Sunday, 2 December 2012

On The Person of Jesus

I recently attended a talk by someone from the Student Christian Movement on 'The Person of Jesus'. It was good and one thing he said in particular struck me. Christians are divided into many, many different groups that disagree on almost every imaginable question of doctrine and practice large and small.  But the one thing they all have in common is the person of Jesus. That sounds like it should be really obvious but it made me think about the type of man Jesus must have been, to have made such an impact on people. In particular in contrast to the apparent provincial nature of his life and death. This quote by James Allan Francis, I think, says it better than I could.

"Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.
He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...
While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.
I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life."

For me another the thing that makes Jesus even more remarkable is just how little we do know about him but he stills has this impact.  We have 4 short, extremely partial, fragmentary accounts of a short period of his life spanning at most 3 years. He spoke largely in riddles and metaphors that can be difficult to access today and the exact meaning of which people disagree massively. He left no writings and died an apparent failure.

Look at other great spiritual leaders.  Muhammed died a successful military leader, ruler and lawgiver of a powerful and united state that had already conquered all Arabia and would sweep across most of the civilised world in a single lifetime. Buddha died leaving a thriving and spreading community of monks and disciples several thousand strong and was mourned across much of Northern India. Both died peacefully surrounded by their adoring followers.  Jesus died alone, leaving no money, no written works, no organised community or military force, an apparent failure, and for centuries after his death his followers were a scattered and persecuted minority in states that hated them.

What a man he must have been. How incredible must have been his character and his sheer force of personality, that he could tell people to leave all their possessions and follow him to life and death and they did.  How incredible must he have been that his memory and example was enough to drive his followers through three hundred years of persecution. And that even today, even through the cloudy mirror of those partial, 2nd hand accounts we have of him, he is a real force that speaks to people and changes their lives and is as real and present as any person they know.

And today there are more Christians than any other religion in the world, his words exist in more languages and have been distributed more widely than any other words ever spoken and continue to influence people from almost unimaginably different backgrounds, nations, geographies and lifestyles today. Despite the partial, fragmentary nature of the Gospels the personality and person revealed in those pages shouts loudly enough to capture the hearts of people in every corner of the world in the deepest, most personal manner possible.  And is revered almost universally, even among countless people who don't count themselves as Christians. To 2 billion Christians he is God Incarnate, to a Billion Muslims a revered prophet of God, to many millions of Hindus and Buddhists a respected teacher or incarnation of God, and even for many non-religious people around the world an important spiritual and moral example and innovator.

For me personally the man I met in those Gospel pages has filled my entire life, despite the distance, the huge distance of space and time that physically separates us. It has shouted with a voice that always, even in my darkest and most faithless moments, I have never been able to get out of my head and heart. He has been my teacher, my example, my constant challenge to do and be better, my friend, my ever-present support, my master, My King and my God.

In classic Christian theology there is no book or law or thing or vision that is the Revelation of God. There is a person, Jesus Christ, who is the Truth, the Word, The Revelation, the Way, the Love, the Life, the Salvation, the Being of God, and everything that matters is defined in reference to him. And we could do vastly worse than for us all to have nothing in common but him.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Populations of Middle Earth - Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit: Eriador

In part 1 of this series I looked at the two great Kingdoms of men at the time of the Lord of the Rings, Gondor and Rohan. These are the countries we have the only detailed large scale figures given in LOTR, and from these figures for armed forces we can calculate sensible figures for total population. Gondor and Rohan seem to be the two largest countries described in LotR and the Hobbit. Across the rest of the wild lands of Eriador and Rhovanian we have many more settlements, but they are all considerably smaller and scattered across the wide country, almost all probably numbering their populations in tens of thousands rather than hundreds or millions. In this part I cover Eriador. And then in Part 3 Wilderland to the east, as well as the Southern Lands.

Probably the largest of these is also the one that will be most familiar to any fan of Middle Earth, the Shire. Friendly, idyllic home of the friendly Hobbits. Also probably the largest settled land in Eriador. The Hobbits not having an army we have no figures given that we could use as a basis to estimate the total population, as we have for Gondor and Rohan. What we do know is the size of the Shire, some idea about roughly how densely it was settled, and various contextual references to the numbers of Hobbits. We have numerous references to groups of "hundreds" of Hobbits: at Bilbo's party, with the implication this was a sizeable part of the local population; and the hundreds of hobbits who quickly rallied to answer the call to fight the Ruffians in 'Scouring of the Shire'. We even have a few references to thousands of Hobbits as in the following passage about Sam's work to repair the Shire "Hobbits can work like bees when in the mood and the need comes on them. Now there were thousands of willing hands of all ages.." We also have the seeming description of the Shire as a place nowhere densely packed with Hobbits and the seeming lack of any major towns or centres of population. All these point to a relatively low figure for the population of the Shire. If 'thousands of willing hands' constituted 10% of the population, as we can perhaps imagine such a popular effort doing, then that would mean a population of 10,000's, perhaps anywhere from 30,000 - 100,000.

There are other clues that point to much larger number of Hobbits. Firstly there is the size of the Shire, a country of 20,000 square miles, about 35% of the size of England. Even taking the English population as far back as Saxon times as a model, that would indicate a population of hundreds of thousands of Hobbits. This seems to conflict with the small numbers of Hobbits described elsewhere, and also the level of political and legal organisation of the Hobbits, who seem to exist with almost zero government of any kind at all, most unlike the larger populations of Rohan and Gondor who have recognisable government structures. The other fact that points to a larger population is the sheer history of the Hobbits. They have been in the Shire for 1400 years by LotR. And although there have been wars and plagues in that time, compared to Europe in the last thousand years they have led a sheltered and peaceful existence in a temperate and fertile land. To be honest their population should have grown massively in that time, which any figure below the hundreds of thousands just does not seem to match up with. 

One partial solution may come from assuming that although the Shire was itself large that large parts of that area were not heavily populated. from Tolkien's maps and description it does appear that population was concentrated in a central and eastern belt. Also we are given the names of at most a few dozen settlements. Even assuming as many more un-named ones we have at most 50-100 settlements with some population scattered in between. These would have been small by any modern standard. The largest towns of Buckland and Michel Delving would not have numbered more than a few thousand, or they would have required larger scale infrastructure than the Hobbits seemed to have anywhere. Most villages would have numbered no more than hundreds. If we assume that the Shire population was spread across about half of the actual shire area, with large areas of the North-farthing, west-farthing, marish, hills, and other areas almost uninhabited, and divide the Shire up into approximately a hundred settlements (and their hinterland) with on average 1000 population each, then we start to very roughly converge on a median figure of about 100,000 Hobbits. This is a very rough figures, between the tens of thousands suggested by some information and the hundreds of thousands suggested by other information, but it's probably the best we can ever hope to do, with a likely range of perhaps 60,000-140,000 Hobbits. 

To the far west of the Shire stood Lindon, an ancient Elf country on the western edge of Middle Earth. Lindon was the last remnant of Beleriand and most of the Eldar from Beleriand dwelt there. It had stood through the 2nd and 3rd age but slowly and continually diminishing. In the 2nd age it was a powerful Kingdom under Gil-Galad and led the opposition to Sauron, with a mixed population of Noldor, Sindar and Nandor elves, mostly refugees from Beleriand. But with the passing of millenia many died in the wars or left Middle Earth to sail into the far West. Lindon waned, after the death of Gil-galad there was no King anymore, and Cirdan was merely Lord of the Havens. But according to the Tale of Years still well into the 3rd age Lindon sent armies to fight. By the LotR its population had diminished to the point where this was no longer possible anymore. Working from my figures for the population of Beleriand it is possible to calculate a rough ballpark figure for the number of survivors of Beleriand of around 400,000 with perhaps around 250,000 leaving straightaway to return to Valinor and around 150,000 remaining in Middle Earth. We can guess the population of Lindon in the early 2nd age as roughly 150,000, which it itself in the same ballpark as a large Kingdom in Beleriand. A population that for centuries until the rise of Sauron was spread over Lindon and eastern Eriador. This population would have decreased dramatically to the end of the 3rd age, with a population of perhaps as little as 30,000-40,000 remaining, a similar size to the Falas in the 1st age. 

Also in the Blue Mountains that gave the boundary of Eriador we are told there dwelt various groups of Dwarves. Large populations of Dwarves lived at Belegost and Nogrod during the 1st Age. These mansions were apparently devastated after the first age during the drowning of Beleriand when the River Lune cut through the Blue Mountains, producing the geography we are familiar with in the 2nd and 3rd Age. There are a few scattered references to Belegost but not Nogrod surviving into later ages, but it never apparently amounted to much, and most of its population is recorded as emigrating to Khazadum. Various groups of Durin's folk also dwelt in the Blue Mountains throughout the 3rd Age when first Moria then the Grey Mountains then Erebor were all plundered by evil creatures. Most significantly that is where Thorin dwelt directly before the events of the Hobbit. Taken the figures from the First Age as a starting point and scaling down considerably it is probably most accurate to assume a mixed population of tens of thousands of Dwarves dwelling at various parts of the Blue Mountains. Perhaps at its height reaching the high tens of thousands shortly before the Hobbit but certainly considerably lower than that by the time of the Lord of the Rings due to a large migration to Erebor after the death of Smaug. 

Spreading out now through Eriador from the Shire we get to Bree-land. Bree-land was the area around the village of Bree, which included Bree itself and the nearby villages of Staddle, Combe and Archet. Bree had a mixed population of Hobbits and Men. Tolkien makes references to Bree having "a hundred stone house of the Big People" as well as Hobbit Holes and presumably various wooden buildings. From this surprisingly low figure and from the repeated description of Bree as a village we can assume it did not have a large population, certainly no more than a few thousand at most. We can also safely assume that Bree was the largest settlement, and so each of the other 3 villages would be some unspecified degree smaller. All in all it would appear that Bree-land would not have a total population more than 5,000. Certainly less than 10,000 Men and Hobbits. 

This leaves us with 3 other settlements in Eriador, one well known, two barely hinted at, but all quite small. The first and most famous is Rivendell, where the House of Elrond stood. Rivendell or Imladris existed from year 1700 of the 2nd age through to the LotR. It has been depicted as of varying sizes from a large house to the size of a small densely packed village. It's importance seems to belay the small size described for it. Not just its importance to the plot either. In the 2nd age and early 3rd age it seems to take an active military role, something that doesn't seem possible for a large house. Even if we assume that a large part of Rivendell's power was in the wisdom and magic of the people who did dwell there, as well as the power of the Elven ring that Elrond wore, it still seems that the population there fluctuated. Rivendell was founded by a force led by Elrond that resuced refugees from Eregion in the 2nd age, and then came under siege from Sauron for more than a year. This group could not have numbered less than a few thousand, and this seems a reasonable guess for Rivendell's population in the 2nd Age. Certainly by the LotR it had diminished in a similar manner to Lindon and probably no more than a few hundred people dwelt there, perhaps 400 at most. 

The other two settlements were never mentioned explicitly by Tolkien but can be deduced. Tolkien a number of times described an Eskimo like population living in the far north adapted to the arctic conditions there. These aided Arvedui, the last king of Arnor, but there is no reason to think they didn't survive to the time of LotR and their population probably numbered in the thousands scattered across a vast area in the far north. 

The 2nd group is slightly more controversial. Logic dictates that Aragorn and his rangers must have been a part of a larger population, purely to account for their wives and children. Evidence suggests, and Tolkien confirmed this in one of his letters, that actually a larger Dunedein people still existed at the time of LotR, from which the rangers were drawn. This fits with their description as the last Nobility and Knights of the Lost Kingdom of Arnor. Simply put, if they were the last nobility, then you would except there to be a few other non-nobility as well. Tolkien states that they dwelt in the Angle near Rivendell, in the east of Eriador. This would have been a safe and hidden location close to Rivendell. We are never told how many Rangers there are. Halbarad gathers 30 Rangers in haste to travel south to fight in Gondor, which suggests the total number was much higher than that. The way the Rangers are described suggest there can't have been that many of them though or they would have a constituted a recognisable army. A figure in the hundreds is almost certainly accurate, but whether low or high hundreds is impossible to say. This would have been part of a larger Dunedein population probably numbering in the low thousands, but again an exact figure is impossible to give.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Populations of Middle Earth - Lord of the Rings Part 1

In previous posts in this series I looked at all the available evidence from Tolkien's many writings to calculate population estimates for Elves, and then Men, Dwarves, Ents  and Orcs in Beleriand in Tolkien's 1st Age, the time of the Silmarillion. In this next pair of articles I continue using the same method to calculate population estimates for Middle Earth during the 3rd Age, just prior to the events of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's most famous Epic.

I use what sparse figures we are given in Tolkien's writings, relative and contextual statements about the size and organisation of settlements and cities, and the most relevant parallels to real world civilisations to calculate the beste possible estimates for the populations of the various countries described in Lord of the Rings. I hope to eventually give estimates for the Mannish kingdoms of Gondor and Rohan, to the Hobbit Shire, Elvish Lorien and Rivendell, and the Dwarvish Kingdom under the Mountain. Finally, I will attempt to give a rough total population figure for the entirety of the West of Middle Earth at the end of the 3rd Age, just before it was devastated by the War of the Ring.

In this Part 1 I begin by looking at Rohan and Gondor, the two largest kingdoms of Men, for which we have the most information, and the centre of much of the fighting in Lord of the Rings. In part 2  will go on to look at the numerous other smaller settlements of Men, Elves, Hobbits, Orcs and others. I hope you enjoy it.  If you agree or disagree with my estimates or calculations here I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.


The only figure for Rohan we have is the size of its army.  According to the Unfinished Tales the Muster of Rohirrim was made up of 100 eoreds of 120 riders each, or a total of 12,000, not including the King's guard. It also states that this refers to a couple of hundred years previously to the War of the Ring, and the population of Rohirrim had increased since then.  This implies just prior to LoTR that the total of Riders could, in extremis, have numbered as high as 15,000.  Obviously this would be a theoretical total only. For example, after losses in the war with Saruman, and due to the great need for haste, Theoden only rode with 6,000 riders to Minas Tirith, giving a sense of what was actually practically possible. But still, this 12,000-15,000 is the best figure we have for the whole of Rohan.

In addition to the Riders Rohan also had infantry.  Rohan was largely modelled on an Anglo-Saxon-ish society, with added horses, and it appears this Infantry was conceived as similar to the Fyrd of Anglo-Saxon England that famously fought at Hastings. That is, a territory based part-time defensive militia, as opposed to a mobile professional armed force. This coheres with the references we have to this infantry, which are always of the type of 'Men of the Westfold', or some such, implying they were based in a territory to fight in defence of that territory, rather than being part of some standing army of Rohan in general. We have no figures how many the total 'Fyrd' of all Rohan would have been but the numbers of Infantry referred to seem to be somewhat similar to the number of riders, references are to hundreds and thousands. That said the infantry would almost certainly have outnumbered the Riders, even in as horse-orientated a society as Rohan, due to the considerable cost associated with maintaining horses, and the more part time nature of this force. The complete Rohan 'Fyrd' then probably numbered around 20,000, giving a total possible force of around 35,000. I think this is pretty solid as a theoretical total unless we assume that the Riders and Infantry overlapped depending on the demands of the situation, except for presumably a small professional core. This could reduce the total combined force that could be raised as either Riders or Infantry to perhaps as little as 20,000 in total.

The next question we have is what proportion this makes of Rohan's total population. Riders are perceived as almost but not quite equivalent to the Knights of the early medieval period, around the time of William the Conqueror. That is, professional, trained, well equipped soldiers capable of both tight manouvering and serious fighting. The strong implication is that they're not just any old farmer on an old horse. Interestingly this is also true to a certain extent of the infantry as well.  While definitely less professional and full-time than the Riders, they are, again, not portrayed as random peasants with a scythe in their hands. They fight highly successfully against full sized, equipped and murderous Orcs in both attack and defence, even when outnumbered. They are also obviously at least reasonably well equipped, trained and organised. Actually, this mirrors quite close the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, which although sometimes pictured as a nationally conscripted citizen militia, was actually made up of more well-off freemen who could afford both military gear and time away from their property to go on campaign. This must to some extent have been true of Rohan as well.

This all means that the 35,000 must have constituted only a fraction of the adult male population of Rohan, as one would expect from a low-tech settled, peasant society. I think it would be fair to assume that the infantry would constitute around 1/4 of the supporting adult male population, Riders, more expensive, more professional, would need economic support to sustain them, perhaps 1/8. If we combine these figures we can generate at least a reasonable population estimate for all Rohan.

20,000 infantry x 4 + 15,000 riders x 8 for the adult male population x 3 to take account of women and children. This gives a total of 600,000.  Alternatively we could assume an overlapping force of 20,000 that could largely serve as Riders or Infantry. The calculation is then 20,000 x 8 for adult males and x 3 for women and children = 480,000

The result of this is that the most accurate estimate is probably in the range of 400,000-600,000 people across Rohan.


In LotR we actually see surprisingly little of what appears to have constituted most of Gondor in terms of population, that is, the"populous southern fiefs" to the west of Minas Tirith. This is understandably unhelpful in terms of calculating population figures, but we do have some data to work on. The troops sent to reinforce Minas Tirith from the southern provinces numbered a little under 3,000 and apparently represented a tithe of the troops these provinces had available. That obviously gives a total figure of 30,000.  To this we need to add the standing forces of Minas Tirith: the City Guard, the Rangers of Ithilien, the troops guarding the Pelennor wall and the troops at Cair Andros. These standing forces were substantial but not vast, probably numbering a further ten thousand, possibly more. It would also make sense to take into account a contingent for Gondor's Navy, of say 5,000, which still apparently existed in the period leading up to the War. If we take a total for Gondor's strength of 45,000 this would probably be close.

Gondor's armies would probably have constituted a smaller percentage of its population than in Rohan.  Gondor is a more established, more 'civilised' society that Rohan, even at this late stage and hence, as in modern societies outside conscription, probably had a considerably lower proportion of troops to total population than Rohan. This would have varied considerably by area.  Gondor's original population was concentrated on the Anduin valley, between Minas Anor and Minas Ithil.  Minas Tirith, originally Anor, was itself originally founded to guard against attacks from Wild Men to the west! Long before the time of LotR, though, this situation had completely changed. Minas Ithil was taken, Osgiliath (once a great city) abandoned, and all Ithilien depopulated apart from the secretive Rangers and the majority of Gondor's population now lived to the west, shielded from Mordor by Minas Tirith and the standing forces who guarded the Anduin. Gondor's standing armed forces, of, we assume, around ten thousand men, would have been partially supported from Minas Tirith and Anorien and partly from taxes from the other provinces. The provincial levies would have been a slightly different story, being supported from their own territories and only called upon in time of general invasion or warfare.

In many ways Gondor mirrors the medieval Byzantine Empire, both consciously (Tolkien even referred to Minas Tirith as such) and unconsciously, in terms of relative geography, age, level of civilisation, political structure, level of technology etc . Minas Tirith and Osgiliath between them even have great similarities to the ancient city of Constantinople. So, the Byzantine Empire is a good means of taking various parallels to Gondor. One would be the size of Minas Tirith. At its height Osgiliath would probably have had a population around 500,000 (equivalent to Constantinople at its height), but after long centuries of decline, plague and war, by the time of LotR the population of Minas Tirith would quite probably have declined to around 50,000, with the entire Pelennor and near surroundings supporting perhaps 100,000. Taking into account that the city was evacuated of women and children prior to Sauron's attack, the actual population during the siege may have numbered no more than 30,000, which again would map with the population of Constantinople at its fall.

As for the population of Gondor in general, our first guess is that it would be presumably at least twice, if not three or four times that of the much smaller country of Rohan, so in the range of 1-2 million. Looking at the figures for the two types of troops we have for Rohan we can do similar calculations as we did for Rohan. The 30,000 provincial troops would represent perhaps 1/8 of the male population of fighting age, the 10,000 standing troops perhaps 1/14 of the supporting population. This gives the following calculations. 30,000 x 8 + 15,000 x 14 = 450,000 'adult' males, 450,000 x 2 = 900,000 adults and 900,000 x 4/3 = 1.2 million people. This figure probably broadly accurate, though it obviously varies considerably depending on what figures you think suitable for the multipliers. I think a figure of 1-2 million is probably as accurate as we can get.

A 3rd and final way of calculating this population involves utilising another parallel with Byzantium thanks to the work of a guy called W.Treadgold. Treadgold worked out that the total number of troops in the Byzantine Empire actually stayed a relatively constant proportion of the total population despite otherwise vast changes, advances, setbacks and the passing of Centuries.  Between 300-1080 AD the size of the army was always between 1.5-2.5% of the total population. Utilising this gives us another estimate for Gondor's population of roughly 40,000/0.02 = 2 million or 1.6-2.6 million, agreeing with our range of 1-2 million.

That completes part 1.  In the 2nd and 3rd part I look at the populations for the other settlements of the late 3rd Age including the Shire, Lindon, Rivendell, Lorien, Iron Hills, Mordor and more, and then attempting to give a final rough figure for the population of Middle Earth. I hope to see you there.

Part 2 - The Lands of Eriador

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Coalition must do Something Radical for the Economy. Anything.

The UK has officially re-entered recession for the first time since Autumn 2009. This has coincided with a collapse in the popularity of the Coalition government. Unsurprisingly. The 'double dip' of 2012 is far more important than merely being a problem for the government, or even temporary unwelcome news for the country though. It shows that the British economy is in far deeper long-term trouble than anyone could have thought even in the bad days of 2009. Hopes that the economy would just spring back from recession, the way it did in the 1930's, the 1980's and early 90's have vanished. Inflation has been higher, borrowing has been higher and growth lower than anyone predicted from 2008 to early 2011.

The Government's economic plan, known as Plan A, has failed. As far as most people are aware Plan A just means large spending cuts. But Plan A was never just cuts. Cuts would secure confidence in the government's control of the deficit and lower inflation, thus securing low interest rates and allow monetary stimulus to work, bringing money into the economy, allowing banks to rebuild their balance sheets and increase lending. Sharp devaluation in the currency and corporate tax cuts would tilt the economy in favour of exports and business investment, helping to drag the economy back to health. And increases in VAT and bank taxes would further encourage re-balancing away from financial services and consumption while also providing tax revenue to cut the deficit.

This plan has not worked though. Whether due to fear of cuts or the reality of higher inflation or fear of the eurozone crisis, business confidence collapsed. The eurozone crisis has made export led growth an impossibility. Rock bottom interest rates and massive quantitative easing have been tried for years but have not made enough difference. Increased capital requirements designed to make banking safer have led to lending contracting even in the face of QE and considerably high inflation has cut consumer spending much deeper than anyone expected. But that means things are even worse than we feared. We've tried running a massive deficit, and it hasn't been enough. We've tried printing hundreds of billions of pounds and it hasn't been enough. We've tried a huge devaluation of the currency and we've tried bailouts and we've tried subsidising lending, and we've tried raising taxes and we've tried cutting interest rates and none of it has worked. We've run out of buttons to press and levers to pull in an attempt to push the economy back to health and none of it has worked. The only possible conclusion is that the economy is in much worse fundamental health than after any previous recession.

Nor is there any simple Plan B alternative to austerity. The deficit is already sky-high leaving little room for further stimulus, and the deepening euro-crisis both sign-posts and increases the dangers of the markets losing confidence in the state's ability to pay its debts. The UK is a small, open economy with a floating exchange rate meaning any stimulus would just leak abroad, even before the danger of increasing interest rates. The facts don't support blaming austerity for poor economic performance anyway. The reality is that state spending has increased in both real and cash terms while the Coalition has been in power, adding to GDP in almost every quarter. The problem isn't the lack of growth in state spending, it is the fact that the wider economy has become unproductive. From 1999-2010 state spending grew 6% a year in real terms, and still overall growth fell from 3% to 2%, even ignoring the period actually in recession. A short-term fiscal stimulus can't solve these long-term problems even if we could afford it.

What that means is that the situation is not just going to get better on its own. With the failure of Plan A the government seems to have been reduced to just sitting there and hoping things turn out alright.  But this cannot work.  It was hoping that just managing the recovery would be enough to win the Coalition the next election.  But the recovery has failed, and this means that just managing the decline will lose the next election.  This cannot be stressed enough.  Unless the government does something dramatic, anything, then it is a dead certainty that Labour will win the next election with a decent majority and both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives will be devastated. However scary radical action may appear at this point, and however many people it annoys in the short term, is irrelevant for both Lib Dems and Conservatives because without it they are going to lose anyway.

They have to do something.  But fiscal stimulus and monetary stimulus have both been maxed out. There is no extra money to spend. The only thing the government can do is undertake radical reform to make the UK economy more efficient. To attempt to squeeze more bang out of each buck we do have. There are clear ways of doing this. Clear ways that the government can boost and liberalise the economy, show that it has not run out of ideas, and thus also support wider confidence. Each possible measure will annoy certain groups of people very vocally. But neither the Lib Dems or Conservatives have a choice, because without such radical reform they are definitely going to lose. With radical reform there is hope.  Even if these measures do not save the economy, they may save the government. The public are not unreasonable. A government can get re-elected with a weak economy, but only if the public can visibly see that the government has done everything to help that it could do. Governments lose when either they are blamed for causing it or they visibly have no ideas how to fight it.

If we wish to support a large welfare state with high taxes it becomes even more important, not less, to make sure the entire economy is functioning at peak, responsive efficiency. This is the major lesson to be learned from the Scandinavian countries, which are often held up as paragons of successful Socialism. These countries are not socialist countries in the way Britain was in the 1970's: ridden by restrictive practices, inefficient nationalised industries, powerful vested union interests etc. They are highly liberalised, solidly free-market economies just with high levels of taxation and public spending. On every measure of economic freedom they regularly score as well or better than the UK or the USA, apart from on measures of taxation and spending alone. Of course these measures are a drain on the economy, and that means that they can only be sustained, as they have been in Scandinavia, if the rest of the economy is operating at pitch efficiency.

Too often the argument about a growth plan oscillates between crude left wing demands for high public spending, without any regard for how efficiently that money is spent or raised, and crude right-wing demands for deregulation, without ever specifying what deregulation or how particularly this will benefit the economy.  In reality there are a wide range of possible radical measures that could help make the UK more responsive and more productive that come neither under the heading of slashing worker protection or just opening state money taps.The government has already previewed some of these ideas, but they have then gone quiet.  They seem have rejected them as too difficult to bother with.  But in our current situation nothing can be rejected out of hand without good reason. And now is the time to bring in reform, if there is any hope either that the country will see the benefit in the next 5 years or for the government to get re-elected. There are many such possible measures.  But they all involve various common themes, which I went into on my previous posts about pro-growth measures. Increasing investment, making government policy more responsive, reducing the distortions on incentives created by government action, ensuring stability etc.

On investment the government could engage in a below the surface stimulus. That would mean spending the same amount of money over-all, but shifting significant money from current to investment spending.  Basically that would mean cutting spending on government departments, programs and welfare and spending the money on infrastructure investment. Government estimates suggest that investment spending has 3x the benefit to growth of current spending. Britain's economy has suffered from chronic under-investment throughout the post-war era. Shifting £10 billion a year from current to investment spending could have a significant economic stimulus. Of course the downside is this requires deeper cuts in current spending.

The government could introduce immediate local differences in rates of public sector wages, the minimum wage and benefits, within some maximum variation of, say, 10%.  All these measures would face fierce opposition from those who lost out, but they would all make the UK Labour market more responsive and flexible to local conditions, which should produce a significant over-all gain. And much of the criticism could be muted by guaranteeing that no region will lose out monetarily over-all, either by ensuring money saved on wages or benefits remains within the region to be spent in other areas, or by deliberately increasing investment spending in those areas hit by a fall in wages.

Reform in the private sector could concentrate on boosting competition and ensuring markets function correctly. Those large banks under government ownership should be split up with the deliberate attempt to create more viable competitive retail banks.  It should be made an immediate legal requirement for current accounts to be fully transferable the way phone numbers currently are, to encourage consumers to switch bank. Legal measures should be introduced to remove all future possibility of bank bailouts, to allow failed banks to go broke like all other businesses. A FAT (financial activities tax) should be introduced for financial services, removing their VAT exemption and bringing their tax treatment into line with other businesses, and cutting the cost of financial services for businesses. Capital requirements should be temporarily reduced to encourage lending.

The manner in which we structure utilities should be broadly reviewed for value for money with the aim of boosting productivity.  This should cover both transport utilities, such as road and rail, and utilities such as gas, electric, water etc, as well as power generation.  All these utilities function as markets to the extent whereby competition is possible.  In gas and electricity competition is real, if limited, and legal efforts can be made to force greater transparency of tariffs and to make it easier for people to switch supplier. For rail there is competition from other transport options, but rail providers have local monopolies and the system of franchises has been claimed to cost the taxpayer and commuter vastly more than public ownership ever did. Options could include merging track and train ownership, mutualising network rail, cutting subsidies, increasing investment, fines for service disruption, or even wholesale re-nationalisation.  Road is the only one that is currently entirely publicly owned.  There should be consideration given to boosting investment through either privatisation or long-term leasing, or other options, and the introduction of road pricing on all motorways and major cities, with a corresponding cut in petrol duty, to take account of the cost of congestion. Speed limits on motorways could be raised to 80mph with a corresponding increase in the limit for HGV's. Water operates under a system of local monopoly with fixed prices.  There is claim and counter-claim as to whether this means improved, stable investment or just increased profits for monopoly providers. This should be reviewed with the aim of speeding up investment, renationalising bodies, or conversely, if possible, increasing the possibilities for competition along the lines of gas and electricity. Compulsory metering should be introduced. Etc.

Another area that could see wholesale reform is the structure of UK taxation.  Income tax and Employee NI should be merged immediately producing one single progressive tax on all income. CGT should also be merged with income tax in terms of rates and thresholds, with the exception of an annual rate of return allowance to avoid taxing purely nominal gains. This should also be applied to personal savings. This would massively simplify personal taxation, reduce distortions, cut admin costs and increase the transparency of how much tax everyone is paying. Housing and Land taxation could be massively overhauled removing stamp duty and establishing flat housing and land taxes for domestic and business property respectively, instead of the mess of regressive, our of date taxes and transaction taxes we have at the moment. VAT should be broadened to reduce distortions and reduce the economic impact of the tax system, as shown by OECD research. Corporation tax should be reformed to remove the tax incentive towards debt financing and incentivise investment in a clear manner.

If all these measures were introduced before the next election it would constitute a big bang in favour of growth and efficiency in our economy.  These measures may not begin to bear visible fruit by 2015 but it would certainly demonstrate that the government was doing everything in its power to reform Britain and improve our economy, while tackling fundamental inefficiencies and unfair distortions. And if not these measures, then others. The point is that there are options for radical action.  The only thing there isn't is politically cost-free options. But business as usual has fundamentally failed economically, and will therefore fail politically.  The government has the choice between doing nothing, and going down to defeat, or trying something, and possibly succeeding. This choice is the most important facing our government, dwarfing all others. The Coalition surprised observers by starting in 2010 with a burst of radicalism. Now in 2012 that radicalism has been worn down. The Coalition needs to find new radicalism, it needs a new landmark agreement to get it through the 2nd half of this parliament, for the good of the political parties and the whole nation. And given the failure of the economy then a radical growth package must be the heart of this new agreement.  If either party will not accept this then the government has no purpose anymore and a general election should occur. If it cannot agree on the radical action that we need, any radical action, then it has no point, and better to lose an election now and have it replaced by a government that may be willing to do something, than a zombie government that will coast through to 2015 before going down in defeat while Britain goes down the drain with it.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Populations of Middle Earth in the First Age - Part 2: Men, Dwarves, Ents & Orcs

In this article I will be continuing my look at the populations of Beleriand in the First Age, as described in J.R.R.Tolkien's work.  In Part 1 (available here) I worked out estimates for all the Elven populations of Beleriand and the wider Middle Earth at a snapshot based shortly before the Dagor Bragollach, the 4th Battle of Beleriand.  In this article I am going to attempt to work out similar estimates for the other inhabitants of Beleriand: Dwarves, Men, Ents etc.

In Part 1 I started with the single actual number we are given for the size of an army or population of the Eldar and from there used contextual information, relative figures and real world comparisons to work out some reasonable population figures, which I maintain are about as accurate and reasonable as is possible to get given all the available information Tolkien gives us. I would say that I am extremely confident that these estimates are within 30% of the 'true' figure, which I think is about as good as we could possibly get given the available information.

Luckily for the Mannish population we also have a starter number for the population of the Edain that we can use as a window to climb in through.  The Edain were divided intro three tribes, that of Beor, of Hador  (originally Marach)  and that of Haleth.  In 'The Peoples of Middle Earth', the 12th History of Middle Earth volume, 'On Dwarves & Men' we are told that the tribe of Beor entered Beleriand with around 2,000 adult men.  Multiplying this by 3 to account for women and children, we have a total population of around 6,000 on entry to Beleriand.  the Marachians are described as coming in three hosts, each as large as the people of Beor, and they are consistently described throughout Tolkien's work as being more numerous than Beor's people.  This gives us roughly 18,000 Marachians.  We aren't given an exact comparison for the Halethians.  Tolkien says they are numerous than the Beorians, but they are also described as not being very great in number, so we can assume they were not more numerous by very much.  I take a figure of 3,000 adult men, and hence about 9,000 people at first.  This gives us a total of around 33,000 people originally entering Beleriand.

These groups would have made up the core population that dwelt in Beleriand until it sank beneath the waves, and of which the surviving remnant would have gone on to populate Numenor, with eventually their descendants becoming the Dunedain of the 3rd age and then the Rangers of the North and leading people of Gondor down to the time of the Lord of the Rings and into the 4th age. Of these groups the Beorians eventually settled in Dorthinion, the Hadorians in Dor-Lomin in Hithlum and the Halethians in the forest of Brethil.

Even before the coming of the Easterlings there was some churn in these groups though. We are told  in Ch 17 of the Silmarillion 'Of the Coming of Men into the West' that two groups of around a thousand men each returned over the mountains, and I would take it as likely to assume that small groups of men continued to migrate for some time, and not that all men in Beleriand arrived only in three discrete groups . Of this total a mixed group remained in Estolad, and did not move onto the main domains with the majority of their tribes. The writing we have give the impression that both any groups of men who came over later, and the population of Estolad, were relatively small and not that significant compared to the main original populations.  They are hardly mentioned in the histories at all as independent groups.  So I am going to take those original three groups as the main populations to start with, and then attempt to make reasonable assumptions to cope with additions and subtractions and the Estolad population.

Around 150 years passed between the arrival of the Edain and the Dagor Bragollach, and from the family trees of the houses of Hador and Beor we can see that 6 generations were born in between the arrival of the Edain and the battle. The important question to working out the population of the Edain at the time of the Battle is how much these original populations would have expanded over 6 generations. I think it's reasonable to assume that the population increase would have been pretty dramatic, similar to rapidly developing areas of our modern world.  Meeting the Eldar and settling in Beleriand would have been the equivalent of the Edain suddenly advancing hundreds of years of technology overnight. They went from being nomadic, primitive peoples to being settled in a peaceful (at this time) land with all the benefits of the Eldar's knowledge of medicine, agriculture, and general technology and magic. As with real world populations we can assume that nutrition would have dramatically improved, infant mortality fallen, average life span increased and population shot up, especially as they didn't seem to have any equivalent access to birth control to drive birth rates down. All of these considerations lead me to assume a figure of about 30% increase per generation during this period, which shakes down at between 1-2% a year, relatively modest by current real-world population growth rates in many developing countries. Over 6 generations this gives a population multiplier of about 5.

That gives us figures for Beor's people 6,000 x 5 = 30,000 people and about 10,000 adult men; For Hador's people 18,000 x 5 = 90,000 people and about 30,000 adult men. For Haleth's people we now have to do something slightly more complicated. The Halethians were devastated shortly after arriving in Beleriand by a massive Orc raid.  It is implied that a considerably number of their small population were killed, and this would have considerably impacted on their later population.  Assuming 1/3 were killed, that gives a population of 6,000 (same as Beor) and hence a latter population of 30,000 and 10,000 adult men (approximately). This gives a total population of about 150,000 people.

Now I'm going to assume that the 2000 men that returned to the East would be broadly cancelled out by smaller groups of late-comers, which are not explicitly mentioned, which I think is reasonable, and hence ignore their loss from our calculations.  I would also guess that around 15-20% of these remained in the land of Estolad, which would be a number of around 25,000-30,000 by the Dagor Bragollach. This gives population figures by area of about 25,000 people in Dorthonion, about 75,000 people in Dor-Lomin and about 25,000 in Brethil.  

So we have an Edain population of around 150,000 in Beleriand in the years leading up to the Dagor Bragollach. This is about 10-15% of the Elven population in Beleriand and seems to me to be about right.  Large enough to be fielding armies and companies in support of the Eldar, but still relatively smaller than the Eldar, who it is repeatedly implied were the dominant population of Beleriand.

Now, if you thought that was hand-wavingly vague, we now move onto trying to come up with reasonable figures for the other denizens of Beleriand, and it gets even worse.  The Dwarves in Beleriand dwelt in two great mansions in the Blue Mountains: Belegost and Nogrod. Each of these were significant Dwarven Kingdoms, but on the other hand they were carved out of mountains, so we're not talking vast populations.  On that basis I'm assuming we're looking at similar population scales to the Elven kingdoms discussed in Part 1. Especially since the Dwarven mansions seemed able to field military forces that were broadly comparable to that of one of the Elven Kingdoms, as shown in their contribution to the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and the assault on Doriath.

Taking the 5th Battle as a starting point, it's obvious the Dwarves marched with significant forces, but presumably not as much as some of the great Elven armies. It was far less their war, and the Dwarven contribution is not referred to in the same grand manner as "Turgon's Host". On that basis I'm assuming a force of around 6,000-8,000 Dwarves from Belegost. I assume a higher population multiplier than for any of the Elven populations except perhaps Doriath.  The Dwarves were secretive and far less involved in the war with Morgoth than the Elves. They were hidden, and we have no evidence they ever sent their full strength beyond their border.  Their style, whether in the Silmarillion or later in the Hobbit seemingly was to send out a well prepared expeditionary force, presumably thought suitable to the task, rather than a muster of their whole able population, like the Eldar or Edain seemed to at times.

Taking a PM of 20 gives a population for Belegost of 120,000-160,000.  Now I have always had it in my head that Nogrod is portrayed as the larger and more powerful of the two, and hence presumably more populous Dwarven Kingdom.  However looking for a reference I can't find anything explicit.  They seem to take a more independent and aggressive policy in the 1st Age, not joining in the Nirneath and later going to war with Doriath. This would possibly suggest greater confidence stemming from size. Another suggestion is the fact that when the two Dwarven mansions are referred to they are consistently called 'Nogrod and Belegost', which may be taken to assume that Nogrod was the greater of the two and hence written first. That said, it may be for some linguist reason that has nothing to do with this. Until I can find some better evidence, or some reason to think that it is merely a linguistic convenience I am going to go with that assumption.   Hence I assume that  Nogrod had perhaps a population around 1/3 higher than Belegost, of around 160,000-220,000 Dwarves.  This gives a total Dwarven population of around 280,000-380,000 or, taking a central estimate, of around 1/3 million Dwarves.

For the Ents we have almost no information.  We know from LotR that they roamed the forests living in general isolation from other Ents. In 'The Two Towers' Ch. 'The March of the Ents' it is implied that dozens of Ents marched against Isengard, roughly the approach taken in the movies, and given their nomadic and solitary existence this would itself presumably have represented part of the Entish population of Fangorn.  I think we can assume there were in total a few hundred Ents in Fangorn during LotR.  The Forests of Beleriand were many, many times larger than that of Fangorn, looking at the maps I think it reasonable to assume the forests were at least 15 times larger in Beleriand, and hence would presumably have held as much as 15 times as many Ents.  This at least gives us a vague ball-park figure of an Entish population of around 5,000 Ents in Beleriand, and presumably several thousand more in the wider forests in the east of Beleriand.

Apart from possibly a few dozen petty Dwarves living around Amon Rudh at this point this finishes our survey of the free peoples of Beleriand. The total population of Beleriand: Elves, Men, Dwarves and Ents would then have been around 1.2 million + 150,000 + 300,000 + 5,000 = 1.65 million beings dwelling in the forests and plains, the cities, fields and mountains of Beleriand in the years leading up to the 4th Battle.

Of the evil creatures of Morgoth, and the populations of Easterlings, I don't think I can make any estimate.  The populations of Uldor and Bor, who initially settled under the Sons of Feanor, I imagine to have been of similar size to the populations of the Edain, probably each closer to that of Beor or Haleth.  After the Nirneath  though and the arrival of additional people the population of Easterlings would probably have been on a more similar scale to that of Hador.  Of the Orcs, Trolls, Dragons, Spiders and other foul creatures it is impossible to estimate.  Their numbers would have contracted and expanded dramatically as the Elves and Men slaughtered them and Morgoth bred them en masse within the grim halls of Angband. Taking the Army of Gondolin as a rough starting point it seems likely that at just before the Dagor Bragollach the combined armed strength of the Elves and Men engaged in the war against Angband (basically all minus Doriath) would have numbered around 100,000 (assuming Gondolin had the same proportion of the Eldar and Edain's warriors as it did population).  We can then assume at the Dagor Bragollach, and even more so at the Nirneath and in the years after when the Orcs overran all Beleriand, that Morgoth fielded hundreds of thousands of soldiers, with perhaps another hundred thousand based in Angband itself full-time as workers, a population perhaps rising up to and over a million by the time of the War of Wrath, and with the addition of perhaps 100,000 Easterlings.  Certainly teeming hordes of evil the equivalent of which the real world would not see until at least the Napoleonic Wars of the 19th Century.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Populations of Middle Earth in the First Age - Part 1: The Elves

If you're already a paid up Tolkien enthusiast you can skip to below the Map, or at least the first two paragraphs.  That's where the calculations start. This first bit is an intro for non-hardcore geeks. I originally wrote this article assuming only a few facebook friends would read it. Hence the intro for non-geeks.

Some of you may know I'm a huge Tolkien geek.  Now when I say Tolkien, you probably thought "ahh, right, Lord of the Rings and all that stuff",  (and quite possibly, "oooh Viggo, he's so dreamy". Please stop it.  Cram your tongue back into your head.  Thank you.) But that is where we part company. Don't get me wrong. I love Lord of the Rings, book and films, but if that's your main thought then we're fishing in different ends of the pool. You see, this is what separates an ordinary fan from a Tolkien geek. A fan loves LotR or perhaps the Hobbit, but if when I say 'Tolkien' your first thought was Silmarillion, First Age, the Noldor against Morgoth, then you're a Tolkien geek. I'm a particularly bad Tolkien geek, up from your average Silmarillion waving nerd. I am the final level of evolution: Luke Skywalker crossed with Captain America, of the Middle Earth nerd world. I know LotR, the Hobbit, Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and the Entire History of Middle Earth series backwards. I read the 'Lost Tales' for light bedtime reading. You have been warned.

Now, if after that you're still with me, let's get on. One of the other things I love doing is playing around with numbers. I was a mediocre mathematician, mainly due to abstract algebra, but I do love playing with actual numbers.  This brings these two together. Basically in this article I am going to look at all the evidence we're given in Tolkien's writings about the 1st Age, around 6500 years before the Lord of the Rings, to work out population estimates for Elves, Men and others in Beleriand, and Elves across Middle Earth.

One of the wonderful things about Tolkien's writings is the sheer range and depth of his description. Tolkien brought a scholar's precision and detail to creating his imaginary world but also a imaginative, creative mind and a romantic heart, to an extent that still captivates millions. Every scrap of his work is rich with detail on not only the races he invented but also the geography, the plant life, the landscape, languages, names, history, myth, legend, metaphysics: everything. In LotR all the references given to the size of the moon in the sky accurately match how the phases of the moon would in real life change over the time described as passing in the book.

But although he became famous from the LotR his true passion was for the story of the Elder Days of Middle Earth and the epic, doomed struggle between the Elves and Morgoth, the original Dark Lord. He worked on it for 50 years and never completed it but just kept re-writing and developing through a multitude of different perspectives, genres and styles. We're lucky that after he died his son, Christopher Tolkien, published the most developed parts as the Silmarillion we have today, and later all the other partial manuscripts and fragments in other books. As a historian I love this as well, because the vast collection of fragments and drafts and different thoughts and perspectives make up the closest, for an imaginary world, we could ever possibly get to the rich collection of different subjective views and partial records that as historians we use to piece together a picture of a real historical era.

One feature of Tolkien's writing is that he almost never gives any numbers for populations or armies or groups above a few people, e.g. the 9 riders or 7 sons of Feanor etc.  I think this was in keeping with the romantic, magical tone of Tolkien's works.  He wanted to paint a picture, to show rather than tell. Actual numbers bring a too sharp, bean-counting tone of realism and take you away from the individuals stories and their emotional impact. But he did give a couple of actual numbers and I use these sparse numbers as a window into his world. Although we have few actual numbers we do have more relative references, where one group are described as twice the size of another, or some such.  Also I use parallels to information about real-world historical populations and contextual information from the books themselves. For example, references to medieval styles armies: hosts and major battles won't refer to a few hundred people, or tens of millions. One final principle is that, as far as even vaguely possible, I will attempt to connect numbers given with other numbers given here, so I'm calculating all these numbers from at least something rather than just purely making up something that sounds plausible.

The 1st Age in Beleriand was predominately populated by the Elves, with Men, Dwarves, Ents and Morgoth's orcs and demons restricted to the far north until after the 4th and 5th Battles.  The Elves were divided between populations of Noldor out of the West, Sindar who had lived in Beleriand for millenia, and Nandor who had come over the mountains later in Ossirand, the land of 7 river and these Elves were divided into multiple Kingdoms as described on the map above, with Morgoth's power concentrated in the far north. To avoid the problem of dealing with dynamic population change I will attempt to give a snapshot estimate of populations shortly before the Dagor Bragollach, the End of the Siege of Angband, at the height of the Elvish Kingdoms.

Now, our window into the world of numbers we need is given by the one single, large scale figure we are given for Elves in the 1st Age.  That is the long-standing figure that "The army of Turgon issued forth from Gondolin, ten thousand strong", to the Battle of Un-numbered Tears. From this one figure we will now do a lot of magic and come up with Population Figures for all the Kingdoms and populations of the Eldar. The first thing is to estimate the population of Gondolin. What proportion did Turgon's 10,000 make of Gondolin's population, or in my jargon, what is the population multiplier (PM) to turn this figure into Gondolin's total population?

Firstly, I assume this 10,000 did not represent all Gondolin's possible soldiers. Unlike Hithlum, which seemed to send every last possible warrior to the Battle, and was left defenceless when they were all lost; Gondolin was not so committed to fighting the War or the Battle, and hence it seems reasonable to assume that Turgon would have left some soldiers behind. On the other hand, he knew how important this battle was, and hence presumably took most of his warriors. The very early text The Fall of Gondolin, which was both the first text on Middle earth Tolkien ever wrote back in 1917 and, strangely, the only full description of Gondolin or its fall he ever wrote, describes 12 companies of soldiers, of whom 8 went to the Nírnaeth Arnoediad. This would correspond to a figure of 12/8 x 10,000 = 15,000 troops in total. The 10,000 would form the core of the Army, whereas the 15,000 would form the total strength of Gondolin that could be mustered in great need i.e. when the city was being invaded.

From this figure we estimate Gondolin's population. Gondolin was effectively a city state, with the central city of perhaps five square miles surrounded by a developed area of intensive farmland of about 150 square miles. It had enough people to measure as a Kingdom by Elven standards but not endless hordes given the space constraint. It was also seemingly more peaceful and cultured and less dedicated to the military than the march Kingdoms of Hithlum or the Feanorians, which were seemingly almost solely devoted to the war. All this has made me settle on a PM of 8 on their total force of soldiers. That is Gondolin's total muster of soldiers constituted 12.5% of the population, or about 25% of the male population or about 33% of the adult male population. This gives a total population of 120,000 for Gondolin.

This figure seems about right: Compared to medieval European populations the Eldar would be both a lot less populous, and also much more urbanised, developed and specialised, with their magic providing the advantage that technology gives our modern society.  I think the best comparison is with the the Ancient Greek city states where a state such as Athens could field around 20,000 soldiers and sailors out of a population of around 250,000.  Urbanised and with a civilian army and navy that made up of a high proportion of the population compared to any modern or medieval society, but still a minority of the total male population. However this is just a best estimate, reasonable PM's of 6-10 or so give figures ranging between around 90-150 thousand, but I think around 120,000 is the most reasonable estimate.

The next trick is to go from this figure of 120,000 for Gondolin to a total figure for the Noldor population. This is possible because we are told that Gondolin's population was made up of "a third part of the Noldor of Fingolfin's following, and a yet greater host of the Sindar". Taking this in terms of 1/6ths of Fingolfin's people we have 2/6 of Noldor and "a greater host of Sindar".  I reckon this would be about 3/6 of Fingolfin's people. To me "and a greater host" sounds like more, but not 2 or 3 times as many.  If so Tolkien could have said, as he has elsewhere, also Gondolin was also imagined to have been one of the most predominately 'Noldorin' in culture of the mixed kingdoms in Beleriand, which would not fit if the Noldor were vastly outnumbered by the Sindar. Assuming then that the population of Gondolin was equivilent to 5/6 of Fingolfin's folk, 1/6 of Fingolfin's folk would be about 25,000 Elves and Fingolfin's folk would number 150,000.

From Fingolfin's folk we can now estimate the total of Noldor. They were divided between Fingolfin's folk, Feanor's and Finarfin's.  Fingolfin's people was the largest but Finarfin's was also large: Tolkien stated in more than one place that Nargothrond was the largest Elven Kingdom left after the Dagor Bragollach. Feanor's folk appeared to be relatively small in number, but containing a lot of the younger, brasher, more foolhardy Elves that would have been attracted to Feanor's assertive, aggressive style, and hence militarily able to punch more above its weight. I take as estimates that Fingolfin's folk constituted 12/ of the Noldor, and Finarfin and Feanor's sons 1/4 each. Certainly Fingolfin's folk must have been between 40-60%, given the fact they were the largest group, but also the two other groups were of similar size.  Taking 50% then that gives us a total Noldor population estimate of 300,000 Noldor, with 150,000 following Fingolfin, 75,000 Finarfin's sons and 75,000 Feanor's.

From this we can take a rough estimate of total Elvish population in Beleriand.  We just need to guess what the proportion of Noldor compared to Sindar were. This is pretty rough unfortunately.  Tolkien consistently maintained that the Sindar outnumbered the Noldor by some unspecified amount.  This conception changed at times from being roughly similar to some remarks that the Noldor were as Lords and Kings: a small aristocratic minority ruling over Kingdom's of overwhelmingly Sindar, more like the Norman minority among the Anglo-Saxon population in Medieval England.

The general sense of the texts to me though is that the Sindar considerably outnumbered the Noldor, but not by some vast factor. The references seem to indicate that Noldor and Sindar met on relatively equal terms, and when we look at the different Kingdoms and relatively large cultural impact of the Noldor they must have been a relatively large minority given that there was no military domination or educational apartheid to explain these differences as, say, in historical Norman England.  Given these factors I take a PM of about 3, possibly 4.  That gives a Sindar population of about 1 (0.9 to 1.2) million and a total Elvish population of 1.2-1.5 million depending.  Now I think you could make a reasonable argument for a figures anywhere between 1-2 million, but I think somewhere in the lower end of that range is most likely with all the evidence we are given.

I think we can do even better than that though in working out rough population figures for each Elvish Kingdom, starting with the Noldor. We've already done Gondolin with a population of around 120,000, made up of 50,000 Noldor and 70,000 Sindar (2/5 and 3/5 respectively).  The Kingdom of Hithlum had the other 2/3 of Fingolfin's folk and the rest of the Northern Sindar.  That means around 100,000 Noldor.  The Sindar population can only be guessed at. Hithlum was colder and less fertile than Nevrast, from where the Gondolin Sindar came, and would hence have had fewer people. Balancing that, many Sindar are said to have been attracted by the valour and nobility of the Noldor Kings and their cause. I think a fair estimate would be some 50,000-70,000 Sindar, the same as Gondolin, for a total population of around 150-170 thousand.

In the Kingdom of Nargothrond (including at this time Tol Sirion and the highlands of Dorthonion)  the Noldor population was the 75,000 following Finarfin's sons, particularly Finrond. We are told that Nargothrond was the largest Noldor Kingdom, at least after the Dagor Bragollach when Hithlum and Feanor's Sons took large losses. It was a large Kingdom mostly in Beleriand proper, warmer and more hospitable and hence could be expected to have a sizable population of native Sindar, especially since Finrond was part Teleri himself and hence closer to the Sindar than other Noldor princes. I assume a Sindar population roughly equivalent to that of Hithlum and Nevrast combined, some 120-150 thousand, giving a total population of possibly over 200,000. It is not higher because although it is described as the largest Kingdom, it is still described as a largely wild and empty country, without the dense rural or urban centres to account for what we would consider a sizeable population.

The other Noldorin Kingdom was that of Feanor's Sons in the East. These areas seemed to have been organised less as a formal Kingdom and more as a series of military districts or fiefs, each commanded by one or a pair of Feanor's sons with Maedhros having some kind of loose overlordship.  That said we also already have an estimate of the Noldor population of this Kingdom, the 75,000 following Feanor's sons. These would have been joined by various Sindar, but probably not that many. Although Feanor's sons controlled a large area, it was mostly uninhabited before they got there, and of all the Noldor they were least friendly with the Sindar.  That said quite a few Sindar are said to have joined with at least Maedhros at least, again in recognition of his outstanding valour and personal nobility. Hence looking relative to the other population figures we've taken I don't think we can do better than to assume a population of Sindar equal to the number of Sindar in Hithlum (an area of similar size, climate and circumstances). In other words, 60,000 Sindar for a total of roughly 130,000 Elves.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Is the Holocaust Unique?

Holocaust Memorial Day January 27th 2012

Between the outbreak of war in 1939 and its final total defeat in May 1945 Nazi Germany ordered, orchestrated and carried out the deliberate murder of 6 million Jewish people from every territory in Europe in which the Nazis had control, in an effort to kill every single human being of Jewish descent in the world.

That is the barest factual statement of what happened. To try to say more is to fall into an abyss, once started it seems impossible to find a decent point to stop without it being somehow inappropriate.  There is always so much more to say.

It is impossible to fully tell the true story of what happened across almost every country in Europe, involving uncountable different communities,  millions of individual experiences and six years, in what were really a series of associated atrocities by different methods united  by the same evil purpose. If I started now and kept talking without pause to a ripe old age I could only tell you a small fragment of the whole story of what happened to so many people.

One of the major historical and popular arguments about the Holocaust relates to whether the Holocaust was in some sense unique. The precise answer to that is that it depends in what manner you mean.  The less precise, but fundamentally more accurate, answer is simply, Yes.  There have been other massacres, other atrocities, other genocides, other periods when more people were killed in total.  But still the Holocaust is unique.  The Holocaust was a uniquely significant event in Western history and world history as a whole.

In the most trivial sense all historical events are unique.  They all involved different places, different people, different real lives and experiences, different contexts and circumstances. The impulse to lump them all in the same and rank them by various criteria, as though it were some crude measuring exercise, should be avoided at all costs.  It is cheap and unworthy, as well as intellectually lazy, to try to reduce them to a few rough yardstick criteria.  Especially when they involve such vast but personal tragedy.

But even in those crude senses the Holocaust is still unique. Despite a sad series of events that have made a mockery of the solemn vow 'Never Again', the Holocaust is still the largest single genocide in human history. But that is not what makes it truly unique.

Even in the 2nd World War, the Jewish Holocaust happened within a much larger campaign of indiscriminate mass murder of unarmed prisoners and civilians by the Nazis and their allies in areas under their own control. It also included (in roughly descending order of size): Soviet POW's, Polish gentile civilians, Romany and Sinti Gypsies, Serbs, Soviet civilians, disabled people, Homosexuals, Left Wing political activists (social democrats, communists, trade unionists), Freemasons, Jehovah's witnesses, Catholic and protestant clergy, and other political prisoners who resisted the Nazis. Including all these groups raises the number of victims to 11-12 million. And this is itself small next to the 65 million victims: massacred civilians, civilians killed due to total war, and military deaths in WW2 as a whole.

I've often thought that there should be separate accepted words to refer to the specific destruction of the Jews and the wider campaign of murder by the Nazis using the same methods and infrastructure: mass shooting, starvation, extermination through labour, and gas chambers.  Possibly one of the commonly used words Shoah or Holocaust could be assigned to refer to each one. This proposal does have one significant problem, namely the visceral and etymological connection both of these terms have to the specifically anti-Jewish campaign of Genocide.

What makes the Jewish Holocaust unique is not the size though. What makes it so unique is the nature of the event, the place it takes in the psychological development of western civilisation. The Holocaust was a continent-wide campaign to murder every man, woman and child of a scattered nation of 9 million people based on nothing more substantial than a wind of vaguely defined, nonsense, paranoid, racist fantasy.  To this end one of the largest and most developed states in the modern world directed every means and instrument at its disposal, utilising its every branch and department in all their administrative complexity and efficiency, the most advanced expertise in science and engineering of the time, and the entirety of a vast professional military and police establishment, as well as the help of collaborators in every country it reached.  All to the end of murdering specific human beings with the greatest efficiency and speed possible, all thoroughly documented and recorded with all the precision one could expect of a modern state bureaucracy.

The genocide was at the centre of the very purpose of the Nazi state as seen by those leading and organising it. In the midst of Total War, even when they were losing that war, Nazi Germany prioritised the genocide over prosecuting the War.  Even into 1944 & 1945 trains deporting Jews were given priority for precious space on Europe's railways over desperately needed war materials heading to the armies. Scarce resources were directed into killing millions of skilled workers despite Germany's desperate inferiority in industrial production. Vital military personnel and administrative capability were tied up in organising and directing the genocide despite the steady collapse of the Nazi state. Quite simply the Nazis would rather murder Jews than win the war. And all for nothing.The Holocaust had no purpose, no possible practical gain, even by the flimsy standards and excuses of historical genocide and mass murder. It was not central to securing anyone's power or some tangential military or economic advantage. It was just pointless, brutal, sadistic murder and destruction for its own sake.

The echoing result of this appalling event was that the European, modernist, rationalist, arrogant Enlightenment myths of superiority, civilisation and progress that laid at the basis of so much Western self-belief were destroyed for ever. Along with so many assumed truths about what modern man was capable of, about the possibility for evil in supposedly ordinary, decent human beings and even the providence of God. The Nazis twisted all the things that modern, western civilisation had built its assumption of superiority and civilisation on into the utmost mindless evil.  Organisation, law, modern technology, industrial efficiency, modern medicine, even the language and dressings of science and rationalist, naturalist enquiry itself. The Holocaust revealed the veneer of civilisation, morality, compassion or religion, on which we place so much faith, to be dangerously thin and transparent, and devastated western faith in itself, in civilisation and even in reason itself.

Its horrors were so great, so widespread, so unthinkable, so utterly without meaning or purpose but also so targeted, so regimented and so coldly planned that they penetrated into the very core of the understanding of western civilisation in a way no other event ever has. And uniquely among historical events it was so powerful that it shocked the Western World into taking a real step back and considering itself again: The United Nations, War Crimes, International Human Rights Law, Genocide, Israel, Crime against humanity, European Union, Refugee Status, Hate Speech, Memorial, Education & Intervention.

All these organisations and categories were developed, or greatly increased in importance, as a response to the War in general, but particularly the Holocaust, which was by far the most shocking and horrifying nadir even in a conflict not otherwise short of horrors.  These ideas were radically creative and new, driven by a deep-seated sense that the tragedy represented something radically, horribly new in our shared history and hence required an entirely new response.  A recognition that the instruments and assumptions of the old world had proved totally inadequate to what had happened and that if the civilised world was to hold onto or regain any sense of justification then it had to formulate a new response.

These measures also came from a wider horrific realisation that responsibility, if not guilt, for the Holocaust did not just rest with a handful of Nazi criminals, or even all Germans. It was facilitated and passively supported by a deep spiritual and moral malaise in societies across the western world.  As early as the 1930's Hitler made no attempt to hide his desire for personal dictatorship, nor the violent and barbaric methods of his henchmen, nor his rabid hatred of Jewish people but he succeeded anyway because, to quote Norman Davies, "the prevailing political culture in Germany at the time did not preclude the election of gangsters".  Hitler could not have legally abolished the constitution with the votes of the Catholic Centre Party, a liberal, bourgeoisie Christian Democrat party that at the crucial moment voted with Hitler and thus ensured its own destruction and the horrors that followed. He pursued racist and violent policies to harass and exclude Jews from German life well before the outbreak of War. But still he had defenders and supporters in Western countries, or just well meaning politicians like Chamberlain, who were able to believe he was anything other than a grim, anti-human psychopath.

His crimes were only possible because anti-semitism and political violence were deep-rooted and accepted within German culture, whether among more mainstream conservatives, or the wider population, even among groups that would never themselves have gone as far as the Nazis did. The Christian churches, whether Protestant or Catholic, even where in some cases they half-heartedly opposed Nazism or Hitler's excesses, such as Michael von Faulhaber Archbishop of Munich, had a long history of promoting anti-Judaism, which contributed to anti-Semitism pervading German society as an acceptable component.  This all meant that when the time came the plight of Jewish citizens was met, admittedly not by joy, but also not by resistance or outrage, but by indifference.  To quote Ian Kershaw "the road to Auschwitz was laid by hatred, but it was paved with apathy".

And the German Nazis could not have acted alone.  In almost every country they exploited widespread anti-semitism to one degree or another.  Anti-semitism that meant there were always those willing to collaborate and in vast numbers those willing to stand aside. Anti-semitism that had been a widely accepted part of culture and life even among supposedly civilised and liberal countries. In some countries, like the Baltic states and Ukraine, some locals were willing participants in pogroms and massacres.  In others, like France or Hungary, the local police and security forces were willing, even eager participants in rounding up and deporting Jewish people in their country at the Nazi's command, to the point where their enthusiasm  surprised the Germans.

That inadequacy was not limited to those countries occupied by the Nazis.  In the environment before WW2 countries had very strict limits on  immigration and refugees, regardless of circumstance, unless a person was very wealthy or important.  Many refugees fled Nazi occupied Europe, in the 1930's and even after war started, but were turned away by country after country that would not accept them, either through anti-semitism or sheer indifference. Even in Britain or America desperate refugees were deported back to central Europe, where they would later be caught up in the Holocaust and murdered. Yad Vashem, the official Israeli Holocaust museum has a whole program devoted to remembering those relatively few non-Jews who did risk their lives to rescue Jews. Among these people is a whole category made up of diplomats in various European countries who, faced with the desperate refugees, ignored the strict rules governing immigration at that time and mass produced the official Visas these people desperately needed to cross borders and be safe in other countries.  Tens of thousands were saved by the compassion of a few people in important places in handing out these documents without the usual checks and procedures.  But perhaps hundreds of thousands more died because the vast majority of such diplomats, faced with these people and their obvious terror, stuck, mindlessly, to the rules they had been given, and thus trapped them where they would be killed.            

During the War the Nazis made some effort to hide the full extent of what they were doing.  But even despite this, primarily thanks to the astonishing bravery of a few incredible individuals who escaped the death camps, news about what was happening slowly leaked back to the West.  These people were widely disbelieved, their honour doubted, their stories written off as wartime propaganda. Tragically symptomatic of the inbuilt indifference and lack of seriousness given to the horrific events that were occurring.

After the War, though tentatively at first, Western society grasped all these things.  And took some steps, some efforts to change.  The concepts of International Human Rights Law, or War Crimes, and the need to formally try and convict people for such acts, were created out of thin air to give some of legal framework to respond to the atrocities that have happened.  The Nuremberg trials were criticised at the time for having no legal basis in existing law.  This was undoubtedly true, but the words of the Chief US Prosecutor at Nuremberg best described why the Trials had to occur regardless.  "Civilisation asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance."   The word and concept of 'Genocide' was invented and recognised, and made a particular recognisable category of war crime, with the hope that explicitly recognising the type of event would make it easier to ensure that it never happened again.  'Refugee' status was explicitly defined and, shamed by the way they had failed so many refugees from the Nazis, the United Nations members accepted an unprecedented new duty to accept those fleeing persecution regardless of restrictions on numbers or place of origin.  In the political sphere it drove the creation of the UN, the EU and the State of Israel and the turmoil that surrounds those institutions even down to today reflects the turmoil that drove their creation and the fact they were created in an emotional response to the tragedies that had happened, and not necessarily in even-handed consideration of the circumstances.

More widely there was a new commitment across the Western World to banish and reject the casual bigotry, prejudice and hate speech that had been such an accepted part of even civilised society. I believe this had a powerful impact on the unprecedented drive to remove the casual bigotries, whether sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist that had shaped the assumptions of western societies, especially from the 1960's onwards. The horrifying circumstances these attitudes had enabled gave a powerful and sustained reproach that drove the move to make those attitudes unacceptable in any polite society. The near immediate abandonment of the previously popular idea of eugenics in British and American society being one good example.  The concept of Hate Speech was invented, and has taken on a powerful role both in law and in our political and social discussions.  Western democracies took on a new and continuing emphasis on education, on intervention and memorial, a drive to ensure people never forgot what had happened and the lessons of those terrible events, to fight against their causes in society root and branch.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Going Beyond the Universal Credit - The next steps in welfare reform

 The current government has launched the largest reform of the UK welfare system since 1945. The British welfare system developed out of the Centuries old Poor Law in the early 20th Century. From 1945-1950 it was transformed from a limited and conditional system into a universal safety net to protect people 'from cradle to grave'. The system grew steadily more expensive and under the 1979-97 Conservative government conditionality and limits were re-introduced in an attempt to control costs. The Labour government of 1997-2010 introduced various new benefits and dramatically increased spending but also continued introducing means testing and attaching conditions to welfare.

Now means testing is perfectly sensible as far as it goes. However, it also leads to a significant unintended consequence. The means testing of various branches of welfare (JSA, ESA, housing benefit, council tax benefits and tax credits) involves people steadily losing welfare income the further their income goes above a threshold until they get nothing. For each extra pound they earn they lose, say, 20p of benefit. But millions of people are on 3 or 4 benefits at the same time. Losing 20p or so of income from each benefit and paying taxes means an effective tax rate of 90%+. In other words if someone on benefits gets a job they can find themselves no better off that being on welfare, and can even end up with less money. This welfare trap hits millions of people. Our standard suite of unemployment benefits involves JSA, council Tax benefits and Housing benefit. That is enough that if a person gets a job for a few hours a week they will lose all the extra money they earn and possibly more.

This is especially true for those with marginal, part-time or temporary employment prospects. The risk with any such work may be that a person may end up both with less money, and being thrown out of the welfare system, meaning that if their job ends or they find themselves incapable of completing it they may face re-applying for a range of benefits, a process taking months and involving climbing a mountain of bureaucracy. For those in difficult financial situations the stress of the risk of this occurring provides a significant incentive for people to actively avoid part-time or marginal work that does not provide an assurance that the person will be propelled well beyond benefits. But these marginal and temporary jobs are very important because they keep people in contact with the jobs market allowing them to maintain skills and experience, and to provide them with the basic sense of control over their own future that is essential to maintaining the morale to keep slogging away finding a real job. Hence the welfare trap is a particular problem precisely for those people from the most deprived and welfare dependent communities and backgrounds.

The Universal Credit was a centre plank of the Conservative manifesto in the 2010 election.  The idea is to solve this problem by combining all benefits into a single payment that would then have a single 'withdrawal' rate to make sure that for each pound of extra income earned welfare recipients kept at least some of the money, or as the slogan put it 'making work pay'. Allowing people to keep some of their benefits for a while when starting work, and removing benefits steadily in a manner insuring people always have a financial incentive to do an extra hour of work. The estimated extra cost of this is £3 billion a year upfront but will hopefully pay for itself in the long term by ensuring people always have an incentive to be seeking any work they can, keeping them in contact with the job market, maintaining skills and experience and hopefully meaning over time more people move from welfare into work permanently.

This is an ingenious solution to the welfare trap that exists for earned income. This welfare trap comes about through the fact that the system is a hodge-podge of different responses to particular problems. The overall effect of all these solutions was never considered holistically and hence the dramatic perverse incentives were not noticed and a system that is meant to not just keep people alive but also empower them to improve their own situation can become for many a system that traps that at a level just above subsistence. Those on welfare find themselves in a situation totally different from that facing most people. Working harder and 'earning' money often does not bring the prospect of increased income and security but at best working harder for the same money, or at worst facing greater poverty and stress. The Universal Credit attempts to correct this situation, ensuring that the welfare system acts as a trampoline not just a safety net and always involves an at least quasi-normal relation between working harder and having more money

It is possible to go beyond the reforms that make up the Universal Credit and and structurally improve the welfare system even further using the same principles and , making it even more of a springboard.  There is not just a welfare trap in Income, there is also a less well known (and admittedly less significant) welfare trap in savings.  In addition to the income means test there is also a savings mean test that is applied. For many benefits if you have cash savings of more than £16,000 then you cannot access welfare.  In particular there is a standard £6,000 threshold, below which one receives full benefits and then for each £250 of savings one has over the threshold the person loses £1 a week of benefit income.  This is quite reasonable.  If people have considerable cash savings it is reasonable that they draw on these rather than getting help from the government. The problem is the upper threshold of £16,000. As one'sone's income suddenly drops to zero. For example, someone who is unemployed with savings of £15,000 can receive around £102 a week in welfare.  Someone with £16,500 in savings will receive nothing.      

This means that if you are in a position where you have some cash savings, but not considerably more than £16,000, say in the £6,000-£20,000 range, and you think you may need to access welfare at some point in the short or medium term then you have a strong incentive to not save any of the money you earn.  You are better off spending it all, knowing that if you lose your job or your income you will then be able to safely access welfare, rather than saving the money, both forgoing buying stuff now and risking that you would just have to spend it all and then access welfare, leaving you in exactly the same position after considerable stress in the intervening period.

This is socially damaging in the long term. For most people wealth is empowering, it gives people security and a control over their own life.  Once people have a bit of wealth it makes it easier to get more wealth and stand on their own two feet going onward. More widely there is a strong correlation between wealth and social mobility, health, and a whole other raft of statistics. From a financial perspective people having some wealth in turn makes them less likely to need to access welfare or government support in the future. As with the income welfare trap it is also those with little wealth, or otherwise marginal financial situations, who are in most need of encouragement and support in gaining this security and safety net whereas in reality through our welfare system they are the ones being particularly discouraged.

This issue also applies to considerable numbers of people. Especially because in our society wealth is even more unequally distributed than income, and this distribution has been becoming more and more unequal over the last several years. There is an easy way to solve this problem though, and by using the mechanism already built into the welfare system, without the need for  dramatic re-engineering, like the Universal credit.  Two simple steps would largely remove this problem: firstly, increasing the ceiling for benefits withdrawal from £16,000->£26,000 and slightly adjusting the withdrawal rate to a loss of £1 a week in income for each £200 of savings over the threshold.  These two steps would largely remove the cliff-edge, leaving only a small step. For example, current unemployment benefits are about £135 a week for a single person. As savings increase from £6,000->£16,000 this reduces from £140->£100 and then falls straight to £0.  Under these changes as savings move from £6,000->£16,000->£20,000 welfare income falls from £140->£90->£40 and only then falls to £0.

This approach reduces the size of the drop by more than half, while also allowing people to get considerably further clear of Broke before it kicks in and hence significantly reduces the disincentive to save money. It does also maintain a reasonable upper limit, avoiding dragging more and more people into the welfare net, and also avoiding a situation of needing to process claims for a few pounds a week of welfare. These limits are always a compromise, but I think this would be a far better compromise than the current one. It also should not cost that much money. Steepening the withdrawal slightly from £1 for every £250 to £1 for every £200 would save some money.  Also for a number of people it would mean placing them on a smaller amount of weekly welfare, rather than forcing them to wear down their savings until they go below £16,000 and then putting them on a larger weekly sum of welfare, making the overall increase in cost minor.

The way to look at this is like this: The welfare system and public services are the way we redistribute wealth.  They provide access for all citizen to services and support that would normally require each citizen to have considerable amounts of money to buy.  The top 10% have 100 times as much wealth as the bottom 10%.  But it has been calculated that the wealth that would be required to buy the bundle of public services and welfare that each person has an entitlement to is about £100,000.  This is the common inheritance we give to each citizen, and that reduces the disparity in wealth to 10:1. Like I said, real wealth is empowering and gives people security and chances.  These reforms would shape this common inheritance to ensure that, like real wealth, it also acts to empower and secure people; acting as a springboard not just a safety net.

Another possible reform in relation to the savings means test for welfare relates to the definition of 'savings'. This encompasses financial savings apart from equity in a property.  This produces a sizable distortion though in favour of those who own housing against those who rent. In other words if you have £20,000 in savings and use the money to rent a property, you have no access to welfare; if you use that money to get £20,000 of equity in a house so you don't have to rent you do have access to welfare. This makes sense in terms that wealth bound up in a house is obviously not wealth that can be used to pay bills and buy food and support a family in a time when money is short.  But in terms of fairness it cannot really be justified. There are ways for people who's wealth is in housing equity to contribute that money against the cost of welfare which don't involve kicking them out of their homes. For example in terms of some amount of housing equity above a certain minimum, say £20,000, passing over to the government according to a tariff related to the amount of welfare received. The government would then get that share of the equity when the house was sold, or when the owner died in a manner similar to private equity release schemes. This would be an admittedly slow burning way for home owners to contribute towards welfare, in the same way that those without housing equity would have to.  But over the long term it may be worth it for the government, and would even-out a significant disparity between homeowners and non-homeowners and even go some of the way towards meeting the cost of the reform to savings means testing outlined above.

A third important structural improvement to the welfare system would be to overhaul the point which a partner's income affects a person's eligibility for welfare support.  I will now explain what that means in English.  I've already mentioned the Means test that is used to check eligibility for welfare both with reference to savings and income, and how this can produce severe disincentives for people on welfare to work or save. The means test doesn't just take into account the income and savings of the person applying for welfare, but also that of their spouse or partner.  Again, in principle, this is quite reasonable. Of course in situations where one partner has considerable money or income they should support their partner once their eligibility to contributory welfare runs out rather than relying on the state indefinitely.  The problem comes in the details. The means test is currently set at an absurdly low level. A partner's savings are assessed as the same as the applicant's savings and the threshold for income is only about £8,000. This basically means that if a partner has any job or savings then a person cannot access welfare beyond the time limited contributory benefits.