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Wednesday 31 December 2008
Letters: The free market
Blinkered belief that markets can police themselves
David Prosser's contention that "the free market does work as an effective control on irresponsible lending" because it punishes failures like Northern Rock ( 23 December) ignores the fact that complete financial meltdown has only been staved off by massive non-market intervention.
Markets may "correct" over the long term but if they are only able to operate by violently oscillating through a series of ruinous overshoots and undershoots, laying waste to the lives of millions in the process, the free market could hardly be described as "an effective control".
Such comments exemplify the reason why solving the crisis will be an uphill struggle. Financiers and commentators have spent the past decade convincing us that neoliberals had invented the economic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, allowing us all to become wealthier by selling our debt to each other. Now the same voices caution against any threat to this suffocating orthodoxy, as blinkered in their adherence to their tenets as were the popes to a geocentric universe.
The present debacle suggests that such a system is as inimical to human society as the prescriptions of the extreme left, and the belief that regulation is the enemy of the investor mistaken, as the victims of the Madoff debacle would probably testify. The chances that Madoff is a one-off are remote. Even those with the best intentions will have been forced to adopt Ponzi techniques to stay in business. In a world where casinos are more tightly regulated than hedge funds, clinging to the belief that markets can police themselves is no longer an option.
In this season of goodwill and deep debt, the name of Scrooge is raised again. He had been an unhappy man, but at least he was solvent. "Scrooge's name was good" says Dickens in A Christmas Carol, which is more than can be said of that of our happy-go-lucky bankers, who with such compassion and goodwill led us into the wilderness of insolvency, aided and abetted by Gordon Brown.
Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire
The moral threat to Israel's survival
Contrary to Mary Dejevsky's outdated anxiety ("Don't overlook Israel's vulnerability", 30 December), Israel's greatest threat to its very existence does not come from Jordan to the east, with whom it signed a peace treaty in 1994, nor Egypt to the south, with whom it signed a peace treaty in 1979, nor Lebanon to the north, whom it can bomb to its knees at will, nor Syria, with whom the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said on 19 December that "a peace deal is feasible".
The greatest threat to Israel's existence ultimately results from its behaviour in the West Bank and Gaza since 1967. This threat isn't from illegal rockets that have killed 20 Israelis in eight years, but from the moral corrosion that results from oppressing others and systematically stealing land the rest of the world agrees does not belong to Israel.
Anyone who truly cares for the continued existence of a Jewish state worthy of the name should work towards Israel ending its illegal occupation and oppression of Palestinian territory.
New Barnet, Hertfordshire
Mary Dejevsky asks whether people who oppose Israel's murderous attacks on Gaza have ever been to Israel. It was the first country I visited, 40 years ago. I must confess however that I never visited South Africa, yet I still opposed Apartheid.
It's not the size of Israel which accounts for the fact that it has been in a permanent state of war for the last 60 years. Settler-colonial states have a habit of waging war against the indigenous population. Just as the American colonists found it difficult to co-exist with the Amerindians and the Australians with the Aboriginal people, so the Zionists found that a Jewish state was incompatible with a state of all its peoples.
Ms Dejevsky couldn't be more wrong in regard to the "withdrawal" from Gaza in 2005. Just as the evacuation of the Sinai was the prelude to the Lebanon War in 1982, so that from Gaza merely confirmed a tightening grip on and settlement of the West Bank. Of course Israel never really withdrew; it merely placed the guards outside rather than inside the prison. It controlled its air and sea space and all trade, into and out of Gaza.
The problem is indeed that a Jewish, or indeed any ethnocratic state, is an anachronism. As long as a Jewish state means privileging those who are Jewish over and above Palestinians, then there can never be meaningful peace. Even today we have quasi-state organisations such as the Jewish National Fund which justify barring 93 per cent of the land to Palestinians on the grounds that it was "redeemed" for the Jewish people alone.
Therein lies the problem, and the size of the country, as the United States demonstrates, is no guarantee of its peaceable intentions.
No sooner has Israel's army unleashed its ferocity against defenceless civilians than her "friends" come forward with some spurious justification. Mary Dejevsky asks us to consider Israel's "vulnerability". It is rather hard to square that with Israel's practice during its 60 year existence of using its army to establish dominion over its neighbours. You only have to see how Israel has colonised the hills over the whole of occupied Palestine and indeed over the occupied Golan heights to realise how much in control of its surroundings this state is.
In fact, the people who are vulnerable are the Palestinians, whose "slums" Ms Dejevsky airily dismisses. They have no armies and no F-16 bombers, are corralled into ghettos in the West Bank and into a prison in Gaza, where as we see today, they are either vulnerable to the depredations of the bombers, or to the army of occupation that expropriates their resources without qualm.
Ms Dejevsky talks of Israel's "right to exist", without spelling out what that means in practice, namely the right to be a Jewish state and not a state for all its citizens. While Ms Dejevsky may indeed support this endeavour, there are many Jews, and I count myself among them, who reject ascendancy in favour of equality and justice.
The hypocrisy of the British government when it comes to Israel's actions is astounding. It is clear that Israel waited patiently, trying alternative methods to solve the problem such as diplomacy, before mounting the latest attack.
Palestinian rockets have been raining down on Israeli population centres for years – increasing after the end of the occupation of Gaza (so much for the theory that ending occupation is the precursor to peace).
The vast, vast majority of those killed in the Israeli air attacks were Islamic terrorists. If Britain could wipe out known Islamic terrorists in Iraq it would not hesitate to do so. I am sad about the deaths of civilians alongside the terrorists, but the responsibility must be placed on the shoulders of the Islamic terrorists whose nature it is to hide among civilians to ensure maximum casualties.
Israel is on the front line in the war on terror and should be supported, not criticised. Instead of the typical "politically correct" knee-jerk reaction of "Israel is wrong", which has done absolutely nothing to solve the very real problem in the region, Britain should be expressing its unreserved support for actions against Islamic terrorists. The only way to bring peace to the region is the end of Palestinian terrorism.
The Gaza Strip has one of the highest population densities in the world. So how can the Hamas terrorists use this area as a base to fire rockets at Israel, then complain about their own casualties? Hamas reminds me of the child asking his teacher to tell the other child to stop hitting him back.
When Israel decides, after eight years of rockets, to finally retaliate, it bombs the terrorists, who cowardly hide, live and operate within its own population. Is it any wonder that many are killed?
Ramat Gan, Israel
Murano glass is just too much
I was saddened to hear about the collapse of the market for Murano glass ("Recession shatters Venice's glass-blowers", 23 December), but I was not surprised. I went there last year after a long interval and I was struck by the over-supply in shops across all the Venetian islands and by what seemed to me a decline in quality.
No doubt those trained in the ancient craft of glass-making would see the ever more intricate and garish confections on display as signs of technical improvement and increasing sophistication, but to me too often the glassware is overworked , over-ornamented, and – literally – overblown. The glittering arrays of goblets, platters and absurdly elongated animal shapes gave every sign of an industry past its prime and seduced by kitsch.
One's heart goes out to all those skilled craftsmen who carried on filling the shops, oblivious of the economic tidal wave heading their way up the Venetian canals. It's not so very different from the Woolworths employees thrown out of work, also partly victims of ill-advised strategies by their employers. I hope something can be rescued from the wreckage.
Christians cannot remain strangers
Andreas Whittam Smith rightly stresses that the Established Church of England exists for the benefit of non-members ("We must keep the links between church and state", 26 December) and lauds the role of cathedrals in providing opportunities for casual worshippers "who seem to like the very anonymity of the cathedral congregation".
This essentially individual way into worship may be a start for people rediscovering the Church – "Please don't greet me and certainly don't ask me to do anything. Let me be a stranger" – but in the longer term such an approach to God misses the point that the Church is the community of the baptised, brothers and sisters of Christ, who now has no hands on earth but ours with which to bless.
The Rev Richard Hayes
Let dissenters have their pathetic "complementary bishops" ("Opt-out for parishioners who oppose women bishops", 30 December). They will soon be forgotten by most Anglicans, as the "flying bishops" have long been. Those who do not accept the majority view still have the more honest option of joining the Roman Catholic Church.
The humbugs came out in force to blast Channel 4 for airing its Alternative Christmas Message given by President Ahmadinejad ("Iranian leader's Christmas message prompts outcry", 26 December). That he is a democratically elected head of state, as opposed to the Queen, the Pope, Gordon Brown, a slew of touchy MPs and the Israeli ambassador, cuts no ice.
Bexhill, East Sussex
Your article "Stamp of approval for classic designs" (29 December) states that George Stephenson and his Rocket would be featured on 2009 postage stamps. Unfortunately, the stamp illustrated shows the engine Locomotion, which was first used on the Stockton and Darlington railway in 1825. The Rocket was a later locomotive, which was used on the Liverpool and Manchester railway.
Michael K Baldwin
"Helvellyn" can't possibly be Welsh (letter, 29 December). The "ll" may seem plausible, but there is no "v" in the Welsh alphabet. My favourite "Welsh" place name in England is Twydall, in Kent, pronounced by the locals as "Twiddle". My first attempt on reading the road sign was somewhat different, and got a lot of laughs.
New Labour claims to believe in "evidence-based policy". On the evidence of previous privatisations, I anticipate that the proposed part-privatisation of the Royal Mail will result in: a slashing of collections and deliveries to produce "efficiency savings"; thousands of posties made redundant to save labour costs; a massive increase in pay for Royal Mail bosses, to ensure comparability with other private sector employers; a huge increase in prices, justified on the grounds of investing in a better service for customers (the excuse the railway companies trot out each January).
Reader in British Politics
In your list of famous people who married their first cousins (24 December), you forgot Albert Einstein.
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