Sunday, December 12, 2010

Officer/Overseer

On page 202 of China MiƩville's newest book, Kraken, there is an almost too perfect reference to KRS-One's Sound of da Police, so good you feel it can't be serendipitous, must be orchestrated. A character familiar with slavery is being pursued by the police, and mishears their reference to themselves as officers as overseer. This seems like an apposite Easter Egg for the week just gone. Somewhere, a police officer is probably not worrying very much about the consequences of having nearly killed a student protester, who given that the baton strike which left him needing breain surgey was recieved on the back of the head, was presumably facing the other way and so not attacking police officer at the time he was hit.

When people make claims about violent extremists, remember how many students were hospitalised and how many police officers were. Remember then how likely it is that someone who's been attacked by the police is to go to hospital to recieve treatment for their injuries and how likely it is that a police officer attacked by someone else will. Remember that the police are all trained, armed and armoured and that students typically aren't. Remember that the police have horses and ride them into crowds of people they've packed together and refused to allow to leave, swinging batons, whereas the protesters confront a row of shields and visors with weapons improvised from placards and the barriers being used to contain them.

Not only do I tend to think that people have of self-defence, I also tend to think that they have rights to free movement and rights to use force to enforce those rights. More, I think it is particularly important that the state refrain from violating citizens' rights since it, unlike actual persons, has no life of its own that might make doing so at least forgivable. Indeed, the legitimacy of its exercise of authority seems to depend on at least it not systematically violating its citizens rights. Therefore, I tend to think that as such, the protesters' violence against police officers earlier this week could only be made illegitimate by the likelihood of resulting in further use of illegitimate state violence against others. Partisans shouldn't fight against an occupier who'll carry out punishment killings, but it should be a matter of regret, for they have been prevented from legitimately exercising their rights to defend themselves and their institutions by their enemy's willingness to violate the rights of others.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

On Not Bleating

I'd not noticed this till someone pointed it out to me in conversation yesterday, but apparently the Government's proposals for changes to the funding of higher education are now substantially worse than those made by Browne. Rather than make apocalyptic claims about the effects of a system of university funding where which courses students pick to pay for decides how much money universities get for teaching them, apparently in ignorance of the fact that we currently have such a system, opponents of the Government's propsoals might like to point out that fewer students are going to eligible for grants, fewer students are going to be eligible for subsidised loans, and that those loans are going to be less subsidised and take longer to pay back (BBC News; HEFCE presentation (pdf)). Basically, the financial burden students are going to take up by going to university is going to increase for all but the very poorest. That is an affront to equality of opportunity. Students should not have to live like paupers in order to be able to go to university, which is the fate which will await all but the wealthy. There's also good evidence it'll put people off, which is of course also a failure in terms of equality of opportunity.

According to my informant, although I can't find direct evidence of it anywhere, part of the government proposal includes re-rating the level at which loans start to be repaid only every five years and on the basis of 2% fall in the real value of money. Both RPI and CPI are currently above 3%. This means that the headline rise in the threshold at which graduates start repaying their loan is illusory, since it'll be eroded over time and anyway fail to keep piece with growth in incomes for four years out of five. For example, at 3% inflation, £21,000 in today's money will have lost nearly 15% of its value in five years and be worth a little over £18,000. Even when re-rated, over five years a difference of 1% between the actual inflation rate and that assumed produces a real fall in the threshold of over a thousand pounds. Add to this that people will be paying for longer at real rates of interest, and you wouldn't want to be poor or to have taken up much of the government's offer of means-tested, subsidized support.