind of politics. Myth making sustains false dichotomies between deserving “refugees” there and undeserving “illegal migrants” here – and conveniently lets us forget that both are fleeing the same wars in the same leaking boats.

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13. Increasing income inequality

Quite abruptly income inequality has returned to the political agenda as a prominent societal issue. At least part of this can be attributed to Piketty’s provoking premise of rising concentration at the top end of the income and wealth distribution in Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), providing some academic ground for the ‘We are the 99 percent’ Occupy movement slogan. Yet, this revitalisation of inequality is based on broader concerns than the concentration at the very top alone. There is growing evidence that earnings in the bottom and the middle of the distribution have hardly risen, if at all, during the last 20 years or so. Incomes are becoming more dispersed not only at the top, but also more generally within developed countries.

We should distinguish between increasing concentration at the top and the rise of inequality across the entire population. Even though both developments might take place simultaneously, the causes, consequences, and possible policy responses differ.

The most widely accepted explanation for rising inequality across the entire population is so-called skill-biased technological change. Current technological developments are particularly suited for replacing routine jobs, which disproportionally lie in the middle of the income distribution. In addition, low- and middle-skilled manufacturing jobs are gradually being outsourced to low-wage countries (see for instance Autor et al., 2013). Decreasing influence of trade unions and more decentralised levels of wage coordination are also likely to play a role in creating more dispersed earnings patterns.

Increased globalisation or technological change are not likely to be main drivers of rising top income shares, though the larger size of markets allows for higher rewards at the top. Since the rise of top income shares was especially an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon, and as the majority of the top 1 per cent in these countries comes from the financial sector, executive compensation practices play a role. Marginal top tax cuts implemented in these countries and inherited wealth are potentially important as well.

So should we care about these larger income differences? At the end of the day this remains a normative question. Yet, whether higher levels of inequality have negative effects on the size of our total wealth is a more technical issue, albeit not a less contested one in political economy. Again, we should differentiate between effects of increasing concentration at the top and the broader higher levels of inequality. To start with the latter, higher dispersion could incite people to put forth additional effort, as the rewards will be higher as well. Yet, when inequality of income disequalises opportunities, there will be an economic cost as Krugman also argues. Investment in human capital for instance will be lower as Standard & Poor’s notes for the US.

Coins on a scale, © asafta, via iStock Photo.

High top income shares do not lead to suboptimal human capital investment, but will disrupt growth if the rich use their wealth for rent-seeking activities. Stiglitz and Hacker and Pierson in Winner-Take All Politics (2010) argue that this indeed takes place in the US. On the other hand, a concentration of wealth could facilitate large and risky investments with positive externalities.

If large income differences indeed come at the price of lower total economic output, then the solution seems simple: redistribute income from the rich to the poor. Yet, both means-tested transfers and progressive taxes based on economic outcomes such as income will negatively affect economic growth as they lower the incentives to gain additional wealth. It might thus be that ‘the cure is worse than the disease’, as the IMF phrases this dilemma. Nevertheless, there can be benefits of redistribution in addition to lessening any negative effects of inequality on growth. The provision of public insurance could have stimulating effects by allowing individuals to take risks to generate income.

How to leave from here? First of all, examining whether inequality or redistribution affects growth requires data that makes a clean distinction between inequality before and after redistribution across countries over time. There are interesting academic endeavours trying to decompose inequality into a part resulting from differences in effort and a part due to fixed circumstances, such as gender, race, or educational level of parents. This can help our understanding which ‘types’ of inequality negatively affect growth and which might boost it. Moreover, redistribution itself can be achieved through multiple means, some of which, such as higher heritage taxes, are likely to be more pro-growth than others, such as higher income tax rates.

All things considered, whether inequality or redistribution hampers growth is too broad of a question. Inequality at which part of the distribution, due to what economic factors, and how the state intervenes all matter a great deal for total growth.

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14. The Scottish referendum: where is Cicero?

In a week’s time, the residents of Scotland (not the Scottish people: Scots resident south of the border are ineligible to vote) will decide whether or not to destroy the UK as currently constituted. The polls are on a knife edge; and Alex Salmond, the leader of the separatists, has a track record as a strong finisher. If he gets his way, the UK will lose 8% of its citizens and a third of its land mass; and Scotland, cut off, at least initially, from every international body (the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU) and every UK institution (the Bank of England, the pound sterling, the BBC, the security services), will face a bleak and uncertain future.

In the first century BC, the Roman republic was collapsing as a result of its systemic inability to curb the ambitions of powerful politicians. Everyone could see that the end was nigh; no one could predict what would follow. The conditions were ideal for the development of political oratory, and Cicero emerged as Rome’s greatest orator, determined to save his country even at the cost of his own life. During his consulship, he suppressed the conspiracy of Catiline, denouncing that man and his deluded supporters in his four Catilinarian Speeches. He pulled no punches: he did not hold back, like the supporters of the Union today, for fear of appearing too “negative”. So he informed the senate:

“A plot has been formed to ensure that, following a universal massacre, there should not be a single person left even to mourn the name of the Roman people or to lament the destruction of so great an empire.”

For Catiline’s supporters, he had nothing but contempt, telling the people:

“Reclining at their banquets, embracing their whores, heavy with wine, stuffed with food, wreathed with flowers, drenched with perfume, and worn out by promiscuous sex, they belch out their plans for the massacre of decent citizens and the burning of Rome.”

Cicero went straight for the jugular. Two decades later he denounced a more powerful adversary, Mark Antony, who was attempting with much greater forces to seize control of the state. Cicero attacked him in a series of speeches, the Philippics; but Antony did a deal with Octavian, got what he wanted, and had Cicero killed. Cicero’s words at the end of the Second Philippic were prophetic:

“I defended this country when I was a young man: I shall not desert it now that I am old. I faced down the swords of Catiline: I shall not flinch before yours. Yes, and I would willingly offer my body, if the freedom of this country could at once be secured by my death. Two things alone I long for: first, that when I die I may leave the Roman people free; and second, that each person’s fate may reflect the way he has behaved towards his country.”

Cicero denounces Catiline, from the Palazzo Madama. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Cicero denounces Catiline, from the Palazzo Madama. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Where is Cicero today when we need him? The debate on the future of Scotland, and hence of the UK, has been conducted in newspapers, in TV interviews and debates, and in social media. Anonymous internet trolls hurl abuse at celebrities who dare to express their affection for Britain. The Westminster Parliament stays silent. One MP, however, is free of the party whips, and has been touring Scotland delivering passionate, hard-hitting and unapologetically negative speeches in defence of the Union. This is George Galloway, and the speech he gave in Edinburgh on 24 June can be read and listened to here.

Like Cicero, Galloway pulls no punches. He compares the current crisis with 1940, the last time the UK faced an existential threat:

“And not one person asked in that summer and autumn of 1940 and into 1941 if the pilots who were spinning above us defending us from invasion from the barbaric horde were from Suffolk or Sutherland. We were people together on a small piece of rock with 300 years of common history.”

Referring to his political differences with the other supporters of the Union, he says, “We have come together but temporarily at a moment of national peril”, declaring:

“There will be havoc if you vote Yes in September. Havoc in Edinburgh and throughout the land and you will break the hearts of many others too.”

This preference for extreme, unambiguous statements, delivered with the greatest possible emotional force, and this recognition of the significance of the historical moment, is pure Cicero. But what is most Ciceronian in Galloway’s speech is the moral dimension. Galloway is not concerned with whether the new Scottish state would have to concentrate its spending on benefits or foreign embassies. Instead, he harks back repeatedly to the Second World War, that conflict of good against evil, contrasting it with Bannockburn, “a battle 700 years ago between two French-speaking kings with Scottish people on both sides”. And, as Cicero would, he judges an issue by the moral character of the people concerned: on the one side, Brian Souter, “the gay-baiting billionaire” and major donor of the SNP, and on the other, the children’s author J. K. Rowling, “one of our highest achieving women in the history of our entire country”, whose moderate and reasoned support for the Union has earned her hate mail from fanatical separatists. Morality runs like a thread all the way through Galloway’s speech.

How come so few women are in favour of independence? Why are Scotland’s women the most resistant of all the demographics in this contest? The reason is that women simply don’t like gambling. And everything in their project is about gambling — for your future, your pension, your children and their children’s future.

“Let it be inscribed on the forehead of every citizen what he thinks about his country”, Cicero told the senate. Next week, the future of the UK will be decided by a secret ballot. If Britain survives in a political and not merely in a geographical sense, part of the credit will be due to the Ciceronian eloquence of Mr Galloway.

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15. Why Scotland should get the government it votes for

I want an independent Scotland that is true to the ideals of egalitarianism articulated in some of the best poetry of Robert Burns. I want a pluralist, cosmopolitan Scotland accountable to its own parliament and allied to the European Union. My vote goes to Borgen, not to Braveheart. I want change.

Britain belongs to a past that is sometimes magnificent, but is a relic of empire. Scotland played its sometimes bloody part in that, but now should get out, and have the courage of its own distinctive convictions. It is ready to face up to being a small nation, and to get over its nostalgia for being part of some supposed ‘world power’. No better, no worse than many other nations, it is regaining its self-respect.

Yet the grip of the past is strong. Almost absurdly emblematic of the complicated state of 2014 Scottish politics is Bannockburn: seven hundred years ago Bannockburn, near Stirling in central Scotland, was the site of the greatest medieval Scottish victory against an English army. Today Bannockburn is part of a local government zone controlled by a Labour-Conservative political alliance eager to defeat any aspirations for Scottish independence. In the summer of 2014 Bannockburn was the site of a civilian celebration of that 1314 Scottish victory, and of a large-scale contemporary British military rally. The way the Labour and Conservative parties in Scotland are allied, sometimes uneasily, in the ‘Better Together’ or ‘No’ campaign to preserve the British Union makes Scotland a very different political arena from England where Labour is the opposition party fighting a Conservative Westminster government. England has no parliament of its own. As a result, the so-called ‘British’ Parliament, awash with its Lords, with its cabinet of privately educated millionaires, and with all its braying of privilege, spends much of its time on matters that relate to England, not Britain. This is a manifest abuse of power. The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood looks – and is – very different.

Scottish Parliament Building. © andy2673 via iStock.
Scottish Parliament Building. © andy2673 via iStock.

Like many contemporary Scottish writers and artists, I am nourished by traditions, yet I like the idea of change and dislike the status quo, especially the political status quo. National identity is dynamic, not fixed. Democracy is about vigorous debate, about rocking the boat. Operating in an atmosphere of productive uncertainty is often good for artistic work. Writers enjoy rocking the boat, and can see that as a way of achieving a more egalitarian society. That’s why most writers and artists who have spoken out are on the ‘Yes’ side. If there is a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September 2014, it will be a clear vote for change. If there is a ‘No’ vote, it will be because of a strong innate conservatism in Scottish society – a sense of wanting to play it safe and not rock the boat. Whether Scotland’s Labour voters remain conservative in their allegiances and vote ‘No’, or can be swayed to vote ‘Yes’ because they see the possibility of a more egalitarian future — is a key question.

As we get nearer and nearer to the date of the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September, I expect there will be an audible closing of ranks on the part of the British establishment. Already in July we have had interventions from the First Sea Lord (who gave a Better Togetherish speech at the naming ceremony for an aircraft carrier), and a lot of money from major landowners and bankers has been swelling the coffers of those opposed to independence. In Glasgow it was good to read at an event with Liz Lochhead, Kathleen Jamie, Alasdair Gray, and other poets and novelists in support of independence. This is a very exciting time for Scotland, a time when relationships with all kinds of institutions are coming under intense scrutiny. Whatever happens, the country is likely to emerge stronger, and with an intensified sense of itself as a democratic place.

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16. Should Scotland be an independent country?

On 18 September 2014 Scots will vote on the question, ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

Campaigners for independence and campaigners for the union agree that this is an historic referendum. The question suggests a simple choice between different states. This grossly over-simplifies a complex set of issues and fails to take account of a range of other debates that are taking place in Scotland’s ‘constitutional moment’.

Four cross-cutting issues lie behind this referendum. National identity is but one. If it was simply a matter of identity then supporters of independence would be well ahead. But identities do not translate into constitutional preferences (or party political preferences) in straightforward ways. In the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections more people who said they were ‘British and not Scottish’ voted for the Scottish National Party than voted Tory. Scottish identity has survived without a Scottish state and no doubt Britishness will survive without a British state. Nonetheless, the existence of a sense of a Scottish political entity is important in this referendum.

Party politics, and especially the party systems, also play a part in the referendum. Conservative Party weakness – and latterly the weakness of UKIP in Scotland – north of the border has played into the sense that Scotland is politically divergent. This trend was highlighted by William Miller in a book, entitled The End of British Politics?, written more than thirty years ago. It has not been the geographic distance of London from the rest of the UK so much as the perceived ideological distance that has fuelled demands for Scottish autonomy. Polls continue to suggest that more people would be inclined to vote for independence if they thought Mr Cameron and his party were likely to win next year’s general election and elections into the future than if Labour was to win. It is little wonder that Mr Cameron refuses to debate with Mr Salmond.

Alex Salmond. Photo By Harris Morgan. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Alex Salmond. Photo By Harris Morgan. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The dynamics of party politics differ north and south of the border. Each side in the referendum campaign works on the assumption that membership of the EU is in Scotland’s interest, suggesting that Scotland will find itself outside the EU if the other wins while a very different dynamic operates south of the border. Debates in immigration and welfare differ on each side of the border. While there is polling evidence that public attitudes on a range of matters differ only marginally north and south of the border, the much harder evidence from election results, evident in the recent uneven rise of UKIP, suggests something very different.

It is not only that different parties might govern in London and Edinburgh but that the policies pursued differ, the directions of travel are different. In this respect, policy initiatives pursued in the early years of devolution, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats controlled the Scottish Parliament, have fed the sense of divergence. The SNP Government has only added – and then only marginally – to this divergence. The big items that signalled that Holyrood and Westminster were heading in different policy directions were tuition fees and care for the elderly. These were policies supported by all parties in Holyrood, including the then governing Labour Party and Liberal Democrats. There is fear in parts of Scotland that UK Governments will dismantle the welfare state while Scots want to protect it.

The constitutional status of Scotland is now the focus of debate. This is not new nor will the referendum resolve this matter for all time, regardless of the result of the referendum. Each generation has to consider the relationship Scotland has with London, the rest of the UK, and beyond. This is currently a debate about relationships, articulated in terms of whether Scotland should be an independent country. Relationships change as circumstances change. The backdrop to these changing relationships has been the party system, public policy preferences and identities. The role and remit of the state and the nature of Scotland’s economy and society have changed and these changes have an impact on the constitutional debate.

Adding to the complexity has been a development few had anticipated. Both sides to the debate report large turnouts at public meetings, engagement we have not witnessed in a long time with a far wider range of issues arising during Scotland’s constitutional moment than might have been suggested by that simple question to be asked on September 18th. Prospectuses on the kind of Scotland people want are being produced. This revival of political engagement may leave a legacy that reverses a trend that has seen decline in turnout, membership of political parties and civic engagement. That would make this referendum historic.

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17. Out with the old?

Innovation is a primary driver of economic growth and of the rise in living standards, and a substantial body of research has been devoted to documenting the welfare benefits from it (an example being Trajtenberg’s 1989 study). Few areas have experienced more rapid innovation than the Personal Computers (PC) industry, with much of this progress being associated with a particular component, the Central Processing Unit (CPU). The past few decades had seen a consistent process of CPU innovation, in line with Moore’s Law: the observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 18-24 months (see figure below). This remarkable innovation process has clearly benefitted society in many, profound ways.

gra econ
“Transistor Count and Moore’s Law – 2011″ by Wgsimon – Own work. CC-BYSA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

A notable feature of this innovation process is that a new PC is often considered “obsolete” within a very short period of time, leading to the rapid elimination of non-frontier products from the shelf. This happens despite the heterogeneity of PC consumers: while some (e.g., engineers or gamers) have a high willingness-to-pay for cutting edge PCs, many consumers perform only basic computing tasks, such as word processing and Web browsing, that require modest computing power. A PC that used to be on the shelf, say, three years ago, would still adequately perform such basic tasks today. The fact that such PCs are no longer available (except via a secondary market for used PCs which remains largely undeveloped) raises a natural question: is there something inefficient about the massive elimination of products that can still meet the needs of large masses of consumers?

Consider, for example, a consumer whose currently-owned, four-year old laptop PC must be replaced since it was severely damaged. Suppose that this consumer has modest computing-power needs, and would have been perfectly happy to keep using the old laptop, had it remained functional. This consumer cannot purchase the old model since it has long vanished from the shelf. Instead, she must purchase a new laptop model, and pay for much more computing power than she actually needs. Could it be, then, that some consumers are actually hurt by innovation?

A natural response to this concern might be that the elimination of older PC models from the shelves likely indicates that demand for them is low. After all, if we believe in markets, we may think that high levels of demand for something would provide ample incentives for firms to offer it. This intuition, however, is problematic: as shown in seminal theoretical work by Nobel Prize laureate Michael Spence, the set of products offered in an oligopoly equilibrium need not be efficient due to the misalignment of private and social incentives. The possibility that yesterday’s PCs vanish from the shelf “too fast” cannot, therefore, be ruled out by economic theory alone, motivating empirical research.

A recent article addresses this question by applying a retrospective analysis of the U.S. Home Personal Computer market during the years 2001-2004. Data analysis is used to explore the nature of consumers’ demand for PCs, and firms’ incentives to offer different types of products. Product obsolescence is found to be a real issue: the average household’s willingness-to-pay for a given PC model is estimated to drop by 257 $US as the model ages by one year. Nonetheless, substantial heterogeneity is detected: some consumers’ valuation of a PC drops at a much faster rate, while from the perspective of other consumers, PCs becomes “obsolete” at a much lower pace.

Laptop and equipment. Public domain via Pixabay.
Laptop and equipment. Public domain via Pixabay.

The paper focuses on a leading innovation: Intel’s introduction of its Pentium M® chip, widely considered as a landmark in mobile computing. This innovation is found to have crowded out laptops based on older Intel technologies, such as the Pentium III® and Pentium 4®. It is also found to have made a substantial contribution to the aggregate consumer surplus, boosting it by 3.2%- 6.3%.

These substantial aggregate benefits were, however, far from being uniform across different consumer types: the bulk of the benefits were enjoyed by the 20% least price-sensitive households, while the benefits to the remaining 80% were small and sometimes negligible. The analysis also shows that the benefits from innovation could have “trickled down” to the masses of price-sensitive households, had the older laptop models been allowed to remain on the shelf, alongside the cutting-edge ones. This would have happened since the presence of the new models would have exerted a downward pressure on the prices of older models. In the market equilibrium, this channel is shut down, since the older laptops promptly disappear.

Importantly, while the analysis shows that some consumers benefit from innovation much more than others, no consumers were found to be actually hurt by it. Moreover, the elimination of the older laptops was not found to be inefficient: the social benefits from keeping such laptops on the shelf would have been largely offset by fixed supplier costs.

So what do we make of this analysis? The main takeaway is that one has to go beyond aggregate benefits and consider the heterogeneous effects of innovation on different consumer types, and the possibility that rapid elimination of basic configurations prevents the benefits from trickling down to price-sensitive consumers. Just the same, the paper’s analysis is constrained by its focus on short-run benefits. In particular, it misses certain long-term benefits from innovation, such as complementary innovations in software that are likely to trickle down to all consumer types. Additional research is, therefore, needed in order to fully appreciate the dramatic contribution of innovation in personal computing to economic growth and welfare.

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18. What would an independent Scotland look like?

The UK Government will no doubt be shocked if the referendum on 18 September results in a Yes vote. However, it has agreed to respect the outcome of the referendum and so we must assume that David Cameron will accept the Scottish Government’s invitation to open negotiations towards independence.

The first step will be the formation of two negotiating teams — Team Scotland and Team UK, as it were. These will be led by the governments of both Scotland and the UK, although the Scottish Government has indicated that it wants other political parties in Scotland to join with it in negotiating Scotland’s position. We would expect high level points to be set out by the governments, the detail to be negotiated by civil servants.

The Scottish Government anticipates a 19 month process between a Yes vote and a formal declaration of independence in March 2016.

What then would an independent Scotland look like?

The Scottish Government plan is for an interim constitution to be in place after March 2016 with a permanent constitution to be drafted by a constitutional convention composed of representatives of civil society after Scottish elections in May 2016.

The Scottish Government intends that the Queen will remain head of state. But this and other issues would presumably be up to the constitutional convention to determine in 2016.

Similarly the Scottish Parliament will continue to be a one chamber legislature, elected by proportional representation, a model rejected by UK voters for Westminster of course in a referendum in 2011.

The Scottish Government seeks to keep the pound sterling as the currency of an independent Scotland. The UK Government’s position is that Scotland can use the pound but that there will be no formal currency union. After a Yes vote this position could change but the unionist parties are united in denying any such possibility.

The UK has heavily integrated tax, pension, and welfare systems. It will certainly be possible to disentangle these but it may take longer than 19 months. In the course of such negotiations both sides may find that it makes sense to retain elements of close cooperation in the social security area, at least in the short to medium term.

Flags outside Parliament by Calum Hutchinson. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.
Flags outside Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh by Calum Hutchinson. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Scottish Government has put forward a vision of Scotland as a social democracy. It will be interesting if it follows through on plans to enshrine social rights in the constitution, such as entitlements to public services, healthcare, free higher education, and a minimum standard of living. The big question is: can Scotland afford this? It would seem that a new tax model would be needed to fund a significantly higher commitment to public spending.

A third area of great interest is Scotland’s position in the world. One issue is defense. The SNP promises a Scotland free of nuclear weapons, including the removal of Trident submarines from the Clyde. This could create difficulties, both for Scotland in seeking to join NATO, but also for the remainder UK, which would need to find another base for Trident. The Scottish Government rejects firmly that it will be open to a deal on Trident’s location in turn for a currency union with London, but this may not be out of the question.

Another issue is that the Scottish Government takes a much more positive approach to the European Convention on Human Rights, than does the current UK government. In fact, the proposal is that the European Convention will become supreme law in Scotland, which even the Scottish Parliament could not legislate against. This contrasts with the current approach of the Conservative Party, and to some extent the Labour Party, in London which are both proposing to rebalance powers towards the UK Parliament and away from the European Court in Strasbourg.

Turning to the European Union, it seems clear to me that Scotland will be admitted to the EU but that the EU could drive a hard bargain on the terms of membership. Compromises are possible. Scotland does not, at present, qualify for, and in any case there is no appetite to join, the Eurozone, so a general commitment to work towards adopting the Euro may satisfy the EU. The Scottish Government also does not intend to apply for membership of the Schengen Area but will seek to remain a part the Common Travel Area, which would mean no borders and a free right to travel across the British and Irish isles.

The EU issue is also complicated because the UK’s own position in Europe is uncertain. Will the UK stay in the EU? The prospect of an in/out referendum after the next UK general election is very real. Another issue is whether an independent Scotland would gradually develop a much more pro-European mentality than we see in London. Would Scotland become positive rather than reluctant Europeans, and would Scotland seek to adopt the Euro in the medium to longer term? We don’t know for now. But if the UK votes to leave the EU, then this may well be the only option open to an independent Scotland in Europe.

To conclude, a written constitution, a stronger commitment to European human rights standards, a more pro-European Union attitude, and an attempt to build a more social welfarist state could bring about an independent Scotland that looks very different from the current UK. However, the bonds of union run deep, and if Scotland does achieve a currency union with the UK it will be tied closely to London’s tax structure. In such a scenario the economies, and therefore the constitutions, of the two countries, will surely continue to bear very many similarities. Much also depends upon relationships with the European Union. If the UK stays in the EU then Scotland and the UK could co-exist with a sterling currency union and a free travel area. If the UK votes to leave then Scotland will need to choose whether to do likewise or whether to align much more closely with Europe.

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19. Can changing how prosecutors do their work improve public safety?

In the 1990s, policing in major US cities was transformed. Some cities embraced the strategy of “community policing” under which officers developed working relationships with members of their local communities on the belief that doing so would change the neighborhood conditions that give rise to crime. Other cities pursued a strategy of “order maintenance” in which officers strictly enforced minor offenses on the theory that restoring public order would avert more serious crimes. Numerous scholars have examined and debated the efficacy of these approaches.

A companion concept, called “community prosecution,” seeks to transform the work of local district attorneys in ways analogous to how community policing changed the work of big-city cops. Prosecutors in numerous jurisdictions have embraced the strategy. Indeed, Attorney General Eric Holder was an early adopter of the strategy when he was US Attorney for the District of Columbia in the mid-1990s. Yet, community prosecution has not received the level of public attention or academic scrutiny that community policing has.

A possible reason for community prosecution’s lower profile is the difficulty of defining it. Community prosecution contrasts with the traditional model of a local prosecutor, which is sometimes called the “case processor” approach. In the traditional model, police provide a continuous flow of cases to the prosecutor, and she prioritizes some cases for prosecution and declines others. The prosecutor secures guilty pleas in most of the pursued cases, often through plea bargains, and trials are rare. The signature feature of the traditional prosecutor’s work is quickly resolving or processing a large volume of cases.

Community prosecution breaks with the traditional paradigm and changes the work of prosecutors in several ways. It removes prosecutors from the central courthouse and relocates them to a small office in a neighborhood, often in a retail storefront. This permits the prosecutor to develop relationships with community groups and individual residents, even allowing residents to walk into the prosecutor’s office and express concerns. It frees the prosecutors from responsibility for managing the flow of cases supplied by police and allows them to undertake two main tasks. The first is that prosecutors partner with community members to identify the sources of crime within the neighborhood and formulate solutions that will prevent crime before it occurs. The second is that when community prosecutors seek to impose criminal punishments, they develop their own cases rather than rely on those presented by police, and they typically focus on the cases they anticipate will have the greatest positive impact on the local community.

In the past fifteen years, Chicago, Illinois, has had a unique experience with community prosecution that allowed the first examination of its impact on crime rates. The State’s Attorney in Cook County (in which Chicago is located), opened four community prosecution offices between 1998 and 2000. Each of these offices had responsibility for applying the community prosecution approach to a target neighborhood in Chicago, and collectively, about 38% of Chicago’s population resided in a target neighborhood. Other parts of the city received no community prosecution intervention. The efforts continued until early 2007, when a budget crisis compelled the closure of these offices and the cessation of the county’s community prosecution program. For more than two years, Chicago had no community prosecution program. In 2009, a new State’s Attorney re-launched the program, and during the next three years, the four community prosecution offices were re-opened.

Window of an apartment block at night. © bartosz_zakrzewski  via iStockphoto.
Window of an apartment block at night. © bartosz_zakrzewski via iStockphoto.

This sequence of events provided an opportunity to evaluate the impact of community prosecution on crime. The first adoption of community prosecution in the late 1990s lent itself to differences-in-differences estimation. The application of community prosecution to four sets of neighborhoods, each beginning at four different dates, enabled comparisons of crime rates before and after the program’s implementation within those neighborhoods. The fact that other neighborhoods received no intervention permitted these comparisons to drawn relative to the crime rates in a control group. Furthermore, Chicago’s singular experience with community prosecution – its launch, cancellation, and re-launch – furnished a sequence of three policy transitions (off to on, on to off again, and off again to on again). By contrast, the typical policy analysis observes only one policy transition (commonly from off to on). These multiple rounds of program application enhanced the opportunity to detect whether community prosecution affected public safety.

The estimates from this differences-in-differences approach showed that community prosecution reduced crime in Chicago. The declines in violent crime were large and statistically significant. For example, the estimates imply that aggravated assaults fell by 7% following the activation of community prosecution in a neighborhood. The estimates for property crime also showed declines, but they were too imprecisely estimated to permit firm statistical inferences. These results are the first evidence that community prosecution can produce reductions in crime and that the reductions are sizable.

Moreover, there was no indication that community prosecution simply displaced crime, moving it from one neighborhood to another. Neighborhoods just over the border of each community prosecution target area experienced no change in their average rates of crime. The declines thus appeared to reflect a true reduction instead of a reallocation of crime. In addition, the drops in offending were immediate and sustained. One might expect responses in crime rates would arrive slowly and gain momentum over time as prosecutors’ relationships with the community grew. But the estimates instead suggest that community prosecutors were able to identify and exploit immediately opportunities to improve public safety.

This evaluation of the community prosecution in Chicago offers broad lessons about the role of prosecutors. As with any empirical study, some caveats apply. The highly decentralized and flexible nature of community prosecution forbids reducing the program to a fixed set of principles and steps that can be readily implemented elsewhere. To the degree that its success depends on bonds of trust between prosecutor and community, its success may hinge on the personality and talents of specific prosecutors. (Indeed, the article’s estimates show variation in the estimated impacts across offices within Chicago.) At minimum, the results demonstrate that, under circumstances that require more study, community prosecution can reduce crime.

More broadly, the estimates suggest that the role of prosecutors is more far-reaching than typically thought. Crime control is conventionally understood to be primarily the responsibility of police. It was for this very reason that in the 1990s so much attention was devoted to the cities’ choice of policing style – community policing or order maintenance. Restructuring the work of police was thought to be a key mechanism through which crime could be reduced. By contrast, a conventional view of prosecutors is that their responsibilities pertain to the selection of cases, adjudication in the courtroom, and striking plea bargains. This article’s estimates show that this view is unduly narrow. Just as altering the structure and tasks of police may affect crime, so too can changing how prosecutors perform their work.

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20. Why referendum campaigns are crucial

As we enter the potentially crucial phase of the Scottish independence referendum campaign, it is worth remembering more broadly that political campaigns always matter, but they often matter most at referendums.

Referendums are often classified as low information elections. Research demonstrates that it can be difficult to engage voters on the specific information and arguments involved (Lupia 1994, McDermott 1997) and consequently they can be decided on issues other than the matter at hand. Referendums also vary from traditional political contests, in that they are usually focused on a single issue; the dynamics of political party interaction can diverge from national and local elections; non-political actors may often have a prominent role in the campaign; and voters may or may not have strong, clear views on the issue being decided. Furthermore, there is great variation in the information environment at referendums. As a result the campaign itself can be vital.

We can understand campaigns through the lens of LeDuc’s framework which seeks to capture some of the underlying elements which can lead to stability or volatility in voter behaviour at referendums. The essential proposition of this model is that referendums ask different types of questions of voters, and that the type of question posed conditions the behaviour of voters. Referendums that ask questions related to the core fundamental values and attitudes held by voters should be stable. Voters’ opinions that draw on cleavages, ideology, and central beliefs are unlikely to change in the course of a campaign. Consequently, opinion polls should show very little movement over the campaign. At the other end of the spectrum, volatile referendums are those which ask questions on which voters do not have pre-conceived fixed views or opinions. The referendum may ask questions on new areas of policy, previously un-discussed items, or items of generally low salience such as political architecture or institutions.

Another essential component determining the importance of the campaign are undecided voters. When voter political knowledge emanates from a low base, the campaign contributes greatly to increasing political knowledge. This point is particularly clear from Farrell and Schmitt-Beck (2002) where they demonstrated that voter ignorance is widespread and levels of political knowledge among voters are often overestimated. As Ian McAllister argues, partisan de-alignment has created a more volatile electoral environment and the number of voters who make their decisions during campaigns has risen. In particular, there has been a sharp rise in the number of voters who decide quite late in a campaign. In this case, the campaign learning is vital and the campaign may change voters’ initial disposition. Opinions may only form during the campaign when voters acquire information and these opinions may be changeable, leading to volatility.

The experience of referendums in Ireland is worth examining as Ireland is one of a small but growing number of countries which makes frequent use of referendums. It is also worth noting that Ireland has a highly regulated campaign environment. In the Oireachtas Inquiries Referendum 2011, Irish voters were asked to decide on a parliamentary reform proposal (Oireachtas Inquiries – OI) in October 2011. The issue was of limited interest to voters and co-scheduled with a second referendum on reducing the pay of members of the judiciary along with a lively presidential election.

The OI referendum was defeated by a narrow margin and the campaign period witnessed a sharp fall in support for the proposal. Only a small number of polls were taken but the sharp decline is clear from the figure below.

Figure One – The Campaign Matters (OI Referendum)
The Campaign Matters (OI Referendum)

Few voters had any existing opinion on the proposal and the post-referendum research indicated that voters relied significantly on heuristics or shortcuts emanating from the campaign and to a lesser extent on either media campaigns or rational knowledge. The evidence showed that just a few weeks after the referendum, many voters were unable to recall the reasons for their voting decision. An interesting result was that while there was underlying support for the reform with 74% of all voters in support of Oireachtas Inquiries in principle, it failed to pass. There was a very high level of ignorance of the issues where some 44% of voters could not give cogent reasons for why they voted ‘no’, underlining the common practice of ‘if you don’t know, vote no’.

So are there any lessons we can draw for Scottish Independence campaign? Scottish independence would likely be placed on the stable end of the Le Duc spectrum in that some voters could be expected to have an ideological predisposition on this question. Campaigns matter less at these types of referendums. However, they are by no means a foregone conclusion. We would expect that the number of undecided voters will be key and these voters may use shortcuts to make their decision. In other words the positions of the parties, of celebrities of unions and businesses and others will likely matter. In addition, the extent to which voters feel fully informed on the issues will also possibly be a determining factor. It may be instructive to look at another Irish referendum, on the introduction of divorce in the 1980s, during which voters’ opinions moved sharply during the campaign, even though the referendum question drew largely from the deep rooted conservative-liberal cleavage in Irish politics (Darcy and Laver 1990). The Scottish campaign might thus still conceivably see some shifts in opinion.

Headline image: Scottish Parliament Building via iStockphoto.

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21. The road to egalitaria

In 1985, Nobel Laureate Gary Becker observed that the gap in employment between mothers and fathers of young children had been shrinking since the 1960s in OECD countries. This led Becker to predict that such sex differences “may only be a legacy of powerful forces from the past and may disappear or be greatly attenuated in the near future.” In the 1990s, however, the shrinking of the mother-father gap stalled before Becker’s prediction could be realized. In today’s economy, how big is this mother-father employment gap, what forces underlie it, and are there any policies which could close it further?

A simple way to characterize the mother-father employment gap is to sum up how much more work is done by mothers compared to fathers of children from ages 0 to 10. In 2010, fathers in the United States worked 3.1 more years on average than mothers over this age 0 to 10 age range. In the United Kingdom, the comparable number is 3.8, while in Canada it is 2.9 and Germany 4.5. The figure below traces the evolution of this mother-father employment gap for all four of these countries.

Graph shows the difference in years worked by mothers and fathers when their children are between the ages of 0 to 10. (Graph credit: Milligan, 2014 CESifo Economic Studies)
Graph shows the difference in years worked by mothers and fathers when their children are between the ages of 0 to 10. (Graph credit: Milligan, 2014 CESifo Economic Studies)

Becker’s theorizing about the family can help us to understand the development of this mother-father employment gap. Becker’s theoretical models suggest that if there are even slight differences between the productivity of mothers and fathers in the home vs. the workplace, spouses will tend to specialize completely in either in-home or in out-of-home work. These kind of productivity differences could arise because of cultural conditioning, as society pushes certain roles and expectations on women and men. Also, biology could be important as women have a heavier physical burden during pregnancy and after the birth of a child women have an advantage in breastfeeding. It is possible that the initial impact of these unique biological roles for mothers lingers as their children age. Biology is not destiny, but should be acknowledged as a potential barrier that contributes to the origins of the mother-father work gap.

Will today’s differences in mother-father work patterns persist into the future? To some extent that may depend on how cultural attitudes evolve. But there’s also the possibility that family-friendly policy can move things along more quickly. Both parental leave and subsidized childcare are options to consider.

Analysis of some data across the four countries suggest that these kinds of policies can make some difference, but the impact is limited.

Parental leave makes a very big difference when the children are age zero and the parent is actually taking the leave—but because mothers take much more parental leave than fathers, this increases the mother-father employment gap rather than shrinking it. Evidence suggests that after age 0 when most parents return to work, there doesn’t seem to be any lasting impact of having taken a maternity leave on mothers’ employment patterns when their children are ages 1 to 10.

Another policy that might matter is childcare. In the Canadian province of Quebec, a subsidized childcare program was put in place in 1997 that required parents to pay only $5 per day for childcare. This program not only increased mothers’ work at pre-school ages, but also seems to have had a lasting impact when their children reach older ages, as employment of women in Quebec increased at all ages from 0 to 10. When summed up over these ages, Quebec’s subsidized childcare closed the mother-father employment gap by about half a year of work.

Gary Becker’s prediction about the disappearance of mother-father work gaps hasn’t come true – yet. Evidence from Canada, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom suggests that policy can contribute to a shrinking of the mother-father employment gap. However, the analysis makes clear that policy alone may not be enough to overcome the combination of strong cultural attitudes and any persistence of intrinsic biological differences between mothers and fathers.

Image credit: Hispanic mother with two children, © Spotmatik, via iStock Photo.

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22. Remembering the slave trade and its abolition

On August 23rd the United Nations observes the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. In honor of this day, we examine the history of slavery and its abolition, and shed light on contemporary slavery practices.

View the infographic below to learn more, or open it as a PDF to click through to freely available content from across our public international law resources.

OPIL_SLAVERY

Download a PDF copy of the infographic

Headline image credit: Photo by orythys, Public Domain CCo via pixabay

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23. What is the future of international law?

With the 10th European Society of International Law (ESIL) Anniversary Conference just around the corner some key thinkers share their thoughts on what they think the future of international law looks like.

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“International law traditionally flourishes with liberal hegemony, shared interests, or balance-of-powers parity. The first condition is visibly waning. The second and third conditions support regional and functional islands of multilateralism. While those islands may sometimes be shaky, they will continue to provide work for international lawyers. Beyond that, in the rough waters of war, peace, and even justice, the language of international law will also continue to pervade international relations. But it increasingly risks being perceived as an imprudent distraction. That is unless civil societies can unsettle the present monopolies that shape the terms of international legal discourse.”

Ingo Venzke, Research Fellow and Lecturer, Amsterdam Center for International Law, University of Amsterdam, author of How Interpretation Makes International Law: On Semantic Change and Normative Twists, and co-author of In Whose Name? A Public Law Theory of International Adjudication

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“The future of international law will be somewhat as with its present: we will witness the continued expansion of international law’s reach into new and emerging areas of common concern, wrought by climate change, technology, and continued processes of international and regional integration that are changing the nature of State-to-State relations. I do hope, however, that there will be continued and sustained critical reflection in scholarship on the impact of law on the international space—on who it empowers and excludes, on the nature of legalisation and its purposes—for it is only through heightened scrutiny, and not unquestioned application, that international law may serve as a progressive force.”

Gleider I. Hernandez, Lecturer in Law, Durham University, author of The International Court of Justice and the Judicial Function

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“In my opinion, the international law of the future will be less influenced by the ‘Westphalian model’, for at least two reasons: the increasing role played by non-state actors, in particular armed groups and multinational corporations, which challenges existing state-centred rules of international law, and the emergence of cyberspace as a separate domain, that will entail a rethinking of traditional concepts like territory, sovereignty, and jurisdiction. With regard to the future of international institutions, it remains to be seen whether the United Nations will be able to survive in its outdated structure.”

Marco Roscini, Reader in International Law, University of Westminster, author of Cyber operations and the use of force in international law

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“The future of international law is likely to be as its past: a vital, though often misunderstood, medium through which social actors at various levels and in various forms can structure and order their interactions, reflect their desires and manifest their concerns. It is neither static nor predictable. Following a period in which there have been high expectations of what international law can achieve, the next few years may be times of challenge as it struggles to deliver solutions which have become expected of it. But this is merely part of the endless re-calibration necessary to reflect the tasks to which it is being put and the realities which need to be faced. If international law does not disappoint from time to time it will cease to be a source of aspiration – and that would make for a far bleaker future.”

Malcolm Evans, Professor of Public International Law, University of Bristol, author of International Law and Blackstone’s International Law Documents

*   *   *   *   *

Vienna, AT. Photo by  Luca Sartoni. CC BY-SA 2.0 via lucasartoni Flickr.
Vienna, AT. Photo by Luca Sartoni. CC BY-SA 2.0 via lucasartoni Flickr.

“International law has undergone dramatic change in the past fifty years, with issues from human rights to the environment to trade now the subjects of a wide range of hard and soft law instruments. Yet, many of the principles encapsulated within these documents remain unrealized due to the inability of international law to influence domestic law and national political priorities. Oftentimes, international law seems to remain distinct from domestic systems, treated with suspicion by national institutions.

“In the twenty first century, the national and international cannot be so easily separated. In areas such as refugee flows, arms proliferation, environmental degradation and combatting impunity, domestic initiatives and capability hold the key to international security. Agreement on and adherence to international standards is essential if global threats with national origins are to be managed effectively. International law must become not only the standard setter but the enabler and enhancer of domestic capacity. One of the key challenges will be to alter perceptions of international law itself. Rather than being viewed as something to be resisted or resented, side-stepped or paid lip service to, international legal standards must become part of domestic legislative and political agendas. The challenge is enormous, but essential, because, in the words of Anne-Marie Slaughter, the future of international law is domestic.”

Alison Bisset, Lecturer of Law, University of Reading, author of Blackstone’s International Human Rights Documents

*   *   *   *   *

“In the security regime, the future of international law looks increasingly dim. Attributability is a prerequisite for accountability, and powerful governments are discovering new ways to mask innovative forms of coercion behind a veil of anonymity. “Little green men” with no visible identification, untraceable drone strikes, “NATO” bombings that conceal belligerents’ identities, cyber-attacks masked by false flags—these sorts of intrusions all erode the rule of law by making it difficult if not impossible to impute responsibility. Should this trend continue, the security regime could look increasingly like Ferguson, Missouri—a juridical black hole where lawless police hide their badges.”

Michael J. Glennon, Professor of International Law, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, author of National Security and Double Government

*   *   *   *   *

“In my opinion, the future of international law in the coming decades will continue to be shaped by the continued tensions between sovereignty and other interests of the international community, such as the protection of the environment, the development of the Responsibility to Protect and more broadly human rights.

“On the one hand, states will obviously have to continue to accept that the traditional Westphalian model of international law is facing challenges and that things cannot be as they were in the past.

“But on the other hand, activists in various fields need to accept that the world is not changing as fast as they would like everyone to believe and that sovereignty remains a key feature of the international legal order. To a certain extent, as a feature of any given community, sovereignty is in fact conceptually unavoidable in one shape or another, whether at the domestic or the international level. Testimony to this is the continued relevance in international affairs of national(istic) claims which find their legal cristalisation in concepts such as statehood, self-determination and the prohibition of the use of force in international law.

“Accepting this reality is key in shaping realistic, effective and intellectually sound policies that not merely focus on individual rights, however important they are, but also take into account the collective dimensions and interests of any human society.”

Dov Jacobs, Associate Professor in International Law at the Grotious Centre, Leiden University, contributor to “Targetting the State in Jus post Bellum: Towards a theory of Integrated Sovereignties” in Jus Post Bellum: Mapping the Normative Foundations

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24. Time to see the end

Imagine that you’re watching a movie. You’re fully enjoying the thrill of different emotions, unexpected changes, and promising developments in the plot. All of a sudden, the projection is abruptly halted with no explanation whatsoever. You’re unable to learn how things unfold. You can’t see the end of the movie and you’re left with a sense of incompleteness you won’t ever be able to overcome.

Now imagine that movie is the existence of a human being which, out of the blue, is interrupted. Enforced disappearance cuts the life-flow of a person and it’s often impossible to discover how it truly ends. The secrecy that shrouds the fate of the disappeared is the distinctive element of this heinous practice and differentiates it from other crimes. All that you can imagine is that the end is not likely to be a happy one, but you will never give up hope. The impossibility to unveil the truth paralyses also the life of family members, friends, colleagues, and, to a certain extent, of society at large. If you don’t see the end, you’re unable to move on. You can’t grieve. You can’t rejoice. You’re trapped between hope and despair.

Today is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Besides commemorating thousands of human beings who have been subjected to enforced disappearance throughout the world and honouring the memory of brave family members and human rights defenders who continue to combat against this scourge, is there anything to celebrate?

While the UN General Assembly decided to observe this Day beginning in 2011, associations of relatives of disappeared persons in Latin America had been doing so since 1981.

Over more than 30 years much has been done to eradicate enforced disappearance, both at domestic and international levels. Specific human rights bodies, such as the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) have been established. Legal instruments, both of international human rights law and of international criminal law, deal with this crime in-depth and establish detailed obligations and severe sanctions. Regional human rights courts and UN Treaty Bodies have developed a rich, although not always coherent, jurisprudence. Domestic courts have delivered some landmark sentences, holding perpetrators accountable.

Ceremony organised by the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances, held in Manila on 30 August 2009, to commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Photo by Gabriella Citroni.
Ceremony organised by the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances, held in Manila on 30 August 2009, to commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Photo by Gabriella Citroni.

However, much remains to be done. First, the phenomenon has evolved: once mainly perpetrated in the context of military dictatorships, nowadays it is committed also under supposedly democratic regimes, and is being used to counter terrorism, to fight organised crime, or to suppress legitimate movements of civil protest. Enforced disappearance is practiced in a widespread and systematic manner in complex situations of internal armed conflict, as highlighted, among others, in the recent report “Without a Trace” concerning enforced disappearances in Syria.

During its latest session, held in February 2014, the WGEID transmitted 87 newly reported cases of enforced disappearance to 11 states. More than 43,000 cases, committed in a total of 84 states, remain under the WGEID’s active consideration.

Against this discouraging scenario, less than 15 states have codified enforced disappearance as an autonomous offence under their criminal legislation and thus lack the adequate legal framework to tackle this crime. Only a handful of states have adopted specific measures to regulate the legal situation of disappeared persons in field such as welfare, financial matters, family law and property rights. This causes additional anguish to the relatives of the disappeared and may also hamper investigation and prosecution. Amnesty laws or similar measures that have the effect of exempting perpetrators from any criminal proceedings or sanctions are in force in various countries and are in the process of being adopted in others. Recourse to military tribunals is often used to grant impunity.

Relatives of disappeared men from Lebanon and Algeria taking part in a gathering organised by the Fédération Euro-méditerranéenne contre les disparitions forcées in Beirut on 21 February 2013. Photo by Gabriella Citroni.
Relatives of disappeared men from Lebanon and Algeria taking part in a gathering organised by the Fédération Euro-méditerranéenne contre les disparitions forcées in Beirut on 21 February 2013. Photo by Gabriella Citroni.

States do not seem to be proactive in engaging in a serious struggle against enforced disappearance at the international level either. Opened for signature in February 2007, the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance has so far been ratified by 43 states, out of which only 18 have recognized the competence of the CED to receive and examine individual and inter-state communications.

Furthermore, states often fail to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, hindering the fact-finding process, and proving reluctant in the enforcement of judgments. On their part, some of these international mechanisms, such as the European Court of Human Rights, narrowed their jurisprudence on enforced disappearance, undertaking a particularly restrictive approach when assessing their competence ratione temporis, when evaluating states’ compliance with their positive obligations to investigate on cases of disappearance, prosecute and sanction those responsible, and when awarding measures of redress and reparation.

One may wonder why 30 August was chosen by relatives of disappeared persons as the International Day against this crime. Purportedly, they picked a random date. They didn’t want it to be related to the enforced disappearance of anyone in particular: anyone can be subjected to enforced disappearance, anytime, and anywhere.

That was the idea back in 1981. Sadly, it still seems to be the case in 2014. It’s about time the obligations set forth in international treaties on enforced disappearance are duly implemented, domestic legal frameworks are strengthened, and legislative or procedural obstacles to investigation and prosecution are removed. It’s time to see the end of the movie. The end of enforced disappearance.

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25. Stop and search, and the UK police

The recent announcement made jointly by the Home Office and College of Policing is a vacuous document that will do little or nothing to change police practice or promote better police-public relations.

Let us be clear: objections to police stop and search is not just a little local difficulty, experienced solely in this country. Similar powers are felt to be just as discriminatory throughout North America where it is regarded as tantamount to an offence of ‘driving whilst black’ (DWB). This and other cross-national similarities persist despite differences in the statutory powers upon which the police rely. It would, therefore, seem essential to ask whether differences in legislation or policy have proven more or less effective in different jurisdictions. Needless to say, absolutely no evidence of experience elsewhere is to be found in this latest Home Office document. Instead, to assuage the concerns of the Home Secretary, more meaningless paperwork will be created.

One reason why evidence seems to be regarded as unnecessary is the commonplace assumption that ‘everyone knows’ why minorities experience disproportionate levels of stop and search: namely that officers rely not upon professional judgement, but upon prejudice, when exercising this power. Enticing though such an assumption is, it has serious weaknesses. As Professor Marion Fitzgerald discovered, when officers are deciding who to stop and search entirely autonomously, they act less disproportionately than when acting on specific information, such as a description.

Research that I and Kevin Stenson conducted in the early 2000s also found that the profile of those stopped and searched very largely corresponded to the so-called ‘available population’ of people out and about in public places at the times when stop and search is most prevalent. This is not to say that these stops and searches were conducted either lawfully or properly. Indeed, a former Detective Chief Superintendent interviewed a sample of 60 officers about their most recent stops and searches as part of this research. What he found was quite alarming, for in around a third of cases the accounts that officers freely gave about the circumstances of these 128 stops and searches could not convince any of us that they were lawful. There was also a woeful lack of knowledge amongst these officers about the statutory basis for the powers upon which officers were relying.

Uk police officer watches traffic at roadside. © RussDuparcq  via iStock.
UK police officer watches traffic at roadside. © RussDuparcq via iStock.

If officers were much better informed about their powers, then perhaps the experience of stop and search may be less disagreeable — it is unlikely ever to be welcomed — than it often is. Paragraph 1.5 of the Code of Practice governing how police stop and search states:

1.5   An officer must not search a person, even with his or her consent, where no power to search is applicable. Even where a person is prepared to submit to a search voluntarily, the person must not be searched unless the necessary legal power exists, and the search must be in accordance with the relevant power and the provisions of this Code.

The implication of this is quite clear: police may stop and search someone with their consent, but may not use such consent as a means of subverting the requirements under which the search would be lawful. Yet, so few officers seem even to be aware of this and conduct stop and search solely on the basis of their formal powers. I believe they do this as a ‘shield’; they imagine that if they go through the formal motions then no one can object to the lawfulness of the search. But they do object and do so most valuably, which gravely damages the public reputation of the police.

Research evidence aplenty confirms that it is not the possession of this power by the police that irks even those who are most at risk of stop and search. What they really object to is the manner in which the stop and search is conducted. A more consensual approach by police officers might just make the use of this power just a little more palatable.

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