Politics and Lying

The tale of young George Washington’s honesty is how we expect our politicians to behave, but we need to change our mindset.

Our society is currently focusing too much on the idea that politicians are unfaithful to the truth – be it the attempted trial of Boris Johnson’s falsehoods, or Washington Post’s tally of the lies Trump told in his first hundred days in office. A lie is best defined as ‘an intentionally deceptive message in the form of a statement’ (Sissela Bok), and lying is an action deemed universally immoral. However, it is unfeasible to demand a lie-free environment in politics, and politicians should be judged not on their words, but on their vision and their effectiveness.

“Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.”


Politicians tell a variety of lies for a variety of reasons, just as we do in our daily lives. Sometimes it may be to comfort their spouse with a white lie: ‘you look absolutely fine’. Sometimes they may circumnavigate the truth in a deceptive statement because they genuinely have no idea what that truth is, take the answers about the Brexit deadline on the recent BBC Tory leadership debate ‘Our Next Prime Minister’ for example. But the lies most people would have a problem with are lies that any reasonable person can disprove with a bit of research – be it false statistics about the amount of money we send to the EU, or the hyperbolised problems about immigration. These lies are offensive where the first two kinds are defensive, and reasonable voters are most offended by these ‘researchable lies’ because these are the ‘facts’ that politicians can and are supposed to get right.

There are two solutions to tackling the ‘researchable lies’. Much like the two ends of the spectrum for economic policy, lie tackling can be interventionist or laissez-faire. Both have their pros and cons, but both would ultimately be unable to address the problem.

Interventionist lie tackling is akin to Emily Maitlis calling out Boris Johnson’s change in stance during the leadership debate by interjecting that Johnson had said, in 2017, it’s “perfectly OK” to leave without a deal. The interventionist approach requires a neutral moderator to research and know the facts, and act swiftly when these facts are being undermined. Whilst this method may certainly seem effective, it is unlikely for politicians to agree to having an external organisation holding their every speech to account. It is all the more unfeasible for sanctions to be enacted by the organisation, which could be interpreted as contradicting the freedom of speech prevalent in Western nations. What is more likely is that such an organisation will be, like Maitlis, left spoken over.

A laissez-fare solution is the very opposite. In lieu of the free market’s price mechanism, laissez-fare lie prevention can be thought of to depend on democracy’s ‘free vote mechanism’. If politicians realise that lies and broken promised can, as Johnson ironically pointed out in the debate, “cause a catastrophic loss of confidence in politics”, then they should theoretically lie less. However, the theory may be overly optimistic. One of the drawbacks of democracy is its encouragement of short-termism in politics where politicians seek to win the current election and leave the future for their successors. Such is the problem New York faced from the 1960-70s when successive mayors mounted greater deficits to add to the debt of their successors, with the train finally breaking on Abe Beame. Hence, even if public apathy is growing, politicians are still just as likely to lie.

There is no solution to stopping lies in politics. It should, therefore, be assumed that all politicians can and are willing to lie for their own benefit in the political arena. Whilst it is important to still promote truthfulness, and to hold to account as many lies as possible, the best solution lies between excessive intervention and the apathy of laissez-faire, just like in economics. Instead of judging our politicians on the ethic of their words, we should choose them on the ethic of their vision. Are their policies in line with promoting a society we would like to live in? What does their track record suggest about how effective they will be at implementing these policies? Only when we’ve considered these two important questions can we begin to take a stance on choosing the next leaders, who may have all lied and deceived on their way to the top.

A Fistful of Dollars: Zimbabwe’s Currency Problem

Zimbabweans protesting against rising fuel costs, VOA.

Zimbabwe still sees its currency usurped by the US dollar in its economy, despite the introduction of a new ‘bond currency’ in 2016 to replace the hyperinflated and demonetised Zimbabwean dollar. VOA reports this has made trade difficult, as dollars are hard to come by, and the new bond currency has since depreciated threefold – despite the government’s attempt of a dollar peg. But what are the implications for Zimbabwe’s economy?

It is important to understand why the bond currency failed. Zimbabwe has a tendency to fund its spending by printing money, with more than half of its government revenue coming from the printing press last year. This increased supply of money destabilised the USD peg, which resulted in the decline of bond currency value. The policy myopia perhaps stems from Zimbabwe’s state sector corruption, as can be seen on Zimbabwe’s  Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index of 22 out of 100, with zero being highly corrupt. With the new currency unadopted, Zimbabweans are running small informal economies using the USD. Furthermore, despite the official USD exchange rate of 1:3, the informal rate accepted locally is 1:4.20 on the black market, allowing profiteers to exploit this phenomenon. Zimbabwe’s hunger for strong foreign currency lead to its tourism industry to persuade foreign travellers to use the dollar by inflating prices for transactions in bond currency at restaurants. This creates a poor consumer experience for foreigners, who are less likely to visit Zimbabwe as a holiday destination, and coupled with the incentive to use dollars anyway, creates even less demand for bond currency, leading to its further depreciation.

The bond currency’s reduced purchasing power is more hurtful for trade than at face value. Zimbabwe is cut off from coastlines by Mozambique and South Africa, which increases its shipping costs, with the UN noting that it costs twice as much for landlocked countries as their coastal neighbours to export goods. Zimbabwe’s increasing border conflicts with Mozambique means Zimbabwean firms have limited routes to sea, perhaps taking the longer route to the politically stable South African ports to minimise risk. However, since OPEC’s 1975 decision to price oil in USD only, Zimbabwe’s ever weakening currency will constrain its growth and development even more, as it is required to buy dollars at ever increasing prices to pay for oil – a cost which is already high due to its landlocked nature. Whilst a fixed exchange rate should theoretically provide stability in an economy by making future prices predictable, Zimbabwe has shown that it is unable to keep the rate fixed, resulting in increasing levels of inflation that worsens its geographical disadvantage.

Further compounding the problem, Zimbabwe already has the highest dollar terms fuel cost in the world at 3.31 USD per litre of petrol. The high price is in part due to rising demand from profiteering between official and black market exchange rates for the bond currency. Not only is it more expensive for oil importers to purchase oil using bond currency, but domestic businesses will see variable and marginal costs drastically increase. On a macro level, the Zimbabwean government can expect future corporation tax revenue to decrease as cost hikes bleed into profits. Zimbabwe can also expect to run a current account deficit as exports become less price competitive and imports more expensive, which can have effects such as increasing unemployment and poverty levels as exporters axe jobs to reduce variable costs.

It is, then, unsurprising that Zimbabwe’s national debt has increased at a faster rate than GDP. As Zimbabwe’s bond currency continue to plunge ever lower against the dollar, it finds itself needing to finance a growing import debt. At its heart, Zimbabwe’s problem is not economic, but political, as the falling value of bond currency is testament to a distrust of the current institution, as is the preference for American dollars. What started as a hopeful scheme to stabilise the economy has been thwarted by this very distrust, and is leading Zimbabwe down the old path of hyperinflation. Zimbabwe is a country of promise that deserves a better currency, and hopefully its government will be able to gain a higher level of trust and confidence to implement it. What is clear is that, if the current state of affair continues, Zimbabweans will be left clutching at a fistful of dollars.

A Democratic Sampling

Elections are the new hot topic in UK politics, with the possibility of an imminent general election materialising. The concept of election is as old as the concept of democracy, being a vital component of achieving fair representation, but our current system is unfit for purpose from a statistical standpoint.

Ideally, an election will see the entire population (electorate) participate to ensure fair representation, but that has been far from the case. Elections are, in essence, a form of voluntary sampling, with the right to abstain being a part of democracies around the world. Indeed, the Peterborough by-election on the 6th of June had just 48.4% voter turnout, and voter turnout has steadily fallen globally since the 1960s. Not only are voluntary samples prone to bias from strongly opinionated and motivated groups, but the low sample size may give doubt to a fair representation.                                                         

The British first past the post system already allows a candidate to win with an exceedingly low majority, and calculations reveal further disparity between sample and population representation. It appears the Peterborough winner only needed around 15% of the electorate to vote her into Parliament, owing largely to poor turnout. The chart suggests a shocking, but proportional, disparity between sample and population representation for the top contenders, and increases the potentiality that our democracy is not representative of the people.

However, a near 50% sample size is still a good estimate of the population, with the recommended sampling size being 10% for random sampling. Voluntary sampling is still open to all electorates, and those who do not vote can be assumed to have no preference. Under such an assumption all free elections can be seen as inherently representative and fair. Statistically, the Peterborough by-election exceeded the average voter turnout in the UK by nearly 15%, with the England average in 2018 being 35%.

Idealistic assumptions aside, a 25% voter turnout – such as in Hull – reduces the ratio between population representation and sample representation to 1:3, from 1:2 in the Peterborough case study. Referring back to the Peterborough graph, the orange area will now be ¼ of the blue area, and coincidentally the 30% vote winner will, under a 25% turnout, only command 7.5% representation of the population. Under other democratic approaches to election, such as the French two-round system, this cannot secure a winning seat, and it is only testament to the flaw of first past the post that, in the UK, it would.

In the days of yore (pre-1832), rotten boroughs existed where a constituency has a small and easily influenced electorate. Baldric’s election in ‘Blackadder’ satirises the obtusely undemocratic nature of rotten boroughs, with Blackadder himself being the single voter that represents the borough’s 16,472 electorate. Despite the comedy, our modern constituencies are slipping towards just such a problem, creating the modern equivalent of Baldric’s borough. We cannot condone falling voter turnouts simply because 20% is better than 10%. Ever decreasing turnouts represent increasing chance of bias in an already poor sampling method that relies on the voter being motivated enough to turn up.

A democratic sampling should require less voluntarism by the voters, and shift towards probability sampling to truly gauge the leadership the population wish for. However, something like a simple random sampling is hard to enforce, despite having the necessary sampling frame in place, due to the freedom of abstention. Such is the freedom that has led to a political apathy, and leaves a gap in statistics that is ambiguous to clean. Perhaps true democracy is more akin to a jury service of simple random sampling at the 10% sample size, rather than the attempt to engage all voters in a voluntary sample. Whatever the fair method may be, it is nevertheless important to cultivate political awareness in our current system that, for the foreseeable future, will require a supply of engaged volunteers.

Sexuality and Violence in Victorian and Twentieth Century Gothic

Femme Fatales from ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula’.

The Gothic is “a therapeutic escape from the confines of order and rationality” (Sutherland), and its element of escapism allows writers to explore key aspects of morality such as sexuality and violence. Early Gothic works are concerned about religious morality, employing themes of heaven and hell in books such as Lewis’ ‘The Monk’. Whilst the Victorian Gothic revival by books such as Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ focused less on natural law, societal anxieties are nonetheless echoed in themes such as female sexuality and violent crime. Where Stoker believes in a patriarchal control of such issues, Carter’s twentieth century ‘The Bloody Chamber’ wants the genders to have equal share.

Both Stoker and Carter present the dangers of predatory men for women. Dracula physically harms women using his “peculiarly sharp white teeth”, and his arrival into London turns the city into “a hunting ground”. His animalistic metamorphoses into “the meaner things”, such as a wolf, further adds to his predatory image – an element well brought out by the grotesque transformations in Francis Coppola’s 1992 film adaptation. Likewise, the Marquis in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ has subtly vampiric qualities, such as “his kiss with tongue and teeth” and being described as “a leonine apparition”. His sex with the narrator is violently described as “impale”, and his violence is further exemplified in his “hidden enfer” of killed wives. These acts antagonise the men by removing their human qualities, and adds to a Gothic terror that transcends the books for the reader – the dark possibility that, due to their initially unassuming nature, we may encounter such men in our life ourselves.

Whilst Stoker presents the danger as coming from distant lands, Carter believes men like the Marquis are present already in any society. Dracula represents the evil from Eastern Europe, and his lineage dating back to Attila embodies the idea of foreign invasion, as Attila’s campaign represents an invasion on Europe by the east. Stoker’s story is described by Jann to be “a kind of crusade” in its political undertones, and indeed it can be interpreted as voicing the Victorian anxiety of reverse colonialization from the Empire, historically represented in the Alien Acts restricting immigration into Britain. This can be paralleled with the Marquis from ‘The Bloody Chamber’, whose ancestors “escaped the guillotine” during the French Revolution, akin to Dracula’s ancient potency which “mere modernity cannot kill”. Hence, through violent and sexually predatory characters, Stoker voices the Victorian xenophobia towards migrants from the far-flung colonies, whilst Carter believes we should look within our current society for controlling and abusive men. Writing after the female liberation movement of the 1960s, Carter embodies the gradual realisation of society’s male dominated view, and believes men can be dangerous no matter where they come from.

Female sexuality, and its attainment, is explored by both authors as a response to dangerous men. Stoker’s text presents the transformation of “sweet and sensitive” Lucy into a “voluptuous” vampire. Despite the transformed “bloofer lady”’s biting of children, part of the reason for Lucy’s antagonization can be interpreted as due to her loss of innocence, or rather the gaining of sexual agency brought on by Dracula’s bite. Carter’s presentation of the narrator in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ also sees her labelled as a “whore” after gaining the agency to explore the dungeon, and is physically branded by the key “like the mark of a Brahmin woman”. The narrator’s “talent for corruption” sees her attempting to seduce the Marquis into bed, to strangle him, when she realises he will kill her for entering the chamber. This can also be paralleled with the narrator from ‘The Erl King’, who successfully kills the “cruel” King by strangling him with his own hair, enacting a gender reversed ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ out of necessity for fear of being trapped. This sees the feminine appropriation of a traditionally masculine agency. Both writers, then, present the gaining of female sexuality in response to predatory men.

However, Stoker and Carter differ in how they see these ‘fallen women’. The term ‘fallen women’ stems from the Victorian era to describe women who were sexually active outside of wedlock, and the infamous Magdalene Asylums were set up to ‘rehabilitate’ such women using hard labour and forced religious devotion. This is due to societal belief, embodied in Dr Acton’s book on venereal diseases, that “a modest woman seldom desires any sexual gratification” – which is now recognised as an untrue, patriarchal assertion. Accordingly, Stoker views the vampiric Lucy as needing to be “restored” to “a look of innocence and purity” as her “voluptuousness” is unnatural, with the men enacting what Craft terms a “corrective” procedure, and her surgeon Arthur applauded as a legendary “figure of Thor”. However, Carter’s “post-structuralist” (Brown) text sees women’s sexual agency respected, and the violent ‘correction’ is entrusted upon women to cure the root of the disease in eradicating the dangerous men, rather than letting male surgeons remove only its symptoms. Carter’s text was written nearly a decade after the legalisation of abortion and the contraceptive pill for all women in the UK, at a time when female sexuality was given more prominence than before, and Carter seeks to further its development. If the methods in her story, and her quote that “no daughter of mine shall write ‘she sat and cried at Grand Central Station’, she will write ‘I ripped his balls off at Grand Central Station” is to be believed, the ‘corrective’ staking in Dracula may be a power she wish all women to have against men.

Overall, sexuality and violence are important elements of the Gothic, as it allows writers to comment on their corresponding stance on societal morality, and in this case gender politics. Though perhaps the interpretation of politics within literature may be Marxist, the relevance and adaptability of the Gothic is perhaps why it has enjoyed waves of resurgence since its conception in the late eighteenth century. Today’s Gothic works such as ‘Twilight’ furthers this chain of social critique, and if the teen romance also reflects our attitude towards sexuality, it may be time to embrace and connect with ‘the Other’ in our society – who are handsomely misunderstood.

The Necessary Virtue of Compromise

Theresa May in tears as she announced her resignation.

Theresa May’s resignation speech on Friday spun on the emotive connotations of ‘compromise’. Her new successor shall have to hope “those on all sides of the debate are willing to compromise”, and her own departure can be seen as a compromise for “the best interests of the country”. May reminds the audience that “compromise is not a dirty word” through the authority of Sir Nicholas Winton, yet journalist Tom Harris disagrees. In The Telegraph, Harris points out the “post-compromise world” of modern politics under which May’s Prime Ministership wilted. He explains the idea as follows:

“Political opponents are now seen as enemies who need to be splattered with milkshakes and shouted down whenever they try to speak. Disagreement with another person’s view is no longer enough – only outright hatred of that viewpoint is now acceptable. Where once we might have agreed to disagree, now we hate those who disagree, and call them and their party not just wrong, but evil. The other side aren’t just mistaken – they’re child murderers, warmongers, traitors. They are dehumanised.”

Alluding to events such as the ‘milkshaking’ of Nigel Farage and America’s abortion debate, Harris captures the tribalist partisanship of modern politics. Much like the pro-life v pro-choice debate in America, lines are drawn in the sand in British politics about Brexit, and all the technicalities it entails. What is the ‘correct’ way to go about Brexit for one person might not be the same for another, and May’s hope of future compromise may be as bleak as her divorce deal. However, the cost of not compromising may undermine the importance of politics altogether. Such is why compromise needs be embraced as a necessary virtue both in politics, and in the wider society.

What Compromise Is

Compromise is departing from your viewpoint to accept or comply with another’s.

MPs’ views on the Northern Irish border after Brexit, sourced here

Compromise allows a group of individuals to reach a collective decision. I have already outlined why Brexit is so difficult in my first blog post. The problem lies in a democratic Parliament reviewing an abundance of choice to go about the process, resulting in no consensus emerging. In a democracy, individual voices are expressed without compromise, especially in the direct democracy within the House of Commons. This, combined with the loss of Conservative majority in 2017, puts the PM of a Conservative government at a weakened state to combat opposing voices, such as differing views on the Northern Irish border, with the Conservatives dominated by Labour’s view on that matter. So far, the only decision the House of Commons has made for certain is the ardent refusal of May’s Brexit deal with the EU, but remain divided on alternatives. The incompromisability of majority-less democracy prevents Britain from pursuing objectives far less effectively than had a majority been present to force the others into compromise.

Though the realpolitik of having dominant forces undermine the common belief of democracy as a ‘free-for-all’, dominance, and the compromise that entails, is present at every stage of politics. Parties have to decide on agendas, so the 30% of Conservative MPs who view the Irish border as an issue have to compromise to the 55% who don’t, and in turn the Conservatives have to accept the Common’s 60% consensus that it is an issue. Since ancient times, power has always consolidated somewhere, be it in a monarch or ruling party. When power is suddenly dispersed within any level, such as nationally in the Three Kingdoms period in China, it always finds consolidation in a new wielder, in this instance the Jin dynsaty. Perhaps this observation stems from a relativist view of power, with the bias that power must return to a status quo, but when that status quo is societal precedent, it is not easily changed. Such is the reason for China’s one-party state – a modern equivalent of ancient dynasty rule. So in politics, then, compromise is a natural occurance, whatever the mode of governance. To put it simply, politics is the will of the stronger, and the compromise of the weaker.

Compromise is as necessary to politics and leadership as ‘half empty’ is to fill a glass ‘half full’. Without compromise, decisions cannot be made collectively, assuming a collection of individuals large enough to hold differing views. Due to its inherent connotation of weakness, there is always a stigma to compromise, and compromise itself has become a dirty word in divisive modern politics. However, there is no reason it should be anything other than virtuous.

Enshrining Compromise as a Virtue 

It is never easy to compromise, to bow to another’s dominance. At a psychological level, the array of biases in the mind often prevent the willing acceptance of new ideas, and unwilling compromise may result in bitter resentment. However, like honesty, patience and industry, compromise should be elevated to the rank of virtue, and practiced accordingly.

A virtue is essentially a standard of good morality done willfully. Morality is never easy to determine, let alone distinguish. However, common virtues such as honesty shared across cultures suggest virtues to be beneficial to society. Honesty prevents deceit and trickery, creating a stable environment for trade in ancient times. Honesty also benefits the individual, with an honest tradesman being trusted and his goods bought. However, that is not to say virtues are to be followed without exception. Honesty can lead to betrayal of information to ill willed forces, such as when prisoners are interrogated by the enemy. Virtues, then, are an ethical rule of thumb that helps its followers, and the wider society in the long run.

Whilst compromise is often imposed on people by dominant forces, perhaps even immoral forces, wilful compliance is the most beneficial solution at an individual level in the short run. Unlike Sir Winton, Karl Plagge found himself within Nazi Germany, and had to compromise his humanist ideals to work as a staff officer of the German Army. However, like Sir Winton, he was able to save hundreds of Jews from the holocaust. Had he been a more vocal oppoent of Nazism, he might have been unable to save his life, let alone the lives of others. Compromise, then, teaches the individual to be pragmatic to circumstance, and preserve their wellbeing at a personal level so that they may one day create change. That is, of course, not to excuse Nazis from crimes for complying to the regime, in the same way as their crimes cannot be excused for staying honest to their beliefs, or being industrious with their work. In modern politics, willful compliance to majority wish prevents politicians from being ostracised by voters. Such is the reason for May to pursue Brexit despite her previous support to remain, for fear of being branded as against democracy. As a rule of thumb, willful compromise is beneficial at an individual level when exposed to dominant forces.

For the wider society, compromise is certainly beneficial. Willful compromise in recognition of the dominant force is economical in preventing the wastage of scarce resources that arises from meaningless competition. The cities that surrendered to Ghengis Khan remained standing, whilst those that fought back wasted men, weapons, and entire cities. Willful compromise also enables cooperation and faster decision making. If the rival parties accepted the government’s Brexit deal, the process may have been concluded already. Whilst the deal may not perfectly represent everyone’s ideal of Brexit, I refer back to the idea of politics as the will of the stronger. Had May been a more popular leader, or held a definitive majority which was whipped to strict discipline, her deal may be the very deal that prevails. The current loss of public confidence in the Conservative government, and wasting of talent in protest resignations are reasons why agreeing on any deal might be better for the Conservatives. For rival parties in the Commons, uncertainty is more damaging than helpful, as public sentiment sour against all Westminster incumbents. Swift decisions, then, are preferable in politics as it gives a clear sense of direction – something that only a positive belief in the virtue of compromise by all can achieve.

Compromise is a virtue, and a necessary virtue in politics. Rather than have it forced upon them, people should accept the need to compromise to stronger forces for the betterment of ourselves, our organisation and the wider society. The unwillingness of Conservative MPs to follow the will of their leader reduced their party’s effectiveness, and lead to the demise of a ‘strong and stable’ Brexit. Of course, in the spirit of realpolitik, May has not proven to be a powerful or dominant leader, and MPs find themselves choosing between the will of their constituents and their leader. When there is a crisis in leadership, the need to compromise will eventually fall on the leader herself. Compromise is not a dirty word, and whilst it may equate to servitude or surrender, its virtue lies in humble pragmatism, rather than following a stubborn ego. Those who compromise may still be idealists, and those who do not may have no ideals. Compromise is not giving up on your beliefs, but protecting them in times when they are most vulnerable so that they may one day flourish.

How to Think Effectively

Milton Friedman: a renowned economic thinker.

Next week will see many students sit their first A Level exams across the UK, myself included. I am likely not the first to have looked back on my work, and think, “How did I struggle with such simple questions?” This week I take a breather from what is contemporary in current affairs to reflect on what is contemporary in my life. With A Levels fast approaching, the pertinent question is of academic intelligence as I attempt to uncover how best to tackle theoretical questions, and thereby think, effectively.

What is Academic Intelligence?

Academia is never easy for me. I found the GCSE to A Level transition especially difficult, as where the GCSEs was more about remembering facts, A Levels want you to make sense of the facts, and construct an essay at the same time. However, why are essays increasingly important as the level of education increases?

Essays are the preferred method of examination in higher education, and not due to bureaucracy or arcane tradition. Essays record the thought process of a candidate. When my English teacher marked my essay in front of me for the first time, I was shocked at how little quotations, or ‘facts’, mattered. When I got the author’s wording mixed up, or critics confused, she would ignore these minor mistakes in pursuit of my overall argument. It was only after I came across the idea of logic that I realised the ‘facts’, or premises, need not be true for an argument to be true. Essays all argue for an overall point, and incorrect premises may still score marks if the conclusion is logically valid. High marks are achieved is when a strong argument is presented, where both premises and conclusion are true.

The apparent disregard for fact incites many students to see essay subjects such as English as ‘useless’ compared with the factually reliant sciences. Indeed, the famous twentieth century critic Susan Sontag argued against “hermeneutics” of English, embodying the schoolboy sentiment that readers should not ‘interpret’ what the author intended. English students, many believe, are just ‘bullshitting’. However, the ‘bullshit’ is where new knowledge is gained. Having learned to disregard what the author intended, English students are asked to develop their own reading of the text. It is a process of inductive reasoning, which contrasts against the deductive logic of the sciences. In mathematical terms, English students are hypothesis testing whilst Physics students are manipulating algebra.

In ‘Logic: A Complete Introduction’, Dr Siu-Fan Lee notes inductive logic “increases empirical knowledge”, whilst in deductive reasoning “no new knowledge is involved” (p. 13). The inductive process allows general theories and models to be developed, leading to modern social sciences such as Economics. What inductive logic fails to achieve, however, is absolute certainty, which only deductive thinking produces, leading to a degree of fallibility.

Academic thinking, then, is about proposing new theories based on inductive logic. It differs from the deductive experiments of the sciences, and only achieves a probable outcome where experiments seek concrete results. Keen readers are likely to notice that this essay itself is inductive reasoning, such that all essays are, so whatever is proposed can only be measured by strength of argument, rather than binary true/false designation. I used to tangle myself up about whether what I write for English or Economics is true, whether I can really answer questions such as “Evaluate the Benefits of Globalisation on Developing Countries”, but thinking academically is about thinking inductively, and embracing how all theoretical propositions have an element of ‘bullshit’.   

The Art of Thinking Inductively

The freedom that inductive thinking entails is a double-edged sword. Whilst the truth of the argument no longer matters, the many trains of thought available to pursue can often confuse or overwhelm the brain. If the human brain is a computer, the average RAM storage is around seven pieces of information, though it feels like my brain stores around four. Teachers love inductive frameworks such as the Point – Evidence – Analysis system, and often teach students to construct arguments formulaically. I find this strategy for tackling questions to be effective, and simplifies the thought process to maximise my brain’s output. However, what teachers do not teach is how to generate the P, E and A most effectively.

Point stands for the starting premise of your argument. Points are not arguments that link back to the question, more of a starting topic of discussion. Divergent thinking is required to come up with Points, which are prompted by the question. To generate Points effectively, however, it is not enough to strain your brain divergently, but to engage with the question by breaking it down into sub-questions. For example, if the question is again about “Benefits of Globalisation in Developing Countries”, your sub-questions need to pick apart the main subject of the sentence: globalisation. What is globalisation? What effects does it have? Once you can define and break down globalisation into smaller chunks – such as its effects of free movement of labour and financial capital, then you can pick one of these effects as your Point on which your Analysis is founded.

Evidence is the ‘facts’ of the argument. The Evidence can be factual, or a deductively logical argument. This is the part that cannot be simplified, as it tests the candidate’s memory and existing knowledge. For example, to answer the globalisation question, you need to state cases such of globalisation in developing countries as China’s Open Door Policy in 1978, or deduce how increased movement of financial capital leads to more foreign direct investment in Zimbabwe. The importance of evidence is to support your Point, which makes for a stronger argument.

Analysis is the final step in crafting an argument. This is when you use inductive logic to build a chain of reasoning from the Point and Evidence stated already. Simply, it is about asking yourself further questions of “so what?” to see the effects one thing may have on another. For example: ‘China’s increased international trade resulting from the Open Door Policy in 1978 had the effect of building a positive trade balance owing to its cheap exports. As the trade balance is a component of aggregate demand, an increase in trade balance would in turn lead to economic growth as aggregate demand shifts outwards.’ It is important to explain the effects fully, and include contributing factors such as China’s cheap exports so that the argument is as strong as possible. Where possible, link the Analysis back to the question to show that you have arrived at the right conclusion, such as mapping economic growth with being a positive economic indicator. Upon finishing this step, you have argued inductively, and may have to repeat this process urgently should you find yourself writing an essay in the exam hall.

Coming to terms with using the PEA system and constructing inductive arguments took me two years, only coming to fruition under constant practice – to which I owe my A Level education. Part of the battle was learning to favour inductive logic over facts, and the rest learning how I could mould my thinking around the framework through application. Inductive thinking is like a fine art: appeasing the faculties of those who can appreciate it, and derided as useless by those who have yet to grasp it. Mastery confers the ability to argue for causes with strong effect. When people label inductive reasoning as ‘bullshit’, it is regretful that their arguments are, ironically, weak, and therein lies the beauty of inductive artistry. Inductive reasoning is also at the heart of all question solving, even in fields of science or mathematics, because it allows complex questions to be broken down, and solutions proposed. Whatever subjects you study, there is a good chance you shall have to use inductive reasoning some time, and on that note, I end by wishing good luck to all the candidates next week, who shall no doubt do some heavy thinking of their own.       

A Fare Pay: The Harsh Reality Facing Uber Drivers

Robert De Niro in ‘Taxi Driver’

When Uber’s IPO debuted on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday the 10th of May, its workers weren’t celebrating the occasion, but protesting against their company. Uber drivers across the world from Australia to South America rallied and stopped driving customers, grinding the taxi service to a halt. Their cause was simple: that Uber’s pay (tangible and non-pecuniary alike) was below what was they felt was a fair reimbursement of their work. Such is the cause of almost all staff protests, but can this particular case be resolved?

The taxi industry is an example of a gig economy. For Uber, as is the industry norm, drivers work for fares from ‘gig’ journeys and have no sustained source of income from Uber. Free market economists would propose that the price mechanism is able to allocate fair wages to gig economy participants by setting wages at where the demand and supply of workers intersect, which is facilitated by the ease of workers choosing to enter or leave gig economies. However, gig economies in practice differs widely from a free market model.

In practice, gig economies are often dominated by monopsony powers. Drivers in London may be attracted to Uber’s non-professional mode of work, the ability to use their own vehicles, and the non-requirement to pass ‘the Knowledge’ test. However, the lack of alternative employers in London providing such conditions (think Lyft) means that Uber is the sole employer for such drivers. This Ridester comparison shows that even in American cities – where Uber and Lyft coexist – collusion (what Ridester wrongly describes as ‘price competition’) in fares leads to equal pay for workers from both companies. Monopsony power distorts the free market functioning by consolidating wage setting power with firms, rather than a fair split between employers and employees. This leads to profit maximising firms to depress wages, and become disincentivised about employee welfare.

Uber’s workers are indeed wronged by the gig economy system. Unlike black cab drivers in London, whose pay is determined by state enterprise TfL, Uber drivers are at the mercy of private sector discretion. Whilst traditional private hire companies (with higher standards for drivers) pay their workers better, The Guardian has this to say about Uber’s pay, based on findings of the Independent Workers of Great Britain union.

“Analysis by the union suggests Uber drivers in the UK earn an average £5 an hour, well below the legal minimum wage of £8.21 for over 25s. They can work as much as 30 hours a week before breaking even.”

It is hardly surprising that driver pay is depressed by Uber as it seeks to reduce costs and maximise profit. Interventionist regulation to improve workers’ labour market welfare, such as the minimum wage, are inapplicable to Uber. A 2018 British ruling finalised that Uber drivers are classed as workers, not independent contractors, and thus entitled to a pay in line with the legal minimum wage with additional holiday time. However, the recent protest has shown that the ruling made little change to employee welfare. This is mainly due to the difficulty in setting an equivalent minimum wage when the premise of flexible work is flexible pay. Non-pecuniary benefits such as holiday time are all the more unlikely to materialise, as workers can leave at any time.

Source: The Telegraph

The government cannot possibly expect to regulate the multinational corporation, or make its pay like that of London cabbies, without increasing the fare that Uber charges. In the taxi industry, fare is the instrument that represent both price to consumers and pay for workers. The allure of Uber for consumers is its ability to outcompete traditional taxis on price. Uber taxis represent around half the price of traditional taxi services in the UK for consumers at fares outside of ‘surge’ (peak) times. Regulators are keen to preserve consumer welfare, but there is no simple solution to solving the problem without reducing consumer surplus. The government is unlikely to fight the regulatory battle to decrease Uber’s 25% commission over fares, which interferes too much with private sector autonomy. So, a minimum price for the taxi industry, perhaps around the rates of traditional private hire companies such as Addison Lee, is the only way for the government to ensure a minimum wage for Uber drivers.

However, that would leave Uber unable to compete with traditional private hire companies, who can command higher prices for trained, professional drivers. Uber’s business model relies on lower skilled workers willing to take lower pay. It is a ‘budget’ option in the taxi industry, and higher fares would result in a loss of customers, further decreasing the pay drivers bring home. Apart from government intervention that could do more harm than good, the only hope for Uber drivers is that the company will truly realise that “drivers are at the heart of [their] service”, as they have stated to several newspapers, and reduce the 25% commission to have a noticeable impact on driver pay. However, given its abysmal performance at IPO, Uber may choose to profit maximise for some time yet. The harsh reality of labour market forces means that drivers depending solely on Uber for a decent future livelihood will have to look elsewhere. Fortunately, the gig economy is one that is easy come, easy go.