These are times of enormous government investment to try to moderate the downturn. In the German recession of the Thirties about the only good thing Hitler did was to build the autobahn network, giving 5.5 million people jobs. The Keynesian "multiplier effect" from increased government spending was increased consumer spending and investment that brought the country out of the depression. We now have an even better opportunity.
There is a way to create jobs that can reduce energy costs and make the 20 per cent carbon reduction by 2020 agreed in Poland last week possible. We need to provide plastic tubing and heat exchangers to British households in an affordable way. In the US the first million ground-source heat-pumps saved between 30 and 70 per cent on fuel bills, which is the equivalent effect of planting 380 million trees. The capital costs take five years to repay, but these are staggering figures for laying plastic pipes a couple of metres deep in a garden.
Although the cost of materials and installation is still significant to the individual, surely the country can afford to take a long-term view? Why not start with housing associations and keep the utility cost saving for capital repayment, so going "green" has no immediate user impact?
Seems much less controversial than VAT changes, but maybe it is just too simple? Keynes himself said: "The difficulty lies not in developing new ideas but escaping from old ones."
Robbed again by Wall Street bandits
The current banking chaos has been caused by institutional fraud on a world-wide basis. The banks have defrauded each other and their clients. The Bernard Madoff affair is only the latest but certainly not the last financial "naughtiness with intent" scam to be discovered.
Most governments are realising that there needs to be much tighter control on unusual investment vehicles. There is a far simpler answer – ban all of these investments. The Americans will no doubt accuse everybody else of an attack on capitalism. It is an attack not on capitalism but on gangsterism.
The US is the country that gave us Capone, Luciano, Bonano, Gambino, Lucchese, Colombo and of course, Ponzi himself. In those days, at least the authorities knew who the enemy was. Nowadays, it is much more difficult because modern-day bandits are part of the establishment and their fame and power is the deterrent to proper investigation. Not the gun but financial and political "clout" is their weapon.
Glynde, East Sussex
A couple of headlines caught my attention. First, Scotland has the highest prison population in Europe; and second, our bankers have given away (again) several billion pounds of our money to a man with a scam, called, improbably, Madoff. Isn't it time we started to jail the real robbers: the bankers?
For years, the line spun by the bankers and hedge fund managers has been that we must pay their inflated salaries and obscene bonuses because they were "the best of the best" and if we paid less, we'd get the B-class managers who were not nearly as good at making money.
Now that hedge funds are revealed as yet another criminal undertaking, might we enquire whether the B-class, or even the C-class, with lower salaries and mere five-digit bonuses might have tended our money more safely?
Tony Paterson writes: "In Germany, few people have to get out their history books" to understand the connection between economic and political crisis in their country ("Why spendthrift Brown is scaring the Germans", 12 December). He should, though. Contrary to his depiction, the "wheelbarrow" hyperinflation took place some six years before depression really took hold.
Meanwhile, there was a period of some stability, associated with the introduction of, first, the Rentenmark, then the Reichsmark. The latter was not the currency in the wheelbarrows.
He is correct that the inflation and the depression left deep scars, contributing both to National Socialist takeover and to post-war economic attitudes.
Professor of Modern European History, Cardiff University
How long before we see the caveat "The value of investments can go up as well as down"?
Stop ranting against religion
Nigel Stone and Richard Erskine ("Do world faiths deserve respect?" 11 December) no doubt see themselves as cool, dispassionate, analytical thinkers, but their language betrays them: "delusion", "superstition", "frightening children", "howls of anguish" – the same old simplistic aggression, the usual atheist shock-jock splutter. For most of us the debate moved on many years ago.
Does Mr Stone really believe that every single Muslim advocates genital mutilation, and every Christian discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation? And how would the rationalist Mr Erskine counter the argument that the rational way out of our present difficulties is euthanasia for all those unable to be of economic value to the state? He can only reject that position in terms of human values – which are a matter of faith.
As a humanist myself, I question many aspects of religious practice; but I recognise religion as a complex, deep-rooted, permanent aspect of humanity, often flawed but often also beneficial. We need to unpick the interplay between cultures and the faiths they contain, and understand how they are shaped by the economic frames within which they operate. A faith may mould aspects of a culture; more often a culture moulds its faiths. But all faiths and cultures are a debate between many strands: as economics and politics change, different strands come to the fore.
This is serious stuff: people's lives are at stake. There's no room for ranters. If people are too impatient to grapple with the complexities, is it safe for them to enter the debate?
Bishops Castle, Shropshire
Treat league tables with caution
Your education editorial "A Wind of change in Europe" (4 December) seems, to say the least, simplistic. Judgements based on university "league tables" need to take careful account of the criteria; if these are chosen to favour anglophone universities, it will be no surprise that those universities occupy the top positions.
Nor is it clear that state control stifles innovation. Almost every university system on the European continent has recently been subject to rapid and drastic change. Indeed, the danger with state control would seem to be the imposition of ill-considered innovations that are based on political expediency and which run the risk of being reversed by an incoming administration with different priorities.
For all that, such is the quality of decision-making in British universities that I have recently started to wonder whether the system would not be better run directly by the state. One look at the politicians is, of course, enough to disabuse one of this fanciful notion, but British universities would do well to abandon some of their parochial complacency, while those elsewhere in Europe should be extremely cautious in adopting Anglo-Saxon practices merely on the basis of a couple of meaningless "league tables".
J A Dunn
The full story of an MMR inquest
On 2 December you reported in great detail that a healthy baby died following an MMR vaccination. The article discussed the opposing sides of the argument put forward by health professionals and the child's family. But the story remained open insofar as the coroner was expected to take three days of evidence before making a ruling.
Two days later the coroner reached a verdict. He decided that the MMR played no part in the death of the baby. The story that you reported seeds doubt again about the safety of the MMR vaccination but the conclusion of the story would reassure that this is not the case.
This is the kind of reporting bias that whipped up the MMR crisis in the first place.
Dr David P Stansfield
Accidental deaths in Afghanistan
Alan Searle (Letters, 28 November) writes: "So maybe the next time the Pentagon puts up a drone, guided by a computer-gamer-turned-soldier in Florida and [bombs] a wedding party in Afghanistan, we should all stop for a moment and think about how we would feel if we were on the receiving end of that missile". This description is flawed in every aspect.
Firstly the "computer-gamer-turned-soldier" is actually an aviator in the US Air Force. He flies the aircraft remotely from Creech Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada. The Afghan wedding party that was "bombed" was in fact engaged by direct fire from a manned AC-130 gunship with a typical crew of 13. This aircraft was acting in direct support of a Special Forces operation which was in close contact with the enemy, unfortunately in the vicinity of the wedding party. They were not bombed, nor hit by a missile fired from a drone, but most likely killed by direct fire from a 105mm cannon.
I would have to agree that if I was part of the wedding party which was attacked in 2002 I might indeed be unhappy. However, if I stood in my back garden in London at night, two doors down from a property at which terrorists were engaged in a pitched battle with the SAS, I might have more sense than to press ahead with my planned garden party. I certainly wouldn't chose to close the event with the celebratory act of discharging fully automatic assault weapons into the air towards the circling helicopters.
The message has now got round in Afghanistan that casually discharging weapons towards allied aircraft is a life-shortening experience and we have had no repeat of this incident.
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Mystery of the missing children
Robert Verkaik's report (10 December) on the disappearance of children from care is very welcome. A quick glance at the Missing People website provides further evidence that some children go missing, and have remained missing, for long periods of time. An emerging trend has been the increase in such children from overseas, often entering the UK via the asylum process.
What is deeply frustrating is that in 2008 the authorities are still unable to provide a reliable count of the number of children who are missing from either home or care.
Director of Policy and Research, Missing People
Putting the boot in
You describe the shoe-throwing attack on President Bush at his Iraqi press conference as "a demonstration of severe disrespect, by the standards of Arab culture" (report, 15 December). Would this be in contrast to Western culture, where such a deed would be regarded as an act of great honour and friendship?
Doctors driven away
I have been a GP trainer for 15 years. The current cohort of newly qualified GPs are the most gifted I have seen. They will not make the mistake of working in "supermarket" practices (letters, 13 December). They will be going abroad to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, countries that are continuing to invest in traditional general practice. In this country the Government is hell bent on destroying it, as it did the dentists.
Dr Anthony Tollast
Guy Keleny (Errors and Omissions, 13 December) says that only "some periodicals, some literary and artistic works and some rock groups" need a definite article spelt with a capital T. In a long civil-service career I was always told that for any reference to our sovereign, the correct form was "The Queen". So where does that place her majesty? As an artistic work, I guess.
Dance in the Forum
Unless you regard shopping, praying, public oration and debate as a blood-soaked experience then perhaps you would agree that it is unfair to equate the "red in tooth and claw nature" of Strictly Come Dancing with the Roman Forum (leading article, 15 December). Even if you meant "arena" or "coliseum" you omitted to mention that popular democracy could even then be denied by the direction of one imperial thumb.
Language of youth
Youth-speak (letter, 16 December) is full of oxymorons. I have never quite recovered from a children's display in the church hall on the theme of "God is - - -", the most distressing being "God is wicked!" Does inflation now render that "well wicked"?
The Rev Peter Sharp