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Letters

In defence of arts funding 6th May 2010 Emma Crichton-Miller and Alexander Linklater’s article (May) showed a curiously old-fashioned and ill-informed view of the role of culture in contemporary society.

ver the last 15 years, arts and culture have made a huge contribution to our economy: cultural tourism generates £20bn a year; music and theatre are multibillionpound industries. To claim the creative economy “does not exist” because it accounts for a range of different jobs is bizarre. All sectors of our economy, from manufacturing to financial services, account for a variety of different skills and roles.

he arts play a vital part in regenerating areas: major cultural centres and events attract considerable inward investment, from the Sage and the Baltic in Gateshead to Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture. However, the Arts Council does not prioritise arts-led economic regeneration over the quality of the art itself. The two are inseparable: great art is the foundation of thriving cultural centres. If the art isn’t any good, the investment will have no regenerative element. Without excellence there is nothing else. We start with the art. Alan Davey Chief executive, Arts Council England bmcent1

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Relative poverty 12th May 2010 Stephen Nickell (May) talks of relative poverty and poverty as if they are the same thing, requiring the same policy responses. But this is nonsense. The British tax-andbenefits system tries to ensure that we all share in the pains and gains of living in an open economy; hence the lowest income quintile pays 10 per cent of its income in tax while the highest pays 25 per cent. Yet an uneven distribution of income is inevitable in an economy carrying as much dynamism, entrepreneurship and high-level skills as ours. This has been the pattern since the 1960s. Focusing solely on the relative position of quintiles obscures the real improvements in living standards and lifestyles of, say, lower middle income families.

Doubtless, Nickell teaches his students that Britain’s Gini coefficient has risen over the years—proof that society has become more unequal? But what will happen when we scrutinise the income effects of the recession? That the economy contracted, but that relative poverty was reduced? Less income, better distribution?

oo many people in Britain live in conditions that would be caught by the term absolute poverty. Public policy should concentrate on them and prioritise their needs. James Murphy Editorial director, Future Foundation

China versus America 30th April 2010 Ian Bremmer (April) does not fully appreciate that China holds nearly $900bn of US debt, ten times what it was in 2002. That hardly looks like a “decoupling” to me. US consumption is 70 per cent of GDP, and investment is paltry. It has the world’s largest trade imbalance (mostly because of vast imports from China). China, on the other hand, only consumes about 35 per cent of its GDP and its citizens save a tremendous amount of what they earn. China is a net exporter and net lender to the US. If Americans stop buying from them for a while, they have reserves to sit on. If they dump US debt, American interest rates skyrocket and the dollar falls.

How long can the US spend more than it earns, borrowing the difference from China? If I borrow money from a supplier and fail to invest in my business, eventually my supplier becomes my owner. PJ Candre Via the Prospect website

Is it a boy or a girl? 12th May 2010 In response to Anjana Ahuja’s article on gender selection (May), I’d like to point to an evolutionary argument about how gender ratios self-balance in the long term. If some factor (be it biological, psychological or environmental) started selecting in favour of boys being born, an imbalance develops. Soon there would be fewer adult women, giving them an advantage in selecting a mate. That would cause parents to prefer baby girls, and a balanced ratio would be restored. Surely this is why the ratio is roughly 50-50 in the first place. Pavlos Papageorgiou Via the Prospect website

How housing crowds out 4th May 2010 David Griffiths (Letters, May) argues that owner-occupied housing does not “crowd out” other investment. I disagree. By its very nature, the housing market ensures that any vendors are bound to reinvest their sale proceeds into that market—unless they die or move abroad. With a new house, the purchase price is split between the builder, agents and solicitors, all of whom keep the money mostly in their own businesses. With existing houses, purchasers’ money is used by vendors to buy another home—usually at a higher price as they “trade up.” So houses are widely seen as an investment to be favoured above others, producing sharply rising prices, and making the market unable to meet the very real need for housing of a significant proportion of the population. Harvey Cole Winchester

18 · prospect · june 2010 The bikes strike back 8th May 2010 As a bike retailer, I agree with Andrew Martin’s general sentiment (May) that we need more utilitarian bikes. Yet Martin shouldn’t be arguing on the supply side, but on the demand side. When we stocked full fender bikes with internal, simple three and eight-speed hubs, ways to carry bags, and generator lights, no one bought them. We push them hard because we believe in bike transport. We need people to believe they can ride—not more bikes. Andrew Perin Via the Prospect website

Sacred food 12th May 2010 Alex Renton’s article about offal (May) reminded me of the Book of Leviticus. It’s dietary proscriptions—against pork in particular—are well known, yet few seem to know the reason why the contents of their bellies are of such grave concern to God.

It’s true that pork doesn’t keep well in hot climates, but does beef fare substantially better, or is forbidden camel any worse? Pigs may gobble their own faeces, but what really mattered to the priestly author of Leviticus was that food eaten at the table should be the same as that offered in the temple. Since this had long been either sheep, cow or goat, it made sense that “clean” animals needed to be “of the same family.” And as their traditional sacrificial animals were all clove-hoofed, cud-chewing ungulates, those that weren’t—like foxes, horses and pigs—were off the menu.

he general principle of conforming to cast-iron stereotypes also won out with fish, birds and insects. Fish needed to have scales as well as fins; so goodbye shark, jellyfish and creeping shellfish, even though these had probably never been tasted by the elders. Birds needed working wings, feathers and not to be flesh eaters. Insects presented their own difficulties, but the priests begrudgingly allowed locusts, which preserved people through famines despite their unclean swarming tendencies.

Aside from showing man’s endless quest to put everything in boxes, Leviticus’s strictures on food reveals two things. One is how good arbitrary and unquestioned regulations are at nurturing identity—that the Jews sustained their own despite their Babylonian captivity, let alone the diaspora, is remarkable. The other is that such taboos are essential to maintaining priestly power: how can you control what people eat without also influencing how they think?

o Renton’s dislike of offal aside, disgust for these meats by millions of people around the world seems less rational than one might suppose. I wish them all the best, but I’ll just stick to what tastes good myself. William Robinson Buenos Aires have your say Send letters by post, fax, leave a comment on our website www.prospect-magazine.co.uk or email letters@prospect-magazine.co.uk june 2010 · prospect · 19