Wednesday, 29 February 2012

We already know that road

We still believe that until quite recently we were governed by 19th century ideas or the principle of laissez-faire. Compared with some other countries, and from the point of view of those impatient to speed up the change, there may be some justification for such a belief.
This was written in 1944. The passage continues:
But although until 1931 this country had followed only slowly on the path on which others had led, even by then we had moved so far that only those whose memory goes back to the years before the last war know what a liberal world has been like.
I look forward to reading the rest of The Road to Serfdom.

Who's to blame for the Greek tragedy

I don't ordinarily read The Sun, but I recently followed a retweeted link to a truly absurd article:
Greek diplomat Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos is near tears as he watches neatly dressed but hungry citizens scavenging the city's garbage bins.

For the ambassador, this is the ruination of all he has worked for since, as a young official, he helped his country sign up to the European dream.
Hatred seethes against Germany, which in 1942 reduced Greece to starvation and slavery during its brutal Nazi occupation.
Germany and France, who must accept the blame for allowing Greece into the euro at all, are terrified of contagion. So they are forcing this humiliated nation to slash pay and pensions to starvation levels.
I don't know how bad things really are in Greece (early reports of Greek 'austerity' involved pension terms that would seem generous to anyone in Britain), but however bad it is, we must ask who's really to blame.

I'm not suggesting that France and Germany behaved admirably, but their role has been more that of a drug dealer or loan shark, rather than thief or torturer. Nobody forced Greek politicians to run deficits.

Detlev Schlichter's latest article perfectly captures my thoughts on the matter:
There is no alternative to shrinking the Greek state drastically. It may not be nice for the Greeks to get told so by the Eurocracy – who run equally unsustainable models in their respective home countries, even if they have not been found out by markets yet – but that can change quickly....

That the coming shrinkage of the Greek state – and it will happen, one way or another – will cause hardship to many ordinary Greeks, nobody can deny. But what are the realistic alternatives and who is to blame? I see no alternatives and as to the blame, this falls squarely on the modern social democratic welfare state, a model that is now collapsing everywhere around us under the weight of its own economic absurdity. Large sections of Western society have for decades been lulled into accepting as a fact of modern life that the state would always look after them, that politicians could offer them secure employment, high and rising living standards, secure pensions and top-notch yet affordable health-care – all delivered by an ever-expanding state bureaucracy funded through rising taxes on productive activity, cheap money from the fiat money central banks and ever more debt. The final bill was supposed to be deferred forever. This irresponsible political theatre is coming to an end. Greece is just the first domino to fall.

And what does it mean for democracy? – This is a well-meaning question but do those who ask it imply that tough measures would be more acceptable if they came from local politicians, or do they imply that the Greeks could vote themselves a less harsh reality?
The whole article is well worth reading.

Ireland vs Greece

Detlev Schlichter writes
Although it just defaulted on €107 billon of private credit, Greece immediately gets another €130 billion taken from taxpayers in other countries. And these new loans plus the ones that were agreed at the time of the last bailout were just made cheaper. They now only cost 2 percent per annum after 3.5 before the restructuring...

It defaulted on its ‘private’ lenders and got more money at lower rates from its official lenders.
I seem to remember that the terms imposed on Ireland were not so favourable. If I were Irish, I'd be none too pleased.

Let's see how they vote in the upcoming referendum.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Schlichter on the NHS

Detlev Schlichter has published an impressive essay on the correct size and proper function of the state. I will highlight further aspects of it in future posts, perhaps along with an explanation of why I am not yet prepared to make the leap to anarcho-capitalism.

For now, here is an excerpt that nicely complements the article by Jamie Whyte featured in my previous post:

Britain’s National Health Service will never deliver a satisfactory service. This is not because the people who work in it are incompetent or lazy. They could be the most motivated, devoted and well-meaning people on the planet and they could still only deliver suboptimal results and do so at considerable cost. Why? Because the NHS has to deliver health services for an entire nation without the help of true market prices and profit and loss accounting. These are the tools of capitalism that – day in and day out – allow the private sector to make informed decisions about best resource use – ‘informed’ because reflecting the preferences and wishes of the customers, the consumers.

Despite the widespread sentimental attachment to the NHS and its superficially appealing motto of delivering health care “free of charge” (obviously not true for the majority of citizens), the fundamental shortcomings of any service organized along socialist lines should be glaringly obvious to anyone: While the still fairly unrestricted private mobile phone industry in Britain delivers the latest advances in telecommunications technology to people across the entire social spectrum with remarkable speed and at constantly falling prices, the nationalized health service bureaucracy has people wait in line even for many routine and long-established procedures and provides such service at ever more staggering cost to the taxpayer.

That health service and education are too important to be left to the private market is a common prejudice that puts economic logic on its head: Because they are important they should be allowed to employ the tools of the private market.

Whyte on the NHS

Another superb article from Jamie Whyte:
A government that really cared about us would make us pay for healthcare. Services provided free to users are not gifts but burdens. They are compulsory purchases.

Take a simple example. How much are you willing to set aside to cover the cost of medical care in your old age? Personally, not much. I would rather spend the money now to enjoy life while still deluded that I am young and healthy. I will save only enough to cover my basic medical needs when old and clapped out: enough for false teeth and a year’s supply of morphine.

But wait. Like everyone else, I am entitled to comprehensive medical care when old, whether I can pay for it or not. So here is what I will do. I won’t save anything and then I will take all I can get free from the NHS, as will everyone else.

How will the government pay for all this “free” medical care? By taxing me, of course, along with my fellow entitlement holders. In the end, my “entitlement” simply obliges me to buy medical treatment that I do not think worth the cost. Which is a strange way for the government to show it cares about me.

As usual, I recommend the whole article.

Redwood on Iran

A good post from John Redwood:
The problems for the west are several if the west continues to take a strongly interventionist approach.  Intervention does involve killing a lot of people. It means backing one side in a civil war which may include a number of groups that are no more desirable by western standards of civil liberties and democracy than the groups they are fighting. There is no guarantee for the west that once the task of evicting the old government is accomplished, there will be a smooth passage to a new government which meets with the approval of the west and has sufficient consent at home to be credible and successful.

What has the government done

Amusing auto-complete from Google:

I was looking for the second item, of course.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Libya militias threatening stability

BBC News reports

In the past month, the BBC has seen corroborating evidence of torture in Misrata, Libya's third city, as well as the town of Gharyan, south of the capital Tripoli.

In January, the BBC saw the corpse of a man whose body bore the marks of torture, including beating and electric shocks.

On Friday, there will be celebrations across the country to mark the first anniversary of the start of the revolution that - it was hoped - would usher in a new era.

There is now a real fear that some of the very men who - with the support of Nato - fought the battle to topple the old regime, are now jeopardising the country's future.

As I blogged back in September, this comes as no surprise to me.

Related articles

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Valentine's Day message from nanny

Another excellent post from Christopher Snowdon:
In these times of austerity, with Greece in flames and the UK in mind-boggling debt, it's reassuring to know that the Department of Health still has money for crucial, front-line services such as commissioning surveys about who people want to kiss.
To boost your chances of dating success this Valentine's Day quit the fags, suggests a poll that shows smoking is one of the biggest turn-offs.

Three-quarters of people aged 18 to 24 said they would not kiss someone who had just smoked.

And half the 1,700 people surveyed for the Department of Health (DoH) said they would think twice about starting a serious relationship with a smoker.
I'm married and I hate young people so I have no dog in this fight, but is this really the best the DoH can do? This is just a reworking of the old "lips that touch liquor will never kiss mine" meme from the 19th century.

I don't care. Smokers can pair off with smokers and nonsmokers can pair off with nonsmokers. Kiss who you want. It's none of the Department of Health's business.
Like Snowdon, I'm old and married. I don't have any interest in the kissing habits of 18-24 year-olds ... and neither should the DoH. I'm a non-smoker, but I strongly resent this tax-funded hectoring.

Snowdon puts it better:
Is there no day of the year on which these inane, pontificating pricks can leave us alone?

Friday, 10 February 2012

Give peace a chance

BBC News reports:
Argentina is to make a formal complaint to the United Nations about British "militarisation" around the disputed Falkland Islands.


In her address on Tuesday, Ms Fernandez accused the UK of "militarising the South Atlantic one more time".

"We will present a complaint to the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, as this militarisation poses a grave danger to international security," Ms Fernandez said.

"We cannot interpret in any other way the deployment of an ultra-modern destroyer accompanying the heir to the throne, who we would prefer to see in civilian attire."

She asked UK Prime Minister David Cameron "to give peace a chance".

Although we have many reasons to question David Cameron's judgement, I don't think he's planning an attack on the Argentinian mainland, or anywhere else in the South Atlantic.

There was peace in the Falklands from 1833 until 1982, when Argentina attacked after nearly 150 years of British rule. On the 14th of June, the islands will celebrate another 30 years of peace. Peace will prevail there until the next act of Argentinian aggression.

I'd like to think that any diplomats repeating Ms Fernandez's absurd suggestions to the UN would be laughed out of the chamber, but I expect a different reaction from that ignoble club.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Democracy and property rights

An email reached me today from Detlev Schlichter, who had some frighteningly insightful comments on democracy and property rights:
The way modern democracy has developed, it is entirely incompatible with any notion of property rights. Property rights today are never absolute, they are conditional. All property in our society belongs ultimately to the state. You are simply allowed to use some property as long as you keep paying whatever fees and levies the state imposes on you, and as long as you conduct yourself according to what the state deems appropriate. The moment you fall behind paying your dues, any and all your property is at risk of confiscation.

As Doug Casey says: Try not paying your property tax for a year or two and you will find out who really owns your house.

Already more than 160 years ago, the German philosopher Max Stirner wrote that the existence of a state and the notion of private property are incompatible. The state has the monopoly on legalized violence, on taxation and on legislation, and those who run this monopoly have no interest in protecting your property but every interest, and every means, to invade it. While that was also true of monarchic states, at least there it appears that the inherent class chasm between rulers and the ruled encouraged some restraint: kings and dukes were afraid of the mob. In democracy, the state represents the mob. It could well be the fate of every democracy to ultimately descend into mob rule, and no environment is more suitable for this than a prolonged economic crisis.
I've been reflecting recently on how a stable, minimal state could be maintained without the injustice of an aristocracy.

The universal franchise does seem to be a large part of the problem. As a believer in meritocracy, I couldn't countenance any sort of caste system, but it cannot be right, or sustainable, for net beneficiaries of the state to vote for increasingly generous payments from a wealth-producing minority.

Rothbard argues quite convincingly that there is no such thing as a just tax. For now, though, I'm still inclined toward minarchism rather than anarcho-capitalism, so I seek a tax regime that is
The best I've been able to come up with so far is a system that taxes passports, and nothing else.

Passports would not be required to leave the UK, though other countries may still require one for entry. The passport office would require no more personal information than at present. Overall, the government would need to know much less about us. How you make your money, for example, would be no business of the state.

Passports would come at a cost sufficient to fund a police force, courts, and a military capable of defending us against credible threats.

Passports would also entail voting rights. Those unable or unprepared to meet the fee would be disenfranchised, but it hardly seems the right word in this context. Anyone would be free to vote, provided they fund the (minimal) services they enjoy, and the cost would hopefully be less than is currently collected through council tax.

As I wrote in 2010:
In 1900 the government spent £265 million, equivalent to £24 billion today. If spending had been kept at those levels, council tax would suffice to cover it.
In 30 years' time, the world will be a very different place. It seems unlikely that a welfare state on current lines will exist. Sooner or later, we shall all have to live within our means. The buck cannot indefinitely be passed to the next generation. We can only hope that there is not too much bloodshed in the transition.

[1] I remember a good article on the deadweight costs of taxation that Jamie Whyte published with The Times. It is currently stuck behind a paywall that libertarians can't begrudge, however much we may lament the passing of free linking.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Rioters 'felt inferior'

From yesterday's 'Torygraph':
People who took part in last summer's riots did so because they suffered from low self-esteem and mistrust of the police, a report has claimed.
No further details provided.

The Guardian has more.

Words fail.

60 years of currency debasement

In celebration of HMQ's 60-year reign, The Telegraph reprinted a few pages from 1952:

My eye was immediately drawn to the top right:

Price: 2d. D for denarii — old pence. 2/240 of a pound. Slightly less than a decimal penny: £0.008333.

Today's price?

£1.20. So The Telegraph costs 144 times as much today as it did in 1952. Apply your own hedonic adjustment, but it's hard to argue that today's Telegraph is 144 times better than the 1952 version. Who has benefitted from 60 years of currency debasement?

Even more interesting than the articles were the adverts.

£96.45 (11.5 thousand times the cost of a newspaper) would get you a 300 mph flight to New York with TWA, "Starting May 1st ... subject to Govt. approval".

The advert from Johnnie Walker noted "Maximum prices as fixed by the Scotch Whisky Association".

An advert from City & West End Properties Ltd offered "Unfurnished Mansion Flats in the West End and South West of London at rentals of £400-500 p.a."

I wish they'd include reprints every day. Perhaps a page from each decade, going back to 1900. I'm sure it would give a useful sense of perspective.

The VDARE effect

I just traced another recent spike in my blog traffic to

Patrick Celburne writes:

Sean Gabb’s essay for us last night on the fruits of abolishing Britain’s 800 year old rule prohibiting Double Jeopardy – the extremely dubious Show Trial convictions this month over the 1993 death of a black youth – seemingly coincided with a very long piece on Gabb by a U.K. blog called Suboptimal Planet: Is Sean Gabb a racist?

Suboptimal Planet is a very young blog (started December 2009) and is probably written by a young blogger. The piece is a depressing demonstration of how crude emotionalism – hysteria in fact – has become considered intellectually valid and respectable where the discussion of racial matters is concerned.


Maybe Suboptimal Planet will mature. But such trembling deference to conventional opinion to the exclusion of the consideration of facts is unpromising.

Crude emotionalism? Hysteria? Deference to conventional opinion?

Read the article, if you haven't already, and let me know what you think.

In any case, Dr. Gabb is perfectly capable of defending himself.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Alcohol Concern at the BBC

Recorded here for posterity:

Drinking "just a little more than they should" puts people at risk of serious illness including heart disease, stroke and cancer, the government is warning.

A TV advertising campaign is being launched to press home the message.

It warns regularly drinking two large glasses of wine or two strong pints of beer a day triples mouth cancer risk and doubles high blood pressure risk.

BBC News,

Emily Robinson, of Alcohol Concern, welcomed the campaign.

But she added: "Telling people they could be drinking too much can't be our only solution to the country's alcohol problem.

"We also need to see minimum alcohol pricing brought in as soon as possible, as well as making sure high quality services are available for people who may have developed a serious alcohol problem."

Ah yes, another wonderfully balanced article from our impartial state broadcaster.

One of these days I'll get around to tracking the mean time between BBC articles calling for restrictions on alcohol. I suspect there's at least one a week.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Heating, eating, drinking, smoking and breeding

I was about to blog this extraordinary story from BBC News, but I see James Delingpole has beaten me to it:
this glorious piece of unintentional comedy from the BBC News website is too good to miss. (H/T Nicholas Jones)

It analyses what BBC reporter Julian Joyce seems to believe is the heartrending plight of a family in Wales struggling to get by on benefits.

Apparently – claims unemployed father-of-seven Raymond ("not his real name" – love that detail!) – if the Government manages to enact its heartless scheme to impose a £26,000 per annum cap on welfare benefits, then it could be a "choice between heating or eating."

Unfortunately, all sympathy for this family evaporates when Joyce goes into more detail about their budget. We learn, for example, that their weekly shopping bill includes "24 cans of lager, 200 cigarettes and a large pouch of tobacco." They also spend £32 a week on mobiles and £5 on their Sky TV subscription. But all this is now threatened by the heartless fascist Coalition government: why, if it gets its evil way, then this family's £30,284.80 annual benefit package will shrink by £82.40 a week!

The BBC article has a handy clickable graphic explaining the family's weekly income and spending.

Ray on entertainment:

'I go out once a week, on a Friday night. I meet up with my mates in the pub and have three or four pints.'

That's three or four pints courtesy of you and me, on top of the 24 cans of lager we buy him as part of his weekly shop.

Ray on communication:
'My wife and I have mobile phones, and so do all of the teenage children. You try telling teenagers they're going to have to do without their mobiles and there'll be hell to pay.'
Presumably Ray's teenagers share his sense of entitlement and aversion to work.

Ray on the weekly shop:
'Our biggest expense. We do all our shopping at Tesco or Morrisons in one big go. Mostly we buy the "value" range - tinned meatballs, baked beans etc. On the cigarettes, my wife tried to give up, but she missed one appointment on the course and they threw her off it.'
Poor woman.

Ray on library books and playing in the park:

'We get the Sky Movies package because we're stuck in the house all week - otherwise we wouldn't have any entertainment.'

It rains a lot in Wales, but usually not so much that people are "stuck in the house all week".

So far the article has attracted 1258 comments, which are worth skimming.

Delingpole concludes:

The whole piece is such a textbook case study of a) why Britain is completely screwed and b) the prevailing BBC-fomented left-liberal cultural assumptions which explain why we got into this mess and why it's going to be so hard to get out of it that you almost wonder whether Julian Joyce is in fact not a right wing plant parachuted into the BBC by the Conservative party's black ops department.

It's worth reading some of the 600 plus comments below to realise just how badly this sob-story jars with the national mood. Or at least the national mood among that part of the country which actually works for its living.

"They do not own a car or take a regular annual holiday"? I should ruddy well hope not if we're footing the bill.

"The market for my skills dried up 10 years ago"? Then retrain, you workshy sod.

"Father-of-seven?" Meanwhile in the private sector, hardworking couples think long and hard before having another child, recognising as they do that kids cost enormous amounts of money which they – as respectable people with a work ethic – fully expect to have to pay out of their own income, rather than as the feckless underclass do by spongeing off the state.


See also