THE VILLAGE SOAPBOX
Ron debates a wide range of topics this month; why not respond to one or more of them?
The Root of all Ills?
A contributor to a national newspaper recently claimed that most of societies problems are due to young men between the ages of 15 and 25. I wouldn't go quite as far as that, wars for example, the worst of all evils, are usually generated by the actions of older men. Nevertheless it is probably true that boys and young men are largely responsible for vandalism, street robbery, hooliganism, violent protests, dangerous driving etc etc. The newspaper item provoked a number of responses, all sympathetic to the theme. One claimed that an African tribe recognised the problem and sent all their boys away at thirteen and would not allow them back before eighteen "by which time they were so chastened they could not wait to settle down quietly and industriously". Several others recalled the days of National Service and expressed regret that it had been discontinued. Another pointed out that the problem was recognised in Shakespeare's time and quoted from 'The Winter's Tale': "I would there were no age between sixteen and three and twenty or that youth would sleep out the rest, for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging ancientry, stealing, fighting.....".
I have made the point in these pages before that many of the world's problems, especially with regard to poverty, stem from the ever burgeoning population, and how hopeless the task appears to be of alleviating suffering in some areas whilst this rate of expansion continues. The problem is illustrated by some figures I saw recently for the population of Kenya:
1962 - 8.6 million; 1969 - 11 million; 1979 - 15.3 million; 1989 - 21.4 million; 1999 - 28.7 million; 2006 - 34 million (estimate). It is clear that the population is growing at an ever increasing rate. A similar situation exists in Uganda; 1962 - 6.5 million, 2002 - 24.7 million, and, presumably, throughout the rest of Africa, furthermore, of course, the situation is not restricted to Africa. It is disappointing that world leaders seem unwilling to admit that there is a problem. Goodness knows how to tackle it but recognition that there is a problem would be a start.
Once again we have seen huge bonuses and incomes for city workers, it was reported that 3000 city workers received bonuses of £1,000,000 or more and many other receiving large sums, such bonuses are verging on the obscene in a country where there is still real poverty. These people may play an important part in the economy of the nation, but their role is to some extent parasitic and appears to be grossly overpaid in relation to its value to society when compared with that of scientists, engineers, medics, teachers and many others.
Tough on Crime?
There have been further examples recently, some of them tragic, of crimes perpetrated by criminals known to be violent yet released from prison into the community before completing the sentences imposed by the courts. Most crimes are committed by former prisoners. It is clear that our prison system is failing; it is not acting as a deterrent, it is not providing corrective treatment to change the ways of the inmates and it is not making a very good job of protecting the public. In my view it should be possible to detain any individual indefinitely as long as it is apparent that he represents a risk to others. The Home Office seems intent on solving the problem of prison overcrowding and prison costs by releasing prisoners prematurely, how many prisoners actually do serve their full sentence? We need longer sentences served so that prison becomes more of a deterrent. We need better prisons that make a much better job of curing drug addiction rather than places where drugs are so freely available that there is a risk that non addicts will become addicted. We need to put more effort into training inmates. In short, we need more better prisons not prisons with revolving doors.
Is the NHS sick?
The NHS is said to be inefficient, this may be so, much of that inefficiency derives from the interference by government in its efforts to introduce pseudo market forces with the consequent increase in bureaucratic administration. For all its inefficiency and despite the big increase in spending on the NHS, however, it still offers good value for money when compared with some other western nations, including France, Germany and the USA. We spend a significantly smaller proportion of our GDP and spend less per head of the population on health than they do. Introducing profit motives are unlikely to benefit anyone other than those making the profits.