PAIR 50th Anniversary Lecture on April 22nd: ‘Cops, Warriors and Revisionist Just War Theory’

Professor Chris Brown, London School of Economics

Wednesday 22nd April 6-7.30pm (58/1067, followed by wine reception).

Abstract: The English common law tradition distinguishes between the role of the police constable and the soldier; the former is an independent legal official, personally liable for his/her actions, while the latter is team player, acting under orders, subject only to the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC).  Recently both of these ideal types have come under threat. The militarisation of the police (‘warrior cops’) is a much commented upon phenomenon; less attention has been give to the rise of the ‘Cop Warrior’, where civilian standards of legal and moral responsibility are applied to soldiers in combat zones. Unlike the rise of the Warrior Cop, which happened in response to changing circumstances, the rise of the Cop Warrior is partly the product of shifts that have been defended in philosophical terms and promoted by revisionist just war theorists. These theorists understand war in terms of individual responsibility, subsuming the LOAC under general International Human Rights Law. This is a retrograde step; it loses contact with realities of warfare, and by rejecting the moral equivalence of combatants validates Carl Schmitt’s critique of just war thinking as encouraging a Manichean world-view.

Workshop: Developments in Deliberative Democracy

By John Boswell, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Southampton (Academia.edu, @Boswell_JC). You can find more posts by John Boswell here.


We are delighted to present an international workshop on new directions and developments in deliberative democratic theory and research.  This half-day event brings together two high-profile academics from the world of deliberative democracy: John Dryzek (Canberra) and John Gastil (Penn State). The first session, provocatively titled ‘One Deliberative Process to Rule Them All’, will be led by John Gastil who will reflect on his ongoing research on the Citizen Initiative Review process in Oregon. The second session ‘Deliberative Democracy and the Agents of Global Justice’ will be led by John Dryzek. The workshop will be followed by a short reception.

The workshop is a partnership between the Centre for Citizenship. Globalisation and Governance (C2G2), Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) and PDD Specialist Group.

Key details

Where: The Boardroom, the University of Westminster

When: 1-6 pm Saturday, March 28

How: Attendance is free but you must register in advance. To do so, click here.

PAIR 50th Anniversary Lecture on February 18th: ‘Life in an Age of Theocracy on the March’

Ronnie Beiner, Professor of Political Science, University of Toronto

Wednesday 18th February 6-7.30pm (58/1067, followed by wine reception).

Abstract: Human history is full of surprises. In 1989, one had decent reason to believe that the age of totalitarian ideologies was definitively over (or at least that it would be banished for many generations). Who would have expected a new totalitarian ideology to be a significant global player so soon? And who on earth would have predicted that ancient theocracy of all things would come to define the core of this new ideology? The purpose of this lecture is to sketch an account of what it means to be normatively committed to a secularist vision of social and political order, against the backdrop of a virtually relentless cascade of bad news associated with the challenges posed by toxic versions of theocracy.

PAIR 50th Anniversary Lecture (Tonight, 6pm): ‘Sovereignty of the People? Public Opinion and Constitutional Change in Britain’

By Rosie Campbell, Reader in Politics, Birkbeck University of London.

Wednesday 11th February 6-7.30pm (02 / 1089, followed by wine reception).

Abstract: In this presentation I will explore how the public understands political representation using illustrative examples from surveys of public opinion. Contemporary elite and academic discourse often problematizes the descriptive and substantive representation of citizens through the lens of gender and ethnicity. For example, there are multiple surveys that have evaluated whether there is a public appetite for measures to improve the descriptive representation of women. However, there is also a resurgent interest in social class and regional/local identities that provides a further challenge to the current political class’s claims to be ‘representatives’ of the people. How the sovereignty of the people should be expressed through the collective voice of MPs in parliament has been contested at least since Burke made his famous speech to the Electors at Bristol; MPs must negotiate where to situate themselves between the two poles of political representation (centre and periphery) and choose to act as either delegates or trustees. These issues are increasingly salient in the context of a fragmenting party system where there is mounting pressure on MPs to perform their representative role by focusing more of their attention on the interests of their constituency. I will use surveys of public opinion to explore how these tensions are ‘voiced’ by the people.

Southampton Politics Student Wins Grant for Research on Open Data for Development

Two Southampton University students, one from PAIR and one from ECS, with a colleague from India, have successfully bid for a research grant from the Open Data for Development (OD4D) Partnership to develop user centred metrics for open datasets – one of just five projects to be selected internationally for this programme.

Currently metrics for open data sets are based on “top-down” approaches – applying principles that open data experts think are appropriate to assess the quality of datasets. While these are valuable there is a danger that these metrics do not correspond to what users find most important in open data. Mark Frank from PAIR, Johanna Walker from ECS, and Nisha Thompson from the DataMeet Trust (a community that works in India on open data and data science) will be developing metrics using “bottom-up” approaches based on what users’ need from open data to solve pressing business problems. They will be working with civil society organisations (CSOs) in the housing sector in the UK and India – running workshops to identify in detail what about open data matters most to them and then developing metrics based on the results. The team will be presenting their results at the Open Data Conference in Ottawa in May 2015.

USS Pension Reform: On Prudence, Fairness and Trust

By David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@rdavidowen, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by David here.


Recently proposals have been advanced for reform of the USS Pension which will have very considerable effects on both those who has been in the Final Salary Scheme and those who only been in the Career-Average Defined Benefits Scheme. Claims and counter-claims have flown about so it worth stepping back to review the position by recalling principles for guiding pension reform and looking at the current dispute in the light of these principles. There are three main kinds of principles involved here:

  1. Principle of prudence in guiding the evaluation of the assets and deficit of a pension fund, where this judgment will be informed by the kind of fund in question (for example, a one-firm fund or a fund supported by multiple corporations).
  2. Principles of prudent fairness in proposing reforms to the fund, where issues of fairness pertain particularly to the legitimate expectation of fund members and to the distribution of risks and benefits.
  3. Principle of trust in the communication of the fund evaluation and the rationale for, and consequences, of proposed reforms.

Let us take each in turn.

Prudence and the calculation of assets and deficit.

Guidance from the Pensions Regulator suggests that valuations should not be based on only worst-case assumptions in every issue as “an appropriate overall level of prudence in the technical provisions should be the paramount objective” of a valuation. But this is precisely what appears to have been done on calculating the USS fund deficit as a recent letter to the THE points out:

False assumptions of the USS

23 OCTOBER 2014

Last week, the Employers Pension Forum published “Proposed Changes to USS – Myths, Misconceptions and Misunderstandings”. The document contains misinformation and a mistake. We focus on the section “M7: The assumptions used to value the fund have been chosen to artificially create a large deficit”.

Having reviewed the assumptions given in the 2013 annual report, we believe, as statisticians and financial mathematicians, that each assumption is inadequately justified and that cumulatively they are unreasonably pessimistic and incoherent. The predicted salary increases assume a buoyant economy while investment returns assume a recession.

For example, the average annual rate of return on assets achieved by the Universities Superannuation Scheme over the past 10 years was about 7 per cent and over the past five years about 11 per cent. It is therefore difficult to understand the EPF’s assertion that “since 2011…the continuing global economic challenges…have had a detrimental impact on the value of USS’ assets”.

Meanwhile, members’ wages are assumed to grow by the retail price index plus 1 per cent (taken to be 4.4 per cent) plus incremental increases. Over the past 20 years the actual rate was about 2.7 per cent, with similar growth over the past 10 years. Post-2008 rates show negative real-pay growth. The age-related assumption is wage growth (1 per cent to 4 per cent) by progress up the salary scale: anecdotally this assumption leads to higher pay growth rates than the majority of academics have experienced over the past 10 or 20 years. As the fund’s actual experience was used to give a mean retirement age of 62 years at the last valuation, it seems odd that salary assumptions do not also reflect actual experience.

The assumptions on mortality appear to be unchanged from the 2011 valuation, yet the EPF archly advances the statement that “members of the USS are living longer so the pension scheme has to pay pensions in retirement for longer than planned” as a reason for deterioration in the fund’s position since 2011.

A reasonable change in any one of these assumptions would give a lower estimated deficit. The EPF states that although changing the assumptions in this instance could affect the size of the deficit, “it cannot change a deficit into a surplus”. It takes little mathematical knowledge to recognise that this statement is wrong.

In other words, the valuation is performed on the basis of various assumptions about likely future experience and each assumption is inadequately justified and that cumulatively they are unreasonably pessimistic.

This letter provides strong prima facie grounds for believing that the calculations involved do not respect the principle of prudence. This is reinforced by a much earlier pre-emptive counter to such reforms of the USS scheme by the pensions expert and LSE governor Ros Altman makes a number of additional points where the headlines are:

  • Universities Pension Scheme scaremongering is overdone.
  • Classic example of damage to pensions from QE
  • USS is not a closed scheme, so it is unfair to compare it with most other UK schemes
  • Its funding position is being well managed and it should not be panicked by exceptional interest rate environment.

Prudent fairness and proposals for reform

Consider the claim invoked in the current proposals is that combined (employer plus employee) contribution rates are projected to rise from 23.5% after the 2011 valuation to around 35% and this, USS claims, is “unaffordable”. It has long been a principle of actuarial valuations of pension funds that valuations should ensure gentle changes in funding rates. This large increase would represent a failure by the fund or its actuaries to observe that principle. There is a reason for the principle of gentle increases, namely, ensuring that the legitimate expectations of members of the pension scheme are not radically breached and this informs the more general principle of prudent fairness that is central here. Professor Mike Otsuka at the LSE has drawn my attention to a related case in which the salient principle is exhibited:

How to close a final salary scheme properly. It’s very simple:

“For all scheme members, any benefits built up in the final salary scheme [up until the date of closure] will be protected and remain in that scheme. When benefits are calculated at retirement, they will be linked to the member’s most recent pensionable earnings (but using the final salary scheme rules).”

That’s what the Teachers Pension Scheme did when they moved everyone in the post-92 higher education sector over from final salary to career average salary defined benefits.

Why did they do that? Because an Independent Commission said that the “Government must honour in full the pension promises that have been accrued by scheme members: their accrued rights. In doing so, the Commission recommends maintaining the final salary link for past service for current members.”

The principle of prudent fairness does not, however, simply concern the transition to a new scheme but also the character of the new scheme. Thus it is proposed that the new scheme would combine a Defined Benefit (DB) element and a Defined Contribution (DC) element with the switch from one to another happening at a given salary level. Yet, as a large scale Canadian study has comprehensively demonstrated (https://cpplc.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/db-vs-dc_plans_research-paper_online_20140924_rvsd1.pdf), DC schemes are much more inefficient than DB schemes and off-load greater levels of risk onto individuals. Dennis Leech at the University of Warwick has also stressed this point here (http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/files/dennisleech/uss_bham.pptx). Prudent fairness supports maintaining an efficient collective scheme in which risks and benefits are shared fairly among members – such as a Career-Average Defined Benefits Scheme.

Trust in the communication of the fund evaluation and the rationale for, and consequences, of proposed reforms

The final principle concerns how communication is carried out concerning the evaluation and the proposed changes. It is important that whose involved in the process need to be able to trust the communications that they receive if these communications purport to provide neutral and impartial information. On the evaluation side, it is apposite here to note an earlier letter to the THE by Professor Jane Hutton (also one of the signatories of the THE letter cited above):

The Employers Pension Forum published a Q&A purporting to explain the reasons for the proposed changes in the Universities Superannuation Scheme with the date 11 August 2014. I read it in early September, and realised that the life expectancies given under question nine were completely implausible. I did not know whether this was incompetence or an attempt to mislead.

I wrote to the EPF on 9 September, raising questions about this. I have not received a reply. However, when accessed on 2 October, the Q&A had been changed to omit the incorrect life expectancies, but still bore the date 11 August 2014. There was no indication that the change had been made, and the conclusions drawn remained.

As the EPF Q&A claims to provide information, with the implication that the advice is impartial, it is more than disingenuous not to alert readers to the change. The balance of my opinion as to whether the inaccuracy arose from incompetence or dishonesty has altered.

If we turn to consider the issue of the rationale for the reforms, the most obvious concern is that no information is provided on what alternative possible reforms have been considered and why they have been rejected. This is a central element of the response by Oxford University to the consultation and their response is worth reading in full. Oxford’s response also draws attention to the limited timeframe that has been made available for this consultation – a point that is also salient to the issue of trust.

It appears then that members of the USS scheme have prima facie reasons to be mistrustful of the good faith in which the necessity of just these reforms is represented to them. To restore trust requires that the issues raised here are fully and properly addressed.

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