Author: Jenni

UK rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) after Brexit?

With the Brexit clock ticking ever louder, the need to plan the UK’s future relationships with not only the EU but other trading partners too becomes more urgent. One option is to seek membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the grouping comprising Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This would provide some continuity in terms of preferential access to a not insignificant market for UK goods. EFTA accounts for 8.5% of UK exports. Membership should also, through EFTA’s free trade agreements with 38 countries, provide preferential access to a range of markets without the UK having to negotiate new bilateral agreements. Plus, securing EFTA membership would facilitate participation in the European Economic Area(EEA) if the UK wanted to pursue this post-Brexit. EFTA membership does not entail EEA membership, but only EU and EFTA member states can currently be contracting parties to the EEA Agreement. This raises the question of what is the process for joining EFTA, an organisation of which the UK was in fact a founding member in 1960 and which it only …

Is EU regulation really so bad for the UK?

Government estimates suggest that around half of all UK legislation with an impact on business, charities, and the voluntary sector originates from the EU. This is often used as an argument in favour of Brexit. But the overall costs and benefits of EU regulation are rarely scrutinised in depth. The UK government’s position since the 1980s has been that regulation in general acts as a drag on enterprise, innovation and investment, with ruinous implications for growth and employment. This thinking has long underpinned antagonism towards the EU and is lent support by numerous studies that have provided eye-watering estimates of the costs of EU regulation to UK business. Take claims made by the Leave campaign in the lead up to the referendum. Drawing on estimates produced by the think tank Open Europe, it was claimed that EU regulations cost the British economy £33.3 billion a year. The benefits of key regulations were also described as “vastly over-stated”, with more than half providing “no clear benefits”. Estimates of the costs and benefits of EU regulation, like …

Is feminism killing romance?

Heterosexual romantic relationships have historically been all about men courting and “keeping” women. And it’s a powerful tradition. Whether it’s asking someone out, picking up the bill, or being the main breadwinner in the family, many of the ideas we have about romance are still based on men being initiators and directors and women being receivers and caretakers. Yet society is changing. Women are increasingly entering the “male domains” of high-powered jobs and sexual freedom. So how does all this affect romance? Given that popular (mis)conceptions of feminism tend to malign feminists as man-haters or lesbians, it’s easy to see why many people view gender equality as incompatible with romance and a hindrance to romantic relationships. But is this really the case? Let’s take a look at the evidence. Traditionally, women’s main route to status and influence involved attracting high-status romantic partners. But while the movement for gender equality has changed things, cultural scripts about romance have curtailed women’s social roles and still continue to do so. For example, when adolescent girls describe their first …

Decriminalising sex work will not protect human rights

Amnesty International declares itself to have an overarching commitment to advancing gender equality and women’s rights. Against the backdrop of this ethical aspiration, a controversial new policy has been adopted. It calls for the decriminalisation of prostitution, in order to protect the human rights of sex workers. Sex workers are one of the most marginalised groups in the world and are at constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse. Amnesty International has concluded the criminalisation of consensual sex work encourages – rather than alleviates – this abuse. The policy calls on states to decriminalise prostitution and to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence. Where’s the evidence? The policy, which was recently ratified at Amnesty’s decision-making forum in Dublin, has wrought heated discussion since it was first drafted two years ago. Two opposing camps have arisen. A camp made up of pressure groups, academics and sex workers applauds Amnesty’s decision. They see it as a victory for a marginalised and vilified group of people. They cite research …

Search for extraterrestrial life always good

EThe search for life elsewhere in the universe is one of the most compelling aspects of modern science. Given its scientific importance, significant resources are devoted to this young science of astrobiology, ranging from rovers on Mars to telescopic observations of planets orbiting other stars. The holy grail of all this activity would be the actual discovery of alien life, and such a discovery would likely have profound scientific and philosophical implications. But extraterrestrial life has not yet been discovered, and for all we know may not even exist. Fortunately, even if alien life is never discovered, all is not lost: simply searching for it will yield valuable benefits for society. Why is this the case? First, astrobiology is inherently multidisciplinary. To search for aliens requires a grasp of, at least, astronomy, biology, geology, and planetary science. Undergraduate courses in astrobiology need to cover elements of all these different disciplines, and postgraduate and postdoctoral astrobiology researchers likewise need to be familiar with most or all of them. By forcing multiple scientific disciplines to interact, astrobiology …

Can men be feminists?

Can men be feminists?  This is a question I come up against frequently. And it seems I’m not alone: a recent Ipsos poll across 15 “developed” countries found almost as many men as women support feminism, while a quick Googlethrows up around 50,000 hits for this flashpoint question. The question plays a big role in debates about men’s relationship with feminism and gender equality at large. This should come as no surprise; recent years have seen a welcome revitalisation of feminist activism and writing, much of it in direct response to persistent (and in some cases resurgent) forms of sexism. What’s more, a substantial number of men are getting directly involved in this activism; even celebrities such as Pharrell Williams, Professor Green and John Legend have openly tried to grapple with the conundrum of men and feminism. It seems that many are thinking through the different ways men can productively engage with the struggle for greater gender equality. Unfortunately, however, the question of whether men “can be feminists” is not always a helpful place to …

Why Mark Wahlberg earns US$42m more than any woman in Hollywood

Why should we care that, in Hollywood, female actors earn less than male ones? The latest tally of star pay, compiled by Forbes magazine, has men far outstripping women’s earnings. The highest paid woman – Emma Stone – makes her appearance at number 15, earning US$42m (£33m) less than the highest paid man, Mark Wahlberg. It’s easy to be dazzled or disgusted by the huge numbers on the Forbes list and click onto another story about Hollywood stars, without realising the implications of the pay disparity on display. “Men earn more at work than women” has been the most familiar story across industrialised economies for generations. But the Forbes list is significant because one of the principal reasons for the worldwide gender pay gap is occupational segregation: women and men are still largely concentrated in different jobs or at different levels of the same job. For example, official UK statistics showthat women are concentrated in a smaller, lower-paid range of jobs than men, particularly the five “Cs” – caring, catering, cashiering, cleaning and clerical work. …

Why people nearing the end of life need the same protection we offer children

Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man (from As You Like It) famously and effectively portrays humans in deep old age as returning to infancy. But in many societies, the approach to end of life care requires us to continue as active and responsible citizens for as long as our mental capacities allow – to make choices about what kind of care we want, and where. In anticipation of losing capacity, people are urged to act responsibly and make preferences known in advance while they are still able. This approach to policy has not of course prevented a series of elder care scandals in hospitals and care homes in Britain. That is because these scandals were not about lack of choice, but about neglect and abandonment: patients not turned over in bed, food being left out of reach, residents not helped to the bathroom. Those with complex interacting conditions (typical of those without …

China’s VPN crackdown

Internet censors have a new target. The Chinese and Russian governments recently announced plans to block the use of “virtual private networks” (VPNs), which are a key tool for people trying to avoid internet restrictions and surveillance. This crackdown isn’t surprising, given the two countries’ histories of monitoring their citizens and blocking certain websites and online services. But it raises the question of whether other governments will follow this lead and introduce their own VPN bans, especially given how VPNs currently allow citizens to avoid the extensive internet surveillance that Western governments practice. China and other countries block many websites they don’t want their citizens to access, including sites such as Twitter and YouTube that allow users to freely post almost anything they like. But Chinese internet users wishing to evade these restrictions can currently use VPNs to visit these sites, because they provide access via a separate encrypted server that can’t be monitored by the government. Since Chinese internet service providers only filter out connections to the likes of Twitter and YouTube, users can …

What happens to North Koreans who flee their country?

There is no shortage of commentary on what should be done about North Korean weapons programmes. Op-eds in major news outlets variously advocate for talks, a strategy of deterrence combined with progress on humanitarian and economic issues, and even regime change. But while rhetoric about North Korea heats up, the abstract talk about military options, sanctions, and engagement obscures the people at the centre of it all: millions of ordinary North Koreans. When demonising the “rogue” behaviour of an enemy state, it’s easy to vilify its citizens or tar them all with the same brush. But the reality is more complicated. North Koreans are neither brainwashed robots nor aspiring democracy activists desperate for liberation. Here I want to focus on a small subset of North Koreans: those who have left. Over the last six years, I have interviewed 60 of these North Koreans about their experiences, and they’ve told me a great deal about life in the north as well as their escape and new lives in the south. I’ve written before about their stories, …