What physicists understand that economists don’t

Also in Spectator letters: cash from the EU was Britain’s in the first place; the illiberal left

21 January 2017

9:00 AM

21 January 2017

9:00 AM

Particle of faith

Sir: Fraser Nelson draws our attention to the most worrying aspect of economists getting it wrong, which is their reluctance to recognise it (‘Don’t ask the experts’, 14 January). Some economists, seduced by sophisticated mathematical models, aspire to the status of, say, particle physicists, who can tell us they have found something called the Higgs boson. The fact that we tend to believe the particle physicists despite being more familiar with prices, jobs and buying and selling than with quantum equations comes down to physicists having a long track record of heeding the biologist E.O. Wilson’s advice: ‘Keep in mind that new ideas are commonplace, and almost always wrong.’
Jon Wainwright
London SE5

Health warning

Sir: Rod Liddle lists some of the reasons that have been put forward to account for the current crisis in the NHS and adds another of his own (‘The lies we tell ourselves about the NHS’, 14 January), but short of urging that we don’t give the service any more money, he has no suggestions of how to improve matters.

May I suggest the opposite? Of all the developed countries in Europe, Britain spends the lowest proportion of its GDP on health, and half what the USA does. How can we expect a first-class service if we spend the money elsewhere?
Dr Ian McKee

Illiberal lefties

Sir: Last week’s Spectator (14 January) achieved a remarkable meeting of minds. Your tame leftie (Rod Liddle) and your equally excellent in-house right-wing ideologue (James Delingpole) both excoriated the ‘liberal left’. But they’re both wrong. In its intolerance of views other than its own, its ambivalence about freedom of expression, its assumption that bigger government is better government and its arrogant, self-satisfied hypocrisy, today’s left is anything but liberal.

Fascist may be too strong a word and one that’s been debased as a general term of political abuse (ironically, by the left). But the original fascists, Mussolini and Mosley, began as socialists impatient with the democratic process. At the very least, Rod, James and others, can we please stop calling these people ‘liberal’?
Jeremy Stocker
Willoughby, Warwickshire

Locally sourced

Sir: As a professor at King’s College, Christopher Prendergast does it no service as an advertisement for success in imparting the skills of reasoned argument — to adapt the words he uses of Charles Moore (Letters, 14 January). Of course the University of Cambridge has only recently come to rely on running water and electricity, just as it has enjoyed European funding for only 40-odd years. But two points have eluded Professor Prendergast’s less-than-vigilant attention. First, Cambridge has had donors for the whole of its existence, whether those benefactors be monarchs, bishops, nobles, businessmen or ministers of the Crown. Secondly, as the United Kingdom has always been a net donor to the European Union, any money gained by Cambridge from Brussels really comes from British tax revenues. Once departure from the EU is achieved it is to be hoped — if not indeed expected — that this money will come directly from its source rather than through an external organisation.
C.D.C. Armstrong,

Strike a balance

Sir: Your cartoon about a man striking at home (14 January) reminded me of the dilemma clinical psychologists faced in 1984. We were advised by the British Psychological Society that it would be understandable if we wished to take action in support of the miners. However, as professional persons employed in the healthcare sector, we were disbarred from strike action.

The concluding recommendation was that we should do our work as usual, but pretend we were not there. I duly used the unpicketed back gate to my hospital.
Christopher Macy
Consultant clinical psychologist
Wellingore, Lincoln

Dictating taste

William Cook (Arts, 14 January) is right to point out that not all dictators have terrible taste in art — Mussolini certainly did not, at least at first. But he is mistaken in thinking that the Degenerate Art exhibition closed for good in 1937. It in fact toured many other major cities, including Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna, attracting huge crowds. Alas, most spectators came to jeer and mock, as intended by its organisers.

As for the joys of Adolf Ziegler’s ‘Four Elements’: well, even some Nazis sniggered at Ziegler’s boneless nudes, dubbing him ‘Master of the Pubic Hair’. In the end, Hitler had the paintings removed from the walls of the Berghof.
Nigel Rodgers
Berwick St James, Salisbury

It crops up again

Sir: Your recent correspondence regarding maize in Britain (Letters, 31 December) prompts me to promote the wonderfully ‘restored’ Rosslyn Chapel (in Midlothian, near Edinburgh). Here, clear representations of maize are present in the multitude of fine sculptural details (c. 1450), which might celebrate pre-Columbian Viking journeys to North America. The family had strong Orcadian links, with Sir William, the founder of the chapel, being the last St Clair Prince of Orkney.
Philip Bradfield
Dunfermline, Fife

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