Feigning Insanity Gets You Everywhere.

So. Taxes on more or less everything are going up, and subsidies are going down. We have Cameron, not Mussolini (which is largely a good thing), so our trains are constantly late, and privatisation has mainly achieved just making the whole getting-around thing shinier, more expensive, and an awful lot more confusing.

Which is why I present to you, as a veteran of the British long-distance public-transport system, my guide to getting around in the UK. Mainly this is a rant about trains. In fact that’s entirely what it is. It’s bad enough already – or rather, we’re overcharged, and underserved. Privatisation simply means that the upholstery is prettier, as far as I can see, and the doors are electronic, and the train toilet cubicles are futuristically circular. The reason why (as I can understand it) it’s so expensive to get about by train in the UK is simply because different companies each own the tracks, the rolling stock (the carriages), and actually organise the running of the trains. Several different companies own bits of each of these ideas, and so obviously you’ve got a whole chain of people charging for services and making a profit each time and all of this gets passed onto the consumer. I don’t know what trains used to be like before privatisation, but I really can’t see why this is the ‘best’ way of doing it. So, yes. Despite all this, it’s still possible to make your journey not entirely unpleasant if you follow the advice I set out here.

Firstly, your ticket. It will almost invariably be invalid for at least one leg of the journey, partly because the regulations change completely arbitrarily depending on (as far as I can make out) how much the CEO at Megabus needs a cigarette. So carry enough cash not to end  up stranded in Slough or somewhere. If you’re crossing London (and you don’t live there), you will need at least as many bits of paper and cardboard as you have bags with you. Furthermore, the more cases you’re carrying, the more lines in Central London will be closed that day.

Secondly, seats are probably the most vital thing about your entire journey. If you’re lucky enough to get on near the start of a route, be that on a coach or on a train, find your ideal seat, and sit in it. Put your bags next to you. Not in a way that implies you’re actually taking up residence, that’s just rude, everyone hates a seat hogger, but not in a way that moving them isn’t going to be at least a bit annoying for you. When the train stops to take on more passengers – now, listen carefully, because this bit is crucial if you wish to maintain your sanity for the next five hours – stare out of the window. Do not look at anyone. Under no circumstances should you make eye contact. Cultivate an expression of distant hauteur. Hopefully this will be enough – the bag, that awkward moment where they have to get your attention in order to beg you for that seat beside you, the even more awkward bit where they have to watch you sigh and pack up your belongings underneath your feet – that they won’t even chance it. However whilst looking haughtily and threateningly at the charming vista that is industrial Basingstoke, you must keep an eye on the numbers. If it looks like you’re going to have to share your seat, try and look less threatening when being approached by thin, small, shy people. People who don’t take up much space and are not likely to attempt to strike up conversation with you. If you’re very lucky, the effort of constantly changing your expression to convey different levels of threat will be enough to make you look completely insane, and then everyone will choose to avoid sitting next to you. Problem solved. This advice applies equally well on coaches, with the added extra worry that the sorts of people who travel by megabus have to be strange enough or poor enough that the idea of spending six hours on a motorway in the small hours with your knees around you ears doesn’t immediately send you to the brink of madness. And they never turn the air conditioning off, and simply turning off your personal vent makes about as much difference to the ambient temperature as turning on all the bunsen burners and huddling around them used to make to our school science labs.

However, let’s be honest, you probably won’t get a seat. And if you do, someone older or more frail than you is almost bound to turn up and look sweetly and expectantly at you until you stand up and give your seat to them – as, of course, you should. So let’s assume the worst. For some reason it seems to me that it’s more likely to happen on a Friday than on any other day that train companies will, for no reason whatsoever, decide to halve the number of carriages they’re going to allocate to your train. This will also automatically invalidate your seat reservation unless you’re wearing a suit and called Brian which somehow gives you a special licence to bully random passengers until they let you sit in ‘your’ seat. This special licence applies whether or not you have in fact made a seat reservation.

Someone will probably start something with the guard of the train at this point as he tries to get through to check your tickets, and some idiot tries to blame the frankly irresponsible lack of carriages on your guard, who probably actually finds it more annoying than you do, because not only does he now have to spend the entire journey climbing over suitcases, bikes and buggies and jostling irate passengers, but everything he has to do between here and Newport is going to take three times as long and he definitely won’t get to sit down. And everyone’s mad at him.

And then your train will be delayed. It’s just how it goes. It’s most likely to happen when you really do have to make a connection, or your ticket was super cheap but is only valid on this one specific train; when it’s late at night, and raining, and really bloody cold, and everyone else is already at the pub. This bit I can’t really tell you how to survive. Take a book. Buy a paper. I always find myself listening to music and then suddenly realise I’m actually dancing or singing along or, worse, conducting. And then you realise you’ve got to stand on a platform with all of these people for at least forty minutes because there aren’t any trains before yours, and they all think you’re mad.

Still, it might help you get a seat.



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25 responses to “Feigning Insanity Gets You Everywhere.

  1. Adam

    Adam’s top tips for not having people sit next to you on trains/buses:

    1) Put your bag(s) next to the window, and sit on the aisle… People don’t mind asking you to move your bag, but have a problem asking you to move.

    2) If you have no bag, sit next to the window, smile at other passengers coming towards you, and pat the seat next to you… As no-one wants to sit to that much of a nutter…

  2. Miki

    I love this post. Also: luggage space (or, rather, the lack thereof), and the alarming rapidity with which perfectly genial strangers will transform into mad, feral beasts when competing for it with you. xxx

  3. Jenny

    No, see, i find that 1) never works any better than the other way around, people will still say, ‘mind if I sit there’ if you look in the least bit vulnerable. Definitely better to sit wherever you want and just be really mean about keeping it that way…!

    The other trick is knitting – if you knit really wildly, try to do as much elbow-flailing as you possibly can, people won’t want to sit near you.

    Or sit in across two seats, as it were, lolling onto the window as if asleep. Then if someone wants the seat ‘next’ to you, they’ll have to wake you up to get you to move your bum off it.

  4. Jenny

    OH YES. I should have done a paragraph about luggage and – you’re right – how it turns us all into animals. I become a horrible person the moment you put me in a train with a suitcase. It’s a situation best avoided – and certainly not worth aggravating by giving me a cello to transport as well…!

  5. I quite like talking to the people near my seat on the trains. Sometimes they tell me about life in the army, or the failings of the NHS, or they just give me free stuff.

    Am I a scourge?

  6. I can’t read this post because it will make me too angry. I have no doubt that I agree with you though!

    Re-nationalise the lot!!!

  7. “Re-nationalise the lot!!!”

    Arguably, it’s the time the railway spent as a public body that did the damage. The years of under-investment and neglect, not to mention the decision to get rid of so many assets back in the 60s. You want more of that?!

    It needs a shake-up, but nationalisation ain’t the answer.

  8. Clare

    how come nationalised rail services work so well in Frane, Italy and Germany? What’ve they got that we haven’t?!


  9. In Germany they don’t; Deutsche Bahn is a private company (as are the companies that run the Japanese network, widely thought of as best in the world)

    France is very different to Britain, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that what works there doesn’t work here. I have no idea about Italy.

    Also, it depends on the definition of “better”. They may seem quick and reliable to us when we visit, but that says nothing of efficiency. How expensive are railways in France and Italy? In terms of the tax burden over and above fares, or things like that.

    Btw, the railways (and stations) in Britain are essentially already nationalised. The train companies are private, but the franchise system is ridiculous. IMO fixing that would make a big difference. People seem to forget that the reason the government tried privatisation is because the nationalised system was awful.

  10. Clare

    Dunno about the tax burden, but tickets in Italy are amazingly cheap. Admittedly in Italy they do have moderately regular scioperi (strikes on the trains) which bugger up efficiency for the day of the strike and the day following, but apart from that… Everything seems to work fantastically well.

    And what about Switzerland? Is that private or state-run? Because that system is SO efficient. A friend of mine lived in Geneva for a year, and was only ever once on a train that was “delayed” (by Swiss standards) and even that was only 5 minutes late. They start apologising if a train is coming in over 30 seconds late, which is awesome. And there are seats for EVERYONE and more.


  11. Jenny

    The thing about the Swiss is that they do have (I believe) very high taxes, and very, very strict immigration controls, which basically means that only rich people live there, so they can afford to run really good train systems :(.

    I may be completely wrong – this is probably all completely misremembered hearsay.

    Anyway, the Italians, meanwhile, do a pretty good job of it.

    Part of hte problem with privatisation is actually that the companies in question, because their services have to be an advertisement for their company, because they’re in competition with one another, spend a lot of money on tarting up trains and stations, and not enough on, say, having *more* rolling stock or providing *more* seats (or making the darned things run on time).

  12. The Swiss railways are state-owned, according to Wikipedia. Again, talking about efficiency, it’s difficult to compare without knowing the total spend; the main issue with the British network is that there’s been woeful underinvestment, meaning the infrastructure is really not fit-for-purpose. Nationalisation of the system didn’t help this, as subsequent governments simply didn’t spend the money on it (because to do so requires higher taxes, and most people don’t support that sort of thing. Also there was the whole recession thing in the 70s, that presumably had an effect, but that’s just supposition on my part).

    Personally, I am very wary of monopolies. I think they are to be avoided where possible, because they generally lead to bad things. There’s very little impetus to make things better, so generally they don’t get better. State monopoly (i.e. nationalisation) is, in my book, so much worse because as well as removing the competition, the service is subsidised through taxation. Great, cheap tickets! Except no, because higher taxation hampers economic growth, makes everyone poorer (compared to if taxes were lower). Additionally, as there’s no competition, there’s less incentive for efficiency, which means that the whole thing costs even more, even if it seems to work well as in France etc. (from what I’ve read, British Rail was terrible for this, was really wasteful. Except it also didn’t run all that well…)

    At the moment we have a pretty bad railway system. Network Rail is essentially nationalised (except that due to the way it was set up – by Gordon Brown as chancellor, I think – it’s not really accountable to government… Truly spectacular!). The rail routes are then franchised; companies bid for (I think) the sole right to run a certain franchise for a number of years, which clearly isn’t ideal. They pay the government for this privilege. Except it turns out that in some cases, the government still ends up part-subsidising the operators, whilst ticket prices increase… The competition is meant to arise when franchises are re-tendered, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to really stimulate meaningful competition. I’ve also read somewhere that the government hasn’t historically been all that careful when choosing operating companies, which would also explain a fair bit.

    So we have a nationalised provider of the infrastructure, then private companies with quasi-monopoly over franchises, as well as very poor government. Privatisation is meant to deliver competition, that’s the whole idea! Yet it’s not there, at least not to any meaningful extent. We’ve pretty much got the worst of all worlds!

    @Jenny: regarding “more rolling stock”, actually we’re pretty limited on that front. The tracks and stations can only take so many trains, and I think we’re at capacity. Same with seats, there’s not much they can do other than introduce double-deckers. Except these would crash into the many bridges over the railways, as when they were all upgraded in the 70s (IIRC), they only built them high enough for single-decker carriages to try to save money. We’re using a network largely constructed in the Victorian era, which was subsequently reduced by Marples and Beeching in the 60s (shortly after nationalisation!). Frankly it’s amazing that it copes so well with the demand.

    To make it all work well – irrespective of whether it’s national or private concern – we need a huge amount of capital expenditure on the railroad infrastructure. But then I’m a Civil Engineer, so perhaps I would say that!

  13. Jenny

    I’m sure they can put more carriages on individual services. I can’t see how or why we could be at capacity on that one – and I really don’t like being charged 50-odd-quid to take the chance that I may well have to stand up for four hours to get home. I’m not paying that sort of money for a square foot of space! Except I rather have to.

  14. I’m not saying for every route, but for the busier routes where it really is a problem, then I think they’re hitting the capacity. It’s things like the platform length at stations, obviously you can’t have a train longer than the platform! And for peak periods, they can’t put more than a certain number of trains per hour or whatever, I guess they need a certain gap between each one. Or it might just not be economical to run more carriages… Point is, I know it’s a problem, so it might not always just be that they won’t spend money on it.

    I have to say, I get the train to university and it’s not completely bad even at peak times. Very regular, I almost always get a seat, and the cost isn’t *entirely* unreasonable. This said, the same train is shit at nights (the number of times I’ve staggered to the station after a night at the pub, only to find that the train that SHOULD be there to take me home, isnt… Makes me angry cos then I have to get the smelly bus)

    So that’s not bad. Although if there’s no traffic, driving still takes half the time…

  15. Jenny

    Maybe it’s just my trains then, but my train home is usually an 8-coach but sometimes gets cut to a 4 without notice, which over a route that covers a lot of large towns and cities and connects to so many other routes is really rather silly. 4 coaches! If my sister comes to visit me, or we meet at my aunt’s house a little less far north, the only train she can really get is three coaches. Again over that distance and number of passengers served that’s not really viable. I’m honestly not asking for much, just that trains on popular routes should be able to cope with the numbers they get by being ten or twelve carriages, not 6 or 8. Most platforms will take twelve carriages – with the exception of local stopping services. The little local trains I get when I’m at home will usually be 8 coaches (and, oddly, never any trouble finding seats), but they will warn you constantly that you have to be on the front five coaches to disembark in x y and z villages. But that doesn’t apply to long distance travel, where the trains only stop in the towns. Right. Blathering now. Time to get up…!

  16. Clare

    I agree with Jen! Essentially. And I wouldn’t mind a higher rate of taxation if we saw a marked improvement in the public transport system in this country.


  17. You wouldn’t mind paying more than is necessary for the service? Making people poorer – even if they don’t use trains – so you can get somewhere quicker? I really can’t say I agree (esp when taxes are already too high in my opinion).

  18. Thinking back on that reply (whilst I’m sat on the train!), it might sound overly caustic. Sorry if it does.

    What I meant to say was: the effects of increased taxation are non-trivial, and in this situation the potential positives from decent trains are not enough to outweigh the negative economic effects, in my opinion.

  19. Clare

    maybe my view is too simplistic, but if a higher rate of taxation improves not just transport but all national services, for anyone who might want to use them, I think paying a bit more would be a small price to pay. Obviously, the higher rates of taxation I’d envisage would have to be targeted so the poorest didn’t suffer, but I think for people in middle and high income brackets it should be a matter of common sense to give something back to their own society, in the form of taxation.

    I don’t get why everyone’s so opposed to paying tax in general…


  20. Well it’s not necessarily a given that higher taxation will improve a given public service. Look at the NHS; for all the increased spending over the last however many years, has the service really been improved in proportion to that spending? Not really (e.g. we still have some of the worst survival rates in Europe for things like cancer). So why continually throw money at something if it’s not going to get better? We tend to find that organisations exposed to competition in markets are more efficient, that we get better service or product for a given spend. So why nationalise things and increase taxes if we can get a better, more efficient service in other ways?

    You mention targeting taxation so the poor don’t suffer. I’m not sure if that’s entirely possible, if we really can shield those who are less well-off. Taxation hinders economic growth. Growth is essential because it means people are getting richer; and that’s not just the people who are already rich and powerful, those who are poor benefit massively from growth as well.

    Lets say we raise tax on individuals. Well, then they have less to spend on stuff, which means businesses do less well, so they employ fewer people, so we have more people unemployed. Instead, we could raise tax on businesses. Well, there are a number of things that could happen, but the net effect is that either staff wages will reduce, or they’ll hire fewer people. More tax means less growth means people are poorer.

    Of course all this is offset to some extent by the government spending the money it takes in. That creates some growth, but it tends not to be enough to offset the damage done by taxation. Because states – which generally enjoy a monopoly position – aren’t as efficient as organisations which are exposed to competition, to markets.

    I’m not saying that taxation is wrong and it shouldn’t be done. We need a government for those things which we think can’t be delivered through markets (e.g. do we want private armies or police forces?), or to provide a sort of “safety net” for people, and so we need taxation to pay for those things. But it’s not something to be blasé about; it should be kept as low as possible. And part of the way to do that is for those services which can be better provided by means other than state provision or state funding, to be run in such a manner.

  21. Jenny

    Lower taxes widen the gap between rich and poor – the rich get richer, but the poor don’t necessarily. Unregulated markets also lead to exploitation of the less well-off.

    Higher taxes and appropriate government spending means that everyone has access to basic services and opportunities which give the poor the chance to be less so. The gap between rich and poor closes a bit. Perhaps growth isn’t as marked but is that a price worth paying?

    Most of the time I think the balance between the two tends to work out alright. But then one party, or one financial tendency, is in power for too long and you swing too far one way or the other. Thatcher was not good for our country. Nor is a recession. It’s about finding balance, and to be honest, that balance is never going to be a stable point.

    So I both agree and disagree with both of you. I still think that in an ideal world we’d have a reasonably high rate of taxation, and it would be primarily a tax on income rather than on goods and services. The Tories try to argue that the higher rate of VAT is a progressive tax – that it hits the rich harder than the poor – but if you think about it this just isn’t the case. Yes, their (the more well-off) literal *spending* on VAT-applicable goods may be higher, but as a proportion of their weekly income – or outgoings – they spend less on those goods. Meanwhile the poorer people will a) not be saving so much money, so income and outgoings will be closer to equal, and b) each VAT’d consumable will be a higher proportion of income. And don’t forget VAT applies to womens’ sanitary wear, too. It’s not as if any of us can cut out goods to which VAT is applied altogether. I do think the only truly progressive tax is, therefore, a tax on income. And perhaps the Robin Hood tax as well, that would be good, I think. Personally I don’t have a problem with a 50% rate of tax, but I don’t want to make any argument about ‘not minding a higher rate of taxation’ until I’m the one earning the money and losing a decent whack to the government each year. I don’t think I’ll mind too much – my parents are still all for it, and however much I spout here about the middle ground between these two arguments, I’ve had a number of fairly fundamental socialist beliefs absolutely instilled into me like some kids get the Catechism.

    As for public services, well, we’ve put a lot of systems in place as a country which, as it turns out, aren’t as good as the systems in place in other countries. We can all think of examples in other countries where public education or transport are just better. Clearly there is a need to revise the way the government spends money on state services so that they are more efficient or just simply better at doing what they’re supposed to do – but if other countries can do it I don’t see why we can’t. On the other hand we are one of the very few countries in the world to have a completely comprehensive national healthcare system and that, I think (the having it, not the being in a tiny minority) is a Really Good Thing.

    As far as transport is concerned, nationalisation back in the seventies didn’t perhaps work terribly well, but it’s not as if privatisation has markedly improved it, it’s just made it increasingly hard to afford. In the end we’ll have a brilliant service with plenty of seats and lovely onboard food because tickets will be so expensive that actually, only businesspeople and rich, retired train enthusiasts will be able to use the trains we have.

    I think the public sector is about making sure that everyone, rich and poor, is able to travel where they want, learn as much as they want to learn, and is in a fit state to do all of these things, whilst living somewhere where they are warm and safe and have enough to eat. Answering all those needs in our people should, in an ideal world, put them on a level playing field as far as life chances, careers, and so on are concerned. This isn’t an ideal world, but I think part of hte point about state services is that they should do what they can to level the playing field. I don’t think the primary aim should be to keep taxes as low as possible – are you really saying you want to be taxed just enough that the roads can be tarmacced and the streets policed and the army equipped and fed and paid and that’s it? Because that’s what the argument ‘as low as possible’ says to me. I want a state which does it’s best to ensure that, whatever I do with my life, whether I work in Tesco or become an oil magnate, that absolutely should not affect my childrens’ chances in life. I’m not talking a completely redistributive state by any means. And I’m not above or against taking opportunities where they’re offered, I don’t think it conflicts with my belief that the State should be able to educate my children as well as Eton if I then choose to send my children to Eton (where Eton clearly = The best school in the world).

    Oh ‘eck, I’m just constantly repeating myself now, aren’t I? I think you probably get the picture.

  22. “Lower taxes widen the gap between rich and poor – the rich get richer, but the poor don’t necessarily. ”

    This actually isn’t true. The gap between the two may widen, but generally lower taxes mean both the rich and poor get richer. Personally, I think the better system is the one which makes more people richer; I don’t care if some are richer than others. Equality of opportunity is much more important than equality of outcome.

    I agree about completely unregulated markets, which is why I haven’t argued in favour of them…

    “Higher taxes and appropriate government spending means that everyone has access to basic services and opportunities which give the poor the chance to be less so”

    Actually, I don’t think this is true either. In fact, I think that many government-supplied services are terrible, and would be better replaced by services run by others. Do high taxes and government spending on our schools mean that the gap between rich and poor closes? No, because children of richer parents overwhelmingly tend to do better than poorer children.

    “Thatcher was not good for our country.”

    To an extent, I think she was good. The economic policies that her government enacted (and which have set the trend for subsequent governments) actually did us a lot of good; after the various issues in the 70s, we absolutely needed to change the way things worked. Of course, setting those policies without regard for the human cost (for instance shutting the coal mines, but doing very little to help ex-miners), was a big mistake, but I don’t think she deserves to be as vilified as she is.

    “The Tories try to argue that the higher rate of VAT is a progressive tax”

    Think about this. Richer folks tend to spend more on the “luxury” items that VAT is levied on than poorer people do. So intuitively, you’d kind of expect it to be progressive. Because those who spend more, must therefore pay more VAT. Here’s a decent article about it, and it makes this point and shows that, when expenditure is considered (which is the more relevant thing to look at in this instance), VAT is in fact progressive.

    The Robin Hood tax is, by the way, a fundamentally terrible idea. It simply wouldn’t do what they say it would do, and here are a couple of good articles which explain why much better than I could do.

    “As for public services, well, we’ve put a lot of systems in place as a country which, as it turns out, aren’t as good as the systems in place in other countries”

    This is true. If we look around, the better systems (in terms of good outcomes, and run efficiently) tend to be those which employ markets. Why there is resistance towards having that sort of system here, I have no idea. Because it doesn’t mean we can’t still pay for services out of taxation, just that the state doesn’t supply them. Yes, it’s nice to have a comprehensive health system, but how much nicer would it be if it actually worked well?

    “I don’t think the primary aim should be to keep taxes as low as possible – are you really saying you want to be taxed just enough that the roads can be tarmacced and the streets policed and the army equipped and fed and paid and that’s it?”

    Sort of. I reckon we need a state for certain things. Yes, the army, police, courts and so on. I’m also not opposed to some form of welfare being provided, and I think it’s better if education and healthcare are largely funded from taxation (as an aside, you mention roads; actually I don’t think tax should pay for those. At least not motorways, they should be privatised). But whilst doing this, yes, I think tax should be as low as possible whilst doing those things we think the state should do. Why would we want to pay more?!

    Broadly speaking though, I don’t think that high taxes and state provision of services, is the best way of delivering things; we get sort of half working services and massive tax bills. I think we can do better, much better, and maybe even spend less doing it. I really don’t understand why people still cling to socialist beliefs; there were a number of socialist “experiments” in the 20th century and as a result of those we discovered that actually, it’s markets which work better, which lead to the better, more efficient services and ways of doing things. If we want a richer, more equal society (in terms of equality of opportunity) then we really need to embrace economic liberalism, and have (regulated) markets for public services.

  23. Antony

    This made me smile. I like talking to complete strangers on trains. It’s fun. You get some completely batty people. I worked in a caravan shop a while ago too – same experience.

    I was going to wade in with Evil. I shall not. I shall go so far as to say I agree with a few points Dickie has said. I shall also state that Thatcher=bad, cuts=bad, tories=bad are *rhetoric*. Not arguments. Arguments are reasoned and when you apply reason, Thatcher had both good sides and bad sides. Just like, and I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, Tony Blair. The lines (left vs right) are drawn too arbitrarily and simplisticly. This argument applies for cuts=bad, tories=bad, communism=bad etc. Very few things are ever that simple, with the obvious exceptions like genocide=bad.

  24. Jenny

    Sometimes I do like talking to strangers on trains, mostly I’d rather keep myself to myself, but I’ve had some lovely conversations about all sorts of things :).

    I don’t think I ever made the argument (or ‘rhetoric’) that Thatcher=bad, etc etc. Nor, I think, did Clare, but I can’t vouch for that (or rather I would rather go to bed than wade through all the comments already on here). I can understand that when Thatcher came into power a lot of changes needed to be made; I just don’t necessarily agree that Thatcher made the right changes or in the right ways. The Tories aren’t wholly bad, of course not, they’re not the flipping Nazis, and there are some good things that they’ve done. As an approach, though, I think a centre-left approach is better. We need the ‘tory’ free market (I wouldn’t argue that it was Tory, but nvm) but we also need strong state support and reasonably high taxation.

    I also don’t agree that the lines left vs right are drawn too arbitrarily and simplistically – rather that the media aligns one party with one side of hte line, and another party with another, and that’s wrong and simplistic. Left wing and right wing are serious descriptions of actual positions in terms of political philosophy, not just random media labels, and that’s where peopel get confsued, I think.

    Sorry about my appalling typing. THe usual arrangement of textbooks and mugs and wahtnot is impeding my progress somewhat.

  25. “I also don’t agree that the lines left vs right are drawn too arbitrarily and simplistically”

    Have to say I agree with Antony, left and right are way too simplistic for describing a complex set of opinions. Something like the political compass is much better (although even that is probably too simple…)

    By the way –

    “We need the free market […] but we also need strong state support ”

    Mutually exclusive, surely? Because by definition, state support means a non-free market… 😉

    @ Antony – I’d say “Communism=bad” is a reasonable thing to say, bearing in mind the decent amount of economic evidence to back up that assertion.

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