People on the Left often come up with the statistic that poorer people pay more tax the richest in society. This is true to an extent, but it masks the fact that the poorest in society also receive money back from the state via benefits and tax credits. I made this point in a video:
However, since making this video, I came across a chap called Fred Harrison who has written an excellent blog and made a couple of videos on how the richest in society derive huge wealth from their land wealth. And this wealth has nothing much to do with their own efforts and everything to do with public investment.
“PEOPLE whom they brand as “benefit scroungers” are routinely ridiculed by sections of the media. Television companies even make documentaries about people who should not qualify for tax-funded benefits. But the luckiest scroungers of state largesse – I am one of them – are never held to account for the money they pocket from the public purse. That is because the scam is lawful.
The scam is a legacy of a bygone age of irresponsible governance. We do not talk about it because the debate about the housing crisis is distorted by notions such as “hard-working middle class home-owners”. But if we continue to advocate the need to “get on the housing ladder”, there is no chance of solving the problem of unaffordable housing.
At the heart of the crisis is the way government raises and spends our money. Let’s examine the covert way in which tax policy interfaces with the housing market, and one of the techniques for distracting us from the biggest financial scandal facing the nation.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), a libertarian champion of taxpayers, wants government to reduce its tax-take. To argue its case, it points out that the average household in the top 20% of income earners will pay more into the public purse than any other group of people. And we are expected to believe that this is “progressive taxation”. It’s fair that the rich should pay the most into the public purse – right? An individual within the top 20% bracket will pay, on average, £1,686,970 in tax over his working lifetime.1 The calculation is based on Office for National Statistics data for 2016.
But the TPA does not reveal that high-tax payers are the nation’s biggest winners from the State’s handout of benefits. By following the money trail, we discover that the public services they enjoy are funded out of the pockets of low-income families. I will illustrate this tax-scam with an example taken from London.
According to the estate agency Rightmove, terraced properties in London’s Kensington had an average sold price of £4,507,685 in the 12 months to August 2016. Semi-detached properties averaged £7,633,846. What does that mean for the owner of a (say) £5m residential property, who would be in the top 20% income bracket? With house prices rising at conservatively estimated rates of increase between 2017 and 2021 (with a weakening of prices in 2019), I estimate that the value of that £5m dwelling will increase by about £1,700,000. In other words, the average high-income taxpayer will be reimbursed for his whole lifetime tax liabilities in five years flat!
Who reimbursed him with those windfall capital gains? Father Christmas? An alchemist holed up in a cave in the Swiss Alps who splays out the riches that come cascading down from the heavens and into the pockets of the owners of residential property?
No. Capital gain measures the value of the location occupied by the house, the value which government fails to collect to defray the cost of the services it delivers. It is the subsidy to property owners for which there is no means test.
The family occupying that £5m house in Kensington will enjoy access to public services which are funded, in part, by low-income taxpayers who live in rented accommodation.
This State-sponsored device for making the rich richer (and the poor, poorer) means that, for most of their lives, rich folk enjoy public services without paying for them. I first spelt out the economics of this scam in 2006. Governments turn a blind eye to the injustice while wringing their hands in despair at not being able to deliver affordable housing to people on the lowest incomes.”
Just came across an excellent article by Dominic Frisby making the case for a single Land Value Tax to recoup some of the land value that the small number of landowners in the UK enjoy:
“There are about 65 million people in the UK and 60 million acres of land – almost enough, in theory, for an acre each. (It’s not quite that simple, of course: not all acres are equal.) Yet about two-thirds of the land – 40 million acres – is owned by fewer than 6,000 people. If there is a more telling statistic about the unequal distribution of wealth in this country, I’d like to know what it is.
In the 19th century landowners paid tax on their land. Today, so corrupt is our system of taxation, they actually receive subsidies for it. The rest of us, meanwhile, must pay council tax.
The largest landowners exploit a tax loophole. Land is passed from one generation to the next via the tax avoidance vehicle that is the trust. The rest of us must pay inheritance tax.
The complexity and inconsistency of our tax systems are to blame for so much wealth inequality. One group has the resources to find the loopholes and exploit them, the rest of us don’t: and so pay more on a proportional basis. Complexity allows there to be one rule for some and another for everybody else.
About the only way the person who starts out with nothing can improve his or her lot is through labour. And yet we tax labour constantly and heavily. The worker pays the vast majority of taxes: 40% of government revenue comes from income tax and national insurance, with another 20% from VAT.
The wealth of the super-rich does not derive from their labour, however. It derives from the appreciation in the value of their land, their houses, their stocks, their shares, their bonds, their fine art – what economists call their assets. These go untaxed, unless you sell. So most don’t.
If you want to redistribute wealth naturally, rather than via the moral minefield that is state re-allocation, the answer lies in changing the way we tax people.
Instead of taxing our labour – what we produce – why don’t we tax what we use? Instead of taxing the wealth that is earned, why don’t we tax the wealth that is unearned? I’m talking about land. Nobody made the land. Nature gave it to us. By building on it, or farming it, or mining it, you have improved it, but the land itself was always there. So let us look solely at the unimproved value of the land. This is easy to assess.
If you want the right to occupy a piece of land, and you want the government to protect your title to that land, then a rent should be paid to the community that reflects the value of that land, because it is the needs of the community which have given that land value. What I’m describing might sound extremely left wing, but the granddaddy of rightwing economists, Milton Friedman, described it as the, “least bad tax”: that is LVT – land value tax.
The late duke may have been a canny businessman, but he did not invent anything new, he did not bring some amazing new product or service to the world, which we all wanted to use. His ancestors benefited from the corn laws 200 years ago and the estates were built. Now planning laws are such that few can build anything new. The estate, which owns some of the most desirable land in London, was effectively handed a monopoly and the duke made good from the fact that so many people want to live and work in London.
There’s big money to be made in land banking but there is nothing creative about it. You are not bringing anything new to the world or improving it. It is simply exploiting the restrictive planning laws in this country that prevent progress. It is crony capitalism at its worst.
If you don’t want to pay land value tax, you don’t have to. This is a tax that is voluntary. You simply sell the land to someone who is prepared to.
The amounts of tax payable are clear. It’s an easy tax to administer. It doesn’t require 10 million words of tax code. And there need be no loopholes. The land is here – it is not in the Cayman Islands – and you are the owner.
The Green party actually has LVT in its manifesto, but it has it in addition to other taxes. LVT should replace other taxes.
Remember the mantra: don’t tax labour, tax land. Not only would it make for a much healthier, happier and more productive society, it would make for one in which wealth is more fairly distributed.”
A recent article in the Telegraph drew attention to evidence of land banking in the UK.One of the main factors driving up housing costs in the UK, and especially in London, is land banking. This is a process whereby investors buy land as an investment but don’t build on it because they know the value of the land will go up regardless of what they do. I find the idea of a land value tax attractive because it would discourage land banking as the owners would be taxed according to the value of the land even if they have not built on it.
“Almost a third of sites which have been given the green light to have homes built on have not been completed within the last five years, according to new research by Shelter.
It found that just 68pc of sites with detailed planning permission had completed properties built on them within five years. This meant there were 320,000 homes which had not been built over this period despite having been given the go-ahead, and suggests that developers and landowners are engaging in ‘land banking’, sitting on land and waiting for it to increase in value.
There is a particularly high deficit in London, where 52pc of detailed planning permissions granted for homes have been completed within the last five years, with a one year lag between permission being granted and a unit being built. This equals a shortfall of 106,968 homes in that period.
Areas around the capital conversely have much higher levels of building: in the east of England, 86pc of such sites have been completed, and in the South East, that figure is 71pc.
Part of this geographical disparity can be explained by the more complicated nature of development in London, which is largely on brownfield land that takes longer to prepare.
Anne Baxendale, head of communications, policy and campaigns at Shelter, said: “Our country’s inefficient housebuilding system means developers perversely make more profit sitting on land than they would by building homes – this is especially acute in London.
“The situation is slightly better outside London where developers can take advantage of lower land costs and rising house prices. This means planning permissions have been converting into more actual homes.”
Developers deny land banking, saying that generally they make more profit by building on it. The Shelter research also found that during the same period the profits of the five biggest housebuilders in the UK soared by 388pc, as they recovered from the financial crisis.
The housing white paper, announced by the Government in February, suggested that councils would be given greater powers to carry out compulsory purchase orders on land which was not being built on.”
A recent article in the This Is Money is one of many to draw attention to the rise in car finance in the UK which many fear might trigger a financial crash.
“Could people buying new cars on the never-never really trigger a financial crisis?
It seems unlikely, doesn’t it?
In light of the sheer number of new cars driving around – and the fact most people don’t have a spare £30,000 to drop on one – it won’t have escaped many people’s notice that there’s been a finance boom.
But if buyers can’t afford it, that’s their problem isn’t it?
They might struggle with the payments, they could even get the car repossessed and a dirty great mark on their credit record.
But that won’t affect you, will it? Or the world of proper finance, banks, stock markets and all that?
Yet, the Bank of England has vocally joined the list of people worried about all this.
The clue is that it’s not the borrowers it’s concerned about, it’s the lenders.
A huge industry has grown up in car finance to keep new motors rolling out of the factories, into dealers, and then onto our roads.
For many of the motoring giants, car making is a volume game. Flogging them can be surprisingly low margin, so manufacturers will go to great lengths to keep things flowing – and that includes financial engineering.
This has delivered the rise of the personal contract plan, or PCP deal. These combine car ownership into a small deposit (or none at all) and a nice manageable monthly payment.
Except, most customers never really own the car. They simply pay for its depreciation over a set contract period, such as three years, and at the end they choose either to make a final payment or hand it back.
Handing it back and getting another new car proves an unsurprisingly popular option. Some don’t even wait out the term, and voluntarily cancel their agreement early and hand back their vehicle, in order to get yet another new car before the deal is up.
There is a massive global financial system behind this. Car companies have finance divisions and in some cases even their own banks, institutional lenders supply funding for loans, and customers’ finance deals are bundled together and resold to investors.
The problem is that PCP works with a guaranteed future value at the end of the deal term.
These have typically been played conservatively low to allow for a slight fall in used car values and to leave some money on the table for customers.
That’s because when they discover their car’s trade in value is higher than the minimum guarantee, they can use the gap between the two to finance another car and start the game again.
But as time has passed, to keep customers buying those minimum guarantees have crept up – reducing monthly payments as there is less depreciation to pay for.
What sinks the whole thing is if used car prices take a decent tumble. The car finance company then gets back a vehicle worth less than it projected. When it sells it on, it makes a loss.
On a small scale this is not a problem, on a very big one it is.
What exacerbates this is that it’s an open secret that car finance is not exactly the most stringent when it comes maintaining high standards.
On one side you have a buyer who really wants the best new car possible, on the other you have a salesman or woman who’d like to sell the most expensive one that they can – loaded up with as many options as possible.
The car finance in the middle greases the wheels and while things have improved in recent times, there are an awful lot of things going on here that would never pass muster in today’s more cautious post financial-crisis banks.
The concern for some time has been a glut of second hand cars driving down prices. But the major worry now is falling demand for diesel cars, driven by tax and pollution fears, which is pushing down values of used vehicles.
The industry did its maths on higher values and could be forced to take a haircut at the same time as trying to fund selling more new cars.
No one really knows how this will play out.
This is not to say it will be a contagious re-run of the financial crisis – but you can bet that in the world of car finance there’s some very nervous people right now.”
The Independent carried a thought provoking article recently which argued that wealth deriving from land value is essentially unearned, and should be taxed:
“In a new report by the Resolution Foundation one statistic stands out. According to the think tank around 80 per cent of net property wealth growth since the early 1990s has been a consequence of a housing boom, rather than active savings decisions by households.
This equates to around £2.3 trillion of windfall property value appreciation. For homeowners born in the Forties and Fifties the average “passive” benefit is around £80,000. For those born in the Sixties the average windfall is £60,000.
The Resolution Foundation report makes it clear that UK overall wealth accumulation is considerably driven by property, which has been largely inflated by a housing boom. If we’re serious about tackling high UK wealth inequality (which seems to be rising still further) we can only do so by tackling housing.
There are a multitude of reasons why UK house prices are so high relative to incomes and homeownership rates are falling. Excessively rigid supply-restricting post-war planning controls, particularly the misnamed “green belt”, around big cities, are a major culprit. Indefatigable nimby campaigns of opposition by existing homeowners when new developments are proposed also harmfully suppress supply.
Sclerotic local authorities that no longer build social housing, big corporate builders with little interest in constructing new homes in sufficient volume, a financial system set up to lend for residential property purchases but not business investment, politicians who offer cynical subsidies to demand: all these contribute to the mess.
But a significant driver is our irrational and grossly distorting property taxation system. The council tax is inexcusably regressive. Stamp duty is only levied on transactions, discouraging people from moving when they otherwise would. There is no VAT on newly built housing.
High-value property is undertaxed. Homeowners face no capital gains tax. And David Cameron and George Osborne removed family homes worth up to £1m from the inheritance tax net.
Bank of England chief economist Andy Haldane got into trouble last year for pointing out what everyone knows to be true: that you’ll tend to get better returns from property than from a pension.
Given such obvious financial incentives, it should come as no surprise that so many of us are obsessed with property as an asset class, that we are so prone to boom-bust cycles, where we bid up prices ever higher and stretch the link with economic fundamentals to breaking point.
As Resolution shows, while residential property wealth has been spiralling as a share of GDP, property taxes have been flat. The problem with Ed Miliband’s mansion tax is not that it was unfair, but that it wasn’t fair enough. The regressive council tax system should be reformed so that all property – not just £2m houses – is taxed at a flat rate on its market value.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy has exposed the property inequality gulf that exists in modern Britain with brutal clarity. We see unsafe, overcrowded and oversubscribed social housing lying next to under-occupied multi-million pound Kensington townhouses whose value has exploded in recent decades.
Ed Miliband’s 2015 crucifixion over his mansion tax proposal seems an aeon ago. In the wake of the conventional wisdom-scrambling General Election, there appears to be a healthy new willingness among the political classes to consider solutions that were for so long written off as economically logical but electorally impractical.
But as the “dementia tax” property-based backlash showed, the argument still needs to be made, the case laid out persuasively. “You didn’t build that,” cried Barack Obama during the 2012 Presidential election, making a point about the degree to which private US businesses rely for their economic success on state-provided infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
“You didn’t earn that,” could be an equivalent progressive rallying cry when it comes to the long-overdue reform of the taxation of British housing wealth.”
In the aftermath of three terror attacks in a short space of time in the UK, Peter Hitchens wrote this outstanding blog. I had to share in its entirety
“Here we go again, responding to events with emotion rather than reason. UKIP chieftains talk of internment. Columnists suggest the closing of mosques. Yet at the same time we praise ourselves for not panicking. Well, one or the other, but not both.
The police and the ‘security services’ so-called are currently taking a quite a bit of criticism for failing to pick up pretty blatant clues that the London Bridge killers were dangerous. I am ambivalent about this. These bodies often boast of how much they protect us, and I have never been convinced that these claims have much substance.
Maniacs of this kind are not under the direction of some spider-web of Islamist cunning. They are isolated, unorganized and unpredictable. Unless MI5 and the police have discovered how to read minds, they are always going to miss quite a few such things. Most of these people will never move beyond bluster and vanity. The art of knowing which is which from distant surveillance has not yet been developed. Control orders might have worked against them. I do not dispute it. But they might not, because someone always has to decide whether to use them or not, and that someone could get it wrong.
A real, knowledgeable old-fashioned police presence, on the other hand, might be more practically, immediately effective.
An example: the strange and menacing behaviour of one of the conspirators after he had hired the van with which he then committed murder was noticed by many of his neighbours. An old-fashioned beat constable would have quickly heard about it and might have been able to act.
And a proper enforcement of the drug laws which such people commonly break with impunity might have put them in prison where they could do no harm of this kind and might even (if my theory is right) have prevented them from taking the gruesome path they took.
People who have noticed that I oppose arming the police or putting soldiers on the streets have begun to make snarky (‘ so what do you think about that now, then?) comments on Twitter suggesting that perhaps I might now wish I had not said these things. I do not, for reasons I explain below, but which can be summarised as: Prevention is far better than reaction. Trial by jury is far better than summary execution. I agree that these are hopelessly British sentiments, but then I am hopelessly British.
And several volunteer special constables of the Thought Police stand ready to accuse me (me!) of being an apologist for Islam because I dare to mention the fact that Islam may be a necessary condition for many of these events, but it is not present in all of them, and it does not seem to be a *sufficient* condition for them either. You’ll have to read further for the facts on which I base this contention. Indeed, you’ll have to be in a frame of mind for facts and reason. If you prefer to get enraged, to generalize wildly, to condemn entire groups of people or call for easy answers, this isn’t for you and, honestly, I advise you to go elsewhere.
My purpose is not to excuse or exonerate anyone, but to seek practicable answers which might ameliorate this problem. I offer no solution. I do not think there is one. You could spend every penny of our GDP on security measures and abolish all our remaining liberties and protections against unjust conviction, and there would still be horrors of this kind. Russia, which has elaborate and unrestrained secret police apparatus and scorns both old-fashioned liberties and modern human rights still, alas, suffers terrorist atrocities. There is no organic connection between being a free society and being vulnerable to terror. Nor is there any connection between abolish liberty and being safe. You just give up your freedom forever, and get nothing back.
There’s also a question of proportion.
More practical measures, such as putting strong steel bollards on the pavements of major bridges wouldn’t be that costly and might discourage some incidents of this kind, though I fear that those who wish to kill and maim will always find ways of doing so.
Terrorism is a form of crime which most people will never experience. It seems more immediate because it is intensively reported. But other crimes (which in my view may also be associated with illegal but undeterred and unpunished drug abuse, and which are not linked with fanaticism) are more of a direct concern for many.
Take these facts, from page two of ‘The Times’ of London of today, 7th June: Two teenagers in London have been fatally stabbed in the last four days. The number of teenager murders in the capital has already equalled that reached in the whole of 2016. That is to say 12 teenagers have been murdered so far this year, nine of them stabbed. All 12 of those killed in London last year were killed with knives. These numbers fluctuate greatly. In 2007 27 teenagers were murdered in London. In 2008, the number rose to 29. The figure then dropped to 15 in 2009, rising to 19 in 2010. I would also echo the words of Sir Simon Jenkins in the London Evening Standard yesterday (6th June) ‘Londoners are sensible enough to accept there are things that can be done, and things that cannot. The three knife attacks in London in four years should be seen in context. Their severity is nowhere near that of the IRA campaigns of the 1970s and 1990s, when there were fatal explosions every other month. In today’s London some innocent person is stabbed to death every week – in one week in April there were six deaths.’
I have no information on comparable crimes elsewhere in Britain, but I suspect there are some. Likewise I suspect that the levels of unprosecuted but quite severe violence (on show in the casualty departments of our hospitals on Friday and Saturday nights).
So …shall we have a war on extremism, more powers for the state and the police, and a renewal of the failed ‘war on terror’, maybe a bit of internment?
Shall we, in the same spirit, look narrowly at everyone who dares to think originally about recent horrors and accuse them of being terror sympathisers or apologists?
Or shall we perhaps wonder if we have got our policy on terrorism right? After all, we have been doing more or less the same thing about terrorism for years. And it has not worked at all. It is still wearily true that it is a matter of when, not if, the next one of these ghastly events takes place.
We have given terrorist outrages huge publicity, which their culprits hoped for and which future culprits of similar acts will expect. Would they be so keen to do these things if they could not expect this sort of reaction? Do we really aid the cause of counter-terrorism by giving them this treatment?
We have treated these events as assaults on the nation. As Sir Simon Jenkins says, we have ‘nationalised’ what are in fact sordid and despicable crimes, and magnified them into major politico-military events. There was even talk of postponing the general election after this latest crime.
How does this benefit us? I am not minimizing these acts of violence. I am as grieved and distressed by them as anyone, and wish it was not necessary, in the current fevered atmosphere (see below and above), to say so. But it is. And, while they are terrible for those directly affected, they are not a threat to our national integrity, to our political stability or the economic functioning of our nation. Why then do we act as if they are?
I do not stop reasoning, or seeking facts, because I am grieved or angry. Nor should you.
We have showered the scene with adjectives. We have been rude about the dead criminals, who are no longer in a position to be affected by our obloquy. And we have assumed without hard evidence that they are acting as part of a great conspiracy or under orders. On this occasion, because they are dead, we have not vowed to hunt them down.
It was never a very persuasive threat or promise. In the past such ‘vows’ have often come to nothing, or, worse, ended in the adjective-splattered culprits, not only not being hunted down but being released early from prison, promised effective immunity from prosecution, given jobs in government or in one case having dinner with the Queen, dressed in white tie and tails. On this occasion, happily, this last outcome is at least impossible.
We have responded on the assumption that these crimes are part of a wider conspiracy, detaining large numbers of people in melodramatic swoops.
Well, maybe this time there will be something in this. But in the case of the alleged Islamist Khalid Masood, culprit of the Westminster murders, I think all those subsequently arrested in police swoops have now been released without charge. I have not recently checked how many of those detained after the Manchester horror have been charged or are in custody. But I suspect that there will be few, if any.
Then again, perhaps he sought to dignify his pathetic personal failings by merging them within a greater cause.
This important problem emerged in the case of the Leytonstone knifeman (Remember ‘You ain’t no Muslim, Bruv!), clearly long bereft of his reason, but still, amazingly, treated by some parts of the state machine as if his motivation was political.
But also not least for the psychiatrist’s quoted remarks about the habit among unhinged violent persons of identifying themselves with larger violent causes.
This, wholly distinct from real political commitment, is not unknown among crazy people. If Masood really *did* say the untraceable things attributed to him about Allah, then it may well have been as significant (i.e. not at all) as the Leytonstone stabber’s remarks about Syria, a place |I doubt he could find on a map unaided.
These episodes surely illustrate that militant Islam and terrorism are not *necessary*, let alone *sufficient* conditions for such attacks. They suggest to me that, even if these elements *are* involved*, the role of drug-fuelled insanity is also important. It is tempting to wonder if the huge coverage given to the Nice and Berlin incidents may have entered the seething minds of those responsible for those in Times Square and Marbella. I am not myself aware of a long history of motor vehicles being used as weapons in intentional mass murder, and it has often struck me that the role of the car in the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby (and of another soldier murder in Canada) was played down in the reports of this horror.
What about ‘Islamic State’, so quick to announce that it is to blame? I believe it got the identity of the killer wholly wrong when its tame news agency first claimed responsibility for the recent Champs Elysees killing in Paris, suggesting wrongly that the killer was from Belgium. It has also been known to claim responsibility for events with which it has later turned out to have no conceivable connection. See first 1. http://ewn.co.za/2017/06/02/islamic-state-claims-responsibility-for-manila-attack
I’ve pointed out before that there have also been wholly non-political beheadings, in London (Mrs Palmira Silva murdered in September 2014) and Tenerife (Mrs Jennifer Mills-Westley murdered in May 2011).
These events are just as horrible for the victims and their families as are those officially classified as ‘terrorist’. But they do not lead to anything like the same level of controversy or consideration. No calls for internment or suppression of extremism follow them.
Indeed, any suggestion that mental illness might play a role tends to be met with scorn. No such suggestions emerged in the years before the current wave of Islamist terrorism, during which there were several sad cases of innocent persons randomly murdered by mentally ill patients who had been left to fend for themselves ‘in the community’. Mentioning this is often met with angry ripostes from lobbies who claim such speculation is unfair on the mentally ill. Nor, despite the horror, do they get anything like the same amount of media or government attention.
Is it possible the huge publicity for the Nice and Berlin attacks, in which a vehicle was used as a weapon (in both cases by a low-life criminal with a history of petty crime, violence and drug abuse), has encouraged thoughts of imitation in various twisted, seething and unbalanced minds?
In which case what about the vast prominence given to the Westminster Bridge attack? Was it wise? Did it advance any good cause? Of course these things have to be reported, and discussed. But as if they were major acts of war?
On the question of armed versus unarmed police, first, shouldn’t we be wondering more about why nobody spotted these dangerous lunatics much, much earlier? See above. It is all very well saying that the police were very quick to reach the scene, and that a policy of ‘shoot-to-kill’ was justified by the outcome.
It’s an attractive conclusion. Who is not pleased (despite the absence of a formal death penalty) to see murderers dying for their crimes?
But is it the only possible one? A lot of damage can be done in eight minutes, as we now see. It is of course a good thing that they were killed before they could do any more damage. But something very deep in me would prefer that they had been captured, arrested and put on trial, a process from which we might have learned important things which might have enabled us to act more effectively in future. I agree that this would be more acceptable if we still had an effective death penalty, since it si clear that even Guardian readers and the BBC have no real objection to these killers being killed by the state. But I can say that I have urged this for many years.
But these are two totally different and (I suspect) mutually exclusive forms of policing. If we choose to have an armed and armoured force of street soldiers which waits for horror and reacts to it by shooting the perpetrators, we cannot (in my view) also have a force which seeks close and friendly contact with the people of this country, and by befriending them and earning their trust, prevents many of these events long before they happen.
It is still my view that unarmed officers, patrolling alone, always did and would now do more in the long run to protect us from crime and disorder of all kinds happening in the first place, than phalanxes of armed and armoured officers, loaded with weapons.
Next, the very brave officer who stood up to the knifemen without a firearm, and the Romanian chef who whacked one of the murderers over the head with a crate, show that unarmed people are not powerless in the face of such a menace. I just wish there had been more.
Indeed, though a confirmed coward myself, I have been more heartened by these and other episodes where individuals stood up against these people than by anything else in this episode. They remind of the West London restaurant staff who fought like tigers against so-called ‘rioters’ in the great London disorders of a few years ago, and drove them off.
I was, by contrast, oddly distressed by pictures of innocent people being hurried from the scene with their hands clasped behind their heads like surrendered PoWs. There was a similar upsetting scene in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris yesterday, of tourists with their hands raised. I am sure I shall be told there is a good practical justification for this. I just think that if I am ever made to do it, I will feel dreadfully ashamed.
Two, armed police and soldiers cannot be everywhere even if they are permanently sent out on to the streets to do nothing else. Terrorism is about surprise. What is more, having no actual military purpose, it does not much care where and who it strikes.
They will not attack where they are expected. Either the terrorists hope to die and will attack anyway, doing grave damage in the brief minutes before they are shot, or they will attack where there are no police or soldiers.
With no very great hope of success I point out here yet again (and anyone who doubts it may check my writings and YouTube appearances on this subject ) that I am not a defender of Islam or Islamism and what I say is not intended to excuse those who believe hateful things and propagate those beliefs.
I just think that while some sort of fanatical commitment *may* (see above) be a *necessary* condition for *some* outrages, I am not as sure that it is a *sufficient* condition. We know for certain that one of the Southwark butchers, Khuram Butt, was beyond doubt a user of cannabis. I personally have little doubt that serious investigation into his two accomplices, Youssef Zaghba and Rachid Redouane would be found to have a similar drug abuse history, going back to their schooldays, if the authorities and the media were interested enough in the subject to find out. Zaghba is said to have been ‘increasingly angry’ as a young man, a description often applied to those who, after normal childhoods, are introduced to drugs. In the world in which such people live, this decriminalised drug is so commonly used that few would even think it remarkable, and criminal records rare.
This seemed to me to suggest a level of cruelty and ruthlessness way beyond the ability of a normal person, even a normal criminal.
What is the source of this? Some people will say ‘fanaticism’, and I will agree with them that it is a necessary condition in this kind of killing. But is it a sufficient one? Well, how capable are you, or how capable do you think you would be, of real, homicidal violence, even in a cause to which you were committed? I am a former fanatic. I espoused a set of beliefs with homicidal implications. I am not a pacifist, and am ready to defend myself with force. But I was as incapable then, as I am now, of driving a steel blade into a human being.
Can I make a small point here? People sometimes say that drunken individuals are also known to be violent.
This is quite true (and is one of the reasons why I opposed the relaxation of the licensing laws and why I wish to see them restored to their pre-1985 toughness) but it misses the point. And I think others may be suffering from a similar misunderstanding.
The worry about cannabis is not necessarily to do with the immediate intoxication it causes, but the long-term mental illness with which it is correlated. This illness, whether connected with the drug or not, can and does appear (and persist) in individuals who have ceased to use the drug.
And the longer we refuse to think about it, and acknowledge it is an element to be investigated and understood, the more we will be experiencing repeated Groundhog Days of murder, followed by angry speeches and pledges of action, followed soon afterwards by another murder, followed by almost identical angry speeches and pledges of action….
Reflex, after all, has failed over and over again. These events keep happening despite decades of doing what we always do and saying what we always say. Wouldn’t thought be a good idea for a change? Or do we fear it? If so, why? Does thought require us to revise easy, simple opinions, or perhaps to sacrifice some pleasures we thought were innocent, and may not be? Does it require politicians, police chiefs and ‘security’ services to do something rather more difficult and unglamorous than what they do now? Well, those are not good enough reasons. But they will not change unless we prefer thought to emotion.”
Warrior Gene Recap
Before discussing testosterone, let’s recap a recent video I did on the so-called Warrior Gene. People with this gene are more likely to exhibit violent and aggressive behaviour but this is most strongly seen in situations where they are provoked. Studies have also shown that anti-social behaviour amongst adult men with this gene is more likely if they were mistreated or punished violently in childhood. Surveys have shown that African Americans are more likely to physically punish their children, and black people tend to live in inner city areas where provocation and threat is much more likely than in other areas. So, it’s not a surprise that African American with this gene were more likely to have been involved in violent crime involving guns and knives, because they are probably more likely to have been beaten as children, and to live in inner city areas.
Testosterone and Black Crime
A very similar picture can be seen with regard to testosterone. Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone which is necessary for a huge amount of basic physiological and psychological functions. But it also seems to correlate with violent and aggressive behaviour. So could it be that black men have higher levels of testosterone, and could this be a factor in the apparent higher levels of violent crime in black communities in the US and UK?
From the evidence that I’ve seen, black men don’t necessarily have a greater innate ability to generate testosterone compared to men of other groups. Over the years, a few studies have recorded higher testosterone levels in black men than men of other races. But I think there are some behavioural and environmental factors which mean black men tend to have higher levels of testosterone. A number of studies have found that testosterone levels in men rise in anticipation of competition and contests. This has led several scholars to argue for something called The Challenge Hypothesis. Basically, the idea is that men who reside in socio-cultural contexts where there are regular threats to their well-being and social standing tend to produce higher testosterone levels in order to prime them for conflict. This idea is supported by a study which found that when comparing young white and black men with no education above high school level, the testosterone levels among black men was significantly higher than the white men. But among older men or better-educated men, race made little difference in hormone levels.
Testosterone + Ghetto Living + Warrior Gene
What we’re seeing is a vicious cycle. The overly violent environment stimulates elevated testosterone levels among young boys and men in these inner city areas, which in turn leads to more aggression and violence. Add to this mix the Warrior Gene and it’s even more grim. Black men are are more likely to carry the Warrior Gene which means they have less control over the neurotransmitters which trigger aggressive behaviour. Indeed, I’ve seen one study which found that high levels of testosterone only correlated with aggressive behavior in the men if they also carried the Warrior Gene.
Get Out of the Ghetto
What would my policy recommendations be in response to all of this? Well, on an individual and family level, black people should do everything they can to keep their families intact so as to provide as strong a insulator against the negative impact of the inner city as possible. This includes refraining from having children until we are absolutely sure we can provide them with the support and love they need. Also on a micro level, I think black people should seriously consider pulling out all the stops to leave these inner city areas. More widely, black people need to wage a culture war against all of the negative crap that is spewing out in the music, on social media and elsewhere. The WorldStar effect needs to be counteracted and a new black identity needs to be built, one which is founded on family values, hard work, discipline, aspiration, etc. And on the macro level, everyone needs to promote the kinds of local and national government policies that deal with the structural causes of inner city degradation.
The mainstream black identity in the US and UK focuses its attention on the idea that the moral deficiency of white people is causing black people to suffer. It builds on this by calling on white people to change their ways in order to allow black people to flourish. This identity refuses to make black people responsible for their own predicament, because this would require facing up to some harsh truths about the African experience in human history. For this reason, the mainstream black identity can be termed the Cowardly Black Identity.
Black Begging Bowls Take a look, for example, at the Movement for Black Lives – the umbrella entity that Black Lives Matter is affiliated to. Look at their “Demands”. Who are they demanding this stuff from? They’re demanding this stuff, ultimately, from white people! They are calling for radical re distributive policies which will direct funds from the economically productive to the economically unproductive. Once you strip away all the empowered-sounding activist buzzwords, this is begging bowl messaging. It is based on white people seeing the error of their ways and having a change of heart about this whole oppression of black people thing.
The idea is that White Supremacy is this all-encompassing cultural, political, economic, ideological, psychological, genetic, environmental, oppression machine. But quite why this edifice of White Supremacy (or White Privilege or Racism or whatever it might be called) would decide to suddenly be nice to black people is beyond me. If this entity is indeed such a crushing and deep-seated and ancient system of oppression, there’s absolutely no reason to expect it to have a road to Damascus epiphany and stop with the badness.
Instead of pleading to this near-mythical edifice of white supremacy to treat us better, black people need to start asking ourselves some tough questions about our experience in recent and current human history. The basic power imbalance between Europeans and Africans goes back to those very early years of contact several hundred years ago. The fact is that the most advanced European peoples and states were able to out-compete the Africans, first economically and then militarily. One thing we should be asking ourselves is why did this happen? It’s not a disgrace to be at a lower level of development to another group.
Learning the lessons of Black History
Then we need to study history since the early contact to pinpoint how the imbalance between Europeans and Africans continued and deepened. We need to look at the strategies that Europeans used to dominate Africans? I feel like this side of the work is being done by academics. But the other side of the work is not being done because it’s a taboo. Basically, we need to ask ourselves why have we collectively not been able to close the gap? We should be looking at all aspects of human existence – from philosophy, economics, political science and law, to the STEM fields and all points in between. We need to understand where we are deficient and how we can improve.
Most black people seem to think that it’s enough to say “the reason we are doing badly is because White Supremacy has been oppressing us for 500 years.” But they don’t want to go past that and ask the logical next question: why is White Supremacy able to oppress us? Asking that question does something very powerful. It shifts the locus of control to black people. And as soon as that happens, we are no longer able to comfort ourselves by taking some kind of moral high ground. Instead, we need to start thinking critically about ourselves and most importantly, focusing on what we need to do for ourselves to sort ourselves out. On an individual level, this self-driven mindset is essential for any kind of success in life. All the more on a collective level.
Toward a New Black Identity
This is the paradigm I use when it comes to discussions around race. Unfortunately, this is not a popular perspective among black people. Black people really, really like the idea of pleading with white people (basically) to be nice to us. You can see this in our voting habits. In the US, black folks routinely vote for the Democrats, and in the UK, for the Labour Party. These parties portray themselves as being the friends of black folks. The key thing about these parties is that they think of themselves as custodians of the Welfare State. Black people see themselves primarily as victims, and they vote for parties who they see as their defenders against White Supremacy. But all this will do is keep us holding a begging bowl, because generational dependence on welfare is not a route to empowerment. It never has been, and it never will be.
The average black person in the UK and US who hears this will respond by saying that black people are not able to rise up because White Supremacy always pushes us back down. This is a cowardly mentality, because it refuses to face up to cold harsh truths. Again, it’s not a disgrace to lose. Throughout human history, people groups have been competing with each other. For some periods you’re up, some periods you’re down. It’s not a disgrace to lose. But for me, it is a disgrace to give up your sense of responsibility and accountability by believing that only other groups can save you.
My job with the videos that I put out is to counteract the cowardly black identity, and to promote a new black identity that’s based on honest, critical thinking about where we are going wrong as a collective, and how we can put things right.
I’d like to give a shout out to a YouTuber called Black Men Taking Our Community Back. I’ve been watching a bunch of his videos recently and he has been strongly putting out this kind of mindset. Seeing his channel output has re-assured me that not all black people have the victim mentality. I recommend you check out his channel.
UK Grime artist Stormzy has just released an album which has shot straight to number 1 in the UK charts.
While grime isn’t really my cup of tea, I was very impressed to hear an interview that Stormzy recently did on Channel 4. In the interview, the South London emcee consistently pushed a gospel of personal responsibility and aspiration. At several stages, the interviewer tried to get him to talk about how the system is stacked against black men, and every time, Stormzy gave the exact kind of message that I give in my videos.
The System Can’t Save You
For decades, the black community in the UK as a while has been completely dominated by a paradigm that focuses on racism and injustice as the sole explanation for our relative underdevelopment. But Stormzy focuses on our personal ability to respond, aka responsibility. I know that many people hate to hear this because it puts the onus on us to do everything we can to shape our lives.
During the interview, the interviewer asked Stormzy about the system and tries to get him to talk about how it is failing different parts of society. He gave a very interesting answer and basically said that the system isn’t really set up to serve everybody. I think he probably meant that in the sense that not everyone can succeed in this system. But again, he says the key is not to look to the system for your redemption, but rather to look into yourself, to develop your skills and abilities and aim to be excellent in whatever you can do.
He doesn’t elaborate on this, but the logical conclusion of this approach is quite radical. We all have unique gifts and talents, it’s up to us to do the best that we can do. This is a very motivational speaker type thing say. Motivational speakers often give the impression that every one can achieve whatever they want to achieve, but this is not the case. We can only achieve what we are capable of achieving. Not everyone can be a number selling musician like Stormzy, or Premier League baller like Sergio Aguero, or even a Prime Minister like Theresa May. Again, people don’t like to hear this because they think everyone should have the same. But this is not possible and never can be possible unless you level everybody down to a bare minimum and prevent anyone from rising above the others.
Struggle With Depression
The other standout thing in this interview for me was where Stormzy talks about his struggles with depression. He explains that during the making of the album, a whole bunch of events combined to push him into a depressive state. I find it refreshing that more and more black men with a high profile are opening up and talking about their experiences with depression and other forms of mental illness. Another example was the recent BBC documentary Being Black, Going Crazy?, hosted by Three Shots of Tequila‘s Keith Dube who himself struggles with depression.
The Song in question is called Lay Me Bare. A couple things standout for me in relation to mental illness. In a couple of lines he talks about how he smoked weed to try and take away the pain of the depression. I’ve made another video talking the connection between mental illness and weed smoking. I think this is a critical area that black men in particular need to discuss openly. For me, black men need to stay away from weed because it most likely exacerbates rather than reduces the impact of depression and other mental illnesses.
Another Fatherless Youth
The thing that jumps out of the song Lay Me Bare is where Stormzy opens up about his broken relationship with his father:
“Like bro I can’t believe I saw my dad
Still up in the ends, still driving cabs
He said “Yo son, I need a car”
I kissed my teeth and turned my back
Like “Nigga, you ain’t seen my face for years
Nigga, you ain’t seen my face for time
And the first thing you’re asking me for, is that?
F*ck you! That’s where I draw the line”
Should’ve dashed through a rack like “Keep the change”
And f*ck letting go, I’ll keep the pain
23 years I’m still the same
When you hear this I hope you feel ashamed
Cah’ we were broke like what the f*ck
Mum did well to hold us up
But yet she still forgave your arse
But mumsy’s cool, I’m cold as f*ck
F*ck that! I’m still not over this
F*ck that! No, I’m still not over this”
I bang on and on about how the majority of black children are being raised by single mothers. In this song, Stormzy is basically telling us how not having his father around has damaged him severely, even though he is full of respect for his mother. For every Stormzy whose talent has allowed him to overcome the hindrance of fatherlessness, there are thousands of other black boys who were not so lucky.
In summary, I’m so pleased to see Stormzy publicly discussing these tough subjects. I’m overjoyed to hear a young black man refusing to blame the system for the problems black people face and this will encourage more and more black folks to do likewise
There has been much talk over the years about a gene called Monamine Oxidase-A (MAO-O for short). This gene helps to limit the activity of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) such as dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin. It has been found that people with low levels of MAO-A are more suceptable to the effects of these neurotransmitters and are thus more prone to aggressive and depressive behaviour. The following well-written article from a blog called “The Unsilenced Science” includes the following useful discussion:
“This gene produces an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitters that activate many of the brain’s circuits. Back in the 1990’s, scientists discovered a mutation of MAOA that completely turns it off. The result is called Brunner syndrome, which only 14 related men have been known to have (plus animal models). What makes this extremely rare mutation so important is that it proves that MAOA really is a violent delinquency gene. A man with Brunner syndrome is what expert psychiatrists refer to as “a bad guy.” Five of these men were arsonists. Some of the men were rapists or attempted killers. Inexplicably, four men with the mutation somehow escaped having the syndrome, but for men with the mutation, those are not good odds. Nevertheless, out of the approximately three-and-a-half-billion men in the world, 14 really are not that many. Trust me, your neighbor—the one with the motorcycle—is probably not one of them. In conclusion, out of sight, out of mind.
The MAOA gene has a portion with repeated segments of DNA. This section of the gene is called a promoter because having more repeats increases the amount of enzyme that the gene produces (with a rare, debatable exception). After a 2002 study found that having three repeats together with having suffered child abuse is somewhat associated with violent tendencies, a flood of follow-up research ensued, and MAOA was relabeled “the warrior gene.” This version of the gene and one with four repeats are the most common versions, or alleles. These studies always had a few people with neither the 3-repeat nor the 4-repeat allele. A small number only had 2-repeats. The scientists decided that having 2-repeats in the promoter is sort of like having 3-repeats, so they invented the term “MAOA-L.” (“L” stands for low. Pretty clever, huh?) However, a pair of studies in 2008 found that the 2-repeat allele is associated with twice the rate of violence without child abuse coming into the equation. This allele is less powerful than Brunner syndrome but far more common.
Two small studies gave hints that the especially dangerous 2-repeat allele might be more common among African Americans. One study wrote that 6% of their non-white (but probably mostly African-American) male subjects had this allele. The other had 5 of 37 (14%) African-American men possessing “rare MAOA alleles.” Those percentages are remarkable given that studies of white men have suggested that 1% or fewer have this gene. ”