June 2012 Archives
There is huge emphasis these days on energy efficiency as a key component of our low carbon and security of supply ambitions. In fact, in a world of declining natural resources and increasing global population, with a growing focus on sustainability, using less energy - and water - as we go about our daily lives is becoming unquestionably a good thing (for the planet and our pockets).
So Barclays manipulated inter bank lending rates unlawfully.
The US authorities have "brought attempted manipulation and false reporting charges against Barclays". Barclays have had to pay $360Million in penalties to the US Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
False Reporting charges would in other contexts have resulted in a knock on the door from the Fraud plod in the UK. The FSA, compared with the US authorities, though, rather limply fines Barclays for what it calls "misconduct" and fines it a paltry, peanuts of a fine (for them)of £59.5Million
The simple fact is that they were conning us. They were tricksters.
One might normally be a little more careful with words, but this time they really were caught with their hands in the till, but apparently these hands and this till involve, thus far, no criminal penalty. What they did should carry criminal, imprisonable penalties, apparently it does not. At the very least Bob Diamond should pay with his job.
But, nevertheless, Barclays Bank (they have effectively coughed to this) was literally conning us - a giant confidence trick. They tried, and they lied to try, to show that the market actually had confidence in them when the market did not. The rates at which they were borrowing on the wholesale open markets indicated that the market thought they were a bad bet, along with all the others.
In order to stop a death spiral in confidence, they lied.
Now here is a mystery.
Why are there no soaps set in the Midlands? London has East Enders, Manchester 'Corrie' and Liverpool has 'Hollyoaks'. We don't even have any of the constructed reality programmes set in the Midlands like 'TOWIE, 'Geordie Shores' or 'Desperate Scousewives'.
I have no idea why this is, though not sure it's much of a loss. But did you know that watching the soaps is can help build strong brands.
Back in February, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, told the House of Commons Press Gallery that there was a "chilling atmosphere towards freedom of expression which emanates from the debate around Leveson". And, when giving evidence at the Inquiry in May, Mr Gove went even further. He argued that free speech didn't actually mean anything unless people were offended some of the time.
In Mr Gove's view, there is no need to limit the "precious liberty" of freedom of expression because, for example, reporting details of an celebrity's indiscretions might contravene that individual's right to privacy. Freedom of expression wins every time.
But does it? And, perhaps more importantly, should it?
There is a clever jurisprudential way of trying to answer these questions, for which we have to thank one of the great legal thinkers of the early twentieth century - Professor Wesley Hohfeld. Despite dying tragically young (at 38), Hohfeld (who held chairs at both Stanford and Yale) packed quite a lot of scholarship into his life. His key legacy is the analysis of what we mean when we refer to something as a 'right'. Hohfeld thought that there are four distinct concepts, each of which could be referred to as a right. For the purposes of this blog, the two key ones are (i) what Hohfeld felt could properly be called rights and (ii) privileges or liberties; what in modern-day English can be thought of as freedoms.
In order for either to exist, Hohfeld thought they needed a correlative: without the correlative, you can have no right and no freedom. The correlative for a right is a duty imposed on another person to respect that right. The correlative for a freedom is the absence of a right enjoyed by another.
The fact that the correlative for a freedom is the absence of a right is key. Freedoms are things we all enjoy in any event and without any restriction. On the other hand, we only have a right to something if someone else is obliged to respect that right.
If you assume that terms used to describe free speech and privacy reflect Hohfeld's analysis, then the fact that we say freedom of speech as opposed to a right to privacy is intuitive, and suggests that Mr Gove is correct. Free speech is a freedom we all enjoy without restriction; but we only have a right to privacy if others are obliged to respect that right. On a Hohfeldian world view, free speech also wins every time.
Indeed, until the turn of the century, this was arguably the position in English law. The courts had a long tradition of upholding free speech, whilst resisting a right to privacy.
The Human Rights Act 1998 (which came into force on 2 October 2000) changed that. Article 8 protects the right to respect for private and family life; and article 10 protects freedom of expression. To make matters even more confusing, Hohfeld's distinction between freedoms and rights has arguably disappeared. Privacy and free speech are both categorised as qualified (and not absolute) rights - and each comes with correlative duty. When they are in conflict, a judge needs to conduct a balancing exercise considering the comparative importance of each and the reasons for interfering with them.
For example, if a celebrity who publically supports family values and monogamy is having an extra-marital affair, then the hypocrisy could help to persuade the court that press freedom should win the day.
So, what about the questions posed earlier in the blog? The first is easy to answer: the Human Rights Act means that freedom of expression does not now always triumph over an individual's right to privacy.
The second question - whether or not it should - will, in part, be answered by Lord Justice Leveson. My own view is that the press is too intrusive. I'm not sure that my civil liberties would be in any way compromised if the press felt able to let celebrities make mistakes in their personal lives in private, but I know many people who disagree with me.
For the moment though, the last word should go to Lord Justice Leveson. Yesterday's statement on the press reporting of the concerns the judge raised in private following Mr Gove's February speech, contains (at paragraph 18) an interesting comment on how the press respond to criticism of their conduct:
"...it is at least arguable that what has happened is an example of an approach which seeks to convert any attempt to question the conduct of the press as an attack on free speech."
If free speech really is a freedom as envisioned by Professor Hohfeld, people (including judges) must enjoy a "precious liberty" to criticise the Fourth Estate. The press can't use the same civil liberty both to defend their own conduct and deflect any criticism of it. After all, an argument that the press can enjoy free expression and that others in society must respect that at all costs is to admit that free speech is a Hohfeldian right and not a freedom.
A good friend of mine claimed that there was a Karl Marx quote in which he suggested there was only one class of people more obsessed by money than the rich; the poor.
I have tried searching for the provenance this quote but, strangely, it doesn't seem to exist and certainly cannot be attributed to Karl Marx though it could equally have come from Groucho!
That said it is a still a good quote; particularly in current times when everyone, most especially the least well off in our society, are being challenged to exist on less.
It begs the question of what is enough?
And it seems for the very rich there is never enough.
Since the UK started to come out of recession, there has been much discussion about how to create a different economy. Politicians have increasingly talked about rebalancing and the Chancellor spoke about a new economic model with a goal of expanding exports to £1trillion per year by 2020.
With proposals leaked and then confirmed about possible changes to the English schools examinations, its worth noting that aspects of the current system are actually held in high regard in some overseas markets and indeed present an opportunity for entrepreneurial types in education. Take China for an example
All this week in The Mailbox there has been a celebration of the Midland's great design heritage and of the region as the home of some of this country's great brands-Jaguar, Triumph, Land Rover, Aga, JCB and even Marmite. If you haven't already been to this celebration get down there quick.
In my job I spend a lot of my time trying to design and develop brands. I don't do the creative work on brands but instead it is my job to come up with the underlying definition of the brand. I try to define what it is going to stand for; the promise it is going to make, and to try to keep, to its customers; and how it should present itself to its market. Someday it is my hope that the brands I am working on will feature in an exhibition of great brands.
My overriding take from the hour during which Professor Reed shared her thoughts gathered from over 20 years in professional practice as an architect and her extensive global experience was the importance of 'beauty'.... So elusive, hard to pin down, instinctively recognisable and easy to dismiss, it was an essential element in delivering quality of life and 'well-being'.
Teasing out the values contributing to well-being Ruth Reed suggested that 'comfort', 'contentment', 'protection', 'good health', 'vitality', 'security' and 'joy' were key values and ones which had been a concern from Aristotle onwards.
The title of this blog is part homage to Francis Wheen's book Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia (Fourth Estate, 2010) in which he provides an analysis of the 1970s a decade that many compare to the current one.
As we know, there are many events occurring that may potentially impact upon our future and cause economic and social problems. In particular, Sunday's general election in Greece will continue to cause economic problems.
Indeed, Robert Zoellick the outgoing head of the World Bank, will warn the G20 summit in Mexico of his concerns about the potential for Greece to create panic throughout the Eurozone that could lead to a 'Lehman-style global crisis', tells us much about our current anguish.
Wheen suggests that the 1970s created a pervasive sense of fear that led many people to believe that events happening were part of a crisis that would lead to the collapse of society and the economy in this country.
Some believed that there was a danger that a worker-led revolution could lead to communism in Britain. In retrospect we may know better but it is a fact that Prime Minister Harold Wilson believed he was being targeted by the security services.
It is suggested that a number of key individuals with vaguely and explicit right-wing sympathies were so concerned with Britain's apparent decline meant that a dramatic intervention was required; a military coup.
Regular acts of terrorism (especially here in Birmingham), and rampant inflation caused by crisis in the Middle East that led to, almost literally, overnight increase in the price of oil, certainly fed such fears.
And Britain economic status was definitely challenged. So much so that it was forced to seek a bailout by the International Monetary Fund in 1976.
What cannot be argued is that the 1970s was a decade of great change. We experienced a significant shift in our standards of living that was accompanied by social strife as seen in the disputes that occurred with increased frequency.
Over thirty years on from the end of the 1970s many wonder how similar our current economic problems are and whether we should see the same patterns as Wheen believes existed in the 1970s.