Friday, 30 December 2011

Smell smoke, get lung cancer!

The best addition to my blogroll this year was surely Christopher Snowdon's Velvet Glove, Iron Fist.

In his latest post he exposes the shameful tactics of Professor Peters, chairman of ASH Australia, and the complacency of the Australian media in the face of some truly absurd claims:
Professor Peters told Mr Lavac, 65, and his wife to reduce their exposure. After living in their flat for 18 months in 2005-06, they moved. In March, 2008, Mr Lavac felt unwell. A CT scan detected a shadow at the top of his right lung, and a biopsy confirmed cancer...

Mr Lavac, who had never smoked, lost a third of his right lung. His surgeon and Professor Peters told him that, on the balance of probabilities, the lesion had been caused by passive smoking.

Yes folks. We live in a world in which professors of medicine tell people that they have developed lung disorders because they lived in a flat for 18 months above people who smoked. This is the state of hypochondria and intellectual retardation we have reached in the last days of 2011.
One day, when sanity is restored, we will look back on such stories and laugh. For now, other emotions dominate.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The denormalisation of tobacco continues

BBC News reports:

The government is reminding supermarket retailers in England to remove tobacco displays within the next 100 days.

The Department of Health said the ban, which will come into force on 6 April, would protect young people who were often the target of tobacco promotion.

Smaller shops do not have to change their displays until 2015.

They've been talking about this sort of thing for a long time, but it had somehow escaped my notice that it was actually going ahead. It seems this was a New Labour nanny state initiative that the Coalition predictably failed to kill:

From 6 April 2012, customers in England will still be able to buy cigarettes in the normal way, but the ban - which was announced in 2008 - will mean cigarettes will have to be kept under the counter.

The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: ''Ending tobacco displays in shops will protect young people from unsolicited promotions, helping them to resist the temptation to start smoking.

"It will also help and support adults who are trying to quit.''

I'd wager that very few 'young people' start smoking spontaneously in response to 'unsolicited promotions' in supermarkets or corner shops. Almost all of them will be offered a cigarette by a friend, and they will initially smoke whichever brands their friends smoke.

As for adults, it's not the government's business to tell them how to live.

In immediate practical terms, there aren't any benefits to this move, only inconvenience and expense for shopkeepers and customers. The real goal is to further denormalise smoking.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Thoughcrime in Britain

1984:

Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

2011:

England captain John Terry will face a criminal charge of using racist language towards footballer Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League game.

Mr Terry is alleged to have used racist language towards the 26-year-old Queens Park Rangers player during Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road on 23 October.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Mr Terry was accused of a racially aggravated public order offence.

What did he say that was so offensive, so disruptive to 'public order'?

The BBC won't say. You have to turn to The Guardian for the grown-up version:
Video footage circulated on the internet of an incident towards the end of QPR's 1-0 victory in which it has been suggested Terry calls the home defender a "fucking black cunt" as he retreats into his own half of the pitch.
Was the charge brought because the victim of Terry's terrible abuse saw no choice but to involve the police? It seems not:
The decision to charge Mr Terry was taken after police received a complaint from a member of the public.
Ah yes. No doubt a white middle-class Guardianista, offended on someone else's behalf.

Crackberrys for factory workers?

BBC News reports:

Volkswagen has agreed to stop its Blackberry servers sending emails to some of its employees when they are off-shift.

The carmaker confirmed it made the move earlier this year following complaints that staff's work and home lives were becoming blurred.

The restriction covers employees in Germany working under trade union negotiated contracts.

This move sounds like it might be sensible, and at least it wasn't imposed by the government, but I was surprised by the trade union connection.

Do VW factory workers receive emails, and Blackberrys to read them on?

Or are German office workers unionised?

I suppose a company the size of VW will have a large standing bureaucracy, and bureaucrats are naturally inclined towards unionisation, but it still surprised me.

Whatever the reason behind it, trade union involvement in any matter should be considered sinister. Behind any agreement with unions lies the threat of strike, implicit or explicit. And because it is illegal to sack striking workers, free contracts are distorted in favour of unionised labour.

The demise of the dollar

BBC News reports:

China and Japan have unveiled plans to promote direct exchange of their currencies in a bid to cut costs for companies and boost bilateral trade.

The deal will allow firms to convert the Chinese and Japanese currencies directly into each other.

Currently businesses in both countries need to buy US dollars before converting them into the desired currency, adding extra costs.

It's surprising that it's taken them this long.

The dollar-centric monetary order that has prevailed since WWII is collapsing, and good riddance.

The prosperity of billions of people will depend on what replaces it.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

What's half a trillion between friends?

Daniel Hannan writes:
I'm not sure people have grasped the magnitude of what has just happened. The European Central Bank firehosed €489,190,000,000 at the eurozone banking system. Five-hundred-and-twenty-three banks snatched greedily at the cheap cash.
...
the ECB is hoping that banks will buy government debt with it – as, indeed, they are more or less obliged to do under the Basel III rules. So eurozone governments are borrowing money to lend to private banks to lend to, er, eurozone governments.
It's a collosal sum, especially for an ostensibly conservative central bank.

Detlev Schlichter has more:

The pathetic state of the global financial system was again on display this week. Stocks around the world go up when a major central bank pumps money into the financial system. They go down when the flow of money slows and when the intoxicating influence of the latest money injection wears off. Can anybody really take this seriously?

On Tuesday, the prospect of another gigantic cash infusion from the ECB’s printing press into Europe’s banking sector, which is in large part terminally ill but institutionally protected from dying, was enough to trigger the established Pavlovian reflexes among portfolio managers and traders.

None of this has anything to do with capitalism properly understood.
Quite.

Thoughtcrime in France

I haven't been following the news very closely lately, but it sounds like the French have decided to outlaw some more Bad Thoughts. Daniel Hannan has said all I'd want to say on the matter:
I am not competent to pronounce definitively about 1915. Where I do feel competent is in condemning the French decision that, from now on, even to question one side of the argument is a criminal offence. In any free society, the right to say what you believe surely trumps the right not to be offended. This, though, is not even one of those ludicrous ‘hate crime’ issues. What is being proscribed here is intellectual enquiry.

Turkey is right to react as it has. French lawmakers would never dream of legislating to restrict a free discussion of, say, Stalin’s deportations, or the Belgian atrocities in the Congo – or, indeed, France’s own abuses in the Algerian war. Turks are being picked on because French politicians believe that there are votes in Turcophobia, just as Nicolas Sarkozy calculates that there are votes in Anglophobia.

Gabb: Free Yourself from the Lefty Ghetto

I just caught up with Sean Gabb's recent letter to The Guardian. It's worth reproducing in full:
Lefties, as a rule, only read other lefties. This seems to be the case with George Monbiot. His attack on libertarianism (This bastardised libertarianism makes 'freedom' an instrument of oppression, 19 December) is the usual mix of unwillingness and inability to understand anything outside the intellectual ghettoes of the left.

He claims to have asked: "Do you accept that some people's freedoms intrude upon other people's freedoms?" – as if that were some knock-down refutation never made before. Of course we do. Our difference with him isn't that we are against courts and the other modes of dispute resolution. What we deny is that social peace requires an enlarged and omnicompetent state run by his friends.

He claims we "pretend … that only the state intrudes on our liberties. [We] ignore … the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free." Not quite. We do believe that the state is the foremost violator of our right to life, liberty and property. But we also observe that banks are licensed and regulated creatures of the state, and that big business in general is only big because of state-granted privileges like limited liability, infrastructure subsidies, and tax and regulatory systems that cartellise costs and flatten competition from outside the magic circle. There is a difference between believing in free markets and supporting actually existing capitalism.

You could have published an attack on libertarianism that didn't border on misrepresentation. Or perhaps not. That would have meant exposing your readers to genuine libertarian positions. And that might, in a few cases, have opened the gates of their intellectual ghetto.

The UK's 950% debt-to-GDP

An interesting perspective from Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge (H/T Andy Duncan):
While certainly humorous, entertaining and very, very childish, the recent war of words between France and Britain has the potential to become the worst thing to ever happen to Europe. Actually, make that the world and modern civilization. Why? Because while we sympathize with England, and are stunned by the immature petulant response from France and its head banker Christian Noyer to the threat of an imminent S&P downgrade of its overblown AAA rating, the truth is that France is actually 100% correct in telling the world to shift its attention from France and to Britain. So why is this bad. Because as the chart below shows, if there is anything the global financial system needs, is for the rating agencies, bond vigilantes, and lastly, general public itself, to realize that the UK's consolidated debt (non-financial, financial, government and household) to GDP is... just under 1000%. That's right: the UK debt, when one adds to its more tenable sovereign debt tranche all the other debt carried on UK books (and thus making the transfer of private debt to the public balance sheet impossible), is nearly ten times greater than the country's GDP
The figure apparently comes from Morgan Stanley Research:

Our official public debt is understated, and I'm not sure what assumptions go into the figures above, but even the BBC's Robert Peston [1] recently declared that the UK's debts are the biggest in the world:
At the beginning of 2010, I highlighted a fascinating analysis by the consultants McKinsey called Debt and Deleveraging, which showed quite how indebted the economies of the developed west had become.

McKinsey said that the UK had by 2008 become the most indebted of all the big, rich economies, more indebted even than debt-engulfed Japan.

It has now become widely recognised that perhaps the greatest economic policy failure in the UK, US and eurozone during the 16 boom years before the crash of 2008 was the explosion of borrowing by banks, households, businesses and governments - or, to use the jargon, the unprecedented and massive leveraging up of entire economies
Peston highlights the findings of a more recent McKinsey report:
According to the consulting firm, by the end of March this year, the aggregate indebtedness of the UK - that's the sum of household debts, company debts, government debts and bank debts - had risen to 492% of GDP, or almost five times the value of everything we produce in a single year.

That compares with 481% at the end of 2008.

So the UK's total indebtedness has increased, and is still the biggest relative to GDP of any of the big economies. That said, Japanese indebtedness is pretty much the same size - at the end of 2010, as opposed to the end of March 2011, Mckinsey says Japan's debts were also 492% of GDP.
Whether you believe the McKinsey figures, or the Morgan Stanley ones, things are looking very bad for the UK.

Durden concludes:
To call that "game over" is an insult to game overs everywhere. So here's the bottom line: France should quietly and happily accept a downgrade, because the worst that could happen would be a few big French banks collapsing, and that's it. If, on the other hand, the UK becomes the center of attention (recall this is the same UK that allows unlimited rehypothecation of worthless assets, and the same UK that unleashed the juggernaut known as AIG-FP's Joe Cassano - after all there is a reason why the UK has 600% its GDP in financial liabilities - financial innovation always goes there where it is least regulated), then this island, which far more so than the US is the true center of the global banking ponzi scheme, will suddenly find itself at the mercy of the market. At that point the only question is whether the vigilantes will dare to take down the UK, as said take down will result in an implosion in the very fabric of modern finance, much more so than what even a full collapse of France could ever achieve, or if due to the certain Mutual Assured Destruction that would follow a coordinated UK onslaught, the market will simply very quietly proceed to ignore the elephant in the room.
Apocalyptic!

I couldn't say whether Durden is right about the UK's supreme position in the "global banking ponzi scheme" (it seems more likely that the Americans pull the strings), but the global monetary and banking system certainly is rotten, and our financial services sector is disproportionately large.

Our best bet is to embrace default. Our politicians may push us to hyperinflation instead.

Let us hope we see more sanity in 2012 than 2011.



[1] Peston sometimes highlights the right issues, but he's far too corrupted by Keynesian thinking. That same BBC article includes the following gem: "To be clear, if governments had not continued to spend, our recession might well have become something much worse, a 1930s-style depression."

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Friday's EU summit headlines

Some headlines from Friday ...

Le Monde: "La Grande-Bretagne plus insulaire que jamais"
Der Spiegel: Auf Wiedersehen, England!

CNN: "Eurozone leaders reach deal without Britain"

The New York Times: "Treaty to Save Euro Takes Shape, but Britain Sits Out"

And closer to home ...

The Times: "Britain alone in the new Europe"

The Independent: "UK isolated as PM blocks treaty"


The Guardian: "UK isolation grows as other reconsider treaty"
The Telegraph: "EU treaty: Britain on its own as Cameron vetoes fiscal changes"
And of course the trusty BBC: UK alone as EU agrees fiscal deal

The mainstream media would have you believe we're as ronery as Kim Jong-il. The truth is we're not nearly lonely enough.

I hope this is the beginning of the end of our involvement with the EU. Time will tell.

Friday's quote of the day goes to Terry Smith, CEO of City broking firm Tullets (as reported by Guido, and highlighted by James Delingpole):
The UK is as isolated as somebody who refused to join the Titanic just before it sailed

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Olympic overspend

BBC News reports

The 2012 Olympic Games could overshoot its £9.3bn budget unless "rigorous action" is taken to curb costs, the Whitehall spending watchdog has warned.

The National Audit Office said a doubling in estimated security costs meant there was a "real risk" more taxpayer funding would be needed.

You have to read further down to find the true horror:

How 2012 budget has changed

  • 2003: Consultants Arup put total cost of building and staging the Games at £1.796bn
  • 2003: Tessa Jowell launches bid in May telling MPs it will cost £2.375bn - including a 50% contingency
  • 2005: Bid succeeds in July with "prudent" estimate of preparing for games of £2.4bn
  • 2007: Total budget, including a £2.75bn contingency, reaches £9.325bn
  • 2010: In May the new government cuts the budget to £9.298bn and the contingency falls to £1.27bn
  • 2011: In December the NAO says after the government's "assessed risks" are met £36m is left in contingency money
David Craig dedicates a chapter to the London Olympics in his 2008 book, Squandered. He concludes:
Why hold the Olympics in London or anywhere else? The Olympics started in Greece. In 2004, Athens did quite a creditable job with their Games, which they are still paying for. If the Olympics were only held in Athens in the future, the Greeks would find some use for all the expensive facilities they have already built and many tens of billions of pounds could be saved.
Makes sense to me.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Clegg: treaty change does not require referendum

From this morning's Andrew Marr Show ...
ANDREW MARR:

Angela Merkel is right, isn't she, when she says that there has to be fiscal union if the Eurozone is going to hold together? ... Which in turn will mean a treaty change.
...

ANDREW MARR:

It would also trigger a referendum in this country about our relationship with Europe, so my next question is: Could the coalition survive a referendum on our relationship with Europe?

NICK CLEGG:

Well I don't think there needs to be a referendum for the simple reason that the change …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) The Prime Minister's promised one. If there is a treaty change, he's promised a referendum.

NICK CLEGG:

No, the referendum will only take place if there is an additional surrender of sovereignty from us to the European Union, to Brussels.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I thought any substantial treaty change will trigger a referendum. That's what David Cameron said.

NICK CLEGG:

(over) No, no, no. Let me be very clear. The test, which we've legislated on, is if we, the United Kingdom, give up more sovereignty in a big way to the European Union …
The truth, of course, is that any moves to eurozone integration would fundamentally alter the nature of the European Union. As Lord Tebbit noted recently, "the eurozone group can always outvote the remaining member states".

In an article for the Mail on Sunday, Daniel Hannan wonders why we would pass up this golden opportunity to extricate ourselves from a declining regional trading block:
Is it, perhaps, that the Coalition is determined to avoid a referendum? Sources around the Prime Minister are briefing to this effect but I hope they are wrong: few things are as degrading as the sight of an administration that distrusts its own electorate.

Or maybe it is fear of being left out of a Franco-German plan. In truth, though, a regulated Continental bloc offers us huge opportunities. We would be the offshore haven, Hong Kong to their China.

This was the model that Winston Churchill proposed at the outset. In 1946, he called for a United States of Europe comprising France, Germany and their satellite countries.
The full text of that speech, given in Zurich on the 19th of September, is available from the Council of Europe.

Personally, I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of an anti-democratic Franco-German union on our doorstep, but I don't think today's ordinary Frenchmen and Germans want war any more than ordinary British people do, and the EU doesn't afford any protection beyond what we already enjoy through NATO.

Equally, to the extent that it may be in our national interest to undermine continental moves to full political union, I'm not convinced that our politicians are committed to this goal, nor that the task is easier within in the EU.

We should get out, wish them well, and watch vigilantly.

Democratically elected Islamofascists

BBC News reports:

Latest results from the Egyptian elections indicate that Islamist parties are likely to have a strong majority in the new parliament.

The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and a more conservative Salafist Islamist party are leading, while secular liberals are behind.

...

the Salafists, who could take second place, have made no attempt to soften their uncompromising views. They want to ban alcohol, segregate men and women, impose full shariah law, and are openly contemptuous of democracy.

Democracy is not an end in itself. It is only a good thing to the extent that it protects individual freedoms.

We'll have to wait and see how Egyptians enjoy tyranny of the Islamist majority.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Heath: Media is failing public in many ways

Another excellent article from Allister Heath:

As the ComRes/Institute of Economic Affairs poll points out, the public has got completely the wrong idea about what will be happening to the national debt over the next few years. Because the coalition will be only gradually reducing the budget deficit, the national debt will continue to soar in cash terms and as a share of GDP. An extra £350bn or so will be added to the national debt before the next general election, if all goes according to plan. So far, so self-evident, you may think. Yet the public – primarily because of the way this story has been reported in print, online and in the broadcast media, together with Britain’s appallingly low level of financial literacy – has no idea whatsoever about this. It wrongly thinks that the coalition is planning to “repay our debt” – and fails to grasp the key conceptual difference between the annual deficit (or extra debt) and the outstanding total national debt (a stock which keeps on growing as long as there is a deficit).

The poll asked whether the coalition would be keeping the national debt the same over the next four years, increasing it by £350bn or cutting it by £350bn. Just nine per cent got it right – 21 per cent thought it would be staying the same and an astonishing 70 per cent thought the national debt would be cut by £350bn. This is an extraordinarily depressing finding and first and foremost a massive failure of journalism. It is also a failure of political communication and of education. Given such catastrophic levels of misunderstanding about what will be happening to the economy over the next few years, how can the public possibly come to a sensible decision about spending choices? It is a bitter blow for democracy and robs the UK of the ability to conduct a sensible, grown-up discussion about what should be done to tax and spend.

It is all the more tragic, seeing as we have a tax-funded broadcaster that claims to offer 'public value':

While commercial broadcasters aim to return value to their shareholders or owners, the BBC exists to create public value. In other words, it aims to serve its audiences not just as consumers, but as members of a wider society, with programmes and services which, while seeking to inform,

educate and entertain audiences, also serve wider public purposes. Public value is a measure of the BBC’s contribution to the quality of life in the UK.

The BBC creates public value in five main ways ...


And the very first of these?
Democratic value: the BBC supports civic life and national debate by providing trusted and impartial news and information that helps citizens make sense of the world and encourages them to engage with it.
EPIC FAIL.

Interest payments vs education

In his latest blog, Daniel Hannan highlights an important graph that looks like it comes from The Spectator Coffee House:

How can anyone, left or right, think that it's a good idea to spend an ever-increasing portion of tax revenue on interest payments?

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

An unjustifiable strike

Another excellent article from Westminster's most promising MP:

The Government have made sure that anyone who is within ten years of retirement will be able to retire on their current terms and they have also confirmed that low earners making under £15,000 a year (15% of the workforce) will not have to make increased contributions. In addition, another million workers earning up to £21,000 will have their total increase limited to 1.5 per cent over three years. Accrued benefits that people have built up already will be protected.

I find myself reflecting on the situation faced by those without taxpayer-guaranteed benefits. Suppose the aim is a retirement income of £15,000 a year for life. That means buying what’s known as an annuity. With pension savings of £10,000 buying an annuity worth about £500 a year today, to achieve just £15,000 a year, one would need pension savings of £300,000. To achieve a more comfortable £25,000, one would need to have saved £500,000.

And that income would not be index-linked for protection against inflation.

Quite. I recommend the whole article.

NUTs

Here, for the record, are five "pension facts for parents", according to the National Union of Teachers:
FACT ONE

Teachers and other public sector workers are being asked to pay more for their pensions, work longer and get less in retirement.

FACT TWO

Many private sector workers have no proper pension provision. The Government should be acting on this, not attacking public sector pensions.

FACT THREE

Cutting public sector pensions will just make more pensioners poorer and put the cost of supporting them on to the State and taxpayer.

FACT FOUR

Damaging teachers’ pensions will lead to more teacher shortages and turnover, which will in turn damage children’s education.

FACT FIVE

The teachers’ pension scheme is affordable. Reports from the National Audit Office and the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee show that the cost of teachers’ pensions is falling as planned.
I haven't yet found time to read their 16-page Fair Pensions for All pamphlet, but you have to wonder what planet they're on. Ignorant, disingenuous, or a bit of both?

I was also able to get a copy of this letter sent to NUT members in West Berkshire:



They're keen to maximise the disruption:
DO NOT tell your head teacher who is going to be on strike. This is because tactics have changed and we no longer need to encourage head teachers to support us. If a Head cannot be certain who will or will not turn up for work they can't easily keep the school open.
Disgraceful behaviour, but just what you'd expect from unions. They seem to think that the education system exists to serve them, rather than students and parents.

The sooner education is re-privatised, the better!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The bond bubble is bursting

Another excellent article from Detlev Schlichter:

“The government can always pay.”

This is a statement that has no basis in fact. Any rational analysis will quickly expose it to be a fallacy. Economic theory, economic history, and plain good old horse sense can demonstrate effortlessly that this statement is an illusion. Yet, it is today a widely held and deeply cherished illusion in the world of finance (and, incidentally, the world of politics). In fact, it has become one of the defining myths of the modern fiat money era. It has for decades provided portfolio managers and bankers with an imaginary refuge from the turbulent world of capitalist “creative destruction”, a ‘safe haven’ where their nerves and capital could rest. The ‘free lunch’ might not have been a feast – only the ‘risk-free rate’ was to be had – but it was better than nothing and anyway a welcome break from capitalism and entrepreneurship. And by the way, if you leverage your government bond portfolio sufficiently with the help of central-bank-provided, zero-cost fiat money, the returns could still be quite handsome.

The fate of myths is that they sooner or later clash with reality. Then they are exposed as myths, which requires a painful giving-up of beloved certainties, a readjustment of paradigms and an abrupt change in behaviour. This is what we have been witnessing in European sovereign bond markets and will soon observe outside Europe as well.
It seems his message is slowly getting through to the mainstream media:

Investors sent Europe’s politicians a painful message last week when Germany had a seriously disappointing government bond auction. It was unable to sell more than a third of the benchmark 10-year bonds it had sought to auction off on Nov. 23, and interest rates on 30-year German debt rose from 2.61 percent to 2.83 percent. The message? Germany is no longer a safe haven.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, investors have focused on credit risk and rewarded Germany with low interest rates for its perceived frugality. But now markets will focus on currency risk. Inflation will accelerate and the euro may break up in a way that calls into question all euro-denominated obligations. This is the beginning of the end for the euro zone.

Here’s why. Until 2008, investors assumed that all euro- zone sovereign bonds, as well as bank debt, were risk-free and would never default. This made for a wonderfully profitable trade: European banks could buy government debt, finance it at less expensive rates through funding provided by the European Central Bank, and pocket the spread.

The party is almost over. Let's hope the collapse comes quickly, and with minimal collateral damage.

A racially-aggravated offence

BBC News reports:

A woman has been arrested after an online video apparently showed a woman abusing ethnic minority passengers on a packed south London tram.

The clip, viewed more than 10,600 times since being uploaded to YouTube on Sunday, shows a woman sitting with a child, shouting at fellow passengers.

British Transport Police said a woman, 34, had been arrested on suspicion of a racially-aggravated offence.

The BBC article doesn't link to the YouTube video, but the Huffington Post article they link to does. By now it has been watched 1,854,507 times.



She seems like a very unpleasant woman, and quite probably drunk or on drugs. She shouts foul language and generally makes a nuisance of herself. There is a sense in which she can be said to violating the rights of her fellow passengers — their right to peace and quiet. If this were private transport, you might expect her to be banned, possibly for life, for harassing customers.

But does it matter that her tirade was "racially aggravated"? Does she deserve a harsher sentence than someone who shouts similar abuse at rival sports fans, fat people, rich people or smokers? If she had restricted her rant to Polish people, would it have been any better? Should the law really consider skin colour more important than hair colour, height, physical attractiveness, or intelligence?

I think not, and I find it very disturbing that the notion of racially-aggravated crimes exists.

How many countries in the eurozone?


That's right, according to BBC News, the "27 countries of the eurozone make up the largest trading partner for the US".

Schoolboy error, or wishful thinking?

Monday, 28 November 2011

The Lib Dems and Oxfam

When I blogged about Oxfam last September, I wasn't aware that Daniel Hannan had covered the same theme back in 2008:

Is there anyone out there who just happens to support deeper European integration? Without being paid to say so, I mean?

I ask the question perfectly seriously. When he introduced the Bill to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, made a song and dance about the fact that it wasn’t just Labour politicians who backed the wretched thing. A whole range of NGOs, he told MPs, had also come out in favour.

“The NSPCC pledged its support, as have One World Action, Action Aid and Oxfam,” he said, looking typically pleased with himself. “Environmental organisations support the treaty provisions on sustainable development and even the commission of bishops supports the treaty. This is a coalition, not of ideology, but integrity”.

Integrity, eh? Within a few hours, Eurosceptic blogs were pointing out that every single organisation he had cited received money from the EU (hat-tip EUReferendum.blogspot.com).

He linked to this old Conservative Home post from his latest blog, which considers how unfit the Lib Dems are to claim the legacy of classical liberals:
The Lib Dems, we read, want to be like Oxfam. I'd have thought they're more than half way there already. I've blogged before about the way in which Oxfam seems more interested in lobbying against free trade than in distributing medicines or building schools. Nothing wrong with advocacy work, of course; on the contrary, it's heartening to see people taking up causes in which they believe. I wonder, though, how many grannies chipping in their tenners know that Oxfam gets more than £30 million a year from the EU? And that it then uses some of its resources to lobby for closer European integration? Oxfam, like the Lib Dems, has generous and public-spirited supporters but corporatist and worldly chiefs.
The whole article is well worth reading.

Gerald Warner on forced funding for political parties

A good article from Gerald Warner for Scotland on Sunday:
‘IT IS difficult to conceive of a more difficult climate in which to propose any increase in public support for political parties.” Those insightful words came last week from Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
...
Unfortunately, despite delivering himself of this common-sense verdict, Sir Christopher’s committee recommended exactly the suicidal course of action he had just identified: taxpayer subvention of the predatory gangs that call themselves political parties and have brought Britain to its knees over recent decades
Warner concludes:

Party politics is not about “public service”; it is about egomaniacs attempting to impose their views on society or, less harmfully, good old-fashioned self-seekers looking for a cushy billet. If they cannot find backers willing to support their mostly unhealthy ambitions, it is in no way the duty of normal people to part with their dwindling cash to support them. Any attempt to impose such a burden on taxpayers, as even the parties seem now implicitly to admit, would provoke a tsunami of resentment.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Janet Daley: try doing less

Via Westminster's most promising MP, I discovered this Telegraph article by Janet Daley:

Gosh, what a parcel of goodies George Osborne is about to present to us in his Autumn Statement. Already promised last week were a government programme to underwrite the mortgages of first-time buyers, as well as a nifty £200  million “green deal” to encourage families to insulate their homes. Then there was a billion-pound subsidy to employers who give young people work experience that will lead to jobs. And who knows what more bounty is to follow in the speech itself?

Now where have I seen the like of this beneficence before? Oh yes – it was under Gordon Brown. As Chancellor (and then later when he was Prime Minister, through his half-hearted proxy Alistair Darling), Mr Brown would stand at the Dispatch Box and shower us with government spending projects. There were injections of cash into house-building, and grants for scientific research, and God knows how many initiatives to create “training” and engineering apprenticeships. All that micro-management: new “start-up” schemes and “one-stop shop” outreach services funded by this department and that department, and then re-packaged and re-announced so that they sounded less tired and predictable.

Maybe you thought we had got past this. Not just because additional public spending is now supposed to be anathema, but because the myth of government activism – the idea that intervention by the state is the answer to every economic and social problem – had been definitively routed. Apparently not: Mr Osborne and, we must assume, his boss still seem to believe that any unacceptable national situation must require direct action from them.

Very sad.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Toby Young on The Debt Delusion

Mehdi Hasan is typical of high-profile Labour insiders. He's arrogant, cynical and mendacious, but not stupid.

Toby Young
has produced a blog post in response to Hasan's latest attempt at disinformation: The Debt Delusion.

As Young puts it,
[Hasan's] view is that, far from trying to reduce the structural deficit by slashing spending on public services, the government should be taking advantage of historically low gilt yields to borrow more, spend more and stimulate the economy in the text-book, Keynesian manner.
As this blog and many others have pointed out, our Coalition hasn't really been "slashing" spending at all. The government is burning through more money than ever.

But according to Young, Hasan argues that there is a sense in which the cuts are real:
If you just focus on DEL (Departmental Expenditure Limits), i.e. the amount spent on public services each year, the picture looks bleaker. If you look at those same Treasury forecasts (see table 1.9), only three departments will see real-terms increases in expenditure over the course of this Parliament – Heath, International Development and Energy. The rest will see real-terms cuts. Spending on Education, for instance, is due to fall from £58.552 billion in 10/11 to £51.558 in 15/16, a real-terms cut of £6.994 billion or 14.3%. Overall, DEL is set to fall from £375.170 billion in 10/11 to £331.900 in 15/16, a cut of £43.27 billion or 11.53%.
A killer argument? Not quite.
Hasan believes these cuts are monstrous – just monstrous – and quotes the IFS in support of this view, which described the Chancellor's plans as “the longest, deepest, sustained period of cuts to public services spending at least since World War II.” However, what Hasan neglects to mention is that these "cuts" only pare down public expenditure to the level it was at a few years before the Coalition came to power. TME, for instance, is forecast to be higher in real terms in 15/16 (£668.5 billion) than it was in 08/09 (£658.823), some 11 years after Labour had been in power. The same goes for DEL, though you have to go a bit further back. Education spending, for instance, was lower in 06/07 (£51.048 billion) in real terms than it's forecast to be in 15/16 (£51.558). What Hasan and other left-wing critics of the "cuts" always gloss over is that public expenditure increased massively under the last government – more than 50% in real terms between 97/98 and 09/10.
All we need to do is roll back the clock.

Young goes on to consider the the importance of the bond market. It's true that they have to be kept on side as long as we're living beyond our collective means:
So the programme of cuts embarked upon by the present government last year is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly modest. Much more modest than the government's critics would have you believe. But what is indisputable is that if Britain hadn't embarked on this programme, our 10-year bond yields would now be in the red zone.
...
What Hasan overlooks – willful blindness? – is that on the eve of the last election the UK's 10-year bond yields, at 4.2%, were higher than those of Germany, Italy and Spain. This was in spite of having our own currency and a healthy debt rollover profile which supposedly guarantee our safety. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote an article at the time, quoting the fixed income director of Unicredit, Europe's second largest bank, predicting that the UK was next-in-line for a sovereign debt crisis. Does Hasan really believe that if Gordon Brown had been re-elected – and made Ed Balls his Chancellor – Britain wouldn't be in the same boat as Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Belgium and, now, Hungary?
If hell-bent on the Keynesian "stimulus" Hasan desires, a Labour government would have found no support from the bond markets. They would instead have turned to the printing press even more enthusiastically than our Coalition overlords.

Of course, the proper solution is to balance the books. And once the deficit is eliminated, it's hard to see why we should continue paying interest on government debt.

Far better to repudiate it. Bond market be damned.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Deutschland über alles?

For the Cobden Centre, David Howden writes:
The Maastricht Treaty originally set limits on debts and deficits that European governments could incur – 60% of GDP for the former, and 3% of GDP for the latter. ... While these rules create political stability in the sense that they constrain the fiscal policies of the member countries, they have famously been abandoned. Indeed, Germany – the role model for European financial conservatism – was the first country to break the Maastricht Treaty. It has since become laughable. Ireland ran a budget deficit of over 30% of GDP last year. Several member states run public debt-to-GDP ratios of more than 100%. Only Finland continues to abide by these rules (with the Netherlands coming very close).
BBC News has this story in pictures:


According to the official figures, 'prudent' Germany has long had broadly the same public debt levels as socialist France. Even now, after extreme profligacy, official UK debt hasn't quite caught up with German debt:

Today (thanks to Tom Paine), I discovered this article from Reuters:
A "disastrous" sale of German benchmark bonds sparked fears on Wednesday the debt crisis was beginning to threaten even Berlin, with the Bundesbank forced to dig deep into its pockets to ensure the auction did not fail.

In one of the least successful debt sales by Europe's powerhouse economy since the launch of the single currency, the low returns offered -- just 2 percent annually over 10 years -- deterred investors made uneasy by the escalating cost of the crisis to Germany.

That meant the central bank had to pick up 39 percent of the 6 billion euros of debt Germany had hoped to sell after commercial banks bought just 3.644 billion euros of the issue.
Mountains of debt, bought increasingly by central banks rather than the free market. What's the worst that could happen?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

We are the 60%

In countries in which the poor have the exclusive power of making the laws, no great economy of public expenditure ought to be expected; that expenditure will always be considerable either because the taxes cannot weigh upon those who levy them or because they are levied in such a manner as not to reach these poorer classes. In other words, the government of the democracy is the only one under which the power that votes the taxes escapes the payment of them.

In vain will it be objected that the true interest of the people is to spare the fortunes of the rich, since they must suffer in the long run from the general impoverishment which will ensue.

Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835 - Democracy in America, Volume I, Chapter 13


Yesterday I discovered a BBC News article entitled Tax: Do you give more than you get?

Though my household is by no means rich, it seems we are in the top decile. It turns out that a childless couple with both partners earning £32000 before tax is enough. To count among the 9th decile, all you need is £24000 each; for the 8th decile: £19000 each; for the 7th decile: £16000 each. All of these deciles are net contributors, according to the BBC (to the tune of £27221, £12433, £5457, and £1900 respectively).


There are a few things to note here. Firstly, £16000 isn't a huge salary. I'd wager that almost everyone of working age could manage it, if they tried hard enough. According to my calculations, you could achieve it by working 53 hours a week at the minimum wage [1], for 50 weeks. A hard life, but nothing like what our ancestors had to face. On the other hand, you have to ask why people would bother — all that work for the privilege of contributing £1900 (6 weeks of labour) to those who aren't inclined to work as hard.

Secondly, only the top 4 deciles are net contributors; 60% of households are net recipients. In a democracy, we should not be surprised that taxes "are levied in such a manner as not to reach these poorer classes".

Thirdly, the BBC calculator understates the weight of tax-eaters. As Rothbard puts it

The tax consumers consist of the full-time bureaucracy and politicians in power, as well as the groups which receive net subsidies, i.e., which receive more from the government than they pay to the government. These include the receivers of government contracts and of government expenditures on goods and services produced in the private sector. It is not always easy to detect the net subsidized in practice, but this caste can always be conceptually identified.
...
it is inherently impossible for bureaucrats to pay income taxes uniformly with everyone else. And therefore the ideal of uniform income taxation for all is an impossible goal. We repeat that the bureaucrat who receives $8,000 a year income and then hands $1,500 back to the government is engaging in a mere bookkeeping transaction of no economic importance (aside from the waste of paper and records involved). For he does not and cannot pay taxes; he simply receives $6,500 a year from the tax fund.


So we have at least 60% of households as net recipients of taxes. Are they grateful? On the contrary, many of them are are disappointed that they haven't succeeded in screwing more money out of the top 1%. Such is the tyranny of the majority.

[1] From 1 October 2011, the minimum wage for those 21 or older is (£6.08 for those 21+, from 1 October 2011)

Human rights

BBC News reports:
Basic care for the elderly in their own homes in England is so bad it breaches human rights at times, an inquiry says.

Around 10 years ago I saw a framed copy of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the wall at Oxford Town Hall. By then I was already sick to death of the term, and I expected to disagree with every word of the declaration.

Initially, I was pleasantly surprised.
Article 1.
  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2.
  • Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.


Article 3.

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.


Article 4.

  • No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.


Article 5.

  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


Article 6.

  • Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.


Article 7.

  • All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.


Article 8.

  • Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.


Article 9.

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.


Article 10.

  • Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.


Article 11.

  • (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
  • (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.


Article 12.

  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.


Article 13.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
  • (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.


Article 14.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
  • (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.


Article 15.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
  • (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.


Article 16.

  • (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  • (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.


Article 17.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
  • (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.


Article 18.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.


Article 19.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


Article 20.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  • (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.


Article 21.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  • (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
  • (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
So far the declaration is a bit vague in parts, and open to abuse. For example, people can be deprived of their property despite Article 17, through high and unfair 'progressive' taxes, so long as the confiscation is not 'arbitrary'. On asylum, there seems to be a tension between "to seek" and "to enjoy". Similarly, the right enshrined in Article 13 to "leave any country" must surely be constrained by the willingness of other countries to allow entry. On the other hand, Article 19 is unequivocal, and all 'hate speech' laws must surely be considered a violation of this right. A mixed bag, then, but broadly consistent with classical liberalism.

It's only from Article 22 that things start to go seriously wrong ...
Article 22.
  • Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.


Article 23.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.


Article 24.

  • Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.


Article 25.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.


Article 26.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  • (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  • (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.


Article 27.

  • (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  • (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.


Article 28.

  • Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.


Article 29.

  • (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
  • (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
  • (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.


Article 30.

  • Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
I'm sure the signatories to the declaration didn't imagine anything like as generous as our present welfare state, but it's dangerous and immoral to enshrine any rights that require compulsory redistribution of wealth.

When they say employees are entitled to "just and favourable remuneration" and "periodic holidays with pay", they mean that employment contracts should be unequal, with employers compelled to offer pay and benefits that meet some arbitrary standard, rather than allowing employer and employee to agree the terms they see fit.

When they say that "everyone has the right to work", they imply that someone should be forced to give them work. It's not clear what they mean by "protection against unemployment", but they imply that the cost of that protection will be borne not by employees, but by employers and taxpayers.

When they say that "motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance", they mean that employers and taxpayers should be forced to support those who choose to have children.

When they say "education shall be free", they mean that people should be forced to pay for the education of other people's children.

The idea that compulsorily funded education should "further the activities of the United Nations" is really quite ominous.

If only they had stuck to negative rights!

As Wikipedia puts it,
if Adrian has a negative right to life against Clay, then Clay is required to refrain from killing Adrian; while if Adrian has a positive right to life against Clay, then Clay is required to act as necessary to preserve the life of Adrian.
The Wikipedia article also includes a good quote from Bastiat
M. de Lamartine wrote me one day: "Your doctrine is only the half of my program; you have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity." I answered him: "The second half of your program will destroy the first half." And, in fact, it is quite impossible for me to separate the word "fraternity" from the word "voluntary." It is quite impossible for me to conceive of fraternity as legally enforced, without liberty being legally destroyed, and justice being legally trampled underfoot.
Of course, the BBC article mentioned at the top of this post appeals not to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but to the ECHR:
The commission said such problems could be said to be in breach of various parts of the European Convention on Human Rights.
My blogging time for today runs short, so I'll have to leave the ECHR for another day, but I expect it to be far worse than the UDHR.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Plain packaging?

A recent BBC News article includes an example of Australia's new 'plain' packaging for cigarettes:

Can any Australian look at that package and still feel that they live in a free country?

How long before they try to pull the same trick with beer and wine bottles?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Force-funded broadcasters of Europe

I happened upon the BBC's licence fee page today.

It doesn't show anything useful, like how much money is wasted on BBC Three, but it does have a chart showing how our television tax compares with others across Europe:



I'm sure they expect us to rejoice.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Euro or democracy

Daniel Hannan writes:
So this is what 'the full Monti' means. As well as being prime minister, the Brussels placeman has appointed himself finance minister. And how many elected politicians has the EU's Governor of Italy put in his cabinet? You guessed it.
It does sound quite dodgy, but I felt I had to ask the obvious question:
What percentage of Italian cabinet ministers are normally elected?

In our own cabinet, we have two unelected members: Lord Strathclyde and Baroness Warsi.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C...

In the US, "no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C...

And many in the current US cabinet (including Timothy Geithner, John Bryson, Shaun Donovan, Steven Chu, and Eric Shinseki) have never been elected.

This is generally considered a feature rather than a bug.
Of course, it seems likely that this particular cabinet will have European rather than Italian interests at heart.

The Guardian has published profiles for "some of Monti's technocrats":
The former European commissioner, Mario Monti, has unveiled Italy's new government. A distinguished liberal economist, he kept for himself the finance ministry. The list is stacked with academics, who will take more than a third of the seats in the new cabinet, and most will be unknown to members of the Italian general public.
It's not that I have any great love for politicians, or democracy. aureliusmarcus did a good job of outlining the flaws of our present system in a comment on that same Daniel Hannan article:
It seems to me that this crisis has served to expose some fundamental flaws in democracy, at least the form of representative democracy we practise in the west, as a system of government.

The first flaw in a representative democracy is that politicians tailor their policy agendas to whatever will attract the most votes, and then the electorate generally vote for the policies that garner unto then the greatest largesse form the treasury. This has progressively been the case across Europe from the end of WII onwards as countries have saddled themselves with increasingly unsustainable social contracts, widening public sectors (of which the EU itself is a perfect example) and productivity throttling employment laws.

The second flaw is that everyone has an equal vote, whether they are a wealth creator or a wealth eater. Eventually the wealth eaters reach a critical mass or tipping point, and begin to outstrip the ability of the wealth creators in society to continue to support them. After this point the likelihood of radical political reform dwindles and eventually vanishes. Again, we have seen this across Europe in recent years.

Finally, the third flaw in a representative democracy is that the turkeys will never vote for Christmas, even if the alternative is that they all die anyway, and no politician can ever get elected or survive on a platform that requires them to do so. So when faced with a situation such as we have at present, it simply cannot function as an effective form of government

So what happens? Exactly what we have witnessed. The situation remains increasingly untenable until eventually there is some sort of revolution, violent or otherwise. In this case a coup d'etat by the EU, but I am not convinced that it will be able to resolve the problems or even contain them for very long.
Unlike Daniel Hannan, I'm sympathetic view to the view (attributed to Churchill) that
The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
The point is illustrated well by a recent YouTube clip that I discovered through Tom Paine: Obama Is Not A Keynesian, He's An American!

However, as Churchill also famously said:
All this idea of a group of supermen and super-planners, such as we see before us, “playing the angel,” as the French call it, and making the masses of the people do what they think is good for them, without any check or correction, is a violation of democracy. Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time; but there is the broad feeling in our country that the people should rule, continuously rule, and that public opinion, expressed by all constitutional means, should shape, guide, and control the actions of Ministers who are their servants and not their masters.
The whole Parliament Bill debate from that day, 11 November 1947, makes interesting reading. 64 years later, the supermen and super-planners are on the march.

Fight SOPA

My Firefox Start Page greeted me with this today:

The link leads to the following text:

The internet we know and love is at risk. Help save it.

Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could profoundly affect the future of the internet. It's called the Stop Online Piracy Act.

The fact is that this legislation as written won't stop piracy. But it would pose a serious threat to social media and user generated content sites (like YouTube) across the internet. It could also undermine some of the core technical systems underlying the internet, creating new cybersecurity risks.

As a non-profit committed to keeping the web open and accessible to all, Mozilla wants to ensure that this legislation does not jeopardize the foundational structure of the Internet.

I hope American readers will take the time to investigate further.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Snowdon: We should stop panicking about Boozy Britain


In a change from their regularly scheduled rubbish ...

Throughout October and November, The Independent Online is partnering with the Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas festival to present a series of guest blogs from festival speakers on the key questions of our time.

This gave Christopher Snowdon a chance to publish this superb article.

He begins by summarising the popular narrative about alcohol:
Here’s what everybody knows about Boozy Britain. As a nation we are drinking twice as much as we did sixty years ago. The double whammy of cheaper booze and 24 hour drinking has led to an epidemic of alcohol abuse which threatens to overwhelm the NHS. Alcohol-related hospital admissions have doubled in less than a decade and now stand at over one million per annum. Millions of us put our health in jeopardy by drinking more than the daily alcohol limits.
He then proceeds to present the facts:
Yes, we are drinking more than we did in the immediate post-war years. An economic depression sandwiched by two world wars reduced alcohol consumption to the lowest in our history, but austerity Britain can hardly be considered a typical reference point. Using more relevant benchmarks, we are drinking less than we did in 1914 and very much less than we did in previous centuries. We are drinking only marginally more than we did thirty years ago and—here is a seldom spoken truth—we are drinking less than we did in 2002.

Yes, there are millions of us who exceed our ‘daily limits’ (they’re actually weekly guidelines). How could we not? These guidelines were not based on any real evidence when they were set in 1987 and methodological changes have since dragged several million more of us over the line of ‘hazardous drinking’. Limits that do not allow for tipsiness, let alone drunkenness, deserve to be ignored and yet the percentage of men and women drinking above the ‘limits’ has still been falling for a decade, with the largest decline seen amongst young men.

How to explain the discrepancy?

It can be argued that per capita alcohol consumption is a poor marker for drunkenness, alcoholism and alcohol-related harm, but a doubling in alcohol-related admissions at a time of falling alcohol consumption should raise sceptical eyebrows. Sure enough, the number of medical conditions that are considered ‘alcohol-related’ has tripled during this period and the system of estimating them has undergone what the NHS calls a ‘substantial change’. Hundreds of thousands of hospital visits, predominantly involving the elderly, are now classified ‘alcohol-related’. Our ageing population guarantees further rises in ‘alcohol-related admissions’ in the future.

I thoroughly recommend the whole article.