Archive for the ‘Law’ Category
One of the latest government gimmicks is to have e-petitions. If over 100,000 people sign them then the petition’s topic is debated in Parliament. Currently the most popular petition (107,037 signatures at the time of writing) is demanding that convicted rioters should lose all of their benefits. I’m all for cracking down hard on the rioters, but this particular idea is one that I think is both wrong and foolish.
Here is the exact wording of the petition:
“Any persons convicted of criminal acts during the current London riots should have all financial benefits removed. No tax payer should have to contribute to those who have destroyed property, stolen from their community and shown a disregard for the country that provides for them.”
There are, in my opinion, at least three good reasons why you should not support this petition.
- Retrospective punishment. Any decent system of justice is based on the idea that changes in the law only affect future behaviour. Turning round and changing the law about what people have done in the past is a very dangerous road to go down. Frankly it’s un-British (or at least it should be) to change the law retrospectively.
- We don’t take benefits away from people for other crimes. It’s nonsense to say that rioters are worse than other thieves, thugs, rapists and murderers. If you commit a crime you complete your sentence and then your debt to society is paid. Once you’ve done your time that’s it, the police shouldn’t have the right to come round and punish you more because you’re a bad sort and neither should society continue to punish you forever because it feels particularly outraged about this particular crime.
- People may well disagree with me on the principles that found the last two points, but my final point is a pragmatic one. If you permanently deprive everyone convicted of rioting of state benefits then you are basically giving them a choice between living on the streets and funding their lives through crime or dying. A homeless person, with a criminal record, who is not permitted to receive any help from the state is going to have no other means of surviving. So, you end up with a situation where you have a significant increase in crime and everything gets more expensive for the taxpayer (I can assure you that keeping someone in prison is more expensive than keeping them on benefits).I also agree with the moral argument against leaving people homeless on the streets, but regardless of human-decency, the massive increase in crime and prison costs seems like much too high a price to pay to satisfy one’s anger at a bunch of thugs. Despite their unacceptability, the riots do show up real problems in society and frankly cutting off people’s benefits is going to do nothing to solve them.
I expect most of the people who read this wouldn’t have signed the petition anyway, but if you were thinking of it then I hope this gives you pause for thought. If you really want to sign a petition anyway, then I would recommend the one on retaining the ban on capital punishment.
Hungarian government has just used its 2/3 majority to pass a new constitution. It’s absolutely outrageous. Obviously being a nice hand-wringing liberal type, I don’t object to constitutional amendments as such, but here…
The most egregious failure on the part of Fidesz (the ruling party) is their apparent inability to obtain any consensus. If you want to introduce a completely new constitution then you need to get it accepted across society and the political spectrum. Otherwise it is likely to be doomed to failure and be seen as a blatant attempt to strengthen your own party’s position. In this case not one MP from parties other than Fidesz voted for the constitution. Jobbik (nasty far-right types) voted against it and the MSzP (centre-left) and LMP (fluffy green liberal types) boycotted the vote.
It’s bad enough that Fidesz ignored the need to get a cross-party consensus, their actual organisation of the constitutional rewriting has been an utter shambles with last minute revisions taking place and the outside world not even sure what the final text of the constitution is. Treating such an important document in such a cavalier manner is hardly the mark of a good government.
After the passing of the controversial media law and various other shenanigans which appear to cement Fidesz’s power at the expense of Hungary’s openness and democracy, I’m hardly surprised. I am, however, extremely distressed.
I’ve found Eva Balogh’s blog to give very interesting and up to date views on the current state of Hungary’s politics.
I’ve always had a bit of thing for competition policy (yes I know, I’m a geek) and obtaining iTunes has inspired me to write a bit about it. More specifically tying and bundling. Bundling is when two products are sold together while tying describes a situation in which one product can be bought separately but the other cannot be bought without buying both. In the case of iTunes I was caught by a tying situation. You can get iTunes on its own, but you can’t get an iPod without having iTunes.
Competition policy is essentially about consumer protection and aims to prevent businesses from taking advantage of consumers. Or at least as much as is possible while maintaining a balance with the need to provide a good business environment. Tying and bundling can be problematic when a business uses a dominant position in one market (MP3 players in the case of Apple) to then lever themselves into a stronger position in another market. This can give them an unfair advantage over other businesses and may give them the opportunity to abuse their dominant position. Continuing with the example of Apple, I was quite happy using Windows Media Player before, but since my new iPod requires me to use iTunes I’ve had to switch to that. For most people the inconvenience of using two different media players would outweigh any annoyance at having to switch everything over and so the original provider is cut out of the market. A lack of competition is bad for consumers because it reduces the incentive to innovate and opens the market up to abuse from the dominant business.
The classic example of bundling is Microsoft, using Windows. First with Internet Explorer and later with Windows Media Player. By bundling these programs with Windows, Microsoft was able to use Windows’ massive market share to extend their dominance into other markets. It might be hard to remember these days, but if you go back 6 or 7 years Internet Explorer was basically the only browser people used and that was as a direct result of it being packaged with Windows. The Microsoft case is also worth remembering because of the massive penalties imposed on it by competition authorities (€497 million in 2003 by the European Commission).
However, it’s important to remember that tying and bundling are not necessarily bad. Depending on the circumstances they can be harmless, or even quite sensible. The European Commission’s guidance on tying/bundling provides a useful illustration of how such activities can be judged. Essentially four things would be considered. The first of these is whether the business is dominant in the relevant market – a business that does not have market dominance is not going to be able to get an unfair advantage. Secondly, the products involved should be distinct from each other. In other words, if they were available separately consumers might well buy one or the other. Preventing businesses from selling very closely related products together would be rather unfair. Thirdly, there need to be foreclosure effects. This means consumers being shifted away from other products by the tying or bundling. If there are no foreclosure effects then it means that whatever the business might be trying to do, they certainly aren’t succeeding at market abuse. Finally, the Commission also considers whether there are any efficiency justifications for the tying/bundling.
To conclude, tying/bundling isn’t always prohibited, and regardless I think iPod Touches are pretty damn good!