Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Last Ditch: Advancing liberty, one smoke at a time

A good post from Tom Paine:

The cross-party group of MPs hosting this afternoon's sunny reception on the Commons Terrace comprised only non-smokers. Two, like me, had never smoked but felt strongly about liberty. The Labour host Roger Godiff- to cries of "don't give them ideas" - suggested it would be more honourable for antismokers to call honestly for abolition. Until then, if it was legal, it was wrong to proscribe it. It was nostalgic to hear a Labour man talk in such terms; an echo of the days when the working-class members of that party at least, were not looking to replace one boss class with another.

They all spoke eloquently enough to a good crowd, but I was most moved by the plain speaking of Mick McGlasham, General Secretary of the Workingmens Clubs & Institutes Union (CIU). He was genuinely baffled that, when pubs and clubs are ready to make ventilated smoking areas, anti-smoking fanatics are still determined to shatter the institutions at the heart of working-class communities. "Just give us the technical specs", he said, "and we will comply. It's time for some commonsense on smoking legislation". He also pointed out that young children are being more exposed to cigarettes because their parents now have nowhere to smoke but at home.

International law gone wrong

On Monday, the BBC reported that the International Criminal Court had issued an arrest warrant for Muammar Gaddafi
For alleged criminal responsibility for the commission of murder and persecution as crimes against humanity from 15 February 2011 onwards
Today, Daniel Hannan has posted an excellent article in response:

International law has ceased to be international. Where it used to be about relations among states, it is nowadays about human rights violations within states – which suits its practitioners down to the ground, as it gives them virtually unlimited jurisdiction.

For hundreds of years, we operated on the basis of the clearly understood principle that crimes were the responsibility of the states on whose territories they were alleged to have taken place. International law applied only to those issues which were, by their nature, international. William Blackstone saw it as covering just three areas: safe conduct passes; the treatment of ambassadors; and piracy on the high seas.

Under this traditional definition, Muammar Gaddafi might have been arraigned at virtually any point in the 1980s or 1990s. He practised the modern equivalent of piracy, sponsoring international terrorism. He disregarded the rules of international diplomacy, protecting the official who had murdered a British policewoman by firing at her from the Libyan embassy. He abused the notion of a safe conduct pass to remove that official from Britain.


At no stage did international judges issue a warrant for his arrest. Neither the Yvonne Fletcher murder, nor the revelation that Gaddafi had armed the IRA, nor even the Lockerbie atrocity prompted an arraignment. Now, though, the International Criminal Court has indicted the deranged colonel, not for his many violations of national sovereignty and diplomatic conventions, not for his global depredations, but for internal repression. His attacks on Libyan civilians, they say, constitute murder.

If so, then he should be tried in Libya. It is curious enough to see judges at The Hague presuming to overturn the legal system of an independent nation. But to see them doing so while ignoring the violations which actually fall under the normal definition of international law is alarming.

Hannan concludes:

You might feel that I am nitpicking. Gaddafi is plainly a very bad man, so does it much matter how he is brought to justice? Isn’t it more important that he get his deserts morally than legally?

No, it isn’t. The objection to Gaddafi is precisely that he is a tyrant, that he rules arbitrarily, that Libyan courts are instruments of his regime. When we engage in political prosecutions of this kind, we drag ourselves down to his level. For this is, by any definition, a political prosecution. What has changed in the past couple of months is not that Gaddafi became nastier, but that the international community, frustrated by its ability to remove him, decided to “send a message”. We should hold ourselves to a higher standard.


I commented as follows:
As you say, Gaddafi is a nasty tyrant, but this is a cynical and hypocritical indictment.

I have some sympathy with those who want to see justice done all across the world. I don't believe that morality is relative. I don't believe, for example, that slavery is acceptable if confined to a land-locked country, rather than perpetrated across the oceans.

But in practice there are limits to our ability to enforce justice across the world, and the arbitrariness of our attempts carries its own injustice.

A typical BBC response

BBC Breakfast this morning related a story:
Some time after 10pm, a couple were out for a meal. At a nearby table, a baby was crying. The man complained, and in response the baby's father broke a wine bottle over his head.
Now, there are lots of details missing, but that's the story as reported. What do you suppose should be society's response?

I would suggest vigorous enforcement of existing laws against violent behaviour. The father here, if we take the facts as reported, has no place in civilised society. When ordinary decent people are afraid to admonish their fellow citizens, for fear of violent response, society suffers. Such crimes should be taken extremely seriously.

The BBC did not take that line. Instead, they asked whether children should be banned from restaurants and pubs.

The mind boggles.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Who is the EU really bailing out?

More good stuff from Daniel Hannan on the situation in Greece:

In private, everyone accepts that a Greek default is coming. So why do European leaders publicly pretend otherwise? What purpose is served by stringing out the problem? After all, with every hour that passes, Greek debts pile up, making the eventual reckoning heavier.

The answer can be found in two sets of statistics. A new study by Open Europe breaks down the liabilities between the public and private sectors. Foreign financial institutions currently own 42 per cent of Greek debts, and foreign governments 26 per cent, the rest being owed domestically. By 2014, those figures will be 12 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. European banks, in other words, will have shuffled off their losses onto European taxpayers.

Of course, the outstanding debt will have have risen substantially in the mean time: from €330 billion to €390 billion. Then again, as Eurocrats remind us every day, it’s remarkably easy to be generous with someone else’s money.

Hannan concludes:

When the West started down this road three years ago, this blog warned that the bank rescues would be the beginning our problems, not their end; that bailouts would beget bailouts; that every large corporation would start behaving as if it had a state guarantee. So it is proving. Profits are privatized, losses socialized. Capitalism and socialism are ceding ground to a grotesque new corporatism. We are back on the road to serfdom.

Graduate gloom

The Telegraph reports that 83 students apply for every vacancy:

The number of university leavers vying for relatively well-paid jobs has almost trebled in just three years, it has emerged.

Among investment banks, some 232 candidates are applying for each position, while an average 188 graduates are competing for positions in energy or utilities companies.

The disclosure – in data published by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) – underlines the extent to which the jobs market has failed to keep pace with the expansion of university places in recent years.

Okay, so the economy isn't doing so well at the moment, but did anyone really think that the jobs market would "keep pace with the expansion of university places in recent years"?

Meanwhile, BBC News reports

A planned shake-up of higher education in England is being set out later, with the aim of creating more competition and giving students greater powers.

Universities could compete for places, including with the private sector, and be held accountable for the quality of their teaching.

Competition? Private sector? Unthinkable!

If you are of a statist disposition, fear not: these reforms won't introduce anything resembling a free market in higher education.
  • More places for students with AAB A-level grades
  • Universities will have to publish information about students' employment chances and salaries
  • Inspections triggered if concerns raised about teaching standards
  • Student charter setting out consumer rights
  • Universities compete for proportion of places
Why should the government decide how many places universities offer?

Why stipulate what information universities should publish to attract students?

Why are government inspections required to uphold teaching standards?

Do students really need more rights?

If the government didn't interfere at all, competition would occur naturally. The various degrees from various institutions would settle on prices reflecting their value. Top universities would compete for the brightest students. Fewer students would pursue worthless degrees.

Personally, I think private sector scholarships would be sufficient to ensure that the gifted poor found places at Oxbridge, but even a system of taxpayer-funded scholarships (say, to the top 10 or even 20%) would be preferable to the system we have today.

The government should know nothing about the background of the students (race, sex, religion, family income). The only thing that should matter is achievement.

Having granted the scholarships, the government need do nothing further. Students would naturally go to where they get the best education, and universities would offer as many places as they see fit. They should be free to set whatever admissions criteria they like, and to teach whatever subjects they choose to whatever standard the market demands.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Banking collapse would have been better than bailout

Another great article from Daniel Hannan:
When the credit crunch hit in 2008, governments around the world turned to the one set of people who, by definition, couldn’t give them disinterested advice, namely bankers. Predictably enough, the bankers solemnly assured the ministers that, unless they received colossal sums, the entire economy would collapse. I’m sure that if governments contracted out their policy on subsidising bakeries to bakers, they would also be told that handouts were vital. The bakers might even half-believe it themselves. But they would be wrong, just as the bankers were wrong. Proof of just how wrong can be found in Iceland, which was in no position to assume private bank liabilities, and which consequently – despite being far worse hit by the collapse than any EU state – is now in healthier shape than many eurozone countries. Don’t take my word for it: even Paul Krugman, guru to statists and Keynesians everywhere, has noticed.
Krugman's words are worth repeating:

The credit default swap (CDS) for the Icelandic state has now dropped to 200 points and has not been lower since many months before the banking collapse in October 2008. The CDS has been in constant decline since January and indicates growing faith in Iceland’s economy.

Meanwhile, the CDS spread for Ireland is 683 basis points.

Why, it’s almost as if defaulting on debts run up by runaway bankers and letting your currency depreciate works better — even from the point of view of investors — than socializing private-sector losses and grimly sticking with a fixed exchange rate.

He's wrong that countries should debase their currency, but he's right that banking losses should have stayed private.

I wish that Norman Tebbit could see this. In his latest article, he wrote:
I thought I should start by answering reagus, who asked what I would have done had I been drafted in to take charge as the financial crisis struck. I am sure that I would have supported the banks. Had they failed, the consequences would have been too awful. But I would have wanted the directors of several of them to be charged with false accounting in that they published accounts they must have known, or ought to have known, were not a true and fair picture of their banks affairs. Not only that, I would have tried to go for the auditors too, not as firms, but as individuals. The sight of those men in the dock at the Old Bailey would have done more good than a truckload of new regulations.
Tebbit's heavy-handed approach is unrealistic. Prosecuting a handful of individuals who crossed the line from recklessness to fraud would do nothing to discourage a future banking crisis. I replied as follows:
Personally, I think the consequences of letting the banks go bust have been greatly exaggerated. Could you elaborate on what terrible consequences you would have expected, and why they would have been worse than the situation we currently face?

From my perspective, bailing out the banks was the greatest of Gordon Brown's many mistakes. He socialised losses that should have been private. Such behaviour is inexcusable whether you claim to support the free market (as most Thatcherites do) or the working man (as most Labour politicians do).

I think the failure of retail banks could have been managed through the usual orderly process that kicks in whenever a business goes bankrupt, but any emergency measures that may have been necessary should have ensured that shareholders in the banks were wiped out.

Banks behaved recklessly with the expectation that they were considered too big to fail, and their gamble paid off. Now the moral hazard has only increased.
What I'm saying here sounds to me like common sense, but it's clearly not all that common.

Geert Wilders cleared of hate charges by Dutch court

Excellent news from the BBC yesterday:

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, who described Islam as "fascist", has been acquitted of inciting hatred against Muslims.

Amsterdam judge Marcel van Oosten accepted the Freedom Party leader's statements were directed at Islam and not at Muslim believers.

They were, the judge ruled, "acceptable within the context of public debate".

It is of course shocking that the charges were brought in the first place. Had his statements been directed at "Muslim believers" rather than Islam, he still shouldn't have faced prosecution. Causing offence should not be a criminal act. Judges shouldn't be ruling on what kind of speech is "acceptable within the context of public debate".

Those who can't stand the notion of free speech are undaunted:

It is believed the plaintiffs may attempt to make their case before a European court or the UN.

Their lawyer, Ties Prakken, was quoted by Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf as saying they were "deeply disappointed" and believed the right of minorities to be protected against hate speech had been violated.

Protected against 'hate speech'? Even if Wilders had explicitly encouraged violence against Muslims (in the style of "behead those who insult Islam"), responsibility for any violent acts would rest with those who undertook them. Tom Paine wrote a good article about this back in February 2009:
The very concept of "incitement" is a flawed one. And it is a flawed concept which is in course of being rapidly and dangerously extended. Our legal system believes there are people so dumb that they will hate whole races if "incited" to do so. What tosh. They have the choice to hate or not hate. And if they hate, then they have the choice whether or not to harm the objects of their hatred. I hate Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman and David Blunkett with a veritable passion, but until I act upon it there's no crime involved.
I happen to think that Mr Wilders has a perfectly valid point, but even if I disagreed with him, I'd want him to be free to speak his mind.
Mr Wilders has compared the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Outside the courtroom, the 47-year-old politician said he was "incredibly happy" with the verdict.

"It's not only an acquittal for me, but a victory for freedom of expression in the Netherlands," he said.

"Now the good news is that it's also legal to be critical about Islam, to speak publicly in a critical way about Islam and this is something that we need because the Islamisation of our societies is a major problem and a threat to our freedom and I'm allowed to say so."

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Trial for racism

This morning a story was reported on BBC Breakfast casually and without comment. Though noteworthy, they must have seen it as the most natural thing in the world: John Galliano will stand trial in Paris today on charges of racism.

Had he been burning crosses in the gardens of Parisian suburbs? Had he been desecrating graves? Had he been walking about, face covered, violently attacking those he disapproves of? Had he even been inciting others to violence?

No, it's nothing you might traditionally think of as a crime. As CBC reports,
Prosecutors have said Galliano could face up to six months in prison and $31,000 US in fines if convicted of "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity."
Six months in prison for public insults. Six months in prison for causing offence.

Perhaps he will be let off, but the frightening thing here is that the law exists and prosecutors are prepared to use it.

Couldn't happen here? Consider this, as reported in The Guardian:
[Nick] Griffin was given a suspended prison sentence in 1998 after being convicted of "publishing or distributing racially ­inflammatory written material", an offence under the 1986 Public Order Act
In 2005, as BNP leader, he was charged again
accused of using words or behaviour intended or likely to stir up racial hatred.
The trial opened in 2006, as reported by The Guardian:
Opening the prosecution's case, Rodney Jameson QC said that both of the accused had tried to win BNP votes by creating a "nightmare vision" of Asians carrying out attacks on white people.

Mr Jameson said: "The prosecution allege that each of the six speeches ... included words which were threatening, abusive and insulting towards, in particular, people of Asian ethnicity. Such words were used with the intention of stirring up racial hatred."
I hate the Labour party. I hate the trade unions. I hate the EU. There are plenty on the Left who openly declare their hatred for Margaret Thatcher, Tories, toffs, and bankers. Some even chanted "off with their heads" to Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Unlike Galliano and Griffin, they backed up their words with actual acts of violence.

But should 'hate' itself be illegal? What is 'hate', on its own, but a poisonous emotion that affects the one who holds it? Is 'racial hatred' really so different that it deserves special treatment by the law.

As Tom Paine wrote recently
A Jew, a German and two Poles are among the ten best people I have ever met. There are two Jews, three Germans and a Pole among the ten worst. From this, admittedly anecdotal, evidence I have concluded that peoples of all nations, tribes and religions come in all ethical flavours. That's why racism is so stupid as to be not worth worrying about. People who have no better criteria than ethnicity for ranking themselves against the rest of humanity are cretins.
I couldn't agree more. We should pity racists, not prosecute them.

Do we really want to live in a society where holding certain opinions, or expressing them, is punishable by prison. Can we call such a society free?

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Machines of loving grace: the rise of the collageumentary

Absolutely brilliant:

This is a short film about a documentary film maker who made critically lauded films for the BBC. And about how, along the way, he proved that style always triumphs over substance.
Adam Curtis believed that 200,000 Guardian readers watching BBC Two could change the world. But this was a fantasy. In fact, he had created the televisual equivalent of a drunken late-night Wikipedia binge with pretension for narrative coherence. Combining archive documentary material with interviews, Curtis filled in the gaps by vomiting grainy library footage onto the screen, to a soundtrack of Brian Eno and Nine Inch Nails.

He had discovered that it did not matter what footage you used, so long as he changed the shots so bewilderingly fast that the audience didn't notice the chasm between argument and conclusion.
More than anything recently produced by the BBC, this makes me proud to be British. If you saw the original, please do watch the whole parody.

I saw the first episode of All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace quite by accident, and tweeted as follows:
Ayn Rand & Silicon Valley, am I really watching BBC Two? - "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace"
Truths in #AllWatchedOverByMachinesOfLovingGrace, but also dark hints of the standard BBC narrative, conflating corporatism with capitalism
It seemed like there was some potential, so I watched the second and third episodes, but found them as unsatisfying as the first. It was exactly as Ben Woodhams described: "the televisual equivalent of a drunken late-night Wikipedia binge with pretension for narrative coherence". At the end of it, I had no idea what Curtis really believed, or what he'd actually been trying to tell us.

Some people might have blamed themselves for this, and covered for it by declaring how brilliant the programme was. I just thought it was a load of pretentious rubbish; nicely executed, but not especially illuminating. People would have been able to to fit the jumble of facts to whatever preconceived ideas they brought to the programme, and I doubt it really changed anyone's mind.

It doesn't really deserve a serious response. Ben Woodhams got it exactly right.

(H/T James Delingpole)

Monday, 20 June 2011

Hannan on the Greek tragedy

Daniel Hannan's latest article is one of his best:
A number of commentators are belatedly coming around to the view that bailing out Greece was useless. They are wrong. The bailouts, far from being ineffective, have been actively harmful. Greece is deeper in debt today than it was a year ago, and the losses when it defaults will now be felt, not by a small number of bankers and bondholders, but by all of us.
In summing up, he returns to one of his common themes:
Why is the EU so determined to do the wrong thing? After all, Greece accounts for less than three per cent of its economy. The answer is the one that Dr Zhivago gives Gromeko when he asks, wretchedly, why the Bolsheviks had to shoot the Tsar: “It’s to show there’s no going back”. The EU depends, to a far greater degree than is usually acknowledged, on a sense of inevitability. Once people get used to the idea that you can pull out of aspects of European integration that you don’t like, the whole system might start to unravel. Thus have the suffering people of Greece been condemned to a generation of poverty and emigration in order to sustain the euro.
He concludes:
Our generation thinks it extraordinary that, in ancien régime Europe, the nobility had exemption from taxes. How, we ask ourselves, could a system have been designed in which the fiscal burden fell only on the poor? Yet we have now come up with precisely the same racket, as European bankers and bondholders shuffle off their liabilities on to the taxpayer.
The mind boggles. Where are the Lefties when you need them.

Global cooling

Back in September 2010, James Delingpole wrote:
Bilderberg. Whether you believe it’s part of a sinister conspiracy which will lead inexorably to one world government or whether you think it’s just an innocent high-level talking shop, there’s one thing that can’t be denied: it knows which way the wind is blowing

Which is what makes one particular item on the group’s discussion agenda so tremendously significant. See if you can spot the one I mean:

The 58th Bilderberg Meeting will be held in Sitges, Spain 3 – 6 June 2010. The Conference will deal mainly with Financial Reform, Security, Cyber Technology, Energy, Pakistan, Afghanistan, World Food Problem, Global Cooling, Social Networking, Medical Science, EU-US relations.

Yep, that’s right. Global Cooling.

Which means one of two things.

Either it was a printing error.

Or the global elite is perfectly well aware that global cooling represents a far more serious and imminent threat to the world than global warming, but is so far unwilling to admit it except behind closed doors.

Last week, Lewis Page reported:
What may be the science story of the century is breaking this evening, as heavyweight US solar physicists announce that the Sun appears to be headed into a lengthy spell of low activity, which could mean that the Earth – far from facing a global warming problem – is actually headed into a mini Ice Age.
The Sun normally follows an 11-year cycle of activity. The current cycle, Cycle 24, is now supposed to be ramping up towards maximum strength. Increased numbers of sunspots and other indications ought to be happening: but in fact results so far are most disappointing. Scientists at the NSO now suspect, based on data showing decades-long trends leading to this point, that Cycle 25 may not happen at all.

This could have major implications for the Earth's climate. According to a statement issued by the NSO, announcing the research:

An immediate question is whether this slowdown presages a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots [which occurred] during 1645-1715.
Time will tell. Even if you're a follower of the Cult of Carbon, you might be well-advised to focus first on insulation and heat pumps, rather than windmills and solar cells.


I decided to see what information was available at This copy of the agenda suggests the "Global cooling" talk wasn't about the environment at all: "Global Cooling: Implications of Slow Economic Growth"

That's the official line, anyway ;-)

The IPCC does it again

I've been reading a fair bit about environmental issues recently, especially from the excellent Global Warming Policy Foundation, but I haven't found much time to blog about it.

Over a year ago I wrote about Glaciergate: the IPCC's ridiculous claim that all Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035. The IPCC was taking propaganda from green activists, and passing it off as scientific fact. It seems they're at it again with the claim that "80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies".

James Delingpole quotes eco-activist Mark Lynas:

The IPCC must urgently review its policies for hiring lead authors – and I would have thought that not only should biased ‘grey literature’ be rejected, but campaigners from NGOs should not be allowed to join the lead author group and thereby review their own work. There is even a commercial conflict of interest here given that the renewables industry stands to be the main beneficiary of any change in government policies based on the IPCC report’s conclusions. Had it been an oil industry intervention which led the IPCC to a particular conclusion, Greenpeace et al would have course have been screaming blue murder.

Additionally, the Greenpeace/renewables industry report is so flawed that it should not have been considered by the IPCC at all. Whilst the journal-published version looks like proper science, the propaganda version on the Greenpeace website has all the hallmarks of a piece of work which started with some conclusions and then set about justifying them. There is a whole section dedicated to ‘dirty, dangerous nuclear power’, and the scenario includes a complete phase-out of new nuclear globally, with no stations built after 2008.

It's amazing that anyone is still prepared to listen to the IPCC.


Andrew Orlowski also covered the story over at El Reg:

Mark Lynas, the climate activist who once threw a custard pie into the face of Bjorn "Skeptical Environmentalist" Lomborg, has found himself under fire from other climate activists.

Earlier this week it emerged that an report on renewable energy for the IPCC had drawn heavily on an earlier paper authored by Greenpeace activist and staffer Sven Tenske, together with a lobby for the renewable energy industry called the European Renewable Energy Council. Tenske ended up as a lead author on the IPCC's report too, and in an astonishing coincidence, ended up making the same recommendations.

He provides some more good quotes from Lynas:

"I don’t want recycled campaign reports masquerading as ‘proper’ science leading the assessed scenarios – and the media – because their originator has managed to lever himself into a pole position on the team of lead authors. That stinks," he added in an update.

"It stinks doubly because the Greenpeace report was originally co-authored by the European Renewable Energy Council – an industry lobby group whose prospects depend on state subsidies which can be expected to be further increased once its views are given the ‘official’ stamp of approval from the IPCC."


"[I]f the ‘deniers’ are the only ones standing up for the integrity of the scientific process, and the independence of the IPCC, then I too am a ‘denier’".

Sunday, 19 June 2011

What future for the Falklands?

BBC News reports:

Sir Sandy Woodward, the retired admiral who led the British taskforce which set sail for the Falklands in 1982, told a newspaper earlier this week he feared the islands were "now perilously close to being indefensible".

He told the Daily Mail: "Twenty-nine years ago today, we re-claimed the Falklands for Britain in one of the most remarkable campaigns since the Second World War.

"The simple truth is without aircraft carriers and without the Americans, we would not have any hope of doing the same again today."

Adm Woodward questioned whether the US would continue to support Britain's sovereignty over the islands, pointing to Washington's call last week for negotiations.

The Americans' reference to the islands by their Argentinian name - the Malvinas - didn't "leave too much doubt about which way the wind may be blowing", he said.

The terrible financial legacy of the Labour government does not excuse the Coalition's neglect and mismanagement of our armed forces. They did not need to decommission the Ark Royal. Its Harriers could apparently fly for another seven years, having recently been expensively upgraded, but instead they are being sold to the Americans for scrap. Waste abounds, both within the MoD, and in other departments. If the government thought we needed a few billion more to properly protect British territory, they could have found it. The money squandered on Euro bailouts, international aid, and increased EU budget contributions would probably cover it. And they're not even making the most of the money they have.

Whether the Falklands are worth fighting for is a reasonable question, but our government appears to be setting us up for trouble. We must ask why.

Europe expects

I went to the BBC News website in search of another article, but happened to see this, prominently displayed in the sidebar on the front page:

"Europe's space freighter". The phrase is repeated in the body of the article:

Late on Tuesday (GMT), a huge fireball will streak across the skies over the Pacific Ocean.

Not many will get to see it; it will be over an uninhabited part of the world, and ships and planes have been warned to steer clear of the area.

The event is the return from orbit of Europe's space freighter, ATV-Johannes Kepler.

Are we meant to feel a sense of pride? As Europeans?

In the Related Stories section, we find "US and Europe plan new spaceship". Another good phrase, "US and Europe"; we've seen it before.

Europe and the US could be building a spaceship together later this decade.

It is one of the ideas being considered as Europe ponders the next evolution of its ATV orbital freighter.

The sophisticated robotic vessel is used to transport up to 7.5 tonnes of supplies to the space station, but only three more units are in production.

Europe is now looking to develop a derivative of the ship and a joint venture with the Americans on a future vessel is being discussed.

Building a spaceship together, how lovely. What great things superstates can achieve! And "Europe ponders", "Europe is now looking". Such collectivist anthropomorphism is irritating enough when applied to the UK — as if our politicians are really acting for us, serving the will of a Borg-like hive mind. L'etat, c'est nous. I don't know whether French people really feel this way about their government, but Europe is not us, and we are not Europe.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Pain for pensioners

BBC Breakfast this morning focused on two pensions stories: the change in retirement age for women, and the move away from final salary schemes for teachers.

I can see why people would be upset to see the goalposts move, especially if they were planning to retire in the near future. Ideally the changes would only affect those who are entering the workforce. For some people, the prospect of a good pension may have attracted them to the public sector despite a lower initial salary.

However, there is no escaping economic reality, and everyone working in the private sector understands this. If a private company makes unsustainable commitments, it will go bust. Nobody outside of state employment expects a job for life, never mind a final salary pension at the end of it. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Life is uncertain, circumstances change, and people have to adapt. Everyone is living longer, and someone has to pay for it. Justice demands that people pay their own way, rather than living high at the expense of others.

There are things the government could do to help.

For the longer term:
  • don't raid people's pensions (as Gordon Brown did in 2006)
  • avoid unfunded public pensions (don't rely on current workers to pay retired ones)
  • tax people less throughout their lives (so they have more to save)
  • don't tax interest on savings (especially when it fails to keep pace with inflation)
  • avoid debasing the currency (so that a pound saved in 2011 will still buy a pound's worth of goods in 2061)
  • abolish inheritance tax (so that parents can pass more wealth on to their children)
  • relax planning restrictions (so that more houses can be built, prices can fall, and people don't spend most of their lives paying interest on their mortgages)
  • reduce disincentives to work and employment (by restructuring benefits and taxes, and abolishing the minimum wage)
  • simplify taxes and reduce red tape (so that small companies can challenge oligopolies, resulting in lower prices for consumers and less money funnelled off by lawyers, accountants, and stock traders)
  • give up trying to manage the economy through interest rate manipulation and stimulus packages (these interventions — far from abolishing boom & bust — actually exaggerate rather than dampen the economic cycle)
For the short term:
  • simplify the benefits system and slash bureaucracy, so that the same state spending goes further
  • leave the EU and abolish import duties, so that pensioners don't pay more for food than they have to
  • abandon the ridiculous carbon targets that are pushing up energy bills
  • give local electors control over how much council tax they pay, through yearly referenda
The welfare state is collapsing under its own weight. Our society is on track for a fundamental realignment. It's not all doom and gloom. There will be pain, but if we shake the government parasite and trade freely with each other, exchanging value for value, inventing and discovering along the way, future generations will continue to live longer, happier, more prosperous lives.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Schlichter: The Inconvenient Truth about Sovereign Debt

Via The Cobden Centre I discovered another superb article by Detlev Schlichter:
I maintain that the vast majority of people do not consider the debt of their government to be the equivalent of their own personal debt, nor do they feel obligated morally to assume responsibility for any action that government officials undertake or any contract that they sign. This position is sensible. To have any real sense of personal responsibility one needs to have control over affairs. In a democratic nation state, no single voter has sufficient control over the borrowing and spending activities of the government, and it would thus be absurd to assume the citizen will readily forfeit a considerable part of his or her future income or property to honour debts incurred by those who are running the government.
And later:

It gets even more absurd. While my children do not have to pay for my debt – debt, for which their father signed personally – and can thus control their financial future without being burdened by my financial extravagance, they will be on the hook for servicing and repaying the debt of governments that accumulated that debt while they were not yet allowed to vote or were not even born yet – and that not even their father ever voted for.

If this represents the currently accepted notion of what a government is rightfully allowed to do, it is clear that then the notion of private property has no meaning in our society. In such a system there can be no private property. If the government can tax my income and property and engage in loan contracts that create an everlasting and potentially unlimited claim on my future income and future property – then the phrase “private property” is a vacuous term.

It's refreshing to find someone else who is as incensed by the immorality of government debt as I am.

I thoroughly recommend the whole article.

Equality before the law

Via DK, I discovered a good article by bella gerens:

Contracts, and the ability to enforce them, are a basic pillar of civilised society. In the absence of Rothbardian private justice, one of the legitimate functions of government is to arbitrate and enforce contracts. Marriage, whilst for many people religious in nature, is just a particular type of contract in the eyes of the state. It carries implicit agreements about child custody, insurance, inheritance, and so forth. There is nothing special about marriage that should make it any different to any other type of contract—in the eyes of the state.

Except that in the US, for some reason, there is a strange moral attribute to the marriage contract. Homosexuals cannot enter into this contract with each other. They are specifically and specially debarred, in a way that is utterly exceptional in a country that usually only refuses to recognise your right to contract if you are (a) a child, or (b) non compos mentis. There is nothing, even, to stop a gay person from marrying someone of the opposite sex. It’s only each other they can’t contract with in this way.

The state is not there to enshrine the religious or moral connotations of marriage; in fact it doesn’t do so for straight people at all. Straight people can contract marriage in front of the state without ever getting close enough to sniff a priest or a rabbi or an imam.

So why should gay people be denied this same legal status? The US government isn’t trying to pretend that gay people are as incapable of consenting to agreements as children or the mad; it isn’t trying to pretend that straight marriages always and everywhere carry a moral or religious weight. It’s either (a) bowing stupidly to pressures from people who would use the government to impose a moral sanction, or more worryingly (b) sees nothing wrong with making arbitrary exceptions to normal jurisprudence when it suits.

In Britain, like most other western countries, our laws enshrine a very warped sense of rights. If we genuinely cared about equality, and respected people's rights as individuals, the law would have nothing to say about the various groups that people can be divided into. Our rights wouldn't be constrained, but nor would we get any special privileges for belonging to one group or another.

Catholics would not be forbidden from marrying the Sovereign, but nor would they get any special protection against 'hate speech'. Homosexuals would be free to have sex with, and marry, any consenting adult they like, but they would not be entitled to anti-discrimination treatment in the workplace. Women would be truly equal to men; neither paternity nor maternity benefit would be provided. For it is also important to treat parents, childless couples, and single people equally.

All people would be equally free to denounce others as toffs, ponces, chavs, and pikeys; kafirs and kaffirs; not to mention coconuts and watermelons. Hopefully, as a matter of basic human decency, they would avoid causing unnecessary offence, but it is not the job of the state to compel politeness.

We are all individuals, and the law should treat us as such.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The blind driving the blind

I saw this story on BBC Breakfast recently, but couldn't find it on the BBC News site. Here's the Telegraph report:
Ministers are looking to cut the minimum distance from which a motorist has to be able to read a number plate, following a change in EU law aimed at standardising the rules across Europe.

Under the new requirements the reading distance would fall from 65 feet and seven inches (20 metres) to 57 feet and 5 inches (17.5 metres).

This is despite the great variation in the size of characters on number plates across Europe.

Letters on UK plates are considerably larger than those in France and Italy, but British drivers still have to undertake the same distance test.
How much difference this will actually make to road safety, I wouldn't like to say, but 20 meters doesn't seem like an unreasonably strict test.

But regardless of the merits of the change, it's hard to think of a worse reason for it than European standardisation.

The article continues:
The Government is ready to adopt the EU distance after a series of laboratory safety tests.

It has decided against taking advantage of an opt out which would enable the current distance to be maintained.
Exactly whose interests are being served here?

Osborne to answer to European Parliament?

The Telegraph reports:
Mark Hoban, a Treasury minister, represented Britain at a dinner of European finance ministers on Tuesday night to discuss new EU "economic governance" rules aimed at preventing a future Greek-style euro zone debt crisis.

Under a new "pact" all EU countries including Britain will accept increased Brussels "surveillance" and regular "monitoring" recommendations on their economic and budgetary policies.

While Britain will not be subject to the same EU sanctions or fines to enforce the new rules as eurozone members, British Treasury ministers do face a summons to explain their policies to MEPs. Britain is opposed to the proposal.
They continue:
The European Parliament is particularly insistent that governments should have to come to Brussels to publicly justify any departure or deviation from EU guidance on how best to manage their national policies.

Under draft rules, Mr Osborne could be compelled to appear before the EU assembly's monetary affairs committee to explain himself in an "economic dialogue" with MEPs.
It's staggering that the Eurocrats have the gall to suggest it. No doubt our government's capitulation on other European issues has emboldened them. George Osborne certainly seems to have no qualms about handing over billions of pounds of taxpayers' money, but this latest demand threatens something much more precious: his ego. So perhaps just this once he will stand firm.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Inflation remains at 4.5 per cent; George doesn't care

A good article from Daniel Hannan:
Inflation hurts everyone. Most obviously, it hurts people who have done the right thing by seeking to provide for themselves rather than relying on the state. As a new IFS survey reports, pensioners are far more adversely affected than the headline rate suggests: gas and electricity bills have outpaced the CPI; and retired people are unlikely to have the offsetting compensation of lower mortgage payments.

The only people whom inflation arguably benefits are those with colossal debts. Yet even they must function within the wider British economy, whose competitiveness is being undermined by the disincentivisation of work, the loss of productivity and the cheapening of the currency. It ought to give us pause for thought when – in defiance of the teachings of every free-market economist, every ancient philosopher and all the main monotheistic religions – we run our economy on the basis of penalising thrift and rewarding fecklessness.

For the better part of two years, this blog has been urging the Bank of England to stop printing money and start raising interest rates. Neither my imprecations nor anyone else’s have made the slightest difference: despite having got its inflation predictions utterly and spectacularly wrong, the Monetary Policy Committee has now kept interest rates at their unprecedentedly low rate for 28 months. A quango created for the narrow and explicit purpose of keeping inflation below two per cent has given up on that goal, and is instead conniving at a scheme to erode the government’s debt by debauching the currency rather than cutting spending.

For my part, I made several comments explaining that the government shouldn't be in control of interest rates. These should be determined by the free market.

But I was struck by this comment by drc:

It's shocking.

So what does George Osborne have to say about it?

He must be livid that the MPC has fallen down so badly on the job.

Eh, no, apparently not: here's his reply to the Mervyn King's latest open letter of explanation and self-exculpation:

and he doesn't seem even slightly bothered.

Could it be ... perish the thought ... that Osborne is content to see inflation eroding the value of the government's debts, and potentially increasing tax revenues through "fiscal drag"?
I encourage you to read the letter. There's not even a hint of admonition.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

On the road again

In less than an hour, thanks to some helpful Meerkats, I was able to insure my beloved K1200R for what seems like a reasonable price (£154.14, comprehensive, including UK breakdown cover and "Insurance Premium Tax").

All sorted entirely online after 9pm, with cover starting tomorrow. Amazing what the private sector can deliver. Imagine how different things would be if the government were running the show!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Tebbit: Why doesn't Rowan Williams speak out about illiteracy, immigration and the undemocratic rule of Brussels?

Another superb contribution from Lord Tebbit:

I have been thinking over the weekend of what the Archbishop of Canterbury has been saying. First of all – as I made clear last week – I would say that he has a right to consider in public such contentious political issues. Whether it was well judged for him to do so and whether he was right in his comments are very different matters. Indeed, he might recollect that when Archbishop Runcie made not dissimilar remarks in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher was re-elected with a hugely increased majority not long afterwards.

It is not so much that I disagree with his criticisms of Gove’s educational reforms, or Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, but that the Archbishop seems unaware of the rising tide of illiteracy and innumeracy, as spending on schools was increased over many years, and of the rise of welfare dependency which has been rotting society.

Of course he was right to be concerned at the very nature of coalition government. However to say that it is undemocratic without turning his attention to the far, far, greater loss of democracy to Our Unelected Masters in Brussels, and to NuLab decision to inflict uncontrolled, uncounted immigration and the so called multicultural society on the British people against their overwhelming opposition is a failure on the part of the Archbishop to have spoken out when he should have done.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Greedy, sneering and openly anti-British

Daniel Hannan encourages us to meet the typical Euro-federalist: greedy, sneering and openly anti-British:

Please do watch it. Even if it were possible to find the text of his speech on, it wouldn't do it justice.

As Hannan says,
Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister who now leads the Euro-liberals, is responding to the position of the British Government (and, though he doesn’t mention this, 11 other governments), viz that Brussels should not be whacking up its budget at a time when national administrations are trying to cut theirs.
Listen to the sneering way that Verhofstadt keeps repeating the phrase “Her Majesty’s Government”. Listen to the way MEPs snigger and applaud when he says that the very fact that the UK opposes the draft budget is proof of its merit. Listen to the mockery in his voice as he says we should join the euro. (How’s that working out for you by the way, Guy?)

Listen, above all, to the reaction in the chamber when he finishes. Verhofstadt is not one isolated Euro-loon: he is the authentic voice of the European Parliament, which promptly voted by 468 to 134 for a five per cent budget rise.
He concludes:
Does anyone seriously believe that we advance that interest by subordinating ourselves to people who so plainly despise us?
A good question. Hopefully the turnout in 2014 will be higher than 35%.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Europarl approves budget increase and direct EU taxes

From Matthew Barrett at ConservativeHome:
[Yesterday] in Strasbourg, the European Parliament adopted proposals to increase the EU budget, introduce a financial transaction tax, abolish national rebates, impose direct EU taxes and end the returning of unspent EU money to national governments.

The European Parliament set out its priorities for the next seven-year budget plan, known as the "multi annual financial framework" (MFF). Although the EU works on annual budgets, the budgets are set within the longer-term MFF. Current debates concern the next MFF, which will be in operation 2014-2020.

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, of which the Conservative Party is the largest party, voted against the proposals. There were, in total, 468 votes in favour and 134 against. Labour and UKIP also voted against the proposals, with the Lib Dems a mixture of for and abstaining.
We have little influence over our politicians, and they have even less influence over the EU. Do we really want to be part of such a club?

Whyte: Why our masters insist on breaking the rules

Jamie Whyte's latest article, for the FT, is up to his usual high standards:
Rules are made to be broken. This is a confusing adage. If you do not want a rule followed, why make it?

Yet it is clearly a popular idea among the European politicians who are managing the sovereign debt crisis. When they bailed out Greece, Ireland and Portugal they did not merely do something that exceeded their powers, they violated an explicit prohibition on such bail-outs.
they claim that by breaking the rules they are acting in the interests of the European people. But such judgments ought to be irrelevant. We do not allow an ordinary citizen to decide when the laws against theft should apply to him and when, all things considered, it would be for the best if he stole someone’s property. A thief cannot evade conviction by arguing that he had a good reason to steal. Yet the dear leaders of Europe can and do pardon themselves by declaring the wisdom of their rule-breaking.
Whyte argues that the old adage is interpreted by the ruling elite as "rules are made to be broken by the anointed" but that, on the contrary, it is those who wield the power of the state who we most need to restrain:
I recently discovered a fraudulent transaction on my credit card. Someone has imposed a £5,000 debt on me without my agreeing to it. That is against the law and I expect I will not ultimately be forced to repay the debt. During the financial crisis, the British government borrowed tens of billions of pounds, of which they require me to repay my “fair share” through taxation. This broke no law and to avoid paying I will have to emigrate.
He concludes:
Unlike the kings of yore, modern politicians cannot toss you in prison on a whim. But they can still impose debts on you. And, as with the kings of yore, their arbitrary powers are rarely used to benefit the little guy. In recent years, American, British and other European politicians have transferred the cost of poor financial decisions, amounting to trillions of dollars, from the influential people who made those mistakes to taxpayers who did not. If you refuse to cover the losses of those who lent to RBS, the Irish government and all the other failed but favoured enterprises, you will be imprisoned.

You might wish for some constitutional or other legal constraints on this power. But we already have some and the bail-outs of Greek, Irish and Portuguese bondholders broke them. Legal constraints are useless when the authorities believe that rules are made to be broken.
How true, and depressing.

Will we allow the ruling elite in Brussels and Westminster to continue abusing their power indefinitely? It seems unlikely that Party X can be dislodged at the ballot box, and even less likely that the Eurocrats can be reined in by democratic measures.

I fear this will not end well.

Economists, Double Dips, and Inflationary Depression

Via the Cobden Centre, I discovered this superb article from Detlev Schlichter:
The policy of ‘stimulus’ through government spending is, if that is possible, even more absurd. Government spending does not add anything to the economy that wasn’t there before. No new resources are being added. What the government spends it has to take from the private sector. If the government taxes the private sector, that is self-evident. If the government borrows the money it taps into the existing pool of savings, taking money that would otherwise have gone to private sector borrowers, such as corporations. Remember that what is being saved does not drop out of the economy. In order for the saver to receive any interest income or dividends the money has to be invested with someone. Even more troubling is the fact that government spending is now predominantly or fully funded by the central banks and their printing presses – either directly or indirectly via the banking sector. This is now the case in the United States, in Britain, in Japan and in the Eurozone. Not only does this policy increase overall debt-levels and the system’s dependence on ever more money creation, but it also increases – via artificially low rates – the very dislocations that were the cause of the downturn in the first place.

All that fiscal policy ever does is replace the private control over society’s resources with governmental control over those resources. By running deficits and accumulating debt the state obtains more control over resource employment than it already obtains via taxation. Forget the childish New Deal myth – no country has ever furthered its economic wellbeing by handing control of its resources to the state bureaucracy.
In the FT, Luke Johnson reminds us that "The dismal science is bereft of good ideas":
No doubt most economists believe that policymakers, financiers and entrepreneurs should listen better to their forecasts and ideas. Yet where were the widespread predictions of the credit crisis? How many called the US housing bust correctly? Armies of brilliant economists were paid magnificent salaries by all the banks that almost destroyed the west. Did none of these geniuses warn their master? Instead, they produced flawed models that encouraged stupidity. Most impressive business managers ignore the volumes of statistics churned out by economists: they know that what matters is not how the market in general is doing, but if your customers are happy and your margins are sufficient.
Meanwhile, back at the Cobden Centre, John Phelan writes
The joke about Harry Truman asking to see a one armed economist so that they couldn’t say “But on the other hand” has lasted because it is true. How true was proved again this weekend when a group of ‘esteemed’ economists wrote a letter attacking George Osborne’s deficit reduction plan. Sure enough, another group of esteemed economists were soon on hand to defend George Osborne’s deficit reduction plan. What’s a Chancellor to do?
Phelan reckons that a double-dip is coming whether we like it or not:
You could try, as the Keynesians suggest, using the government to step in as borrower and spender of last resort. This might work in the short term, allowing Ed Balls to trumpet “When Labour left office last spring the economy was strengthening with growth of 1.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2010” but if you throw £150 billion of borrowed money at an economy you are bound to see some result. And it is suicidal in the long term especially in a country like Britain where the government had already been borrowing for years before the recession hit.

You could try, as the Bank of England and Federal Reserve have, fixing interest rates ever lower in order to keep this flood of cheap credit flowing. But this is simply to encourage borrowing to continue at the previous, unsustainable rate. Again, in the short term this may have some output effect but quite soon, already in the case of Britain, you are going to run into inflationary pressures again.

Either way, the use of fiscal policy, to replace private borrowing with government borrowing, and monetary policy, making it cheaper for everyone to continue borrowing, are wasted efforts. They cannot transform enterprises that rely on an inflationary credit environment into ones that will survive under natural conditions. Those enterprises will cease.
The alternative is to take a deep breath and go for a V shaped path, a deep but short recession. Of course, this guarantees the dreaded ‘double dip’ but given that the inevitable rise in interest rates makes this dead cert anyway it might be better for Osborne if it happened now rather than nearer to the election, as turnaround time between now and 2015 is disappearing all the time.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Profit != Bad

My tribal-Labour-voting in-laws were visiting over the weekend, and discussion of the financial crisis revealed that they are inclined to the BBC's view that any activity motivated by profit is inherently morally dubious.

I don't have time to go into all the reasons this is nonsense, so instead I'll quote from a recent article by Tom Paine:

Watching Question Time from my old stamping-ground of North-East Wales this week (Paine the Elder and I used to have season tickets to Wrexham AFC when I was a lad) was a dispiriting experience. I could barely contain myself as, commenting on the care homes scandal, a Plaid Cymru MP droned pompously that;

"Once the profit motive takes over from the giving of service, that kind of thing is more prevalent".

Most of the audience in a solidly Old-Labour area seemed to agree with him. Even after their ideology was tested to destruction on more than half of humanity in the 20th Century; killing millions and impoverishing hundreds of millions, there are still idiots who believe in the intrinsic moral superiority of state-run services.
When can we bury these ludicrous (and insulting) notions that people are ping-pong balls wafted around by social, political and economic winds? My blood boiled particularly as a woman in the QT audience said the people who committed the care home abuses were "...probably on minimum wage..." while somebody made "...a fat profit..." I can hardly conceive of a less relevant observation.
He concludes:

Right is right and wrong is wrong regardless of motive. Profit made by people for doing good work is good. Profit made by cheating customers of the service they pay for (whether it's plumbing, rubbish collection or the care of vulnerable family members) is wrong. The same applies to wages earned by employees in public service, whether on the "front line" or in management. None of the wicked behaviours captured by Panorama's hidden cameras would have been less so if filmed on NHS or local authority premises (as the BBC could easily have done) or even in a charity home run by unpaid volunteers.

If carers neglect or abuse the people they are paid to look after, then the issue is not whether their bosses were motivated by profit for their shareholders, or by a desire for a cushy job-for-life with an unfunded pension. The issue is their wicked behaviour, for which they are directly responsible ...

As usual, the whole article is well worth reading.

Monday, 6 June 2011

52 economists

Eamonn Butler has done some digging ...
I was slightly astonished when I read that "52 economists" had written to the Observer to say that the government's book-balancing, welfare-reforming strategy was all wrong. First, as unkind people say, there are three kinds of economist – those who can count, and those who can't. When 364 economists wrote to the Times to beat up Mrs Thatcher's economic strategy many years ago, they obviously got the number of days in the year wrong. At least this lot know how many weeks there are in a year.

But what really puzzled me is how any economists, never mind 52 of them, should say anything so daft. Plainly, we've been spending and borrowing far too long, and now it's chicken-roosting time. That's pretty obvious.

So I spent an hour doing a very quick Google check on the 52 that had signed the letter.
He found that "only 15 of the 52 are actually practising mainstream economists". Among the rest ...
Quite a few are prominent campaigners:

Andrew Watt, Senior Researcher, European Trade Union Institute
Michael Burke, Economic Consultant (frequent Guardian columnist)
Pat Devine, University of Manchester – Industrial Economics (Google says he's a 'Radical economist')
Richard Murphy, Director, Tax Research LLP – Anti-Poverty Campaigner

Including several from the left-wing new economics foundation:

Professor Marcus Miller, University of Warwick – Macroeconomics
James Meadway, Senior economist, new economics foundation
Ruth Potts, Campaign Manager, the Great Transition (at the new economics foundation)
Andrew Simms, nef fellow and Green New Deal Group Member
James Meadway, Senior economist, new economics foundation
He continues:
A large number are not economists but teachers of 'organizational studies'

Dr Gregory Schwartz, University of Bath – Organizational Studies
Professor Alison Pullen, Swansea University – Organization Studies
Dr Damian O'Doherty, University of Manchester – People, Management and Organizations
Professor Simon Lilley, University of Leicester – Information and Organization
Colin Crouch, University of Warwick – Governance and Public Management
Nick Isles, Managing Director of Corporate Agenda – Organizational Performance
Professor Stephen Haseler, Global Policy Institute – Constitution and International Relations
Prof Peter Case, Bristol Business School – Leadership and Organizational Ethics

While several more are social policy theory:

Professor Adrian Sinfield, University of Edinburgh – Social Policy
Professor Stephen Linstead, University of York – Organizational Theory Research
David Donald, Glasgow Caledonian University – Political Science
Professor David Marquand, Oxford University – Politics (former Labour MP)
Stuart White, Jesus College, Oxford University – Politics
Valerie Bryson, Emerita Professor of Politics, University of Huddersfield – Politics (retired)
Alan Finlayson, Reader, Dept. of Political and Cultural Studies , Swansea – Political Theory

Some are historians, others involved in culture, and even media studies:

Prof Richard Grayson, Goldsmiths, University of London – History
Professor Jonathan Rutherford, Middlesex University – Cultural Studies
Professor Stefano Harney, Queen Mary, University of London – Strategy, Culture and Society
Professor David Knights, Bristol Business School – Ethics, Gender Studies, Financialization
Professor Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths, University of London – Media and Communications
Dr. Douglas Chalmers, Glasgow Caledonian University – Media and Journalism
Personally, I don't put too much stock in an economics degree, a professorship, or even a Nobel Prize. There are plenty of respected, mainstream economists spouting the most absurd Keynesian nonsense. But the signatories obviously thought that the label of 'economist' carried some special clout:
Recent economic figures have shown that the government urgently needs to adopt a Plan B for the economy. As economists and academics, we know the breakneck deficit-reduction plan, based largely on spending cuts, is self-defeating even on its own terms. It will probably not manage to close the deficit in the planned time frame and the government's strategy is likely to result in a lot more pain and a lot less gain.

We believe a more effective strategy for sustainable growth would be achieved:

• through a green new deal and a focus on targeted industrial policy.

• by clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, as well as by raising taxes on those best able to pay

• through real financial reform, job creation, "unsqueezing" the incomes of the majority, the empowerment of workers and a better work-life balance.

These are the foundation of a real alternative and it is time the government adopted it.
The BBC reported this uncritically. The Guardian headline was "George Osborne plan isn't working, say top UK economists". It's a damning indictment that this is the best they could come up with.

And the "breakneck deficit-reduction plan, based largely on spending cuts"? Let's look again at the figures from (adjusted for inflation):

Spending is higher now than it was in 2009 and 2010, and by 2015 it will still be higher than it was in 2009. What the "economists" mean when they talk of "savage cuts" is that government spending isn't accelerating as quickly as they would like. The truly shocking thing, though, is that the Conservatives play along. They're happy to take the flak for cuts that they aren't actually making. Is this because they think the markets will be fooled by tough talk? Or is it that they actually have no interest in making real cuts, and they're more concerned about being attacked from the right than the left.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Captain Euro

I'm grateful to Daniel Hannan for highlighting the sinister absurdity of our continental overlords.

According to the Captain Euro website:
Since the launch, Captain Euro and Twelve Stars have raised major media interest in the European and international press, from the UK to Italy, from Japan to the U.S., Twelve Stars and the new super-hero of Europe have appeared on many television and radio programmes, newspapers and magazines making it to the cover several times. Captain Euro, the Euro mascot, is being used by television networks in programmes relating to the Euro currency (BBC and BBC World, RTL Germany, REUTERS Worldwide, CNBC Europe, KNET Belgium, FUJI TV Japan, CNN, Channel 4, and more...). Captain Euro is establishing itself as the super-hero mascot of Europe.
Hannan writes:
One of the unexpected pleasures of parenthood is reading Brussels propaganda to your children. The material is unintentionally hilarious, and will soon have your progeny shrieking with laughter. Little ones enjoy The Raspberry Ice Cream War, which tells the tale of a group of intrepid youngsters who travel back in time to a barbarous age where there are still sovereign states, and teach the inhabitants to scrap their borders.

Older ones prefer Troubled Waters, a Tintin-style cartoon strip, whose heroine is a foxy MEP. Among the lines of dialogue are: “You can laugh! Wait until you’ve seen my amendments to the Commission proposal!” and, “I seem to spend my whole life on the train between Brussels and Strasbourg, but I’d hate to have to choose between mussels and chips and Strasbourg onion tart!”
It really is as ridiculous as anything on Eurovision, but it's not purely a laughing matter:
What is the EU’s agenda here? Well, a few years ago, I stumbled across an internal Commission report that concluded as follows: “Children can perform a messenger function in conveying the message to the home environment. Young people will often in practice act as go-betweens with the older generations, helping them embrace the euro.”