Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Observer spikes contribution on causes of a world-wide problem shock

Here's my letter that didn't get into last Sunday's Observer:

As you say, there are no easy answers to the migration problem (Separating children from parents marks a new moral low, Leader, 24.06.18).

Trump has disgraced himself and his country by treating children as he has done, but at the same time, the whole world is failing to look at, let alone address, the actual causes of migration. People do not leave family, friends and country on a whim. They are driven to emigrate by war, oppression and poverty. In the case of Mexico, it is a war, the Mexican Drugs War, one of the four biggest wars burning at the moment, that they are running from.  

The Mexican Government declared war on drug gangs in 2006 with the stated aim of curbing the violence, and since that time, deaths have increased from about 10,000 a year to 14,000. The drugs in question are cannabis and cocaine. For cannabis, it is a no-brainer. Decriminalise it. Uruguay and Canada have already done so, as have one or two US states. 

Cocaine is going to cause a bit of head-scratching, because of the social and health damages caused in the drug supply chain, but once we realise that these damages are due to the drug’s criminal status rather than the drug itself, cocaine itself can be de-criminalised and regulated.

It is the drug barons themselves who will be the source of the biggest objections (criminals do not take easily to becoming  corporate directors and  paying taxes), but they will use fossilised moralists as their loudspeaker system. 

With a bit of luck though, people will remember the moral low that Trump stooped to by orphaning war refugees, and will welcome decriminalisation in the name of less refugees.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

How can Trump stem the flow of migrants into USA?

Image via BBC News
President Trump's inhumane separation of Mexican children from their parents has caused an international outcry that has forced him to back down, but he is still obsessed with the idea of building a wall to keep out Mexican war refugees.

"Migrants" is the term preferred by the mass media, but most are in fact refugees from the Mexican Drug war, one of the four major wars  currently burning on the surface of our planet. It has killed at least 106,000 people so far, with 27,000 classified as missing, and the fatalities are increasing year on year. About one Mexican in every thousand has been killed. Drug related killings have been going on in Mexico for decades, but the Mexican Government intervened officially in 2006 with the aim of reducing violence. Instead, violence has increased, because when the Government arrests a drug cartel leader, other groups move in to the vacuum so created.

The Mexican Drug War is the driver of the migration that Trump and his supporters are so very concerned about. The present strategy is failing and involves unacceptable inhumanity. The Wall solution is ridiculous. So what is the solution?

The solution is to decriminalise cannabis and cocaine, because this is what the criminal gangs are fighting over.

Legalisation of cannabis is now uncontroversial to any rational mind. Canada and Uruguay are the first two countries to legalise it for recreational use, and the argument for  legalisation for medicinal use so overwhelmingly strong that even the our dishevelled Tory Government in England is reluctantly shuffling towards that goal.

Legalisation of cocaine is slightly more controversial and unfamiliar, partly because it is associated with very bad social conditions in the production and distribution lines. However, these harms are related to the fact that it is in the hands of criminals. Legalisation will convert criminal cartels into regulated commercial corporations. Corporations are not of course immune from criminal actions, but at least in the main they do not indulge in overt killing wars.

So we have a reasonable, humane solution to the Mexican Drug War and therefore to the perceived problem of Mexican migration into the USA.

More on this blog
How can we address the causes of global migration?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Preventing vehicle ramming attacks


Terrorists, and others who are out of touch with human reality, are now using vehicles, especially hired vans, as weapons.

Technology exists that could mitigate these attacks by switching off the engine on the first impact. This would prevent the driver from careering on under power through a crowd causing the scale of deaths that we saw in Barcelona, Nice, Berlin, London Westminster, Stockholm, London Bridge, London Finsbury Park, Charlottesville and Toronto, to name but a few.

They would also prevent the run part of common hit-and-run accidents.

This simple technology, which might add about £50 to the cost of a van.

The alternative, physical defence against such weaponry, like building barriers to separate pedestrians from traffic countrywide, would be enormously expensive and disruptive.

A quick patent search shows several Vehicle Collision Detectors (for example JP2015081070(A)) registered by serious actors such as Toyota, Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd and Denso Corporation. These are designed to warn drivers when they have hit someone. It would be a very simple matter to link one of these warning systems to the on-board computer so that the ignition was switched off immediately on impact.

The effect of this would be to prevent the vehicle from continuing to power on through a crowd of pedestrians, and so would mitigate the damage done by this modality of terrorism.

We need to a public discussion about if, how and when this protective technology should be fitted.

See also

Friday, April 13, 2018

A solution to gang warfare: Green Wage Subsidy

Yesterday  I posted about the many contributing causes of the surge in knife crime in London and Manchester, highlighting ten causative factors, and another eight where ideological Conservative Party cuts have made the problem worse.

Today, let's look at gang culture, because 50-60% of homicides are associated with gangs.

Gangs are not a modern phenomenon. They existed in 17th century London, and 18th century India ("Thugees"). Modern weaponry such as guns and cars have made their impact more deadly.

Gangs can range from simple groups of young people in a neighbourhood, to a well organised group of violent criminals.

Why do young people join gangs? Essentially, to belong to a social group. If family ties are weak, and engagement or identification with society is weaker, gang membership is attractive. It offers fellowship, respect (importantly, of local girls), protection, and a sense of identity. It also offers big financial rewards. A 12 year old can earn £50 by running a package to a nearby address, a sum that may be more than his mother brings home in a day, and almost as much as the £60 that a teenager on benefits will receive in a week.

Gang identity in distinction from the gang from an adjoining postcode or neighbourhood  may look to be irrational, but it is perfectly matched by nationalism, which is nothing but gang identity writ large. Similarly, the "defence" rationale for knife carrying ("I carry knife 'cause he carries knife, 'cause I carry knife...") is analogous to the rationale for possession of nuclear weapons.
It is sobering to realise that both nuclear weaponry and gangs are a regression, a throwback, to the tribalism of early human development. Of the two, nuclear weaponry is clearly the more dangerous.

Speaking of tribes, it is interesting to note that in early adolescence, tribal children undergo an elaborate and often painful rite of passage that enables them to become an adult member of the tribe. It is interesting also that tribal teenagers are the main hunters and food producers of the group. Under instruction from older hunters they would be the ones to run down, kill, and bring home the bacon (or venison). Imagine the pride and self-esteem of a fifteen year old carrying the food into the village, and compare his situation of that of an unemployed fifteen year old in a run-down part of a modern inner city.

Youth unemployment in the UK runs at about 12%, maybe higher in some ethnic groups and localities. John Hagedorn in his book A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture  cites unemployment as a driver of gang membership, and the World Bank's World Development Report 2011 comes to the same conclusion. Interestingly, the World Bank also cites unemployment as a cause of joining a rebel movement (fig 2.2 in the link). This is borne out by Arab Spring, which happened in countries with very high levels of youth unemployment.

Evidence linking unemployment and gang membership is clear in studies of developing countries.
In 2017 an IMF study found that "Crime and violence are one of the key bottlenecks to growth in the Caribbean. Together with a labor market that does not adapt easily to changes, high crime rates have created a vicious cycle by which young people struggling with the lack of economic opportunities turn to illegal activities and crime, further depressing growth". (It should be noted here that other studies find little or no relationship between unemployment and violence per se.) People who had been victims of crime in the Caribbean were more likely to say that they wanted to emigrate. Again, the study points to the economic comeback from gang activity, which earns more than being unemployed.

The Asia Foundation released a report in 2012 based on interviews with gang members which identified unemployment levels of 24%+, along with "a need to belong, a search for brotherhood and identity, drugs, desire for an affluent lifestyle, and bullying at school" as drivers for gang membership.

On a positive note, gangs in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, capital of Kenya, have begun to try to make a transition to legitimacy by registering as youth groups and organising the collection of rubbish.

It is entirely reasonable to suppose therefore that if we provide good, secure legitimate work that pays a decent wage and benefits the community, gang activity will be modified and become less destructive.

How then can we do this?

The answer is by changing the benefit system for people in areas of high gang activity, or at risk of the same. At present, Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) is given grudgingly, on condition that claimants do not work, but instead spend their time in fruitlessly applying for jobs that do not exist.

Green Wage Subsidy transforms JSA into a meaningful support for the green sector of the economy, in other words, work that is of benefit to society and environment.

It would work like this:
  1. Any local group that is economically active - local authorities, NHS, voluntary organisations, and private companies, apply to a local tribunal for a certificate that their activity is of benefit to society or the environment. Examples might be companies that work in energy conservation, renewable energy, building, woodwork, community social work, caring, education, improving the visual environment, horticulture and any other beneficial activity.
  2. Approved groups can go to the Job Centre and take on new employees (aged 16-24 initially) if they have an address in targeted postcodes where young people are at risk of joining gangs.
  3. The new employee brings their JSA to work with them, and the employer brings their wage up to the going rate for the job.
  4. The employer is not allowed to displace existing workers with GWS workers.
  5. There is no time limit to the scheme. It aims to stimulate the green sector of the economy over the years, and will lead on gradually to a full Basic Income Scheme.
In summary, unemployment is a factor in gang formation, and it can be addressed by creating new jobs in the green sector of the economy. Young people will be able to find legitimate work that increases their income and improves their community and neighbourhood. At the same time, we build a sense of community, and lay the foundation for acceptance of a full Basic Income Scheme.


Further reading
A review of the sociological literature on gangs by the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention