On Tuesday 20th June, the Williams Project was graced with the presence of Mr. Pepper, Chigwell’s Head of Government and Politics, who led a discussion on the disappointingly niche and restrictive topic of ‘the state of the world’. A handful of the topics discussed included issues surrounding overpopulation, and the ensuing ‘New Great Game’ between Central Asian countries in their battle for water and other resources; the problem of climate change, and whether the brief electoral cycles mandated by most Western democracies have led to our leaders neglecting long-term environmental strategy in favour of a short-term view; and, cynical as we are, the questionable motivations of politicians – especially in the United States – who engage in “pork barrel” tactics, securing government funding for local projects and corporate donors perhaps at the expense of the broader national interest. We are very grateful to Mr. Pepper for teaching us such engaging conversation starters as “ecoconservatism” and for bringing his customarily broad and insightful political knowledge to what was a very interesting talk.
Old Chigwellian Dr Tomáš Cvrcek, lecturer of Economics at UCL and admissions tutor for the innovative new degree History, Politics and Economics, treated the Williams Project to an in-depth look at the nature of modern-day relationships, and how one can take basic principles of economics (e.g. supply and demand, market equilibrium and making value judgements) and apply them to ‘the marriage market’. As the talk progressed, it became clear that one can choose to view the ‘dating’ scene with a rather clinical eye, choosing partners based upon a rigid list of preference and weighing up the opportunity cost of choosing someone else over another e.g. Person A may not end up with Person B because Person B places a higher value upon Person C, but may still be able to end up with Person D, who they value to a lesser extent but is the next best option due to the constraints of the market. However, Dr Cvrcek also concentrated on the various historical and cultural factors that affect how ‘the game’ is played – for instance, although we in the UK base the ‘rules of the game’ upon one-to-one relationships, certain cultures may base the ‘rules of the game’ around many-to-one relationships, for example when a husband has multiple wives. Historical factors considered included the nature of middle-upper class relationships in Victorian Britain (where suitable partners were chosen by the parents of the couple in question, hence personal preferences did not hold as much weight) and scenarios such as arranged relationships/marriages. By the end of the talk, a vast array of topics and scenarios had been covered, leaving the audience significantly more enlightened and informed.
tomas cvrcek and mr lord
the marriage game in action
The final meeting in the Williams Project Lent Term diary saw Ms Emma Duncan give a talk on ‘Making sense of the news’ and provide an insight into life as Associate Editor at The Economist magazine, and into the global world of journalism in general.
Ms Duncan began by demonstrating what it is that makes a news story gripping to a reader by making a comparison between the recent assassination of Boris Nemtsov and a Hollywood movie. She also talked about some of the immense complexities of some global political situations and what it is like to keep track of them as a journalist.
The talk was swiftly followed by an extensive question and answer period from pupils and teachers wishing to find out more about what it’s like to work as a news editor and how it is that such a comprehensive publication is put together within just one time-pressured week.
The Williams Project would like to thank Ms Duncan for her time, and for giving such an excellent talk.
Emma Duncan at the WP
On Wednesday, the 20th of January, Dr Catherine Goodman – an economist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, visited the Williams Project and gave the first talk of the Lent term, titled “Malaria treatment in Africa – reaching those most in need”.
At first Dr Goodman talked about the wide variety of people from different fields who make up the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who are not only clinicians, but also researchers, anthropologists or, such as Dr Goodman, economists. The School’s main mission is to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide, by developing and testing diagnostic tools for malaria, TB and HIV, pursuing vaccine programmes, examining the cultural issues in Ebola control or investigating the impact of charging user fees for health care. In her work, Dr Goodman focuses on economic aspects of introducing effective interventions for malaria.
We found out that half of the world’s population (3.4 billion people) is at risk of malaria and each year there are about 665,000 malaria deaths, of which 90% occur in Africa. Frighteningly, most of these deaths are children aged under five living in sub-Saharan Africa. Most deaths occur in countries with the highest rates of extreme poverty. We were also quite surprised to find out that in the past there was a number of cases documented in Essex, but to our relief, there is no high risk of this happening again at the moment! There is definitely a strong correlation between malaria and poverty and malaria has serious economic impacts in Africa, slowing economic growth and development. Dr Goodman spoke also about some effective malaria prevention interventions undertaken – insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying and intermittent preventive treatment. Big hopes lie currently in the RTS vaccine, which works effectively in nearly 50% of the cases. We understood why the public sector in many African countries happens to fail in providing antimalarials and we found out about a not very successful idea of a global ACT subsidy and some ideas for the future.
To conclude, the talk was absolutely absorbing and allowed us to have a good insight into the current situation in the global problem of malaria. It has also inspired us to think about the future of malaria treatment and what we could possibly do to improve it and make a change.
The first Williams Project of 2014 was presented by Mrs Helen Dixon, a senior civil servant from the Department of Health. She spoke to both branches of the WP, focusing on the changes in the NHS from its founding principles to the current challenges. The audience, many of whom were aspiring medics, were immediately greeted with the complexity of the organisation when shown a diagram of its interlocking components. After viewing the astounding figures that represented the number of patient episodes and visits per year we heard how the media, the ageing population and the obesity crisis are just some of the problems for the NHS in the future. The audience went on to discover how politicians, while generally adhering to Bevan’s founding principles, pose challenges to the NHS when rapidly introducing new policies to please the electorate, sometimes resulting in longer term strategies not being fully implemented.
Mrs Dixon then explained the changes which were being introduced after the Mid-Staffordshire scandal, including the publishing of staffing levels on wards and better access to complaint pathways. Finally, a problem was presented to us emphasising the difficult job of NHS managers; no one wants services to be cut but resources are finite. In the end, we chose to replace face-to-face GP consultations with telephone versions in order to prevent a ward from closing. Throughout, Mrs Dixon held the audience fully engaged and shed much light on the service we all rely on yet know very little about.
Chigwell parent Dr N. Gupta tore himself from his dentist’s chair and gave us a passionate exposition of how he saw the global economy. He began with the origins of money, as a more convenient system than simple barter, but quickly moved into, as he saw it, the bizarreness of the current system, where growth, inflation and loss of value are built into the system: to make enough money for the payment of interest, more money has to be lent, at interest, ad infinitum, which leads to the continuous devaluation of money. Those at the top of the pyramid, the bankers who make and lend the money, gain value, at the expense of the ones at the bottom, those who borrow and save. Very interesting and thought-provoking.
Subsequent discussion dwelt on the necessity of economic growth itself.