The broken fence

There’s a broken fence nearby. Nothing spectacular – just a stretch by the path pulled down by weather and neglect. It belongs to no one as far as I can see, or if it does it is lost in the deeds.

It was put up when the new houses were built on the other side, as a boundary for the development. A stout wall stands at the mouth of the new road to proclaim it as a desirable place to raise a family, as no doubt it is, but round the side, where it is seen by no one except those walking the public footpath, is just a wooden fence.

The fence is not part of the house standing by it – that has its own garden fence beyond which stands tall and solid with fresh creosote, proudly maintained by the householder, a sentry proclaiming ownership around his snug family home. Between that fence though and the outer edge of the development site is a patch of unmaintained scrub. It might have encouraged the first buyer of that house to know there is a bosky cordon sanitaire between his neat garden and the public path so he would not get drunks hurling beer bottles over or spray-painting obscenities on his private fence (like that wall behind the houses out on the way to the other place), but when the developer had built all the houses, when last hod was packed away and the keys handed over, that neat spinney was abandoned to revert to nature. Drunks still do not hurl bottles, but every malicious weed known to man is thriving and hurling its thistledown over.

Now the outer fence is broken, by the wind. It is a nice village and we hope there are no junkies forcing their way in to colonise the vacant plot, and it is left to nature, but the fence is still broken. It is not becoming unbroken.

If the fence belonged to the householder, he would have been out at once, raising it straight again, shoring it up and maybe adding a buttress to each compromised post, and the smell of creosote would follow his steps. But he does not.

Whatever you may be tempted to think, the local council is not the workman of last resort, tending to every bent plank that does not have a name to it. They did deal with the steps in the woods nearby that they had put in those years back, but they may not touch so much as a splinter of a stranger’s timber.

There are those who do not tire of telling us that some things about us in our environment should really belong to everyone, which means belonging to no one, and that some endeavours are not for private gain but for all society, which means for no one. But the fence remains fallen, and bowing further with every new wind, the rain digging out at the untreated fissures. It creaks. The failing fence proclaims the truth of an old observation:

That which belongs to no one is cared for by no one.

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Don’t make us resent this

Being kicked out of Tesco is a low point. One person per trolley and then my wife has to walk six paces behind me, which is positively mediaeval. The police have been dispatched in places to stop people going for walks even though we are encouraged to walk for exercise. These are fine days for bullies: an excuse to tell people what to do and make loud tutting noises at those who fail to match their own hypocritical standards.

One thing we have heard is of the authorities in Caernarfonshire and Derbyshire descending to close car parks in case anyone dares to breathe fresh air, just in case we walk too close to someone else on an empty, wind-scoured fell.

Genuinely people are afraid. It is not just stepping aside on the path but women have frozen in horror twenty feet from me and one threw a scarf tight around her face (which is not the normal female reaction to me).

Personal reactions are understandable. The authorities, at every level, are another matter. They must watch their own conduct. There are exceptional rules, but they must be exercised in a manner that accords with reason and principle. The rules are there for a reason, not for themselves. That reason must be the guiding principle behind every action. The new powers are extraordinary, repulsive to normal principle, and temporary. They must be temporary and brief before they become so widely flouted that they are worse then useless.

This was recognised from the beginning in the Chief Medical Officer’s analysis – stringency has its limits and to keep the population behaving in a way that moderates the spread, it must be regulation that is itself moderate. Tweaking the nose too much brings forth blood.

The rules may be released when the NHS will cope, as we have to reach that peak at some time, and best when the weather is clear. We have been squashing that sombrero, but as the days wear on our patience is wearing thin, and we who thrive on our freedom will break.

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Famine speculators – the Adam Smith view

In a time of plague or scarcity, there is little love for the speculator who raises prices, and often a call for the government to intervene. Adam Smith however had this in view and observed that government intervention does more harm than good:

The interest of the inland dealer, and that of the great body of the people, how opposite soever they may at first appear, are, even in years of the greatest scarcity, exactly the same. It is his interest to raise the price of his corn as high as the real scarcity of the season requires, and it can never be his interest to raise it higher.

By raising the price, he discourages the consumption, and puts every body more or less, but particularly the inferior ranks of people, upon thrift and good management. If, by raising it too high, he discourages the consumption so much that the supply of the season is likely to go beyond the consumption of the season, and to last for some time after the next crop begins to come in, he runs the hazard, not only of losing a considerable part of his corn by natural causes, but of being obliged to sell what remains of it for much less than what he might have had for it several months before. If, by not raising the price high enough, he discourages the consumption so little, that the supply of the season is likely to fall short of the consumption of the season, he not only loses a part of the profit which he might otherwise have made, but he exposes the people to suffer before the end of the season, instead of the hardships of a dearth, the dreadful horrors of a famine.

It is the interest of the people that their daily, weekly, and monthly consumption should be proportioned as exactly as possible to the supply of the season. The interest of the inland corn dealer is the same. By supplying them, as nearly as he can judge, in this proportion, he is likely to sell all his corn for the highest price, and with the greatest profit; and his knowledge of the state of the crop, and of his daily, weekly, and monthly sales, enables him to judge, with more or less accuracy, how far they really are supplied in this manner.

Without intending the interest of the people, he is necessarily led, by a regard to his own interest, to treat them, even in years of scarcity, pretty much in the same manner as the prudent master of a vessel is sometimes obliged to treat his crew. When he foresees that provisions are likely to run short, he puts them upon short allowance. Though from excess of caution he should sometimes do this without any real necessity, yet all the inconveniencies which his crew can thereby suffer are inconsiderable, in comparison of the danger, misery, and ruin, to which they might sometimes be exposed by a less provident conduct.

Though, from excess of avarice, in the same manner, the inland corn merchant should sometimes raise the price of his corn somewhat higher than the scarcity of the season requires, yet all the inconveniencies which the people can suffer from this conduct, which effectually secures them from a famine in the end of the season, are inconsiderable, in comparison of what they might have been exposed to by a more liberal way of dealing in the beginning of it the corn merchant himself is likely to suffer the most by this excess of avarice; not only from the indignation which it generally excites against him, but, though he should escape the effects of this indignation, from the quantity of corn which it necessarily leaves upon his hands in the end of the season, and which, if the next season happens to prove favourable, he must always sell for a much lower price than he might otherwise have had.

Whoever examines, with attention, the history of the dearths and famines which have afflicted any part of Europe during either the course of the present or that of the two preceding centuries, of several of which we have pretty exact accounts, will find, I believe, that a dearth never has arisen from any combination among the inland dealers in corn, nor from any other cause but a real scarcity, occasioned sometimes, perhaps, and in some particular places, by the waste of war, but in by far the greatest number of cases by the fault of the seasons; and that a famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence of government attempting, by improper means, to remedy the inconveniencies of a dearth.

Adam Smith: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

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What about those who are immune?

Sitting, staring into eternity as everything closes down, forbidden to walk amongst humanity for another’s fear of my being infected or infecting another. Only the immune cannot be infected and cannot infect others. They are still under the same restrictions though.

We do not know how far the infection has spread across the nation. The high fatality rate bears no resemblance to that observed Germany – it is not that the Germans are any sort of master race (let that sort of idea get a hold and you never know where it will end), it just reflects that only the most serious cases have been diagnosed here, and we do not like to make a fuss.

How many then have passed through the disease? We do not know. There is no reason for them to be restricted: they can walk abroad in safety to themselves and others. There is no provision for this freedom in the rules though.

The authorities might issue certificates to those who are immune, to licence them to have the freedom that is our wont. Certificates though are easily forged. Let them come out somehow, for the sake of us all, and provide some custom for the shops and pubs. Someone has to be the forerunner of normality, to rescue the dying economy.

It could be most of us by now – have we thought of that? Until there are tests available, we are walking blind.

There are tests. The priority has been to distribute tests to see which coughs are COVID-19 and which are just coughs, antigen tests to find the active disease amongst those already ill. The test for immunity is an antibody test. That is a lesser priority for the medical profession, but for the survival of the economy and of society they will be vital.

Who will pay for antibody tests? Well, it may be those suffering most from the close-down, and they are running out of money.

Get us the numbers though, and release the individuals who have no reason to be imprisoned, and begin to reopen the joys of society.

COVID-19: a nation divided

Britain is in crisis: the nation is deeply divided with a virulence not seen in living memory – since January in fact. COVID-19 has riven the country into two opposing camps:

  • The terrified;
  • The fed up.

However a third camp is making its presence felt:

  • The bullies

Which faction is in charge of events? Take a guess – it is as it ever was.

This is a frightening time for all the timid, hypochondriacs and conformists, and possibly for everyone who does not wander about with his or her head in the sand (if that s actually physically possible). For the fed-up, ah – can we just get back to normal? It’s not the Black Death, so imagine how we would be if it were – a sense of proportion, please, and do something about that nasty cough of yours – here, borrow my hanky.

For all natural bullies though, for the bullies – this is a heaven-sent opportunity to tell other people what to do. Now they have an excuse to look down their noses as neighbours. They salivate over nailing planks over people’s front doors like in the good old days of the Great Plague of London – Defoe has been flying off the shelves in Hampstead. There is exquisite pleasure in gaslighting the reluctant into believing their are personally responsible for killing thousands. Never has there been an opportunity like this since Brexit.

How long can this go on? For the terrified and the fed-up, it cannot end soon enough. For the bullies, let the plague roll on.

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