The new enclosures as a threat to freedom

by Chris Bertram on March 19, 2012

This morning brings news of new plans by Britain’s Tory/LibDem coalition, this time to privatize parts of the road network. Presented (again) merely as a way of getting things working more efficiently, this is both part of a pattern and – the philosophical point here – a further reduction in the liberty of individuals. The pattern is a gradual shift of resources that used to be common in to the private or quasi-private sector. Not long ago, higher education was free: now it is not. Fairly large amounts of formerly public space in cities are now in the hands of private developers who employ security guards to enforce their rules on what can be done on their land. Government plans to privatize publicly-owned forest and woodland have been defeated, but for how long? The “reforms” of Britain’s National Health Service allow for new charges to be brought in for treatments and services deemed “non-essential” (although NHS trusts are already denying treatment for some conditions that used to be treated for free). Generally, there’s a shift from formerly taxpayer-funded services towards privatized ones that users have to pay for.

No doubt our “libertarian” friends approve of this shift, but those who don’t have an ideologically distorted view of liberty should be alarmed. First, the extension of chargeable private space means that the range of actions permitted to individuals who lack money is reduced. Lack of money reduces your purely negative freedom,[1] as anyone who tries to perform actions encroaching on the state-enforced private property of others will quickly discover. Second—and this point should hold even for those silly enough to reject the view that private property restricts the freedom of those who have less of it—the increase in privatized public space means that we are increasingly subject to the arbitrary will of private owners concerning what we can and can’t do. Rights of assembly? Rights of protest? Rights to do things as innocuous as take a photograph? All of those things are now restricted or prohibited on formerly public land across the United Kingdom or subject to the permission of the new private owner. The interest of those who endorse a republican conception of freedom is thereby engaged, as is those of liberal persuasion who think a list of basic liberties should be protected: less public space, less capacity to exercise those basic liberties. The proposed privatization of the roads is just an extension of this.

(The Liberal Democrats as part of the Tory-led coalition bear a particularly heavy responsibility for failing to prevent these changes for which the UK government has no democratic mandate. With luck they will be destroyed at the next election, as they deserve to be. Let no-one forget, though, how far the last Labour government took us down this path and legitimized these changes through measures like student fees and the Private Finance Initiative.)

fn1. For an argument to this effect and a demolition of the idea that lack of money confers lack of ability rather than unfreedom, see G.A. Cohen, Freedom and Money (PDF)

{ 76 comments }

1

Neville Morley 03.19.12 at 8:36 am

Slightly tangential, but I was struck by the fact that comparisons with the infrastructure of UK competitors (i.e. continental Europe) are now being deployed to insist on the urgency of handing everything over to the private sector, rather than their traditional function of suggesting that perhaps privatising everything isn’t the smartest idea. Not to mention the claim that privatisation of water and sewerage has vastly improved the infrastructure. I honestly don’t know how one can effectively combat such blatant denial of reality, so perhaps shifting the debate towards civil liberties is a way forward.

2

Chris Brooke 03.19.12 at 8:40 am

Here’s Sidgwick, from The Methods of Ethics:

… if it be said that it includes, beside this, facility and security in the gratification of desires, and that it is Freedom in this sense that we think should be equally distributed, and that this cannot be realised without appropriation; then it may be replied, that in a society where nearly all material things are already appropriated, this kind of Freedom is not and cannot be equally distributed. A man born into such a society, without inheritance, is not only fair less free than those who possess property, but he is less free than if there had been no appropriation. He is free to walk along the roads, to pluck heather on the mountain sides, and to drink the rivers, when they do not run through private grounds: but what is this worth? … [C]ertainly any equality in the distribution of Freedom (in the sense of liberty to gratify desires) is prevented by the institution of property.

Sidgwick’s target here is Herbert Spencer (though one eccentricity of the situation is that for most of his very long writing career Spencer actually supported the nationalisation of the land).

3

Andrew Fisher 03.19.12 at 8:54 am

Two points in respect of HE: (1) your ‘not long’ is longer than my entire adult life (and I am not young). (2) When fees were reintroduced for overseas students, there was a considerable increase in overseas students. In the same way, when fees were introduced for home fees there was a massive increase in home students. Moreover the growth in HE attendance has been disproportionate amongst women and ethnic minorities. So if there have been reductions in the liberty of unmoneyed British individuals over the last 30 years, this is a poor example to choose.

4

Alex 03.19.12 at 9:06 am

I don’t necessarily disagree – but some counterarguments to your two points.

On your first point, it seems true that the extension of chargeable private space means that the range of actions permitted to individuals who lack money is reduced – but only if there was adequate supply of the public goods in the first place – In several cases the semi-privatisation could be argued to be a response to increased demand far beyond what the public sector could (arguably ) have provided.

So – yes, Universities used to be free – but only a small privileged minority used to be able go to university. Now, a much greater proportion of school leavers do. The train network used to be public – now it is private (and the classic example used by those of us on the “left” of botched privatisation) – but now carries twice as many passengers on a daily basis as it did in 1993-4.

On the second point, there is no reason that quasi-public spaces owned by private corporations could/should not be made to guarantee basic freedoms and liberties when they are acting as a public space. See eg Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins as an example of US protection of free speech in private spaces. (Equally, as far as I can tell the governments proposals do not mean that the roads leased would even cease to be public highways or “privatised” in a way that would impact on these rights.)

5

etas 03.19.12 at 9:12 am

Thank you for the timely Sidgwick quote! It is from book 3 ch5 §4

6

Anarcho 03.19.12 at 9:25 am

As the first person who called himself an anarchist and so founded the libertarian socialist movement put it:

“But if the public highway is nothing but an accessory of private property; if the communal lands are converted into private property; if the public domain, in short, assimilated to private property, is guarded, exploited, leased, and sold like private property,—what remains for the proletarian? Of what advantage is it to him that society has left the state of war to enter the regime of police?” (System of Economic Contradictions)

The propertarians who clothe their reactionary ideas with the good name “libertarian” seem to have never read Proudhon and his arguments on how property is both theft and despotism…

7

Nick 03.19.12 at 9:33 am

I think this particular “freedom” argument is several levels of abstraction up from where it would be relevant. Motorways are already exclusively used by cars and other motor vehicles. Police will pick up and even arrest pedestrians trying to use them and it has nothing to do with private property – it is because they could cause accidents.

So your main monetary barriers to using these facilities are needing to own or hire a car and the petrol/insurance required to run them. Unless you want to claim that taxes on petrol are similarly (and morally relevantly) freedom limiting, then the addition of a toll is hardly relevant either. In this context, pricing congestion at tolls could actually benefit the poorer as it discourages personal vehicles and encourages things like coaches (which are by far the most liberating form of transport in the UK at the moment for those on lower incomes).

Of course, the policy is still a bad one. It is likely to replace a public monopoly with a series of private monopolies. Better would be to keep current roads public and allow new private roads to be built.

8

Left Outside 03.19.12 at 9:33 am

Not to get all constitutional but…

“for which the UK government has no democratic mandate.”

… is nonsense. The largest party was able to secure enough support in parliament to form a government. That’s it, more or less. They don’t call them elected dictatorships for nothing. Also, its a feature not a bug.

The decline of public space is worrying, though.

9

Alison P 03.19.12 at 9:44 am

It’s a question of how you interpret ‘mandate’. There is no mass appetite for most of the policies of the current administration, but the bait-and-switch strategy of the Lib Dems has made it legal for the government to do whatever it likes. Cameron Osborne Clegg and Alexander (COCA) have the legal power to do it, but lefties like me would argue they do not have the moral right to do it. They should be seeking gentler more centrist solutions in my opinion.

10

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 9:45 am

Andrew Fisher, Alex:

1. My mention of HE was somewhat infelicitous, and was intended as just one example of the shift from free to commodified.

2. Having said that, I think you are wrong and very short-term in your view of the expansion of HE numbers. Yes that has been _ceteris paribus_ a good thing, but ceteris has not been paribus and the future looks grim. Much of the expansion has taken place outside of the traditional universities by the conversion of other institutions into “universities”. It looks to me as if we now face a further episode of social exclusion and class enclosure with fees and the new AAB regime combining to exclude the poor from the better universities in favour of those from private schools. Total places will probably fall anyway as many “new universities” go bust. So we’ll have a two tier HE system: a socially exclusive upper tier (a kind of UK Ivy League based on the newly expanded Russell Group) and a poorly funded substandard periphery catering to the rest. Les Ebdon features in this story as a kind of fig-leaf for the Lib Dems.

3. As for the claim that new resources have to come from somewhere and the taxpayer can’t do this (now being made for the roads just as it was for the universities). Well that just strikes me as a political choice by those who want to keep taxes low.

(I’d add that the same seems to be happening in state secondary education to some extent, with decent state schools being turned into academies that do their best to keep out the “chavs” – cf Plan B).

11

Alison P 03.19.12 at 9:52 am

Incidentally, I also wanted to say I am seeing Lib Dems everywhere describe these policies as ‘decentralising’ power – moving control of resources from the State to private ownership (for example in the free schools movement). They portray this as being towards local consortia of interested parties. However, as with all libertarian policies such as privatisation, after a flurry of consolidation the power comes to rest with large monied interests, outside of democratic accountability.

12

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 10:01 am

Does road pricing and fuel duty limit the freedom of the poor? Taken on its own, absolutely, yes. If all the money raised were directed at projects with a redistributive effect (and expenditure on common resources is redistributive) then then the effect on their freedom might well be positive. But taken on its own, I see no reason to resist the view that a poor person in a rural area who now can’t afford petrol is less free than they were before it got so expensive.

(This is not to say that road pricing and fuel duty are bad. They may well be justified for efficiency or environmental reasons. But in an unequal society, they do limit the freedom of poor people and that’s bad.)

13

Katherine 03.19.12 at 10:05 am

I’m a little surprised to see you laying the blame at the feet of the Lib Dems for failing to stop something (even assuming they had the power to do so), rather than the Tories for actually doing it. Or does that go without saying?

On a slightly different note, listening to a debate on this on the Today programme, I was disconcerted to hear no one challenge the view that there has to be some sort of external, private investment because the state doesn’t have the money to do things, but the private sector can go out and borrow the cash on the promise of an income stream. Did governments suddenly become unable to borrow money overnight? I think we should be told.

14

Richard J 03.19.12 at 10:07 am

but I was struck by the fact that comparisons with the infrastructure of UK competitors (i.e. continental Europe) are now being deployed to insist on the urgency of handing everything over to the private sector, rather than their traditional function of suggesting that perhaps privatising everything isn’t the smartest idea. Not to mention the claim that privatisation of water and sewerage has vastly improved the infrastructure

Unfortunately, these are probably the strongest bits of the argument, with the most evidence for them, AIUI.

I don’t quite get the road building point, I have to admit. SWFs, in my experience, are mad keen for two things when they’re looking at tangible assets:
a) core assets with a guaranteed stable return
b) trophy assets.

While roads fall into the first category, I’m not sure what’s in it for them over than above gilts, TBH.

15

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 10:08 am

Katherine: it is a coalition government, they are both doing it and both deserve blame.

16

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 10:10 am

Incidentally, it occurs to me that some of the arguments deployed by Arthur Ripstein in the “roads to freedom” chapter on his Kant book might be relevant here. So if anyone wants to bring them in please do.

17

tadhgin 03.19.12 at 10:20 am

Accepting that we are speaking about motorways and trunk roads (often effectively motorways in the UK) I would make some points:

1: Rights of assembley etc are already very constrained on a motorway. In fact pedestrians, slow moving vehicles, horses and other animals are all already prohibited. Freedom to use a motorway is effectively constrained by having the income to own and operate a roadworthy motorvehicle.
2. The guardian speaks of quasi privatisation. It would appear this is a design build maintain etc. contract linked to road usage. I don’t see any change in title. There is an argument about outsourcing versus self provision in general in the public sector (just as in the private sector) but roads maintainance does not strike me as being the best place to take a stand for the benefits of the private sector.
3. As Chris acknowledges in his post 10 (9.45am) – the costs of building and maintaing a road system must met by someone – it is a political choice whether to do it with taxes. Iin this case the government’s position is that it will come from a share of verhicle excise duty, more commonly called car tax.
4. An alternative, and arguably fairer, approach would have been a system of motorway tolls such as exists in Ireland, France and (for heavy goods vehicles) Germany . I don’t see why road maintainance (motorways etc.) should be paid from general taxation.

However, I think Chris misses potentially the more worrying points. This will create a new constituency whose revenues are linked to car usage/registrations. Secondly, and as with all PPP/PFI projects if it is driven by a need for off-balance sheet financing (i.e. a need to massage the deficit and debt/gdp ratios) the chance for companies to make out like bandits are correspondingly high – they will be paid for two services – one maintaining the roads, two hiding the finacial commitments which the goverrnment is entering into.

18

Leo 03.19.12 at 10:26 am

Jeremy Waldron’s paper, ‘Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom’ is surely relevant here, too.

http://www.mediafire.com/?cxgc2cytb8lbvrx

19

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 10:26 am

_Accepting that we are speaking about motorways and trunk roads (often effectively motorways in the UK)_

No, we are speaking about the conversion of formerly public property into private property and about the conversion of resources that used to accessible without charge to ones that require payment. This is _just one part_ of that more general shift (I also listed aspects of HE, the NHS, proposals for the national forests, private developers taking public land in cities). The two (charging, ownership) can come apart whilst still being pernicious (they don’t charge you to enter shopping malls usually).

_Rights of assembley etc are already very constrained on a motorway. _

Yes they are. But you might want to use a motorway to travel to a place where you might assemble with your fellow protestors. The public power, when it stops people from doing this, is supposedly answerable for its actions, private owners who ban people from their land or from using it for particular purposes are not.

20

Peter T 03.19.12 at 10:40 am

I don’t see that private roads have the same implications for freedom as, say, private parks. But I do see that, as tadghin says (and as the Treasury view implies), they create a form of property which restricts the ability to accommodate change except at additional political and economic public expense. In other words, they insulate the wealthy from the burden of adaptation. If, for instance, energy or environmental constraints make it necessary to shift traffic from road to rail, then the road-owners will demand compensation for the fall in their revenues (and the rail owners will demand state guarantees before they invest in new capability). The ability to manage what looks like being a very demanding set of transitions over the next few decades is being progressively constrained.

21

john b 03.19.12 at 10:50 am

No, we are speaking about the conversion of formerly public property into private property and about the conversion of resources that used to accessible without charge to ones that require payment.

We’re really talking about three things: the ownership point; the accessibility point; and the payment point.

Water and sewage services were never free, and are no more or less accessible than they were under government control: while insane and corrupt privatisation models (famously, Bolivia) *can* limit accessibility, a heavily price-regulated model that bans disconnection (as used in the UK) doesn’t. The impact on the end-user is zero, apart from the second-order question of “who actually runs the service better?”.

Most car-era roads in the UK were traditionally built by the government and made available for free to car and truck users, representing a net transfer of wealth to the wealthy. In much of the rest of the world, expensively built high-speed roads were built either by the government or by government-licensed companies and charged to their users. The price was heavily regulated by government, ensuring reasonable (though not total) accessibility.

Public streets (as distinct from motorways) were traditionally free in all three senses; private shopping malls are only free in the third sense, and I’d agree that the loss here is a deadweight one. This would be best dealt with by mandating that all developments on former public rights of way remain public rights of way, IMO.

I’m not sure in the other examples that you can handwave away the capital costs: every pound that the government spends on building free-to-use motorways is a pound that it’s not spending on tax credits, pensions, the NHS, urban development (etc etc etc).

22

Alex 03.19.12 at 11:03 am

It seems that (if you hit the link) they’re not actually proposing setting up tolls on the roads (although there’s a bit of kindasorta-if-they-were-to-build-new-ones – but then, remember the M6 Toll?) but rather some sort of fancy dan lakes in Carinthia/France Telecom gives the government a huge voluntary contribution financing manoeuvre to make the national debt look smaller.

23

Andrew Fisher 03.19.12 at 11:12 am

Chris@10. I’m far from wanting to defend the admissions practices of elite universities, but it seems a rather large handwave from ‘(some of) the elite universities haven’t really broadened their admissions’ to ‘none of the expansion of HE access to poor or non-white people that has actually happened is worth anything’. Your view that many new universities are just about to go bust isn’t exactly grounded in clear evidence either. And even if it were, neither of these issues is really linked to a shift from taxpayer-supported to fee-supported which began thirty years ago.

It would be comforting if your broad argument were right, but I think it is wrong because it rests on the – demonstrably false – premise that the British state acts in the best interests of the mass of the people and is accountable to them through the democratic process. Let’s accept that the HE instance was infelicitous, the key point remains that ‘Rights of assembly? Rights of protest? Rights to do things as innocuous as take a photograph?’ are restricted in the UK *regardless* of the ownership of the land on which they are done.

24

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 11:29 am

john b:

I think you need to separate out the issue of who paid historically (and that might have been a subsidy to the wealthy) from the issue of how people (and especially poor people) have to spend more and more of their income on commodified stuff to achieve levels of capability they could previously access for free.

Example: if I can no longer get to foodstuffs I need by walking to the shops in my neighbourhood, then I need an expensive-to-run car to get to the shopping mall, maybe I’ll soon be charge to use the road to get to the mall. And, of course, there are lots of other basic services where access depends in private providers (who have to be paid) such as ISPs. And to the extent to which I have to pay for this stuff, then I have to earn to pay for this stuff, which puts me in a position of dependency again.

Hence the analogy with the enclosures. (Providing people with an unconditional basic income would be a way of tackling the problem – from the other end as it were.)

25

Katherine 03.19.12 at 11:30 am

The other thing that strikes me – and I’m very happy to be educated on this – is the unquestioned assumption that private money into roads will therefore mean clear and wonderful roads for everyone. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for widening and so on to ease pressure – I’m currently living through the widening of the A65 into Leeds – but did everyone forget that newer, bigger roads get filled up with traffic? More capacity = more cars = congestion again. This idea of new, private roads seems to have forgotten that.

26

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 11:33 am

_the key point remains that ‘Rights of assembly? Rights of protest? Rights to do things as innocuous as take a photograph?’ are restricted in the UK regardless of the ownership of the land on which they are done._

That’s either false or totally misleading since there are clearly established laws regulating all of those things in public space and giving extensive protections to those wishing to do so, whereas on private land you are subject to the whim of the landowner.

On photography see e.g.

http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/news/2123186/-security-guards-prevent-street-photography-home-office

27

C.P. Norris 03.19.12 at 11:40 am

I’m generally in favor of making motoring more expensive, but in 2012 I can no longer be in favor of anything that can be described as “privatisation”. It’s almost guaranteed to be looting.

28

john b 03.19.12 at 11:47 am

Chris: I’m sceptical of the extent to which that claim is true, at least in the UK. You can get broadband+phone for GBP15 a month including free calls, which is less as a % of average earnings – and quite possibly even in pounds after inflation – than a phone cost back in the day.

There are a few hamlet-dwellers who have to drive because the local shop (generally singular, if the hamlet-dwelling years of my childhood are owt to go by) has closed, but in a country that’s 90% urban (and that figure doesn’t include small towns, which do still have shops), that’s very rarely the issue.

The model where high streets are devastated by Edge City supermarkets doesn’t hold in the UK, because supermarkets aren’t in Edge City (nearly all Tesco and Sainsbury’s expansion in the last 10 years has been in either urban or small-town centres).

Agree that a UBI would be a good idea, as long as it would stop people on the left objecting to massively-beneficial-overall schemes (including congestion charges, land value taxes, efficiency in retailing, and so on) on the basis of the small minority they’d make worse-off.

29

john b 03.19.12 at 11:50 am

The photography point presumably relates to the last government passing draconian laws against photography, assembly, protest and so on in designated public places. Which they did, which the current lot show no signs of repealing, and which highlights the fact that the question of free access (which *is* being eroded, which *is* a bad thing) has very little to do with ownership and a great deal to do with deep-rooted surveillance and control mentalities within governments and corporations alike.

30

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 11:59 am

Not sure why you chucked LVT in there John. Doesn’t seem relevant here at all (and I’m in favour FWIW). I’m really quite surprise though at your denial of the general trend to get people to pay for what they previously received for free or at zero marginal cost. Not only does it seem obvious that this is actually happening in some areas, but we can see the trend at work even in unsuccessful attempts to commodify and enclose …. or have you forgotten Murdoch’s attacks on the BBC already?

31

Alex 03.19.12 at 12:00 pm

And, of course, there are lots of other basic services where access depends in private providers (who have to be paid) such as ISPs

Telephone service in the UK was neither free nor cheap before privatisation. (I suddenly remember that Chris might be used to the US Bell system’s free local calls…)

In fact, telecoms is the only service I can think of that unquestionably improved after privatisation, although it probably wasn’t because of the privatisation, and the cable deployment was pretty much the classic case of stupid privatised infrastructure.

32

Andrew Fisher 03.19.12 at 12:03 pm

Chris @26

- Assembly http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/campaigns/unsafe-unfair/index.php
– Protest http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/campaigns/protest/index.php
– Photography http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7888301.stm

I suppose there is room for disagreement about phrases like ‘established laws’ and ‘extensive protection’, but the BBC and Liberty are fairly mainstream sources, untainted by any hint of anarchism (or indeed university management).

33

ajay 03.19.12 at 12:14 pm

Most car-era roads in the UK were traditionally built by the government and made available for free to car and truck users, representing a net transfer of wealth to the wealthy.

The law, in its infinite majesty, permits rich and poor alike to drive their Bentleys along the motorways for free…

I’m really quite surprised though at your denial of the general trend to get people to pay for what they previously received for free or at zero marginal cost.

Higher education. Some NHS services.

But not water, transport, gas, electricity, sewerage, communications, transport (toll roads may be new; toll bridges are not, neither are ferries or bus fares) – none of these have ever been free.

On the other hand I can think of quite a few things which I now get for free – or zero marginal cost – but didn’t ten or fifteen years ago.

34

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 12:26 pm

Andrew F. , John B:

Yes there was a kerfuffle about that particular clause and somewhat paranoid imho civil libertarians declared that it was now an offence to take a picture of a police officer etc etc. However that was (a) never tested by the courts (b) was a stretch as an interpretation anyway (c) was clarified somewhat in Home Office guidance. What has also happened in the same period is that the police have improved massively their internal education on photographers’ rights so that a lot of (illegal) harrassment of photographers by police and PCSOs has stopped (or reduced a lot). The security industry have also improved the briefing of their people somewhat (so that guards have a clearer sense of what they are entitled to do). What remains is what was always the case, namely, that private landowners have the right to curb photography on their land. That’s a particular problem when swathes of formerly public space (like Bristol’s Temple Quay area) are transferred to private ownership as part of development projects. I know my stuff on the photography area, believe me.

35

chris y 03.19.12 at 12:34 pm

4. An alternative, and arguably fairer, approach would have been a system of motorway tolls such as exists in Ireland, France and (for heavy goods vehicles) Germany . I don’t see why road maintainance (motorways etc.) should be paid from general taxation.

I have no figures to support it, but my sense is that road use is lighter in countries with a toll system than in Britain, where they are currently supported from general taxation. I remember driving on the main highway from Porto to Lisbon, mid-week, mid-morning, and there being literally no other vehicle in sight for long periods. Presumably there are cheaper or more efficient alternatives available in Portugal to those who would be commercial road users here, but I wonder whether the toll system discourages less well off private motorists in a way that a general road tax doesn’t. If so, this is not fairer, but an example where lack of money reduces a person’s freedom without even the formality of privatisation.

36

candle 03.19.12 at 12:36 pm

The model where high streets are devastated by Edge City supermarkets doesn’t hold in the UK, because supermarkets aren’t in Edge City (nearly all Tesco and Sainsbury’s expansion in the last 10 years has been in either urban or small-town centres).

This claim surprises me, but maybe I’m looking at different things. The (smallish) town I grew up in certainly had its town centre devastated by the building of large, cheap out-of-town supermarkets (although not big-box trading estates to the same extent as in small towns in the US). My guess is that high streets in towns around the UK were equally affected; and that the reason Tesco and Sainsbury’s are now expanding into those same high streets is precisely because they have been divested of most of the other businesses that were once there. Maybe this shows a real commitment to town centres; or maybe it’s a version of the Starbucks model of driving your competitors to the wall before taking over their business.

On the HE issue, I don’t know what Chris means by a time when HE was free, but when I went to university 17 years ago it was means-tested: so my fees were paid by my LEA, and I even got a maintenance grant. The bigger shift was surely to compulsory fees (plus loans) for all who attended, which IIRC came in towards the end of the 90s. (Under a Labour government, yes.) How many of the improvements cited by Andrew Fisher and others had actually taken place by 1998? Is anything like the same improvement visible in the years since?

These are genuine questions, by the way.

37

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 12:38 pm

_Higher education. Some NHS services._

Don’t you recognize that cuts in public services (community centres, playgrounds, youth centres, libraries, legal aid …) mean that many low income people now have to pay for generic classes of good that they could formerly access for free or for a nominal charge?

There’s quite a lot that could also be said about the commodification of childcare that fits in this broad frame. But anyway, I see that in the world of the single childless internet commenter with a reasonable income, things aren’t too bad. Mine’s a latte.

38

Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 12:42 pm

cf Plan B’s recent TED thing in which he says, apropos the riots

_They ain’t got nothing to do because all the community centres have been shut down. And all the money that was put into summer projects to keep these kids monitored and occupied [has gone]. _

So when I wrote “now have to pay for” above, I should have written “now have to pay for or do without”.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/mar/17/plan-b-speech-british-youth-tedxobserver?newsfeed=true

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Katherine 03.19.12 at 1:00 pm

The bigger shift was surely to compulsory fees (plus loans) for all who attended, which IIRC came in towards the end of the 90s. (Under a Labour government, yes.)

I was an undergraduate 1994-1997 – during that time I went from maintenance grant to mostly maintenance loan. Shortly after the New Labour government was elected in 1997 the concept of small tuition fees arrived, at the low low price of £1k per year.

My sister, four years later than me, borrowed for fees and for maintenance, though she did get some knocked off because of low parental income. And came out of university with twice as much debt as I did.

So, the introduction of student loans for maintenance was a Tory thing – mid-90’s. The introduction of student loans for tuition fees was a New Labour thing – late-90’s. And scandalously so, since our local Labour MP at least campaigned for the student vote in this particular university town on the basis of opposing tuition fees.

40

Steve LaBonne 03.19.12 at 1:55 pm

I’m generally in favor of making motoring more expensive, but in 2012 I can no longer be in favor of anything that can be described as “privatisation”. It’s almost guaranteed to be looting.

There really is little more that needs to be said, except to add that the same holds true in the US.

41

Luis Enrique 03.19.12 at 1:57 pm

a lot hangs on what taxes are cut / govt expenditure is increased (*)

one possibility is a reduction in fuel duty. This could be a wash for the road-users – the cost of having to pay tolls being offset by the lower cost of the petrol needed to drive on them, and so presumably no change to the liberty of individuals either. However, if you are poor household, you can at least choose to drive on non-toll roads, whilst saving from the cheaper petrol (at a cost of longer journey times?).

mind you, whilst this might happen in theory, I have no reason to think that road privatisation will be offset by fuel duty reductions (*) in this fashion.

(*) in both cases, not nec in absolute terms, relative to the no-road-privatization counteractual

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Marc 03.19.12 at 2:12 pm

There are two important additional problems with privatization. First, that equality of opportunity suffers because wealth is so unevenly distributed; second, that the profit incentive can distort public policy.

For the first point, one key ingredient of a fair and stable society is that people should be able to succeed if they work hard. In the presence of severe income inequality, however, even fees perceived as minor by the middle class can completely shut the poor out of public life. Private enterprise can make significant profits by catering to the top 20% of the income distribution (or even less) .

The second point is also severe. A powerful example is the privatization of prisons, an appalling development in the US. Private prison operators lobby for harsh sentencing, and write contracts where they demand that the state guarantee a minimum occupancy. Important goals of public policy – rehabilitation, for example – are irrelevant (or even harmful) to profit. Toll road operators may well oppose a carbon tax, as another example, as decreased usage would lower profits, or they could oppose public transit for the same reason.

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Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 2:16 pm

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rea 03.19.12 at 2:23 pm

I’m not sure that “privatization” is the right word here, since the linked article says that the plan is to sell the rights to the roads to foriegn sovereign wealth funds–in other words, to foriegn governments.

And, the linked article says nothing about allowing tolls, but talks about giving the purchasers the right to a share of the vehicle excise tax, provided certain goals are met. I’m not sure I understand the economics of that–how is giving someone other than the UK government the money that could be used on the roads now going to lead to a better result? Is it really the government’s position that, say, the Chinese government can do a better job running British roads on the same money than the UK government can?

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Tom Bach 03.19.12 at 3:25 pm

From the article:
There will be no tolls on the existing road network. But if the road companies create new capacity – by adding lanes to existing roads or building new roads altogether – then they would be entitled to charge for their use.

Any investment the swf’s make on the roads the proposed deal allows them to charge for use and, if I understand things correctly, if the improvements meet some of the “requirements” laid out in the contract they then get paid in addition to the now tolled improvements.

Also, what marc said.

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Phil 03.19.12 at 3:36 pm

Ta for the Cohen link; I’m not entirely sure that it succeeded in giving philosophical underpinnings to a compelling intuition, but it certainly restated that intuition in, well, compelling terms. As the LRB archive shows, I took issue with Thomas Nagel (a cat may look at a king) along similar lines in 1991, when I was but a systems analyst with no postgraduate qualifications:

I must dissent from Thomas Nagel’s stern pronouncement that the banning of pornography would cause infringements of ‘negative liberty’ (absence of restrictions) which take precedence over the ‘positive liberty’ (empowerment) which it might promote (LRB, 25 July). My problem is that I don’ t share Nagel’s ready confidence in the distinction between positive and negative liberties. In my experience, ‘freedom to’ (e.g. to go to work in jeans) is hard to disentangle from ‘freedom from’ (e.g. from the office dress code). Arguably, our society’s pornographic image-culture infringes a basic negative freedom: freedom from degrading representations of oneself and one’s group. (Not that censorship is the answer: apart from anything else, the problem runs rather deeper than top-shelf pornography, as a cursory look at the newsagent’s other shelves will demonstrate.)

In any case, it is not clear precisely which negative freedom Nagel is defending here. Freedom of speech? If so it’s a freedom mainly enjoyed by a few large businesses, and the ‘speech’ in question is repetitious to say the least. It seems more apposite to describe the freedom to traffic in images of naked women as the classic capitalist freedom to sell whatever will sell. Viewed in this light, what Nagel is really doing is privileging economic over civil liberties: a legitimate position, but one which should be argued as such.

Sorry about the diction. I had a kind of cargo-cult image of academia at the time – maybe if I wrote enough letters making precise enough logical distinctions in a judicious enough tone…

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Phil 03.19.12 at 3:37 pm

Well, that’s different – itals too early (“LRB” tag badly closed).

[CB: fixed I think]

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miles 03.19.12 at 3:41 pm

@rea
To me that does sound like a sale and lease back operation for existing roads (or a private public partnership for new roads). Might be a smart move if you lack the management capablities for a project. Yet for pure financial reasons it is done to give you better figures in your current budget and nothing is gained for the public in the long run. You are at least temporarily locked-in with your contractors. You create, as said above, a private monopoly and you have to pay fees like ‘a share of the vehicle excise tax’ instead of the interest you pay now. Not smart at all in a low interest environment imho. In addition there are all kinds of legal traps in the contracts which can favour the private investor (as e.g. German towns found out in the now discreditet with Cross BorderLeasing deals with American investors). Therefore, I doubt that efficieny gains will be that great – assuming that the UK still has some capabilites to manage their roads (the experience with the Edinburgh trams might tell otherwise…)

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William Timberman 03.19.12 at 4:11 pm

In the U.S. it’s not just the looting that’s insufferable, it’s also the you-can’t-do-that-here rules, regulations and attitudes which have gradually spread from the corporate workplace to just about anywhere you can think to go, particularly in urban areas. Finding a place which isn’t either private property or a depopulated wilderness is just about impossible, and doing anything unexpected in what might have appeared to be a public space inevitably invites the attention of private security enforcers or cops.

This has led to a cowed adult population, and to the utter despair of adolescents, who are treated, for the most part, like a particularly despised species of vermin. In my relatively small town in the southwestern U.S. we have, thanks to the unconscionable funding for (ugh) Homeland Security, an obscenely large and obscenely well armed and equipped police force which can’t seem to find anything to do all day except hassle teenagers, and interrogate people who look like they might be Mexicans.

If we really want a civil society, we have to reform labor law, and severely restrict property rights in non-residential areas. Otherwise we might as well resign ourselves to being cattle, and have done with it.

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Davis X. Machina 03.19.12 at 4:44 pm

…a gradual shift of resources that used to be common in to the private or quasi-private sector.

It would be presumptuous at best, and impious at worst, to try to oppose such a shift.

Baruch atah ha Shuk, ha dayan emet.

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Watson Ladd 03.19.12 at 5:03 pm

Chris, I’m missing something here. You are supposing that the sale of the roads proceeds by converting roads from public thoroughfares into private property. But that isn’t what road privatization is: the private company operates the maintenance and improvement of the road in exchange for revenue defined by a contract with the state. In particular, they don’t have a private highway patrol enforcing new rules upon the road users. If that’s a concern it can be solved by rewriting the contract.

In the US there is a distinction between the government as owner and government as government. First amendement law holds that the government is at liberty to use its power as landowner to restrict protest in ways it could not on private land (but said restrictions must be content neutral). For instance, it is permissible to have permits required before blocking a street, or to bar protests on the driveway to a courthouse or hospital.

In New Jersey this principle extends to public institutions in private hands, most notably shopping malls.

The principle you articulate would seem to govern the sale of property: if the owner of a farm once permitted hikers to cut across it, then sold his farm to someone who did not, (We assume away the existence of an easement for the present purpose) the liberty of the hiker would be restricted in similar ways. But in both cases we have private property being used in the manner the owner wishes.

Similarly, to the extent the government is an owner, the existence of the freedom it grants is dependent upon its will. It could ban all protest from the streets, choosing to permit automobiles to move along the streets, but it could not permit some to protest and others to not. In New Jersey, this is precisely the freedom a private owner of the streets would enjoy, and these restrictions could apply to all owners of roads via contractual claims. Indeed, a libertarian could argue that were New Jersey to sell its roads in a manner that did not preserve the rights of easement that already exist, it would infringe upon a right that all persons who use the roads have, a right whose existence encroaches upon the rights of the owner in the form of all easements. Yet it seems that regardless of what restrictions would exist upon the next owner, you would still object.

I’m also not convinced by Cohen’s argument. Consider a stick. If Adam and Bob each seek to burn the stick, their freedoms to do so conflict. One must be restricted to protect the other. Yet, if Adam derives through some social form the right to burn the stick, Bob’s doing so would be an infringement upon his legitimate right and thus a form of theft or trespass. This is true no matter what form that license to burn takes.

Phil, the right not to be insulted is not a right, in part because it is not clear what its boundaries are. Does an Iranian get to object to Purim on the basis of glorifying anti-Iranian sentiment and a massacare? (Read the book of Ester if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Do I get to ban Gil Atzmon for being an anti-Semitic fool? Do we get to ban Rush Limbaugh? Does he get to ban Al Franken?

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P Spence 03.19.12 at 5:05 pm

“In my relatively small town in the southwestern U.S. we have, thanks to the unconscionable funding for (ugh) Homeland Security, an obscenely large and obscenely well armed and equipped police force which can’t seem to find anything to do all day except hassle teenagers, and interrogate people who look like they might be Mexicans.”

I read the other day that about one in five of all jobs in the USA are in the security industry which seems in part is one of the flip sides of of private ownership extending to all four corners of society. It takes us to somewhere very dark and unpleasant.

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guthrie 03.19.12 at 6:23 pm

Lets not forget that the condems are carrying on with privatising the Royal Mail after nationalising the pension scheme, i.e. the taxpayers take the costs leaving the Royal Mail debt free and easy picking for a private organisation.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/mar/18/royal-mail-pension-nationalised-george-osborne

Now if, like me, you happen to think that a national postal service with a mandate to deliver everywhere at a low flat rate is a good thing, such a privatisation is bad. A postal service is a natural monopoly, like water supplies, railways etc, and thus will only offer even greater private profits and public losses.

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Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 6:57 pm

Watson Ladd: you plainly haven’t thought about Cohen’s argument. There’s no problem at all with saying of A and B that they are both free to phi, even if it is true that if A were to phi then B could not and vice versa. This happens all the time: We are all free to walk in a public park even if it false that we could all do so simultaneously. Second if A has the exclusive right to phi and B does not, then A is free to phi and B is not. Rights to ownership distribute negative freedom and one person’s rights over things reduce the freedom of others with respect to those things. Transfer of the park to Montgomery Burns as his private garden diminishes the freedom of all of us who are excluded. In a world with extensive and unequally distributed private ownership the propertyless have very little negative freedom.

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Dan 03.19.12 at 7:07 pm

So I’ve been thinking about the Cohen article, which seems less convincing to me than it once did. Let me see if I can bring out my misgivings.

Cohen seems to think that potential interference counts as an infringement of freedom, i.e. truth of counterfactuals of the form “if someone were to carry out action A, then they would be physically interfered with”. Now, it’s certainly true that if a poor person were to board a train without paying, or walk out with a sweater from Selfridges, they would be physically interfered with (at least, supposing a world of perfect enforcement.) But the same is true for a rich person! After all, rules of property over things prohibit anyone from doing stuff without paying, not only poor people. So, so far, there isn’t really a difference insofar as property rights affect the freedom of the rich and poor.

Ah, but the rich could pay for the train ride/sweater, you might say. That’s true: it’s true that if a rich person were to pay for the train ride, then they wouldn’t be physically interfered with. But that is also true of a poor person: if they were to pay for the train ride, then they wouldn’t be physically interfered with either!

In short, it’s true for both rich and poor people that if they were to get on the train without paying, they’d be physically removed, and if they were to get on the train after having paid, they wouldn’t. So where’s the difference? Well, we might say that the poor person is not able to pay for the train ride — that’s the most salient difference between the two. But now we’re back at lack of money being merely a lack of ability, not a lack of freedom.

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Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 7:28 pm

Dan, you need to think about the range of actions that each is free to perform: the poor person is free to perform A or B or C, but not A & B, or A & C etc. ; the rich person is free to perform A & B & C and any subset.

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Chris Westley 03.19.12 at 7:43 pm

Chris Bertram writes: “Lack of money reduces your purely negative freedom, as anyone who tries to perform actions encroaching on the state-enforced private property of others will quickly discover.”

One could equally say that one’s lack of money results from others’ claim to it for the provision of positive freedom, which is always and everywhere achieved through violence or the threat thereof. Perhaps we can include this violence when we consider the full cost of things like higher education, roads, and the vaunted NHS? This would be in addition to other negative freedoms lost when one is forced to finance the positive freedoms of others.

If the British government, Liberals and Conservatives alike, would simply butt out of people’s lives, and perhaps only enforce contracts and protect property rights, we would soon find the expansion of negative freedoms across a less divided society. But one doubts such an outcome is among Bertram’s goals.

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jack lecou 03.19.12 at 7:44 pm

Dan -

If I’m reading Cohen right, I think the distinction between “ability” and “freedom” is in the exact nature of what’s preventing you from performing an activity.

If the problem is personal, as it were, or natural — intrinsic to yourself or the rules of the natural world — then it’s merely lack of ability. (Frex, you can’t take the train to Glasgow because you’re paralyzed, so can’t walk to the train station. Or, you don’t know which train to take or how to find out. Or maybe it’s raining and the tracks have washed out. Etc.)

Lack of freedom, on the other hand, is defined as any case where some outside intelligent force (perhaps literally) standing in your way, backed by the force of law. Thus the conductor barring you passage is lack of freedom.

Or in sum: if you can’t go to Glasgow because there’s a hungry mountain lion pacing around in front of your door, it’s merely lack of ability – the mountain lion is not empowered by the law. If it’s a policeman waving a house arrest warrant, that’s lack of freedom.

If that distinction is not merely semantic, then clearly money really does grant freedom. (Consider: does the house arrest example in the last paragraph somehow change from lack of ‘freedom’ to mere lack of ‘ability’ if the policemen is allowed to accept a perfectly legal bribe from you to allow you to leave?)

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Watson Ladd 03.19.12 at 7:48 pm

Chris, I’m thinking about what you said and I don’t think it changes the problem. If A phi’s, and by phiing makes B unable to phi, then what makes it different then A acquiring the exclusive right to phi in terms of freedom? B remains equally constrained in terms of their ability to do phi: while we might call the first scenario disability, and the second one unfreedom, A could in the first case refrain from phi and in the second permit B to phi, and in both cases B could phi.

So if we are defining freedom as restraints imposed by others, it doesn’t seem like there is a difference between the two scenarios because in both A is capable of letting B phi. Whether dispossession happens via the assertion of right or the physical consumption of the commons, the victim is equally dispossessed.

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Chris Bertram 03.19.12 at 8:08 pm

Watson: a world where I was physically constrained by the occupancy of all other space by other people would be indistinguishable from the point of view of my freedom from a world where someone else owned all the space not occupied by my body. In the actual world, however, the extensive property rights held by other people over space and objects pose rather more of a threat to my freedom than the space taken up by their bodies does.

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Dan 03.19.12 at 8:13 pm

Dan, you need to think about the range of actions that each is free to perform: the poor person is free to perform A or B or C, but not A & B, or A & C etc. ; the rich person is free to perform A & B & C and any subset.

I appreciate the response, but I can’t see how it helps. (Maybe I’m just missing something).

Once we make the distinction (at either the level of action types or tokens, I don’t think it matters) between a performance of phi without paying and a performance of phi having paid those who hold the relevant rights to their satisfaction, aren’t the rich and the poor in the same situation with respect to the freedom of their actions? Both are free to A&B as long as they pay for both; neither are free to A&B having paid only for A, or only for B, or neither. Both are free to A having paid; neither are free to A otherwise; and so on. Sure, the poor person cannot in fact perform the action: (A&B having paid for both) — but that is because they don’t have enough money, not because anyone would physically interfere with them if they were to perform the action. That is, their inability to perform that action is due to some thing like a lack of resources or an inability of some sort, not a lack of freedom.

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jack lecou 03.19.12 at 8:14 pm

So if we are defining freedom as restraints imposed by others, it doesn’t seem like there is a difference between the two scenarios because in both A is capable of letting B phi. Whether dispossession happens via the assertion of right or the physical consumption of the commons, the victim is equally dispossessed.

What Chris said. But also, I think a key difference would be in the remedies that B might be able to seek if A is consuming a disproportionate share.

If A has an exclusive legal right to phi, than that’s that. It’s his right. Touch luck everyone else.

But if A is merely the first/biggest/whatever to get to phi, and is now hogging the swing set, as it were, then I think B — and society as a whole — at minimum have reserved the right to call A a big fat jerk for not being better at sharing.

That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but IMHO, it’s actually pretty important. (And of course, there may well be more concrete remedies for egregiously poor sharing skills as well.)

(Also, if both A and B really have, in principle, the “ability” to phi, yet A is consistently able to exclude B, you have to ask “how he’s do that?” In real world situations, this mysterious ability probably boils down to some not so mysterious disparity in money/power. Which brings us back to “freedom”.)

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Charlie 03.19.12 at 8:31 pm

That is, their inability to perform that action is due to some thing like a lack of resources or an inability of some sort, not a lack of freedom.

Lack of money is not equivalent to a lack of resources – a commodity, say – or a disability, yet lack of money is what will make the security guards throw you to the floor, roughly. And money is more akin to a set of permission slips than many would like to admit. To at least some extent, its allocation is determined by social norms. A poor person could have more money with no change in global output.

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rea 03.19.12 at 11:07 pm

you can’t go to Glasgow because there’s a hungry mountain lion pacing around in front of your door

Just as an aside, mountain lions almost never attack humans unless provoked.

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Phil 03.19.12 at 11:56 pm

the right not to be insulted is not a right, in part because it is not clear what its boundaries are.

Not that I quoted what I wrote 21 years ago in order to restart this argument, but… Note that I specified “degrading representations of oneself and one’s group”, rather than anything so nebulous as a right not to be insulted. We can all agree, I think, that there are such things as groups of people who are represented in degrading ways; we may not agree about which group we’d name first, or about what we consider to be a degrading representation, but that’s the domain of politics. And the fact that there is legitimate political debate about whether a particular instance falls into class X doesn’t mean that there is no class X.

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john b 03.20.12 at 1:19 am

I wonder whether the toll system discourages less well off private motorists in a way that a general road tax doesn’t. If so, this is not fairer, but an example where lack of money reduces a person’s freedom without even the formality of privatisation.

There’s got to be a word for this one. Argument ad Daily Mail? Motorists, like net taxpayers, are definitionally well-off. Concern about their freedom, from a social justice point of view, is ridiculous. Any cha

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john b 03.20.12 at 1:21 am

(sorry). Any change in arrangements that disadvantages motorists to the benefit of Wider Society (which, absent an express declaration that the money saved in infrastructure investment will be handed directly to billionaires GWB-style, is the case here) is socially progressive.

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Tom T. 03.20.12 at 2:55 am

66: “Motorists, like net taxpayers, are definitionally well-off.”

Perhaps, but according to Wikipedia, 92% of American households (outside of New York City) own a car. Even in the UK, it’s close to 80%, I think.

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Andrew Fisher 03.20.12 at 9:42 am

Candle @36.

Sorry not to respond to your direct question earlier, I had wandered off the thread.

At the risk of derailing, the issue is a little complicated because the data post-92 are much better than the data pre-92 so many analyses go back only to the mid-90s or so. In addition, data are much better for young first degree entrants than for other kinds of students (and mature undergraduates are disproportionately from less privileged groups, so this is material).

It is clear that the large increase in ethnic minority participation has continued long after the mid-90s (see Table 2 here http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2010/10_13/10_13.pdf). For young people from poorer neighbourhoods there has been a marked improvement only since the mid-2000s (http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2010/10_03/10_03.pdf). In general the continued shift from grant to loan has been accompanied by a progressive change in the make-up of the student body though not – as Chris pointed out way back @10 – in the most elite universities which remain socially exclusive.

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candle 03.20.12 at 12:53 pm

Thanks, Andrew — that’s more encouraging than I expected.

not in the most elite universities which remain socially exclusive.

This, I suppose, is the red flag, and presumably has something to do with the data in the table which shows that UK students from ethnic minorities tend to have lower qualifications on entry. But Chris has already made this point, and it’s not really on topic.

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JMH 03.20.12 at 12:55 pm

Hey,

The idea of tolling (motorways and trunk) roads seems sensible to me as it should improve the environment for everyone, and reduce dead-weight losses to congestion – the French have tolled motorways for a long time, and France is pretty clearly still more socialist and egalitarian than Britain (and motivated by those principles).

The proposal isn’t tolling, and I share the concern expressed that there are ways this could end up being more expensive for the government and taxpayer than alternative approaches, but it is at least a step away from the ossified status-quo.

JMH

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Chris E 03.20.12 at 3:39 pm

“the French have tolled motorways for a long time, and France is pretty clearly still more socialist and egalitarian than Britain (and motivated by those principles).”

The existing roads have been maintained, and so offer a reasonable alternative to the Autoroutes.

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guthrie 03.20.12 at 3:50 pm

JMH #71 – I must have missed the bit about the ossified status quo being so awful.

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actio 03.20.12 at 5:25 pm

I’m with Cohen on this. But just for reference here is Leif Wenar’s counterargument in
The Meanings of Freedom” [response to G.A. Cohen] in Contemporary Debates in Social Philosophy ed. L. Thomas (Blackwell, 2008): 36-53.
http://wenar.info/Meanings%20of%20Freedom%2011-04.pdf

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Shelley 03.20.12 at 6:14 pm

The elephant in the room, every single time, is the power of corporations.

Yet they retain the cloak of invisibility. Unseen by the media, undiscussed in endless articles.

Thanks for this post.

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Meredith 03.21.12 at 3:56 am

Just to thank Watson Ladd for raising what I think must be important issues. I so think because of the confusion that overcame me on my first reading of the OP, which seemed to assume that tolls could or would be levied only for use of privately owned roads. But as someone who grew up in NJ (Ladd caught my eye there) and, since then, as a long-time resident of the US northeast, I am very accustomed to paying tolls for use of public roads. I am accustomed, too, to tales of avoiding the (public) toll roads (I had quite a few such experiences myself, when I was younger and poorer) just because the available dimes and quarters aren’t adding up, and to public, political discussions of the toll taken by tolls (sorry) on people of fewer means (from the working poor to the middle class). It costs a lot to drive between Boston and Worcester everyday on the Mass pike (yea olde turnpike, folks — it’s built into the nomenclature here). Don’t even think about crossing (publicly owned and administered) bridges in NYC every day.
All that said, I want to keep roads publicly owned. But publicly owned doesn’t necessarily mean that use of them will be toll-free.
The (publicly owned) subway, el, and buses are all expensive, too.

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