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Rhetoric: proper debating or unhealthy arguing?

September 23, 2011 1 comment

Ever fallen victim to Godwin’s Law, also known as the Rule of Nazi Analogies? I have, and it wasn’t very pleasant. Firstly, I was embarrassed, because I’d used the Nazi’s, or Hitler (I don’t remember which) as a comparison, which is extremely lazy. Secondly, it made me bit miffed to have my point shut down by a debating rule. Childish I know, but we all secretly want to throw a temper tantrum at times don’t we?

Anyways, tantrums and feet stamping aside, on reflection, I was a bit disturbed by this run in with Godwin, however trivial.

I realised that GL is just one of many ways to shut down an argument without actually refuting someone’s point. If you go to the Fallacy Files you can research exactly how many logic tricks there are to beat someone in a debate.

We all know that an argument has premises that lead to a conclusion. In its most basic form, modus ponens, it is:

If a then b (if the leaves are golden (a) it’s autumn (b))

It’s a, (the leaves are golden)

Therefore it’s b too (it must be autumn).

(You could argue with this example but I made it up looking out the window and I am not going to find another one, and the fallacious nature of my example shouldn’t retract from my point).

But in an argument you also have two other aspects, which regularly get ignored: The conclusion and the truth.

This is why another example of modus ponens is logically true, but it has no point and can’t be true:

If the sky is pink, I’m a pink elephant. The sky is pink, so therefore I’m a pink elephant.

The argument is valid, but what point does it prove? We can use any number of premises to argue our point, so just because our premises are incorrect, shouldn’t invalidate my point, it just invalidates the way I made the point. And, however logically valid it is, it cannot be said to be true. It seems so basic, but it is often forgotten.

Politicians, businessmen, people at the pub, hoboes in fact, can make a valid argument, but it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

I might have approached this indirectly, but here’s what I mean. Two anti-abortionist could disagree on why they are against terminating a pregnancy, even if they agree with the point in question, abortion should be illegal. To put across this point they can take any of innumerable premises and conclusions. One might think abortions should be illegal because they cost the NHS too much money. The other might feel that the foetus is a human being as soon as the sperm and egg meet. But our first antagonist could think that the foetus is not a person until the baby is born.

The fact is, you could tear apart either of these fictitious debater’s arguments, yet their point could remain valid. Abortion could be totally immoral for all I know. Just pointing out that their argument is a fallacy doesn’t escape the point of the matter, or the truth.

This is why winning a debate is the wrong approach to arguing. When you win a debate, you miss the point, which should be to find the truth. If you disprove someone’s argument, you haven’t disproved the truth – because by definition the truth is the truth and cannot be false (there’s some logic for you). What debate should lead to is a balanced answer, based on the truth, not a winner and a loser.

And the reason, oh very patient reader, that I was disturbed by my encounter with Mr Godwin’s Law, was because shutting down a debate, or winning a debate I should say, applies to all our political lives.

Politicians are the most talented rhetoricians I’ve ever heard. They are very skilled at tearing apart each other’s arguments and winning debates. But, because they have policies and agendas, they are not winning arguments for the sake of finding the truth.

The truth is that the UK is in a very sad place just now and a lot of people are feeling the heat (or the cold if energy prices are anything to go by). Our government should be interested in lessening our burdens and protecting our economy, yet they squabble like school children. By having a process of debate and law enactment based on winning and losing, I wonder if any of their policies actually are ‘truly’ best for our country.

I don’t like using ‘what is best’, but it’s, ironically, the best term I’ve got. There is a range of measures which would be best for our country, but because politicians think so much about re-election, they want to do what pleases their voters or campaign funders.

This was put excellently by Christina Patterson in the I Paper. “Most people in this country support capital punishment. Most people like the idea that teenagers caught up in mass hysteria should have their lives wrecked. Most people even seem to think that people who earn six times as much as they do shouldn’t pay a higher rate of tax. They believe these things because their parents, and the newspapers, and even sometimes because their politicians tell them they should.”

I was the same. I went into my first philosophy tutorial full of opinions that I quickly realised were echoes my mother’s. It happens, but as Christine notes, “we can change our minds”.

We need politicians who are willing to give up everything for the truth, and the truth is constituents don’t know what is good for them, they just know what they want. And politicians sway the masses with promises of what they want (like the Lib Dem promise to freeze tuition fees, nice as an idea, impossible in practice), and behave like experts when they’re not.

As one very wise commentator stated, rhetoric “is the art of persuasion in courts of law and other assemblies” and that it “creates belief about the just and unjust, but gives no instruction about them.”

He adds, “The rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who do know.”

My commentator is Plato, writing over 2,000 years ago in the Gorgias. But he’s still right. Our business leaders, media moguls, bankers and even people on the streets, are not experts outside their fields. We all know a little this and a little that, but when we stand united, we know a lot about a great many things. Rhetoric in government and business ignores the truth for the sake of comfort and the status quo, to please shareholders or voters.

Politics has lost the truth, the media and banks have lost the truth, and our country has lost the truth. That’s why, over the last few years we’ve endured expense scandals, banks crashing, phone hacking and riots. What we need is to take stock and realise that we can’t live in a country where we’re all trying to survive individually because competition and consumption is finite. We need to live somewhere where cooperation is offered, compromise is welcome and compassion isn’t a lefty ideal. I know which state of affairs would make me happier.

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Commuting ‘cheaper’ than buying close to work – but only if you live in London

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

This was my crowning glory at Thisismoney.co.uk. The press release came in and I spent hours going through the figures, making sure I’d got the data right for the piece, which was published first thing on the Saturday as the lead news story – lucky me.

Thanks, as always, to Thisismoney.co.uk for letting me print it.

Report suggests living outside London and commuting is cheaper for commuters.

Cost saving: Commuting into London is often much cheaper than living in the city

London workers are making big savings by commuting rather than living near work, according to a study looking at house prices.

But the same benefits are not seen around all other major cities.

Commuters living in Home Counties – an hour outside of London – own homes £375,000 cheaper than those in the city.

The study found that with a rail season ticket costing £4,400 a year, commuters from towns like Peterborough and Swindon could afford to travel to work in London for over 80 years with the savings they’ve made on their properties.

The average house price in Reading and Milton Keynes, half an hour outside London, is £275,000, while a property in Central London is £620,000.

Travellers from these locations have shorter journey times and cheaper rail tickets of around £3,100 a year. Their homes – and repayments – are typically 66 per cent lower.

 Residents in Wimbledon and other outer boroughs, only 15 minutes from the city centre, are paying on average £300,000 less for their accommodation, with commuting estimated at only £1,400 a year.

The study by mortgage lender Halifax does not take central London tube fare prices into account.

‘It’s no surprise, for London at least, that the longer your commute, the larger the difference in house prices,’ said Nitesh Patel, a housing economist at Halifax.

‘The decision to commute is not simply a trade-off between financial costs and journey times.’

Social factors such as better schools and quality of homes can explain why commuters would prefer to travel greater distances to get to work.

However, commuters living near other major cities in the UK do not always find the same pay-offs.

In Birmingham, the average cost of housing within the city is actually cheaper than in local towns 30 minutes away. Residents in these towns will be paying an extra £1,500 a year to commute on top of an extra £10,000 on their houses.

Of course, those who bought in the centre of London in previous decades are likely to have seen a bigger increase in the value of their home than those in the Home Counties, with those buyers getting an excellent return rather than pumping their hard-earned money into train fares.

The cost of rail travel is set to increase dramatically next year. This is due to changes in the way increases to train ticket fares are calculated.

Whereas previously fare increases were based on the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation, with train firms given leeway to add up to one per cent on top, from July this year, train companies are now allowed to add up to three per cent.

With the RPI inflation figure remaining at five per cent, commuters could see their transport costs soar up to eight per cent next year. But, because the rises can be calculated as an average across all fares, this means that some fares could skyrocket, whilst others remain relatively stable.

This week, the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, added his voice to the clamour, saying that trains have become a ‘rich man’s toy’, with some fares becoming ‘eye-wateringly’ expensive.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the charity Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Far from being simply “a rich man’s toy” trains are also vital for many of those on more moderate incomes who need to get to work.’

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-2038282/Commuting-cheaper-buying-close-work–live-London.html#ixzz1YgrDQVSB

British expats vow to stay abroad despite squeeze on incomes

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s another article I did for Thisismoney.co.uk during my time with them. It was a really interesting piece, even though it came from a press release because I had no idea the squeeze on incomes was so tight on our expats. As you ca nsee from the comments links at the botton, it cause a wee bit of a debate, or at least more of a debate than anything I’ve written before has. Made me think about escaping the UK myself.

Thanks to Thisismoney.co.uk for letting me reprint it.

British expats are feeling the financial squeeze

Worth it: More than half of British expats will continue to live abroad despite rises in the cost of living leaving them out of pocket, according to a recent survey by Moneycorp

More than half of British expats will continue to live abroad despite rises in the cost of living leaving them out of pocket, according to a recent survey.

The study, by currency dealer Moneycorp, shows that over 50 per cent of expats say that while they moved abroad for a better standard of living, their incomes have actually plummeted since the economic downturn.

Despite these factors, nine out of ten expats said that they would continue to live abroad, with 25 per cent saying that they would rather move to another country before considering moving back to the UK.

The fall in incomes could be attributed to two factors: the decline of the British pound against other currencies; or the fact that many expats living off state pensions find their income is not index-linked.

 In 2007 an expat could expect to move to Europe with an annual income of £10,000 and see a return of £16,500, whereas in the current economic climate, the same amount would return just £11,000.

As reported earlier this year, in non-EU countries, like relocation hotspots USA and Australia, British citizens’ pensions are frozen as soon as they retire.

This means that a 65-year-old who retired in Australia today on a pension of £102.15 would still be receiving £102.15 in 2028. If inflation in these countries remains constant, then, according to online currency broker Currencies.co.uk, the value of these pensions could drop by half in just 17 years.

John Lawson, of Standard Life, says: ‘Retiring abroad is a dream for many people, but does require careful planning and advice.  Many people think living abroad is cheaper than living in the UK, but this isn’t always the case.’

The Moneycorp survey shows that many British expats are willing to shoulder the burden of lower incomes to retain their lifestyle while 80 per cent said they believed their children’s lives had improved.

David Kerns, Private Client Dealing Manager at Moneycorp said that although many Britons are happy overseas and enjoying a better quality of life, they are suffering from a rise in living costs and wanted to know more about transfer fees when moving funds abroad.

He advised expats:  ‘Speak to currency specialists to guard against adverse fluctuations. By locking into favourable exchange rates for up to two years, expats can protect themselves against the pound losing further value, as well as avoiding potentially costly transfer fees.’

He added: ‘Over a series of payments, these savings can run into the thousands of pounds.’

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2037381/British-expats-vow-stay-abroad-despite-squeeze-incomes.html#ixzz1YgqBgUnb

Starting university? Here’s how to find the best insurance policy for students

September 22, 2011 1 comment

This is a feature I did for Thisismoney.co.uk, the personal finance website and supplement to the Mail on Sunday. It is, of course, with their kind permission that I reprint it here.

Advice for students on getting the best home insurance policy

Peace of mind: Make sure your insurance covers your possessions such as phones and iPods when you are out and about on campus

The common dorm room has changed since the days when a student would turn up with a few LPs and books, a record player and a government grant.

More and more students have laptops or desktops, smart phones and cameras in order to keep up with the demands of their education.

Criminals know there’s money to be made from this equipment.

Liam Burns, NUS President, comments that because ‘the nature of higher education means students need regular access to expensive equipment such as laptops and cameras’ they advise all students to take ‘precautions against theft and damage’ to gain ‘piece of mind’ and ensure they are not left out of pocket.

This may be why student insurance deals are popping up all over the web. So how do you decide which one to choose?

For those who choose to buy insurance, there are two options to consider: whether to extend your existing contents insurance or to buy a stand-alone policy.

 Using your existing contents insurance

Some home insurance brokers will offer student cover within their comprehensive or platinum packages, so it is worth talking to your or your parents’ provider first as you may already be covered.

If this is not the case, then there is the possibility of covering your possessions as an add-on to an existing policy.

Phil Paterson-Fox, head of home insurance at price comparison website Gocompare.com, says ‘it is well worth checking the cover available as it can mean you avoid doubling-up on cover.’   

However, he adds that ‘it is important that you check the policy terms and the exclusions.’ Some insurers have been known to only cover one student as part of their premium or comprehensive policies, so if you have siblings heading off to university make sure to find out exactly how far your cover stretches.

In 2009 Direct Line published information for students wanting to cover their kit. Parents who already have insurance with them could insure any number of children going off to university to the tune of £5,000 with the same full-cover protection offered to their own home.

Getting a tailor-made policy

The other option is to go through an independent student provider, to get a tailor-made policy. There are now loads of websites that offer specialist student insurance:  Cover4Students.com, Saxon and Endsleigh to name the big three.

These all have options to build your own policy, starting from £18 with Endsleigh, through to over £30 with Saxon, underwritten by Aviva, for their Student Shield policy cover.

Endsleigh is recommended by the National Union of Students (NUS) on their website.

All policies cover accidental loss or damage to your property while in your accommodation. But be careful to read the small print because the cheapest deals tend to leave out the very items you most want to cover, like laptops and cameras.

Different add-ons can be purchased to extend the cover to your person during term time, and while travelling to and from university at the start of term.

Know the terms and conditions

One of the main problems with both of these options is that the small print and exclusions may render your policy invalid if you don’t follow them carefully.

For example, if you leave your door unlocked or a window open, the policy that you so carefully crafted could be nul-and-void.

Phil from Gocompare.com advises ‘having a good look at your existing home cover and comparing it with policies specifically designed for students.’ 

He admits that there is ‘good value cover available’ but it always comes with restrictions and exclusions, so be careful.

Although student policies are advertised as uniquely catering to those at university, they may not be the best solution.

Martin Lewis, of Moneysavingexpert.com, warns students not to get bogged down by the ‘student specialists’. He advises parents and students to not ‘think only companies that advertise to student provide for students.

‘There are certainly peculiarities to being a student, but it’s a home insurance policy. The fact that you’re a student is mostly irrelevant.’

He adds, ‘Don’t narrow yourself to the student specialists unless you need to because of peculiarities of circumstance. Make sure your policy is right, and it covers you.’

Gocompare.com has published a list of tips for getting the best policy for you or your child’s time at university.

Student Home Insurance Dos and Don’ts

  • Never assume that you are automatically covered by your family home insurance policy, which may have restrictions outside the room or property. Make sure you check these details in the terms and conditions because it you could unwittingly invalidate your policy.
  • Always make sure your insurance covers what you actually own: the cheapest policies might not cover bikes, musical instruments or personal damages, and especially expensive items will need to be listed separately to make sure they are fully covered.
  • Watch your excess fees. While cover4students.com has an excess of £10 for their basic cover, Saxon charges a £55 excess for its Student Shield protection. Make sure you will be able to afford the excesses and that you know you are comfortable with them.
  • Always make sure you know exactly when your policy is valid to and from. Some insurers like Endsleigh will only provide stand-alone insurance during term-time, so make sure that if you are staying over the holidays that your cover is staying with you.
  • Don’t forget that although your insurer can replace your laptop and iPod, they cannot replace any of the data and files stored on it. It is always worth backing-up your files and important details in case the worst should happen.
  • Shop around, and never go for the cheapest option without making sure it covers everything you need it to cover. There’s no point having insurance cover up to £10,000 if it doesn’t cover your laptop, and the rest of your possessions are only worth £100!
  • The best method of protecting your property is to make sure you never leave any of your valuables visible in your room or vehicle, keep the door locked where possible, and use a property registrar like Immobilise.com to keep a register of all your items, so if they are stolen or lost, you can forward the exact details to your broker and the police.

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/mortgageshome/article-2038483/Starting-university-Heres-best-insurance-policy-students.html#ixzz1YgrlHlcw

A-Z of the money pages: From making the most of your offset mortgage to rising energy bills

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

This article was produced for Thisismoney.co.uk, a personal finance website and supplement for the Mail on Sunday. It is by their kind permission that I reprint it.

A round up highlights of personal finance and consumer news from the weekend newspapers.

A round up of the weekends big finance stories

The Sunday Papers

 

The Observer

The Peter Pan generation of adults paid £3.4billion by Bank of Mum and Dad

A report has revealed that more than 13million parents are paying out over £34billion a year in loans and gifts to support their adult children.

The average loan or gift was estimated at £2,480 a year, with the most money being given to adult children between 35 and 39.

Research suggests that £8.4billion was handed-out for mortgage payments, £3.5billion for home improvements, £2.2billion to pay off debts and £1.6billion to pay for education.

Labelled the ‘Peter Pan generation’, the research done on behalf of Sainsbury’s Finance indicates that many children are still dependent on their

Dark days for consumers with two energy rises in a week

Consumers could be facing an expensive winter as five of the UK’s biggest energy suppliers are set to make increases of up to 19 per cent to their tariffs this week.

EON has announced it will raise its standard tariffs for gas by 18 per cent and 11 per cent for electricity on Tuesday. This would see household bills for the year rise by £114 and £56 respectively.

Scottish and Southern Energy will increase standard tariffs by 19 and 12 per cent for gas and electricity on Wednesday, piling £122 and £52 a year on to bills. Only EDF Energy out of the big five hasn’t confirmed its intentions.

Consumer comparison site uSwitch.com advises consumers to move to dual fuel, pay by direct debit and sign up to an online plan to help reduce their winter bills. 

The Sunday Telegraph

Brussels directive to cost jobs

Almost a third of temporary employees could lose their jobs in the run up to Christmas if the new European rules are not diluted a study warns.

The EU Agency Workers Directive comes into effect on 1 October and would give temporary staff the same pay and benefits as permanent workers after working at the company for over 12 weeks. The new law could cost businesses in Britain up to £1.6billion a year.

The study, by Allen & Overy, suggests that up to a third of employers will attempt to avoid the new rules by terminating workers’ contracts in their 11th week. The law firm estimates that up to 462,000 of the UK’s 1.4million temporary workers could be made redundant in mid-December.

The CBI and other industrial bodies warn that unless the UK government moves to dilute parts of the new law, then it couldn’t come at a worse time for the country.

Inflation to rise as energy bills soar

Leading economists expect that a rise in inflation this week will not reduce the chances of a second bout of quantitative easing (QE) from the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

Annual inflation is forecast to rise on the consumer price index (CPI) from 4.4 per cent in July to 4.5 per cent in August. The retail price index (RPI) is expected to rise from 5.0 per cent to 5.1 per cent over the same period. The figures continue to be unwelcome for the MPC as they continue to fail to meet their 2 per cent target.

The figures will be published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday. With Scottish Gas raising its gas and electricity tariffs at the beginning of last month this is expected to filter through to the CPI in September.

Economists at Investec, a specialist bank and asset manager, have said they expect the MPC to start QE as soon as October because the risks of growth are so severe.

Google chief predicts UK jobs boom

The European head of Google has said that the UK is on the verge of an internet boom that could create over 350,000 jobs over the next five years.

Philipp Schindler spoke out ahead of the Telegraph’s Festival of Business in Manchester where he is a keynote speaker. He commented that even though the current economic climate is tough, internet-related companies and businesses that use the internet successfully were still growing.

The web is responsible for a fifth of Britain’s GDP growth. Economists working for Google based their estimates on the current economic forecasts for growth of GDP in UK and the current rate of job creation that is associated to a rise in GDP.

In light of these figures, Mr Schindler added that the estimate of 365,000 jobs being created was on ‘the conservative side’.

The Sunday Times

Thousands on claims blacklist

A Sunday Times investigation has found that tens of thousands of consumers could find their insurance policies are invalid because they have made inquiries to other providers, even if they never made an actual claim.

All calls to insurers are recorded at a central database known as the Claims and Underwriting Exchange (Cue). The problem arises because many providers don’t check the cue database when an application is made, only when a claim is put in. This has resulted in many consumers being accepted for cover, only to find their policy is invalid when they make a claim, because they are not aware that any claim inquiry (potential loss) has to be declared.

New laws to ban insurers denying claims and cancelling policies for minor and unintentional errors on application are to be debated in the House of Lords next month. These would force insurers to ask clearer questions on the outset.

Your guide to beating inflation

After the National Savings and Investments (NS&I) pulled its popular savings certificates last week the Sunday Times has looked at what alternatives are available.

The NS&I were the only company to offer a tax-free return greater than the rate of inflation and guaranteed by the government.

But companies like the Post Office offer inflation-linked bonds with a three-year return of 0.5 points above the annual change in the retail price index (RPI) and a five-year plan paying 1.5 points above RPI. However the accounts are taxable and consumers do not have the same freedom to withdraw funds compared to the NS&I.

Candidmoney.com has found that potential returns from the Post Office bonds are beaten by those of five-year fixed-rate Isas. The best five-year fixed-rate Isa is from BM Savings, which pays out at 4.25billion per cent, returning £6,157 on a £5,000 deposit.

Make the most of your offset

First Direct and Barclays cut their offset mortgage rates last week to tempt borrowers.

Offset mortgages allow buyers to set their savings against their loans, and by giving up the interest on their savings they make savings on the interest on their mortgage. This could benefit all sorts of buyers including parents, the self-employed, landlords and first-time buyers.

By putting their savings for children’s school fees against their mortgages, and toping it up with income when required, parents with a £500,000 mortgage and £75,000 in savings could save up to £2,625 a year compared to £1,687 in an instant-access account.

Self-employed could hold their as yet unpaid taxes against their loans, offsetting it against their mortgage until the taxes are to paid, while landlords can offset their own mortgage from the rent the claim on other properties.

First-time buyers with wealthy relatives could make savings on their repayments. If a relative offsets £50,000 of savings against the loan repayments would fall from £1,215 a month to £911.

Original source: Thisismoney.co.uk

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2036565/A-Z-money-pages-From-making-offset-mortgage-rising-energy-bills.html