Friday, 30 July 2010

A referendum on electoral reform

Daniel Hannan has returned to one of his favourite subjects of recent months, but it's a point that bears repeating:

The only party which went into the last election offering a referendum on AV was Labour – which now says it will vote against the legislation. In other words, all three main parties are now proposing to do the opposite of what they pledged only three months ago.

To remind you, the Conservative manifesto declared: “We support the first-past-the-post system… because it gives voters the chance to kick out a government they are fed up with.” The Liberal Democrat manifesto proposed Single Transferable Vote, with Nick Clegg, for the avoidance of doubt, attacking AV during during the campaign as “a miserable little compromise”. (Incidentally, both parties also promised a far sharper reduction in the number of MPs than their Bill now offers). As for Labour, its manifesto unequivocally stated: “We will hold a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons.”

What would make sense instead? Although their current position is the height of hypocrisy, would it really be better if the parties stuck rigidly to their manifesto commitments? If we're going to have a referendum, why not throw it right open?

Here's what Tim Carpenter has to say:
If there is any sincerity at all in the move to have a referendum on our voting system, then we need to get away from the false dichotomy of First Past The Post vs Alternative Vote (FPTP vs AV).

The whole point of having the referendum is to let the public decide what system they feel they want to have, not to have this narrow choice between two compromises that might suit the incumbents.

The options are wider than just these two. The implications are broader, too.

We have STV, STV+, AV and potentially other variations.

Do you want Communism or Socialism? Neither? Not allowed. Sound familiar? What is the point of going through all the process of education, explanation and voting if we are only limited to the two systems?
As well as suggesting the referendum should be broader, he raises a very interesting point:
now the genie of voting system reform is uncorked, the idea you should shackle it into just two flavours is rather odd.

Still, even then, we have a problem, for the voting referendum will, itself, be FPTP. When you have a straight two horse race between incumbent and replacement, it is going to be a simple FPTP event and that is logical.

When one introduces multiple alternatives, then the vote becomes more complex.

It raises the question of what mechanism do you use to determine the preferred and even least worst alternative?

We, in truth, need to decide what system we use to determine the outcome of the referendum itself.
Indeed! So what is the logical way forward? What would politicians do if they genuinely wanted to give the people a choice?
if the AV system wins, is it viable to accept the premise that what is being voted on is, in fact, "change"? "change" is a dangerous concept. We need to get away from blind "change". That got us New Labour and Obama.

So, to mitigate the danger of this blind "change", to lance the boil, why not have a secondary part of the vote using AV to determine what might be the final alternative? Why not do this on the same day?

As AV is to be the winner for "change", according to the assertion above, then could we not make the referendum into "Keep or Change, and if Change wins, Change to what?", with alternatives laid out with an AV mechanism to decide them.

People voting against change can then still vote on what poison they will have to swallow. People who want to vote for change away from FPTP will not have to accept the false dichotomy that gives them AV.

Maybe there are flaws in this plan, but the current trajectory risks another "change" and not necessarily what people actually want.
This makes perfect sense to me. It will never happen.

UPDATE: I've just posted a comment on Carpenter's LPUK blog post:
The problem here is that there may be people for whom FPTP is their second choice, so the two-step "Change/No Change" followed by "What sort of change?" is actually biased against FPTP.

It might be fairer to just go straight to an AV referendum including all of the choices. It would be more complicated, though.

It's depressing that what we're striving for is tyranny of the majority, as an improvement on tyranny of a politically elite minority. It might even give worse results, though I hope not.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Beyond Left and Right

On Sunday I blogged about Daniel Hannan's article on the abuse of the term "Right wing".

Today, Gerald Warner weighed in:

The debate between Damian Thompson and Daniel Hannan over whether the BNP should be designated a Left- or Right-wing party has raised some interesting points; but it has not addressed the more important issue – that we must abandon this increasingly misleading terminology, based on the seating arrangements in the French National Assembly of 1789, as its irrational straitjacketing has reduced political discourse to fatuity. I have already advanced that argument here, last September.

In 1789, in the Assembly, the increasingly alarmed partisans of the ancien régime sat on the right-hand side (Côté Droit) of the president, the revolutionaries on his left-hand side (Côté Gauche). This terminology was first made familiar to the English-speaking world by Thomas Carlyle, in Volume I of “The French Revolution”: “Rudiments of Methods disclose themselves; rudiments of Parties. There is a Right Side (Cote Droit), a Left Side (Cote Gauche); sitting on M. le President’s right hand, or on his left: the Cote Droit conservative; the Cote Gauche destructive.”

That recognition of the character of so-called progressive forces as “destructive” was a valuable insight; the reviving of the memory of the Left/Right alignment, however, was less beneficial. Yet this terminology did not gain popular currency until as late as 1897, when the psychologist William James disseminated the phrase “left wing”. By the 1930s it was all-pervasive. Today it has infantilised politics (and the BBC) to the extent that mutinous Russian armoured columns advancing on Moscow to restore Marxism-Leninism were described as “Right-wing”.

For Warner, the key distinction is traditionalists and reformers:
The correct terminology for those who futilely seek to improve the world through some innovatory creed such as socialism is “radical”, “liberal” or, preferably, “progressive”, since that places some onus on them to explain to what destination they imagine they are progressing. In the more extreme cases they may be described as “revolutionary”.

Their opponents should not hesitate to reclaim the currently pejorative term “reactionary”. It describes a coherent process: an examination of a failed innovation leading to a determination to return to the status quo ante; it is what a scientist does in the laboratory when an experiment fails.
I'd love to know exactly which century Mr Warner would have us return to. Sane people recognise that not all "innovatory creeds" are bad. Indeed there has been steady moral progress in Western Europe to accompany our scientific and technological progress. As our knowledge has grown, old fears and prejudices have crumbled. As we have become wealthier, charity and compassion have become easier. The problem is that in recent decades we have stopped becoming freer; indeed, on this most important point, we have actually regressed.

Here's what I wrote in the comments section of Warner's Telegraph article:
Mr Warner, you are right that the Left-Right terminology has infantalised politics, and that we must move away from it. You're also right that the "progressive" vs "reactionary" distinction is an important one. But not everything about the past is worth preserving. The most important distinction is between libertarians and authoritarians.

As Disraeli said,

"I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few."


Although it immediately struck me as plausible, I was intrigued by Warner's suggestion that "mutinous Russian armoured columns advancing on Moscow to restore Marxism-Leninism were described as “Right-wing”". Could this really be true?

A bit of digging turned up a BBC retrospective from 15 August, 2001: Three days that shook the world:
It was a summer's day in 1991 when the Soviet Union's diehard communists decided they could take no more of perestroika.
In a moment of drama which sealed his place as a hero of the people, Yeltsin climbed onto one of the "friendly" tanks and appealed for resistance and a nationwide strike.

"We are dealing with a right-wing, reactionary, anti-constitutional coup," he said.
It seems likely that Yeltsin was being deliberately misleading, but it's interesting that the BBC article makes no attempt to correct or explain the obvious inconsistency.

A New York Times article from April 23, 2007, commemorating Yeltsin's death, was even worse:
The Yeltsin era effectively began in August, 1991, when Mr. Yeltsin clambered atop a tank to rally Muscovites to put down a right-wing coup against Mr. Gorbachev, a heroic moment etched in the minds of the Russian people and television viewers all over the world.
There you have it! They weren't just right-wingers according to Boris Yeltsin, they were right-wingers according to the New York Times! On the second page (of ten!) the article provides the "right-wing" claim from the horse's mouth, but their narrative reaffirms the veracity of Yeltsin's categorisation:

Mr. Yeltsin became etched in the minds of the Russian people and, indeed, became a world figure, with one act of extraordinary bravery on the day in August 1991 when he clambered atop a Red Army tank and faced down the right-wing forces who were threatening to overthrow Mr. Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader.

Long a thorn in Mr. Gorbachev’s side and soon to become his most powerful rival, Mr. Yeltsin on that day was Mr. Gorbachev’s most powerful and effective ally.

“Citizens of Russia,” he declared. “We are dealing with a right-wing, reactionary, anti-constitutional coup d’etat. We appeal to citizens of Russia to give an appropriate rebuff to the putschists.”

On the fifth page of the article, the author helpfully reminds us what sort of coup it was:
It was two months later, in August 1991, that Mr. Yeltsin strode from his office in the Russian republic’s headquarters, an office building known as the White House, to thwart the right-wing coup, an act of heroism that saved Mr. Gorbachev from overthrow but also sealed the Soviet Union’s doom.
Convinced yet? Nasty right-wingers!

It's only fair to mention that a contemporaneous article from The Guardian gave a more truthful account of the coup:
He came to prominence in the west during an attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev by hardline communist sympathisers in August 1991, responding by rallying his supporters with a dramatic speech delivered from the top of a tank.
PBS had coverage shortly after the event, with this perspective from Dr. Henry Kissinger:
I fear very much that if the right wing coup prevails ... we will then be back to a cold war type situation
And if you can't trust Kissinger, who can you trust?

WTO rules that EU must cut duties on US gadgets

The Register reports,

The World Trade Organisation has ruled that EU import duties on certain gadgets imported from the US, Japan and Taiwan are illegal.

An agreement reached in 1996 removed import tariffs on 72 different products in order to boost trade in technology goods.

But the European Union later moved some of these items into a taxable bracket because it now regards them as consumer items rather than high-technology devices.

This decision led to import duties of between six and 14 per cent being levied on set-top boxes, multi-function printers and flatscreen displays, according to Reuters The decision was secretly distributed last week but quickly found its way to news services.

An official from a complaining country - either US, Japan or Taiwan - told the newswire the panel accepted most of their arguments.
Set aside the question of how you distinguish between "consumer items" and "high-technology devices". Set aside concerns about the expense involved in negotiating these treaties, funding the WTO, and fighting complaints lodged with them. Ignore the compliance costs for retailers and manufacturers, and the enforcement costs for tax inspectors. Ask yourself: do we really want Eurocrats driving up the price of gadgets from the US, Japan, and Taiwan?

We're better off out, where we can pursue free trade, unilaterally if necessary.

Death of BBC not imminent

The Register reports:
"What we've said very clearly is that we accept the principle of the licence fee, the idea of a household tax to fund broadcasting that is ring-fenced," culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC television yesterday. "We think that one of the reasons we have some of the best TV and broadcasting in the world in this country is because we have these different streams of income including the licence, including subscription income and including advertising."
I'm the first to admit that the BBC produces some of the best TV in the world. Unfortunately, they also squander billions of pounds on crap programmes, and they display consistent political bias.

I expect that if the BBC were split and sold, people would voluntarily pay for the good bits, but if the British people don't value "the best TV and broadcasting in the world" enough to choose to pay for it, the government shouldn't be forcing it on them.

Corrigan: Cui bono? A dissent upon Mr Grantham

People who take AGW seriously have always been quick to point out the vested interests of industrialists, oil companies, and car makers, but they seem blind to the vested interests on the side of the Greens.

Over at The Cobden Centre Sean Corrigan tackles this head on:
Far from finding it difficult to identify who gains from the promotion of what Vaclav Klaus has rightly categorised as the greatest threat to freedom since the fall of Communism, the real problem is to separate out the beneficiaries of this most pernicious of ideologies since it serves so many disparate interests all at once.

Big business can enjoy it – as it does all regulatory blankets – as a means of disadvantaging smaller, would-be competitors. Boardroom egoists can bask in the vainglory of the eco-plaudits they can win from both kings and credulous crowds, while disregarding their primary duty to maximise shareholder returns the honest way, rather than through the public purse.

Union leaders relish it, because it allows them to dress their selfish restrictionism up in the colours of compassion. “No!” they cry, “You mustn’t move the factory to China – they pollute too much! Here at home, we may be relatively expensive, but at least we’re clean. Pay us more for the sake of your children!”

Messianic political leaders – each lustful of his precious “legacy” – the many neo-Jacobin fanatics, and the kind of frustrated dirigistes who secretly bemoan the fall of the Berlin Wall can all exploit Green scaremongering to order their twisted Dystopias, to impose whole new rafts of taxes upon their electors, and to interfere ever more closely with individual liberties as they do.

National Security Strangeloves have a certain coincidence of interests here, too, for not only can they hope that the adoption of the Cult will inhibit the economic ascent of any potential rivals to their own Hegelian deity, but they can easily substitute the militarists’ hallowed concept of “autarky” whenever they encounter the nauseating buzzword, “sustainability.”

Then there are whole faculty buildings packed with hack scientists whose uninspired work promises to deliver neither fundamental insight nor commercial usefulness, but who can enhance the importance of their pronouncements – and better harvest public funding – by uncritically endorsing the new atmospheric atavism and by tampering with their unscrutinised ‘data’ in order to give their intellectual prostitution a veneer of objectivity.

Next up we have the unwashed hordes of woad-painted New Age warriors – dole-devouring, didgeridoo-droning addle-heads – all convinced that if they throw a few brickbats outside a WTO meeting they will soon usher in the kind of faux-Celtic fantasy world best restricted to the escapist realms of the RPG addict.

In contrast, we have an entire concours d’elegance of those fad-ridden fortysomethings who are the latest designer-labelled devotees of the Earth Goddess, their Kensington mews coffee tables groaning under the forest-felling weight of the pretty picture books issued as holy writ by Gaia’s own High Priest of the Britons, the Attenborough.

Finally, we have the same hoi polloi-hating coterie of Michelin-munching, silk-suited Platonic elitists – of the kind so mercilessly exposed in John Carey’s seminal work, The Intellectuals and the Masses.

These sanctimonious, self-appointed meddlers can usually be found advocating higher taxes for budget holidaymakers while hypocritically flying first class from one five-star NGO summit to another. These are the Davos Dominicans – mendicants who nonetheless manage to live high on the hog as they seek to impose their narrow and stifling orthodoxy on all us poor, toiling peasants, while wielding Bell, Book, and Biofuel in the attempt to exorcise us of that most diabolical of fiends, the dreadful demon, Carbon.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Top Gear

I hope the BBC dies, but I hope Top Gear survives.

Tonight's episode was a classic. Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Ayrton Senna, and the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, which hit 167 mph.


A £250k new identity for Jon Venables?

The Telegraph reports:

Venables could be out of prison in a year despite admitting downloading and distributing violent pornographic images of children as young as two — the same age as James when he was murdered in 1993.

Venables’s current alias is now so widely known that the Ministry of Justice accepts that it is “inevitable” he will have to be given a second new identity at public expense.

The cost of providing him with a new birth certificate, national insurance number and other identity documents is put at £250,000, with close supervision from probation officers on his release costing another £1 million per year.
Even for our hopelessly inefficient justice system, these figures seem implausible, but whatever the costs, it is sick that there is such determination to see this killer roaming free. He has no right to a second chance, much less a third. He should die in jail.

Hannan: There's nothing Right-wing about the BNP – except in the BBC sense of 'baddie'

A good article today from Daniel Hannan:

That fascism developed from socialism in the 1920s is a statement of observed historical fact. Read Hayek’s chapter on “The Socialist Roots of Nazism” in The Road to Serfdom, or skim some of the quotations here. The hatred between fascists and traditional socialists over the decades has been all the fiercer for being a hatred between brothers.

In what sense, then, is the BNP Right-wing? Some argue that it is Right-wing to discriminate on the basis of race and nationality rather than class and income, but this would surely make Stalin, Gerry Adams, Pol Pot and Robert Mugabe very Right-wing indeed. A true Rightist believes that, other things being equal, the individual should be as free as possible from state coercion: a position equally abhorrent to socialists of the National or Leninist varieties.

No, there is only one sense in which the BNP is Right-wing, and that is the BBC sense. Our state broadcaster uses the epithet “Right-wing” to mean “disagreeable”. It thus applies the term equally to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Vladimir Putin, Timothy McVeigh, Eugene Terre’blanche, Orthodox Jews, the Taleban, the Pope, the Orange Order and David Cameron.

Hannan is absolutely correct that Lefties abuse the term 'Right wing', but rather than defending the Right wing, we should abandon the Left-Right terminology altogether. Hannan seems to pretend that a 'true' or 'proper' Right winger believes that "the individual should be as free as possible from state coercion" and that "the state has no business telling us people to dress", but moralisers on the Right have always been keen to involve themselves in people's private affairs. They are not content to eschew sex, drugs, and rock & roll; they are determined to prevent other people from enjoying these vices.

Hannan's idealised Right winger is actually a libertarian: one who believes the state has no right to interfere with voluntary relationships between individuals, whether economic or social. Recent generations have rightly rejected the religiously-rooted authoritarianism of the traditional Right, while blindly accepting the collectivist authoritarianism of the Left. The time has come to reject all forms of authoritarianism.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Perspectives on Lansley's NHS reforms

Daniel Hannan writes:

Andy Burnham, the Labour leadership contender, says that “Daniel Hannan could easily have written” the Coalition’s health policy.

Er, no, Andy. Why don’t you take a look at the health policy that I in fact have written? It comes in a book called The Plan, and it’s based on Singapore-style transferrable healthcare accounts. On every metric, Singaporeans are healthier than we are. They live longer, their waiting times are lower, their chances of recovery from the moment of diagnosis are better. But here’s the thing: Singapore spends less than half of what we do, as a percentage of GDP, on healthcare. If we spent the same amount as now, but gave people the freedom of choice that Singaporeans have, it seems not unreasonable to suppose that our results would improve commensurately.

Incidentally, in Singapore, as in every developed country, the state pays for those who cannot afford their own healthcare. This point is worth stressing, Andy, since you often give the impression that free treatment for the poor is a unique property of the NHS. In fact, low-income Singaporeans do better than low-income Britons, partly because their government is concentrating on them instead of trying to run a monopolistic service for everybody, and partly because they benefit, like everyone else, from the upward pressure on standards caused by competition among providers.

Earlier today, I read two other interesting articles on NHS reform. James Bartholomew considered the Swiss model:
Switzerland has arguably the most successful system of healthcare in the Western world. It is an insurance system with a twist. You are obliged to take out health insurance but you can choose which company to use. There is no state monopoly. So you can choose an insurance group which is connected to your line of work. Or you could go with a trade union-run insurance cooperative. Or a private, commercial company. That means there is some competition among these companies to provide the best possible service for the lowest possible price. Then these companies, in turn, have some choice over which doctors and hospitals they commission to work for them. So again, the doctors and hospitals have to compete to offer the best facilities and treatment at the lowest possible cost. The pressure is on and the performance is one of the best in the world. Poorer people get credits which enable them, too, to choose insurance.

The Swiss health service is decidedly superior to that in Britain, too. It has more doctors per capita, more advanced scanners, better cancer outcomes and so on and on.
There was also an excellent article over at Conservative Home:
No one in healthcare should have their professionalism and integrity undermined by one-size-fits-all politically-decreed pay scales. Nor should remuneration be imposed and held back at regional levels. To properly value doctors, nurses and other health workers, remuneration must be set at proper commercial levels and this will only happen in a more open, dynamic and responsive market.

Employment contracts should be a matter for each independent employer and their staff – not the government or any of its ‘appointees’. Indeed, it is in this context that trade unions should proactively push for, and embrace, this new world of welcome opportunity. Gone will be the tedious days of top-down state direction, beer and sandwiches at number ten, and endless, counter-productive, national strikes.

The National Union of Journalists

The BBC reports:

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is set to ballot its members for strike action over the BBC's proposed pension changes.

Union representatives say the ballot will go ahead unless the BBC guarantees by 21 July that the value of pensions already earned will be protected.

Meanwhile, on Magrathea, I hear there's a risk of a national philosophers' strike ...

I hope the NUJ go through with their threat; the sooner State Television collapses, the better. I also hope that people are willing to pay for the subset of BBC programmes that are truly brilliant; I doubt many would voluntarily pay for a continuation of the current Eco-Communist PC propaganda.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

An end to fake charity?

The BBC reports:

Charities have warned cuts in local authority funding in England may threaten services they provide.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) says some councils see them as a soft target for saving money and need to understand the impact these cuts have on vulnerable people.

The government has said cuts are unavoidable but other provisions are being made to help charities.

One in three pounds of charity money comes from government.

The voluntary sector magazine, Third Sector, estimates almost £13bn comes to charities from state sources.

Real charity involves individuals freely giving money to causes they believe in. State charity is immoral and wasteful. It is immoral because it involves confiscated wealth, spent on causes that taxpayers may not believe in, or may actually be opposed to (such as Christians forced to subsidise abortion clinics). It is wasteful because it involves spending other people's money on third parties, which means there are no incentives to get value for money.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Whyte: Economic vandals

A superb article from Jamie Whyte over at The Cobden Centre:

Shortly after taking power, our new coalition government decided to withdraw the previous government’s pre-election promise of a £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters, a steelmaking company. On Newsnight, David Miliband called the decision “economic vandalism”. Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the CMB union, told The Times the same thing.

They have got things exactly the wrong way around. Making the loan would have been economic vandalism. To see why, consider my current predicament.

I have an idea for a business that I believe would provide its customers with a valuable service and employ five or six people. Alas, I need about £1 million to set it up, which I do not have. I plan to approach potential investors. If they choose not to invest, will they have committed economic vandalism? Obviously not. They have not damaged my property, nor done me any other wrong.

Suppose now that, frustrated by what I take to be their short-sighted refusal to fund my business, I get my computer wizard friend, Big Jim, to hack into their bank accounts and transfer £1 million to mine. Big Jim and I are surely the economic vandals here. Without consent, we have plundered other people’s property.

We have probably harmed society too. Those investors believed there were better uses for their money than investing in my business. My confiscation of their money benefits society only if I am right and the investors are wrong – only, that is, if there really is no more valuable alternative use of their money than investing in my business. But I am almost certainly wrong about this because, unlike the investors, I do not know what their alternatives are.

I thoroughly recommend the whole article.

Whyte concludes:
The new government defends itself from the accusation of vandalism on the ground that they have cancelled only 12 of 200 such bungs. They are as confused as their critics. They have committed 188 acts of economic vandalism.

Ending aid to India

The Register reports:
Indian defence chiefs have approved $11bn of funds to boost the country's submarine fleet. The cash is intended to see India become the first non-Western nation to deploy long-touted, much feared "air independent propulsion" (AIP) submarine technology.
Meanwhile, the India Times reports:
Under pressure to reduce its foreign assistance, Prime Minister David Cameron may scale down the 250 million-pound British aid given to India annually, saying wealthy local people could do more to help their poor countrymen.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has signalled that the "250 million pounds of public money spent annually on nuclear-armed India could be scaled back."

Last month, Britain, shocked by reports of massive embezzlement in India in the use of millions of pounds granted as aid for 'sarva-shiksha abhiyan', promised "zero tolerance to corruption" and launched an "immediate inquiry".
Cutting foreign aid to countries like India was the most important suggestion by voters to Chancellor George Osborne, who launched a Treasury's Spending Challenge website to ask people for ideas on where the funding cuts axe should fall.

As hundreds of suggestions poured in, the most popular was for international development funding to bear some of the brunt of the pain.

Jo Johnson, a Conservative MP and brother of London Mayor Boris Johnson, wrote in The Financial Times: "India can now fund its own development needs, considerable though they are in a country with 450 million poor. It has a defence budget of USD 31.5 billion, plans for a prestige- boosting moon-shot and a substantial foreign aid programme of its own".

He added: "India is not China; but as a claimant to a permanent Security Council seat and a place at the top table of world affairs, it is also no longer a natural aid recipient".
It is daft that we're currently borrowing to give, and international aid would be fraught with problems even if we had no deficit and no debt. But at least the Coalition is finally looking to refocus aid on countries that struggle to provide for themselves. It is a testament to the profligacy and corruption of New Labour that aid to India was not cut off years ago.

The Rural Broadband Partnership and Final Third First

Those who believe that broadband internet is a human right got a boost this morning, with a segment on BBC Breakfast dedicated to the the poor souls in Felindre, 20 minutes from Swansea, who are stuck on dial up.

They interviewed a representative from the Country Land & Business Association, who explained how rural businesses are "at a disadvantage" compared to their urban counterparts. Well, maybe, but I suspect this is reflected in land prices, and nobody forced them to live there.

The CLA website is revealing:

The village of Lyddington in Rutland raised the money to bring superfast broadband to themselves, and other villages are following. But the next Government must develop a strategy to bring it to the whole country, because not all communities will be able to DIY broadband. Read The Daily Telegraph's coverage of the issues.

Help yourself to broadband - the CLA supports the Rural Broadband Partnership, which helps communities and business build propositions from the ground up - putting local need first, not last. Find proven resources here to get broadband to your door.

Join our national coalition of groups and individuals, Final Third First, to make sure that fibre optic goes to every home in the UK. The CLA's broadband campaign to bring fast access to the internet to all rural users is a key priority.

There we have it. Rural communities can help themselves if they want to, like those in Lyddington; but how much cheaper and easier it is to compel others to subsidise your lifestyle! It's especially good if, as a business, you can get your urban competitors to subsidise you! Here's a snippet from Final Third First:
At present, these commercial players cannot find a business case for connecting the Final Third, with the most common arguments being that where fibre needs to be laid in rural areas, where the number of potential connections are less than in urban areas, the economics do not stack up for this to be profitable for the telcos.
What mugs the people of Lyddington will feel if the government steps in to help other villages. If only they'd waited for a handout, rather than showing initiative and self-reliance! Final Third First recognise that it is uneconomical for providers to bring broadband to certain rural areas, but maintain that "every home and business must have equal or similar connection available to every other".

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Hannan on Austrian economics and a return to reality

Daniel Hannan is going from strength to strength. On Monday he offered a review of How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes, by the Brothers Schiff:
As economics drifted away from common understanding, it drifted away from common sense. All sorts of ideas seemed utterly implausible, but were backed up by impressive graphs and long words. Non-initiates became nervous about questioning the sacerdotal figures who guarded the discipline.

You don’t think governments can spend their way out of recessions? You’re revealing your ignorance! You doubt the wisdom of deliberately manipulating interest rates to favour debt and punish thrift? Go and study some more! You fret that governments can make money worthless because they have taken away its intrinsic value? Go back to the Middle Ages!

As a general rule, if experts cannot explain an idea simply, we should be suspicious. The Schiffs explain their model very simply indeed, which is what makes it so convincing. If you feel that you want to get a decent grasp of free market economics, but you don’t have the time to tackle the complete works of Mises and Rothbard, this book is the perfect place to start. And if you find the Schiff thesis compelling, have a look at the Cobden Centre, which is working to apply Austrian economics to British political conditions.
Today Hannan writes:
It may not be in the coalition government’s gift to prevent a double-dip recession. Indeed, the attempt could well do more harm than good.

Let’s remind ourselves of what caused this crisis. Interest rates were held too low for too long. Credit was made artificially cheap. Borrowers were rewarded and savers penalised. Debt, public and private, reached unsustainable levels.

The sub-prime crisis was – or, rather, ought to have been – a market correction. Such corrections are never pleasant. People who had borrowed on the back of what they thought would be constantly rising property prices found themselves unable to meet their debts. Banks which had made bad loans were vulnerable. So were banks which had bought other banks’ debts. And so, indeed, were unrelated industries which had been kept buoyant by the false sense of prosperity of those who believed their houses were magical piggy-banks.

A return to reality is, in these circumstances, the least bad option. A recession forces a more sober reallocation of capital. It allows a recovery to begin on solid foundations. Yes, hangovers are nasty; but they cannot be indefinitely deferred by remaining sozzled.
If you haven't already seen it, now's a good point to watch the Hayek vs Keynes rap, Fear the Boom and the Bust:

Following Keynes, Gordon Brown
determinedly sought to reinflate the bubble, to prop up house prices, and to keep people spending capital they didn’t have. As the latest ONS figures show, government expenditure is the only thing keeping Britain technically out of the recession.

But governments don’t have any money of their own. Everything they spend, they have to raise in tax – or, as in present circumstances, in a form of postponed tax called borrowing.
Here I'd recommend Bastiat, who saw the folly in such tax and spend policies as far back as 1850, when he wrote his masterpiece That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen:
When James B. gives a hundred pence to a Government officer, for a really useful service, it is exactly the same as when he gives a hundred sous to a shoemaker for a pair of shoes.

But when James B. gives a hundred sous to a Government officer, and receives nothing for them unless it be annoyances, he might as well give them to a thief. It is nonsense to say that the Government officer will spend these hundred sous to the great profit of national labour; the thief would do the same; and so would James B., if he had not been stopped on the road by the extra-legal parasite, nor by the lawful sponger.
Hannan concludes:
Now comes the reckoning. It will be horrid for everyone – not just, as some commentators seem to think, those working in the public sector. Almost all of us will suffer from higher taxes, devalued savings and lower real wages. But facing these things honestly and immediately is the best course for a coalition that aims to govern for four years. Running away was always a cowardly option; now, it has ceased to be an option at all.
I recommend the whole article.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Halligan on unfunded public sector pensions

Via The Cobden Centre, I discovered this latest piece from Liam Halligan:

Last week saw the publication of a compelling report by the Institute of Directors and the Institute of Economic Affairs – laying out a series of measures that would help rein in the potentially disastrous costs of a pension scheme that caters for only a fifth of the UK workforce.

The word "scheme" flatters what actually goes on.

Incredibly, the vast majority of UK public sector pensions aren't funded by contributions that have been invested and, over many years, benefited from returns and compound interest. If only.

So chaotic is the our system that most state workers receive occupational pensions paid for directly from current taxation.

That's why our public sector pension system is so vulnerable to changing demography, with the number of retirees growing and the tax base shrinking as the baby-boomers quit work. It is, in the words of the IOD/IEA report, an "unstable Ponzi scheme".

This I knew, but it seems the situation is even worse than I imagined:

Unsurprisingly, the IOD/IEA document sparked knee-jerk condemnation from some of the union leaders who profess to represent Britain's public sector workers. Ministers, apparently, "won't know what has hit them" if they dare to modify schemes designed 50 years ago and barely changed since even though life expectancy has risen by almost two decades.

As the report shows, many state workers who retire at 60 years of age – as the vast majority still do – will draw a final salary pension, paid out of current taxation, for longer than they actually worked. Any trade unionist who doesn't accept that this is financially insane is either innumerate or incredibly selfish.

Halligan tackles the common refrain that public sector pensions are "compensation for lower public sector wages":
As the IOD/IEA report says, "this cannot now be argued with any degree of credibility". That's because state sector wages are, on average, considerably higher these days than those in the private sector – especially outside London and the South East of England. On top of that, public sector employees work fewer hours, get more holiday and have much more job security than the rest of us. And far, far better pensions on top of that.
How much does it all cost?

The Government says total outstanding public sector pensions liabilities are equivalent to 53pc of national income. The IEA/IOD puts the true cost at 74pc of GDP. Towers Watson, a highly-respected group of actuaries, calculates total liabilities as no less than 83pc of national income – more than our national debt.

Remember, this liability must all be met out of current taxation and pays for the pensions of just a fifth of the workforce. And having attempted to hide the bill, Whitehall is increasingly trying to fund public sector pensions via council tax – paid by all retirees, of course, many of whom are struggling on denuded private sector pensions.

Our public sector pension system is imposing a massive burden on former and existing private sector workers – to say nothing of our children and grandchildren. And every additional worker the state employs increases that burden even more.
This is yet another reason that we need to drastically slash the public sector payroll.

I wholeheartedly recommend the full article.

It's not bigotry, it's theology

Reverend Paul Perkin appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning, reporting on the debate at the General Synod over women bishops. He explained that those who oppose women bishops do so not out of bigotry, but on the basis of theology.

From my perspective, the Church of England should be free to specify whatever hiring and promotion criteria it likes ... and so should any other organisation. The Church should not need to apply the spurious defence that discrimination is acceptable only when supported by "holy books". It is a delicious contradiction that our PC society feels compelled to respect the prejudices of tribesmen who died centuries ago.

Religious beliefs deserve no special treatment. Let us clear away all of the exemptions, and if any of our laws look unreasonable, that's probably because they are.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Telegraph: Private schools forced to offer more free places

The Telegraph reports:
Private schools have been forced to provide more free places for children from poor homes for the first time amid fears they could face state intervention.

In an unprecedented move, two independent schools have become the first in England and Wales to increase the amount of money set aside for bursaries under pressure from the official charities regulator.
This sort of meddling is inexcusable, but it would seem that the private schools have been snared by tax breaks, for which bureaucrats must assess the schools' "public benefit".
Under Labour's 2006 Charities Act, fee-paying schools are no longer automatically entitled to charitable status.

They must prove they provide "public benefit" to remain in business and retain tax breaks worth around £100m a year.

The commission has warned that it could intervene at schools struggling to meet the requirement to find "ways to fund free or subsidised access".
Personally, I don't see anything wrong with schools making a profit, but it seems bizarre that these schools were ever considered charities. The real problem is that charitable organisations are given special status under the tax code. They should be taxed at the same rate as other corporations; the rate should be zero for all.

Food and alcohol companies to fund government health propaganda

The Guardian reports:
Beer companies, confectionary firms and crisp-makers will be asked to fund the government's advertising campaign to persuade people to switch to a healthier lifestyle and, in return, will not face new legislation outlawing excessively fatty, sugary and salty food, the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, announced today.
It would seem that the nasty nudging has begun.

The excuse for this intervention comes later in the article:
Lansley said Change4Life would also be expanded, to cover alcohol misuse which costs the NHS £17bn a year – the same as obesity, which now affects one in four Britons.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Cuts are easy; just roll back the clock

Back in May, I wrote:
Simply scaling back to the 'austerity' of 2002 would save hundreds of billions of pounds, and even accounting for increases in welfare costs, it would be enough to take us from deficit to surplus, allowing us to finally begin repaying the debt.
Today I read a couple of blog posts driving home this point. The first was from Daniel Hannan:
Suppose we set ourselves the modest goal of returning expenditure to the level it was at prior to the 2005 general election. The overspend would be eliminated at a stroke. Yet, as I remember it, the country was getting by comfortably enough in 2005. Indeed, plenty of us were arguing, even back then, that the government payroll was too large. Would a return to the spending levels of five years ago really plunge the country into Dickensian poverty? Does anyone apart from Polly Toynbee and the BBC truly think so?
Hannan reproduced a graph from Burning Our Money:

The BOM article is also well worth reading:
As we can see, over the next 5 years George intends to squeeze total public spending by 4%, or about £25bn pa.

Hardly a disaster, and to put it another way, that will take spending all the way back to the level last seen in... wow... 2008-09.

And compared to when Labour came to power in 1997, real spending will still be over 50% higher. Most of Labour's insane spending splurge will remain in place.

Yes, OK, we know that some departments will be squeezed more than others. But without working through all the numbers in detail, I'd be amazed if any department was going to end up with less in real terms than they had when Labour came to power. And as has been pointed out, the world seemed to be working perfectly fine in 1997.

You might want to keep these figures handy for the next BBC axe horror story.
Of course, even if our national finances weren't in such a terrible state, it would still make sense to impose public sector cuts much deeper than Osborne is proposing. Another recent article from Daniel Hannan considered the ideal size of the state:
The Rahn Curve is to state spending what the Laffer Curve is to taxation. Drawing on a mass of published data and economic models, it suggests that the ideal size of the state is between 15 and 25 per cent of GDP. Less than this and property rights start to look insecure; more and competitiveness suffers.
The state currently accounts for a shocking 50% of GDP, but to get it down to 25%, all we'd have to do is roll spending back to 1980 levels. I'd say we should go further.

Monday, 5 July 2010


Via ConservativeHome:

Of course the EU has delivered free trade within its borders - it is a customs union after all - but anyone who thinks the EU genuinely promotes global free trade should look at the TARIC database. TARIC (Integrated Tariff of the European Communities) includes not just tariffs, but also tariff suspensions, tariff quotas and tariff preferences. You might enjoy searching the database for wheat for example. Do click through and survey the subdivisions of each tariff, noting provision for variations according to country of origin or destination.

Richard Cobden might well wonder why he bothered with the Anti-Corn Law League.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

18 incompetent teachers sacked in 40 years

BBC News reports:

Only 18 UK teachers have been struck off for incompetence in the past 40 years, the BBC's Panorama has learned.

This is despite estimates that up to 17,000 teachers are not up to the job.

Some bad teachers are moved between schools, rather than having their competency challenged, it has emerged.

My wife is a teacher, and for the last three years she has been picking up the slack for a truly incompetent colleague, who will finally be leaving this year on early retirement, after gaming the system as far as possible. If she hadn't made such a fuss, he'd probably still be there. A free market would not tolerate such parasitism.

Even now, most good teachers in the public sector don't realise that unions are part of the problem. School vouchers must be the answer. At the moment, anyone wishing to go private must pay twice: once in taxes, and again in fees. This means that most middle income parents are stuck with the local comprehensive. Allow these parents to take their children out of the state system, and it will sink or swim, to the benefit of all. The New Zealand experience, as related by Maurice McTigue, shows how state schools raise their game when faced with this situation:

New Zealand had an education system that was failing as well. It was failing about 30 percent of its children—especially those in lower socio-economic areas. We had put more and more money into education for 20 years, and achieved worse and worse results.

It cost us twice as much to get a poorer result than we did 20 years previously with much less money. So we decided to rethink what we were doing here as well. The first thing we did was to identify where the dollars were going that we were pouring into education. We hired international consultants (because we didn’t trust our own departments to do it), and they reported that for every dollar we were spending on education, 70 cents was being swallowed up by administration. Once we heard this, we immediately eliminated all of the Boards of Education in the country. Every single school came under the control of a board of trustees elected by the parents of the children at that school, and by nobody else. We gave schools a block of money based on the number of students that went to them, with no strings attached. At the same time, we told the parents that they had an absolute right to choose where their children would go to school. It is absolutely obnoxious to me that anybody would tell parents that they must send their children to a bad school. We converted 4,500 schools to this new system all on the same day.

But we went even further: We made it possible for privately owned schools to be funded in exactly the same way as publicly owned schools, giving parents the ability to spend their education dollars wherever they chose. Again, everybody predicted that there would be a major exodus of students from the public to the private schools, because the private schools showed an academic advantage of 14 to 15 percent. It didn’t happen, however, because the differential between schools disappeared in about 18-24 months. Why? Because all of a sudden teachers realized that if they lost their students, they would lose their funding; and if they lost their funding, they would lose their jobs. Eighty-five percent of our students went to public schools at the beginning of this process. That fell to only about 84 percent over the first year or so of our reforms. But three years later, 87 percent of the students were going to public schools. More importantly, we moved from being about 14 or 15 percent below our international peers to being about 14 or 15 percent above our international peers in terms of educational attainment.

Hat tip DK.

"Deprived" or poor

If you were looking for a neutral word to describe the less well-off members of our society, 'poor' would fit the bill.

In modern British Newspeak, however, the preferred term is 'deprived'. It has shocking connotations. It conveys not just a statement of fact, but a suggestion of culpability: if you are 'deprived' then you have been deprived.

The obvious follow-on questions, usually left floating about one's subconscious, are "of what?" and "by whom?".

Lefties presumably think that those who are 'deprived' have been deprived of their human right to a life of comfort by the exploitative rich (that word is okay, apparently; the intelligentsia did not feel any need to rebrand 'rich').

It is a perfect example of how our language has been hijacked.

Cash, food vouchers, or soup kitchens?

A good post yesterday from DK:
Shuggy is up in arms about Our New Coalition Overlords' proposal to pay benefits in the form of food vouchers.
The obvious solution to poverty, which is simply to give the poor more money, is unacceptable to our new 'progressive' coalition overlords. They understand that money gives people choices and in the case of the poor, this would never do because they would just make the 'wrong' choices.
Yeah, sure. And yet no.

The government has no money of its own: it only has what it takes from its people through tax.

As such, the government cannot simply "give the poor more money" without first taking it from other people; the people that they take it from then become poorer.
If there is a social contract, it is that those of us who work agree to be taxed to ensure that those who have no work are not lying about, starving in the streets. This is a cost of living in a society, and it also answers the demands of basic humanity.

But the money does not belong to the poor to do what they want with it, it is not provided to give them "choices": it is there for a specific purpose—to ensure that they can stay alive. If they want "choices" then they must go out and earn their own cash.

In other words, the government aren't proposing taking "choices" away from people because they are poor; they are proposing to do so because the money does not belong to those in receipt of it—it is not theirs to do as they will with.

Imagine if a friend of yours asked to borrow £50 off you because he was starving; it's £50 that you cannot really afford (and you're pretty sure that you won't get it back any time soon), but you give it to help him in extremis.

You'd be pretty annoyed if, a few hours later, you found him buying rounds for his mates in the pub, would you not?
Quite. But DK is not supportive of the voucher scheme: he reckons that cash is preferable, as long as it's at the subsistence level:
If, for instance, a family on benefits chooses to go without food so that they can afford the bus fare to send their child to the best school that they can, then that is a choice that I applaud. And, unless the bus driver takes food vouchers, then such instruments will, indeed, take away choice. It will even take away the choice of a dole claimant to travel to a job interview—and that is hardly desirable, is it?

Given that, I must also allow people the freedom to make choices that I would not condone too.

But, as a general rule, if the poor have enough money to have "choices" then we are giving them too much of other people's money; where is the morality in removing "choices" from a group of people who have earned them, so that you can give "choices" to another (who have not)?
This seems like a reasonable balance of principles and pragmatism, but soup kitchens and hostels have always seemed to me to be the best way to ensure people aren't left to starve.

There would be no need for intrusive means testing, as only the genuinely needy would avail themselves of such basic facilities.

Unlike food vouchers, the services provided by the hostels and soup kitchens could not be resold.

There would be no benefit trap, as work would always pay - even the laziest scrounger would have the incentive to work, if only for booze and cigarettes.

Ideally the soup kitchens and hostels would be funded by private charity, but even if funded by taxation, it would be a massive improvement on the status quo.

There would be the risk that by spending other people's money on third parties, value-for-money would suffer, but with such a basic mandate, there's not much scope for profligacy.

IVF on the NHS - Parenthood is not a right, Part II

Melanie Phillips recently wrote a good article on IVF:
Current NHS guidance says all infertile women aged between 23 and 39 should be offered three cycles of IVF.

NICE is proposing instead that infertile women could be granted or denied treatment based on their ovarian reserve - the number of eggs that remain in their ovaries. While this number generally diminishes with age, the rate at which it does so varies with each woman.
After considering some of the justifications given, Phillips concludes that
this proposal has precious little to do with either logic or fairness. It is all about NICE’s anxiety not to be sued under Harriet Harman’s oppressive Equality Act, which makes unlawful just about every kind of ‘discrimination’ that the human imagination could possibly dream up.

In other words, it’s yet another example of the way in which anti-discrimination dogma simply flies in the face of common sense, increasingly outlawing any difference in the way people are treated regardless of their very different circumstances.

It is driven by near-fanatical belief that it is everyone’s ‘human right’ to be entitled to exactly the same things as everyone else.
The Equality Act is a loathsome piece of legislation indeed, and I would love to see it repealed, but the great injustice in this story as far as I'm concerned is that anyone is getting IVF on the NHS.

Parenthood is not a right. If an infertile woman wants to use her own money to pursue IVF, that's one thing (though I share some of Phillips's concerns about the welfare of children born to older mothers and into fatherless households). But to say that I should be forced to surrender a portion of my income so that these women can have children is quite another. Unlike national defence, rubbish collection, education, and poverty relief, there is no conceivable case for declaring these pregnancies 'public goods'; this is theft, pure and simple.

In light of such gross abuses, the Coalition's commitment to ring-fence NHS spending is ridiculous.

Bartholomew on the budget

James Bartholomew seems pleased with welfare proposals in the 2010 budget, and provides an interesting insight into "the art of the possible":
The welfare reforms in the budget were bolder than I imagined they would be. Many people, myself included, would have thought implementing the sort of cuts proposed would incur so much opposition that no government would consider attempting them. We would have been wrong.

Our democratic process is a funny thing. The politically impossible is sometimes possible. And how has it been done in this case?
  1. Long preparation of public opinion over many years by many people, gradually bringing home to middle-of-the-road people that welfare is not working very well and has had all sorts of perverse consequences. This got to the point where all parties were committed to reforms, often unspecified, of welfare benefits.
  2. Barely mentioning the whole subject during the election.
  3. Consequently not having to make promises that would be broken such as "we will not cut housing benefit".
  4. Suddenly bringing in measures after the election that were never mentioned except in very general terms.
It's a shame we can't debate these issues out in the open, like grown-ups, but such is the state of modern Britain.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Miron: States can easily balance their budgets

Jeffrey Miron has written a short blog post for Forbes discussing the issue of US state budgets.
Politicians and interest groups claim, however, that spending cuts mean draconian reductions in public sector jobs and the loss of critical government services.

The reality is different. State and local spending has grown roughly 30% in real, per-capita terms over the past ten years, and $89 billion is less than 5% of the current level of expenditure. So these cuts will hardly be catastrophic.
The same applies here in the UK, both at a local and a national level, as I've noted previously:
The 25% cuts that Osborne has called for could come through a combination job losses, pay cuts, and efficiency savings. Anyone who thinks this will have a significant impact on public services should consider that 30% cuts (from £655bn down to £460bn) could be achieved simply by rolling spending back to 2002 levels. I remember 2002, and things weren't so bad.
Miron also highlights the role of unions in driving up public sector costs:
Many aspects of state and local spending, moreover, are excessive. Education and transportation spending are bloated by union wages rates, and compensation levels for government employees are much higher than necessary to attract a workforce of sufficient quantity and quality.
I have no doubt that the same applies here in the UK. Margaret Thatcher's greatest accomplishment was to break the stranglehold that unions once held on this country, but their grip is still far too strong. In addition to repealing all of Labour's laws, we should immediately repeal all labour laws; they are no longer necessary.

Gerald Warner on Nick Clegg’s “Your Freedom” initiative

Gerald Warner's latest blog is worth reading:
They are calling it the new Great Reform Act and that is a bad sign: hype usually masks mediocrity. Nick Clegg’s “Your Freedom” initiative, inviting people to nominate bad laws for abolition, is the latest bogus consultation exercise launched by the coalition to massage the ego of the public into imagining it actually has some say in the running of the country. It is predicted that the outdated law making liable to prosecution anyone who does not report a sighting of a grey squirrel in his garden is likely to be repealed. Well, we shall all sleep more soundly for that.
How about puncturing this inflated rhetoric by challenging Clegg to repeal the PC “hate” laws, with their grossly distorted sentencing system which has created two-tier justice? For example, how about repealing Section 82 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998? That first prescribed massively increased sentences for crimes “aggravated” by a racial motive.
All assaults, for example, are deplorable; but why should the motive affect the sentence? Motive is crucial in detecting criminals; it is important at trial in establishing guilt or innocence; but it should play no part in sentencing. Judging an individual’s motive, like it or not, is Thought Crime. The very term “hate crime” is Orwellian: what crimes are motivated by benevolence towards the victim? The “hate” concept simply makes special cases out of sections of society that enjoy the special esteem of legislators: it is itself statutory prejudice.

Also see this post on the LPUK blog.

AEP questions the Masters of the Universe

I occasionally read Telegraph articles by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, and I usually have to wince at his ridiculous Keynesian suggestions. Reading his latest article, I have to wonder if someone has tied him up and stolen his keyboard:
The current generation of economists have led the world into a catastrophic cul de sac. And if they think we are safely on the road to recovery, they still fail to understand what they did.

Central banks were the ultimate authors of the credit crisis since it is they who set the price of credit too low, throwing the whole incentive structure of the capitalist system out of kilter, and more or less forcing banks to chase yield and engage in destructive behaviour.

He continues:
There has been a cosy self-delusion that rising debt is largely benign because it is merely money that society owes to itself. This is a bad error of judgement, one that the intuitive man in the street can see through immediately.
AEP concludes:
As for the Fed, I venture to say that a common jury of 12 American men and women placed on the Federal Open Market Committee would have done a better job of setting monetary policy over the last 20 years than Doctors Bernanke and Greenspan.
Andy Duncan at The Cobden Centre has produced a good write-up.

Rent seeking by Sir Hugh Orde of the ACPO

Via DK, I discovered an article at the Adam Smith Institute by Madsen Pirie which nicely captures my thoughts on recent statements by Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers:
[Orde] responded to proposed budget cuts by warning that it will mean reduction in the number of front line police officers. He says, "It would be misleading in the extreme to suggest the size of this service is sustainable."

This is not true, of course. It is a text-book response to proposed budget restrictions in public services. Always the claim is that it will be the most popular aspect of the service which will have to be cut. In this case it is the number of police on the streets.

One famous case was when US customs faced a cut and immediately took out the staff who looked for drugs coming in at airports.

The purpose is to pressure the political leaders by exposing them to hostile public opinion, with a view to weakening their resolve on the proposed savings. Never is it backroom or bureaucratic jobs that are proposed for cuts, because that would not achieve the purpose.

It is called rent-seeking, and is designed to maximize the amount of public funds directed to their department or service. It is without merit, and government should respond accordingly.

As DK observes, there's another shocking element to this story: taxpayers subsidise Sir Hugh's gentleman's-club-cum-lobby-group "to the tune of £10 million per annum". The ACPO website does not divulge the amount, but it does acknowledge the Home Office connection:

The Association has the status of a private company limited by guarantee. As such, it conforms to the requirements of company law and its affairs are governed by a Board of Directors.

It is funded by a combination of a Home Office grant, contributions from each of the 44 Police Authorities, membership subscriptions and by the proceeds of its annual exhibition.

ACPO's members are police officers who hold the rank of Chief Constable, Deputy Chief Constable or Assistant Chief Constable, or their equivalents, in the forty four forces of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, national police agencies and certain other forces in the UK, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, and certain senior non-police staff. There are presently 349 members of ACPO.

HMP Britain sets out The Case Against ACPO. Daniel Hannan has more on Orde here.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Tebbit on Islam

Lord Tebbit writes:
The tragedy of Islam is that it is still stuck back where Christianity was when Galileo was under threat for saying that the Earth orbits the Sun. It has lacked a reformation. From being at the forefront of science, medicine, mathematics, art, and literature, the Islamic world has simply failed to innovate or discover for centuries.
I imagine Muslims face the same dilemma as many Christians: fundamentalism has a certain logical coherence (modulo internal contradictions in the holy books), but it is patently absurd and morally abhorrent. On the other hand, a moderate stance (cherry picking from the holy books) puts you on a slippery slope: if that bit wasn't meant to be interpreted literally (or wasn't meant to apply to me), how can I be sure that this bit was?

I suspect Tebbit is right that 'innovation' is required for a religion to adapt to modernity, but it's hard to reconcile this flexibility with the authoritative commandments of an omniscient and timeless god.

Prison for life

Yesterday I wrote about the virtues of solitary confinement:
Do we really want criminals mingling with other criminals, in whose company they will enjoy an alternative and debased normality? Far better to have them feel that they have been cut off from human society, and then conditionally welcomed back (there are some who should be cut off forever, either on account of the seriousness of their initial offence, or persistent reoffending).
Here's an example of the sort of criminals I think should never be released:
Three boys have been detained for kicking to death a Big Issue seller in a "chillingly casual" attack.

The body of Ralph Millward, 41, was found in bushes in Bournemouth last year. A supermarket trolley had been dumped on top of him....

Jimmy Ayres, 15, Craig Real, 17, and Warren Crago, 17, were convicted of manslaughter last month.
Now, I got into a fair bit of trouble as a teenager, but unprovoked violence against a stranger would never have occurred to me. Society needs to send a strong message against this kind of behaviour. These 'boys' were more than old enough to appreciate right from wrong.
Judge Guy Boney described the attack as a "mindless and chillingly casual" act of violence.

He added it was an utterly merciless killing and a wicked act.
Det Insp Jez Noyce, of Dorset Police, said: "The senseless acts of a small group of boys led to the death of Ralph Millward... boys who had no thoughts of the consequences of their actions.

"It would be a sad indictment of society should this mindset be allowed to flourish unchecked.

"This conviction and sentence should serve as a warning to those who feel they can go through life abdicating responsibility for their actions and not then face the consequences."
I agree. So what terrible sentence did these thugs face?
Ayres was detained for 90 weeks, Real for four years nine months and Crago must serve four years.
Sickening. If Transportation were still an option, it would be the ideal choice. These three should be cut off from British society for life. That would be a punishment fitting their crime, and it would send the right message to others who would consider the same sport.