Thursday, 30 September 2010

An interview with DK's mascot MP

This interview on Cobden Centre Radio gives cause for hope.

I recommend subscribing to the podcast.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Thou shalt not blog

The Register reports,
Canadian-Iranian journalist Hossein Derakhshan has been sentenced to nineteen and a half years in prison for crimes relating to his blog.

Derakhshan, who has been in prison awaiting trial for two years, was found guilty of blasphemy offences, propaganda against the Islamic Republic and collaborating with foreign governments, Al-Jazeera reports.

Let us hope theocracy never comes to Britain.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Savers told to stop moaning and start spending

The Telegraph reports:
Savers should stop complaining about poor returns and start spending to help the economy, a senior Bank of England official warned today.

Older households could afford to suffer because they had benefited from previous property price rises, Charles Bean, the deputy governor, suggested.

They should "not expect" to live off interest, he added, admitting that low returns were part of a strategy.

His remarks are likely to infuriate savers, who are among the biggest victims of the recession. About five million retired people are thought to rely on the interest earned by their nest-eggs. But almost all savings accounts now pay less than inflation.
Ros Altmann, director-general of Saga, said: "Savers are being taken advantage of. They did the right thing and have been let down at the other end of the deal.

"I don't think this is what most people would consider fair."

Dot Gibson, of the National Pensioners Convention, said: "For years we've been told to put money aside for our retirement only to find that interest rates have sunk and now we have to use our savings just to pay the bills."

Jason Riddle, of Save Our Savers, said: "The Bank was aware that there was a lack of saving before the financial crisis, but those who were prudently saving while others spent, are being heavily punished."
The Bank of England has a long history of exploiting ordinary decent people. I recommend these two Cobden Centre articles:
I struggle to know how to approach such rampant Keynesian nonsense, so instead I'll reproduce a 1932 letter from F. A. Hayek to The Times, in response to an earlier letter by Keynes himself.
The Times, Wednesday, October 19, 1932 (p10)


Sir,— The question whether to save or whether to spend, which has been raised in your columns, is not unambiguous. It involves three separate issues:—(1) Whether to use money or whether to hoard it; (2) whether to spend money or whether to invest it; (3) whether Government investment is on all fours with investment by private individuals. While we do not wish to over-stress the nature of our differences with those of our professional colleagues who have already written to you on these subjects, yet on certain points that difference is sufficiently great to make the expression of an alternative view desirable.

(1) On the first issue—whether to use one’s money or whether to hoard it—there is no important difference between us. It is agreed that hoarding money, whether in cash or in idle balances, is deflationary in its effects. No one thinks that deflation is in itself desirable.

(2) On the question of whether to spend or whether to invest our position is different from that of the signatories of the letter which appeared in your columns on Monday. They appear to hold that it is a matter of indifference as regards the prospects of revival whether money is spent on consumption or on real investment. We, on the contrary, believe that one of the main difficulties of the world to-day is a deficiency of investment—a depression of the industries making for capital extension, &c., rather than of the industries making directly for consumption. Hence we regard a revival of investment as particularly desirable. The signatories of the letter referred to, however, appear to deprecate the purchase of existing securities on the ground that there is no guarantee that money will find its way into real investment. We cannot endorse this view. Under modern conditions the security markets are an indispensable part of the mechanism of investment. A rise in the value of old securities is an indispensable preliminary to the flotation of new issues. The existence of a lag between the revival in old securities and revival elsewhere is not questioned. But we should regard it as little short of a disaster if the public should infer from what has been said that the purchase of existing securities and the placing of deposits in building societies, &c., were at the present time contrary to public interest or that the sale of securities or the withdrawal of such deposits would assist the coming of recovery. It is perilous in the extreme to say anything which may still further weaken the habit of private saving.

But it is perhaps on the third question—the question whether this is an appropriate time for State and municipal authorities to extend their expenditure—that our differences with the signatories of the letter is most acute. On this point we find ourselves in agreement with your leading article on Monday. We are of the opinion that many of the troubles of the world at the present time are due to imprudent borrowing and spending on the part of the public authorities. We do not desire to see a renewal of such practices. At best they mortgage the Budgets of the future, and they tend to drive up the rate of interest—a process which is surely particularly undesirable at this juncture when the revival of the supply of capital to private industry is an admittedly urgent necessity. The depression has abundantly shown that the existence of public debt on a large scale imposes frictions and obstacles to readjustment very much greater than the frictions and obstacles imposed by the existence of private debt. Hence we cannot agree with the signatories of the letter that this is a time for new municipal swimming baths, &c., merely because people “feel they want” such amenities.

If the Government wish to help revival, the right way for them to proceed is, not expenditure, but to abolish those restrictions on trade and the free movement of capital (including restrictions on new issues) which are at present impeding even the beginning of recovery.

We are, Sir, your obedient servants,

T.E. GREGORY, Cassel Professor of Economics,
F. A. VON HAYEK, Tooke Professor of Economic Science and Statistics,
ARNOLD PLANT, Cassel Professor of Commerce,
LIONEL ROBBINS, Professor of Economics

University of London, Oct. 18

Unregulated car washers?

Every once in a while, often in the middle of winter, I give some cash over to an Eastern European bloke in the Sainsbury's carpark, and he washes my car. We both go away happy.

The big shock story on BBC Breakfast this morning was that there are unregulated car washers out there.

Among the factors listed as hampering 'responsible' car washers were the minimum wage and national insurance. This being the BBC, that wasn't the spin of the story.

Is there any enterprise for which they wouldn't support state intervention?

Monday, 27 September 2010

Tebbit on Sweden

Lord Tebbit writes:
The good news however is of the stirrings of revolt across the continent. It is not, as some have called it, the rise of the far right even in Sweden. A yearning to live amongst one’s one countrymen and women and to enjoy one’s own nation’s culture is neither left nor right. It is perfectly healthy. It is only when the authoritarian architects of the greater state use immigration as a way of destroying national identities that extremists may use the immigration issue for their own ends

Like rats leaving a burning quango

Will the Coalition's recently-announced quango cull actually result in smaller, cheaper government? Richard Wellings isn't convinced:
a significant proportion of quangos are very difficult to abolish. Some perform the basic functions of government, such as HM Revenue and Customs and HM Courts Service, while others are effectively required in order to implement European Union directives. It was instructive that the coalition was unable to remove an unnecessary tier of government by abolishing the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). Instead, it is replacing them with Local Enterprise Partnerships and transferring some of the RDAs' responsibilities to the Department of Business Innovation and Skills.

This pattern is likely to be repeated across government following the CSR. Quangos will certainly be abolished and ministers will speak of radical action being taken to tackle the deficit and reduce the role of the state. But in practice most of the staff and nearly all of the functions will be transferred to other agencies. There appears to be no genuine appetite within the coalition for the kind of attack on red tape necessary to slim down government bureaucracy significantly.
Wellings also echoed the observations of John Redwood:
The fine print of George Osborne's Emergency Budget reveals that government spending in real terms will remain more or less steady over the next five years. Indeed, when ministers speak of cuts, they often mean a reduction in previously planned increases in expenditure. The Treasury's optimistic forecasts for economic growth are the key to the coalition's deficit reduction programme rather than any dramatic scaling back of public services.
According to my calculations, we'd need annual inflation of 2.9% for the 'cuts' to be real. That's actually not looking too unlikely at the moment, and it seems assured if we have another round of quantitative easing, but we lose either way.

Wellings concludes,
The coalition's lack of radicalism may be reassuring to government workers, as well as the millions dependent on welfare benefits, but it also means that policymakers are doing little to create the kind of low-tax, low-regulation environment where entrepreneurship can flourish. The deeper issue of Britain's rapid relative economic decline is not being addressed and as a consequence both public and private sector employees will be poorer in the long run.
The whole article is well worth reading.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Chris Huhne is a dangerous man

In his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference, Chris Huhne managed to speak four and a half sentences of sense:
Conference, we face many challenges.

An unfair tax system.

Withered personal freedoms.

The biggest gap between tax and spending in the top 20 developed economies.

But when we have got the deficit down, and the economy up, when the Freedom Bill is law and millions more low-paid are taken out of tax ...
That sounds like progress! ... A good start ... What next?

Even lower taxes? An even smaller state? Repeal of anti-discrimination legislation? Freedom from the EU? Localism? A written constitution that protects citizens against the state?

No. According to Chris Huhne, the single biggest remaining issue will be ... (drumroll) ... that "we will still face the prospect of runaway climate change".

Oh dear.

Whatever the science says (and it is far from settled), any actions we take here in the UK won't make the blindest bit of difference to global warming. They might, however, have disastrous consequences for our economy.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

How free will free schools be?

Here's Clegg's take,
My vision is that every school, in time, will be equal, every school equally free. But there’s one freedom new schools shouldn’t have. Freedom to select. The whole concept of our reforms falls apart if you use it to expand selection – because instead of children and parents choosing schools, you get schools choosing children. So we have made it absolutely clear: we will allow people to set up new schools but we will not allow them to pick and choose the brightest. No to more selection.
But shouldn't parents be free to choose to send their children to a school that is free to choose which students get in?

There's a good article on this subject over at Critical Reaction, by Graham Stewart:

It is surely questionable that while some schools are free – and encouraged - to introduce ‘banding’ as a means of social engineering, other schools are not to be accorded the same freedom to admit through academic ability (however measured). Tony Crosland argued that the grammar schools needed to be destroyed because otherwise they would continue to cream off the brightest pupils thereby preventing comprehensive schools from being truly comprehensive in scope. Bizarrely, this argument appears to have been resurrected by the Coalition in pursuit of the goal of the ‘truly socially comprehensive’ school. If widely adopted, the consequence will be less, not more, choice in secondary education.

Thus we find ourselves in a situation where schools are told they are free to run themselves but denied genuine freedom over who they admit (hardly a small matter if we are to bandy around words like ‘free’). We also find ourselves in the perverse situation in which faith schools are permitted to have admission policies that discriminate in favour of the children of parents attending the church, synagogue or mosque of a designated religion but are not allowed to favour children with an impressive mastery of mathematics. Why theology, but not geometry?

There is so much to commend in what Michael Gove is doing to improve the quality of education generally. He is this government’s greatest asset. Yet, the tragedy remains that only those who can afford the fees of private schools can benefit from academic selection. Is this, to use the buzz word of the moment, ‘fair’?

My glimmer of initial hope has completely faded. If the Lib Dems are determined to hold this line, then there can be no progress. The sooner the Coalition falls apart, the better.

Beer distributors: pot is bad

Jeffrey Miron writes,
Many government interventions are, despite their official justifications, really an attempt to use government to suppress competition. This story provides a perfect illustration:
Beer distributors in California have united to fight against the Proposition 19, which would legalize pot.

“Unless the beer distributors in California have suddenly developed a philosophical opposition to the use of intoxicating substances, the motivation behind this contribution is clear,” Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in statement. “Plain and simple, the alcohol industry is trying to kill the competition. Their mission is to drive people to drink.”

Inflation-linked debt

According to The Telegraph,
Net borrowing came in at £15.3bn, a highest for the month of August since records began in 1993, the Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday. Analysts had forecast a Public Sector Net Borrowing (PSNB) of £12.51bn.
The government's preferred measure on which fiscal forecasts are based, PSNB excluding bank rescues, came in above forecasts at £15.9bn.

The ONS said the deterioration in the public finances was mainly due to higher interest payments on gilts, as a result of the rise in the retail price index.

Interest payments were £3.8bn in August compared with £1.3bn a year ago.

This was offset by a 6.3pc rise in tax receipts were 6.3pc higher than a year early. A £1bn rise in receipts from the 50pc bank bonus to £3.5bn for month has been applied to April borrowing, so is not included in August figures.
This suggests that a large proportion of government debt is indeed inflation-linked, so the Coalition won't be able to inflate their way out of this mess. On balance, that is good news.

Time to get on with the cuts!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Trust HMRC with your PAYE?

The folks at CentreRight are waking up to the lunatic proposals from HMRC that Thaddeus J. Wilson blogged about a couple of weeks ago.

Just as taxpayers finally lose confidence in the ability of the Revenue to calculate PAYE correctly, HMRC offers to take the matter out of our hands and present us with a fait accompli. The power grab implicit in the latest HMRC proposals – currently under consultation - to receive all salaries direct from employers, process all deductions and then hand to us what remains, should worry anyone who values freedom.

On Wednesday HMRC Chief Executive Dame Lesley Strathey told the Treasury Select Committee that the Revenue was backing down on its threat to charge taxpayers interest on repayments of tax underpaid through Revenue error. But there is no sign yet that “Centralised Deductions” will be strangled at birth.

The most obvious problem is that HMRC, with their demonstrated organisational and IT incompetence, can't be trusted to pay people the correct amount, on time. More insidiously, this move would further entrench the idea that the government is entitled to our pay, and that we should make do on our allowance.

Here's the comment I left at CentreRight:

Income tax is inherently invasive. It's bad enough that the taxmen get to pry into our lives, but all of the machinery in place to allow HMRC to monitor our accounts and our mail could easily be turned to more sinister purposes.

A much better solution would be to abolish income tax.

Income tax imposes compliance costs, avoidance costs, and dead-weight costs. Millions are spent on tax inspectors and HMRC IT infrastructure. Millions more are wasted by taxpayers who devote their time and energy to filling in forms, or to avoiding taxes, rather than focusing on productive work.

Worse still are the dead-weight costs

This is the cost of all the beneficial transactions that don't take place because taxes make the difference between an attractive exchange and one that isn't worth the bother. Suppose I have a job that I'm willing to pay someone £1000 to do. There may be a number of people willing to do that job for £1000, but none who are willing to do it for the after-tax amount (£600, say). When the exchange doesn't happen, both parties suffer.

Our taxes should be

  • minimally invasive
  • cheap to enforce
  • easy to comply with
  • difficult to avoid
  • minimally distortive
  • prominent (nobody should forget they're paying tax)
  • and of course, low! (people will generally do a better job of spending their money than the government will)
For more on the deadweight costs of taxation, I recommend this article by Jamie Whyte.

For more on the dangers of invasive taxation, see here.

Clegg: It’s not smaller government I believe in

It must be party conference season, because it's getting hard to keep up with all of the lunacy.

Here's the latest from Cleggy,
People who avoid and evade paying their taxes will no longer get away with it either. We all read the headlines about benefit fraud. We all agree it’s wrong when people help themselves to benefits they shouldn’t get. But when the richest people in the country dodge their tax bills that is just as bad. Both come down to stealing money from your neighbours
So the message is loud and clear: Just as the public sector must be made affordable, the banks must be held to account. And tax avoiders and evaders must have nowhere to hide.
Oh dear. First, tax evaders are breaking the law, whereas tax avoiders are not, so it's more than a little scary when Clegg suggests that tax avoiders must have nowhere to hide. Second, it's sickening to hear Clegg suggest that it is somehow immoral to want to hold your own money back from Leviathan. By avoiding tax you're not "stealing money from your neighbours", you're stopping them from stealing from you (or rather, stopping the government from stealing it on their behalf, and wasting large portions of it along the way).

After all, says Clegg, "It’s not smaller government I believe in ... Labour rattled on about decentralisation, but they held the purse strings tight. We are different; we are liberal"
I want to make something crystal clear about the coming Spending Review. It is not an ideological attack on the size of the state. There is one reason and one reason only for these cuts: As Liam Byrne said in that infamous letter: there isn’t any money left.
Not much wiggle room there. It's exactly the opposite of what Mark Littlewood has been saying.

There are two possibilities here, neither of them good:
  1. Clegg is lying to the Lib Dem activists at his party conference
  2. Clegg really does believe that the state shouldn't get any smaller
It will be very interesting to see how the rhetoric compares at the Conservative conference. Remember these posters?

India: no more aid, thanks

In July, I reported on an India Times story that suggested the UK would finally be cutting back aid to India.

Now, the Indian Express reports,
The External Affairs Ministry has instructed the Finance Ministry to inform London that India will not accept further aid from next April.

Last week, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told the ministry that “internal discussions” within UK’s Department for International Development — which accounts for over 80% of all bilateral aid to India — were “to limit the aid further and channelise it to specific projects of their choice in certain states instead of routing it through the Central government”.

“Rather than wait for such a situation to develop... it would be better if our decision not to avail any further DFID assistance with effect from 1st April 2011 could be conveyed to the British side in an appropriate manner at the earliest,” she wrote to Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla.

Ahead of Cameron’s visit, India had considered rejecting DFID offer in view of the “negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID”.
Hat tip, BOM and AidWatch.

I guess the DFID will now be able to donate more to Oxfam.

Mercenaries and the Libertarian State

I found myself wondering recently whether a libertarian country would allow its citizens to hire mercenaries to fight abroad.

Most libertarians believe in non-intervention, and many think that America (even Britain) should have stayed out of WWI (even WWII).

So if Britain had been a libertarian state in 1939, which decided to leave the continentals to their fate, or an isolationist America had likewise avoided conflict with Japan, and kept out of WII, should citizens of those countries have been free to fund mercenaries to fight against the Axis? Would this be morally different from hiring a hit-man or violent mob at home?

A quick search turned up a good article by Brian Micklethwait for the Libertarian Alliance, written shortly after the Falklands War. It opens with a quote from the back of The Whores of War (by Wilfred Burchett and Derek Roebuck, Pelican Special, 1977), which expresses the conventional view of mercenaries ("'whores' and 'sordid' ... people for whom the label 'soldiers of fortune' is a 'romantic misnomer'"). Micklethwait questions this view,
Part of the argument about whether the mercenary method of fighting a battle is good or wicked concerns the goodness or wickedness of the battle. But much also depends on how the warriors in it were recruited. Are they volunteers? Or were they press-ganged?

Recent events in the South Atlantic confirm how much better at fighting volunteer professionals are compared to conscripts, but that is beside the point I’m making here, which concerns the morals of the thing. Does the anonymous Pelican blurbsmith think that for the Argentine regime to coerce baffled teenagers into uniform was morally superior to enticing them into uniform with decent wages and generous widows benefits?
Though it doesn't address all of my questions, it's an interesting article, and well worth reading.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Local taxes and local borrowing

Here's Nick Clegg, according to The Telegraph:

We are different; we are liberal. Because we will put local government back in charge of the money it raises and spends.

That's why in our first budget we unlocked more than a billion pounds of ring-fenced grants. That's why we will end central capping of Council Tax. That's why we will allow councils to keep some of the extra business rates and council tax they raise when they enable new developments to go ahead.

And I can announce today that we will be giving local authorities the freedom to borrow against those extra business rates to help pay for additional new developments.

Localism, good. Increased taxes, bad. Government borrowing, bad.

As far as I can tell, Clegg isn't proposing to cut off central funding for spendthrift councils, he's just giving them a licence to extort more money from local taxpayers.

Westminster shouldn't be devolving any more power to councils unless they also give taxpayers a fresh chance to choose their local representatives. I'd go further, and suggest that

  • central government should only be responsible for matters that can't be handled locally, such as national defence
  • all local spending should be funded through local taxation; the citizens of Scotland shouldn't be able to vote for free prescriptions and free education, paid for by the English
  • no government, local or national, should have the option of running up debt; taxpayers should be forced to live with the consequences of their electoral choices, rather than passing the burden to future generations
  • a referendum should be required whenever taxes are to be increased; governments should have to work within a budget chosen by taxpayers
There was a good article in The Independent last week by Dominic Lawson, who found that Rich and poor agree on cutting taxes:
In February 2001 Bristol City Council held a public ballot to settle just such an argument: it asked its electors to choose between lower council taxes or "better" services – stressing that a vote not to increase council tax would result in big cuts, especially in its educational budget. It offered its electors the chance to vote for a 6 per cent increase in council tax to help maintain the education budget, a 4 per cent increase, a 2 per cent increase, or, finally, to freeze the council tax. Many more voted for the freezing of tax than the combined numbers of those who ticked any of the other boxes.
It's worth bearing in mind that this was not a solid Tory heartland area that might have been expected to put low taxes before public services: at the time of the referendum Bristol City was a Labour-controlled council.

Some might argue that these results simply meant that the affluent middle-classes had turned out to vote en masse, while the poorer sections within the councils' electorates had been less well organised. Yet this turns out to be not the case. David Maddison, project officer at the Local Government Association, told the BBC that "research in towns and cities holding the votes suggested the more wealthy wards had opted for the higher tax rises, with deprived wards choosing the smallest rises."

What could be the reason for this apparently paradoxical discovery? One might be that even those on the lowest council bands believed they were being taxed far too much. Another possibility – and perhaps it is more than a possibility – is that it is precisely those most dependent on public services that know the full extent of their inefficiencies and unresponsiveness and are therefore most sceptical of the claim that such organisations would deliver better results if they had even more money – and more employees – to conjure with.

I support the idea of localism, but I think it's essential that it empowers local taxpayers, rather than local politicians. Accordingly, I wouldn't object to a centrally-imposed requirement for all councils to hold yearly referendums on their budget, with options of "no change", "ten percent reduction", and "ten percent increase".

It still leaves room for the tyranny of the majority, but I hope and expect that most people would vote to keep more of their money to spend according to their own priorities. It would be an interesting experiment, anyway.

Sutcliffe: Irate Muslims collude in the pastor's scheme

It wasn't easy, but I finally found someone in the mainstream media who spoke some sense on the Koran burning story. Here's Tom Sutcliffe, writing for The Independent:
Thanks to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr it's become axiomatic that the freedom of speech doesn't extend to the right to falsely shout "Fire" in a crowded theatre. Common sense, really... and consistent with that famous jurist's pragmatic approach to constitutional rights.
I found myself wondering about Holmes's remark in the light of the weekend's cliffhanger – and in particular the fact that his phrase presumes that the occupants of the theatre have no responsibility to protect themselves from a fatal panic. After all there are a number of ways you can react to a shout of "Fire" in the theatre. You can check for yourself whether it seems to be true before you bolt for the door. And even if you decide to err on the side of caution, you can get up and make your way in an orderly fashion to an exit. But if you decide, immediately, to knock your neighbour to the ground and trample over his face to get to the fire-door you could surely be regarded as having contributed to the catastrophe rather than simply having been a victim of it. Within reasonable limits we have a civic duty not to lose our heads when idiots decide to shout "Fire".
Indeed. And what of the Koran burning?
Korans were burnt and defaced in the United States (despite Pastor Jones's change of mind) because there is no shortage of morons in the world and because an almost universal consensus that something should not be done is a near perfect way of guaranteeing that it will be. But the major news networks decided not to dignify these individual acts of desecration with any coverage and, so far at least, ordinary Muslims appear to have treated them as negligible acts of folly. And they're not just right to do so for strategic reasons, I would suggest. They have a moral obligation to do that as well – and to treat excessive and violent reaction by their own zealots as part of the problem, rather than a legitimate expression of wounded piety.
Quite right. Wounded piety is no excuse for violence.

Sutcliffe concludes,
the only power that Pastor Jones possessed lay in the predictable volatility of indignant Muslims. If those rioting crowds in Afghanistan really don't like Korans being burned they would almost certainly be better off ignoring the odd occasion when one is. And their more moderate co-religionists might acknowledge that this was a collaboration in folly – not a solo act.
It seems that's as close as anyone in the MSM is going to get to saying that the problem wasn't so much in the provocation, as the reaction. The fact is that Muslims who react to insults with violence are far more culpable than those who seek to provoke them.

As Anna Racoon put it,
Until we can burn a Qu’ran with the same casual insouciance as we burn a flag or burn the bible, we will not be truly comfortable with Muslims among us. These actions should bring opprobrium, strong words and discussion.

Not deaths.

Oxfam - an unashamedly fake charity

Also on BBC Breakfast this morning was a representative from Oxfam, who openly acknowledged that a significant portion of their funding comes not from voluntary donations, but from the UN and the government — that is, money confiscated from taxpayers.

Predictably, this revelation passed without comment.

Oxfam's accounts are available online.

2009-10 shows £112.7 million (out of a total of £318.0 million) coming from "government and other public authorities".

For the 11 months to 31 March 2010, Oxfam claim to have received £125.6 million in "Voluntary Income". Bizarrely, £7.3 million of this comes from "UK government: Department for International Development – Partnership Programme Agreement"

The £112.7 million for the same period from "government, institutional donors and other public authorities" breaks down as follows:

11 Months
to 31 March
2010 (£m)
UK Government
...DFID Resources for specific programmes – CHASE2.9
...DFID Resources for specific programmes – Desks and Regions7.4
...DFID Government and Transparency Fund1.2
European Union42.5
Other UN agencies12.7
Members of Oxfam International21.6
Non-UK governments16.0
Other international agencies5.2
Big Lottery Fund0.2
Other UK agencies2.5

£42.5m from the European Union?! I don't suppose we can expect any Eurosceptic views from Oxfam, then. And sure enough, we find Oxfam lobbying for pan-European taxation:

As the rain poured down in Brussels, campaigners arrived outside the European Council building to press home the message that Europe can and must agree to a Robin Hood Tax. Braving the weather, activists staged a stunt to the European media, as greedy bankers wrestling with the poor and the planet over a giant euro bank note.

Inside the building, European finance ministers were meeting to discuss options for taxing the financial sector and protecting taxpayers from future financial crises. The meeting was requested by the French and German governments, and ministers were hoping to reach consensus on bank levies and financial transaction taxes in Europe.

This is the big problem with fake charities. The BBC will often trot out reports from the likes of Oxfam as if they are independent bodies, representing the will of the people. In fact, their independence is compromised by massive donations from government. These fake charities are never going to call for a reduction in state spending; they will support Big Government to the bitter end.

UPDATE: The story later appeared on
Overall, the charity saw total revenues rise to £318m ($496m).

The strong results came mainly thanks to a £27m jump in grants from governments and agencies like the UN.

About half of the charity's fundraising income comes from governments, Oxfam's head, Barbara Stocking, told BBC Breakfast television.
Interesting that there's no specific mention of the EU, despite them being far and away the largest government donor ...

Is mortgage benefit justified?

This morning's Coalition Cuts story on the BBC was the planned reduction in mortgage support payments. Apparently there is a risk that some people won't be able to meet the shortfall, and will have to foreclose.

Though unfortunate for the people involved, this has to be good news for the housing market. More foreclosures should mean falling prices, and the market is currently ridiculously overpriced.

In any case, nobody should be forced to subsidise someone else's mortgage. It's especially galling for people like me, who are still renting, and unable to afford to buy. I'd prefer to keep my money, and put it towards my own mortgage, thank you very much.

Tellingly, the segment also featured a representative from a mortgage lenders association, who seemed quite concerned that the government might stop padding out their profits with taxpayers' money.

I'll post an update if the story shows up on

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The lethal idiocy of the Eurocratic mind

Melanie Phillips writes:
The West Somerset coroner Michael Rose observed that these cases hoisted ‘clear warning signs’ over the disastrous impact of the European Working Time Directive on the running of hospitals.

This directive, implemented for all junior doctors a year ago, forbids them from working more than a 48-hour week — even though this has caused chaos in doctors’ rotas and cut short vital medical training.

The directive ostensibly aims to secure a better work/life balance for a range of employees. But its rigidity has all but wrecked basic standards of hospital medical care.

In particular, it has stopped junior doctors from being routinely attached to a particular consultant or team. Instead, they go from one team to another, providing medical cover.

The result is that the all-important requirement of continuity of care has been destroyed, since these doctors are parachuted in to treat patients of whose histories they are ignorant. Patients’ needs now matter less than the doctors’ legal requirement to clock off.

Such lethal idiocy illustrates the working of the bureaucratic mind at its most blindingly rigid and obtuse.

What may work well for, say, long-distance lorry drivers proves a disaster when applied to a profession which needs to deliver continuity of care, as well as sufficient experience to train doctors to the necessary standard.
No doubt there are measures that hospitals could and should take to mitigate the impact of these directives, such as hiring more doctors, but such changes take time.

An obviously more sensible approach is to let individuals choose their own life/work balance. They are the only ones with first hand experience of their life, and their work.

Labour laws such as the Working Time Directive always do more harm than good. They are especially odious when imposed not by Westminster, but by Brussels.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Koran burning is rude, but it's no excuse for violence

If you see a vicious-looking dog in the street, it's probably not a good idea to poke it with a stick. You'd be a jerk, and a fool.

If you see a vicious-looking man in a pub, it's probably not a good idea to insult his favourite football team. You'd be a jerk, and a fool. But unlike the dog, the man is culpable for his actions. If he reacts violently, it is he who should be condemned.

Nobody has a right not to be offended. And being offended does not confer a licence to behave as you please.

According to the BBC
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Afghanistan over plans, now on hold, by a small Florida church to burn copies of the Koran.
President Hamid Karzai said the burning plan insulted Islam while Indonesia's leader said it threatened world peace.
Many of Friday's protests in Afghanistan were held after worshippers emerged from mosques, following Eid prayers marking the end of Ramadan.

Some demonstrators burned a US flag and chanted "Death to Christians".

Burn flags if you like (provided they are your own). Burn bibles, copies of the US Constitution, The God Delusion, and The Satanic Verses (provided they are your own). But "Death to Chrisitians" and "Behead those who insult Islam"? World leaders should dismiss Terry Jones as impolite, but their scorn should be directed at those who would take insults as an excuse for violence.

Guns, germs, and aardvarks

At an airport I bought a copy of Jared Diamond's classic Guns, Germs, and Steel.

It aims to provide a "non-racist" answer to an interesting question: "why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents"? Why was it Pizarro who captured and subdued Atahuallpa, rather than a Peruvian explorer enslaving the King of Spain? Diamond notes the proximate causes — horses, ships, steel weapons, gunpowder, and smallpox — but he searches for ultimate causes. How did Europeans come to have all of the advantages that allowed them to conquer most of the world? Diamond reasons that it was ultimately a question of geography (presence of domesticable species, orientation of continental axes, etc).

All very plausible and interesting. The prose is uninspiring, and often repetitive, but the ideas seemed worth exploring, and I figured I'd learn something along the way.

In Chapter 7, though, I hit this:
The seeds of many wild plant species actually must pass through an animal's gut before they can germinate. For instance, one African melon species is so well adapted at being eaten by a hyena-like animal called the aardvark that most melons of that species grow on the latrine sites of aardvarks.
Aardvark? Hyena-like? I'm not a zoologist, but that didn't sound right to me.

GGS is a Pulitzer Prize winning book, written in 1997. My paperback edition contains an Afterword written in 2003. They've had plenty of time to identify and correct any glaring errors.

Still, it seems certain that Diamond really meant Aardwolf.

Perhaps the aardvark error was introduced by a 'helpful' editor. However it happened, it doesn't inspire confidence. I'll persevere, but will take what I read with a few extra grains of salt.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Cobden Centre Radio

Exciting news from Andy Duncan over at The Cobden Centre:
Everybody’s doing it — even educated fleas are doing it — so we thought we better produce our own multi-media content and produce our own radio show under the glorious and highly imaginative brand name of ‘Cobden Centre Radio’. Our Chief Executive Officer, Tim Evans, graciously allowed me to maul him with a combination of Skype, Audio Hijack Pro, and Garageband, as combined together on a MacBook, for our first ever Cobden Centre Radio Show.
The interview is well worth listening to. Dr Evans explained that he is "not comfortable with the phraseology of Left or Right" and that the Cobden Centre's message of honest money and limited government should appeal to thinking people across the political spectrum:
If you go back a few years to the anti-capitalist movement ... I think many of them ... talked about being against capitalism, but if you actually talked to lots of those people, they too smelt something wrong ... they smelt 'Big Business' ... in bed with the political class.
This point is crucial: our current economic system is not capitalism, it is corporatism. The anger of the Lefties is misdirected.

I've subscribed to the podcast; hopefully there will be much more like this to come.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Littlewood: Hack away – and smile while doing it, minister

More excellent work from Mark Littlewood:
Hayek argues for strict limits on state activity and intervention. But he offers a very different take on the nature of the individual from that often — if wrongly — associated with free-market capitalism. Hayek sees individuals as intrinsically social beings. His vision of a free society is not one where men and women are trampling over one another in pursuit of narrow, venal self-interest, each using their own freedom of action to exploit others. Hayek believed each individual would benefit as much from the exercise of others’ freedom as their own.

This optimistic view of human nature should be what guides the British government as it grapples with the shocking state of the nation’s public finances and attempts to provide some coherence to its big society agenda. Too often the message appears to be that the upcoming cuts and austerity measures are a practical but unpleasant necessity to prevent the economy falling off the edge of a cliff.

There is undoubtedly a lot of truth in this assertion, but it is hardly an inspiring, grand narrative about the future of our nation. We shouldn’t just be seeking to reduce government expenditure and intervention because we have to, but rather because we want to.

The extension of public sector tentacles into almost every part of our lives is not just wasteful, but has the effect of crowding out more innovative initiatives carried out by individuals, the voluntary sector and community groups. The more the government is providing to your neighbours, friends, work colleagues and relatives, the less obligation you feel to act yourself. We need to rediscover in ourselves a confidence as citizens that we can find the solutions to problems on our own doorsteps.
I recommend the whole article.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Kinsella on Utilitarianism

In a comment over at The Cobden Centre, Stephan Kinsella wrote:
utilitarianism is methodologically flawed (value is ordinal not cardinal and not interpersonally comparable) and morally bankrupt (it's immoral to steal from A to give to B even if A is richer, even if the money taken "means less" to A than it does to B)
It is a wonderfully succinct condemnation.

Do we need 5p and 10p coins?

The Telegraph reports that
Britain's 5p and 10p coins are to be substantially changed next year, causing potential chaos for the millions of people using vending machines and parking meters.
The change, proposed by the former Labour government, is designed to save the Royal Mint between £7 million and £8 million a year, allowing it to use steel rather than copper, which has surged in price over recent years. Making the cupronickel alloy is also a relatively expensive process.
Here's a better idea: stop producing coins smaller than 20p.

On 15 February 1971, the 5p coin replaced the shilling, and the 10p coin replaced the florin. They were worth the equivalent, in today's money, of 55p and £1.10 respectively. A 1971 penny was worth slightly more than today's 10p.

At the time, the smallest coin was the decimal half penny. Worth just over 5p in today's money, it remained in circulation until 1984. The BBC reported at the time that
Britain's least-loved currency, the halfpenny coin, is leaving the nation's purses after 13 years of almost universal unpopularity
Anthony Beaumont-Dark, Conservative MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, whose question in the Commons prompted the Chancellor to sound the coin's death knell, was happy to see it go.

"Most people don't even bother to pick them up when they drop them," he said. "They are glad to be rid of them."
It's time for a new purge of our debased coinage. The 1p, 2p, and 5p coins should definitely go, as they are worth less than a 1971 halfpenny. I'd be happy to see the back of the 10p as well, and I'm sure shopkeepers would agree.

Oxford's 20 limits, one year on

I've written previously about Oxford's ridiculous speed limits.

I hadn't realised that they've been with us for a year now ... and there's a good reason for that: predictably, everyone is ignoring them.

DRIVERS are still ignoring Oxford’s controversial 20mph speed limits 12 months after they were introduced, an Oxford Mail speed check has shown.

The survey, conducted in Morrell Avenue in East Oxford yesterday, discovered 128 out of 157 vehicles – 81 per cent – were exceeding the limit as the scheme celebrates its first anniversary today.

Those breaking the limit included three black cabs, two private hire taxis and an Oxford City Council City Works pick-up truck.
Three cyclists were detected exceeding 20mph, but they cannot be punished as bikes do not have speedometers.
Of course, there are some people who have to obey the limits:
Colin Prickett, a driving instructor for the AA in Headington, said: “This has to be the most widely ignored speed limit I have ever seen.

“The bullying of my learners has increased, the tailgating has increased, and we’re being overtaken in a more hazardous manner than I’ve ever seen before.”

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Tebbit on immigration

Lord Tebbit writes:
In the last full year of NuLab’s programme to destroy what the leading Left-wing Labour MP Jon Cruddas called “English conservative common culture”, immigration accelerated as 567,000 foreigners were admitted. That brought up the total since 1997 to more than three million. Those are the official figures. There can be little doubt that the total is greater than that.

In the year to June more than 360,000 foreign students were admitted here to study, an increase of 35 per cent over the previous twelve months. As we all know, many of those are simply job-seekers pretending to be students. If one adds to that the fact that a quarter of births in England and Wales are now to mothers born overseas (and in the London Borough of Brent the figure is over 75 per cent) then it is clear that irrespective of whether such a massive change in the population of Britain is a good or bad thing, it is a real thing which affects the British people who were not asked for their consent to it.