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Chris Bertram

Runner bean field in Herefordshire

Jane Jacobs, the tyranny of experts and Brexit

by Chris Bertram on May 16, 2017

Last night I watched Citizen Jane, a recent biopic about Jane Jacobs and her long fight against Robert Moses’s plans for New York. Of course, Jacobs was largely correct: Moses’s grand utopian schemes wrecked the ecologies of street and community and eventually produced neighbourhoods worse than the ones they replaced, whilst failing to solve even the problems, like traffic congestion, they seemed best suited to. But being already familiar with the substance of the dispute, and with Jacobs’s great work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, what struck me most forcefully was the rhetoric. On the one hand, there were the self-proclaimed “experts”, on the other, ordinary people with their lived experience, sceptical about whether the “experts” had their best interests at heart (or if they did, whether they shared the same conception of their interests). A great irony of the Jacobs case is that though she was right about Moses and his plans, the net result of her activism has not been, in the end, to preserve those neighbourhoods for the kinds of people who lived there then, but rather to give them an afterlife to be enjoyed by the people who can now afford to live in them.

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Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas, Place Gambetta

by Chris Bertram on May 14, 2017

Pézenas- Place Gambetta

Sunday photoblogging: chair

by Chris Bertram on April 30, 2017

Pézenas, chair

Macron leads!

by Chris Bertram on April 24, 2017

Macron has won the first round of the French Presidential election, and I for one am very pleased at the outcome. In the first place, I’m pleased because Marine Le Pen and the Front National have not done better despite circumstances, such as the Nice and Bataclan attacks, that might have been expected to give them a further boost. This suggests that, at least in France, right-wing populism has hit a limit, for the time being. Second I’m pleased because I think Macron probably has more about him than the Blair and Clinton comparisons and the childish chanting of the mantras of “neoliberal”, “austerity”, “banker” and “elite” by the Mélenchon claque suggests. He’s someone both committed to the EU and committed to changing it, whereas Mélenchon was all about making demands and walking away, in the vague direction of Lexit, as soon as the other member-states turned him down. Unlike Clinton and Blair he has done what he has done without a massive party machine behind him, he’s exhibited a lot of political courage and his bet has paid off. Now that we face the second-round, we see Mélenchon refusing to back Macron against Le Pen, which to my mind indicates that Mélenchon is an unserious poseur, but then his enthusiasms for Hugo Chavez and his apologetics for Assad ought to have been a clue to that.

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas, Rue Conti

by Chris Bertram on April 23, 2017

Pézenas, Rue Conti

Asylum-seekers have to eat too

by Chris Bertram on April 10, 2017

The Guardian has a piece today on the asylum-system in the UK, attacking the policy whereby asylum-seekers are dispersed to areas of the country with a lot of empty and cheap housing on the grounds that this is burdensome to poor areas and that Labour-controlled local authorities have to host more people than Tory ones do. The entire drift of the piece is to see asylum-seekers as a cost unfairly imposed on poor communities, and an accompanying article about Rochdale, represented by Simon Danczuc MP (the sort of Labour MP who goes drinking with Nigel Farage), has the predictable white working-class local complaining:

“[Immigrants] get everything given to them, everything for free; I don’t get anything. It just seems to me that the working class, working people, are being hit the hardest by immigration.”

Well, there’s an obvious point to be made, both to him and to the authors of the main article. Asylum-seekers are provided with accommodation that nobody else wants and made to live on £5/day. If they got more then our bitter member of the “white working-class” would complain more about the unfairness, but if you are going to have to live on that kind of money they you had better not be made to live in Kensington and Chelsea. I’d support increasing the allowance (a lot) for asylum seekers, maybe making it variable depending on area of the country, providing more resources to local authorities to help with schooling and permitting asylum-seekers to work (banned by Labour). Apart from giving more money to local authorities, none of these sensible changes is backed by Labour, no doubt worried about being seen to give people “something for nothing”, yet they are essential if you are going to have anything like a different system of geographical dispersal. There is the further issue, of course, that many of the asylum-seekers are in fact refugees who the government hasn’t got round to recognizing as such yet, and keeping refugees in limbo for years is a stain on the UK’s human rights record.

The poverty of psychology

by Chris Bertram on April 9, 2017

Political philosophers have been arguing about equality for a very long time. We’ve argued about whether equality is a fundamental value or whether what matters is better captured by a focus on priority or sufficiency. We’ve argued about whether egalitarians should focus on securing equal amounts of something or on assuring people that they stand in relationships of equality of status toward one another. We’ve argued about the currency of egalitarian justice, and whether we should assess equality in terms of welfare, resources, opportunity for welfare or “advantage”. Luck egalitarians have argued that people should be rendered equal with respect to their unchosen circumstances but that inequalities that result from choices people freely are ok. All of these are arguments within the egalitarian camp.

So it is frustrating to read a paper in Nature, written by some psychologists from the Pinker/Haidt school of public pontificating that claims that people don’t care about equality but about “fairness”, where the inequalities that people tolerate turn out to be (a) inequalities in money and (b) inequalities that result from choices people make. Nobody working in poltical philosophy thinks that inequalities in money matter fundamentally, and lots of people think that the value of equality, properly understood, not only allows but requires differences in outcome that result from choice. There’s one reference to Rawls in the paper (simply to mention the veil of ignorance) and one of Frankfurt’s sufficiency view, but Dworkin, Cohen, Sen, Anderson, Arneson et al are entirely absent. Perhaps Nature needs to pick its peer reviewers from a wider pool.

Sunday photoblogging: Staircase in a mirror

by Chris Bertram on April 9, 2017


Sunday photoblogging: Southville to Clifton

by Chris Bertram on April 2, 2017

Southville to Clifton

Sunday photoblogging: March for Europe

by Chris Bertram on March 26, 2017

From Yesterday’s march to protest against the prospect of Brexit and to celebrate the birthday of the European Union.

March for Europe

Sunday photoblogging: Kingston Road, BS3

by Chris Bertram on March 19, 2017

Kingston Road, BS3

Sunday photoblogging: building and wires, Pézenas

by Chris Bertram on March 12, 2017

Pézenas: wires

The UK’s spousal visa regime, some reflections

by Chris Bertram on March 8, 2017

I have a blog piece with Helena Wray and Devyani Prabhat at the University of Bristol Law School Blog. The final para:

Family and spousal migration is only one part of migration policy, and there is the broader issue of what values migration policy should serve generally. In recent political argument in the UK, three sets of voices have been prominent, virtually to the exclusion of all others. First, the proverbial “taxpayer”, the net contributor to government spending. Second, the needs of “business” for skilled and not-so-skilled workers. Third, the “legitimate concerns” of so-called “ordinary people”, constructed as the “white working-class” worried about cultural and demographic change. Largely absent from the discussion have been the autonomy interests that all citizens have in being able to have a valuable set of life-choices available to them, about being able to live, work and settle where they wish, and in being able to make their life with a partner of their choice and maybe start a family. Rather, those interests – that ought to be of central political concern for a liberal society – have been crowded out of the migration debate. This has meant that many of our fellow citizens and their partners have been thwarted in their pursuit of central life goals or forced to pursue those aims through compliance with arcane rules and at the mercy of an unfathomable bureaucracy. If we aspire to the values of a liberal society – as is the official consensus position of all major political parties – our policies ought to reflect them.

Frosty morning, St Michael's Hill