Thursday, 26 August 2010

If the future's Orange, it's not very bright

Although I was always reasonably happy with their customer service, O2's network coverage was sufficiently bad that I was determined to switch networks as soon as my contract expired.

I was keen to return to Vodafone, because though their customer service wasn't brilliant, I'd never had any trouble with their network. Unfortunately, when my wife bought me the iPhone 4 as a birthday present, she was lured by the prospect of Orange Wednesdays, and trusted the Orange rep when he said their coverage was good.

It turns out Orange has all of O2's problems, and then some ...
  • For the first couple of days, I had no internet access at all.
  • After several text messages, updates, and reboots, mobile data began to work.
  • Unfortunately, internet remains slow, and coverage is patchy.
  • Call quality is terrible, with noticeable background buzz.
  • Getting through to Orange customer support is a nightmare. Simple tasks like transferring my phone number and enabling roaming required several steps of hateful IVR, followed by endless waiting. Even if you follow the usually-sensible strategy of choosing an option that involves paying Orange more money, you'll be kept waiting for several minutes.
It's tempting to blame the reception problems on the iPhone 4's antenna, which is famously defective, but coverage and call quality were never a problem for me while on holiday in Canada, even in Banff. By contrast, Orange are unable to provide a decent signal within the Oxford ring road! At The Isis, near open fields, there is often no signal at all.

To top it off, Visual Voicemail (one of the best features of the iPhone) is unavailable with Orange. I knew this going in, but I'd forgotten quite how maddening the IVR alternative is.

From my experience, I have to recommend that you avoid Orange like the plague. All things considered, even O2 is better.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The immorality of government debt

Governments are in the unique position of being able to extract wealth from citizens on pain of imprisonment. Like Gods of old, they also visit the sins of the fathers upon the children.

In a comment thread over at CentreRight, Denis Cooper wrote:
In a nominally democratic state such as the UK it can be held that ultimately it was the citizens, through their successive governments, who promised themselves future benefits which it will be impossible to provide in full, and if they agree to forego part of those benefits to avoid state bankruptcy then that is their own business as the body of citizens, in effect an internal compounding between themselves as debtors and themselves as creditors.
This is muddy thinking, as the great Murray Rothbard explains
Before the Reagan era, conservatives were clear about how they felt about deficits and the public debt: a balanced budget was good, and deficits and the public debt were bad, piled up by free-spending Keynesians and socialists, who absurdly proclaimed that there was nothing wrong or onerous about the public debt. In the famous words of the left-Keynesian apostle of "functional finance," Professor Abba Lerner, there is nothing wrong with the public debt because "we owe it to ourselves." In those days, at least, conservatives were astute enough to realize that it made an enormous amount of difference whether – slicing through the obfuscatory collective nouns – one is a member of the "we" (the burdened taxpayer) or of the "ourselves" (those living off the proceeds of taxation).
Government debt is fundamentally different from a private contract:
Most people, unfortunately, apply the same analysis to public debt as they do to private. If sanctity of contracts should rule in the world of private debt, shouldn't they be equally as sacrosanct in public debt? Shouldn't public debt be governed by the same principles as private? The answer is no, even though such an answer may shock the sensibilities of most people. The reason is that the two forms of debt-transaction are totally different. If I borrow money from a mortgage bank, I have made a contract to transfer my money to a creditor at a future date; in a deep sense, he is the true owner of the money at that point, and if I don't pay I am robbing him of his just property. But when government borrows money, it does not pledge its own money; its own resources are not liable. Government commits not its own life, fortune, and sacred honor to repay the debt, but ours. This is a horse, and a transaction, of a very different color.

For unlike the rest of us, government sells no productive good or service and therefore earns nothing. It can only get money by looting our resources through taxes, or through the hidden tax of legalized counterfeiting known as "inflation."
The public debt transaction, then, is very different from private debt. Instead of a low-time preference creditor exchanging money for an IOU from a high-time preference debtor, the government now receives money from creditors, both parties realizing that the money will be paid back not out of the pockets or the hides of the politicians and bureaucrats, but out of the looted wallets and purses of the hapless taxpayers, the subjects of the state. The government gets the money by tax-coercion; and the public creditors, far from being innocents, know full well that their proceeds will come out of that selfsame coercion. In short, public creditors are willing to hand over money to the government now in order to receive a share of tax loot in the future. This is the opposite of a free market, or a genuinely voluntary transaction. Both parties are immorally contracting to participate in the violation of the property rights of citizens in the future. Both parties, therefore, are making agreements about other people's property, and both deserve the back of our hand. The public credit transaction is not a genuine contract that need be considered sacrosanct, any more than robbers parceling out their shares of loot in advance should be treated as some sort of sanctified contract.
There is a strong analogy between government creditors and slave owners, with the Government acting as slave trader. One generation, operating according to the tyranny of the majority [1] sells itself into debt slavery. Not only are unwilling participants of one generation held liable for the debt chosen by their peers, but so too are millions of people not yet born. The next generation is bound to the "public" debt, just as the children of slaves were bound to the slaves' owners. As Kevin Dowd put it,
a UK citizen born in 2011 will inherit, on birth, a debt of perhaps £200,000, and it could easily be much more
The uncomfortable moral question then naturally arises: at what point does the debt become so large that our future children will be born into a new form of slavery, entering the world shackled by the debts of their forbears?

This highlights the underlying moral as well as fiscal bankruptcy of the system. For years, politicians yielded to the temptation to increase spending commitments and put off the costs of those decisions into the future.
Denis Cooper also wrote:
The government of a sovereign state can promise to pay certain sums of money to individuals and organisations, domestic and foreign, in such amounts and at such times as may be determined by agreed contracts, and although it could have the domestic law changed to deny its obligations under those contracts that would have very serious consequences for the future creditworthiness of the state.
As we have seen, the contract in question is not legitimate. But what of the effects of breaking it? I replied as follows:
Would it really be such a bad thing if people were unwilling to lend to us again, following repudiation of the national debt?

Sadly, as Argentina and other countries have found, it seems likely that people would lend to us again even if we were to default on our debt. We would need a strict constitution to forbid future governments from running up new debts, and eternal vigilance to avoid corruption of the constitution.

Private debts cannot be inherited, and for good reason: it is unreasonable and immoral to hold a son responsible for the profligacy of his father. It is likewise immoral for the government, in pursuit of the votes of one generation, to run up debts which will be serviced by generations to come.

I'm amazed that the socialists commenting here fail to realise the hideousness of this practice. Argue for forced redistribution of wealth if you must, but confine your theft to the present generation. Let voters feel the true cost of our welfare state, rather than passing the burden to their children and grandchildren. If the majority still opt for thieving tyranny, at least it will be plain for all to see.

[1] In first-past-the-post systems like our own, our profligate compatriots need not even form a majority in order to run up debts on our behalf. As I've noted previously, the past three Labour governments have led us ever more quickly down the road to ruin with the consent of less than half of the population (43.2% in 1997; 40.7% in 2001; 35.3% in 2005). Moreover, we are held liable for the actions of our representatives even when they renege on their campaign promises. In practice, we are subject to the tyranny of the tiny minority of our compatriots who make up the cabinet, and every 5 years we have the opportunity to vote in an alternative clique which is substantially the same in its outlook.

Cuts? What cuts?

John Redwood writes:
According to this year’s budget plans, public current spending will rise from £600.6 billion in 2009-10, the last Labour year, to £692.7 billion in 2014-15, the last planned year of the Coalition government in this Parliament. That’s a rise of £92.7 billion, or more than 15%: a rise of £1500 for every man, woman and child in the UK.
Ah, but what about inflation? How much of it would we need each year for £692.7 billion to represent a real-terms cut? (692.7 / 600.6) ** (1 / 5) = 1.02894455, so the answer is anything higher than about 2.9%

2009-10: 600.6
2010-11: 600.6*(1.029) = 618.0174
2011-12: 618.0174*(1.029) = 635.9399046
2012-13: 635.9399046*(1.029) = 654.3821618
2013-14: 654.3821618*(1.029) = 673.3592445
2014-15: 673.3592445*(1.029) = 692.8866626

But much as we'd like to see real terms cuts in public spending, we shouldn't hope for higher inflation! We're screwed either way. Inflation is a stealth tax — legalised counterfeiting that redistributes wealth to the recipients of new money, from everyone else.

If our GDP grows at more than 2.9% per year, public spending will shrink as a percentage of GDP, but GDP is a terrible measure of wealth, and in any case the reduction will be modest. In 2014, the public sector will still account for far more than the 15-25% of GDP that the Rahn Curve suggests is optimal. Our national debt will have risen, and our interest payments with it.

We cannot go on like this.

If the Coalition were truly serious about balancing the books, they'd immediately roll public spending back to 2002 levels. The sky wouldn't fall.

Unfortunately, as I've noted previously, and as Kevin Dowd explained yesterday in an article for the Cobden Centre, the official debt figures significantly underestimate the seriousness of our situation:
The official debt is merely the tip of a very large hidden iceberg.

The Government’s true debt is the present value of all the commitments it has entered into, on the expectation that these commitments will be paid for by future taxpayers. Some prominent examples are the commitments implied by the public sector pension system, the state pension system, the health system and PFI. The costs of these commitments are staggering.
One recent estimate suggested that a UK citizen born in 2011 will inherit, on birth, a debt of perhaps £200,000, and it could easily be much more.

It is simply inconceivable that debts on this scale will be paid off in full.

Nor should they. These were not debts that youngsters freely took on, but obligations incurred on their behalf in many cases before they were even born.

The uncomfortable moral question then naturally arises: at what point does the debt become so large that our future children will be born into a new form of slavery, entering the world shackled by the debts of their forbears?

This highlights the underlying moral as well as fiscal bankruptcy of the system. For years, politicians yielded to the temptation to increase spending commitments and put off the costs of those decisions into the future, when it would be someone else’s problem. The political system itself encouraged them to do so – handing out goodies is so much easier to sell politically than handing out pain. Even the voters themselves were complicit, because they voted in governments committed to ‘spend now, [someone else] pay later’ policies, instead of penalising governments for long-term fiscal irresponsibility. Most of those who will pay the burden did not yet have the vote, so they didn’t count. No-one took responsibility for the long-term.

In so doing, our political system created a huge intergenerational Ponzi scheme, passing the buck from one generation to the next, until the whole rotten system inevitably collapses under its accumulated weight.
Repudiation is looking ever more attractive. With our current band of politicians in power, stealth-default through hyperinflation seems more likely. That route will ensure maximum suffering for the masses.

Corrigan: Unsound money and unrestrained credit

Over at The Cobden Centre, another superb article from Sean Corrigan:
Unsound money and unrestrained credit combines far too readily with Man’s inherent disinclination to live off the sweat of his brow to make him an easy mark for every smooth-tongued, silk-suited chancer who promises him a ticket out of the Land of Nod and, once, again, this fatal weakness has led us to a ruin which has engulfed the innocent along with the guilty.

This collapse, so our friends on the left were only too happy to declare, marked the ‘Death of Capitalism’, but it looks as though their declaration may have been just a little premature. Here we are, only two years after they jubilantly read the rites over the first corpse and the trillion dollar wake they threw may have led directly to the demise of their beloved Provider State as well.

The irony here is that while people may be blind to the notion that their own reckless borrowing and determined over-consumption was what led to disaster, they are far more likely to acknowledge that a similar act of untoward extension by the State is not to be countenanced.

As the limitations of ‘Crude Keynesianism’ became more apparent, the debate swiftly moved on from the phoney war of whether there should have been a bail out or not to a similarly heated one about whether we now need something categorised as ‘austerity’ or a further dose of Big Government stimulus.

The truth is that even to frame the issue in this simple, sound-bite fashion is to concede half the argument.

What is ’stimulating’ about plying the drunkard with more drink or offering the glutton another helping of cake and what is ‘austere’ about the profligate being told to live once more, within his means?

Monday, 23 August 2010

Who will stand for meritocracy?

The front page of The Telegraph today carried this story
David Willetts said leading universities should admit bright teenagers from poor homes with lower A-level results than their middle-class peers in an attempt to boost social mobility.

As students across Britain continue to battle for remaining university places, Mr Willetts said admissions tutors in subjects such as law and medicine should increasingly judge candidates on their “potential”.
Wow. At first I assumed Willets must have been a Lib Dem, but Wikipedia swears he's a Conservative. What ever happened to meritocracy? Does anyone speak for it anymore?

If "bright teenagers from poor homes" aren't getting good enough A-level results to gain entry into "leading universities", the obvious solution is to focus on improving their A-level results. To instead suggest that universities should lower their standards, and select based on class rather than merit, is the sort of lunacy I'd hoped had died with New Labour.

In another article for The Telegraph, Jeff Randall highlighted the hypocrisy of the five Oxbridge graduates competing for the Labour leadership [1]:
In a risible piece for The Financial Times, employment lawyer Chuka Umunna, who has since become Labour MP for Streatham, demanded that City businesses trawl through third-division universities in order to engage with lower socio-economic classes: "City employers, who tend to focus on recruiting from the Russell Group of top universities, fail to reach these candidates. City recruiters… must widen the pool of universities."

Neat, eh? While banks, law firms and accountants are expected by Labour to sign up students from institutions that are not much more than overblown technical colleges (with scandalously high drop-out rates), the party of the people remains wedded to traditional centres of academic excellence.

The hypocrisy doesn't stop there. Diane Abbott, a fan of comprehensive education for the masses, sent her son to the City of London School, where fees for day boys are more than £10,000 a year. Challenged on this, she replied: "West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children."

Oh, now we get it. When Mr Cameron senior, a stockbroker, sent David to Eton, that was "buying privilege". But when a Cambridge-educated black woman and Labour MP, Miss Abbott, behaves in a similar manner, that's doing the right thing for her offspring. Totally different, darling.
I expect this sort of thing from Labour. I've never held the Conservatives in especially high regard, but I'm still shocked to see Willetts recite such socialist tripe. Party X is loathsome indeed.

[1] Dianne Abbot, Newnham College, Cambridge; Ed Balls, Keble College, Oxford; Andy Burnham, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge; David Miliband, Corpus Christi College, Oxford [2]; Ed Miliband, also Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

[2] David is an interesting case, as it seems that despite getting "three Bs and a D" he "won admission to the University of Oxford with the assistance of an Inner London Education Authority scheme intended to enable comprehensive school pupils to attend the university". I guess he was just lucky; his parents' academic connections surely had nothing to do with it. According to a Times article I found, "The two brothers grew up together in North London, weaned amid the left-wing intellectuals who surrounded their parents, the Marxist historian Ralph Miliband and the academic Marion Kozak ... At Oxford there was a certain aura about David, because people knew who his parents were"

The BBC vs democratic policing

Daniel Hannan has a great article today about the BBC's bias against elected sheriffs, as evidenced in a Radio 4 PM programme, which suggests democratic accountability would somehow transform our green and pleasant land into a Deep South dustbowl, complete with Confederate flags, rampaging rednecks, and Boss Hogg.

The segment starts about 18 minutes and 18 seconds in:
Are you interested in voting for the people who run your local police force? It's one of the government's 'big ideas' for England and Wales. The first elections could be in 2012. It would be an innovation here, but in the United States it's common practice. Reporting for PM from Alabama, and there's more on the blog, Micheal Buchanan ...
Here's a taste of Buchanan's reporting (to replicate his condescension, read it with a cultured Scottish accent):
I went for a spin through rural Alabama with Jimmy Ray Swindle ... Were he to win in November, Sheriff Swindle [a former radio DJ] would not be the only the only law enforcement novice in Alabama. Also standing for sheriff's office across the state this year are a swimming pool installer, a pharmacist, and a church minister. The bar to running for sheriff is pretty low in Alabama ...

Drive around Alabama, and the freeway signs act as an aide memoire to America's civil rights past, Selma, Birmingham, Montgomery flash past, cities where the elected police chiefs played their part in enforcing the will of the majority.
Hannan was right to describe this as "a snotty, sneering, superior piece":
You get the idea. Allow people to choose who directs their local police force and you are likely to get racists, half-wits or crooks – often with hilarious redneck names. Just in case we missed the message, the correspondent spelt it out with his closing words: “While popular elections may increase direct accountability, it [sic] doesn’t necessarily lead to better policing”.

Better for whom? Who is better placed to decide on a local police force’s priorities than a local voter? Some areas might opt for men like Arpaio, though the sheriffs in, say, Vermont, are a very different breed. That’s the beauty of the system: law enforcement reflects the local temper.

Not that the BBC is alone. The unelected beneficiaries of the existing system have also been mounting a fierce campaign against democratic policing. Their favourite argument is that, if you have elections, the BNP might win. Well, yes, they might. But, as a rule, they don’t: the far-Left BNP controls just 0.3 per cent of council seats and 0 per cent of Westminster seats. Still, if the logic of ACPO the Police Authorities and the BBC is sound, why not do away with elections altogether? I mean, how can people be trusted not to pick the wrong candidates?
How indeed? Far better to trust in the Philosopher Kings.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Rose & Crown, Banff

I'm always partial to drinking holes that combine good beer with spectacular scenery. The Gravity Bar at Dublin's Guinness Storehouse has long been one of my favourites.

Yesterday, I had a chance to revisit another favourite, The Rose & Crown in Banff:

Possibly the best pub in the world? I would welcome suggestions for competitors to the title.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Jack FM

I don't listen to much radio, but when driving in Oxfordshire I generally settle on Jack FM because it focuses on music rather than inane chatter. To my pleasant surprise, we found it here in Banff — the local version, that is.

According to Wikipedia,
JACK FM is the alternative name and on-air brand of 60 radio stations in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia ... The first Jack station was Vancouver's CKLG-FM, which quickly shot to the top of the city's BBM radio ratings
Stations using the "Jack" name are very strictly licensed by SparkNet. There are several terms that the station must agree to, one of them being the fact that disc jockeys are not to be used for at least the first few months of the format
Great to see a successful idea replicated. All hail Capitalism.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Should government get out of the marriage business?

Jeffrey Miron writes:
The gay marriage debate gained renewed intensity last week when a federal judge struck down California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage. Supporters of gay marriage hailed the decision as a crucial blow for civil rights; opponents assailed it as an assault on fundamental moral and religious values.

Oddly, both sides agreed on one thing: that government should define and "supply" marriage.

But it is the government's role in marriage that's at the heart of the problem.

Marriage means two things in modern society.

Religious marriage is a custom, ceremony or rite that some couples wish to pursue. Religious marriage is not the subject of the legal controversy; no one is proposing that governments bar religions from supplying religious marriage to same-sex couples.

Civil marriage is a legal institution created by governments. It is, in essence, just a bundle of contracts involving the marrying couple, their children and others. A marrying couple gets legal rights and responsibilities about division of property, inheritance, guardianship of children and other issues. The government enforces this bundle of rights and responsibilities.

The question is, does the government need to specify a particular bundle of contracts, enforce this bundle and call it "marriage"?

The answer is no.
In an opposing article, Bob Maistros argues that
government has a clear interest in preserving the salutary effects of matrimony on health and preventing the public-health nightmare associated with all forms of sex outside it: higher risk for STDs, deadly HIV, other infectious diseases, emotional illness and various kinds of cancer. Not to mention the pathologies linked to single parenthood: crime and juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancies, dropouts, suicides, runaways, obesity, drug abuse, divorce and homelessness.

So if I were a policymaker, I would want to promote, not abandon, the one relationship proven to boost prosperity, improve health, and reduce these social ills -- and avoid sanctioning, tacitly or otherwise, relationships that present clear hazards to health and well-being.
I can't say whether these claims about the personal and social benefits of marriage are true (and we must always ask: compared to what?), but some are at least plausible. Even so, a key question is whether it is acceptable for the government to enforce (or nudge people towards) preferred behaviours for the greater good.

My instinctive answer is 'no', but this debate quickly descends into thorny philosophical questions. Miron prefers to argue on utilitarian, or 'consequentialist' grounds:
What is Libertarianism?

The traditional version, often referred to as philosophical or rights-based libertarianism, asserts that government policy should never infringe individual rights or freedoms. Philosophical libertarians oppose virtually all government intervention since regulations, taxes, mandates, prohibitions and the like all limit individual freedoms.

A different version of libertarianism, often referred to as consequential libertarianism, opposes most government interventions because these appear to generate adverse side-effects that are worse than the problems they were designed to alleviate. Consequential libertarians share the policy conclusions of philosophical libertarians for the most part, but they disagree in some cases. In addition, consequential libertarians argue for small government based on consequences rather than rights.

In my view the consequential approach has several advantages over the philosophical perspective.

No doubt there are advantages to this approach, and often it is easy to make a consequentialist argument against this or that government intervention, but it is more difficult to see how to apply it to situations where the costs and benefits are difficult to assess or highly subjective.

And even when we can agree on the costs and benefits, some infringements on personal liberty seem unacceptable. Consider slavery — could any amount of public benefit justify it?

Friday, 13 August 2010

The True North strong and alcohol-free

Canadians love their beer. Indeed, they take great pride in the fact that Canadian beer is, on average, stronger than American beer. But it would seem that the march of the Righteous is at least as far advanced in Ontario as it is in the UK. Holidaying here, I came across two tough policies aimed at tackling drink driving.

The first concerns young and newly-qualified drivers:
Young drivers and new motorists of all ages in Ontario will not be allowed to have any alcohol in their blood whatsoever under new rules that take effect Aug. 1.

Under legislation passed in 2009, Ontario drivers 21 and under will be required to have a zero blood alcohol count, regardless of what kind of licence they have.
The legal drinking age in Ontario is 19. If zero BAC makes sense for under-21s, why not under-22s? Why not under-25s or under-30s? Why not everyone?

Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne justified the zero BAC rule with the tired old appeal to 'think of the children':
It is unfortunately young people who are often most at risk if we talk about drinking and driving ... That’s the stuff that keeps us up at nights, so we want to make sure we put in place rules that are going to keep our kids safe.
But it is already illegal for "kids" aged 16 and 17 to drink, whether driving or not. How old do you have to be in Ontario before you can be treated as an adult, with responsibility for your own safety? The nanny statists would have childhood last forever.

Wynne continued,
We know that 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds as a group are seriously at risk for being in fatal collisions because of drinking and driving, so the rules need to reflect that.
Suppose we were to find that male drivers "as a group" are "seriously at risk for being in fatal collisions because of drinking and driving". Would it be reasonable to require men, as a group, to forsake alcohol altogether when driving?

Note that a zero limit for under 21s may succeed in reducing "alcohol-related" road deaths without having any impact whatsoever on road deaths. We may find that under-21s are capable of driving negligently, recklessly, and dangerously, without the help of alcohol. It is bad driving that kills, not alcohol per se.

Meanwhile, young people who drive responsibly, despite having a non-zero BAC, will be unfairly persecuted. No longer will they be able to have a beer with lunch, and drive away legally. This is a severe imposition in suburban and rural areas, where everyone drives everywhere, especially in winter.

Do people, young or otherwise, really need a beer with lunch? No. But that is not the point — many people enjoy a lunchtime beverage, perfectly responsibly. Puritans can't stand this sort of thing.

Like it or not, people will drink. Suppose we accept, for the sake of argument, what the aptly-named MADD would have us believe: that BAC is the most important factor in driving ability, and that a BAC of 0.049 causes significant impairment. Now suppose a 22-year-old goes out on a date with a 20-year-old. When they're ready to leave, they take out their pocket breathalyser, and find that the 22-year-old has a BAC of 0.049, while the 20-year-old has a BAC of 0.01. Does it really make sense for the dangerously impaired 22-year-old to take the keys?

The figure of 0.049 was carefully chosen, because the Ministry of Transportation would have us believe that
With a BAC of 0.05, an individual’s vision may already be affected in terms of sensitivity to brightness, the ability to determine colours, and depth and motion perception. The brain’s ability to perform simple motor functions is diminished. This means that a driver’s reaction time will be slower and responses will be less accurate. The result is degraded driving performance and a significant increase in collision risk.
Accordingly, they have introduced another measure, which affects all drivers:
As of May 1, 2009, if you’re caught driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from 0.05 to 0.08 (known as the "warn range"), the police can immediately suspend your licence up to three days for a first occurrence, seven days for a second occurrence and 30 days for a third or subsequent occurrence.
One hopes that the police will show a little restraint in exercising these immediate suspension powers, but wouldn't it be better to have reasonable laws that people respect.

Even if the two measures described above succeed in reducing road deaths, we must ask "at what cost?". If we could eliminate all road deaths by rigorously enforcing a 10 mph speed limit on all roads, would it be worth it?

I'm reminded of a classic article by Lewis Page for The Register, which ran with the subtitle "Live slow, die old, leave a wrinkly corpse":

Obviously, less people killed and torn up would be good. But, in fact, things are a lot safer on the roads than they used to be, with annual UK deaths down by better than half since the 1960s. At some point, when you insist on ultimate levels of safety, you start to pay more and more for each life saved: perhaps not just in money either. Overly ambitious safety goals can strangle entire new technologies, choke economies, and - in the case of vehicle tracking - actually take away your freedom if you aren't careful.

Is it better to be rich, free, and at some risk of getting killed by an idiot crashlanding his nuclear-powered flying car; or poor, downtrodden, spied upon - but sure of living long enough to die luxuriously of cancer or Alzheimer's?

We're all dead in the long run. Let's try to have a bit of fun along the way.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The altruistic individual in society

The most promising member of parliament writes:

Plato makes the mistake of thinking society faces a choice between collectivism or selfishness. In fact, altruistic individualism is possible, without individuals living constantly in a state of subjection and sacrifice for some group. In our time, as in Plato’s, this error provides a defence of collectivism which is unjustified.

Society is the cooperation of individuals. In my view, one great advantage of a society based on equality before the law, freedom, peace and property is that it can bear selfish individuals without harming the whole of society. More than that, perhaps such an order is the only one which exploits the selfish individual to the benefit of other people.

What has changed since Plato's time is that we are immeasurably wealthier, so more individuals than ever are in a position to be charitable — or would be, if the state confiscated less of their wealth.