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.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Has Hannan lost the plot?

Daniel Hannan is generally sound, but he seems to be periodically afflicted by conventional wisdom. His latest article for the Daily Mail is a case in point.

I replied on his Telegraph Blogs site as follows:
"A default by Rome, on the other hand, would blow the European economy to smithereens."

Would it?

Certainly, those who were foolish enough to lend to the Italian government would lose out, but I don't see why the wider economy should suffer.

"Since no one would then lend it money,
it would have to print lots of lira very quickly to pay the salaries of
its soldiers, policemen and other vital public servants."


Has someone got to you, Daniel? Do you really believe that there is no fat left to be trimmed in the Italian public sector? Surely they could balance the budget without impacting any genuinely vital services.
Italy should embrace default. So should we all.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Allister Heath on Communism

Another good article form Allister Heath:
Communism has been tried repeatedly. It doesn’t work. Most people just about remember this (though most youngsters will have forgotten by the time the next crisis comes about). Communism’s degree of failure is utterly incomparable with the failure of our present, mixed economy system (what we have is not pure capitalism or “neo-liberalism” but a weird and unstable combination of markets combined with a large public sector, high and graduated taxes, hugely powerful monetary authorities and a huge amount of regulation). Communism leads to collapse, starvation and dictatorship.
Heath provides plenty of examples, and recommends The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, which "details how at least 94m people lost their lives as a result of communism in the twentieth century".

But what of those compliant comrades who weren't forced to pay the ultimate price? Is there nothing to recommend the communist approach?
Two natural experiments were run last century: an unusually pure version of capitalism in Hong Kong versus real communism in China; a slightly more diluted but still highly capitalist model in post-war Germany versus a socialist system in East Germany. In both cases the triumph of capitalism was complete.
Heath concludes:
Instead of wasting time investigating the views of an economist whose overall system failed disastrously, we should be learning from those who understand that a free-market is the only possible system but who also grasp that current institutions tend to lead to booms and busts, especially if the price system is distorted by underpriced credit or underpriced risk as a result of central bank or government actions. If you are into dead economists, try reading Ludwig von Mises or F.A. Hayek. The latter predicted the crash of 1929 and the stagflation of the 1970s; their followers predicted the dot.com bubble and the collapse of 2008. Marx should remain buried.
It is a good point, well made.

MEPs insist on above-inflation budget increase

Just for a change ...

MEPs have insisted on an above-inflation increase in the EU's budget, despite opposition from national governments.

On 26 October 2011 the European Parliament held its final debate on the draft budget for 2012, before final negotiations begin with the Commission and the Council of Ministers.

MEPs broadly followed a recommendation by the Budgets Committee to back - and exceed - the Commission's proposal for a 4.9% increase in the EU's 2012 budget compared with the 2011 budget.

This would give the EU a budget of approximately €132bn and the proposed rise is above the rate of inflation.

Read the rest of the sorry story at the BBC's ironically named Democracy Live site.

UPDATE:

What the BBC doesn't tell you is that no British MEPs supported the increase:



53 British MEPs voted against; 8 abstained.

In Germany, 61 voted for the increase; 9 against.

In France, 44 voted for the increase; 8 against.

Overall, 430 voted for; 122 against.

For the record, here are the British MEPs who shamefully abstained (5 Lib Dems, 2 Greens, 1 Plaid Cymru):

Cameron the money printer

The Telegraph reports:

Mr Cameron is thought to be in support of a plan for the European Central Bank effectively to print money in a Continent-wide quantitative easing programme which could be used to rescue Italy and possibly Spain. The ECB is heavily dependent on German financing but Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has refused to support the bank playing a central role in a eurozone bailout package because of fears that it will cause high inflation.

It is the first time that the Prime Minister has publicly expressed his anger at Germany for blocking a deal involving the ECB.

Massive money printing: what could possibly go wrong?

It's as if the Germans have past experience of this ...

The Torygraph?

I often have a go at the BBC, but the supposedly right-wing Telegraph shares many of their ridiculous views:
Worrying about the environment is not a concern you’d historically associate with Ferrari, but no one is immune from the global responsibility to decrease carbon emissions, not even niche manufacturers, and the Italian stallion must play its part.
The sad fact is that there aren't any voices of sanity in the British mainstream press. Only the tabloids come close, but they mix the occasional worthwhile comment with so much crap that most educated people dismiss them out of hand.

HS2

BBC News:
The case for HS2 depends partly on the idea that time spent on the train is unproductive, so that if you can make the journey shorter there will be big productivity gains for the economy.

The government document setting out the cost/benefit analysis puts the value of that time saving at £7.3bn by 2043 - and that's just for the section running from London to Birmingham.

But when I got on a train at Birmingham International, I found plenty of passengers - in First Class at least - who appeared to disprove that theory.

With free wi-fi on the train, they were hunched over their laptops and smartphones, busy working rather than idling away the journey.
What do the passengers think?
If the HS2 project does go ahead the journey to London will be cut to just 49 minutes by 2026.

But the passengers I met did not seem too excited by that - Roisif Wilson, who spends some of the week shuttling between offices in Birmingham, was not convinced that the money would be well spent.

"We use the internet for conference calls anyway," she said. "We're living in a much more technological age and I think it would be good to invest in better wi-fi for more people. It's not a significant enough difference for the investment."
Personally, it strikes me as a grotesque waste of money. They should concentrate instead on getting our existing trains to run on time, and adding capacity so that people don't need to stand.

UPDATE:

Here's the latest from Westminster's most promising MP:
The Transport Committee’s report into High Speed Rail was released today. You can find it here.

I voted against the report. In my view, it is too supportive of the present proposals.

In committee, a number of us brought forward and voted for amendments which would have softened the report substantially. Some of these were defeated by just one vote. Full details can be found in the formal minutes at the end of the first volume.

£40bn IMF backdoor euro bailout

BBC News reports:

The government says it would be able to hand over as much as £40bn to the IMF without a vote in the House of Commons.

That is more than three times as much as the annual budget for the police in England and Wales.

It is more or less the amount the Treasury raises in Corporation Tax in a year.

And until the weekend, many at Westminster had no idea the figure was so big.

Yet Parliament has already agreed to what Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander describes as a £40bn "ceiling".

I'd say 'shocking', but very little shocks me these days.

Any loans by our government to foreign organisations should be subject to a referendum. That £40 billion can be given away without so much as a Commons vote is deeply distressing.

The labour laws induce sloth, indolence

An interesting article by Ian Morris of Stanford University in BBC News Magazine:

In 2011, we are used to reading in the newspapers that China is a crass, corrupt, economic giant, manipulating its currency and rigging the markets to catch up with the West. Back in 1911, though, British newspapers levelled exactly the same charges against the USA. And they were right. Within 50 years, the US had conquered the world's markets and the European empires were gone.

A disaster for Europe - or was it? In 2011 the average European lives 30 years longer than the average in 1911 and earns five times as much. Europe is far freer than it was in 1911 and has not had a major war in 66 years. All things considered, losing its number one spot and becoming dependent on American capital was a good deal for 20th Century Europe.

Will dependency on Chinese capital in the 21st Century be equally good?

No one knows, but the signs are not promising. Just last week, Jin Liqun, the supervising chairman of China's sovereign wealth fund, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that Beijing should only lend to Europe if the EU turns itself upside down.

"If you look at the troubles which happened in European countries," said Jin. "This is purely because of the accumulated troubles of the worn out welfare society… The labour laws induce sloth, indolence, rather than hard working." Europe might find Chinese economic hegemony much harder to live with than an American one.

Jin is right, and though Europeans may find the transition difficult, our deeply immoral, unfunded welfare state must die. I'm sure the British at the turn of the last century would have looked on our modern society with the same contempt.

71 percent of Germans want referendum on Euro

Via The Cobden Centre's Twitter feed:

Translation:
According to an Emnid poll commissioned by "Bild am Sonntag" 71 percent of Germans want to be able to vote directly on important decisions to Europe and the Euro. Only 27 percent oppose it.
It will be interesting to see what coverage this gets in the British press.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

More subsidy, Gromit?

BBC News reports
Wallace and Gromit maker Aardman's head of TV has said the company may have to halt UK production of its famed stop-frame animations because it has become too expensive.
...
The main problem, he said, was that while films made in the UK can receive government help in the shape of a 15-20% tax credit, UK TV animation receives nothing.
The right answer, of course, is to do away with all tax credits, while reducing corporation tax across the board (preferably to zero).

The government shouldn't be picking winners. The best thing it can do is to get out of the way, and leave Britons to figure out what they're best at.

Besides reducing or abolishing corporation tax, there are a number of things the government could do to make British businesses more competitive internationally, without favouring one region or industry over another:
  • Abolish minimum wage (the government shouldn't condemn people to unemployment just because their labour is worth less than some arbitrary, centrally planned amount)
  • Repeal labour laws (both sides of an employment contract should be voluntary, and the terms should be decided by the employer and employee, not bureaucrats)
  • Abolish employers' national insurance (the last thing we should be doing at the moment is discouraging job creation)
  • Merge employees' national insurance with income tax (that's what it effectively is anyway), and make rates low and flat (so that there is never a disincentive to work)
  • Abolish Capital Gains Tax (we should not be discouraging investment)
  • Reduce welfare handouts to the absolute minimum (hostels and soup kitchens) so that everyone who can work, seeks work
  • Abolish all carbon taxes (if this seems radical, read 'An Appeal to Reason')
  • Exit the EU (so we can trade freely with all countries of the world, rather than just Europe)

Halal vs animal rights

An interesting little video from BBC News. Here's the blurb:

Next month the Dutch parliament is expected to approve a ban on halal and kosher methods of slaughtering animals for food.

Those who proposed the ban say it is simply an issue of animal welfare, but it received strong support from the right-wing Freedom Party.

Many see it as a violation of their religious freedom, and among the Jewish community it is a worrying echo of a similar ban brought in by Hitler.

It's always amusing when different BBC causes come into conflict. Animal rights versus Muslim rights, who wins?

Left-wing defence of Islam has always been a bit strange, since most things you'll read in the Koran are antithetical to most things you'll read in The Guardian. But lefties are masters of doublethink.

It's also interesting to see the Nazis dragged into this. If you consider Islam as an ideology, it has quite a lot in common with Nazism. Both are totalitarian, anti-Jewish, and anti-free speech. Both require the individual to submit to the collective. Islam shares the Nazi desire for global domination, and condones, even encourages, the use of violence in pursuit of that goal.

We must rejoice that so many Muslims are bad Muslims, who don't take the Koran at its word.

My own view is that we should afford no special respect to religious beliefs. If society decides that a certain method of slaughter is inhumane, "God told me to" is not a valid defence.

Although I have nothing but scorn for animal rights extremists, I don't think that animals should be made to suffer unnecessarily. Animal welfare isn't high up my own list of concerns, but it seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for libertarians to support. I'm not going to stop eating meat any time soon, but I have a lot of sympathy with the position set out by David Graham:
I find it strange that so many of my fellow libertarians and anarchists oppose and ridicule animal rights with such passion. For one thing, an animal right is perfectly libertarian in that it is a negative right. Unlike incoherent positive rights, such as the 'right' to education or health care, the animal right is, at bottom, a right to be left alone. It does not call for government to tax us in order to provide animals with food, shelter, and veterinary care. It only requires us to stop killing them and making them suffer. I can think of no other issue where the libertarian is arguing for a positive right — his right to make animals submit to any use he sees — and the other side is arguing for a negative right!
It will be interesting to see how the argument develops over the coming decades.

FT: Capitalism need not be about greed and gambling

A worthwhile article in the FT by John Kay:

Capitalism “should be replaced by something nicer”, one group of demonstrators demanded. The slogan encapsulates the incoherence of the protests at Wall Street and the City of London.

More than a century ago the sociologist Werner Sombart explained the lack of appeal of socialism in the US with the observation that “all socialist utopias have foundered on roast beef and apple pie”. The socialist utopias of Russia and China would later founder on precisely those issues. For roast beef and apple pie, today read iPads and Twitter. Protesters know capitalism delivers their mobile phones. Only a minority would renounce this material world altogether: which is how the Daily Telegraph could report that most went off at night to enjoy the sprung mattresses and showers that have replaced hay bales and water from the pump during two centuries of capitalist industrialisation.

Indeed. One of my favourite tweets from Sunday Morning Live this morning was the one commenting on the impressive Wi-Fi signal enjoyed by the protesters.

Kay continues:
A semantic confusion leads us to use the word market to describe both the process which puts food on our table and the activity of gambling in credit default swaps. That confusion has enabled people to claim the virtues of the former for the latter.
...
The inventors of social networking sites resemble the occupiers of St Paul’s Churchyard tents more than the occupants of boardrooms. The besuited Winkelvoss twins, lobbying and litigating for a share of Mark Zuckerberg’s business, embody the deformed view of market economics which confuses business interests with free enterprise.
Quite.

Of course, state should not prevent gambling, whether through casinos or stock exchanges, and it shouldn't take any interest in private sector executive salaries. What it should do is allow bad gamblers to go bust, and stop subsidising businesses (whether they be banks, car manufacturers, or eco-industrialists). We need less government intervention, not more.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Schlichter on the euro

Detlev Schlichter:
Europe’s problem is not that many different countries share the same currency. Many more and much more different countries did the same between 1879 and 1914 under the gold standard, and it worked very well. The problem is precisely that they do not share an international, apolitical and inelastic commodity money, but a fully elastic and politicized fiat money that comes with build-in expectations of government and bank bailouts.
This is excerpted from a superb interview with ValueWalk, covering a wide range of topics.

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Austerity

BBC News defines austerity as follows:
Economic policy aimed at reducing a government's deficit (or borrowing). Austerity can be achieved through increases in government revenues - primarily via tax rises - and/or a reduction in government spending or future spending commitments.
It's probably a fair description of how the term is used by the mainstream media these days, but it's a far cry from what I think of by 'austerity'.

WordReference.com serves up a more traditional definition:
Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 Oxford University Press:
austere /ɒˈstɪə, ɔː-/
▶adjective (austerer, austerest)

1 severe or strict in appearance or manner.

2 lacking comforts, luxuries, or adornment.

– derivatives
austerely adverb,
austerity noun (pl. austerities).
– origin ME: via OFr. from L. austerus, from Gk austēros ‘severe’.
This is consistent with images of genuine austerity from times gone by.


It's deeply wrong that a word with these connotations is used to describe attempts by wealthy societies to live within their means.

As I wrote in May 2010, we don't have to go very far back in time to find much lower government spending:
Simply scaling back to the 'austerity' of 2002 would save hundreds of billions of pounds, and even accounting for increases in welfare costs, it would be enough to take us from deficit to surplus, allowing us to finally begin repaying the debt.
Although I remain firmly committed to balancing the books, I no longer believe we should attempt to repay 'our' debt. We should instead repudiate it.

The necessity of bailouts

From a recent BBC News article:

Germany's banks have a heavy exposure to debt from Greece, Europe's biggest headache.

This means in the event of a Greek default, Germany would probably have to bail out its own banks.

It would seem that as far as the BBC is concerned, there's nothing more natural than taxpayers being forced to pay for the bad decisions of bankers. If the banks want a bailout, they'll get one.

It's a warped view, especially considering how much time they spend banker bashing.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Referendum retraction?

Only yesterday, the BBC's Gavin Hewitt quoted George Papandreou as follows:

"We will not implement any programme by force," he said, "but only with the consent of the Greek people.

"This is our democratic tradition and we demand that it is also respected abroad."

Today it seems that he has been beaten into submission.


Finally, the Greek people have a good reason to riot. It will be interesting to see how they react.

Church and state

In his latest post, Daniel Hannan rightly argues that there is nothing moral about higher taxes:
Now that Rowan Williams is intruding into the debate about a financial transactions tax, I'd like to ask him a question. Which does he consider more meritorious – to give your own money to good causes ... or to force your customers, clients and shareholders to do so in the name of 'corporate social responsibility'? Which has more virtue – to 'sell that thou hast, and give to the poor', or to be expropriated through the tax system?
The whole article is worth reading (though I am left wondering about Hannan's own religious beliefs). Regular readers will remember my previous blogs on the Tobin Tax and my distaste for 'corporate social responsibility', but Hannan nicely highlights the thoroughly un-Christian nature of Church's lurch to the left.

Allister Heath picks up the same themes in an excellent article for City A.M.

[The Church of England] has long since turned its back on its core competence of bread and butter theology and helping its members navigate life, preferring instead to turn itself into a politicised advocacy group. It is more interested in fighting capitalism, calling for ever more government spending and higher taxes and jumping onto every fashionable left-wing bandwagon (the most recent being banker-bashing and Tobin taxes), rather than talking about God (whom its clerics presumably still believe in), the difference between right and wrong in personal decisions, and how responsible individuals can do good themselves through their behaviour, choices and private charity.

Poverty is idolised, material gain demonised and envy rationalised. The collapse of the Berlin wall and the astonishing wealth-creation (for which capitalism and globalisation are entirely responsible) that has enabled scores of people in emerging nations to climb out of abject poverty has completely passed by the CoE’s establishment. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, sounds more like an anti-growth environmental radical or a traditional, pre-Blair socialist Labour politician, rather than a man interested in spreading the word of God. There is no longer room in his church for conservatives, free marketeers or capitalists – or even for mainstream folk who work hard and honestly to better the living standards of their families and don’t want to feel bad about it. This is not a dispute about ethics – it is about a weirdly ignorant rejection of the foundations of our modern, prosperous societies.

Williams professes to care about the poor, but he's hopelessly committed to an ideology that impoverishes in the name of equality. He professes to care about our 'immortal souls', but he would reduce free individuals to mere automata, serfs to philosopher kings who alone are empowered to make moral choices. He is a very bad man, and in the unlikely event that there is a hell, I hope he rots in it.

Delingpole: Why does the BBC so hate Britain?

I've had a double dose of BBC today because I caught the 6 o'clock news in addition to BBC Breakfast.

The relentless drivel about Coalition Cuts, obesity epidemics, and our moral duty to bail out bankrupt governments left me about as enraged as you'd expect, so I was pleased to read this from James Delingpole:
It's long since time that the BBC was forced to recognise its responsibilities as our compulsory, near-monopoly broadcaster. If the only people who funded it were tofu-eating metropolitan anti-capitalist bien-pensants who all believed in renewable energy with the same blind ideological fervour as Chris Huhne then the BBC would be perfectly within its rights to broadcast this Spartist drivel. But they're not. The BBC's job is also to represent – or try to represent – the interests of people who are shocked by rising energy bills, who are desperately worried about Britain's economic future, who might benefit from a job working in or servicing the shale gas industry, who innocently believe (in their sweet but oh-so-naive way) that the British Broadcasting Corporation's true purpose is to broadcast for Britain.
I recommend the whole article.

Sadly, I think the BBC is beyond saving. Even if it were somehow possible to reclaim it from the radical lefties, there would always be the risk that they'd take it over again.

It's a shame, because they do produce some of the best television I've ever seen, Frozen Planet being the latest example. I like to think that the demand for such programmes, and the talented people that produce them, wouldn't suddenly disappear if we moved away from compulsory funding.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Hannan: Eurocrats are terrified of democracy

An excellent article from Daniel Hannan:

Shall I tell you the truly terrifying thing about the EU? It’s not the absence of democracy in Brussels, or the ease with which Eurocrats swat aside referendum results. It’s the way in which the internal democracy of the member states is subverted in order to sustain the requirements of membership.

George Papandreou, the luckless Greek leader, is the latest politician to find himself being chewed up because he stands in the way of the Brussels machine. On Monday afternoon, Papandreou announced a referendum on whether to accept the EU’s bail-out terms. He had evidently had enough of the antics of the opposition party, New Democracy, which kept insisting that Greece remain in the euro, while opposing all the austerity measures necessary to that end – an outrageous stance given that New Democracy ran up the deficit in the first place. Papandreou hoped to force his opponents off the fence: in favour of the spending cuts or against euro membership. Perhaps he also hoped to put pressure on the EU to offer more generous terms.

AEP: Why the Greek decision means a complete unravelling of last week’s deal

Via The God That Failed, I discovered this article by AEP:

GREECE'S astonishing decision to call a referendum – "a supreme act of democracy and of patriotism", in the words of premier George Papandreou – has more or less killed last week’s EU summit deal.

The markets cannot wait three months to find out the result, and nor is China going to lend much money to the EFSF bail-out fund until this is cleared up. The whole edifice is already at risk of crumbling. Société Générale is down 15pc this morning. The FTSE MIB index in Milan has crashed 7pc. Italian bond spreads have jumped to 450 basis points.

Unless the European Central Bank step in very soon and on a massive scale to shore up Italy, the game is up. We will have a spectacular smash-up.

If handled badly, the disorderly insolvency of the world’s third largest debtor with €1.9 trillion in public debt and nearer €3.5 trillion in total debt would be a much greater event than the fall of Credit Anstalt in 1931. (Let me add that Italy is not fundamentally insolvent. It is only in these straits because it does not have a lender of last resort, a sovereign central bank, or a sovereign currency. The euro structure itself has turned a solvent state into an insolvent state. It is reverse alchemy.)

This all sounds true enough, as far as it goes.

Britain is having less trouble with the markets because it can print money to buy government bonds, which is what QE is all about. But this is hardly a cost-free choice.

We might equally say that an accomplished counterfeiter is never 'insolvent', because he can always pay his bills with fresh forgeries.

AEP says "unless the European Central Bank step in very soon and on a massive scale to shore up Italy, the game is up". But for whom is the game up? Italy won't cease to exist, nor will any of the real goods and services within its borders. The game will be up for those who were foolish enough to lend to the Italian government. And following a default, the game will be up for those who rely on the Italian government continuing to live beyond its means (notably those in public sector employment).

On the other hand, if the ECB does 'step in' to shore up every overindebted state in Europe (by printing money to buy their bonds), it will be confiscating purchasing power from everyone who currently holds euros, and sowing the seeds for hyperinflation on a continental scale.

I'm with Detlev Schlichter: the nations of Europe should embrace default.

Let's wipe the slate clean, and give true capitalism a try.

UPDATE:

You do have to give AEP credit for this bit, though:

The Greek referendum – if it is not overtaken by a collapse of the government first – has left officials in Paris, Berlin, and Brussels speechless with rage. The ingratitude of them.

The spokesman of French president Nicolas Sarkozy (himself half Greek, from Thessaloniki) said the move was “irrational and dangerous”. Rainer Brüderle, Bundestag leader of the Free Democrats, said the Greeks appear to be “wriggling out” of a solemn commitment. They face outright bankruptcy, he blustered.

Well yes, but at least the Greeks are stripping away the self-serving claims of the creditor states that their “rescue” loan packages are to “save Greece”.

...

The debt has exploded under the EU-IMF Troika programme. It is heading for 180pc of GDP by next year. Even under the haircut deal, Greek debt will be 120pc of GDP in 2020 after nine years of depression. That is not cure, it is a punitive sentence.

Andy Duncan summed up the article nicely:

In his usual curate’s egg way of writing – with a mixture of the partly good and the partly bad – if you filter out the bad parts, AEP sums up the priceless situation in Greece, as the people there head inexorably towards Iceland-style default, regardless of what the Troika want.