Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

To pay tax you don’t owe is just incompetence

October 2, 2016

I note that the NY Times is busy attacking Trump for offsetting tax on profits against past losses. Which of course is something the NY Times is itself very quick to do when it can. As Forbes reported in January this year:

New York Times Hypocrisy On Corporate Taxes Reaches Record High

……. More recently, for tax year 2014, The New York Times paid no taxes and got an income tax refund of $3.5 million even though they had a pre-tax profit of $29.9 million in 2014. In other words, their post-tax profit was higher than their pre-tax profit. The explanation in their 2014 annual report is, “The effective tax rate for 2014 was favorably affected by approximately $21.1 million for the reversal of reserves for uncertain tax positions due to the lapse of applicable statutes of limitations.” If you don’t think it took fancy accountants and tax lawyers to make that happen, read the statement again. …….

There is much hypocrisy about taxes and tax-paying. To pay more tax than the tax code demands is all about incompetence – not about ethics.

I wrote in December 2015;

Tax avoidance is a measure of the incompetence of the lawmaker and the competence of the taxpayer

…. As law-abiding individuals and companies, we calculate and pay our taxes according to the rules that prevail. We use all available rules of allowable deductions and off-sets and deferred taxes and tax-breaks to minimise the amount of personal assets that are to be confiscated by the State. We use accountants and experts to navigate the complexities and intricacies of tax legislation. No individual is ever expected to pay more than the prevailing rules require. Any individual who does pay more than required, and assuming his perfectly rational objective is to minimise the tax to be payed, is fundamentally incompetent. Any company which pays more tax than it should also demonstrates incompetence and is not demonstrating due care of its investors’ assets.

Individuals and corporations are not required or expected to pay more than what is due under the rules prevailing. The issue of ethics is in play when the rules are formulated and is also involved in the following of the rules. The act of payment is an ethical issue but minimisation of tax due is a matter of competence, not of ethics. Paying more taxes than are due demonstrates incompetence and gains no ethical credits. So when there is criticism of companies for “not paying enough tax”, the real failure is with the politicians who have made the deficient rules – not with the individuals or companies who have followed the prevailing rules to their own best advantage.

Back in January 2015 I was also exercised about the sanctimonious clap-trap that wealth inequality gives rise to:

Wealth inequality: The poor are not poor “because” the rich are rich

Most people on the left of the political divide want more to be taken from the rich to be “given” to the poor. The Robin Hood syndrome. Note that when the intention is to “give to the poor” and not for “making the poor greater creators of wealth”, the driving force is mainly envy. It is when the desire to deprive the rich is more important than any desire to improve the lot of the poor. Concern is over-ridden by envy. Sometimes it seems to me that the real difference between left and right is that the left wants to spread the consumption of existing wealth (and hope that total wealth increases), while the right want to focus on creating wealth (and hope that it trickles down and gets equitably distributed).

But there is a fundamental fallacy in the view that the poor are poor because the rich are rich. There may well be some of the rich who are exploiting some of the poor and where the poor are not getting a just opportunity to be creators of wealth. There may well be members of the rich who create no wealth but remain rich because of inherited wealth. But by far the greatest majority of the rich are rich because they created more wealth than others. The real question is whether each individual gets an equitable opportunity to create wealth and then gets to retain an equitable portion of the wealth he has created. (It is a different matter but I still do not understand why it is the creation and the retention of wealth that attracts more penalties in the form of taxation than the destruction or consumption of wealth).

I incline to the view that taxation as it is practiced today by most states is fundamentally immoral. It is in fact an act of confiscation. This I wrote in February 2015.

On the legitimacy and morality of taxation

I am persuaded that the concept of taxation as practised today is immoral. It is fundamentally a coercion of an individual by a larger (stronger) society. It is an enforced confiscation (by threat of legal action) of an individual’s property or wealth. It cannot be seen as a membership fee for being a member of the society because leaving (or being expelled from) the society is not an option. It is closer to the extortion of “protection money” than to the membership dues for a golf club. The use to which the funds are put is irrelevant. The key point is whether the payment is voluntary or coerced. When early Christians paid a “tithe” to the Church voluntarily it was not immoral. But when the payment was coerced and no longer voluntary, the system became immoral. Similarly Islam requires the payment of zakat on individual wealth over the minimum nisab and this also shifted from a quite unexceptionable and moral voluntary payment to become an obligatory and immoral coercive confiscation.

I don’t quarrel with the need for any society to generate “common funds” to improve the well being of that society. But the legitimacy of appropriating the funds lies only in that the society (state) is stronger than the individual. Might becomes right. I come to the conclusion that a tax code by which the amount a “good citizen”should contribute to society is calculated is quite moral as long as the payment is then voluntary. There would be no moral issue if all taxation was voluntary. The immorality lies in the use of threat or force to confiscate the payment. It is the oppression of the minority by the majority which is immoral. (I observe that all democracies use the very fact of being a “democracy” as being a justification for the oppression of minorities when that is the will of the majority. As if being in the majority – by and of itself – ensures proper behaviour). But, the good socialist will argue, compulsory payment of tax is necessary to ensure the funds for the common good. Without coercion society as a whole would suffer. The common good – as seen by the majority – is worth the oppression of the minority who do not pay their dues.

And so we come full circle. The end justifies the means. Oppression of the minority by a majority is acceptable for the good of the majority. A society must be able to use force and coercion against its own minorities for the greater good. Taxation is made legitimate only because the state is stronger than the individual.


 

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When “star” athletes are permitted to dope and get a dispensation to cheat

September 25, 2016

UPDATE: Guardian article (see below).


Following on from my previous post, the BBC had this today. It reduces even further the very little confidence I have in WADA and the way in which the “sporting establishment” have permitted “stars” to cheat.

Of course these doped up athletes could do nothing wrong because they were officially permitted to “do wrong”.

Legal but unfair.

Compliant but unethical.

BBC: 

Sir Bradley Wiggins has insisted he was not trying to gain an “unfair advantage” from being allowed to use a banned steroid before major races. 

The Olympic cyclist told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he took the powerful anti-inflammatory drug triamcinolone for allergies and respiratory problems.

Sir Bradley said he sought therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) to “put himself back on a level playing field”.

TUEs allow the use of banned substances if athletes have genuine medical need.

Sir Bradley’s TUEs were approved by British authorities and cycling’s world governing body, the UCI.

What is worse is the manner in which the licence to dope is justified:

Sir Hugh Robertson, vice-chairman of the British Olympic Association, told BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek:Whatever you think about whether he should have been allowed to do this, the fact is the anti-doping rules at the time allowed him to do so”.

If Bradley Wiggins had not been a star, and from a “sporting power”, I wonder if he would have got dispensation to cheat.


Epilog: 26th September

The article in today’s Guardian is more of the same but it seems pretty clear that Bradley Wiggins was given official sanction to “cheat” by the UK cycling authorities.

Guardian: …… which invited more questions than it answered in dealing with the trio of therapeutic use exemptions granted to Wiggins in 2011, 2012 and 2013 to allow him to take the powerful corticosteroid triamcinolone, for legitimate medical reasons before his biggest races of the season. …….

…….. “This was to cure a medical condition. This wasn’t about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage; this was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level,” Wiggins said, explaining why he had received an injection for 40mg of triamcinolone just before his triumphant 2012 Tour.

He said he had “really struggled” with respiratory problems in the run-up to the 2012 Tour one of the high points even among so many in that golden summer for British sport. But he did not really explain how that tallied with the account he gave in 2012 in his autobiography.

Then, Wiggins said: “I’d done all the work, I was fine-tuned. I was ready to go. My body was in good shape. I’m in the form of my life. I was only ill once or twice with minor colds, and I barely lost a day’s training from it.” 

Nor did he really manage to explain the contradiction between the “no needles” rhetoric espoused in the same book and the fact he received injections of a powerful drug just before the biggest races of his life; nor the fact that he has never discussed the TUEs in any of his books or since. His contention that he believed questions on needles to refer exclusively to doping is similarly hard to countenance.

It is time for WADA to be open about all athletes who have TUE’s. It’s difficult not to be cynical.


 

Remarkable how so many top athletes take asthma medication

September 23, 2016

When top athletes get out of breath while competing it is called “Exercise Induced Asthma”. Getting out of breath is surely a consequence of the athlete’s physical condition and it seems to me that EIA is an entirely invented medical condition. This allows them to get a “therapeutic use exemption” (TUE) and then use asthma medicine to improve their breathing. The TUE is effectively being used as a doping licence. Why inventing a “medical condition” and then using drugs is not considered cheating is beyond me.

tue-doping-licence

tue-doping-licence

Daily Mail: Six more Team GB athletes have had their medical data leaked by a group of Russian hackers calling themselves the Fancy Bears. In the latest batch of data stolen from the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Fancy Bears list the therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) granted to 41 athletes.

The British athletes were revealed as sprinter Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, sailors Sophie Ainsworth and Saskia Clark, rower Richard Chambers, cyclist Steve Cummings and gymnast Nile Wilson. As with the vast majority of the previous batches, all six of these athletes have been allowed to take medication for their asthma via inhalers.

The drugs in question have since been removed from WADA’s banned list and therefore no longer need any special permission for their use.

Among the international athletes in this batch – the largest so far – are Swiss cycling star Fabian Cancellara, American golfer Patrick Reed and US distance runner Galen Rupp. 

Team GB now accounts for 23 of the 107 athletes named by the Fancy Bears, with top names such as Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins among those targeted. 

Under pressure from out of breath athletes and their trainers, these asthma inhalers are no longer banned.  WADA may as well remove all restrictions on all drugs.

I find WADA hypocritical. The acronym could just be for the “World Approved Drugs Association”.


2016 Ig Nobels are more embarrassing than satirical

September 23, 2016

The problem with the Ig Nobels has become that they actually take themselves seriously. Unfortunately what should be satirical and irreverent has become an embarrassing example of politically correct, science “humour”. The awards have turned into a glorification of non-science, science fraud and stupidity.


The 2016 Ig Nobel Prize Winners

 The 2016 Ig Nobel Prizes were awarded on Thursday night, September 22, 2016 at the 26th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. The ceremony was webcast live.

REPRODUCTION PRIZE [EGYPT] — The late Ahmed Shafik, for studying the effects of wearing polyester, cotton, or wool trousers on the sex life of rats, and for conducting similar tests with human males.

REFERENCE: “Effect of Different Types of Textiles on Sexual Activity. Experimental study,” Ahmed Shafik, European Urology, vol. 24, no. 3, 1993, pp. 375-80.

REFERENCE: “Contraceptive Efficacy of Polyester-Induced Azoospermia in Normal Men,” Ahmed Shafik, Contraception, vol. 45, 1992, pp. 439-451.


ECONOMICS PRIZE [NEW ZEALAND, UK] — Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson, for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks, from a sales and marketing perspective.

REFERENCE: “The Brand Personality of Rocks: A Critical Evaluation of a Brand Personality Scale,” Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, Shelagh Ferguson, Marketing Theory, vol. 14, no. 4, 2014, pp. 451-475.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Mark Avis and Sarah Forbes


PHYSICS PRIZE [HUNGARY, SPAIN, SWEDEN, SWITZERLAND] — Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas, Susanne Åkesson, Péter Malik, and Hansruedi Wildermuth, for discovering why white-haired horses are the most horsefly-proof horses, and for discovering why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones.

REFERENCE: “An Unexpected Advantage of Whiteness in Horses: The Most Horsefly-Proof Horse Has a Depolarizing White Coat,” Gábor Horváth, Miklós Blahó, György Kriska, Ramón Hegedüs, Balázs Gerics, Róbert Farkas and Susanne Åkesson, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, vol. 277 no. 1688, pp. June 2010, pp. 1643-1650.

REFERENCE: “Ecological Traps for Dragonflies in a Cemetery: The Attraction of Sympetrum species (Odonata: Libellulidae) by Horizontally Polarizing Black Grave-Stones,” Gábor Horváth, Péter Malik, György Kriska, Hansruedi Wildermuth, Freshwater Biology, vol. 52, vol. 9, September 2007, pp. 1700–9.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Susanne Åkesson


CHEMISTRY PRIZE [GERMANY] — Volkswagen, for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution emissions by automatically, electromechanically producing fewer emissions whenever the cars are being tested.

REFERENCE: “EPA, California Notify Volkswagen of Clean Air Act Violations”, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency news release, September 18, 2015.


MEDICINE PRIZE [GERMANY] — Christoph Helmchen, Carina Palzer, Thomas Münte, Silke Anders, and Andreas Sprenger, for discovering that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can relieve it by looking into a mirror and scratching the right side of your body (and vice versa).

REFERENCE: “Itch Relief by Mirror Scratching. A Psychophysical Study,” Christoph Helmchen, Carina Palzer, Thomas F. Münte, Silke Anders, Andreas Sprenger, PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no 12, December 26, 2013, e82756.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Andreas Sprenger


PSYCHOLOGY PRIZE [BELGIUM, THE NETHERLANDS, GERMANY, CANADA, USA] — Evelyne Debey, Maarten De Schryver, Gordon Logan, Kristina Suchotzki, and Bruno Verschuere, for asking a thousand liars how often they lie, and for deciding whether to believe those answers.

REFERENCE: “From Junior to Senior Pinocchio: A Cross-Sectional Lifespan Investigation of Deception,” Evelyne Debey, Maarten De Schryver, Gordon D. Logan, Kristina Suchotzki, and Bruno Verschuere, Acta Psychologica, vol. 160, 2015, pp. 58-68.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Bruno Verschuere


PEACE PRIZE [CANADA, USA] — Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang for their scholarly study called “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit”.

REFERENCE: “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bullshit,” Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, and Jonathan A. Fugelsang, Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Gordon Pennycook, Nathaniel Barr, Derek Koehler, and Jonathan Fugelsang


BIOLOGY PRIZE [UK] — Awarded jointly to: Charles Foster, for living in the wild as, at different times, a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird; and to Thomas Thwaites, for creating prosthetic extensions of his limbs that allowed him to move in the manner of, and spend time roaming hills in the company of, goats.

REFERENCE: GoatMan; How I Took a Holiday from Being Human, Thomas Thwaites, Princeton Architectural Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1616894054.

REFERENCE: Being a Beast, by Charles Foster, Profile Books, 2016, ISBN 978-1781255346.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Charles Foster, Thomas Thwaites. [NOTE: Thomas Thwaites’s goat suit was kindly released for Ig Nobel purposes from the exhibition ‘Platform – Body/Space’ at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, and will be back on display at the museum from 4 October 2016 till 8 January 2017.]


LITERATURE PRIZE [SWEDEN] — Fredrik Sjöberg, for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead.

REFERENCE: “The Fly Trap” is the first volume of Fredrik Sjöberg’s autobiographical trilogy, “En Flugsamlares Vag” (“The Path of a Fly Collector”), and the first to be published in English. Pantheon Books, 2015, ISBN 978-1101870150.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Fredrik Sjöberg


PERCEPTION PRIZE [JAPAN] — Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, for investigating whether things look different when you bend over and view them between your legs.

REFERENCE: “Perceived size and Perceived Distance of Targets Viewed From Between the Legs: Evidence for Proprioceptive Theory,” Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, Vision Research, vol. 46, no. 23, November 2006, pp. 3961–76.

WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Atsuki Higashiyama


 

UN finally admits it caused cholera in Haiti – and immediately claims immunity

August 19, 2016

The UN introduced cholera to Haiti which has killed some 10,000 (and perhaps up to 30,000). This was apparent over 5 years ago.

It is not just UN incompetence – mistakes happen – which increases my level of bile. It is partly because the UN actions amounted to gross negligence and could have been prevented with trivial amounts of money. It is the knee-jerk denial of responsibility and – always – the claim of immunity (just in case they are found to be responsible). It applies as well to cholera in Haiti as to the sexual exploitation of poor African children by UN troops. And Ban Ki Moon – may his name be forever exalted – has been the Denier-In-Chief. There ought to be a public dismissal of the irresponsible incompetents. But that will never happen.

The UN and its agencies has more than its fair share of incompetents. Many countries appoint UN officials as a political reward. That gives us incompetent doctors, engineers, economists and administrators in many key positions, who are there either as a sinecure and/or a political reward. Of course these are just a few “bad apples”, but when they are bad they are horrid. That’s bad enough but what is obscene is that they are immune from any consequences of their incompetence.

I would have thought that these highly-paid, privileged and protected officials, particularly in such institutions (UN, EU, EC, WB, IMF, WHO, ADB …..), rather than being granted immunity, should be held to much higher standards of performance and accountability than any other bureaucrats.

A special rapporteur has slammed the UN in a confidential report to the UN. The epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations.” The United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.”

NYT:

For the first time since a cholera epidemic believed to be imported by United Nations peacekeepers began killing thousands of Haitians nearly six years ago, the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has acknowledged that the United Nations played a role in the initial outbreak and that a “significant new set of U.N. actions” will be needed to respond to the crisis.

The deputy spokesman for the secretary general, Farhan Haq, said in an email this week that “over the past year, the U.N. has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.” He added that a “new response will be presented publicly within the next two months, once it has been fully elaborated, agreed with the Haitian authorities and discussed with member states.”

The statement comes on the heels of a confidential report sent to Mr. Ban by a longtime United Nations adviser on Aug. 8. Written by Philip Alston, a New York University law professor who serves as one of a few dozen experts, known as special rapporteurs, who advise the organization on human rights issues, the draft language stated plainly that the epidemic “would not have broken out but for the actions of the United Nations.

The secretary general’s acknowledgment, by contrast, stopped short of saying that the United Nations specifically caused the epidemic. Nor does it indicate a change in the organization’s legal position that it is absolutely immune from legal actions, including a federal lawsuit brought in the United States on behalf of cholera victims seeking billions in damages stemming from the Haiti crisis.

But it represents a significant shift after more than five years of high-level denial of any involvement or responsibility of the United Nations in the outbreak, which has killed at least 10,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands. Cholera victims suffer from dehydration caused by severe diarrhea or vomiting. …. 

Special rapporteurs’ reports are technically independent guidance, which the United Nations can accept or reject. United Nations officials have until the end of this week to respond to the report, which will then go through revisions, but the statement suggests a new receptivity to its criticism.

In the 19-page report, obtained from an official who had access to it, Mr. Alston took issue with the United Nations’ public handling of the outbreak, which was first documented in mid-October 2010, shortly after people living along the Meille River began dying from the disease. ……. 

….. Mr. Alston wrote that the United Nations’ Haiti cholera policy “is morally unconscionable, legally indefensible and politically self-defeating.” He added, “It is also entirely unnecessary.” The organization’s continuing denial and refusal to make reparations to the victims, he argued, “upholds a double standard according to which the U.N. insists that member states respect human rights, while rejecting any such responsibility for itself.”

He said, “It provides highly combustible fuel for those who claim that U.N. peacekeeping operations trample on the rights of those being protected, and it undermines both the U.N.’s overall credibility and the integrity of the Office of the Secretary-General.”

UN Cholera


Something rotten in the state of the Olympics

August 7, 2016

That trainers in Russia systematically doped athletes they were training is probably true.

That the Russian sports Ministry turned a blind eye to this and even helped athletes escape detection is also highly likely.

That many Russian athletes are guilty of doping is almost certainly true.

That all Russian athletes have doped is almost certainly not true.

image americablog.com

Yet the International Olympic Committee (which is considerably more corrupt than FIFA) and the International Paralympic Committee (not very much cleaner) have decided to inflict a collective punishment on all athletes from Russia. It is quite clearly a “Collective Punishment” .

In times of conflict, Collective Punishment is a war crime and outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

Collective punishment is a form of retaliation whereby a suspected perpetrator’s family members, friends, acquaintances, sect, neighbors or entire ethnic group is targeted. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions. In times of war and armed conflict, collective punishment has resulted in atrocities, and is a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. –Wikipedia

The IOC is itself rotten and no matter how widespread doping was in Russia, there is no way in which infliction of a Collective Punishment – which by definition applies to innocents as well as the guilty – can be justified. It creates new innocent victims of IOC oppression.

As if the IOC was not rotten enough and oppressive enough.


 

Sweden’s politicians protect their independent auditors (and what’s the quid pro quo?)

August 6, 2016

Oh dear!

Dagens Nyheter exposed examples of “crony corruption” within the Swedish National Audit Office last month The Audit Office which is supposed to be an independent audit body monitoring government and government processes is answerable only to the Swedish Parliament via its Constitutional Committee. I have written earlier about the revelations and the calls for all the three Auditors General to resign. One did but the other two – who were also implicated in Dagens Nyheter’s expose – did not.

Yesterday the Constitutional Committee held a hearing with the Auditors and came to the startling conclusions that the transgressions were not serious enough for the Auditors to resign. If that was meant to restore the integrity of the Audit Office, it fails spectacularly. In fact, the clear impression I have now is that there is a very cozy relationship between the politicians of the Constitutional Committee and the Auditors.

It does seem that even in Sweden, which prides itself on the probity of its government and governance, the ruling principle is “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”.

Dagens Nyheter:

The statement by the Constitutional Committee (KU) that there are no grounds for dismissing the Auditors general has upset the experts DN has talked to.

“This announcement is remarkable”, said Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the former head of the National Audit Office. and of the 
UN’s internal audit. She said earlier this summer that all Auditors General should resign after what had emerged. “It is strange that KU did not take the time to reflect on what has emerged during the hearing. I also find it strange that they chose not to inquire any further and question others such as the chairman of the FA (Association of Chartered Accountants)”, she said to DN.

Inga-Britt Ahlenius thinks that KU has obviously failed with its recruitment of Auditors General. “Had the right people been recruited this situation would not have arisen. They acted as if they were the bosses of a private consulting firm. Not the Auditors General of a constitutionally constituted National Audit Office”, she said.  …. 

Auditor general Susanne Accum had previously announced her resignation, but her colleagues Margareta Åberg and Ulf Bengtsson are set to remain. Inga-Britt Ahlenius believes that their situation will become unsustainable. “They have abused their trust of the authorities they are supposed to monitor and also that of the public and among their staff. Had the National Audit Office has been a private company they would have been dismissed long ago”.

Professor Olle Lundin is an expert in administrative law at the Faculty of Law at Uppsala University. He has reacted strongly to DN’s revelations. “If the National Audit completely ignore the basic principles we are in a pretty bad way out there. They should lead by example and be extremely effective, because no one examines them”, he told DN in early June.


 

A prime directive for religions and politics: First, do no harm!

July 31, 2016

Primum non nocere – First, do no harm!

It is sometimes expressed aa “Above all, do no harm” or “Primarily, do no harm”. It used to be part of the Hippocratic oath for physicians as “… abstain from doing harm”. It is a phrase which is used mostly in a medical or psychological context but it seems to me it should rightly be a Prime Directive for virtually all human activity.

All human systems of law exist to make proper redress when a claim is made. For a claim to be made against anyone or any body of people, there must first be liability. Without liability there is no claim to be made. If no harm is done there is no liability. If this is the Prime Directive for all human kind, and if there is full compliance, it follows that having a system for handling claims and and redress becomes unnecessary. Note also that without harm being done, the question of ethical dilemmas does not arise. Generally law tells us what not to do and ethics tells us what to do. Legal and ethical dilemmas only arise because what law or ethics tell us to do can cause harm to someone. And as soon as harm is done, there is liability and there is a claim.

Not everything legal is ethical and not everything illegal is unethical. But we get a confluence of ethics and law if both adopt doing no harm as the foundation on which their structures are built.

If we must have religions, why cannot every religion have that as its prime Directive or Commandment number Zero? It ought to be the underlying tenet of every political party, of every association of people, of every corporate body, of every advocacy group or – even – of every charity. It ought to be the default codicil to every exhortation to action and to every purpose. “Seek happiness but first, do no harm” or “Make a difference, but first, do no harm” or “Make your fortune but first, do no harm”.

Of course it will be rationalised and circumscribed. “First, Do no harm” will nearly always become “Do no unnecessary harm” and you could argue that the concept of the use of force not being disproportionate to the task in hand is just that. In fact the concept of “being proportional” lies at the heart of our concepts of justice and fairness and “balance”. Even in war we require that harm be kept to a minimin. “Collateral damage” is to be minimised. Using disproportionate force is frowned upon. Attacking unarmed, non-combatants is not the done thing.

The practical reality is that human activities do, in fact, do harm to others. But that does not preclude any human activity from starting with “First, do no harm”. 


Related:

https://ktwop.com/2010/09/03/behaviour-law-and-ethics-a-practical-view/


 

Revelations of crony corruption at the Swedish National Audit Office

July 13, 2016

riksrevisionen

The Swedish National Audit Office is part of the central control power of the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament). It ensures that the Riksdag receives a coordinated and independent audit of the state finances. This assignment is unique as the Swedish NAO is the only body that can audit the entire state finances.

It is supposed to audit the entire chain of executive power. It is intended to be an independent organization under the Riksdag and independent of those audited. Both performance- and financial audits are within its ambit. But Dagens Nyheter has been carrying out an investigation and in recent days has been revealing that the Office is far from independent. Both in staffing and in its operations it seems to be riddled with “cronyism” and “crony corruption”. An Agency intended to be a check against corruption (among other things) has been found to be corrupt itself. One Auditor General (Susanne Ackum) has resigned. The Swedish branch of Transparency International has called for all the 3 Auditor Generals to resign and for integrity to be reestablished:

Transparency International Sweden reacts strongly to the investigation of the National Audit Office carried by Dagens Nyheter. 

It shows that the Auditors have acted with a lack of integrity and judgment.

The National Audit Office is to contribute to the proper use of the state’s resources and that state administration is handled efficiently. The three Auditors General have a strong mandate for the independent review and the authority is to be a cornerstone in the fight against corruption in Sweden.

When the National Audit management do not follow the basic principles of good governance, ie integrity, impartiality and objectivity, and do not even comply with the international code of ethics, confidence is destroyed not only for individuals but also for the important work the Agency conducts. Transparency International Sweden believes in this context that all Auditor Generals should offer to resign.

Transparency International Sweden welcomes the announced meeting  called by the Constitutional Committee with the Auditors. The Committee should also consider their role in the recruitment process for this important office.

Given the National Audit Office’s  central role as part of parliamentary control, Transparency International Sweden believes that it is important that the Constitution Committee immediately and forcefully act to restore the Authority’s integrity.

Dagens Nyheter: Revelations about the National Audit Office

  1. Auditor General Ulf Bengtsson has interfered in an audit review of a decision which he himself was involved in.
  2. He gave his explicit support to a County governor audited by the National Audit Office.
  3. One of the National Audit Office’s senior managers had a private  SMS contact with the audited governor and promised to help her.
  4. The head of the Agency Supervisory Board warned the National Audit Office that DN was conducting an investigation. (DN had contacted him to get expert help in assessing unpublished data).
  5. The Auditors may have violated their own ethics rules. The internal guidelines say that employees may not take a position in a pending case.
  6. Auditor General Susanne Ackum has promised jobs to people before they are announced. E-mails reveal how she has given away jobs before a proper recruitment process has even started.
  7. Those recruited by Ackum receive on average 6,500 kronor per month more than their colleagues in similar positions. Her closest colleague gets 114,000 kronor/month.
  8. Those recruited by Susanne Ackum will lead audit examinations of policies that they themselves have helped to implement while at the Cabinet Office.
  9. Susanne Ackum has allowed people outside the National Audit Office, including the Cabinet Office, to take part in and influence the ongoing audits.
  10. At least one review has been shut down after Susanne Ackum discussed it with an official at the Cabinet Office.
  11. Even Susanne Ackum’s live-in partner has been allowed to read internal working documents and comment on documents not yet published.
  12. The National Audit Office’s chief economist is a well established political debater who has previously taken positions on matters related to taxes and the tax system. Now he is to lead the National Audit’s impartial review of the tax system.
  13. The Auditors have dropped an unusually high number of audits. They have canceled audit missions which had already consumed 19,000 man hours, at a cost of nearly ten million.

I am not all that surprised and just a little shocked that the Agency which is supposed to be a check on corruption is rife with cronyism. But it should be remembered that the entire Swedish party political system is built on “cronyism”. Party membership is tiny compared to the number of voters for each party. Yet it is this tiny membership which controls all public (tax-payer funded) positions. It is friends, and friends of friends, which governs. Not that that is any different to any “party democracy” in Europe. It only demonstrates once again that “party democracies” are quite different  – and often in conflict with –  “people democracies”.


 

When a foetus is no longer an unborn child – just a toe-nail?

April 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton has been criticised for calling a foetus an “unborn person”. The pro-abortion movement in the US finds this beyond the pale. They find that the use of the words “unborn person” implies that the foetus is an “unborn child” which of course is unacceptable.

So is a “foetus” not an “unborn child” and of no greater significance than an overgrown toe-nail or unwanted hair? To be cut off as and when desired?

NYMagazine: Hillary Clinton drew criticism on Monday after referring to the unborn as a “person” in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press. “The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights,” she said, before adding, “that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can to help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy to have appropriate medical support.”

As might’ve been expected, both abortion-rights advocates and abortion opponents quickly seized on Clinton’s remarks. “Usually when you hear her talk it’s about the fetus,” Tina Whittington, executive vice-president of Students for Life, told the New York Times. “To acknowledge it’s a human person, a human child, to us it’s huge.” Other activists condemned her use of the word “person,” saying it implies the fetus is an “unborn child” — rhetoric the pro-choice movement opposes.

I don’t dispute a woman’s control over her own body. But equally she must take responsibility for her own actions. The question becomes one of liability and to whom. And when does a foetus gain an identity and become a “who”? I find that the current practice of banning abortions after a foetus is about 20 -24 weeks old (as the point when it is independently viable) somewhat illogical since the alternative to an abortion is not a premature birth.

Immortality of Identity:

So why should it be that preventing an egg being fertilised, which would otherwise go on to become a foetus, causes no moral qualms but aborting that same foetus after it has been conceived is so disturbing to some? Extending that thought, what is it that makes aborting a foetus and preventing a child from being born much less disturbing than terminating the existence of that same child after birth?

I suspect that it is our concept of “identity” rather than “life” which determines. ……

… Many societies set a limit of 22 or 24 weeks after conception as being the point when a foetus acquires the “right” to live but this boundary is irrational. This time is based on when a foetus – if born prematurely – is considered to be viable. I don’t find this very useful since the alternative to an abortion is not usually a premature birth. I note also that the probability of a foetus reaching full term changes very little after the first 10-12 weeks of a pregnancy. A 12 week old foetus has almost the same chance of being born as a 30 week old foetus. An abortion at any time after about the first 12 weeks effectively eliminates a birth which – with a 90% probability – would otherwise occur. After birth, infant mortality rates today are generally around 5% (ranging from close to 15% in the poorest parts of Africa to less than 2% in well developed societies). …..

….. A unique identity is recognisable first when an egg is fertilised. That identity cannot be foretold but it may be remembered long after the individual dies. It may in due course be forgotten. But whether or not it is forgotten, the fact of the creation of that identity remains. Forever. It is identity, once created, which remains unique and immortal.

The winner spermatozoon – image Gabriel Sancho


 


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