Forgotten News – When fuel prices hit £1 a litre

Source: Experian Catalist

It seems hard to imagine now but only a few years ago there was public disgust when fuel prices encroached over the one pound per litre mark. A few years on and we are still seeing prices rise steadily to £1.40 a litre for petrol and £1.50 a litre for a diesel. Our reaction to this is always the same - to protest. But is protesting really the way forward? Previous protests over the price of fuel in 2007 and
2010 have been less than successful and have not had the hard-hitting impact they sought. And it feels as though last summer’s riots and some of the Occupy protests have tainted the reputation of even the most peaceful of protests.

But the question “to protest or not to protest?” is not my only concern.

An interesting point comes out of this story. David Cameron, when in opposition, supported the protests of 2007. He not only gave his support but furthermore promised a “fair fuel stabiliser” - a proposal to limit the price of petrol that was part of the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 UK general election 
[1] and was announced to be implemented following the budget of March, 2011. Cameron has been in power for almost a year and this plan is yet to surface.  

Of course Cameron can blame other factors for the rise in fuel costs – demand is rising in the developing world, some oil refineries are closing, market spectators are getting it wrong – but the simple fact is that the government is the main driver of what we are spending on fuel in the UK. The government could implement the fair fuel stabiliser – Cameron is just choosing not to. 


Laura Owen 28.03.2012

Machines Will Rule The World


The stereotypical futuristic sci-fi story involves highly advanced robots, originally built to perform domestic chores, but which have now become ‘aware’ and have decided to turn their built-in, multi-purpose whisk utensils against their squishy, unsuspecting human masters. Despite this amusing but somewhat moronic conjecture, technology is undeniably essential to humanity.

Think about how much different your life would be if you had to produce food and clothing by hand? Today’s equivalents of such technological advances as the scythe and the needle are self-service checkouts and automated manufacturing plants. They were created for the same purpose - to replace human labour - and they do the same jobs as we can do; but faster, better and (most importantly) cheaper. This concept is called technological unemployment.

Here’s the issue: our current economy obligates businesses to maximise profit, which means replacing human employment with machines. On the other hand, it equally relies on consumption, which requires consumers to have capital which, in turn, requires human employment. Furthermore, around 70% of jobs worldwide today could be automated; indeed, the only things holding back full automisation are technological progress and initial investment. Nevertheless, it is slowly happening. We increasingly interact more with machines than with humans and every year more and more jobs are lost to the circuit board.

So what are we supposed to do about it? On the one hand we have the certainty of growing unemployment but, on the other, the fundamental counter-intuition of repressing technological progress. To me it seems clear that the only way forward is to embrace technology and maximise the potential to reduce costs, providing us with the ability to feed, clothe and house the majority of the
world’s population. Unfortunately, this idea just doesn’t fit in with the ‘every man for himself’ nature of our current economic system.

Nicholas Chowdrey      26.03.2012 

Lessons From Japan


The state of care for elderly citizens in the UK has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Not only have the 'elderly care scare' stories appeared with alarming regularity in the media, it ranked a paltry 17th out of 20 European countries surveyed in proportion of GDP spent on elderly care. Retirement is supposedly a time of well-deserved relaxation, but in the UK those approaching 70 may be feeling fear rather than tranquility.

A very different story is unfolding in Japan. Boasting the highest proportion of elderly citizens in the world, Japan is at the forefront of such care. There is no doubt the she sheer number of elderly citizens has been the driving force behind Japanese innovation in the field; it would be terrifically short-sighted to ignore their increasing demographic problem. 

The cultural respect for the older generation plays a key role int he standard of care Japan provides for their elders. The younger generation have a heavy social obligation to look after the parents- to not do so would be a serious stain on one's social reputation. In the UK, grandparents can often be seen as a burden, as someone the state and the family must carry the weight of.

Japanese society however reveres the elderly and in general, a deferential attitude is adopted towards them. In business circles, the senior person is usually the eldest and it is considered bad form to disagree with them in public as they have had more years to build up wisdom.

It is not just the care system that requires reform within the UK- the entire cultural attitude towards elderly people must be transformed. There are more reasons other than altruism driving this necessity- the younger amongst us will (hopefully) have to face the pressures of old age at some point!

Nathan Davies      19.03.2012

Liberia: A Transformation

Having undergone years of civil war and dictatorships, the Liberian people could have been forgiven for thinking that the 2006 elections were just another false dawn.

Six years later foreign direct investment has more than tripled and the president has become a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. It is still an illiterate and poverty-stricken state but Liberia has become a functioning quasi-democracy and, crucially regained a semblance of stability.

The flood of foreign investment that followed the 2006 democratic elections would never have happened if not for the stability President Sirleaf and her government have brought to Liberia. Under Sirleaf's guidance Liberia successfully lobbied for debt relief, with all Liberia's external debt essentially relieved by 2010. Great things have also been achieved in the domestic sphere - a 2007 Executive Act prescribed free and compulsory education for primary school children across the country.

Now that it has established these firm foundations Liberia has a fantastic opportunity to start tackling its deep-rooted poverty problems.

Liberia's two Nobel Peace Prize winners flank the Yemeni winner.
Source: Odd Andersen, AFP.

Liberia's unlikely journey to respectability has connotations beyond its borders. Many political commentators have been gloomy about the future prospects of the countries that have participated in the Arab Spring. The economy and security have been two of the most prevalent concerns.

The Liberian example shows that the vacuum created but the departure of a dictator does not have to filled by another despot or the fall into war, Libya and co. have a real, tangible chance of building a successful democracy. Through stout political leadership and citizenry willing to eschew a struggle for power, the states for the Arab Spring can emulate little Liberia's success.

Nathan Davies   06.03.2012

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