Friday, 13 June 2014

Roads and freight: what would the free market do?

A woman in her late twenties has been killed and her newborn baby girl in the same car airlifted to hospital after a collision on the M40, police said.

The crash between the car and a lorry happened at 11:20 BST on the southbound carriageway, just before junction nine.

This one's close to home, and not just literally ...

As a motorcyclist, instinct tells me that lorries can be lethal. As a father of two young children, I worry about just this sort of accident.

A quick Google backs up my feeling that lorries are disproportionately dangerous:
The assessment of official statistics, carried out by the Metropolitan Transport Research Unit (MTRU) for Campaign for Better Transport, showed that the ratio of fatal road accidents involving Heavy Good Vehicles (HGVs) compared with those involving other vehicle types has been climbing year on year:
  • On motorways: More than half (52%) of fatal accidents on motorways involve HGVs, despite HGVs only making up 10% of the traffic on motorways
  • On A-roads: HGVs are involved in 1 in 5 fatal crashes on A roads, a ratio that has worsened over the last 5 years
  • On minor roads: An HGV is five times as likely to be involved in a fatal accident on a minor road than other traffic

Can "Campaign for Better Transport" be trusted?

You might expect a libertarian to be sceptical of a group that's against road building and which campaigns to "save our buses". Their patrons include Lord Faulkner (Labour). Their board members fret about "equality and diversity" and "social exclusion". One of them, Alastair Hanton, helped them win "major improvements to the taxation of company cars as benefits in kind" - a tax hike, I suspect. Another board member, Sue Fletcher, boasts "a lifelong career in the charitable and public sectors". Their choice of catch phrases rings alarm bells: "evidence-based policy-making" usually means "policy-based evidence-making".

So no, I don't trust them. And I don't share their concerns about carbon dioxide. But I do share their instinct that lorries are an unsafe an inefficient way to transport freight.

What would the free market do? Would more freight go by rail? Would there be private roads for lorries, and separate ones for cars? Would there be speed-limit-free 'fun roads', for those prepared to take the risk? Would there be roads reserved for motorcycles? Would there be computer-controlled 'safe roads', for everyday family commutes? What would the public demand? What would be economically viable to supply? How would new roads get built without compulsory purchase orders?

As long as the state maintains its grip on roads and railways, we'll never know.

Friday, 14 February 2014

"A Britain where nobody wants to live" edges closer

Four years ago I blogged about 'a Britain where nobody wants to live'.

The title was taken from a much-quoted speech by Ivan Lawrence from 22 March 1979, in the debate over seat belts:
Since I have been in the House I have seen the cogent arguments and the telling pleas of hon. Members on both sides of the House persuading and succeeding in persuading the House that it is only a very little piece more of liberty that we are withdrawing and for such great benefits and advantages. As a result we have far fewer of our freedoms now than was ever dreamed possible a few years ago. In the end we shall find that our liberties have all but disappeared. It might be possible to save more lives in Britain by this measure—and by countless other measures. But I do not see the virtue in saving more lives by legislation which will produce in the end a Britain where nobody wants to live.
I was pleasantly unsurprised to see Steve Baker supporting freedom on the matter of smoking in cars. He presented another classic quote, from de Tocqueville:
After having thus taken each individual one by one into its powerful hands, and having molded him as it pleases, the sovereign power extends its arms over the entire society; it covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules, which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot break through to go beyond the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupifies, and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
While we're quoting, one by C.S. Lewis springs to mind:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
It is shameful that so many so-called conservatives do not share Mr Baker's respect for liberty. Nicola Blackwood is my MP, and she will not get my vote.

For more, see:

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The good kind of drones

In today's City A.M. - Amazon floats plan to use drones to deliver packages:

AMAZON is preparing to make next-day delivery obsolete by using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in an audacious plan to introduce 30-minute home delivery.

The online retailer hopes to revolutionise online shopping by delivering directly from its warehouses to customers’ homes using autonomous drones that can carry small packages weighing up to five pounds (2.3kg).

The main obstacle?

Bezos said the main challenge the service will face is regulatory approval for the drones to fly across the country unmanned and unmonitored by a pilot.

Current UK rules from the Civil Aviation Authority on commercial unmanned aerial vehicles require drones to always remain within sight of a human operator.

But Bezos remained undeterred by the challenges: “Could it be four, five years [away]? I think so. It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Amazon said its Prime Air drone deliveries could take off as early as 2015 in the US.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Salon vs Hayek & Mises

A tweet from Tom Paine brought me to a Salon article by Tom Watson: Don’t ally with libertarians: Ideologues co-opt an anti-NSA rally

Watson quotes an earlier, 'must read' Salon article by Michael Lind :
Friedrich von Hayek, who was, along with von Mises, one of the patron saints of modern libertarianism, was as infatuated with the Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet as von Mises was with Mussolini.

My initial reaction was the same as Tom's: LOL. But I hadn't heard these accusations before, so I couldn't resist some digging.

Lind's claim about Mises was staggeringly dishonest, as Jeffrey Tucker explained at the time:
The passage from Mises as selectively quoted:

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.

And that’s where Lind ends it, failing to add Mises’s actual conclusion:

But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.

The passage was part of Mises’s book that was published in 1927, just after Mussolini took power. Mises could easily discern that many people regarded Fascism as a savior, and this passage is merely acknowledging that common view. This view lasted for many years. For example, fully six years later, the New York Times Magazine published (March 19, 1933) a massive tribute to the glories of Professor Mussolini ...

The NYT was hardly alone in singing hymns to Mussolini. Nearly the whole establishment was fooled by this blowhard.

Mises, on the other hand, was not fooled. He was a prophet in understanding the evil of fascism – and six years before everyone else was still heralding the glories of this Italian FDR (which is how people saw Mussolini). Yes, evil. That’s the word Mises uses, which you can easily see from the entire section, which you can and should read. The Fascists and Communists use the same “unscrupulous methods…. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil. For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, its appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.”

It seems there's a slightly stronger basis for Lind's claim that Hayek respected Pinochet, but this too is disingenuous. Wikipedia has a section devoted to Hayek's views on Pinochet's Chile
Hayek is translated from German to Spanish to English as having said, "As long term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period. [...] Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism.

Is this really so controversial? Democracy, famously, is "two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner". It is the tyranny of the majority. Strength of numbers does not imply moral weight. Can we conceive of a democracy so brutal that Salon would not support it?

Google also turned up an article by George Reisman, setting Pinochet's legacy in context:
On Sunday, December 10, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile died, at the age of 91. General Pinochet deserves to be remembered for having rescued his country from becoming the second Soviet satellite in the Western hemisphere, after Castro’s Cuba, and, like the Soviet Union, and Cuba under Castro, a totalitarian dictatorship.

The General is denounced again and again for the death or disappearance of over 3,000 Chilean citizens and the alleged torture of thousands more. It may well be that some substantial number of innocent Chilean citizens did die or disappear or otherwise suffered brutal treatment as the result of his actions. But in a struggle to avoid the establishment of a Communist dictatorship, it is undoubtedly true that many or most of those who died or suffered were preparing to inflict a far greater number of deaths and a vastly larger scale of suffering on their fellow citizens.

Their deaths and suffering should certainly not be mourned, any more than the deaths of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, and their helpers should be mourned. Had there been a General Pinochet in Russia in 1918 or Germany in 1933, the people of those countries and of the rest of the world would have been incomparably better off, precisely by virtue of the death, disappearance, and attendant suffering of vast numbers of Communists and Nazis.

The whole article is well worth reading.

Reisman concludes:
General Pinochet was thus one of the most extraordinary dictators in history, a dictator who stood for major limits on the power of the state, who imposed such limits, and who sought to maintain such limits after voluntarily giving up his dictatorship.
Dictatorship, like war, is always an evil. Like war, it can be justified only when it is necessary to prevent a far greater evil, namely, as in this case, the imposition of the far more comprehensive and severe, permanent totalitarian dictatorship of the Communists.

I'll leave you with an image tweeted by Daniel Hannan amidst the ridiculous furore over Ralph Milliband:

... and these fine words from Russell Taylor:

Eric Hobsbawm, the acclaimed Marxist historian and friend of the Miliband family, claimed that the tens of millions killed by communist regimes would have been justified had the Red utopia been realised. This astonishing admission should have lost Hobsbawm his membership of the human race, but his reputation was unharmed – at least in left-wing circles. A similar sentiment from a Nazi sympathiser would have been rightly taken as proof of their depravity, but from a Marxist it’s nothing to get excited about. One can only conclude that in the topsy-turvy world of socialism motive is everything. There is something so noble about the egalitarian ideal that nothing committed in its name, no matter how abominable, can call its validity into question.

Topsy-turvy indeed. I stand for voluntary relationships, and sleep soundly.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Happy Canada Day?

Besides a superabundance of not very nice lager and 146 years as a country, Canadians have something practical to celebrate this Canada Day: Mark Carney is now our problem.

BBC Breakfast's segment on Carney this morning was predictably fawning. The only question, it seems, is whether this incredibly brilliant man - "the outstanding central banker of his generation", and a George Clooney lookalike! - will be quite as brilliant as everyone expects, or only moderately brilliant.

I don't share the BBC's faith in central planning. Carneys confidence doesn't inspire any confidence in me; it fills me with dread.

Watch this programme, and decide for yourself. His interviewer had the temerity to question aggressive money printing and ultra-low interest rates. Carney turned on him, smirking: “Is this all about you, Neil? Is it about the money you’ve saved and the return on that in your bank account?”

Clearly our wise and beneficent central bankers must disregard such quaint concerns, for the greater good.

A happy day for Canada, perhaps, but things are looking even worse for Britain.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Have legislators gone mad?

From the Institute for Energy Research:

The Drax plant in Yorkshire, England is one of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the world with an almost 1,000 foot-tall flue chimney, 6 boilers, and 12 very large cooling towers. It consumes 36,000 tons of coal each day, providing 7 percent of the country’s electricity. Starting next month, the plant will be converted to burn millions of tons of wood chips a year, costing £700 million ($1.085 billion).

Most of the wood chips will travel 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, coming from trees downed in the United States. Drax is building 2 plants in the United States that will turn the wood from trees into chips that can be transported by ship to Yorkshire and then hauled to the power station by railway trucks. In order to prevent spontaneous combustion, the wood chips must be stored in domes where the humidity is controlled before they can be pulverized into powder. (Wood is 1,000 times more prone to spontaneous combustion than coal.)

Despite the fact that coal is the least-expensive source of electricity generation in England, the owners of the Drax plant realized that a recently instituted carbon tax on fossil fuels would put them out of business if they continued to burn coal eventually making their electricity become twice as expensive. The political incumbents in Britain decided last year to give any coal-fired power station that switched to ‘biomass’ the almost 100 percent ‘renewable subsidy’ that owners of onshore wind farms get.

The authors ask: have legislators gone mad?

With credit to Sir Bernard Ingham, we might recast that as: cock-up or conspiracy? Are our legislators so utterly inept that they think converting Drax to burn wood chips is a good idea, or are they so corrupt that they knowingly put the corporate interests of the 'green' lobby before the interests of British citizens.

I have a hard time believing that the ministers are quite so incompetent, so I must assume they are corrupt. MPs at large may well be so stupid as to think this policy is sane. Or, more likely, they haven't bothered to consider the question at all.

Whichever way you look at it, it's a damning indictment of our representatives, and the fools who elected them.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Fade to black

This sequence has been making the rounds on Facebook:

A good point, well made.