Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Progress through technology

Or as the Germans say, Vorsprung Durch Technik.

It's a principle that was once embraced more strongly by this nation than any other, and it is our only hope for the future.

Last night I caught the last episode of Richard Hammond's Invisible Worlds. It was the BBC at its best. No agonising about human rights or climate change; just brilliant photography, high production standards, and serious science, accessibly presented.

Carbon nanotubes and Van der Waals forces; cheese mites and plankton; discernible letters, only thousands of atoms wide, etched on a platelet of a human hair.

Brilliant stuff.

Try to keep down your breakfast

I've written about this before. I really shouldn't watch it, but when I stumble down the stairs in the morning, my wife usually has it on. At least it gets my adrenaline going; tea on its own wouldn't stand a chance of waking me up.

I'm talking about BBC Breakfast. It's the sort of television you expect to be bad. To see just how bad it can be, you only have to switch over to GMTV. The BBC, though, always manage to mix a healthy dose of propaganda with the drivel. The commercial media is not agenda-free, but it's much more galling when I don't have a choice about funding it.

Today we saw:
  • A discussion of malnutrition in hospitals, and the poor quality of hospital food
  • Ofcom's action against Sky Sports
There were suggestions that hospital food standards should somehow be enshrined in law, and an NHS dietician predictably insisted that more money is the answer. It may be true that insufficient funds are allocated to food, but the unspoken suggestion was that improvements can only be achieved by injecting more money into the system as a whole. According to the TaxPayers' Alliance, "while overall numbers of NHS staff went up by just 20 percent between 1997 and 2007, the number of managers doubled from 20,000 to 40,000 ... in ten years the NHS went from having 12 beds per manager to less than five beds per manager". Crude metrics, of course — all metrics are crude — but anyone who suggests that savings in the NHS can only be found through cuts to front line services is being dangerously disingenuous.

Discussion moved from the depressing to the bizarre: pressure from Ofcom on Sky Sports. We're told that Sky Sports 1 & 2 must be offered to rival channels at 23% less than the current price. At least the BBC correspondent had the decency to highlight Sky's declamation against "unwarranted intervention" and its contention that "this is a marketplace where customers are well served". To be honest, I don't know how well Sky is serving its customers, but this is surely unwarranted intervention. Regulation is generally ineffective or counterproductive, but I can see why people are concerned about the cost of electricity, water, and banking services. Televised sports, on the other hand, are hardly a necessity. If people don't think Sky offers value for money, there are plenty of other places they can turn for entertainment. Tellingly, it was "BT, Virgin, Top Up TV and the now defunct Setanta" that expressed concerns about Sky's dominance, not the beleaguered viewers.

It was yesterday's programme, though, that truly made me sick.

To defend the government's Prevent initiative, the BBC called on an 'ex-extremist' who had fought British troops in Afghanistan. He's now employed by our government to guide vulnerable young Muslims down a more righteous path. At the end of the interview, he was asked what prompted his own remarkable transformation. He didn't denounce his past aggression, or repent of his treasonous attacks on British forces. He didn't renounce terrorism, or show any signs of regret for his violence against infidels. What turned him, he said, was "seeing Muslims killing Muslims ... and that's not right".

Monday, 29 March 2010

Hannan on our rising EU contributions

Daniel Hannan writes:

Despite all Alistair Darling’s talk of prudence, one budget is ballooning. Britain’s net contributions to the EU rose from £3.1 billion last year to £6.4 billion this, and will rise to £7.6 billion next year.

Even these figures understate the real cost. True, some of the money we hand over to Brussels is spent in Britain, but it’s not necessarily spent on things we would have chosen for ourselves. Citing our net contribution is like arguing that the basic rate of income tax, rather than being 22 pence in the pound, is in fact zero, because the whole sum is “given back” in roads, schools and hospitals. Britain’s gross contribution to the EU budget this year is projected to be (depending on whose figures we take) between £12.8 billion and £14.4 billion. In other words, we are spending twice as much on this single item as would be saved by all the reductions announced by George Osborne last October put together.

There are benefits to EU membership, but they are far outweighed by the costs.

Even those who believe that we owe something to our European neighbours should find it incredible that our country is borrowing in order to give.

How many people would run up credit card debt in order to give to charity?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Invasive taxation

Thanks to Tom Paine, I discovered an article by Henry Porter: Intercepting mail is worthy of the Stasi. Incredibly, you can find it at
The last days of this dreadful government are being accompanied by an attack on rights and privacy that seems unprecedented during Labour's 13-year rule.

The government is now drawing up plans to amend the Postal Services Act to allow tax inspectors to intercept and open people's mail before it is delivered. Given the state's ambitions to collect all communications data this is hardly surprising, but we must ask ourselves how many more rights are seized by government and its agencies before Britain becomes the GDR's most obvious European imitator.

Currently postal workers have the right to intercept suspicious letters and packages and pass them to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and then at an agreed moment the item is opened in front of the addressee. The change in the law will mean that HMRC will be able to open whatever it likes without the addressee being present or being made aware of the interception.
Years ago I found myself in a dismal room at the Stasi headquarters in the East German town of Leipzig and saw the piles of opened mail left by Stasi officers when the Berlin Wall came down. There was a pulping machine, adapted from a piece of agricultural machinery, which had been hastily used to destroy the evidence of the massive programme of interception. It was an impressive sight and to me a lasting symbol of the East German dictatorship.

It seems extraordinary that we are about to allow the exact same type of interception to be established in Britain with such little complaint. How long will it be before we protest? Where is the political leadership needed to assert that these sorts of laws are unacceptable in a democracy? And for Pete's sake, how does the government square the measure with the rights to privacy "guaranteed" by its own Human Rights Act?
It is a truly frightening step, all the more frightening for the silence with which it has been received.

HMRC was also in the news recently for not answering the phone. Coverage focused on how to improve service, but that is surely the wrong solution. The real problem is that we have a tax system so complicated that phone calls to HMRC are required. A simplified tax system would deliver massive savings within HMRC, and even more significant savings in compliance costs. Rather than burning time and money on tax avoidance, companies and individuals would focus on what they do best, creating real wealth.

Porter's article highlights another danger of our current system. By tying contributions and rebates to our individual circumstances, it creates an incentive, or excuse, for the government to pry into our most private affairs.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

How to spend money

For the sake of argument, let us accept what most people in the UK believe: that the government is morally justified in confiscating a portion of our wealth to spend on a range of 'public goods'.

Two problems remain:
  1. How to choose the 'public goods', and prioritise between them
  2. How to ensure that the money allocated to each 'public good' is spent efficiently
The first of these is an impossible task. As Jamie Whyte has explained, nobody knows the value of everything.

Our political leaders decide how 42 per cent of our money should be spent, dividing it between battleships, schools, roads. But they cannot explain how they know which deserves more and which less.

Politicians don't spend our money wrongly because they fail to identify the correct “importance ranking”. There is no such thing, only how important things are to individuals. Any centralised spending plan is sure to be wrong for everyone on the receiving end.

Whatever your political affiliation, it is difficult to argue with this analysis. The only solution is to let people to spend their own money according to their own priorities.

But ours is a suboptimal world, and you can't always get what you want. Having accepted the principle that the government should take our money to spend on 'public goods', most people ultimately accept, with varying grudgingness, the government's prioritisation. Their allocation might not be perfect, but it's not wrong enough to trigger a revolution. Content that something is being done about the important issues, we proceed with clear consciences to spend our time and remaining money on the little things that make life worthwhile.

Unfortunately, our peace of mind is short-lived. Too frequently, we receive news of government waste. We find that the cost for the London Olympics has trebled, from £2.375 billion to £9.325 billion, and hear suggestions that it might reach £20 billion. Even before the bank bailouts, we saw a trillion pounds of additional spending under New Labour, with little to show for it in education, healthcare, and law enforcement. But although they have pushed profligacy to new heights, this tendency is not unique to Labour. Governments throughout history, and the world over, are notoriously improvident. This is the second challenge: having chosen its projects, why is the government so bad at getting value for money?

There are many answers, but I think Milton Friedman explains it best with his four ways to spend money:

1. Spending your own money on yourself

2. Spending your own money on someone else

3. Spending someone else's money on yourself

4. Spending someone else's money on still another

Government spending is in this last category. Even with the best intentions, it will never be efficient, and whereas inefficiency can be fatal for corporations, governments can simply confiscate more wealth, honestly through taxes, or stealthily through inflation.

The solution is to reduce the domain of government to the absolute minimum, leaving people free to spend their money prudently on the things that they consider important.

Whyte: a nudge in the wrong direction

I've been catching up on some older articles by Jamie Whyte, and have yet to read a bad one. I'll highlight a few of my favourites; please forgive the bombardment.

This one from 2 August 2008 is about the contradictory philosophy of 'libertarian paternalism':

A few hippies aside, everyone agrees that paternalism is a good thing when practised by parents. Children do not know what is good for them. Left to their own devices they would make many bad decisions. Caring parents will threaten, bribe, cajole, trick or otherwise manipulate their foolish offspring into doing the right things.

When practised by governments, however, paternalism is more controversial. The idea that adults do not know what is best for them, and that the government should manipulate them into doing the right thing, strikes libertarians as outrageous.

Yet most politicians find the idea irresistible. The present Government aims to make us change our behaviour in all sorts of ways that libertarians would think none of its business. Among other things, they want to make us smoke less, drink less, eat less, take fewer drugs, exercise more, save more and spend more time with our families. So do David Cameron's new Conservatives.

Treating adults like children is an idea that needs some justification, especially when it is espoused by a political party that until recently claimed to champion the individual against the State.

So you can imagine the delight with which these nannies have received Nudge, a book by the Chicago University professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sustein that claims to provide a new justification for paternalism and new ways of manipulating people that are compatible with libertarianism.

He explains the basic premise: like children, many adults behave irrationally. They follow the herd. They resist change. They fail to properly evaluate probabilities and statistics. Their cost-benefit calculations, where they happen at all, are faulty.

The nudgers would address this not with the regulations and prohibitions so favoured by the Labour party, but rather by a subtle system of incentives and disincentives, intended to correct our irrational impulses.

But as Whyte asks, "If the Government knows what's best for us, why only nudge us in that direction? Why not give us a mighty shove - as the Australian Government has - by making saving compulsory?"

Sustein and Thaler reply that nudging is consistent with libertarianism, but shoving is not. And they are libertarians. They advocate what they call “libertarian paternalism”.

Alas, this is as incoherent as its name suggests. Libertarianism is motivated by the idea that a government cannot know what is best for individuals. That is why it is likely to harm us when it attempts to influence our behaviour. Those who favour governmental nudging must think the “central nudger” knows what is good for us. But then they have no reason to be libertarians.

Nor does behavioural economics justify paternalism, because it does not show that the Government knows better than we do what is good for us. The advantage that individuals have over central nudgers in deciding what we should do was never our perfect rationality. It is our superior knowledge of our own preferences and circumstances.

Take a simple example. Should you save more, as our would-be nudgers suggest? The answer depends on your present and likely future incomes, on how much you can expect to inherit, on how long you are likely to live and on your preferences regarding consumption now versus consumption in the future. The Government may know that you are foolish. But it cannot possibly have better information than you on all these matters.

Knowing that someone is irrational does not tell you what they should do, nor that they are at present doing the wrong things. Our would-be nudgers are like doctors who think that they can prescribe the right medicine simply because they know you are a hypochondriac.

Faultless logic. Unfortunately, George Osborne isn't listening.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Whyte: Demand for doctors

More clear thinking from Jamie Whyte:
Twelve doctors wrote a letter lamenting the fact that about 20 per cent of visits to GPs are for “common disturbances to normal good health, such as coughs and colds”. This costs the NHS about £2 billion a year without making any difference to people’s health, since they could just as effectively treat themselves. According to the campaigning doctors, “the NHS has become the victim of a demand-led culture”.

Then, having got almost all the way to the answer, they miss it. Reading their letter is like watching your one year old with a square peg in hand and the square hole directly in view, trying to stuff it into the round hole. The square peg in the doctors’ hand is the word “demand” and the square hole is the fact that the price of visiting a GP is zero.

Perhaps the most familiar law of economics is that demand increases as price decreases – be it demand for apples, foreign holidays, doctors’ visits or anything else of value. The reason people visit GPs so frivolously is that it costs nothing besides the lost time. The obvious solution to the problem is to charge a fee. £10 should be enough to deter people with sniffles. People with something potentially more threatening will be happy to pay this much.

But the doctors miss this trick. Instead they fall back on the hoary old distinction between real needs and mere wants, which they combine with the popular modern absurdity that people should be educated into acting against their own interests. Specifically, they call on politicians to “enable GPs and practice nurses to give people the confidence to use the NHS at the point of need, not demand; educate people to manage minor ailments …”

If the doctors think that this is a good method for rationing GP visits, perhaps they will like this idea for rationing food. Nationalise supermarkets, set the price of all food to zero, then eliminate the problem of wasteful overconsumption by educating people that they should take only the food they need rather than what they want.

The proposal is obviously absurd. No such education could possibly have the desired effect; no one could sensibly specify which food is really needed as opposed to merely wanted; and, even if they could, why should people be allowed to eat only what they need? All the same goes for visiting a GP.

A Britain where nobody wants to live

Circulating the libertarian blogosphere at the moment is a superb speech by Ivan Lawrence from 22 March 1979, in the debate on the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill:
I am wholly in favour of seat belts, of encouraging people to wear them, and of insurance companies and courts applying sanctions to encourage their use, but I am against the Bill because it abuses the criminal law and the criminal process. Why should any citizen be forced by criminal sanction to wear something which could in some circumstances kill him? That has never been a legitimate principle of our criminal law. Why should anyone be forced by criminal sanction not to hurt himself? That was never, at least until the crash helmet legislation, a principle of our criminal law. Where will it end? Why make driving without a seat belt a crime because it could save a thousand lives, when we could stop cigarette smoking by the criminal law and save 20,000 lives a year? Why not stop by making it criminal the drinking of alcohol, which would save hundreds of thousands of lives?

When will we realise that laws not only cannot cure every evil but are frequently counter-productive? Here the harm done to our criminal process may well exceed any good that the law can do. We can see that in advance, so why do we persist with it? If there was a law which made it a criminal offence to smoke or to drink alcohol, neither of which, of course, do I advocate, just think of the amount of bereavement that would be saved, the number of hospital beds that could be put to better use, and the time and energy of our doctors and nurses which could be more usefully employed. Yet we do not consider doing that. What is it about the motorist that requires him to be singled out and subjected to this sort of legislation?
The harm to justice caused by this legislation will be far more substantial than we think. When will we realise that every little infringement of liberty, for whatever good cause, diminishes the whole concept of liberty? If life is the only criterion, why did we sacrifice so many millions of lives in two world wars? Why did we not in the Second World War lie down and say"Because millions of people may die, we should let our liberty be taken away before the onset of the Nazis "? The answer is that more important than lives is the concept of liberty.

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.
41 years on, having waged a vigorous War on Smoking, Nanny is turning her attention to alcohol. When Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative) questioned this latest advance, Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North, Labour) replied:
It is clear that the hon. Gentleman and I come from polar opposite positions, but he is making the classic freedom speech. He is saying that we have the freedom to do what we want, without intervention from the state. The same speech will have been made against the breathalyser, crash helmets, the compulsory wearing of seat belts and a whole range of traffic regulations that are designed to save lives. Freedoms affect other people, not just the person exercising them.
Staggering. The classic freedom speech. Freedom: a quaint notion that hasn't yet been completely brushed aside. If I choose not to wear my crash helmet, and die as a result, "other people" — chiefly my wife and family — will be affected, but it is my life. I ought to consider those I love, but that is between me and them; the government has neither duty nor right to interfere.

It is not that I have any great desire to race around without a helmet. If the law were repealed tomorrow, I would continue to wear one. But it is a matter of principle: I own myself, and choose my own risks. Once this principle is lost, there is no limit to the potential encroachment of the state. Slowly, steadily, stealthily, Nanny advances. Where will it end?

Alcohol and tobacco have one significant advantage: they are a reliable source of revenue for the state. But we should not suppose that this will save our freedoms. For all its incompetence, the state is ingenious at extracting money from the electorate, and any reliance on a particular revenue stream is transitory.

The experience of alcohol prohibition in the United States did not teach the nanny statists respect for human nature and individual rights; it taught them patience and surreptitiousness. They did not give up their desire to mould an ideal human, but they recognised that it could not be achieved overnight, nor through blunt instruments. People must be gradually worn down; undesirable behaviour must be 'denormalised'.

The entire debate is worth reading. Despite Mr Davies's antiquated interest in freedom, the official Conservative position, as clarified by Anne Milton (Shadow Minister, Health; Guildford, Conservative), is supportive of an increase in the price of alcohol. They accept the principle that Nanny knows best, that the role of government is to guide the choices of its citizens; they simply disagree on the approach. Where will it end?

As Davies notes,
A great many people in the House seem to want to do nothing else but ban everyone from doing all the things that they themselves do not happen to like. I do not think that I was brought into politics for that. In fact, I am speaking today as a teetotaller: I do not even drink alcohol, but I very much defend the rights of those who do. People who want to enjoy drinking their alcohol responsibly should not have to pay extra on their supermarket shopping just because a few yobs cannot take their drink of an evening.
Like Davies, I
despair at the endless consensus that there seems to be in the House, which is forever seeking to restrict people's freedoms in this country, to try to stop them doing things that they do legitimately and, in the overwhelming majority of cases, without any problem. For hon. Members to lecture people constantly about what they may and may not do, and what they should and should not say, is depressing beyond belief.
Like him I fear that
the zealots represented on the Select Committee will be back for more, and back for more again. They are never satisfied. Dr. Taylor said that he wanted the Government to go a little further and do a little more. Unfortunately, he and the people whom he represents always want the Government to go a little further and do a little more.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Johnston: How do we win back our freedom?

I still don't have the answer, and neither, as far as I can tell, does Philip Johnston, but his recent article for the Telegraph is worth reading.

When I was growing up, there were two common phrases that you hardly ever hear today. One was: "It's a free country." The other was: "There should be a law against it." They tended to be uttered by people older than my parents who had been born not long after the First World War and may well have fought in the Second.

These phrases captured the essence of Britishness and why those wars were fought. We were, or imagined ourselves to be, "a free country" in a way that most European countries were not and had never been. That notion of being free defined us. We were not people subject to arbitrary state power and we both knew it and could say it. Perhaps this first phrase was used ironically at times; but when I heard it as a young boy it had a sense of certainty and permanence about it. What are we? A free country.


However, neither of these phrases applies today. We are no longer a free country, not in the way previous generations would have understood the phrase; and as for the demand for laws, there almost certainly already is a law against it.

The point is that the two go together. Liberty is freedom from the arbitrary exercise of the law, even if the people applying it believe they are doing it for your own good. There is nothing worse than a paternalistic government that believes it has the right to interfere in our personal lives and justifies doing so on altruistic grounds. At least with despotisms you know where you stand: despots are seeking to exercise power over the individual and have few philanthropic reasons for doing so. It is far easier to rail against them, if more dangerous.

The Register: Mandy quango says Apple, Amazon are too obscure

From Andrew Orlowski at The Register:
A group sponsored by Lord Mandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says more money should be spent telling Britons about iTunes and Amazon, because not enough people know about them. It says the music business should pick up the tab, though.

Last week Consumer Focus released the results of a poll that showed that only six out of 10 people could name a legitimate music service such as Spotify, iTunes or Amazon off the top of their heads. That's not a bad figure, when you consider the number of people on broadband, and the size of the subset that buys things online, and then the sub-subset that wants to buy music online. 33 per cent of all punters could name iTunes, and 24 per cent could name Amazon. The figures were higher with the AB social group, and brand recognition rose to 82 per cent in the 15-34 age bracket.

Problem solved, then? Can we all go home? Well, hang on a minute - you're not thinking like a government-sponsored consumer quango.

Consumer Focus concluded that this isn't enough, and more must be done to make consumers aware of the legal options to buy music online. It wants the music business to pay to promote these obscure companies like Apple and Amazon.

Established only two years ago, Consumer Focus received £35m in taxpayer money in the most recent year for which accounts are available (ending March 2009), and employs over 100 staff. It came in for criticism for spending £120,000 for bonding sessions for employees, or over £1,000 per head.

BBC: super-fast broadband for all

Earlier this month the BBC earnestly reported that internet access should be considered a human right.

Today we see another report:
Gordon Brown has said Labour plans to give every home in the UK access to super-fast broadband.

In a speech, the prime minister called high-speed web access "the electricity of the digital age" which "must be for all - not just for some".

The Conservatives say they have made a similar pledge and have attacked a £6-a-year landline levy planned by Labour.

[Brown] argued that faster broadband speeds would allow for cheaper and better public services as well as ushering in more sophisticated entertainment options and making trade easier.

But leaving this to the market alone would lead to coverage "determined not by need or by social justice, but by profitability" and "a lasting, pervasive and damaging new digital divide"
I won't rehash my previous comments, though they all still stand. Instead, I'll note:
  • With government spending out of control, it is outrageous (if unsurprising) that Gordon Brown continues to play pork barrel politics, proposing further exploitation of the compliant majority for the benefit of yet another minority group.
  • The Conservatives have once again demonstrated that you can't hold a cigarette paper between them and the openly socialist parties. As on so many issues, they oppose the details of Labour's proposal, but not the principle.
  • All of this passes without comment in the BBC article. One would hardly expect a state-supported organisation to question statism.
Jeffrey Miron recently reported on similar proposals across the pond, where "Federal regulators detailed a $20 billion, 10-year plan to ensure all U.S. households access to high-speed Internet service."

He asks:
What could possibly justify federal or any government action in this arena? Private companies have ample incentive to expand internet service when the revenues exceed the costs. This FCC plan is just a transfer to rural households.

Griffin, Geert, Question Time, and the unquestionable

On 22 October 2009, despite protests from career protesters, and prominent members of the Labour party, the BBC proceeded with its plan to have BNP leader Nick Griffin on Question Time.

I couldn't find a transcript, so I produced some fairly extensive notes of my own — whatever we may say about the cost of the BBC's iPlayer, there's no disputing its usefulness.

The topics were interesting, and I couldn't resist some commentary. I've been sitting on my notes for several months now, but news of Geert Wilder's latest visit to the UK prompted me to dust them off.

The outcome of the programme was predictable: Nick Griffin was exposed as a shifty, bigoted, duplicitous amateur, whose crudeness stood in marked contrast to the polished duplicity of the mainstream politicians. Throughout, the cosmopolitan audience cheered and jeered like a pack of animals.

Nevertheless, worthwhile points were raised on all sides.


The opening question related to the BNP's hijacking of Churchill's image. This was rightly denounced, and Jack Straw took the opportunity to highlight the vital contribution of black and Asian subjects to the victory of the British empire in WWI and WWII (2:24).

Griffin did not dispute this, but countered that Churchill, with his views on immigration and Islam, would not be accepted by any mainstream political parties today (4:14). For those unfamiliar with these views, here's an excerpt from The Story of the Malakand Field Force:
Indeed it is evident that Christianity, however degraded and distorted by cruelty and intolerance, must always exert a modifying influence on men's passions, and protect them from the more violent forms of fanatical fever, as we are protected from smallpox by vaccination. But the Mahommedan religion increases, instead of lessening, the fury of intolerance. It was originally propagated by the sword, and ever since, its votaries have been subject, above the people of all other creeds, to this form of madness.

That such views would today exclude Churchill from political life seems indisputable. Whether he would think and say such things if he were alive today, we can never know. But we should lament our crushing climate of political correctness, which precludes open discussion of important issues. Wherever rational debate is stifled, emotionally-charged extremism will thrive.

Holocaust denial

Discussion then turned to Nick Griffin himself. He was confronted by well-dressed black man who angrily asserted that "the vast majority of this audience find what you stand for to be completely disgusting" (6:15). The riotous applause that followed left no doubt that the man was correct. Griffin replied: "if you look at some of the things I'm quoted as having said ... I'd be a monster. These things are outrageous lies" (6:33).

Dimbleby pressed Griffin for details: "Which is the untrue quote that's been said about you, the Holocaust denial?" (6:39). Griffin replied, with a sickly half-simle: "I do not have a conviction for Holocaust denial" (6:55).

Later in the program, a young man in a skullcap made passionate reference (18:26) to another Griffin quote, which is apparently from a 2001 episode of Panorama:
I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated and turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the world is flat ... I have reached the conclusion that the 'extermination' tale is a mixture of Allied wartime propaganda, extremely profitable lie, and latter witch-hysteria.
Griffin's response here was particularly unsatisfying: "I cannot explain why I used to say those things" ... because of "European Law" (18:48). I assume the law he referred to is the European Union Directive for Combating Racism and Xenophobia (2007). I don't know the legal status of this 'directive', but those who still think of the EU as an economic project may be surprised at its wording: "Member States will ensure that these conducts are punishable by criminal penalties of a maximum of at least between 1 and 3 years of imprisonment."

Despite statements from Chris Huhne that European arrest warrants for Holocaust denial have been refused by the UK (19:10), and despite the self-important reassurances of Jack Straw — "as the Justice Minister, I promise you" (19:19) — Griffin was able to weasel out of the question: "the French courts and the German courts would not allow me that freedom" (19:37).

Dimbleby then asked: "have you actually changed your mind, or do you only say you've changed your mind because the law makes it illegal to be a Holocaust denier?" (19:52)

Griffin replied: "I have changed my mind. A lot of it is about figures ... one of the key things that makes me change my mind is British radio intercepts of German transmissions about the brutal mass murder of innocent Jews on the Eastern front." (19:59)

In one of his better contributions to the debate, Jack Straw responded: "What about Auschwitz? ... You didn't need a subsequent radio intercept to find out that people were gassed at Auschwitz!" (20:22)

Griffin's views on the Holocaust are as ridiculous as they are offensive, but by pushing these views underground, laws against Holocaust denial do more harm than good. Moreover, these laws are so woolly that they can be used to stifle legitimate debate (emphasis mine):
The text establishes that the following intentional conduct will be punishable in all EU Member States:
  • Publicly inciting to violence or hatred, even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against ... a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

  • Publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising
    • crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 6, 7 and 8)...
    • crimes defined by the Tribunal of Nüremberg ... Member States may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.


At 14:33, Chris Huhne and David Dimbleby highlighted Griffin's address to the KKK on 22 April 2000, available here on YouTube:
Perhaps one day, once by being rather more subtle, we’ve got ourselves in a position where we control the British broadcasting media, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say 'yes every last one must go'. Perhaps they will one day, but if you offer it out as your sole aim to start with you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. So instead of talking about 'racial purity' we talk about 'identity'.
Griffin maintained that this was an attempt to "win over the youngsters that [David Duke] otherwise leads astray" (16:03).

Dimbleby said what everyone was thinking: "Why should anybody trust what you say?" (16:08)

Griffin replied: "Why should anybody trust any politician?" (16:13)


Dimbleby read some quotes from Griffin on ethnicity:
  • "I want to see Britain become 99% genetically white, just as she was 11 years before I was born." (7:12)
  • "It's sad when a unique human genotype becomes extinct." (7:32)
The first of these is clearly racist, but I wonder what percentage of white Britons are truly comfortable with the idea that they may one day be an ethnic minority in "their own" country.

As for the second, Griffin is probably more concerned about particular phenotypes than he is about genotypes. As Richard Dawkins has noted, "if you wiped out sub-Saharan Africa you would lose the great majority of human genetic diversity, whereas you could wipe out everywhere except Africa and nothing much would change". But even if Griffin had said 'phenotype', it's hard to see why anyone should be upset by this. Some 'liberals' no doubt look forward to the day when miscegenation has rendered us all brown-eyed with light brown skin. But anyone who truly values diversity should dread that dreary homogeneity.

The muddled view of ethnicity held by the Question Time audience was revealed by the applause that followed the statement by one white woman that "the human race is largely believed to have started in Africa, so essentially all of us are an ethnic minority" (18:04). Unsurprisingly, the well-dressed black man from 6:15, who was sitting to her left, reacted to this suggestion with disgusted bemusement.

Later in the program, a black woman admonished Jack Straw for his use of the term "Afro-Carribean", insisting that the correct term is "African Carribean" (35:44). To my amazement, this too drew applause. Sayeeda Warsi, "Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion", smiled knowingly. Jack Straw raised his hand in apology. Nobody dared to ask the woman what she thought of other standard Latin-English combinations, like Anglo-American and Sino-Japanese.


Asked "Why is Islam a wicked and vicious faith?" (20:49), Griffin replied "because it treats women as second class citizens, because it says that a woman victim of rape should be stoned to death for adultery, and because it orders its followers to be harsh with those of the unbelievers who live near to them, and it ordains, as a religious duty, the murder of Jews, as well as other non-Muslims. That's in the Quran, there's no point shaking your head. There are good points about Islam ... but it doesn't fit in with the fundamental values of British society: free speech, democracy, and equal rights for women" (21:05)

I haven't read the Quran, but some quick searching turns up plenty of statements that would fall foul of the European Union Directive for Combating Racism and Xenophobia. Here are a couple of examples from Sura 4 - An-Nisa, courtesy of
(55) Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. Lo! Allah is ever Mighty, Wise.

(88) They long that ye should disbelieve even as they disbelieve, that ye may be upon a level (with them). So choose not friends from them till they forsake their homes in the way of Allah; if they turn back (to enmity) then take them and kill them wherever ye find them, and choose no friend nor helper from among them.
But as shocking as this is, Griffin forgets, or ignores, the fact that the Old Testament contains similar passages. Even the New Testament has its share of abhorrent material. Nevertheless, the vast majority of British Christians, Jews, and Muslims function perfectly well in modern society, either because they are ignorant of their own holy texts, or because they believe large sections of them are inapplicable to our time and place. What matters is not what is written, but what people believe and act upon.

Over the centuries, countless atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity. The 21st century continues to see barbarous acts committed in the name of Islam. Rape victims are stoned to death in Somalia. Drug trafficking, repeated drug use, and apostasy are punishable by beheading in Saudi Arabia. More moderate states, like Turkey and Indonesia, show that Muslim countries need not descend to such barbarism, but the the threat of extremism is ever present.

In Britain too, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism looms larger than that of Christian fundamentalism or Jewish fundamentalism. But blanket condemnation of Islam is sure to alienate moderate Muslims, who are potential allies in the fight against extremism. The sooner these moderate Muslims step up and become actual allies, the better.

This is not to say that Muslims are the only ones qualified to criticise the Quran. Whenever the commandments of any faith conflict with British values, we should not be afraid to condemn them. Religious beliefs should have no special status under the law; no special right to protection or respect. As H.L. Mencken put it
We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.


An audience member asked: "Can the recent success of the BNP be explained by the misguided immigration policy of our government?" (27:08)

Jack Straw's response (27:21) was about as evasive as they come. He blathered first about Enoch Powell, then about the National Front, and concluded with "I scarcely know anybody, certainly I'm not one of them, who can say they are 'true British' or 'true English'" (28:42).

Dimbleby pressed him: "Are you saying there is no worry about the scale of immigration in this country?" (28:51)

Straw then treated us to this: "There has been a net reduction in the increase in migration recently, though the outflow because of the downturn has been greater, and so we are seeking actively to control numbers better, so for example we've introduced the points based system for work permits, and asylum numbers have come down to about a third of where they were. But on the issue of 'Can we pull up the drawbridge and stop people coming into this country?', 'Can we stop people who come from a different country, who are then British citizens, from marrying who they wish to choose from wherever it is in the world?', certainly not, because one of the great strengths of this country is its diversity, and for the future, although of course I understand, I understand this very acutely in my own constituency, where now 30% of the population are of Asian origin, that it can be very disturbing for people, when they see change in front of their eyes ..." (29:02 - 30:00)

Staggering. If Dimbleby hadn't interrupted him at this point, I can't imagine how long he would have continued. Dimbleby finally succeeded in extracting something approaching an answer: "If you want to know why the BNP won in the North West and in Yorkshire in June, it was a lot to do with discontent with all the political parties" (30:32)

Sayeeda Warsi won applause for saying what everyone was thinking -- "that answer is not an honest answer" (30:48) -- but though she began by acknowledging that "there are real issues around poverty, around deprivation, around lack of social mobility and immigration" (31:10), she then descended to vague talk about 'resources': "There are many people who feel that the pace of change in their communities has been too fast, and that the government has not properly resourced those particular areas to respond to that change ... this is not a race debate, this is a debate about resources" (31:18 - 31:42).

The audience seemed hypnotised by her colloquial style, but Dimbleby was not, and he pressed her: "What precisely are you prepared to do?" (32:32). This elicited a slightly more satisfactory response: "We would have an annual cap, we would have an annual limit, we would look every year, we would speak to industry, we would look at our resources, we would look at our needs, but what we would not do ... is pull up the drawbridge, because Britain should have the brightest and the best from around the world, and we should welcome them, because they make a contribution to our society" (33:07 - 33:27). However, we were still left to wonder what 'resources' Warsi had in mind.

This should be a straightforward issue. Our crowded little island should not be admitting anyone but the "brightest and the best". We should welcome only those who "make a contribution to our society". If it were just the "brightest and the best" who were arriving, there would be no complaints ... not least because the "brightest and the best" do not tend to live in areas that have "real issues around poverty". We should question the ability of bureaucrats to divine who will make a contribution, and we should view with extreme scepticism any immigrants who require 'resources'.

Chris Huhne explained the 'shambolic' state of our immigration system: "Our border control no longer is able to count people out ... we issue nearly two million visas every year to students and other people on short term visas ... and we don't know whether they've left" (36:20).

Huhne also recalled the discrepancy between the government's stated expectations for Eastern European migrants ("56 000") and the actual number who arrived ("766 000"). He reminded us that "most of the other European countries decided to have transitional arrangements whereby they didn't allow free immigration from Eastern Europe" (37:25).

Griffin replied: "It is rather surprising to have a senior Lib-Dem masquerading it seems as an anti-immigration party" (38:44). He went on to blame "the entire political elite which has imposed an enormous multicultural program ... on the British people" (38:54) .

Mindful of Hanlon's Razor, I was sceptical, but Griffin is not alone in his suggestion that Labour's open door immigration policy was part of a deliberate attempt to change UK demographics. See, for example, Labour speech writer Andrew Neather's comments in the Evening Standard:

But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.

I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended - even if this wasn't its main purpose - to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far.

Part by accident, part by design, the Government had created its longed-for immigration boom.

But ministers wouldn't talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn't necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men's clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

Jack Straw responded in the Evening Standard that this was "the reverse of the truth", but Migrationwatch has since used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain an early draft of Migration: An Economic and Social Analysis. Comparing it with the version published in 2001, they found support for Neather's claim: "six out of eight references to 'social' objectives" were removed from the Executive Summary.

The revelations prompted Lord Tebbit to ask whether this was "the most cynical act of vote-rigging in our history". As Migrationwatch noted,
Research into voting patterns was conducted for The Electoral Commission in May 2005, just after the last election. The “Black and Minority Ethnic Survey”, conducted by MORI, asked which party respondents had voted for in 2005. Of Caribbean and African voters, 80% had voted Labour, 2-3% Conservative and 5- 11% Liberal Democrat. Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshis voted 56%, 50% and 41% for Labour. The equivalent figures for the Conservatives were 11%, 11% and 9% while Liberal Democrats came in at 14%, 25% and 16%. Mixed and other categories were similar to the Asians.
Whatever their motives, it is clear that our government has misled the electorate, and dismissed their concerns. They should not be surprised that, out of desperation, erstwhile Labour supporters are now turning to the BNP.

The British People

Griffin said that the multi-cultural experiment had "transformed our country", and tried to quote some research from "demographers at Oxford University" about "the indigenous British". He was interrupted first by Bonnie Greer ("Nick, who are the British People?", 39:11), then by Jack Straw ("The Whites, the Whites", 39:22).

To this latter interruption Griffin should probably have replied 'yes', and continued with his point, but instead he made what for him was a laughable assertion: "skin colour's irrelevant" (39:25). Huhne then weighed in with "why are you against mixed marriages if skin colour is irrelevant?" (39:34), while Greer fought to get in another jab. At this point Dimbleby stepped in: "if you all attack on different fronts, we'll get nowhere" (39:40).

I don't know how genetically homogeneous and established a group has to be to qualify as aboriginal, but any talk of indigenous Britons seems to be met with hysterical animosity.

Griffin highlighted the double-standard: "Jack Straw wouldn't dare to go to New Zealand and say to a Māori 'what do you mean indigenous?' ... he wouldn't dare to go to North America and say to an American Red Indian ... 'what do you mean indigenous, we're all the same'" (39:47).

Fighting through further interruptions, Griffin continued: "the indigenous people of these islands [are] the English, the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh ... the people who have been here overwhelmingly for the last 17 000 years ... we are the aborigines here ... the majority of the British people are descended from people who have lived here since time immemorial ... it is genuinely racist when you seek to deny the English ... you people wouldn't even let us have our name on the census form ... that is racism, and that is why people are voting for [the BNP]" (39:58).

This last comment drew applause from what seemed like more than the one or two BNP supporters in the audience. The story of the census is here.

It made me wonder. Do the Germans have 'German' on their census forms? Do the Spanish have 'Spanish'? Do governments have any business asking these questions?

It has been speculated that Griffin's "Oxford demographer" is Stephen Oppenheimer, author of The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story. A review by The Bradshaw Foundation summarises Oppenheimer's thesis:
Orthodox history has long taught that the Romans found a uniformly Celtic population throughout the British Isles, but that the peoples of the English heartland fell victim to genocide by the Anglo-Saxon hordes during the fifth and sixth centuries.
In fact, three quarters of English people can trace an unbroken line of genetic descent through their parental genes from settlers arriving long before the introduction of farming.
Stephen Oppenheimer shows us, in his meticulous analysis, that there is in truth a deep genetic line dividing the English from the rest of the British people but that, fascinatingly, the roots of that separate identity go back not 1500 years but 6,000.The real story of the British peoples is one of extraordinary continuity and enduring lineage that has survived all onslaughts.
I don't pretend to know the truth of the matter, but the character of Straw, Huhne, and Warsi was shown by their response. They feel compelled to dismiss, even to ridicule, the possibility of English ethnicity. A better response would be to question its importance: the English may or may not be a recognisable ethnic group, but what does it matter? The important issue is British culture, which transcends ethnic boundaries.

The trouble for the mainstream parties is that they have bought into two dangerous myths: that ethnicity is important, and that all cultures are equal. The former leads to 'positive discrimination' for 'disadvantaged' groups. The latter makes them reluctant to condemn even the most oppressive and intolerant features of immigrant cultures.

Guided tours of the Lake District?

Of course, like the mainstream politicians, Griffin does believe that ethnicity is important. So rather than discussing British values, he followed his point about the census with a strange and unsupported suggestion that "guided tours in the Lake District have been cancelled because only English people, white people, were going on them" (40:43).

Chris Huhne called this a 'made up fact' and 'absolute nonsense', but subsequent investigation by Channel 4's Fact Check found that there was "a kernel of truth in Griffin's claim - the Lake District was (and is) trying to attract more visitors from minority groups, and 'white, middle-class, middle-aged' walking tours were briefly under threat".

So we find a valid point, poorly presented. Taxpayer's money shouldn't be used to attract anyone to the Lake District, and it certainly shouldn't be used differentially to attract members of one ethnic group over another. Private money, freely given, is an entirely separate matter, and businesses should be free to 'reach out' to any group they like. But when government engages in such activity, we should be very suspicious.


Dimbleby quoted Griffin as saying that "the immigration invasion is an act of deliberate, calculated genocide against our ancient race and nation" (41:18) and incredulously asked "so successive governments are committing genocide against their own people, is that your theory?". Griffin replied: "I'm afraid that's the case" (41:30).

Warsi asked Griffin "do you know the definition of 'genocide'?" (41:39)

Griffin attempted to reply with his interpretation of the United Nations definition of genocide ("it's about destroying a culture by not allowing children to learn their own culture, for example"), but was shouted down by Warsi: "How appalling that you use that word in that way" (41:48). In case you are more interested in facts than righteous indignation, here's the text:
Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religions group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The definition is surprisingly broad, and only (a) and (c) fit with the common image of genocide (gas chambers and machetes; starvation and concentration camps). Clause (b) with its inclusion of 'mental harm' is especially surprising, and probably serves as the basis for Griffin's interpretation, however far-fetched; it would be interesting to see examples of what the authors intended.

I suspect that even if Griffin had firm evidence of (d) or (e), and could demonstrate that this was done with "intent to destroy, in whole or in part" the "indigenous British" or the English nation, Warsi and others would still condemn his use of the term 'genocide'.

To be sure, Griffin was cynically seeking to capitalise on the gulf between the common perception and the legal definition, but the UN text does highlight the possibility of 'bloodless genocide'. While it does seem ridiculous to suggest that genocide has occurred here in the UK, there is substantial evidence of a Culture War that has seen the suppression of English and British identities.


Talk moved back to immigration, with Warsi memorably insisting that "there is no such thing as a bogus asylum seeker" (45:14).

Dimbleby quoted Frank Field: "a fightback against the BNP will only begin when the party leaders give a full pledge that our population will not breach the 65 million barrier" (46:46).

Jack Straw replied that he doesn't "believe that putting a cap on population is possible" and disingenuously suggested that attempts to control the population would have to take the form of "a cap on the number of children that people have" (47:14).

In fact, since wealthy westerners freely choose to breed at less than the replacement rate, it would almost certainly be sufficient to curtail immigration, and remove incentives for welfare pregnancy — to encourage people to live within their means, and only have as many children as they can support.

Questioning the unquestionable

Nick Griffin may be shifty and unattractive; he may say things that are offensive, disingenuous, and ridiculous; but he gives voice to concerns that are felt by many.

Geert Wilders comes across quite differently, and does not seem to have the same skeletons in his closet, but he is on trial for the uncompromising manner in which he has questioned the influence of Islam in the Netherlands.

As long as the mainstream parties ignore popular concerns, people like Griffin will be guaranteed an audience. To the extent that the government is prepared to use the force of law to suppress politically incorrect beliefs, we should all be afraid.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Last Ditch: The rape of justice

Not for the first time, Tom Paine has summed up my thoughts perfectly:
The only way to handle the dis-inhibiting effects of alcohol is to hold drinkers accountable for what they do when drunk. In some ways, this may seem a bit unfair. Most of us have made choices we regretted under the influence of alcohol. But the alternative is to provide people with too easy an excuse for their unwise actions. But how can someone capable of articulating that thought go on to argue that a drunken woman's consent to sex is invalid? How quaint to argue that men are accountable not only for their own actions when drunk, but for those of women too.

This will make bad law. Very bad law. At the very least, men will be blackmailed by women who will falsely claim, after the event, that their consent was invalid. How can it ever be disproved? Even a woman who was stone cold sober could lie. Innocent men will be wrongly convicted because it is impossible to assess (the effects of alcohol varying as they do by individual and by occasion) whether a woman consented or not. This proposal is vile, unjust and typically puritanical. On Labour's past record that's good reason to expect it soon to be law; further de-normalising relations between the sexes in the UK.

Tebbit: the narcotic milk of the taxpayers' breast

A classic post from Norman Tebbit:

Lord Beveridge, the architect of the postwar welfare state, was no fool. He saw the dangers, as well as the merits of a comprehensive welfare system. Sadly a lot of fools, or worse, did not listen to all of what he said. As he warned us, “The danger of providing benefits, which are both adequate in amount and indefinite in duration” is “that men as creatures who adapt to circumstances may settle down to them.”

He would be horrified at the extent of welfare dependency today. It is not just, as he put it, “men becoming habituated to idleness”. There is a growing army of men and women, whether in or out of work, dependent on the state (that is the taxpayer) for their living. They are not all at the bottom of the stack of society. An increasing number are in the £100,000 a year class, with pensions to match.

It seems to me that, as Beveridge instinctively understood, the most habit-forming, dependency-creating, narcotic substance known to man is the milk which flows from the collective breast of the taxpayers. The number of addicts is rising every year. Many are now hereditary welfare junkies, born of junkie parents into junkie families, trapped by the welfare pushers into the poverty trap. They are offered no way out of the trap. Work leaves them worse off, for that means they would be taxed to feed their own addiction.

The pushers, as in the trade of other narcotics, are mostly reliant on the taxpayers’ milk, too. Many of them are nice hand-wringing Guardianistas.

They would like things to be other than they are, but they could not afford it to be so. These are the upper class of those in dependency upon the taxpayer and they live a good life. Some will be found at Regional Government Conferences in agreeable parts of Europe. There those of high social standing as “executives” in local government (mostly reluctant to let the poor old milch cow know how much of its milk they imbibe).

I recommend the full article.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Doug French: Failure and Prosperity

The Cobden Centre has reproduced a speech given by Doug French on 26 February for the Mises Institute's conference "The Birth and Death of the Fed" at Jekyll Island, Georgia.

It's long, but well worth your while. Here's a taste:
If you watch any of the financial channels for any length of time, you’ll eventually hear someone going on about how grateful we should be for government intervention: “thank goodness the government stepped in or the world financial system would have collapsed.” I’m afraid this kind of talk is going to go on longer than the war on terror.

If the bailouts are questioned at all, the TV talking-head will reply, “yes but everyone was worried in the fall of 2008 that they would go to the ATM and wonder whether any money would come out.”

“Look how rocky the markets were after Lehman Brothers filed bankruptcy,” they say. “Imagine if other big firms were left to fail!”

“If there had been no bailout and no stimulus, it would have been a depression for sure. Hey, it’s been bad, but if not for the wise men at Treasury and the Fed, we’d all be standing in soup lines or selling apples on street corners. Prices would plummet, we’d all be doomed.”
Many historians describe the period after the crash of 1873 to 1896 as a deflationary dark age. M. John Lubetkin in his book Jay Cooke’s Gamble: The Northern Pacific Railroad, The Sioux, and the Panic of 1873 writes that the damage from the Panic of 1873 lasted for five years “and its economic damage was second only to the past century’s Great Depression.”

However as Jim Grant of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer writes, “you can look far and wide without finding a decade so ebullient, prosperous and — in so many ways —so modern as that of the 1880s.”

The US economy in the 1880s moved from agriculture to manufacturing; and even then global trade was controversial. But while prices fell, the US economy prospered. Industry expanded; the railroads expanded; physical output, net national product, and real per capita income all roared ahead. For the decade from 1869 to 1879, the real national product grew 6.8% per year and real-product-per-capita growth was described by Murray Rothbard, in his History of Money and Banking in the United States: The Colonial Era to World War II as “phenomenal” at 4.5% per year.

So the period that Wikipedia describes as “a severe nationwide economic depression that lasted until 1879,” was really a period of prosperity. This “great depression” was a myth, as Rothbard explains “a myth brought about by misinterpretation of the fact that prices in general fell sharply during the entire period,” Sure, prices fell, by 3.8% per annum according to Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz, but what’s so bad about that?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The 'Robin Hood' Tax revisited

Faced with these proposals, anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged cannot help but recall the words of Ragnar Danneskjöld:
It is said that [Robin Hood] fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived. He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity.
Until men learn that of all human symbols, Robin Hood is the most immoral and the most contemptible, there will be no way for mankind to survive
Last month I highlighted James Tyler's critique of the Luvvie/Tobin Tax, which has been rebranded the Robin Hood Tax, and promoted by Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Bill Nighy.

According to its proponents,
The Robin Hood Tax is a tiny tax on bankers that would raise billions to tackle poverty and climate change, at home and abroad.

By taking an average of 0.05% from speculative banking transactions, hundreds of billions of pounds would be raised every year.
Today, Daniel Hannan reports that
As predicted, the European Parliament has voted for a tax on financial transactions, to be levied directly by Brussels. The vote went through by 536 to 80...
Hannan earlier noted that "the case for a small levy on financial transactions is not intrinsically absurd: an argument can be made either way", but Tyler's concerns about the impact are plausible:
It is said that the market will absorb the Tobin/Hood/Luvvie tax. Anyone who says this clearly underestimates the ability of a bank to pass on its increased costs. You will either pay directly by higher fees, or indirectly, as the cost of everyday things get more expensive.
But surely a tiny transactional tax would pass unnoticed? Well, it may seem tiny, but to many market participants this Luvvie tax will be huge. What people fail to understand is that a regular and competitive price in many instruments come from institutions that are prepared to turn over huge volumes in order to make a net margin often much smaller than the Luvvie tax. In one fell swoop, you make a huge proportion of this trading unprofitable, therefore you take away the ability of the market to provide a price. It’s always the way of ill thought out taxes: unintended consequences. Some arbitrary decision is made, and a myriad of economic activity suddenly becomes futile.
But even if Tyler is wrong, and the market would absorb this tax, the proposal remains concerning for a number of reasons.

As Hannan has noted, a regional tax would "simply drive business away from the EU". The Robin Hood Tax campaigners acknowledge that the tax "requires co-ordinated implementation by the G20 countries, or at least the G8", but this notion is laughable — such cooperation would be vanishingly unlikely, and it would be insufficient in any case. According to Z/Yen, the world's top 10 financial centres in September 2009 were:
  1. London
  2. New York
  3. Hong Kong
  4. Singapore
  5. Shenzhen
  6. Zurich
  7. Tokyo
  8. Chicago
  9. Geneva
  10. Shanghai
It is not difficult to imagine Obama joining the Merry Men; the EU have surprised nobody by declaring their support; and the Telegraph reports that Katsuya Okada — "wide favourite" to be Japan's next Prime Minister — has given the idea his backing. But that leaves Hong Kong, Singapore, Shenzhen, Zurich, Geneva, and Shanghai. Can anyone imagine the Chinese and the Swiss signing up to this?

The implementation of the Robin Hood Tax would devastate New York, London, and Tokyo, but the revenue would dry up as the financial industry shifts operations to friendlier countries.

This on its own should be enough to stop the idea in its tracks, but how many critical observers would still claim that our governments act to promote our long-term prosperity? On the contrary, we can expect socialists on both sides of the Atlantic to continue on their current path, confiscating wealth and consolidating power, heedless of the eventual consequences for the hapless masses.

We need only examine the plans that proponents have for their plunder. The windfall would not go on clearing our national debt, settling our pensions liabilities, or investing in infrastructure and scientific research. Instead it is intended to "generate money to bring about social change and tackle climate change".

The supporters page for the Robin Hood Tax campaign reads like a who's who of Fake Charities. The list includes
There is no doubt that most of the people who support the Robin Hood Tax do so from the best intentions, but they do not recognise the evil of practising charity with other people's money, and they fail to identify the chief beneficiary of such schemes.

It is not the long-suffering African who will reap the rewards, but rather what Rand calls "this foulest of creatures — the double-parasite who lives on the sores of the poor and the blood of the rich", the "mediocrity who, unable to make his own living, had demanded the power to dispose of the property of his betters, by proclaiming his willingness to devote his life to his inferiors".

Our financial system is fundamentally flawed, but the Establishment shows no interest in reforming it. They do not want to close the casino; they are content to take their cut.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

I don't know why she swallowed a fly

From the BBC:
Since Japanese knotweed was introduced to the UK it has rapidly spread, and the plant currently costs over £150m a year to control and clear.

But scientists say a natural predator in the weed's native home of Japan could also help to control it here.

The insect will initially be released in a handful of sites this spring.
I'm confident these beneficent bugs will rid of us of the nasty knotweed quicker than you can say 'Cane Toad'. This time will be different.

A human right to internet access

According to the BBC
Countries such as Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human right for their citizens.
In a separate BBC article, Bill Thompson notes that
Earlier this month Vivian Reding, the European Commissioner responsible for Information Society and Media, spoke of "a right to Internet access" and pointed out that the EU's new telecommunications rules "recognise explicitly that Internet access is a fundamental right such as the freedom of expression and the freedom to access information".
He goes on to say
If it is unacceptable to cut people off from the network because their actions are commercially damaging to the record companies, why is it acceptable to offer them poor or no access to broadband and mobile internet just because providing the service is commercially unattractive to ISPs or network operators?

And if we are to be encouraged to think of access to the internet as a fundamental human right, a prerequisite of having freedom of expression, should we not be prosecuting ISPs over the 'notspots' in their mobile or wi-fi coverage
In these short paragraphs we see two dangerous ideas:
  1. That under the European model, rights must be explicitly granted to us.
  2. The conflation of freedom from government interference with an entitlement to internet access (at someone else's expense)
We have already seen the government's plans to deliver on this particular entitlement.

Every Briton with a fixed-line phone will pay a "small levy" of 50p per month to pay for faster net access.

The national fund created by the levy will be used to ensure most Britons get access to future net technologies.

This was subsequently condemned as unfair:
The cross-party Business Innovation and Skills Committee said most of those who would pay the tax would not benefit from the faster broadband service.
"It will place a disproportionate cost on a majority who will not, or are unable to, reap the benefits of that charge."
However, committee chairman Peter Luff went on to say
"The real priority should be the universal service obligation and the whole effort to increase digital inclusion."
The principle that operators should be forced or subsidised to provide service where it is uneconomic remains unquestioned.

There are certainly worse things the government could be doing with our money; they are doing most of those things already. But it is offensive that they claim the moral high ground for these redistributive 'Robin Hood' policies, and disturbing that they see no limits to the domain of the government.

Even in today's Britain, people have a choice about where they live. There are doubtless many benefits to living in the deepest, darkest countryside, as well as drawbacks. City dwellers should not be forced to subsidise this lifestyle choice.

Unless we can turn the discussion away from rights, and towards freedoms, European civilization is doomed.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Europhiles, Eurosceptics, and Nazis

Through a recent post by Daniel Hannan about the €2,980 fine imposed on Nigel Farage, I discovered an even more interesting episode from two years ago.

Conservative MEP Caroline Jackson wrote an editorial for the Financial Times entitled "Brussels Tories have yet to lose ‘nasty’ tag":
Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP, likened the European Parliament’s German Christian Democrat president to Adolf Hitler after he invoked procedural powers to avoid disruption by those – led by Mr Hannan – who want a referendum. The comparison caused great offence. Mr Cameron has taken no action to discipline or disown him: this will be noted on the continent to his discredit.
Hannan maintains that this is pure fabrication, and wrote a letter of response to the FT:
My colleague Caroline Jackson (Comment 17 February) repeats her assertion that I “likened the European Parliament’s German Christian Democrat president to Adolf Hitler”. I did no such thing. On the contrary, I called him “a committed democrat and a decent man”. Although I believe he is behaving badly by tearing up the European Parliament’s rules in order to stifle demands for a referendum, I am none the less rather fond of him.

In recent weeks, two of the main party leaders have done precisely what Caroline falsely accuses me of doing. Martin Schulz, leader of the Party of European Socialists, said that pro-referendum MEPs made him think of Adolf Hitler; and Graham Watson, leader of the Liberals, said that their behaviour recalled “that of the Communists in the Russian Diet and the National Socialists in the German Reichstag”. I don’t remember Caroline or, indeed, any other MEP, protesting about this. It’s evidently OK to call your opponents Nazis provided they’re Euro-sceptics.
The letter was dismissed by the editor of the Financial Times, and the video clips supporting Hannan's counter-claim have seemingly disappeared.

Surely this is a point of fact, which should be easy to settle. Are there really no other records of the dialogue, even in old fashioned text?

UPDATE 2010-03-11: I've found a video on YouTube that shows the comments from Graham Watson (in English) and Martin Shulz (in German), so I can confirm Mr Hannan's counterclaim. According to the video, the discussion took place on 2007-12-12 (skip ahead to 2:30 of 9:32). The same video, at 6:06 shows a speech by Mr Hannan on 2008-01-30 in which he says:
Could it be that the reason you have acted in this arbitrary fashion, tearing up the rule of law, is because you are taking out on us the surrogate contempt you feel for the national electorate who keep voting 'No' on the Lisbon Treaty whenever they are given the opportunity. If I'm wrong, prove me wrong by holding the referendums that you used to support when you thought you could win them. Put the Treaty of Lisbon to the people.
Later, at 6:30, it shows a speech by Mr Hannan on the following day, 2008-01-31:
An absolute majority is not the same as the Rule of Law. I accept that there is a minority in this house in favour of a referendum; that there is a minority in this house against the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, but this house must nonetheless follow its own rulebooks. And by popular acclamation to discard the rules under which we operate, is indeed an act of arbitrary and despotic rule. It is only my regard for you Mr Chairman, and my personal affection for you, that prevents me from likening it to the Ermächtigungsgesetz of 1933, which was also voted through by a parliamentary majority.
The minutes for 2008-01-31, in section 8.1, simply state:
The following spoke: Martin Schulz , on behalf of the PSE Group , on this request, Daniel Hannan and Joseph Daul , on behalf of the PPE-DE Group , the latter condemning the remarks by Daniel Hannan and stating that he would propose that Mr Hannan be excluded from the PPE-DE Group.
So, in summary:
  • It is true that Mr Hannan drew a comparison between the practices of the European Parliament and those of the Nazis
  • Hannan did not directly invoke the name of Adolf Hitler, but his fellow MEPs were quick to censure his comments. Christopher Beazley immediately and angrily told him "you can't say that". Joseph Daul promptly initiated proceedings to eject Hannan from the EPP-ED.
  • Martin Schulz did invoke the name of Hilter, but there was no sign of condemnation
  • Likewise for the comments by Graham Watson about "National Socialists in the German Reichstag"
  • Hannan's claim in his letter to the FT that he did 'no such thing' seems disingenuous
  • Nevertheless, his assertion that it is "OK to call your opponents Nazis provided they’re Euro-sceptics" does seem to have some basis
  • The editor of the FT acted shamefully by refusing to print Mr Hannan's letter
Such is the truth as I've been able to discover it. My quest has been frustrated by the apparent lack of a proper verbatim record. A record cross-linked to video would have been especially helpful.

You don’t have to be an anarcho-capitalist ...

You don't have to be an anarcho-capitalist to believe that the state is too big. You don’t have to be a Tory loyalist to see that Gordon Brown has made a complete arse of things. You might reasonably have voted Labour in 1997, believing that more needed to be spent on public services, and none the less feel that the extra trillion taken in taxes since then is over-the-top. You might have been comfortable with the level of public spending even three years ago, but think that a deficit of 12.6 per cent of GDP is de trop.
So says Daniel Hannan, and I agree.

The problem is that David Cameron has given us no reason to trust him. Indeed, one of the big reasons to distrust Cameron is his inclusion of "the old warhorse" Kenneth Clarke in the Shadow Cabinet.