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Does this site use cookies?

posted by on 10th Jul 2016

The European Commission has asked if this site uses cookies.

My answer: I’ve no idea.

Please advise.

P.S. Since the EU chickened out on banning cookies altogether and really protecting our privacy, we are left with the nonsense of clicking boxes to use essential services.

Can Richard Layard really be following Percy Bridgman?

posted by on 21st Jun 2016

Professor Richard Layard, London School of Economics,
Programme Director – Wellbeing

Percy Bridgman’s operationalism

Operationalism became influential in social science, particularly psychology, through the work of Percy Bridgman. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says

Operationalism is based on the intuition that we do not know the meaning of a concept unless we have a method of measurement for it. …

In 1932, Lionel Robbins applied this to “satisfaction” claiming its use was unscientific because satisfaction could not be directly measured. He gave this example:

If we tested the state of their blood-streams, that would be a test of blood, not satisfaction. Introspection does not enable A to discover what is going on in B’s mind, nor B to discover what is going on in A’s.

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Lifestyles, Quality of Life and Sustainability (1997)

posted by on 14th Jun 2016

A Contribution to “Developing an Integrated Transport Policy” (DETR 1997)

Lifestyle research is an essential addition to the factual background in the development of an integrated transport policy. The average behaviour of the whole population is not detailed enough to understand the behaviour of the different lifestyles that comprise to the whole population.

Consider some example households in or near York (these are illustrative pending further research):

A. Flat in central York: Young couple, no children

B. Terraced house in inner suburbs: two parents and two children

C. Semi detached in outer suburbs: two parents and three children

D. Rented house on peripheral council estate: divorced mother of four

E: Cottage in country park: two parents and two children

The transport system affects their lifestyles in different ways…

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Carbon budgets: A straightforward answer from DECC

posted by on 30th Apr 2016

Below there is a reply about how the IPCC’s “remaining carbon budgets” should be modified: There are climate feedbacks missing from the CMIP5 models used in calculating the original budgets . Parliamentary POSTnote 454, “Risks from Climate Feedbacks” (Jan 2014) also acknowledges this. The reply is remarkably straightforward answer for a government department. Thanks to all concerned.

Update1: Carbon budgets without taking missing feedbacks into account: 4 years for 1.5°C.

Update2: Climate sensitivity increased by missing feedbacks.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change, Whitehall

Dear Geoff,

You spoke to Pete Betts at the LSE, and subsequently via email, during which you raised several thoughtful points on the science of feedbacks, and their potential policy implications. With thanks to several of my colleagues, I’ve tried to answer your questions to Pete below.

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Green growth or degrowth ?

posted by on 28th Apr 2016

Green growth or degrowth ?

A note for the new All-Party Parliamentary Group
on the Limits to Growth

In the inaugural paper for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Limits to Growth is “A review of the limits to growth debate” by Tim Jackson and Robin Webster. They discuss many of the concerns of the original “Limits to Growth” from the Club of Rome.

Speakers at the inaugural meeting

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Thomas Piketty or Robin Hood?

posted by on 18th Apr 2016

A modern Robin Hood would be
more fundamental than Piketty

The future of inequality

In The future of inequality Thomas Piketty suggests that future growth will be no larger than 1.0% to 1.5% a year. He points out that the rate of return on capital has typically been 4% to 5% per year. This causes a very large concentration of wealth.

This stirs discontent and radically undermines our democratic values and institutions. The ideal solution to this would be a global progressive tax on individual net worth. Those who are trying to enter the game and start accumulating new wealth would pay little, and those who already have billions would pay a lot. This would foster mobility and keep inequality under control.

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The Sustainable Plotlands Association – a proposal

posted by on 13th Apr 2016

The aim of the association is to promote sustainable lifestyles
which also address Britain’s housing crisis.


1. There are few (if any) examples of lifestyles in Britain which are sustainable. For example at the new “sustainable” development at Derwenthorpe, York, the carbon footprints of the residents are several times that which is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. The Sustainable Plotlands Association will promote action research into achieving lifestyles that are sustainable.

2. Housing is much more expensive than the cost of building and the land it occupies. At agricultural prices a plot of land big enough for a house and garden costs £500. Once planning permission has been granted this can easily inflate to over £100,000. This increase is because planning permission is limited in supply. Additionally, many plots with planning permission remain in land banks, until they can be developed at a premium, when home buyers end up paying inflated prices. Windfall rewards go to land owners and developers holding land banks.

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Lionel Robbins didn’t understand science. Ravens do.

posted by on 12th Apr 2016

Lionel Robbins was wrong. Robin Hood was right.

Bridgman and Robbins: They failed on scientific method

Bridgman and Robbins- Failed in scientific method

In 1927 the physicist, Percy Williams Bridgman put forward his view of science that had a huge influence on the social sciences in the 1930s and 1940s. This was called “operationalism”. For many decades now no philosopher of science has taken operationalism seriously. Bridgman’s main point was that we do not know the meaning of a scientific concept unless we have a method for measuring it.

Bridgman was wrong as simple examples show e.g. in 1909 Robert A. Millikan and Harvey Fletcher estimated the charge on an electron from the movement of oil drops in electric fields. They did not observe electrons but no scientists regarded the idea of an electron as an unscientific concept even though electrons are not directly observable

However, Bridgman’s operationalism has had a lasting effect. In “The Tragedy of Operationalism” Mark H. Bickhard comments

Operationalism has continued to seduce psychology more than half a century after it was repudiated by philosophers of science, including the very Logical Positivists who had first taken it seriously.

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Getting Britain back to work (1982)

posted by on 18th Mar 2016

This is old article I had published in the Guardian back in 1982.
Later Professor Kim Swales and I did a report for
the European Commission with improved modelling.

(Now we that know the dangers of climate change, a carbon tax
is a better solution than VAT for the tax in this scheme.)

DURING the last period of mass unemployment in the 1930s, some economists, not ably Lord Kaldor considered the possibility of subsidising the labour of all workers to create jobs. His idea assumes that labour is I like other commodities in that if its costs can be reduced then the demand for it should increase.

Since then, there has been little interest in such large scale subsidy policies. This may be because “back-of-the-envelope” estimates show that the cost of such schemes is enormous. These estimates however may n0t be as conclusive as they at first seem. A model of Britain’s economy can be described which, although only approximation shows that large scale labour subsidies can be an important ingredient in a policy to significantly reduce unemployment.

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Three failed eco-towns

posted by on 2nd Mar 2016

Three developments that were aimed at sustainability

They are not even close

Carbon emissions and aspiring to be rich

Source: Oxfam

In their media briefing Extreme carbon inequality, Oxfam show the richest 10% of the world’s population produce half of Earth’s CO2 emissions and

The average emissions of someone in the poorest 10% of the global population is 60 times less than that of someone in the richest 10%

Naturally, the poor aspire to be rich but, as things stand,  aspiring to be rich means aspiring to a high carbon lifestyle.

Required: high quality, low carbon lifestyles

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