Book Review: Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein

From a layman’s point of view, Wittgenstein has a fearsome reputation in the realm of modern philosophy. This is his best known work and contains the most extensive account of his thinking from his own hand. So one approaches it with a feeling that borders fear and respect. No one can expect a light read.

I picked this up the day after finishing Paul and the Faithfulness of God, but could only manage 2-3 pages on most days.

Before dealing with the substance of the book, a word first about the structure of the book. The whole book is divided into numbered paragraphs varying from just one or two lines to a page in length. On the left hand side is the German original text, on the right hand side is the English translation. The original translation was provided by G.E.M Anscombe (no relation, as far as I know) which has been then modified/corrected. The introduction is quite baffling. It seems designed for the purist who is very familiar with Wittgenstein’s work, as there is an in-depth discussion about various manuscripts which went towards making the final work. For the most part, I think this can be skipped over.

So what of the text then? We hit a problem with the first paragraph. The opening gambit is a quote from Augustine’s Confessions, only instead of providing a translation either into German or into English, it has been left untranslated in Latin. So unless you are fluent in Latin or have a copy of the Confessions to hand (thankfully I did) then you will be left none the wiser as to the starting point. In case you don’t have Augustine, the passage used is translated thus:

“When people gave a name to an object and when, following the sound, they moved their body towards that object, I would see and retain the fact that that object received from them this sound which they pronounced when they intended to draw attention to it. Moreover, their intention was evident from the gestures which are, as it were, the natural vocabulary of all races, and are made with the face and the inclination of the eyes and the movements of other parts of the body, and by the tone of voice which indicates whether the mind’s inward sentiments are to seek and possess or to reject and avoid. Accordingly, I gradually gathered the meaning of words, occurring in their places in different sentences and frequently heard; and already I learnt to articulate my wishes by training my mouth to use these signs.”

What we then get is really a philosophy of language. Through a number of examples, Wittgenstein explores what we might mean by the word ‘mean’. He refers back occasionally to an earlier work which I haven’t read which asserts that language is built on propositions like “[this is that]“. Given the intricate nature of his writings, it is quite hard to summarise.

If I were to attempt to do so, it would be that he gives us a philosophy of “ish”, a sort of getting the gist. His contention is that philosophers have made the mistake of trying to separate words from their meanings. Rather he contends that the meaning of a word is given by its usage. This is explored at some length with a number of examples, but for the purposes of this review I shan’t do a thorough critique. That would require far more space and time than I have for here.

What he doesn’t address adequately is what happens with misunderstandings. i.e. if I use a word and mean one thing when another uses the same word to mean a different thing, how might we resolve the misunderstanding that inevitably ensues?

The book isn’t divided into chapters, so the argument rather drifts from paragraph to paragraph. Because of this, there are no clear delineators between topics, yet one can clearly see that the subject drifts if one flicks through 5 pages at a time.

Another major topic that is covered is the issue of subjectivity. He does this via talking about pain. I couldn’t help but think of a recent show at the Edinburgh Fringe that a friend of mine did, called Ruminations on the Nature of Subjectivity, as that could well describe a good chunk of Philosophical Investigations. It’s noticeable that Wittgenstein chooses his examples very carefully, so as to emphasise the strength of his arguments, though I could readily think of other examples that would go someway to undermining his argument.

That said, he doesn’t really construct an argument as such. Where one might expect something akin to a proposition followed by a line of reasoning to demonstrate the truth of the proposition or to have a line of reasoning culminating in a conclusion, Wittgenstein’s meandering musings don’t really seem to go anywhere. At times it feels like he goes round in circles. So when we get to the end of the main part of the book there are no great theorems, it just ends rather abruptly.

We then have the philosophy of psychology which was previously known as Part 2. One can see why it has the two names, as it follows on very much in the same vein, talking around the nature of subjectivity, but here drifting into the realm of psychology. It is in this part that we get introduced to the famous duck-rabbit which serves as one of a few illustrations about what we “see”. This is all very fascinating stuff, even if the way it is approached is not exactly user-friendly.

So, reading this as someone who is not a Wittgenstein aficionado, much of it came across as rather obtusely put, even if the basic ideas were fairly easy to grasp. I already came across a summary of Wittgenstein’s work while I was reading this, in Plato and a Platypus. This rather backs up my review so far. This is not for the faint-hearted, but one shouldn’t be put off by that. There is much here to mull over, though I may need to read a bit more around Philosophical Investigations in order to fully get it.

Book Review: Creation by Adam Rutherford

I first came across Adam’s book whilst listening a radio show when he was promoting it and for some reason agreed to a debate with a creationist (if you are so inclined, you can listen to the discussion here). I’ve been familiar with some of Adam’s work with the Guardian newspaper for a number of years, though this is the first book of his that I’ve actually read. It has to be noted that there are really two books here in one, though I choose to review them here together. The big trick the publishers pulled was to not put the two parts consecutively, but to flip one upside down and then putting them back-to-back. So you end up reading from front to centre, then turning the book round and doing the same again. The upshot of this is that, reading on public transport as I do, people kept giving me funny looks as they thought I was reading upside down.

The Origin of Life

The name kind of says it all. Only it doesn’t. Before we get to the origin of life, we first need a bit of preparation. This is ultimately the story of the history of life. But it is a story told in reverse, with the culmination being the story of the very beginning of life. So we begin not at the dawn of time but with a discourse on a very modern understanding of cell biology. This is something of an overview, familiar to many, but necessary if one is to locate the rest of this half of the book (and indeed the other half) in its rightful place.

So we get a very quick rundown on our understanding of evolution which runs broadly along the lines of many an account you will probably have read. As he’s a biologist, Adam does rather overplay the importance of Darwin in the history of science, rolling out the line (which I doubt is original to him) that evolution was the single greatest idea that anyone had. As a physics-inclined mathematician, I would have no qualms with saying that Darwin was a great scientist, but I would only rank him alongside, not above, the likes of Copernicus, Gauss, al-Khwarizmi, Linnaeus, Mendeleev, Newton and Riemann. Back to the book…

What is life? It’s a necessary question and one that is deserving of a discussion. Adam recaps some of the definitions we should all be familiar with from our school days. Yet it certainly differed a bit from my school as I had always understood that while there was no set definition, viruses were a considerably grey area. Interestingly, though they are pretty much looked over here, they do appear in The Future of Life (see below). The answer arrived is runs along the lines of, “[we may not be able to pin it down, but we know it when we see it]” which makes for an interesting viewpoint given how the rest of the first half of the book develops, as the origin of life looks considerably different from what we would commonly recognise today.

From here we hone in on DNA as being the signature of life, but Adam presses further to suggest that RNA is probably a much older form. This not an unusual idea, but the non-scientifically trained reader may start to go a little cross-eyed at this point. So while Adam does a very good job of presenting his subject in accessible way, the topic at hand is intrinsically a bit tough.

We then get a look at the more basic components of life before finally getting to the question in hand: how did life begin? The answer is, of course, we don’t know. What we have a series of possible answers and Adam gives us his view on some of these. The view he advocates is that the building blocks developed simultaneously rather than sequentially. These combined to create RNA which was then subject to what we would now call a process of Darwinian evolution. He goes into more detail than I have space for here, talking of experiments which show that this is a possible route.

Yet saying ‘it is possible’ is about as far as one can go. Adam looks at a few other hypotheses, such as the “warm little pool” and panspermia (the idea that life arrived on a comet or meteorite). It’s interesting, particularly with regards to the latter, that Adam is rather dismissive yet he doesn’t apply the same scrutiny to the idea he advocates as he does to the one he rejects. So while both are possible, and both might possibly wrong, the case is not adequately made in this book for why one is preferred over the other.

The Future of Life

So we come to the second part. You can read them independently or in reverse order, but I would be surprised if the majority of readers picked this one first. As has been noted by some other reviewers of this book, this half doesn’t quite have the same great flow to it that the first half did. For some time, I trundled through, thinking it was a bit hodge-podge with Adam just looking at bits that, while interesting, didn’t give an overall narrative as he had done with the origin of life.

Part of this is the newness of it all. Much of the science he describes has only been pioneered in the last 10 years or so, long after I ended any formal education in biology. So Adam describes an area of science that is very much in its infancy but which has already come on leaps and bounds in its short lifetime. Though he rightly points out that genetic engineering is really what nature does anyway, and which Gregor Mendel did with his pea plants in the 19th century. It’s that our capabilities to manipulate genetic code is now much more direct, made possible through other forms of engineering, and so enabling the kinds of experiments that Adam describes.

It was in this section that Adam makes reference to the ‘immortal’ HeLa cell, which is named after Henrietta Lacks, the woman from whom the cell was taken and who is the subject of the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which is next on my list of science books to read. So hopefully, I’ll get through it before Christmas.

When considering the future of bioengineering, one name should instantly spring to mind to anyone who follows science: Craig Venter. To some he is a hero, to others a villain. He competed with Francis Collins (who is curiously not mentioned by Adam) to be the first to map the human genome project. Collins did this on a not-for-profit basis, but Venter is very much on the side of profiteering from biological research, to the extent of trying to patent genes. Adam goes into some discussion of exactly what patents and copyrights have been applied for, with a level of critique in his writing, though he doesn’t quite go so far to as advocate the public availability of all research. But he does go someway in this direction.

At this point, I probably ought to add a disclaimer that the company I work for publishes a considerable number of books and journals in scientific research, some of which Adam may subscribe to or own. So I acknowledge that the profits made from these publications contribute to my salary. One of the issues the company is facing is the increasing demand for open access journals and how to meet the demand without the profit margins being pushed into decline.

Adam is, unsurprisingly, an advocate of the trials of GM crops. He gives us a potted history of the anti-GM movement which has an interesting link over to one of my former hangouts, the Rothamstead Experimental Station in Hertfordshire. Some may take issue with the way he tells the story, with Adam being resolutely pro-science whilst advocating reasonable safeguards. Having recently read Silent Spring I wonder what Rachel Carson might have made of the modern progress made in GM crops.

There is no real neat ending here, as this is very much a fledgling science. Adam presents us with some possibilities, but I would not be surprised if we look back at this in 25 years’ time and find that the field has developed in ways that are unexpected or have gone down different routes from the early sketch that we are given here.

So in conclusion, this is a very good book written about a fairly tough subject. It is not the most abstruse topic for those who are reasonably scientifically literate, but for those who specialise more in the arts then this may prove tough. But I would struggle to find a better book to recommend on the most modern advances in biology. Told with good humour and in a lively style, Adam remains a gifted communicator and I look forward to any future publications he may author.

Book Review: Plato And A Platypus Walk Into A Bar by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

This was my “coffee table” book that I dipped into every now and then, after finishing Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities. It’s a book that I had been after for some years, but could never find it for a reasonable price. One day, I was exploring around the philosophy section of the Waterstones flagship store in Piccadilly I spotted it out of the corner of my eye.

The subtitle of the book gives the concept: explaining philosophy through jokes. From the start, I found it to be a delight. The general structure is that the authors give a short précis about a topic in philosophy before demonstrating it in use in a joke. Many of the jokes are those you will have heard before and though this is not an analysis of humour, it does help understand the absurdities that create the humour – or rather, it helps to understand why the absurdities are absurdities.

What we have then is a whistle-stop tour of the history of modern western philosophy. We take in a broad scope of metaphysics, philosophy of religion, feminism and philosophy of language, amongst others. The explanatory elements are always done in a tongue-in-cheek way, yet this isn’t done at the expense of their pedagogical element. If you want an introduction to philosophical ideas, I suppose you could get Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, which, though I’m sure it’s very good, wouldn’t quite have the same verve about it that this work has. I admit I made fairly short work of it, as it was just too interesting to read a few pages at a time. I wanted to keep going.

Even the setup included a Socratic dialogue that runs through the length of the book, with one character trying to demonstrate to another what philosophy is all about. The only criticism I might have about it is that it does demonstrate a bit of an American bias at times, so every now and then, you might just be jolted into thinking, “what the heck? That doesn’t belong there” against some throwaway comment or a reference to a celebrity you’ve never heard of. Unless you think Immanuel Kant is a contestant on American Idol, that is. Mind you, I’ve heard of a tv show featuring Aristotle, Bentham and Spinoza entitled The Only Way is Ethics.

I would estimate that it would be almost impossible for you to read it and not learn something. I would also say it would be exceedingly difficult to keep a straight face throughout. Hugely enjoyable, and one of my favourite books of the year.

A Voter’s Manifesto (part 5 of 5)

Link to part 1

Link to part 2

Link to part 3

Link to part 4

Education

Education is a tough one for me, as it’s not a sector that I have much experience with or recent exposure to. I am aware that there have been sweeping changes made recently, mostly implemented by Michael Gove, and that they have been hugely unpopular with those who actually work in education and understand the sector far better than either Gove or I do.

In the past, we had universities without tuition fees. Scotland scrapped tuition fees. We should follow Scotland’s lead and return to tuition that is free at the point of use. Yet universities should not be privileged above other forms of education. The recent rise of apprenticeships has been a good thing and continued investment in this area, with post-secondary education funding being split in the proportion of people going to university to those entering apprenticeships.

The start of a child’s education is important, and the closure of many Sure Start centres was a backwards move. This should be reversed, so as to enact and signify a real commitment to the future of our young people.

Education should not be merely about learning facts and rote recall. Any amendments to the syllabus must not be so radical as to disrupt teachers or students. A fair balance must be sought whereby knowledge is valued, but where understanding of how to use facts is also highlighted.

As well as the academic subjects, there must be a recognition of the value of the creative subjects and sports, but no child should be expected to do well in all fields.

Immigration

The recent rise of the far right, including but not limited to, support for the EDL, BNP, UKIP and some portions of the Conservative party, show that there is an appetite for a discussion on immigration. Such a discussion need not be conducted on the same racist terms that its agitators choose to frame the debate in.

Unfortunately it needs to be stated that there should no quotas on either gross or net migration. Any public discussion on the matter must include a proportionate measure of the facts, not speculation, including but not limited to the numbers of migrants, the numbers in work, the number unemployed and their net contribution/cost to the economy.

Tobacco & gambling

Tobacco and gambling provide some little amount of leisure whilst at the same time causing a great level of harm. Profits derived from these industries will be taxed at a flat 90%. This is not intended primarily as a tax-raising measure, but as a deterrent against such corrosive industries that do more harm than good to society.

Culture

For too long, there has been disproportionate spending on the arts focused on London. This needs to be more equitably distributed. However, as it is a non-essential part of the economy, I would not propose any above-inflation increases in funding.

Defence

In the words of Tony Benn, “If you can find the money to kill people, you can find the money to help them.”

Any company which manufactures instruments of death will be subject to a 100% tax on their profits, with those funds ringfenced to the medical treatment of those wounded (both physically and mentally) as a result of war. If this means that they are no longer able to carry on in business, so be it. I would rather spend money on unemployment benefits for a short time than on war.

The nuclear weapons programme, Trident, is to be wound down and eventually scrapped. Yet this should be done gradually, so as to ease the unemployment that will inevitably ensue as a result of this corrective measure. The collective engineering expertise that is currently employed by the defence sector may be gainfully employed elsewhere, not least in the construction of new  power stations, new homes, new transport infrastructure, to name a few.

Concluding remarks

Thus concludes my preliminary sketch of a manifesto. I could go into much more detail on more issues. I have also chosen to not include my more radical ideas as I don’t think they could be realistically implemented in the next parliament. Instead I have opted for optimistic realism rather than pie-in-the-sky thinking. Though no doubt some will think I have opted for the latter.

This has been something of a wishlist. Things I would like to see included in a manifesto which I think I could vote for. But on top of all of these, what I would love to see is an honesty in our politicians that while they will aim for these, that they will fail. No party in my lifetime has successfully met all its targets and fulfilled the promises made in their manifesto. So I will be less inclined to vote for anyone who promises the earth.

Unforeseen circumstances will arise for which there is no manifesto promise, but which needs to be dealt with during the course of the parliament.

The real aim though has been twofold. One has to been to clarify my own thoughts, and indeed I could go on tinkering with this for ages. But the other one is for your benefit. It has been to stimulate thought. You might disagree with me wholly and that’s OK. If it gets you to think and wonder what sort of things you would want to see, then you can get a jump start on the political parties and examine their manifestos with something in mind. If you are a member of a political party, you may even have some say in shaping the policies that end up in a manifesto.

I have not written this in a way that has been designed to persuade. I have not asked that you agree with me. But I would do so on this final point. In a democracy, we should all count equally and be allowed to have our say and to be listened to. We need not be limited in our choices by the options that are presented to us. We can be imaginative in coming up with solutions to the problems we face as a society. If we can present alternatives to our politicians and stand strong in our beliefs, then there is room for democracy to work.

So that’s my manifesto. What’s yours?

A Voter’s Manifesto (part 4 of 5)

Link to part 1

Link to part 2

Link to part 3

Welfare/Social Security

It should be a principle that in this, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, none should starve. So punitive measures that are taken to remove benefits from those in need will be made illegal. With a level of retrospective action, any such measures which may be shown to have had a significant influence on anyone’s death, either by starvation or suicide, will be deemed to bear a portion of responsibility for that death and any person who enacted or directed such measures shall be held criminally liable.

Hate speech that is directed to claimants of benefits, either individually or collectively, should be made a crime, along with other forms of hate speech that are currently recognised as such. Any penalties for such hate speech should be ringfenced and directed into the benefits system. So if person X calls their fellow human being and neighbour, a scrounger, and they get fined £500 then that £500 will be go directly into funding social security, for providing for those who have fallen on rough times.

The bedroom tax must be condemned as the product of a warped and malignant ideology and therefore must be repealed immediately.

This is not the only punitive measure that has been introduced by the current coalition government. One may think especially of their attacks upon the disabled. All such evil measures are to be rolled back to allow for disabled people to live dignified lives, where they get all the help that they need and they shall not be subject to humiliating tests. There will also be a complete overall of the work assessment capabilities, where assessments will no longer be carried out by for-profit companies, but by a person’s own GP, with potential 2nd opinions available made from other local GPs. If an assessment is subject to any appeal then the person should not have their benefits reduced or sanctioned in any way during the time of the appeal.

Any and all targets for welfare sanctions, whether overt or covert, shall be illegal. Any direction given by any minister of the government, any manager in a job centre plus or any other such person of responsibility will be punishable by ensuring that they are in receipt of unemployment benefits and that as soon they are in employment to be subject to a fine not less than the total amount of benefits that they denied to those in need.

The single best way to reduce out of work social security is by creating jobs that pay a living wage. It is an ideologically fuelled folly to believe that the way to increase employment is to cut out of work benefits. Any efforts to reduce the expense of out of work social security should be by investment in jobs.

Europe

Given the increased popularity of Euroscepticism in recent years, it seems that there is sufficient disillusionment with the current relation between the UK and Europe to warrant a referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union. I have written more about that here.

We must reaffirm our commitment to human rights and the treaties governing it. Any organisation that seeks to undermine the implementation or withdrawal from such treaties represents a threat to basic human rights and shall be considered as a potential terrorist organisation.

International Aid

At present, the United Kingdom pays 0.7% of its GDP in international aid, but this is not set in statute. I would propose that this should be legislated for and will be subject to review once every 7 years.

Housing

It cannot evade the notice a reasonable person that at the moment, there is something of a housing crisis in many parts of the country. This is a classic example of excessive demand and insufficient supply. There are a number of measures that can be undertaken.

To address the issue of under-occupation, any house which is owned by left vacant will be subject to an increasing scale of tax to encourage either its sale or a reduction in the asking rent to make it affordable. If a property is left vacant for more than 6 months, then 5% of the property of the value will be levied as a vacant property tax. If the property remains vacant for over a year, then this will increase to 10%. Any property left vacant for 2 years should then be subject to a compulsory purchase order and turned into social housing.

Buy-to-let landlords do provide a valuable commodity, namely a home for someone to temporarily live in. However, in so providing this commodity, this reduces the supply of housing available for purchase and increases the price in the rest of the market. As such, there should be disincentives on landlords unreasonably buying up properties. Such measures could include a flat 45% tax on income from 2nd homes or even a ban on private landlords owning more than 2 homes.

Consecutive governments have failed to build enough new social housing to replace the stocks that were sold off under the Thatcher regime. As such, increased investment must be made to increasing social housing stocks. As these are for those more in need than private home owners, the building of social housing shall be prioritised over and above affordable private housing, though that is not to be neglected.

Economically, this will come at some initial cost, though one notes that this will provide employment for labourers, who, paid at a fair wage will contribute via income tax and that the building firms they work for will be able to reap profits from their work which shall also contribute to the treasury via corporate taxation.

This will also have the effect of increasing supply, reducing demand and so push down house prices, which is a necessary corrective measure to the rampant house price inflation which currently plagues us.

Utility Costs

As has been noted in recent years, the privatisation of the utility companies has transformed the energy market from a monopoly to an oligopoly. This has not yielded any great improvement in customer service and the aim of competition to reduce prices has proved to be a complete failure, with energy prices going up at the first hint of increases in the supply market and failing to come down when the supply market reduces its prices.

As a result of this failure of the private sector, the energy suppliers should be taken back into national ownership and price rises limited by statute to no more than 2% above inflation. This has the added benefit that any profits made the renationalised service will go straight back into the provision of utility services and not being siphoned off to shareholders.

A Voter’s Manifesto (part 3 of 5)

Link to part 1

Link to part 2

Company Law

The current Companies Act 2006 states that directors must act in the best interests of the shareholders. It is a common maxim (though not stated quite as such in the law) is that the purpose of a company is to increase the wealth of a shareholder. I do not believe that this should be the highest priority. Instead I would propose writing the following two items into statute as the joint highest priorities a company can have:

  • A company should exist to provide a valuable good or service to its customers at a fair and reasonable price.
  • A company should exist to provide a consistent and reliable source of employment that pays a fair and reasonable wage.

The above two would entail some changes. For a few years now, there has been a growing call to improve upon the introduction of the national minimum wage by introducing a living wage. I would propose putting this on the statute book and would be subject to annual review in each budget, to ensure that the minimum wage is never less than the living wage.

I would also propose that companies should only make redundancies as a measure of last resort. At present, the law is far too lax about letting people go. Additionally, it is fundamentally wrong that anyone should be rewarded for making others lose their jobs, so directors should not be allowed to receive bonuses relating to years when more than 0.1% of the company’s workforce is made redundant.

Income inequality is a source of chagrin for many and has been shown to be linked to a wider number of negative social factors. Measures should be introduced to curb the increase in income inequality with the aim of ultimately reducing it. Therefore, on an FTE basis, upper pay restrictions should apply to ensure that the highest paid employees of a company or LLP shall not be paid more than 15 times what the lowest employee is paid. This is a generous allowance designed to ease the transition to a more reasonable pay differential, so the multiple shall be reduced by 0.5 each year for the course of the next parliament.

It is also recognised that there remains great gender inequality in senior management positions. To begin addressing this, it is tempting to propose quotas for a limited period of time, though I am no longer as convinced of the efficacy of this as I once was, so I propose something slightly different. Starting with public limited companies and large (>£100m revenue) private companies, any which have a gender split for directors and senior managers that differs by more than 15% from 50/50 for two consecutive years will be summoned before a parliamentary select committee to explain their recruitment processes. Any which are found to be inadequate will be subject to financial penalties.

Corporate Taxation

There are many changes that could be made to the current corporate tax structure. One of the greatest losses that the economy currently suffers is that of tax avoidance. Measures to reduce it have thus far lacked any teeth. One of the legal measures currently employed is that of transfer pricing, where, with agreement between companies and HMRC (usually with the aid of a professional accounting firm), charges may be made between companies which has the effect of moving profits around.

One simple measure to close the loophole would be to make any management recharge a non-deductible expense for tax purposes. They could still be used for accounting purposes to accurately reflect a true and fair view of the activities of a company. This is a tax adjustment only, with no changes to accounting.

This highlights the need for greater transparency in the relation between the corporate tax paid by a company and its accounting profits. As such, I would propose a change to the presentation of a company’s income statement. It should be presented in no less than 3 columns. A company may sometimes wish to present their accounts in more columns, with a middle column being adjusting items, with unadjusted and adjusted items on either side. The format I would propose would have the adjusted (i.e. statutory) results on the left hand side, with tax adjustments in the middle. The right hand column would then be the statutory results plus or minus the tax adjustments, thus showing the income statement as used for the tax calculation. All tax adjusting items should then be explained in the notes to the accounts.

The present tax system does not suitably recognise the vast differences in the kinds of businesses that operate in the economy. While it is right that tax be levied on the profits made, the current determining factor is the profit itself. To take into account the different scale of businesses, this should be changed to revenue. So I would propose the following rates:

On revenues less than £1m: 10%

On revenues of £1m-£5m: 20%

On revenues of £5m-£25m: 30%

On revenues of £25m-£100m: 37.5%

On revenues greater than £100m: 45%

To avoid jumps, this will apply on a tiered basis. To illustrate, let us say a company makes £120m of revenue and has a profit chargeable to corporation tax of £10m

The tax due then will be (with some numbers rounded):

(10 * 1/120 * 10%) + (10 * 4/120 * 20%) + (10 * 20/120 * 30%) + (10 * 75/120 * 37.5%) + (10 * 20/120 * 45%) = 0.008 + 0.067+ 0.3 + 2.344 + 0.75 = £3.469m or an effective tax rate of 34.7%

What this does is to raise additional tax revenues from the very large companies without putting unnecessary pressure on small businesses.

Personal Taxation

The single greatest improvement that the coalition government made was to increase the personal allowance at a faster rate than it had done beforehand. The personal allowance should be raised further to ensure that anyone on the minimum wage (recall, this will be increased to be no less than the living wage) should not be required to pay income tax.

Income tax should operate on the principle of ‘to each according their need, from each according to their ability’. On this principle, anyone who is not paid enough to live on should not be required to pay tax. Anyone who is paid more than they need to live on has a duty to pay a proportion to support the society they live in and from which they benefit in any number of ways, both financially and non-financially. Personal taxation should never be a penalty, though, so no one should ever be taxed more than they can afford. Those who are paid more than others should pay a higher proportion of taxation, just as structures in a building which are stronger should bear the greater load to support the building.

For those who are paid narrowly above the living wage, they can afford the least. So I would propose the reintroduction of the 10% tax band, for earnings in the first £7,500 above the personal allowance. Thereafter, the basic rate should be kept at 20% for the next £15,000, 40% for the next £20,000. The top rate of tax should be increased to restore the 50% rate and would be liable on earnings £60,000 above the personal allowance.

There has been some speculation in recent years about “recognising marriage” in the tax system. To specially favour one group of people is equivalent to penalising another. Therefore no group of people should be favoured or penalised by virtue of their marital status.

Loan sharks

The legal loan sharks should be recognised for the plague that are, an evil that scourges society. For all lenders, there should be a maximum lending rate. To begin with, that rate should be 10 times what the inflation rate is. The aim will be to bring that down, subject to an annual review.

Regionalisation

The recent Scottish independence referendum has shown that there is an appetite for greater regional powers. Yet the failure of the ‘Yes’ campaign to obtain a democratic majority also shows that nomatter how intense the feeling may be, such intensity counts for nothing in a democracy where widespread opinion is what matters. We also recall the ‘No’ vote made in a north-east referendum in 2004. As a result of these, I would not propose any further referendums on regionalisation over the course of the next parliament.

Coming out of this was the so-called West Lothian question. I have changed my mind on this recently. Previously I was in favour of the view that Scottish MPs should not be able to vote on matters which do not affect them. However, if one takes that as a principle and applies it to other situations other the cherry-picked example of Scottish MPs then one finds oneself in all sorts of knots. For example, I recall as a commuter working in London but living in Sussex I had no vote on the London mayoral elections, even though I spent the majority of waking hours in the city. Should one extend the vote to anyone who is significantly affected by the London mayoral election, then it becomes very tricky. And the maxim ‘English votes on English matters’ sounds good until you actually think about it.

So I would favour a limited move towards greater regional powers in order to address any existing inequalities, but this should be tempered by any prospect of creating inequality. This would entail an overhaul of the use of the Barnett formula.

A Voter’s Manifesto (part 2 of 5)

Link to part 1

Environment

I note that David Cameron pledged to make this government the greenest ever. I also note that he has wholly failed to keep his promises. What is needed is not empty promises, but statutes which take seriously the fact that positive action for the preservation of the environment is not a hippy ambition but is necessary for the safeguarding of all people, now and in the future, with profound impacts on a great many other areas, not least the economy.

All legislation shall be subject to environmental review. If such reviews find that proposed legislation is not environmentally sustainable or does not mitigate to the maximum extent any potential harm, then it shall be rejected.

There will be no more investment into building new power stations that rely on fossil fuels. The only expenditure on them will be on safety.

Instead, investment will be made into renewable energies including, but not limited to, wind and wave power.

Such renewables may plug a gap left by the winding down of fossil fuels, but are not an answer to all our energy needs. So there should be funding into a new nuclear fission powered station, at a location yet to be determined.

Further to this, though, there should be additional funds made available to research into nuclear fusion as this is the cleanest, most fruitful potential source of energy available, but whose long-term feasibility remains a task that engineering has not yet conquered.

Recent years have seen annual floods in many parts of the country. This has partly been brought about by environmental change, but has been exacerbated by poor flood planning. I would propose a moratorium on building on flood plains. While there is a great need for new homes, not least in the form of social housing, these need to be built in areas where risks from flooding are minimal. There should also be additional funds directed to improving the flood defences in the areas that are routinely and severely hit.

Employment

Full employment is an ideal that should be aimed for but which should be acknowledged as unrealistic. Instead, there should be a recognition that there will likely be friction in the job market, but that the more realistic aim should be to keep unemployment to under 2 months per person.

Aiming for a total unemployment rate has less meaning than actually trying to get people into employment. So any unemployment statistics should be tiered to show the number who have been unemployed for less than 2 months, between 2 and 6 months, 6-12 months and over 12 months.

I have laid out before a measure to encourage companies to take on unemployed people before, so I would reiterate that policy.

No person should work for nothing. So work experience will have to become a form of paid employment. Zero-hours contracts should be outlawed as will the current Workfare programme.

Some additional measures are outlined in the Company Law section later in this manifesto.

Inflation measures

At present, the inflation measures that we use, RPI and CPI are artificially low. The reason is that they omit the very important factor of house price inflation. The RPI contains the increase in mortgage repayments, but if the interest rates are kept low (as a result of the current flawed inflation measures) then the RPI records a low inflation rate.

Instead, we should either amend the current measures or introduce a third which incorporates the rate of house price inflation. This would ensure the issue is taken more seriously than it currently is. There are currently some who are advocates of not increasing interest rates. When such people are put in charge of interest rates, then we get the divide that results in in house price inflation being up to 10 times what the RPI is in some locations.

It is my opinion that this is not good for long term economics and that it has fuelled the current housing bubble. Once we get a more realistic figure to use for inflation, then interest rates are almost certain to rise. While this will increase the cost of borrowing, this is necessary adjustment to correct some inequalities in our economy. Any further references to inflation should be taken to mean this improved measure which takes into account house price inflation.

Transport

Public transport is currently among the most expensive in Europe.

Train fares may be increased annually at a rate no more than inflation. This will not only apply in aggregate but will also apply to any given railfare anywhere in the country. So train companies will be prevented from increasing some fares by a little and some by extortionate amounts.

Rural bus services are also in need of improvement, so I would propose additional funding after a wholesale review has taken place, which should last no more than 2 years.

One of the major issues that is discussed in the construction of HS2, the high speed railway line. As yet, I am undecided on this issue, so offer no proposal either for or against it.

To reiterate a point made earlier, all legislation should be subject to an environmental review. Transport is one area that will be highly affected by this, not least when discussing airport capacity.

For any airline that operates at any UK airport, they will be required to engage in a carbon-offsetting programme to counteract the carbon dioxide emissions they make on all flights into and out of the UK, as well as internal flights. Airlines will be prohibited from passing on the cost of such an offset onto their passenger airfairs.

Healthcare

The current coalition government has embarked upon a dangerous crusade, based on a flawed ideology that market forces are the best way to ensure effective healthcare. As such, it should be the priority of an incoming government to repeal the Health and Social Care Bill.

The highest priority in the provision of front line services must be the wellbeing of the patient. Any would-be provider of such services should not be compromised by concerns over profitability, as this detracts from the highest priority. Therefore no provider of front line services may operate on a for-profit service. Any measures taken to privatise the NHS must be repealed and any care currently in private hands must be phased back into public hands over the course of the next parliament.

For any company that provides goods or services to the NHS (i.e. not front line service), the taxation on their profits should be ringfenced and directed straight back into the NHS. The reason for this is that healthcare should be prioritised over profits. So while it may be necessary for a company to generate profits to allow future investment, they should not be excessive, at the expense of the NHS.

Let’s give an example. Let’s say a company generates revenue of £30m, of which £20m is derived from the NHS. They make sufficient profits to warrant paying £3m of tax. While this tax would normally go into a central pot from the NHS would take part, 2/3rds of it should be directed straight into the NHS, with the other £1m going to the general pot.