Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ask the Experts: Scottish Constitution

I'm one of the experts sharing my thoughts on the draft Scottish Constitution over at the Democratic Audit today.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Attitudes to Alcohol Pricing

A new survey reveals that Scottish attitudes to minimum pricing legislation are split, with slightly more in favour than against the measure. Interestingly, "People educated to degree level were much more likely to approve of minimum pricing than those who were not". So much for the liberalising effect of higher education! (I've written on this here [subscription required].)

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Monday, June 09, 2014

Love Locks and Public Nuisance Legislation

According to Mill's harm principle, the state or society may only interfere with an individual's actions in order to prevent harm to others. This is generally taken to restrict paternalistic or moralistic legislation, which raises questions about many generally-accepted laws (including those on drugs, incest, seat belts, etc).

I wasn't previously aware of the trend for couples of signify their love by attaching a lock to a bridge and throwing away the key, but apparently this has been a 'thing' since at least 2009. Moreover, enough of these 'love locks' can actually damage bridges. As reported (see article in link before last), some places, including Rome, have banned these love locks.

Is this ban consistent with the harm principle? On first sight, perhaps not: it would seem to be stretching the notion of 'harm' to suppose that they are. Admittedly, Mill does suggest that 'public decency' might provide grounds for certain restrictions, which seems to be allowing a limited place for something other than harm to justify interference. However, on further consideration, such a ban might be upheld as a protection of property rights. I wouldn't want someone attaching a lock to my fence, even if the lock didn't in any way damage the fence. Presumably, there's little reason to object to a bridge-owner saying that locks should only be attached to her bridge with her consent.

Matters are slightly more complicated when it comes to public bridges, where there is no particular owner as such. Why shouldn't members of the public attach love locks to a bridge that is (in part) theirs? I suppose, however, there is an answer to be found based on the fact that the bridge does not belong to that couple exclusively but to all members of the public. One cannot, for instance, freely block a public road, because that interferes with others using it for their own purposes. While love locks don't prevent others from crossing a bridge, they do amount to one individual (or one couple) assuming rights over public property as if it belonged to them alone.

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Monday, June 02, 2014

A Real Life Wilt Chamberlain Case

In Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick argues that free market transactions will, if not interfered with, upset distributive patterns, such as equality. Nozick's famous example features the basketball player Wilt Chamberlain. In Nozick's example, Chamberlain signs a contract giving him 25 cents out of each ticket sold for his games, the result being that at the end of the season he is vastly richer than everyone else.

Given that few current students (especially in the UK) have heard of Wilt Chamberlain, the example is sometimes made more relevant by substituting the name of a more recent sports star, such as David Beckham or Wayne Rooney. I thought it interesting that ex-England cricketer Andy Flintoff has apparently signed a contract like Chamberlain's, giving him £1 from each ticket sold (above a certain number). It looks like a nice example to use in future.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Ballot Ordering

When voting in yesterday's European elections, I was struck by the fact that the first parties on the ballot paper were Britain First and the BNP. It seems that the Scottish Government is considering alternatives to alphabetical ordering, including random ordering.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Food Regulation

As long-time followers of this blog will know, I have an interest in potentially paternalistic regulations. It's interesting to see that there are now calls for (unhealthy) food to be regulated in the same way as tobacco. The BBC article has one expert point out that we need food, whereas we don't need tobacco. This misses the point that the main justification for regulating tobacco (e.g. the ban on smoking in public places) is that it causes harm to others. While my eating unhealthy food might cause you some harm (e.g. by setting a bad example or through costing the NHS more) these harms are indirect and uncertain.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Apologies for Lack of Posts

I realise that this blog has not been updated much of late. That's partly because, with a return to teaching for the first time in 9 months, I've been rather busy. This is compounded by the fact that for some reason (an outdated browser?) I now seem unable to post here at work. Obviously I can still blog from home, but I used to do much of my blogging from work, partly because we have metered internet at home, but mostly because it can fill in 'dead' time like empty office hours or just before a meeting. Rest assured that the blog is not intentionally dead; while updates may be less frequent, I do still intend to keep posting when I get the chance.

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