Thursday, 29 April 2010

Is Cameron refusing the poisoned chalice?

There is an alternative explanation for Cameron's unwillingness to offer a credible alternative to the socialist parties: he actually wants to lose this election.

According to The Times,
Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has privately warned that whichever leader wins the election next week will be kicked out of power for decades because of the severity of budget cuts they will have to instigate, it was claimed today.
I'm not sure I buy this. Margaret Thatcher was widely despised for the tough action she took to turn the UK economy around, but it didn't stop her from winning her third election in 1987 with 42.2% of the popular vote. In Canada, Jean Chrétien took similarly drastic action and was likewise rewarded by three terms in government and overwhelming popular support.

Of course, it may be that our situation is worse than those faced by Thatcher and Chrétien. Equally, modern Britons are less acquainted with austerity, so are much more likely to resent it. A whole generation has grown up with instant gratification, and faith in the State as a benevolent and reliable provider. Finally, the resentment will be more acute because our politicians have done so little to prepare the public for the cuts ahead. All have underplayed the problems facing our country, and none could be said to have a mandate for cuts.

Interesting times ahead.

A broadcast from the Popular Front?

Gerald Warner writes:
Tonight’s final televised “debate”, which is expected to focus upon (ie tiptoe around) the forbidden topics of immigration and the public deficit, will be an iconic demonstration of the liberal/left consensus at work. Britain is now ruled by a Popular Front, on the model of those 1930s leftist coalitions in France, Spain and elsewhere which maintained themselves in power by combining Communists, Anarchists and all the other varieties of Marxist delusionaries who had previously dissipated their energies in arguing over how many members of the proletariat could stand on the point of a pin.

This artificial coalition enabled them to impose their Marxist, socialist, anti-national and, above all, anti-Christian, prejudices upon entire nations. Where the analogy falters in today’s Britain is that, in the 1930s, Popular Front governments generally faced vigorous oppositions. In this country today, the Tories have joined the culturally Marxist coalition, leading to the disenfranchisement of the majority of the nation.
I wish I could dismiss this as a wild-eyed diatribe from an embittered Christian conspiracy theorist, but there is a troublesome ring of truth to it.

If British democracy does descend into outright dictatorship, there will be plenty of precedent for our decline and fall.

X-Factor, round 3

From the BBC:
The first debate was historic and its outcome utterly unpredicted. The second, though, was less surprising. So there might be less focus on the body language, the format, the clothes, and perhaps a little more on what the leaders actually say.
Heaven forbid.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Voluntary sterilisation for drug addicts

On BBC News this morning I learned of a US programme called "Project Prevention":
If you call Project Prevention's helpline it's likely that Barbara Harris, the founder of this US based organisation, will answer the phone. A warm and vivacious grandmother, her aim is to give $300 to as many drug and alcohol addicted women as possible.

The deal? That they receive long term contraception or sterilisation to prevent them having children she believes they are unable or unwilling to care for. Funded through private donations, her organisation is non-profit making.

Project Prevention, started in 1997, says it has paid money out to 3,242 addicts, or clients as it prefers to call them. Most of them were women and 1,226 were permanently sterilised. Thirty-five men have had vasectomies.
I would go further, and say that any adult — addict or not — who is willing to accept freely-given money in exchange for voluntary sterilisation, should be allowed to.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Pat Condell: Vote small, think big

Through The Last Ditch, I discovered the latest video by Pat Condell: "Vote small, think big".

His politically incorrect "Godless Comedy" has attracted some frightening feedback from UK Muslims, but this video is about politics.

Many people I know would dismiss Condell as a right-wing "nutter" (to use Nick Clegg's surprisingly un-PC term), but is it really insane to want, as he does, "to see the laws in this country made in this country, by people who live here and who are accountable".

He continues:
Whoever you decide to vote for, you should know that this is the most important election we've ever had in Britain, because this is the last chance we ever will have to reclaim our power of self determination from the criminals who have stolen it. So much of our autonomy has been handed to the European Union, where 75% of our laws now come from, that at this rate come the next election in 5 years time, our government will no longer be a government worth the name, and this country will have ceased to exist as an independent nation.
It will be interesting to see how close we come to this nightmare scenario, but what amazes me is how few people are concerned about it.
Time and again in Europe, we've seen that the people's voice, the only voice that should count in a democracy, is the only voice that doesn't count, as every popular vote that's inconvenient to the ruling class, is either ignored, or overturned.
Many people seem to have forgotten about the European Constitution, which was approved by 18 governments, including Germany, Italy, and Finland, before it was defeated by referenda in France and the Netherlands.

The Eurocrats were undeterred, and promptly rebranded the European Constitution as the Lisbon Treaty. This time our wise leaders weren't taking any chances. Of all the member states, only the Irish were given a referendum. On 12 June 2008, they rejected the treaty. That was clearly the wrong answer, so they were asked again, on 2 October 2009. This time, no doubt unsettled by the financial crisis, the Irish succumbed to the will of the Eurocrats.

Here in the UK, Labour and the Liberal Democrats conspired to ensure that the British weren't given an opportunity to vote incorrectly. Without even waiting for the result of the first Irish referendum, the House of Commons approved the treaty on 11 March 2008. The House of Lords approved it six days after the Irish 'no' vote, on 18 June 2008. The Queen, to her eternal shame, approved the treaty the following day. It finally came into force in February of this year.

With his views on Europe, you'll be unsurprised to hear that Condell will be voting UKIP, but his point is broader. With the Big Three parties so disturbingly similar, the only way to vote for real change is to choose one of the smaller parties:
Wherever you stand in the political spectrum, whether it's left or right or green or in between, you'll find a small party or an independent candidate who actually believes in what they're standing for, and who will match your own views as well as any of these political corporations.

Of course they'll try to persuade you that a vote for a small party is a wasted vote, that your vote won't count, yet when you consider that the leaders of the Conservative and the Labour parties are both proven barefaced liars, why would you want your vote to count for somebody like that. Somebody who you know is going to break every manifesto pledge, and every cast-iron guarantee, because they've done it all before. If either of them wins, democracy will lose, and you know that too. Now that's what I call a wasted vote.
I expect small parties will do better in this election than ever, but on the whole, tactical voting will prevail, and Party X will win.

It will, however, be interesting to see how many votes independent and small party candidates draw, and whether Labour lose as many votes to the BNP as the Conservatives lose to UKIP. The latter point may decide this election, while the former will give some clue as to what parliament may look like under Proportional Representation.

It is my hope that this election will see a higher turnout than the last. Even if die-hard Labour and Conservative voters are unable to break free from their tribal bonds, I hope that many of those millions who are inclined to stay at home will instead show up and vote small. It is unlikely to affect the outcome, but it will send a message: that the public aren't apathetic, they just don't like the choice they've been offered.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Last Ditch: Party X

Tom Paine has nicely expressed the disturbing oneness of the three main parties:
Vote for party X and this will happen:
  1. You will work (if you work) for half the year for the government
  2. The government will take the fruits of your labour and give them to the least deserving people of the world, whether they be African dictators (to buy weapons to use against their people), domestic criminals (to buy weapons to use against you when they burgle your house) or busybodies (to equip them to interfere in your life).
  3. The government will believe that it knows what is best for you, despite being staffed by people every bit as prone to error as you are yourself.
  4. The government will continue to make you hated or ridiculed in the rest of the world (and expose your warriors to danger) by conducting itself as if a small island nation of no particular current consequence was morally superior to all others.
  5. Political games will be played at Westminster, while the laws are made by unelected men and women in Brussels.
  6. Most of our children will be tragically denied a decent education while one side of the House of Commons rails but does nothing and the other side stokes envy of the few who do what all decent parents would if they could only afford it
  7. Serious criminals will be glamourised, coddled and protected, while decent people will be criminalised to make them docile (and give the police some cheap wins).
  8. The government will get larger.
  9. The economy will rise and fall periodically, while the underlying trend in terms of the lifestyle an ordinary person's wage can buy continues downwards.
  10. Our leaders will try to bask in the reflected glory of our daughter civilisation in America, while the worst (and I fear the most) of us continue secretly to envy it and wish it ill.

The second leaders' debate

Last night's debate was even more depressing than the first.

The questions themselves were dire, and we have to wonder how many good questions were thrown out.

We saw a suffocating consensus on the EU and CACC (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Change).

One line stood out to me, as Clegg tried to attack Cameron (of all people) as anti-EU. Commenting on the Conservative withdrawal from the Communist-sounding European People's Party, he accused Cameron of allying with
nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists, homophobes
It was in the same spirit, if not quite as eloquent, as the immortal line from Canada's Dominion Elections Act of 1906:
no woman, idiot, lunatic, or criminal shall vote
We were also treated to Gordon Brown's continued lunatic ravings on the economy. He seems to really believe the Keynesian nonsense about government's power to "put money in" and "take money out" of the economy, as if its funds come from another plane.

Whenever it spends or borrows, the government uses money that could otherwise be spent or borrowed by the private sector, where it would deliver better value for money. And if the private sector would rather save some of the money, there may be good reasons for it to do so.

As Norman Tebbit laments,
No one bothered to ask why, if Mr Brown believed that inceasing taxation boosted the economy and not doing so took money out of the economy, he didn’t double NI contributions and give it a really big boost.
Hopefully we will see such questions raised in the third debate, though given his performance last night on the EU and the environment, I don't think we can expect any radical surprises from David Cameron. He really does deserve to lose this election.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Eurocrats salivate at Clegg ascendancy

Via Daniel Hannan, I came across a post in the FT blogs by Tony Barber:
Viewed from Brussels, the rise of Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats in Britain’s election campaign is a fantasy come true. For most of its 37 years in the European Union, Britain has been the bloc’s most awkward, cussed member-state. Now, the unthinkable is happening. Britain’s opinion polls are topped by a party whose leader spent five years working at the European Commission and another five years as a MEP in the European Parliament. Gott am Himmel! A Brit who actually understands the place!
Considered alongside the Lib Dem's enthusiasm for the EU, and their broken referendum pledge, their talk of political reform in the UK is ludicrous. What does it matter how our rump parliament is elected, or whether the rubber stampers in our upper house are elected at all, when ever-increasing responsibility is ceded to Brussels?

Vote Clegg, get Van Rompuy.

Tom Clougherty on the IMF’s bank tax proposals

Yesterday I reported on the futility of the the IMF's bank tax proposals, which will do nothing to improve the stability of our financial system, lamenting that
the establishment does not want to close the casino; they are content to take their cut.
Tom Clougherty of the Adam Smith Institute has now examined the proposals in detail:
  • There are two taxes: a flat rate ‘financial stability contribution’ on all financial institutions, and a ‘financial activities tax’ on profits and remuneration
  • It is unlikely that the revenues thus generated would be ring-fenced; the money will disappear into the pot.
  • Such compulsory 'insurance' will actually increase instability, as irresponsible banks will know that they will be bailed out.
  • It is unfair that the taxes apply to all financial institutions, since insurers and hedge funds had little to do with the crisis
  • The proposals show no understanding of the actual causes of the financial crisis (loose monetary policy, fractional reserve banking, and fiscal incontinence)
He concludes
The saddest thing is that the world’s financial system desperately does need reform. Without a radically new approach to controlling the money supply and taming the credit cycle, history is doomed to repeat itself. But the IMF’s proposals do not even qualify as a step in the right direction.

Starkey's fairy story debated

David Starkey's film about Canada's 1995 debt reduction efforts appeared on Andrew Neil's This Week programme on the 13th of April.

Starkey's story of hope was followed by a discussion with Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo, which I summarise here:
Andrew: Why are our politicians incapable of saying to the British people what the Canadian politicians said to their people?

David: I think we got used to Tony Blair. We've had a low, dishonest 15 years. The New Labour government ... was never a government. It was a machinery for winning elections, and it won them by lying. It won them by telling people there are no hard choices, you will never have to choose, you can have booming public expenditure, and a brilliantly run private sector. Everything is yours ... it is rubbish, but we like it ... it's lovely not having to choose ...

Andrew: And you're saying, if you're right that this is what's happened, that this has contaminated the other parties as well?

David: I think completely. In fact, I think Cameron is more self-consciously an heir to Blair, much more, actually than Gordon Brown... The problem is, the Tories were mesmerised by what Tony Blair did; this is why we have no choice ... The way the two parties are behaving is they're both quarrelling for what is actually a false legacy, the legacy of Tony Blair.

Andrew: Is David right?

Michael: Yes, David is absolutely right ... And I would add to that that there's a feeling in the United Kingdom, which is shared by all the parties, that we're going to get away with this economic position. Now it's quite interesting, in countries that don't think they're going to get away with it ... Canada is a very good example from 15 years ago ... Spain is an example right now ... The Spanish Prime Minister in the Financial Times has given a blood curdling interview in which he's talking about all the cuts he's going to make, how far he's going to go, because he believes Spain could go tumbling down .. we think that we're going to get away with it, so nobody feels obliged to do the tough talk ...
Diane Abbot disagreed, but Starkey was quick to respond:
Diane: The British public is under no illusions that there are going to be cuts after the next election, whoever wins

David: I think you're wrong ... There are opinion polls which actually show that whenever a party says there will be a cut, they go down in the polls. There's perfectly clear evidence --

Andrew: We had George Osborne's "Age of Austerity" --

David: Exactly, and then a dip ... We had Alistair Darling being honest: we went down in a dip. I think one of the reasons that the Lib Dems are actually doing rather less well than you might have thought is that they have been particularly honest, in fact the leader, Clegg, cited the Canadian example, and whereupon, they started to flatline.
Neil then asked Portillo about the Conservative strategy:
Andrew: Supposing, Michael, that the Tories were to take a much tougher line ... a Canadian line ... Are they capable of selling it to the British people?

Michael: They're not capable of selling it, and the British public certainly isn't capable of buying it ... I think the public are an enormous part of the problem ... I think the public do know that there is more to this than meets the eye, but for many members of the public the recession has not been very bad so far.

Last year, if you kept your job, your pay almost certainly went up more than inflation, your mortgage interest payments came down, you ended 2009 better off than you started it. So when you tell people that there is this immense public crisis that we've got to deal with, people say "I'm entirely unaware of it" ...

The way this is always discussed, there is no idea of economic dynamism, so people say "look, if you're going to reduce taxes by this much, then you're going to have to reduce spending by this much"; there's no understanding at all that if you actually got the economy moving again, for instance lower taxes might make people do more work, which might produce more income, but there's no understanding in the media of that at all.
Abbot's response was characteristically demotic:
Diane: I have visited, unlike either of you, 20 primary schools in my area since January, and 4 secondary schools. Every single teacher I spoke to knows that big public sector cuts are coming down the pipe. Everyone.
But Starkey was not interested:
David: ... the really interesting point is the one that Michael has made. What happened in Canada is exactly what he said. The idea at the moment is if you cut in the public sector, the whole economy goes 'expletive deleted'-up. It doesn't. What happened in Canada, within 4 years, was that Canada was registering the highest rates of growth in the G7. Last year, Canada grew 5%. It's got the lowest actual debt levels in the G7. It's got the lowest current account deficit in the G7. It is effectively a booming country. And until we get back to that ... I don't frankly care what schoolteachers think
Neil steered the conversation back to the UK election:
Andrew: There's a sense in this election campaign that the debate's been very much about things that are marginal ... a tax break for toddlers may or may not be a good thing ... a tax break for marriage may or may not be a good thing ... the battle over National Insurance is about 1% of total government spending ... these are marginal issues ... but the sense I get ... is that the politicians really want it that way, they would rather talk about the marginals, than confront Mr Starkey's elephant.
Abbot was out to lunch:
Diane: They can only talk about marginal things; there's no big money to spend on anything ...
Starkey was incredulous:
David: But there's money to be saved. There's money to grow. There's an economy to be changed. So you, Diane, are part of the problem. Your party is part of the problem. You politicians are part of the problem.
Portillo acknowledged that his party, too, was part of the problem, and discussion moved on to a prospect to which I pin my hopes: that Cameron, for all his faults, will be elected, and will cut harder and deeper than he has thus far led the public to believe.
Andrew: If Mr Cameron wins ... will he do anything that David is talking about? Will he approach the scale that David thinks needs to happen?

Diane: He certainly will.

Michael: If David Cameron has a majority, he will get on with tackling the deficit, he will serve 5 years, and he will go to the next election saying "you didn't like what I did, but you know that it had to be done, and I was the man to rely on". I think the big question is, if he doesn't have a majority, will he say "oh my goodness, I have to postpone everything until I have another election", or will he say "even so, by getting on and tackling the deficit I have a better chance of winning again"...

David: I think the great problem with what Michael has said, if he wins ... with a very narrow majority, and he's lied ... will he be able to command what needs to be done? What will certainly happen will be an extraordinary wave of public sector strikes. Will he be able to face them down without a clear mandate? I think not.
I share Starkey's concern, but time will tell. At the moment, a Conservative majority is looking highly unlikely.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Guardian: New global 'FAT' tax to rein in banks

Mentioned on the BBC this morning was a banking tax proposal from the IMF. The Guardian writes about it here:
Tough proposals to cut the world's biggest banks down to size by taxing their profits and pay were outlined by the International Monetary Fund tonight in an attempt to spare taxpayers another massive public bailout of the financial sector.

In measures more stringent than Wall Street and the City had expected, the fund called for the introduction of a twin-track approach to the three-year banking crisis that would both force firms to pay for any future support packages and raise new taxes on their profits and remuneration.

The report, prepared by the Washington-based institution for the G20 group of developed and developing nations, was seized upon by Gordon Brown as evidence that his push for an international crackdown on the banking sector was gaining support.
The public are right to be angry with the bankers, but they should be more angry with the politicians, who chose to bail out banks, and whose laws sustain our fraudulent banking system. Simon Jenkins gets half way there:
Why did Darling not let HBOS or Lloyds fail, merely guaranteeing their deposits? Alternatively, why did he not nationalise and split up the ailing banks in October 2008? Again, if they really were too big to fail, as they alleged, why has he not made them emphatically smaller, so when they fail next time they do not drag the economy down with them?
Unfortunately, socialists are too quickly distracted by an instinctive urge to soak the rich — especially misbehaving City fat cats — and redistribute their immense wealth to worthy causes. As Jenkins writes,
Faced with a global asset bubble of some $290 trillion about to burst, a frantic Darling started throwing millions, then billions, then a trillion at underpinning the banks' near worthless "casino" debts. He never spent such money on indebted homeowners or indebted manufacturers or indebted African states.
He objects not so much to the largesse, but to the beneficiary. Darling takes a more sober view: parasites don't tend to benefit from the death of their hosts. As I've noted previously, the establishment does not want to close the casino; they are content to take their cut.

The politicians delude themselves that new regulation can tame the banks where old regulation failed. This time will be different, they say. But they are still playing the same dangerous game, and entrepreneurial bankers will always be one step ahead.

What we need is a fundamentally new game, where bankers and governments play a much less exciting and central role. We need a stable financial system, that allows true wealth creators to plan effectively.

Toby Baxendale of The Cobden Centre has produced an excellent review of Lawrence Kotlikoff's Jimmy Stewart is dead, which proposes Limited Purpose Banking. This entails a clear separation between demand deposits (accounts that allow instant withdrawal), which would be backed by 100% cash reserves, and investment funds, where losses would be possible. Under such a system, the bankers would not have the power to bring down the economy, and bailouts would be unjustifiable.

When God flicked his cigarette...

Through The Last Ditch, I came across an excellent post by Leg Iron: When God flicked his cigarette...every plane in Europe sat idle.

He contrasts it with the American treatment of the Mount St. Helen's eruption in 1980, when planes continued to fly. I was a young child at the time, so I don't remember the media coverage. Equally, I'm neither a volcanologist, nor a meteorologist, nor an aerospace engineer. There may be technical reasons why Eyjafjallajökull poses a more serious threat, or it might just have impacted more flight paths. I don't know. But like Gerald Warner, I distrust the official line, and like Leg Iron, I see it as a symptom of a much wider and deeper malaise. We in the western world have become so risk-averse that we are scarcely human.

Leg Iron's post is worth reading in full, but the section that jumps out to me is the same one highlighted by Tom Paine at The Last Ditch:
Under the dreadful yoke of the current herd mentality, the South and North poles would still be marked as 'here there be dragons' because nobody would be permitted to go there. Yuri Gagarin would have been sectioned for instability - you want to do what? Sit on top of a huge firework in a little tin box and be shot into space? Madness!

The Wright Brothers would have been arrested for endangering themselves. Edison would have been imprisoned for trying to get people to buy a thin glass bulb with a vacuum inside, and then run a high voltage through it. Tesla would have been shot for the safety of the herd because he did some wonderfully wild stuff. Henry Ford would have been ordered to take the engine out of that Model T and tie a horse to it instead.

People traveling on rails behind something that runs on high pressure steam? Insanity! Gas running through pipes right into people's homes? Oh, the risk! A coal fire - indoors? A bridge over the river? What if it falls down? Safer to go around. Better yet, safer to stay here. It might be dangerous over there.

What if, what if, what if. Once that little phrase led to great things. What if lightning could be harnessed? What if we refined that black oil and made an engine that ran on it? What if we were to build a rocket that could take men to the Moon and back again? What if we ignore that 'edge of the world' stuff and just keep on sailing? Let's try it and see what happens.

Now it is completely reversed. What if someone electrocuted themselves? What if that engine caught fire? What if the rocket couldn't get back? What if the edge of the world is real?
Let us hope we can rediscover our sense of adventure.

David Starkey's fairy story

Historian David Starkey has produced a short film.

To a backdrop of magical music and ancient stonework, he tells an interesting tale:
Listen my children, for I am about to tell you a fairy story.

By children, I mean those of you who are not jaded or cynical, who love your country, and believe that even some politicians love their country too, and are prepared to put its interests above their party, or their pockets. Now, I know this is silly, but it is a fairy story.

My story is about a great country, far far away across the ocean to the west, and long long ago, almost 15 years ago, in fact, which is way beyond the limit of political memory. It is country of noble rivers, of great forests, of endless prairies, and snowcapped mountains. It's rich in natural resources; it even has, for this is a fairy story, a people who speak our language, and share our values. And yet, this great country was on the brink of ruin.

For this people ... who were so like ourselves, though far away, and long ago, had spent too much, both individually and collectively. Their government debt stood at 70% of GDP. Their budget deficit was 9% of GDP. But, just as it seemed as though this great country was going to go over the brink... the people chose new leaders, who were — and remember, this is a fairy story — wise, imaginative, and brave.

The result was the great change. Their leaders didn't pretend, like ours, that the necessary money could be saved by 'efficiency savings', or argue about minute amounts of National Insurance contributions. Instead, they stopped government doing things.

Regional aid, and Department of Industry budgets were cut by up to 60%. Public sector employment declined by a quarter. And lo, within three years, the budget was back in surplus, and stayed there. The currency soared, and the economy boomed. And, like children, the Canadians, for it is they of whom I speak, lived happily ever after.
Interestingly, it seems that the transformation occurred not under a Canadian Conservative government, as one might expect, but rather under Jean Chrétien's Liberals, who I always took to be the Canadian equivalent of Labour. I'll see if I can dig up more information to corroborate Starkey's account.

To be sure, Canada today is not without its problems, and they will be hit hard by the financial catastrophe brewing south of the border, but the story nevertheless gives a timely reminder that a concerted effort to tackle deficits and debts by reducing the scope of government can yield impressive results, and quickly.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Mind the elephant

Via The Cobden Centre, I discovered this Telegraph article by Liam Halligan:

Labour says it will "protect schools, hospitals and the police from spending cuts", while raising national insurance contributions. The Tories won't increase NICs, but will give a £150 annual tax break to married couples. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, will slash tax relief on higher earners' pension savings, while restoring the £10,000 income tax threshold.

The important point is that all parties - even the "honest" Lib Dems - are at least £30bn short when it comes to explaining how they'll "halve the deficit" – even if Labour's growth numbers come true. The unspecified spending cuts and tax rises needed to fill those black holes will swamp party political nuances, whoever wins the election. That's an affront to democracy.

The fiscal denial goes much deeper, though. Even if the deficit is "halved" over the Parliament, the "national debt" – the total stock of debt owed, not just the annual increase – still spirals out of control.

In 1997, the national debt was £350bn. After Gordon Brown's reign of terror at the Treasury, that figure now stands at £776bn. Buried in the 2010 budget documents is an admission our national debt will soon double again to £1,406bn by 2014/15, such is the impact not only of ongoing fiscal profligacy but the financial meltdown caused, and then savagely exploited, by the world's "leading investment banks".

He goes on to explain that

While these are absolutely ghastly numbers, the reality is far worse. If you can stand it, I'd ask you to look at the graph accompanying this article. It shows that if government spending continues at current levels, the UK's national debt explodes from 70pc to more than 500pc of GDP by 2040. Were that to happen, debt interest payments would equal 27pc of GDP, more than half of all tax revenues. This is the reality we face. Yet our politicians still deal in, and present as "austerity measures", deficit reduction plans which barely dent state spending.

The figures are from a report by the Bank for International Settlements: The Future of Public Debt: prospects and implications.

As Halligan explains,

The trajectory of UK public debt is the most terrifying of any leading country on earth with the exception of Japan (which anyway has far more savings than the UK and the world's second biggest haul of foreign exchange reserves).

The reason the UK is in such dire straits going forward, apart from the legacy of Brown and the credit crunch, is our rapidly ageing population. Generations of politicians have refused to acknowledge this, parking massive and ever-increasing pension and other state liabilities off balance sheet – so the official public debt projections we publish and occasionally debate in this country are fictitious.

So great are these hidden liabilities that, even if the UK controls spending along the lines our politicians now propose, and retains such fiscal vigilance for the next 30 years – avoiding bank bail outs and pre-election spending splurges for decades hence - our debt stock still exceeds 350pc of GDP by 2040.

I thoroughly recommend the whole article.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Will the Clegg bubble destroy the Conservatives?

Norman Tebbit provides a good summary of the mess that David Cameron has got himself into:

The polls have given the Conservative leadership a very nasty shock. Suddenly they find themselves threatened by the Lib Dems who ought to have the sole function of splitting the Left-wing vote. The problem has its root in the Ashcroft plan to win the marginals by attracting votes from Lib Dem supporters and disillusioned NuLab voters. That, it was decided, would be done by repositioning the Conservative Party onto that muddy, mucky middle ground – even at the cost of failing to win back the electors who had voted Tory before 1997, but had been abstainers since then.

There is not much time to lose. The present Lib Dem surge is based entirely on the performance of Mr Clegg, or the non-performance of Messrs. Cameron and Brown in The Great TV Debate. Some of those who saw it declared that Mr Clegg had done well. That put up his ratings. That impressed the impressionable, who duly rushed to tell the pollsters that Mr Clegg was unstoppable. It all has about it something of the dot-com boom, bubble and crash. The question, however, is whether that entirely natural deflation of the Clegg bubble will come before or after May 6.

Cameron's socialist gamble doesn't deserve to pay off, but I find myself hoping that it does. Our only hope is that he's a swindler, and that enough socialists get swindled. If he fails, or if he's genuine, we are in deep trouble.

Some people disagree, notably Gerald Warner and Peter Hitchens. Both are old-school religious conservatives who feel betrayed and left voiceless by Cameron's modernisation. They gleefully anticipate Conservative defeat, hoping that a truly conservative alternative will arise from the ashes.

Others, such as Sean Gabb, have more noble reasons for wishing the destruction of the Conservative party. He maintains that the Conservative party plays the role of 'Quisling Right':

A Quisling Rightist is someone who makes conservative noises — giving speeches that seem to imply promises and giving promises that seem to imply delivery of something important — but who, on achieving office, does nothing to oppose the real governance of this country by the coalition of bureaucrats, lawyers, educators, media people, and business interests who together make up the Establishment, and who are joined by their common benefiting from a large and active state. The function of the Quisling Rightist is to channel dissent away from courses where it might be effective, and to give the impression to superficial observers that a genuine political debate exists in this country. His reward is to hold office and to enjoy status and salaries with a minimum of personal inconvenience.
This is certainly cynical — it may even sound paranoid — but there is a historical basis for Gabb's position. It was Heath who took the UK into the European Economic Community, concealing the organisation's true purpose. Despite the good things she achieved, state spending actually grew under Thatcher. John Major took us towards the Euro by joining the ERM, and we were only saved by Black Wednesday. David Cameron's retracted "Cast Iron" guarantee for a referendum on Europe was the latest in a long line of broken Conservative promises.

But though there are dangerous authoritarians in the Conservative party, there are also many traditional conservatives who value freedom. The party even harbours some libertarians, though they must keep a low profile. If it is a fantasy too far to suppose that Cameron himself is a closet libertarian, it is perhaps not so far-fetched to suppose that classical liberal voices within the party may find their strength after the election, and finally begin to roll back the state. I'm not optimistic, but it seems our only hope.

As it turns out, the Conservatives have Gabb's support for this election, though his reasoning is apocalyptic:

many of my friends insist that they will either not vote at all, or will vote for a minority party that expresses their own opinions. I will not strongly disagree with these friends – especially as I change my own mind several times a week. But the view I most often hold is that libertarians and patriots have no real choice but to vote for the Conservatives. As said, the idea that the Conservatives will undo any of what has been done is ludicrous. However, the central difference can be summarised in two sentences. A returned Labour Government will soon have no compunction about ordering the police to fire on demonstrators. A Conservative Government might be more squeamish.

A Conservative Government would probably continue with most of the suicidal or simply demented policies of the Blair and Brown Governments. But, at the end of five years, it would then allow a free election as these things have been commonly understood in England. A re-elected labour Government would not. When these beasts in human form lied their way to office back in 1997, they came in with the same assumptions as Hitler had in 1933. They did not regard themselves as having acquired a limited and renewable leasehold interest, but as having inherited the freehold. They and their clients would never again have to sell their services in any open market. They would reorder the State wholly to their own interest. No private sphere, no ancient and immemorial rights would stand in their way. 1997 was Year Zero of their Thousand Year Reich.


Luke Johnson: the country is living beyond its means

Through The Last Ditch I discovered an article in the Financial Times by entrepreneur Luke Johnson.
Unquestionably this is no ordinary election. Britain has suffered 13 years of Labour rule, and the country is in a desperate state. It is like a company slithering towards bankruptcy. And, like any business that has to be turned round, there is one absolute rule to fix the mess: change the management. If there is no transformation at the top, then I fear we could become a bigger version of Argentina in 2001.

It is hard to comprehend how much damage Labour has done to our economic prospects, but I suppose that, like a frog in simmering water, if the heat is increased gradually, you almost fail to notice the pain – until it’s too late. The most damning statistic is the following: the state’s percentage of gross domestic product in Britain has risen from about 38 per cent in 1997 to perhaps 52 per cent today. Funding this vast amount of public largesse means the UK borrows 25 per cent of all its state spending. Clearly the country is living beyond its means.
Since 2008, in spite of a downturn, most British citizens have stayed in work, inflation has remained subdued – but the state has maintained its profligate spending habits. There is a belief that the worst is over, and that recovery is upon us. This is a dangerous illusion. The private sector is fragile, capital formation anaemic, productivity and competitiveness are inadequate, and industry has structural imbalances. Borrowings must be repaid, and this will lead to public sector job losses and higher taxes. The day of reckoning has been delayed by a venal Labour administration so intent on clinging to power that it has compounded the problems facing our nation.
There is much to despise about David Cameron's Conservatives, but like me, Johnson seems to recognise that our nation's financial future depends on them winning a majority, discarding their socialist masks, and cutting deep. He concludes:
So although I am neither a donor nor member of the Conservative party, nor do I have any party political ambitions, on this occasion I feel passionately that Labour must be thrown from office and a government formed with an adequate mandate – because more Labour is a form of national suicide.

Let's raze the whole edifice to the ground

Another excellent article from Critical Reaction, this one from Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs.
None of the three main parties have yet to properly address the elephant in the room. And it’s a £170 billion elephant. That’s the approximate size of this year’s budget deficit. On top of an overall debt that is set to accelerate beyond a jaw-dropping figure of £1 trillion.

Such horrific numbers require considerably more surgery in the public sector than is being countenanced by anyone likely to serve in the next British cabinet. Amongst politicians of all stripes there is a growing, albeit often begrudging, acknowledgement that the nation’s finances are in a sorry state, but there is no seizing of an opportunity to fundamentally change the way we do things.

It’s here that liberal free marketeers need to truly find their voice. Because although no party is running on a classical liberal platform in this election, the need to make the intellectual case for less government and more freedom is going to become increasingly important in the months and years to come.

Necessity may – to some extent – become the mother of invention. The prevailing social democratic consensus could soon reach breaking point because of a simple lack of funds. An ever-growing array of government programmes reliant on squeezing still more support from taxpayers - or funded by yet more borrowing - is simply becoming unsustainable.

But proponents of free markets need to show not merely that free markets are necessary, but that they are actually more desirable than the state-run alternatives. It is here – in public relations terms at least – that supporters of markets have sometimes allowed themselves to be boxed in. If arguments between social democrats and classical liberals are couched in terms of the former defending the interests of the poor – or even the ‘average’ family – and the latter defending the vested interests of the rich, then – whatever the merits of the liberal case, the social democrats are likely to prevail.

Free marketeers need to show that the welfare state and a growing public sector sphere are not in the long term interests of the overwhelmingly majority of British citizens.
He concludes:
Let’s not trim, or even slash, a list of specific government programmes. Let’s raze the whole edifice to the ground and start from scratch.

If we did so then it’s hard to imagine that we would countenance a public sector that consumed much more than 30% of GDP.

Tragically, instead of this approach, we face a choice of parties who essentially seem to disagree on whether the proportion of national income spent by the state should be 49%, 50% or 51%. That does not provide much ground for optimism - whichever shade of social democracy ultimately triumphs at the polling stations on May 6th

I thoroughly recommend the whole article.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Norman Tebbit's choice cuts

One of the most farcical features of the first leaders' debate was Gordon Brown's insistence that even a 1% cut to the public sector would be bad for the economy, and disatrous to public services. On this topic, Cameron had the right rhetoric, but a grossly inadequate prescription.

Writing for Critical Reaction, Norman Tebbit serves up a dose of well-articulated common sense:

It is perfectly possible to make substantial reductions in public spending without bringing an end to life as we know it.

After all, things were not that bad three, or even five years ago, or over twenty years ago. Hospitals were open, children went to school — and even learned to read and write. Criminals — at least some of them — were brought to justice, dustbins emptied, potholes filled and the streets were lit and most people had jobs.

So we could, if we had a mind to, turn the clock back and reduce the size and cost of government to what served us reasonably well in the recent past.

Welfare reform through Friendly Societies

Devil's Knife blogger and LPUK leader Chris Mounsey has produced an excellent article on the problems of our current welfare state, and how a resurrection of Friendly Societies can provide a solution.

He begins with a comparison of libertarian and socialist principles:
The first thing to be pointed out is that libertarianism is not about leaving people in the street to die. Libertarianism is, first and foremost, a philosophy based on personal liberty—the central crux of which is the non-aggression axiom.

This axiom is very simple — you shall not initiate force or fraud against another person's life, liberty or property.

As such, a libertarian government would not, for instance, stop people setting up a socialist enclave if they so desired—as long as every member of the socialist group was there voluntarily and not co-opted against their will.

(This, incidentally, is a fundamental difference between a libertarian and a socialist polity: you can live as a socialist under a libertarian government; you cannot live as a libertarian under a socialist government.)
Libertarians think that you ought to help your fellow man; socialists think you ought to be forced to help your fellow man. Libertarians favour direct human compassion and voluntary community structures. For socialists, government intervention is essential — they believe that there is no problem so great that it can't be solved by the state, if only the people would trust in it, and hand over the necessary resources.

As DK explains,
Generally speaking, libertarians recognise collectivism, when voluntary, as being A Good Thing; libertarians welcome people working together, as they can often achieve things that individuals cannot. However—and this is worth repeating ad nauseam—the stress must be on the voluntary aspect of this collectivism.
This is the first hurdle at which the state's welfare provision falls down—it is compulsory, not voluntary.
As I have noted previously, compulsion undermines compassion. Welfare recipients develop a sense of entitlement, which is rightly resented by those who are forced to foot the bill.

DK identifies this corrosive effect of the welfare state:
when we see a homeless person in the street, we do not think "there is a fellow human in pain: how can I help?"; instead, we think "why hasn't the government sorted that out yet?"
A social safety net provides many benefits, but after decades of state provision, private charity is no longer up to the task. DK believes the voluntary collectivism of Friendly Societies can provide the answer:
Friendly Societies were voluntary co-operatives, usually based locally, which at one point covered about half of the country—but they were growing swiftly. Their potential was, alas, effectively killed by the National Insurance Act of 1911 and the onset of state welfare provision—for the compulsory contributions, obviously, crowded out the voluntary contributions to the Friendly Societies.
Being local and personal, they are better placed to address genuine needs and avoid fraud:
Most societies allowed their members to choose their level of pay-in; how much was paid out was determined by numerous factors, but criteria usually included how much you had paid in, how long you had been a member and your actual need.

This last is important, for our current Welfare State is not based on need—it is based on an inhuman, box-ticking system. Learn how to play the system and you can get more than a living wage; but this system is not based on need.
Friendly Societies address the issue of self-reliance too; you are responsible for ensuring that you pay in and, should you fall on hard times, your pay-out is related to what you paid in.

Friendly Societies also address the issue of fraud. People are far less likely to steal from those whom they know personally; further, knowing you personally, those people will also be able to check whether you are, in fact, stealing from them. And this applies, of course, not only to benefit claimants but also to those running the Society.
DK goes on to explain how private charity can meet the needs of those who cannot afford membership in a Friendly Society.

With such obvious advantages to a local, voluntary safety net, we have to question our blinkered adherence to statist welfare provision.

The welfare state has survived for several decades, despite vast and growing costs — both financial and social — to the public at large. Its success as a meme is out of proportion to its beneficial effects on those it purports to help. We must ask ourselves, Cui Bono?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

It is time for something better

Nick Clegg says:
We’ve had 65 years of Labour and the Conservatives: the same parties taking turns and making the same mistakes, letting you down. It is time for something different. It is time for something better.
He's right. Unfortunately, the Lib Dems don't fit the bill.

Could they be worse than Labour? It's hard to imagine.

It's also academic. If either of these socialist parties gain power, our fate is sealed. Even if they can avoid financial meltdown, they will continue to reduce this once great nation to the status of EU province.

Such a land may be green, but it won't be pleasant.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Debt Clock comes to Oxford

When I went past Gloucester Green this morning, the clock showed £782,126,849,656 — an increase of £614.5 million since the tour started yesterday.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Your share of the national debt

Earlier today I reported the TPA's estimate of the UK's national debt: £781,512,328,767.

This figure is difficult to comprehend, so I thought I should try to put it in perspective.
  • Every man, woman, and child in the UK owes about £12,600 of national debt [1]
  • Far from paying this back, the government is taking each of us £220 further in to the red every month [2]
This means that a family of four owes roughly £50,000 and every month they plunge a further £880 into debt. No prudent family would do this, and yet we allow it to happen at a national level.

Our true situation is much worse, because the national debt does not include our unfunded public sector pension liabilities, which the CBI estimates at £1 trillion. That puts each person's share at share of government obligations at £28,700 [3] — almost £115,000 for a family of four.

None of the mainstream parties propose reducing our debt. They only offer to reduce the deficit — the rate at which our debt is increasing.

We cannot allow this to continue.

[1] £781,512,328,767 / 62 million
[2] (£446,575,342 * 30.4375) / 62 million
[3] £1,781,512,328,767 / 62 million

New Labour, proud to the end

I'm not sure whether I'll find the strength to read all 76 pages of the Labour Party Manifesto 2010.

I think the introduction says it all:
We are proud of our country and the way it has changed since 1997.
We changed our country because we rejected the philosophy of the 1980s which said that government should just get out of the way
Whatever we may accuse them of, we can't say they lack chutzpah.

UK Debt Clock Tour

The TaxPayers' Alliance have launched their UK Debt Clock Tour.
The custom-built clock, is one metre high by seven metres long, and mounted on the back of a 14m lorry. Its 80cm (32 inch) red LED display will count up the nation’s debt at a breakneck speed:
  • £5,169 per second
  • £310,212 per minute
  • £18,607,306 per hour
  • £446,575,342 per day
The Debt Clock will start the tour on the morning of Monday 12th April showing a national debt figure of £781,512,328,767 and by the time the tour ends on Monday 26th April, it will have climbed to £788,210,958,904 a staggering increase of £6,698,630,137.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Political correctness and the Great Ignored

On the day the election was announced, Gerald Warner wrote:
The great charade begins, for that is what this election is. The “modernising” of the Conservative Party has deprived the electorate of choice. As the weasel terms “centre-right” and “centre-left” indicate, the two main parties have informally merged into one: the consensual Centre. Anyone advocating a programme that departs from the EU-approved, soft-totalitarian liberal-left is branded as “far-right”. The filleting of the Tory Party of any philosophical core by the Cameronian gang has left it an empty husk, manipulated by the Pavlovian reflexes of Political Correctness.
It is a sad spectacle indeed. Even those who don't live in a safe Labour seat do not have the option of voting for a true conservative.

Political Correctness is an evil force that is now beyond satire.

Laura Midgley, co-founder of the Campaign Against Political Correctness, has written an excellent article for Critical Reaction. The brilliance is in the fact that she gives voice to those who supposedly benefit from our PC culture, with quotes from decent people who want to be treated as individuals, rather than members of 'underprivileged' groups. We hear from a female journalist, an Asian councillor, a black police constable, and a gay actor.

Midgley concludes:
I want this piece to show that those who push political correctness often do so without the consent or agreement of the particular group they seek to “protect”. Second hand offence and indignation on behalf on another has become the norm. At best these are well intentioned but misguided efforts. At worst they are part of a dangerous, controlling trend resulting in social engineering which is going to take a long time to unpick and put right.
Those who doubt the seriousness of the problem should consider the furore over Chris Grayling's recent comments.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Randall: Honesty is the first casualty when there's an election to win

I came across an article in The Telegraph by Jeff Randall, remarkable for its reference to Karl Hess:

More than 40 years after Karl Hess identified the internal contradiction of "free gift" politics, the concept is thriving among those who seek our endorsement. Focus groups tell ministers and their would-be replacements that the public expect both higher benefits and lower taxes. But when pressed about who should pay for an expansion of social services, almost no one volunteers. Picking up the bill is someone else's task.

For the modern British politician, this means taking a position that is outwith criticism, preferably one that can barely be identified, while delaying all the difficult choices. Little wonder that our pension system is crumbling, and welfare reform exists only as a subject for academic discussion.

Things look bleak indeed.

Why work?

James Bartholomew has highlighted a Telegraph article by Fraser Nelson:
If an unemployed Pole gets a job as a barista in Starbucks, even for 15 hours a week, his situation improves dramatically. A young man in Britain would be just £10 a week better off than if he stayed at home on benefits. Why break your back for an extra tenner?
Why indeed?

I'd be interested to know how long immigrants must reside in the UK before they qualify for benefits. I had assumed that EU migrants, at least, were immediately eligible.

Good figures are hard to come by, but my own experience echoes Nelson's: waiters and bartenders in Oxford are disproportionately Eastern European. If these migrants are eligible for benefits, why do they choose to work instead? Probably because they have a certain amount of pride, don't feel the same sense of entitlement as native Britons, and have not yet been caught in the welfare trap.

As Nelson notes,
The situation is even more pernicious for young women who leave school with low qualifications, because the alternative to low-paid work is pregnancy. A woman with one child and on benefits has, on average, more disposable income than a hairdresser or teaching assistant. With two children, it's more than a receptionist or library assistant. With three, it's a lab technician, typist or bookkeeper. So there should be no mystery about why Britain came to have so many children in workless households (one in five, the highest in Europe). The young mothers, and the young men on benefits, are walking down a road to dependency paved for them by the state.

This is a peculiar definition of compassion. What Beveridge denounced as the "giant evil" of idleness is now being incubated on a mass scale by the very welfare state designed to eradicate it.
Procreation has always been a choice, but this is more true today than ever. Abstinence is no longer required. Contraceptives are widely available, and even subsidised. Abortions are legal, and likewise subsidised. Parenthood should not be undertaken lightly, and it should never make you better off.

You don't have to be a eugenicist to see that our government is encouraging exactly the wrong sort of person to breed. Their progeny benefit from neither nature nor nurture, and we all suffer for it — directly, in spiralling welfare payments, and indirectly through ever-increasing crime and classroom disruption. Of course, nobody suffers more under this system than the welfare children themselves. It is a peculiar kind of compassion indeed.

Let us hope that if the Conservatives win power, they will rediscover a bit of their "nastiness". Sometimes, as good parents know, you have to be cruel to be kind.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Wash-up 2010: Labour get their way on DNA

Yesterday I wrote:
It's great to see [the broadband tax] killed off (along with the increase in cider duty), but I dread to think which terrible laws will get rushed through in return.
Today The Register reports:
The Conservatives have dropped their opposition to the government's planned changes to the National DNA Database for fear of being branded soft on crime in the run-up to the election.

The opposition had planned to use the Parliamentary "wash-up" this week to insist fewer DNA profiles be retained from people arrested but not charged or convicted of any crime.
The Tories' acquiescence goes against comments by Grayling in January, when he said: "The DNA issue is a real point of principle... in the final days before a general election, there will be no deals to be done.
It is of course possible that the Conservatives will rediscover their principled objection after the election, but I wouldn't bet on it. In any case, they were only quibbling about details:
Now they plan to agree to government proposals to cut retention to six years for innocent people, from the current indefinite period for everyone arrested. The Tories had argued for only a three-year retention period, for those arrested for a violent or sexual offence - the same regime already in place in Scotland.
There's a sting in that last sentence, for Scottish MPs continue to vote to deny the English and Welsh freedoms enjoyed by the Scots.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Wash-up 2010: broadband tax gone, for now

The Register reports that Labour's broadband tax has not survived wash-up:
The Tories forced the government to drop a 50p-a-month tax on every landline last night as ministers made deals to get their budget plans through before the election.

The levy had been intended to pay for rollout of fibre optic cables in rural areas.

The Conservatives hailed the outcome as a "victory for consumers". The measure had been the centrepiece of last year's "Digital Britain" report.

The government folded because it is under pressure to pass remaining legislation this week in a bout of legislative horse-trading known as the "wash-up". Opposition parties use the scramble to win concessions, although it is unusual for the government to drop parts of the Finance Bill.
It's great to see this tax killed off (along with the increase in cider duty), but I dread to think which terrible laws will get rushed through in return. What a dysfunctional process.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The People vs Larry Flynt

I recently saw Oliver Stone's classic The People vs Larry Flynt. It's the tragic but entertaining and inspiring story of the indefatigable american porn pioneer.

One of the most memorable scenes is a speech by Flynt's lawyer, played by Edward Norton, to a Cincinnati jury:
I am not trying to convince you that you should like what Larry Flynt does. I don't like what Larry Flynt does. But what I do like is that I live in a country where you and I can make that decision for ourselves. I like that I live in a country where I can pick up Hustler magazine, and read it if I want to, or throw it in the garbage can if that's where I think it belongs. Or better yet I can exercise my opinion and not buy it. I like that I have that right. I care about it. And you should care about it too ... Because we live in a free country ... and that is a powerful idea. That's a magnificent way to live. But there is a price for that freedom, which is that sometimes we have to tolerate things that we don't necessarily like.

So go back in that room, where you are free to think whatever you want to think about Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine. But then ask yourselves if you want to make that decision for the rest of us, because the freedom that everyone in this room enjoys is in a very real way in your hands. And if we start throwing up walls against what some of us think is obscene, we may very well wake up one morning and realise that walls have been thrown up in all kinds of places that we never expected, and we can't see anything or do anything. And that's not freedom ... so be careful.
The jury wasn't convinced.

The political function of inflation

The Cobden Centre have provided a lengthy excerpt from The Theory of Money and Credit by Ludwig von Mises. It's not light reading, but it is rewarding. This passage in particular is worth highlighting:
A government always finds itself obliged to resort to inflationary measures when it cannot negotiate loans and dare not levy taxes, because it has reason to fear that it will forfeit approval of the policy it is following if it reveals too soon the financial and general economic consequences of that policy. Thus inflation becomes the most important psychological resource of any economic policy whose consequences have to be concealed; and so in this sense it can be called an instrument of unpopular, i.e., of antidemocratic, policy, since by misleading public opinion it makes possible the continued existence of a system of government that would have no hope of the consent of the people if the circumstances were clearly laid before them. That is the political function of inflation. It explains why inflation has always been an important resource of policies of war and revolution and why we also find it in the service of socialism. When governments do not think it necessary to accommodate their expenditure to their revenue and arrogate to themselves the right of making up the deficit by issuing notes, their ideology is merely a disguised absolutism.

6 May 2010

It's finally official: the general election will be held one month from today, on the 6th of May.

The Conservatives remain the least bad option, but few people will vote for them enthusiastically.

I will be spared the indignity of voting Conservative, as they don't have a hope of winning in my constituency. I am one of the millions disenfranchised by our first past the post electoral system.

I will still vote, spoiling my ballot if necessary, but the prospect of an end to NuLabour doesn't seem as exciting as it should. 5 years of BluLabour will be better, but not by much.

Our only hope is that the Conservatives have been lying to voters, and that true patriots are hiding behind those socialist, statist, europhile masks.

Monday, 5 April 2010

B&Bs and the right to refuse trade

The Guardian has reported comments by shadow home secretary Chris Grayling in a secretly recorded meeting of the Centre for Policy Studies:
"I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences," he said. "I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, I took the view that if it's a question of somebody who's doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn't come into their own home."

He draws a distinction, however, with hotels, which he says should admit gay couples. "If they are running a hotel on the high street, I really don't think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes."
Subsequently, according to The Telegraph,
Mr Grayling said: "Any suggestion that I am against gay rights is wholly wrong. It is a matter of record that I voted for civil partnerships. I also voted in favour of the legislation that prohibited bed and breakfast owners from discriminating against gay people.

"However, this is a difficult area and on Wednesday I made comments which reflected my view that we must be sensitive to the genuinely held principles of faith groups in this country.

"But the law is now clear on this issue, I am happy with it and would not wish to see it changed."
This level of hypocrisy would be shocking if it weren't exactly what we've come to expect from our politicians. More disturbing, if equally unsurprising, is the fact that neither The Guardian nor The Telegraph questioned Mr Grayling's muddled view of rights and freedoms.

Should the right to refuse trade really depend on whether you run your business from your home or on the high street? Is faith-based bigotry deserving of special consideration?

There are two consistent positions in this debate. According to one, all citizens have a right to purchase goods and services, and the state should enforce this universally. My own view is that financial transactions should always and everywhere be voluntary.

This means that hotels, as well B&Bs, should be free to refuse anyone, for any reason. I might be inconvenienced by a policy of "No whites, heterosexuals, or libertarians", but the proprietor's right to freely manage his property and direct his labour trumps my desire for accommodation.

Tim Carpenter of LPUK considers the four possible restrictions on voluntary exchange:
Is it right to force someone to take/pay for a service? No. That is a form of extortion, racketeering. It is coercion.

Is it right to prevent someone seeking a service? No. This is oppression. Witness the great wrong in preventing girls gaining an Education under the Taliban.

Is it right to prevent someone offering a service? No. This too is oppression.

Is it right to force someone to deliver a service against their will? No. This is oppression and coercion, i.e. a form of Slavery.
There are many well-meaning people who view interpersonal relationships not according to universal principles of right and wrong, but instead through subjective, historical perspectives of weak and strong. Without fundamental principles, the rule of law degenerates into victimhood poker. Can a restaurateur refuse to admit dogs? What about seeing eye dogs? What if the restaurant owner is a Muslim?

Carpenter gives another case to consider:
imagine if the B&Bers were Prostitutes. Now revisit your stance on the right to refuse trade.

Friday, 2 April 2010

It didn't occur to me that drugs would be nice

Dr Max Pemberton made an appearance on BBC News this morning, after writing an article for The Telegraph on his experience with mephedrone.

The segment isn't available on iPlayer, but there was a memorable line from the good doctor, who had hitherto avoided drugs (besides alcohol and tobacco): "it didn't occur to me that drugs would be nice".

As he puts it in his Telegraph article
I'd love to be able to tell you that I had a hideous time when I took mephedrone but the truth is, I didn’t. It was a lovely feeling and I can completely understand why people would use it.
He goes on to explain his stance on illegal drugs:
My prohibition on taking drugs until this point had been because they were illegal. I think that people should be free to make choices about their lives and that, providing they are aware of the consequences, this includes doing things that might damage their health. I am not a complete puritan – I smoke and drink. But my problem with illegal drugs is the human suffering that surrounds this market. Gun crime, prostitution, murder, extortion, burglary. It ruins lives and communities, and that’s not something I want to buy into.
It is an obvious point, but one that rarely surfaces in the mainstream media: most of the problems associated with drugs are not intrinsic; they are the inevitable consequences of prohibition. Equally, those risks that are intrinsic could be much better managed if the sale and use of drugs were legal.

Pemberton expresses concern about the potential harm caused by synthetic drugs, but he recognises the futility of the current approach:
There may come a point in the future where we tire of this cat-and-mouse game and accept that there is a need for a legally sanctioned stimulant. Perhaps it will be safer in the long term to restrict the use of these substances to adults, and license their sale and enable information to be gathered about their side effects, long-term health implications, dosing and risk minimisation.
Writing for The Guardian, sacked government drugs advisor David Nutt explains the several reasons for mephedrone's popularity:
Mephedrone is sold as the pure substance, so users know what they are getting. This contrasts with current street supplies of ecstasy and speed, which are often very low quality after being cut with inactive agents and may even contain some other, more dangerous, drugs such as methylamphetamine. Another reason for its popularity is that it is legal, so can be purchased without having to make contact with drug dealers who may pressure buyers towards other drugs, and currently there is no risk of a criminal record from being caught with it. In contrast, being caught in possession of MDMA and other class A drugs means one risks up to seven years in prison, and for amphetamines [class B], five years. Users see benefits in avoiding the limitations to their careers that a prosecution for drug possession would bring. Prior to the rise of mephedrone, another stimulant known as BZP was popular, but the government has recently made this a class C drug, which may have displaced users to mephedrone.
He suggested a fourth class:
Last year, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) suggested that new drugs of uncertain harm might be put into a holding class – such as the "class D" approach adopted by New Zealand several years ago to deal with BZP with some success. Drugs in class D are allowed to be sold in limited quantities to adults, with appropriate warnings of health risks and advice on safe use. Manufacturers are licensed, provided they comply with quality control of manufacture and report sales on a regular basis.
That would certainly be an improvement on the status quo.

My own view is that prohibition is never justified. Government has a role in preventing the sale of dangerous substances to children, but adults should be free to choose their own risks. Reputable businesses have no interest in poisoning their customers, and free people will naturally seek out the safest drugs that give the desired effect.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

If the public sector bore the brunt of cuts

Tom Paine writes
In my exclusively private sector world of late, friends have lost their jobs or their businesses; some at a time of life when it will be hard to recover. Companies I have worked with (and for) have gone broke. My own firm has made redundancies. Only one of the students who graduated with my daughter last year has found a paying private sector job. The private sector bore not merely the brunt, but the entire effect of the downturn. Just as (with the transfer of almost a million jobs to the pubic sector under Labour) it took the biggest hit in the upturn - paying ever higher taxes to fund public sector jobs (or pay increases) for Labour's captive voters. People who should not, in a just society, even be allowed to vote - given the obvious conflict of interest they have with the taxpayers.
So when Brendan Barber, Grand Panjandrum of the Trades Union Congress, threatens political strikes against a future Tory government;

...if the public sector bore the brunt of cuts...

I can only utter a hollow laugh.

Labour has inflicted a new aristocracy on our country. A diminishing number of workers in the productive economy now work for half their year to support a whole class of parasites, many almost entirely idle and almost all (apart from the frontline workers Labour likes to focus on) entirely unproductive. They enjoy a higher standard of living, greater job security, more perks, less stressful working lives and pension entitlements beyond the dreams of the private sector workers whose children will be taxed to pay them.
It is difficult to see how this can end peacefully. We live under the tyranny of the subservient.

The counterproductive effects of labour laws

Jamie Whyte's latest article, written for the Cobden Centre, considers the European Court of Justice's strange interpretation of "entitlement", and explains why unions support restrictions on working hours [hint: it's not concern for the welfare of workaholics].
In 2006, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Department of Trade and Industry has misinterpreted clauses 3 and 5 of the Working Time Directive. Clause 3 states: “Member states shall take the measures necessary to ensure that every worker is entitled to a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours per 24-hour period”. Clause 5 says that workers are additionally entitled to at least one uninterrupted rest period of 24 hours every week.

The tricky word here is “entitled”. The DTI interpreted it to mean entitled. They instructed employers that they must allow, but need not require, employees to take these rest periods. According to the ECJ, however, “entitled” actually means obliged. Employees may not choose to take shorter rest periods, and employers must not give them this option.

The European judges are surely correct on the matter of interpretation. If the words of European legislators are open to several interpretations, then deciding which was intended is simple; it must be the one that most restricts freedom of choice. And if you think that obliged is not a possible interpretation of “entitled”, then there is much you could learn from the judiciary about post-modern semiotics.

If not surprising, the ruling may still seem unfortunate. British employees already enjoyed the right to these rest periods. When it suited them, however, they were free to take shorter breaks – perhaps to earn overtime or to negotiate a longer break for another occasion. This option was surely valuable to them. Why should the manufacturing union Amicus have asked the ECJ to eliminate it? And why should the TUC have welcomed the ECJ’s ruling?

To see why, note that in the labour market employees are the suppliers and employers are the consumers. Employers buy the labour offered for sale by workers. The Working Time Directive, as now interpreted, is a regulation about the kind of service workers may offer for sale.

Product regulations usually impose minimum standards. When it comes to labour, however, we get maximum standards. The ECJ’s ruling means that, with respect to the flexibility of hours worked, employees may not offer a product exceeding a certain quality. And that is precisely why unions support this interpretation. Maximum standard regulations are required by suppliers attempting to fix their prices above the market price.
I thoroughly recommend the whole article.

Whyte concludes with a clear articulation of one of my recurring thoughts — in a welfare state, why do we need labour laws?
Labour laws are intended to protect employees from employers. But no such protection is needed. Feudalism ended long ago, and the labour market is not a monopsony (a market with only one buyer). No one is forced into any particular job. Indeed, unemployment benefits mean that no one need work at all. Labour laws merely distort the allocation of labour and arbitrarily bestow costs and benefits across the population. They should not be interpreted more stringently; they should be repealed.
There is much to dislike about our current welfare state, but a properly crafted safety net can set us free. Welfare means that nobody need tolerate workplace abuse, or unwanted advances; it allows dangerous work to be safely refused; and it removes any moral justification for crime — nobody is forced to choose between stealing and starving.

Guaranteed a certain basic standard of living, people should be free to work as much or as little as they like, for whatever wage they are prepared to accept, in any employment that does not infringe upon the rights of others.

It is insane at all times, but especially in the midst of a recession, that our government creates barriers to employment, and discourages work.