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Saturday 1 August 2009
Letters: The dangers of growth and consumption
Growth and consumption will be the end of us all
Hamish McRae argues that we could learn much from the emerging economies of China and India (Opinion, 29 July). But surely the reason these economies are doing better than we are is mainly down to the very fact that they are emerging economies – they are much earlier, and lower, on the growth curve than we are.
The economies of the west are mostly "mature" ones, where most of us have got all of what we need and most of what we want. The only way we can have more growth is to increase the population, or persuade the existing population to consume more. Sadly, both of these methods seem to be our official policy – despite the fact that we live on an already overcrowded little island.
While we have excess capacity in most of our manufacturing industries, the east does not have that problem. There, all you have to do is make a product at an affordable price and the demand will be there for it.
This imbalance will continue until those economies reach our position on the curve. This won't matter, of course, as, long before China and India get to that point, we will not have a habitable planet any more, so we will all be preoccupied with survival rather than growth.
The greatest social and intellectual challenge for the west is to work out and demonstrate how to run sustainable economies that do not rely on blind consumption of ever more rubbish.
At the moment we are ignoring the problem and assuming that business as usual will resume shortly.
A corollary of Hamish McRae's analysis of the impact of the evolving global entities on our future prosperity is the indispensability of creating an economic base capable of competing on equal terms with China, India, USA, Brazil and other developing giants.
We have no alternative to creating a viable union of European nations. It is frightening, therefore, to witness the resurgence of anti-EU sentiments in the resurgent Conservative party.
Let asylum seekers realise potential
The Government's latest attack on asylum seekers is, as you say in your leading article of 30 July, depressingly predictable. If the Government really wants to reduce the asylum budget, it should follow the lead of Australia and abandon the wholesale detention of asylum seekers (failed or not). By closing detention centres, housing asylum seekers in the community, and allowing them to work, the Government could save up to £250m a year, possibly even more.
As many of those detained have useful qualifications, they would, in addition, soon start adding to the tax revenue. The Government could then afford to give those unable to find work a reasonable level of benefit.
As you rightly say, the Government should be brave and imaginative and make the most of the enormous potential of asylum seekers to help the country grow its way out of recession.
In cutting support to asylum seekers the government has picked the wrong target. The British Red Cross has already seen a rise in destitution among people seeking asylum in the UK.
To make some of the very poorest people in the country poorer still will undoubtedly increase destitution and create more humanitarian suffering. Inflicting further hardship on those who come here seeking sanctuary from brutal persecution is unconscionable.
Too often the existing asylum system seems aimed at preventing people who have much to offer from contributing to society. Cutting support to people seeking asylum is wrong; preventing them from working benefits no one.
Head of Refugee Services, British Red Cross,
Anti-intellectual culture in schools
Professor Richard Pring (letters, 31 July) churns out the same tired arguments against grammar schools while failing to address the elephant in the room, which Baroness Warnock (Opinion, 29 July), to her credit, at least touched on.
For children to reach the top, they have to aspire to go there in the first place. We live in a society which does not value intellectual curiosity. That culture is replicated in most comprehensive schools. Many (although not all) of the most financially disadvantaged children come from homes and backgrounds where there is no active support to counter those cultural norms. It takes a special individual not to be ground down under those circumstances.
Where grammar schools were most successful was in placing bright children from disadvantaged backgrounds in an atmosphere where educational achievement was celebrated rather than denigrated.
Until and unless the likes of Professor Pring can come up with a way to ensure bright pupils can be insulated from the pervasive anti-academic culture that is present in most state comprehensives, there will always be a demand for places in the remaining grammar schools and the independent schools.
Meanwhile, thousands of bright children will continue to fail to reach their potential, held back by the weight of peer pressure.
It is a shame that Baroness Warnock has to perpetuate the myth that grammar schools were the "great lever" for children from "disadvantaged homes". As the Crowther report of 1959 made clear, of the bottom quarter of the income group only 10 per cent got to grammars and many of those left with few qualifications. Selection – as David Willetts so rightly said – entrenches disadvantage. An education system which brands the majority of children as failures by the time they are 11 is hardly likely to encourage them to "think highly" of education or aspire to go to any university.
Secretary, Comprehensive Future,
As the daughter of impoverished refugee immigrants, I would not have had the opportunity of a professional career had it not been for a grammar school. Professor Pring should look where comprehensive schools have actually led; the rich either go private, or live in areas of good schools – sink schools exist for the rest.
Dr Edith Saundby
Women's role in the death of pubs
In his otherwise estimable narrative of the demise of the British pub (letters, 27 July), Andrew Marsh overlooks one key element. Women.
Historically the pub was a masculine environment. Women did go into pubs, but invariably escorted (and always outnumbered) by men. Women's tastes and needs were barely catered for.
The 1980s saw the emergence of a new social phenomenon; the confident, financially independent young working woman, keen to enjoy herself on her own terms. Savvy businessmen spotted an opportunity and invented the "bar". These were modern, clean, gender-neutral, with a wide variety of drinks, lots of tables and chairs, and big windows. They appealed to women, who formed a new and profitable cadre of customers.
It is an ineluctable law of nature that wherever young women with an appetite for fun are gathered, young men will also gather. So the female-friendly bar soon became a key focus of the mating game, in a way the traditional pub never was. A core constituent of the latter's customer base, free-spending, harder-drinking younger men, deserted in droves. Result? Bars flourished, pubs struggled.
No end of makeovers – theme pub, gastro pub, kiddie-friendly pub, or whatever – can alter the brute reality of the new social order. If you want your business to prosper, get the girls in.
Mood change on Afghanistan war
As just about any war could, at almost any point, be thought "unwinnable" by the public at large ("Voters turn against war in Afghanistan", 28 July), I wonder if the good people at ComRes could perhaps be persuaded to conduct a deeper, follow-up survey to ascertain the real reasons a majority of Britons now want troops withdrawn immediately.
Have respondents been influenced by media reports suggesting our soldiers just aimlessly patrol Afghan streets while attempting to dodge IEDs? Or by politicians and pundits who tell us, one week, that the Taliban have been "pushed" or "driven" out of this or that area, then, the next, that Taliban forces are "resurgent" and have "moved back in"? Do they imagine our troops will, in fact, never be given the equipment they need to do the job? Or that we can somehow wage a war (against a savage enemy) without incurring any casualties at all?
Or do they, at bottom, just not care about the Islamists' atrocities and psychotic ambitions for Afghanistan, nuclear-armed Pakistan and beyond?
I read, with some amusement, that 58 per cent of British people think that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable but only 52 per cent think the troops should be brought home. Does this mean that 6 per cent of the British people want to leave our troops in Afghanistan fighting a war they think unwinnable?
Olympics: look on the bright side, do
I read your Big Question (28 July) relating to progress toward the delivery of the 2012 Olympics infrastructure and noted that, without exception, each question had a negative connotation.
Why did you not focus on the positives that will come out of the UK's largest infrastructure development in decades? Why is the British glass always half empty?
I have lived in Dubai for many years and have seen what a "can do" attitude does to a place and those who live there. Regardless of the problems faced, Dubai maintains a positive attitude.
UK plc has a great deal to offer and we should be proud of this fact. Completion of the 2012 Olympics infrastructure will be ready in time and will continue to generate economic benefit to London for many years to come. Talk it up. Everybody wins.
Iain C Bell
Dubai (on holiday in Oxford)
Legal niceties in Iraq
British forces are leaving Iraq because "they do not have any legal right to stay on" ("UK troops forced out of Iraq as mandate expires", 29 July). I didn't know that we had any "legal right" to invade Iraq in the first place.
It is ironic that, on your front page, in a piece concerned with the authenticity of Capa's photo (21 July), you should state as a proven fact "Capa exposed for faking iconic image of war". This is at best an argument, and very much a controversial one. In any case, whether Romeo and Juliet was a documentary, a docu-drama or a drama is beside the point. Can anyone deny that this photograph does tell a truth about the Civil War and the fight against fascism by the Republicans?
Now that this illness has caused mass panic, deaths and an astronomical amount of taxpayers' money, is it time to reassess whether the intensive farming of any animal is actually the cheapest way to produce our food? Or are we supposed to forget what caused it all in the first place and carry on regardless?
H J Burton
I do not understand why Timothy Kirkhope MEP has to reply to something he calls a "smear" about his Polish Conservative allies in the European parliament with what appears to be a counter-smear (letters, 31 July). As a former pro-Solidarity activist, I can assure him that, contrary to his statement, there are no "old Communist apparatchiks" among Polish MEPs, whether on the Left or the Right.
The t*** word
It's not only David Cameron who appears not to know the vulgar meaning of "twat". As an Englishwoman living in Scotland for over 30 years, I have been taken aback at the number of respectable, middle-aged Scotswomen of my acquaintance who will cheerfully use this word to describe someone who has acted foolishly. I finally "twitted" a good friend about it. She expressed surprise, then shock, when I explained the common meaning of the word south of the border. Perhaps David Cameron owes his semantic ignorance to his Scottish forebears?
Monique S Sanders
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