Interesting letter in The Times a couple of days ago.
This [proposed regulation of jetskis] raises the question that if motorcycles for the road did not exist, would they now be invented and, if so, would they be made legal?
That's an interesting question, for a whole lot of reasons.
I think that a) they would, and b) they would not. That is, I think that someone would have the excellent idea that a motorised vehicle on two wheels rather than four would be more economical than a car, use fewer of the earth's resources, cause less pollution and congestion, and be a whole heap of fun, so they would be invented at some point. In fact, the motorcycle as an invention is older than the car. Daimler and Maybach unveiled their motorised bicycle in 1885, whereas Benz's Motorwagen was not patented until 1886. Just thought I would get that one in.
And no, I can't see them being allowed in the UK, the most risk-averse, nannying, controlling country in the modern world. In a world where the majority opt to travel in an enclosed tin box, replete with climate control, crumple zones, safety belts, soft edges and 'driver aids' like ABS and active suspension, the idea of climbing on top of a naked machine no bigger than you are and travelling at high speed on public roads with nothing but your own skill and the forces of physics to keep you upright and a bit of leather and Kevlar to protect you seems pretty preposterous.
But then, if they invented alcohol today (with all the known health risks and social problems it causes), it would probably never be permitted to be sold. And no-one wants to ban alcohol, do they? Oh, hang on; this is UK 2009. As you were.
One of the reponses to this letter says it all:
If the m/c were invented now it would never be licensed by any rational authority as too dangerous for use on public roads. If they cannot be banned the tax on thir [sic] sales should be prohibitive.
Thank you, John Dean. I don't know where to start with this piece of authoritarian bullshit. For one thing, it assumes that any new invention has to be 'licensed' by a 'rational authority' before people are allowed to use it. Who is that authority going to be? And who is to decide what is rational? I choose to ride a motorbike. I have assessed the risks, I have taken appropriate precautions, and I believe that the risks, balanced against the benefits, are acceptable. That's rational in my book. But not according to John. He wants everything to be assessed by an 'authority' and the common people only allowed to do what his 'authority' deems acceptable. I rather get the feeling that John sees himself as part of this 'authority', or that at least the 'authority' will generally agree with him. I'd love to see his face when some future 'rational authority' bans cycling, or walking, or lentils, or knitting 'for safety reasons'. Once this genie is out of the bottle, it's not going to go back willingly.
For another thing, why do these interfering pecksniffs always think that banning something is a proper response to anything they don't like? This translates rather neatly to the following syllogism:
- It is acceptable to prevent other people from doing things of which I do not approve
- I do not approve of motorcycles
- Therefore, motorcycles should be banned.
One of the biggest changes I have seen in my
So who the hell are these people who think they can decide how I (or anyone else) can live my life? Well, they used to be old retired colonels writing to the Torygraph, or spinsters who had nothing better to do than complain about 'young people these days'. Then it became the preserve of Student Union moralists, who liked to decide who was to be allowed the benefit of free speech, and who was to be denied it. And now it is the governing class - politicians, quangocrats, the mainstream media, and especially the BBC. It's a long way back to the freedoms I enjoyed as a child.
Well, as far as I am concerned, you can all sod off. I will live my life according to my rules, take my own risks, and live with the consequences. If I crash and burn (in any sense of the phrase), I will be helped by a health service that I have paid for out of my taxes, and I promise not to complain when you make demands on communal resources resulting from your lifestyle choices (I don't smoke or take drugs, for example, but my NHS helps people who do.)
The other point is, of course, the notion that if something cannot be banned, it should be punitively taxed. Aside from the idea that taxation has become, not a simple method for the government to raise money to do the things it wants to do, but a means of coercing us into behaving in certain ways, there's a big problem with this, and it's a moral one.
If you tax something heavily because you think it is undesirable, then who is most affected by your actions? I'll tell you - it's poor people. Rich people may bitch and complain, but they won't be put off if it's something they want to do. So you get the situation where a socially-coercive measure has different effects on different parts of society. Effectively, the poor are stopped from doing it (or are further impoverished), while the rich are merely inconvenienced. How that can be presented as just or fair is beyond me. Increase tobacco taxes by 500% and you will certainly reduce smoking - by poor people. The rich can carry on. Increase the Road Tax on older cars, and the guy in a minumum-wage MacJob with six kids to support will have to give up his car. The rich guy will just buy a newer model.
Socialists tend to approve of this kind of punitive taxation. No, I don't understand it either.
I had a wonderful insight into how this kind of mindset works shortly after the introduction of the Congestion Charge in London. One one of my very rare visits to the capital, I was taken to a function in the City by my brother-in-law. In the late evening, we were standing on a street corner waiting for a taxi, when I commented on how quiet the streets were, and that the charge seemed to be having the desired effect. "Congestion Charge, I love it!" he said. "Roads for the Rich!"
I can accept (a little reluctantly) that a government has the right to raise money from the governed to pursue its legitimate aims (which I would limit to defending the nation, maintaining a police and justice system, and putting out fires, but that's another argument entirely). But when did the population agree that the government could take money from us by force in order to influence our behaviour in areas which, until quite recently, were considered to be matters of personal choice?
To get back to John Dean and his interfering, authoritarian kind: if they can't ban something outright, they want to use the tax system so that most people can't afford to do it, and everyone feels punished for wanting to do something they have freely chosen. And the rationale behind all this is that They know better than You what is good for you, and are prepared to use force to make you comply. Do what Nanny says, or you get a smack.
Welcome to 21st Century Britain - cradle of democracy, land of the free. The sad thing is, even a change of government won't make the slightest bit of difference.