Letters: Recession fears

Markets must learn to manage risk and control fear
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Sir: I agree with Andreas Whittam Smith that we live in historic times, when he raises the question of whether market capitalism will be replaced (21 January).

Market capitalism is successful because it is driven by greed, and greed is a great motivator of human behaviour. Greed is generally constrained by resources.

The other great motivator of human behaviour is fear. Fear is not constrained by resources; it can grow rapidly and its impact is unpredictable. Managing or influencing fear is much more difficult than managing or influencing greed.

The ideal is for market forces to be curbed enough to prevent fear from becoming the dominant force. The Bank of England failed in this in managing Northern Rock, the FSA failed in not ensuring that banks kept track of the risks they took and the Government failed in not recognising that there would be a day of reckoning for imprudent borrowing and an excessively strong currency.

Whether market capitalism survives depends in the short term on how well the Government responds to the fears that exist and in the longer term how well the markets learn from experience. I think market capitalism will survive but it will be a rocky road. The importance of nipping inflation in the bud was learnt from the crises of the Seventies, but not the importance of lenders controlling risk.

There is, though, a risk of the financial institutions imploding if they do not get to grips with their own fears, and then all bets are off. This is what the Government needs to attend to; it cannot be left to market forces. It is the market forces that have failed, and probably still are failing, to appreciate the contents of all the fancily packaged financial products.

Jon Hawksley

London EC1

How dead are organ donors?

Sir: Organs for transplant (letter, 21 January) have to be taken from still-living bodies, bodies still perfused by their naturally beating hearts, warm and so reactive that muscle-paralysing drugs may have to be given to facilitate the surgery.

Their owners will have been certified "dead" on the controversial basis of bedside brain-stem testing, a procedure not sufficiently stringent to exclude some persisting brain-stem function and which includes no test for what may be abundant life elsewhere in the brain.

Many or even most of those who have put their names on the NHS Organ Donor Register may have thereby offered their organs to be taken for transplant purposes on the (mis)understanding that the wording "after my death" on the application forms meant that they would be dead in the commonly understood sense before their offers were taken up.

If so, they have made their offers on a false premise and those offers cannot be regarded as valid. Had it been explained to them that they would be dead in only a notional ("brain-stem death") sense, at least some of them might have wished to specify general anaesthesia to cover the organ procurement procedure.

David W Evans

(Sometime Consultant Cardiologist at Papworth and Addenbrooke's Hospitals),Cambridge

Sir: Of course dead people matter (Dominic Lawson, 18 January). No one, certainly not the BMA, is calling for people's remains to be used disrespectfully or against the wishes of the potential donor or their relatives. This would be deplorable and doctors are not in favour of a system that disregards personal views or family wishes.

Every year, hundreds of people die because they cannot get an organ to save their life. We know most people support organ donation but do not get round to signing the donor register. It is a tragedy that people's personal wishes about what happens to their bodies when they die are not being respected because often no one is aware of their views about organ donation. We would like to see more families talking about these difficult but important issues so that informed discussions about the deceased person's wishes can be held with health teams.

The BMA does not believe that a system of presumed consent will be the answer to all the problems we have with organ donation, but, as doctors, we think that it will go some way to increasing the number of organs available. Of course, other factors need to be looked at, for example, the number of transplant surgeons and intensive care beds available.

Dr Tony Calland

Chairman, Medical Ethics Committee, British Medical Association, London WC1

One village's fight to save its phone box

Sir: Paul Adkins (Letter, 11 January) is correct; BT do indeed wish to get rid of all uneconomic pay phones and are constantly pressing Ofcom to release them from the restrictions imposed on them. It may well be worth checking with Ofcom the level of restrictions at present imposed.

Some three years ago, a notice was posted by BT in the pay phone box in our village stating that the box was uneconomic and that there was another one "nearby", and it was their intention to remove it. Objections were made to the local authority which were not passed to BT, and the box was removed.

As part of our campaign to get it restored, we obtained information from Oftel, the then regulator, that "nearby" referred to another pay phone within 50 metres of the one to be removed. The one "nearby" that BT referred to was nearly two kilometres away along a narrow unlit road with no footpath and a steep hill.

An invitation to BT that the officer responsible for the notice might care to accompany me on a walk to the nearby alternative was not surprisingly declined. Our campaign was, however, successful and our pay phone restored, including a coin box facility.

In fairness to BT, they alone have to bear the costs of the continued provision of socially necessary but uneconomic pay phones. Why can't some of this cost be borne by other telecommunications providers?

N C Walker

Duirinish, Kyle of Lochalsh

Russia reverts to old Stalinist ways

Sir: It is increasingly apparent that Russia's political approach bears all the hallmarks of the old Soviet era.

Harassment and murder of journalists and opposition figures; crude blackmail involving energy supplies; corruption on a grand scale; reinstatement of Russian bomber forays over the North Atlantic and, now, intimidation of British Council staff in Moscow cannot be argued away with the simple explanation (as some correspondents suggest) that this behaviour is just an exercise in assertiveness. These are the first steps of a state reverting to Stalinist repression and aggression.

When the Americans announced their intention to place a defensive missile shield in Europe, I had some sympathy with the Russian position in opposing the move. Now I am writing to my MP in support of the American position and UK involvement with the scheme. I am also looking to our MEP to work toward shaping a hard-line European political strategy in dealing with the Russians.

Meekly turning away from the obvious threat simply encourages them to go to further extremes, which is why our government, in conjunction with the EU, must respond in a forceful manner.

Malachi Doyle

Marshside, Kent

Parents need a lesson in nutrition

Sir: By all Government accounts, as I stood with my children in the playground this morning, I should have been surrounded by a waddling crowd of out-of-breath lumps lucky to fit through the schoolyard gates.

The evidence, admittedly unscientific, of my own eyes is different. They were, as generations before them, built like whippets, caroming around the playground, with no discernable lack of energy. Out of a school of several hundred, I could see, at most, a handful who could do with walking to school every now and again.

The parents, however, are another matter entirely, with many making it obvious that they would cheerfully drive the car as far as the classroom door, if only the corridors were a bit wider.

I fear that teaching the children to cook is not going to make much difference, unless they are also given some guidance in persuading Mummy to keep away from the chocolate biscuits, and wait for supper.

Tim Hinchliffe

Beckenham, Kent

A better use for private schools

Sir, I agree with Michael Bawtree's views about our education system (Opinion, 21 January) but propose an alternative solution to the closure of private schools. With research showing that unruly youngsters achieve remarkable improvements after time spent at independent boarding schools, surely the Government could benefit both society and the schools by sending these "feral anthropoids" as Bruce Anderson calls them (21 January), to such schools. I would imagine the cost to be no more than that which is spent on policing , social work etc, and there would no longer be any question about the charitable status of such schools.

Zofia Pacula


Sir: I take issue with John Claydon's caustic generalisation that "most public school teachers would not survive five minutes of an Ofsted inspection" (letter, 16 January).

They might not survive five minutes in the bedlam of indiscipline and poor resources that seem to typify the state sector these days, but I always found such staff to be as well organised, productive and thorough in their approach to teaching as any. And a good deal happier, too.

Allan Friswell

Cowling, North Yorkshire

The response to Hamas attacks

Sir: Your leader on Gaza (22 January) manages to be beguiling yet spurious at the same time. If matters were as you state them, it would indeed be moral and decent to apply pressure on Israel to pull back from its pressurising of the strip. But have the people of Gaza no role in this? Are the rocket barrages that have continued for some years now of no relevance? You write of them as if they are a mere irritation, and that Israel's attempt to defend herself is the real problem.

Contrary to your argument, Israel is not an occupying power here, since it carries out no government functions: remember all the jubilation when Hamas was elected to govern Gaza? Have the Gazans had no responsibility in that, or in the violence that has followed it?

The Israelis have behaved decently throughout, keeping their 70 per cent power supply intact, treating Palestinians in Israeli hospitals and allowing supplies yet again. Would the English do that if rockets were being fired across the border from Scotland into Newcastle, where I live?

Give the Israelis some credit for their remarkable humanity and forbearance for once. Or must Palestinian terrorism always be blessed and rewarded?

Dr Denis MacEoin

Newcastle upon Tyne

Sir: While I agree with your leading article "An unlawful policy of collective punishment", you have failed to highlight that 40 Palestinians have been killed in one week alone in Gaza from daily bombings by Israel. Only two people have died since 2007 from Qassam rockets.

How about giving the Palestinians F-16s and Apache helicopter gunships to resist the theft of their land, bulldozing of their buildings, uprooting of their olive trees and building of an illegal wall which has annexed a further 8 per cent of Palestinian land?

Zahida Parvin


Sir: If, as C Cameron states (letter, 19 January), "After the First World War the British government gave Palestine to the Zionist Jews", how would one explain the virtual closing of the doors of Palestine to Jews in 1939 due to a White Paper that foresaw the creation of an Arab Palestine within a 10-year period and so left many Jews to die in the Holocaust?

Richard Millett

London NW4

Sir: George Bush, on his trip to the Middle East, spoke about the possibility of compensating the Palestinians for the loss of their homes from 1948 onwards. Does this mean the world now recognises that the Palestinians were forcibly evicted in 1948, as opposed to the version I, and many other Jews, were brought up with, that the land was legitimately acquired?

Thomas Eisner

London SW14


Tooled up for school

Sir: While pupils are being checked for carrying knives ("Teachers back metal detectors for schools", 21 January), it would also save a lot of time later in the classroom if they were checked at the same time for their homework, dinner money, PE kit, pen and pencil . There must be some sort of machine that could do all this.

Peter Smith


Paxman's pants

Sir: Jeremy Paxman should have consulted with some of his lady friends. I have no doubt that they, like me, would have echoed his distress on the drop in quality of M&S underpinnings, especially when sold in packs. Long the envy of our continental cousins in having easy access to these items of good quality and value for money, we are so no longer.

Tessa Bloodworth

Gosport, Hampshire

MPs' pay rise

Sir: Since most people consider themselves underpaid, we shouldn't expect MPs to think differently. Take any organisation, put the total pay in a heap, line up the employees alphabetically, invite them to take from it, unobserved, what they truly believe they are worth, and anyone past J wouldn't get a look-in. Maybe at The Independent, famous for its objectivity, it might just stretch to about M.

Patrick Tuohy

Hastings, East Sussex

Dunkirk hymn

Sir: Unfortunately, Robert Fisk (19 January) has got one thing wrong in his otherwise excellent article referring to the film Atonement. The hymn sung in the film is, in fact, "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, forgive our foolish ways", which, far from being a symbol of courage in war, seems to recognise its futility, the desolation in its wake and the need for a better way of doing things. Perhaps this makes the film even more honest and poignant than Mr Fisk suggests.

Peter Newton

Bury St Edmunds, suffolk

Peril in Peckham

Sir: I would have thought there was more risk to the Home Secretary's welfare in eating a kebab in Peckham than travelling there to buy one.

Christopher Bratt

Arnside, Cumbria