Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Bailouts and bonuses

Yesterday's article from Toby Young:
RBS shares fell 2.5% this morning, partly on the back of Stephen Hester's decision to waive his bonus. As Alistair Heath pointed out on the Today programme this morning, investors are clearly worried that from now on RBS will be subject to frequent political meddling and will no longer be run as a commercial business. What this means is that, thanks in part to the populist posturing of Ed Miliband and Chuka Umunna, as well as their anti-capitalist cheerleaders in the media, the bank is now worth £330m less than it was at close of play on Friday evening. So the leaders of the Labour Party haven't saved the British taxpayer £1m; they've cost the taxpayer £329m. Nice one, guys.

Stop Press: Turns out I was wrong about this. In fact, the British taxpayer has lost £900m from this bonus fiasco.
It is an impossible situation. On the one hand, it can't be right for the executives of loss-making state-owned enterprises to take home massive bonuses (most loss-making private sector enterprises don't pay bonuses at all). On the other, the banks cannot hope to recover and return to profitability with constant meddling from politicians. The only solution is not to bail banks out in the first place.

Two aspects of this sorry saga are worth highlighting, however.

The first (as noted by DK and others), is the staggering hypocrisy and shameless opportunism of the Labour party. It was Gordon Brown who bailed out the banks, with the enthusiastic support of the current leaders of the Labour Party. More than that, they seemingly agreed a contract that provides for the very bonus they're now denouncing.

The second item of note was captured beautifully in a tweet from @RyanCPS:
Anyone else wish our political leaders gave Hester's bonus-style scrutiny to every £1 million of state spending?

Daniel Hannan also covered the story of Hester's bonus:
Hester has done precisely what the Government brought him in to do, salvaging what he could from a wrecked bank and preparing it for privatization. The fall in the share price of RBS is hardly his fault: all bank shares have lost value, partly because of the eurozone crisis and partly because of the Government's own regulations. If anything, Hester's bonus is less generous than he might have expected on the basis of his contract and results. Yes, it's a larger sum than I'd have offered had I been the minister who agreed his contract; but, again, that's hardly his fault.

In any case, the bonus is the one part of his package that is performance-related, being payable in stock. If RBS shares rise, he gains, if they fall, he loses. I can't for the life of me understand why critics should have seized on this aspect of his remuneration, rather than the £1.2 million basic salary which he will receive regardless of whether the company prospers. The anti-bonus media campaigns have had the perverse effect of pushing banks into paying higher salaries – surely more objectionable than rewarding employees in proportion to their success.
All fair points.

I'll grant that many executive compensation schemes, especially in the financial sector, have used definitions of 'success' that don't align well with the long-term interests of the shareholders, but that's nobody's business but the shareholders (or at least it would be, if the government could resist their bailout urges).

However, Hannan goes on to write something that strikes me as subtly but significantly wrong:
You might feel a legitimate resentment against RBS pay packages, even if they are not directly financed by taxpayers, but be relaxed about those in private banks. If so, I agree with you; but you and I are in the minority. Barclays' Bob Diamond was recently being criticised in almost exactly the same language as is Stephen Hester today. The fact that Barclays declined a bail-out, paid a premium to recapitalize privately and then outperformed the banks that had taken government cash, was lost in the general cry of 'why does anyone need that much?'
There are very few genuinely private banks, and Barclays is certainly not among them. All the major commercial banks suckle at the teat of the central bank. Even when they're not being explicitly bailed out, they're being heavily subsidised. That's not free enterprise, it's monetary socialism.

And though Barclays declined a bailout, they almost certainly benefited from the bailout of RBS, just as Goldman Sachs benefited from the bailout of AIG. It's impossible to say how things would have played out if all of the bad banks were allowed to go bust, but there would have been more justice.

Schlichter on cash

Another superb article from Detlev Schlichter:

Decent citizens don’t use cash. Cash is used by tax-cheats, terrorists, drug-dealers and child pornographers. Once this is established it will be a short step to severely restricting or even banning the withdrawal of cash from bank accounts. As all banks will soon anyway be mere branches of the ever-expanding central bank, which prints the money to keep the nominally private banks alive, all transactions will then be just electronic bookkeeping adjustments at the state central bank. All financial transactions will then be entirely transparent to the authorities. “Irrational” behaviour can be identified early and – eliminated.

Whatever you may think of Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, it is deeply troubling how quickly and easily this organization was crippled by Visa and Mastercard cutting it off from its donors. This gives you a taste for where we are going.

Read the whole article.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Tom Paine on feminism

A superb comment from Tom Paine at The Last Ditch, which perfectly captures my own view:

I have two splendid daughters and no-one can be more feminist (in the proper sense of the word) than I. I oppose all remnants of the dead social attitudes that might impede their progress. But I don't want them degraded by any "positive discrimination" laws that would deny them the sense of achievement I am confident their merits will earn.

This is not about laws, but ideas. The great error of modern leftist thinking is that laws are educational tools. Laws are weapons, not blackboards, and re-education at the point of a gun is seldom effective. If second-rate specimens of any minority group are forced by law into jobs they don't deserve, the resulting resentments are more likely to *generate* hostile attitudes than quell them.

The Samizdata effect

I was surprised to find a sudden spike in the traffic to this humble blog.

It seems I owe it to a reference from Johnathan Pearce at Samizdata:

(H/T, Suboptimal Planet: a new blog that I thoroughly recommend).

I am honoured, and will endeavour to meet expectations.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bashing the bishops

The higher echelons of our established church seem to be infested with noisy socialists (at best, tragically misguided; at worst, cynical, hypocritical, and deeply immoral).

So it was quite a relief to read that one former Archbishop recognises the lunacy, and immorality, of opposing the government's proposed benefits cap:
five bishops, led by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, tabled an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill, arguing that the cap discriminated against families with several children

But writing in the Daily Mail, Lord Carey - who was Archbishop of Canterbury between 1991 and 2002 - said the bishops "cannot lay claim to the moral high-ground".

"Considering that the system they are defending can mean some families are be able to claim a total £50,000 a year in welfare benefits, the bishops must have known that popular opinion was against them, including that of many hard-working, hard-pressed churchgoers," he wrote.

"The sheer scale of our public debt - which hit £1tn yesterday - is the greatest moral scandal facing Britain today. If we can't get the deficit under control and begin paying back this debt, we will be mortgaging the future of our children and grandchildren."

Lord Carey praised the efforts of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith - whom he called a "committed Christian" - to overhaul a benefits system which, at its worst, "rewards fecklessness and irresponsibility".

He argued the cost of benefits was "increasingly stoking social division" among the "squeezed middle, who feel resentment at the 'handouts' given to the long-term unemployed".

And he said the welfare system, originally designed to tackle "want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness", had become an "industry of gargantuan proportions which is fuelling those very vices and impoverishing us all".


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Whyte on Polynesians and female executives

Another superb article from Jamie Whyte:

Despite its familiarity, the idea that unjustified discrimination explains the small percentage of female directors is implausible. In fact, it is pretty obvious that no one really believes it. To see why, consider another apparent statistical anomaly.

Polynesians make up about 0.01 per cent of the world’s population. But they make up about 10 per cent of the world’s professional rugby players. In other words, if you knew nothing about rugby, Polynesians or history, the number of Polynesian rugby players is 1,000 times greater than you might expect it to be.

Those who make a business of fretting about unfair discrimination do not fret about the remarkable under-representation of non-Polynesians in professional rugby. This could be because they are uninterested in rugby and non-Polynesians (one of the more nebulous and uncomplaining racial groups). But there is also a good, non-discriminatory reason for not fretting: namely, the fact that professional rugby is a competitive business.

If the disproportionate number of Polynesian rugby players resulted from discrimination against others, this would present a rugby entrepreneur with an opportunity. He could recruit a team of superior but unfairly overlooked non-Polynesian players and then “kick arse” in the professional competitions. This would soon end any unjustified preference for Polynesian players in other teams. It is because nothing now stops this happening, and yet it does not happen, that we know Polynesians are not the beneficiaries of racial prejudice in rugby.

Whyte concludes:

People who claim to have spotted inefficient business practices are hard to believe when, instead of pouncing on this opportunity to make a profit, they attempt to pressure other firms into stopping it. If you discovered that apple farmers use needlessly expensive techniques for picking their fruit, would you complain about it in the media and call for the government to put a stop to it? Or would you keep your mouth shut and quickly get into the apple picking business?

Those who try to bully businesses into appointing more women to senior positions would have you believe that they are forgoing this profit opportunity for themselves and, instead, forcing it on people who are irrationally reluctant to take it. Both the lobbyists and the sexists, we must believe, care little for profits. This may provide a pleasant vacation from the usual accusations of unfettered capitalist greed. But it is still hard to take seriously.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Our anachronistic aunt

Tom Clougherty has nicely expressed something that I've been thinking for a while (with particular reference to BBC Three):
The point of public service broadcasting is, one would assume, to address some failure in the broadcast market – to produce and air content which benefits the public, and which would not otherwise be produced or aired by commercial players. But if you buy this market failure argument, you have to concede that ‘public service broadcasting’ is likely to be a fairly elitist project. The intention may be to bring high culture to the masses, but in reality you will probably end up subsidising the tastes of the relatively wealthy and well educated with a tax paid largely by those who have no interest in such things. This is clearly a rather perverse outcome.

On the other hand, if you “dumb-down”, if you chase market share with populist programming, then the rationale for compulsorily funded public service broadcasting disappears. By way of illustration, let’s look at tonight’s broadcast schedule for the BBC 3 TV channel.

At 7pm, we get Pop’s Greatest Dance Crazes, “a top 50 countdown of the hippest, sexiest, quirkiest and campest dance crazes of the last 40 years.” At 8pm, it’s Don’t Tell the Bride, a reality TV show in which a man gets £12,000 to arrange his wedding, but isn’t allowed any contact with his wife-to-be while he does it: “Four weeks apart will push their relationship to the limit.” At 9pm, it’s How Sex Works, which is a documentary about twenty-somethings who get around a bit. At 10pm, it is time for Eastenders (a miserable soap opera), followed by documentary Bizarre Crimes (self-explanatory), and a series of cartoons imported from the US. If you are lucky enough to still be awake at 4.25am, you get to watch Cherry Healey look for “essential truths amongst the tales of sex and debauchery to see if losing your virginity is about more than just having sex for the first time.”

Can anyone really argue that programming like that justifies forcing television-owners, on pain of imprisonment, to pay £145.50 a year to a government agency? It’s a rhetorical question.
Clougherty concludes:
Public service broadcasting is caught between a rock and a hard place. If it sticks to its ‘market failure’ remit it will appear elitist and lose public support. If it chases a larger market, it will undermine any reasonable case for public funding. Ultimately, public service broadcasting and the licence fee that sustains it are an anachronism – something which might (just) have been appropriate when we had two TV channels and limited broadcasting spectrum, but no longer make sense in a world of thousand-channel satellite television and high-speed internet streaming. With almost limitless choice available at the click of a button, we don’t need government to entertain us, inform us, or filter our cultural diets for us. Curiously enough, the way that technology has democratized the media means that democracy itself no longer has any valuable role in broadcasting. It’s time the BBC and the government realized that.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Hannan on capitalism and ethics

Another good article from Daniel Hannan:

In an open market based on property rights and free contract, you become wealthy by offering an honest service to others. I am typing these words on a machine developed by the late Steve Jobs. He gained from the exchange (adding fractionally to his net wealth) and so did I (adding to my convenience).

Under the various forms of corporatism tried by fascist and socialist regimes, by contrast, someone else – generally a state official – gets to allocate the goodies, guaranteeing favouritism and corruption.

That’s not to say, of course, that malpractice is unknown in capitalism. Man is fallen and, under any system, some will give in to temptation. It’s just that in a state-run economy, corruption is systemic and semi-legal. Indeed, the most egregious forms of wrongdoing in our existing Western economies tend to be the ones that involve governments: lobbying for improper favours, securing taxpayer bailouts and the like.

He goes on to consider the moralistic hypocrisy of the Left, epitomised by their generosity with other people's money:

I have told the story before of how MEPs reacted to the Indian Ocean tsunami. Speaker after speaker rose to propose gazillions in aid. But when one old boy, a sweet-natured Italian Catholic, rose to suggest that we make a personal gesture by donating a single day’s attendance allowance, the warmth drained from the room. Those who had been promising vast sums on behalf of their constituents glowered sullenly at the poor fellow. His proposal was icily dismissed and the meeting moved on.

Nor does this double-standard apply only to governments. It is equally true of ‘corporate social responsibility’. When you boil it down, this too means being generous with someone else’s money. Businessmen get to feel good about themselves while loading the costs on to their shareholders, their clients and their suppliers. Wouldn’t it be far better if they openly set out to maximise their profits, and then chose, as individuals, to give a chunk away?

It can’t be repeated too often: when you give to good causes, you are making a moral choice. When the government takes an equivalent sum from you in taxation and spends it on your behalf, you are not. This is not to say that all taxation is wrong: some things need to be paid for collectively. But the argument for state involvement is a practical, not an ethical, one.

I recommend the whole article.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Obama to shrink government?

BBC News reports

US President Barack Obama has laid down the gauntlet to Republicans by asking Congress for the power to shrink the federal government.

He told business leaders that he wants to close the US commerce department and merge six agencies.

The White House said the plan would save $3bn (£2bn) over 10 years and cut 1,000 to 2,000 jobs through attrition.

The proposal is seen as an attempt to counter Republican criticisms that Mr Obama is a big-government liberal.

Let's put that in context. $3bn over 10 years is $300 million a year. That's a lot of money to you and me, and I'm sure it would be a good idea for those savings to be made. But every year American government agencies spend $6 trillion (6000 billion; 6 million million).

What's 300 next to 6 million? The proposed savings amount to 0.005% of total expenditure. Is this really newsworthy? If it's truly an attempt "to counter Republican criticisms that Mr Obama is a big-government liberal", is it anything but laughable? Can the insignificance of this proposal really be lost on the journalists and editors at the BBC?

Some of that spending is out of Obama's control, but the federal government burns through over half of the total: $3.52 trillion in 2009:

300 out of 3.52 million is still utterly insignficant: less than 0.01%. In failing to point this out, BBC News is either grossly incompetent, or staggeringly disingenuous.

Let's have a look at US public spending in a historical context :

The various levels of government in the US spend over 5 times as much today, in real terms, as they did in 1965.

Federal government spending leapt from 523.18 billion 2005$ in 1960 to $3193.90 billion 2005$ in 2011 — a 6-fold increase in real terms.

Anyone who was truly serious about cutting the size of the federal government would be talking about trillions, not billions or millions.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Public or private downgrade

According to BBC News,

The cut in the so-called sovereign ratings of governments is likely to lead to most other borrowers domiciled in the same countries - including banks and companies - being downgraded.

Although the move has been widely expected, it is still likely to make it somewhat more difficult and expensive for borrowers from those countries to raise money, including for the governments themselves.

Is this true? And if so, how does it work?

Why should the creditworthiness of individuals and private companies be connected to that of governments?

I can only assume that it's a feature of our corrupt caricature of capitalism. If the government struggles to borrow, it will struggle to spend, which may impact company profits and personal incomes. And in extremis, a government that struggles to borrow will have a harder time bailing people out.

I can imagine something similar happening in the private sector. If the economy in a certain town is heavily reliant on a single company or industry, the prosperity of the residents, and their creditworthiness, is tied up with the viability of the dominant employer. If the industry goes pop, a thriving community may turn into a ghost town, with various bankruptcies and foreclosures along the way.

The problem, then, is twofold:
  1. All sectors of our economy - household, corporate, and government - are overly reliant on credit
  2. Governments, over the course of the last century, have become the biggest of big players.

If we are to achieve stability and prosperity, we need to kick our addiction to cheap credit and government pork.


It occurs to me that there may be another factor at work: psychological inertia. The long-standing wisdom has been that government debt is safer than other forms. Why risk your money with competing entrepreneurs, when you can invest in an organisation that confiscates the profits of the winners? What's happening with these downgrades is an overdue recognition that government debt isn't as safe as previously thought. But it could be that investors haven't yet re-evaluated their standing rule that government debts are safer than private debts. Or perhaps some have, but they are basing their choices on the path of the herd.

Europe's great ventures

Last June I blogged about "Europe's space freighter".

Today, I read from the same correspondent, , that "One of Europe's great astronomical ventures is coming to a close".

The BBC is a powerful beast, but even it will struggle to manufacture a European demos.

Friday, 13 January 2012

France downgraded

Long expected, finally delivered:

To be sure, France is in trouble, but fundamentally it is not in much worse shape than your average western welfare state.

Quite why anyone puts stock in the word of these agencies, who famously failed to predict the recent crash, I'm not sure. I expect it has something to do with one of the few sensible points made by John Maynard Keynes:
“It is not a case of choosing those [faces] that, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those that average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practice the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.” (Keynes, General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, 1936).
No sane investor can trust the word of S&P, but it seems that enough believe that other investors believe in the worth of their ratings.

How our grandchildren will look back, and laugh.

Was Cameron's veto for nothing?

Daniel Hannan writes:

Twenty-six EU leaders are reported to have agreed a new draft for the FU Treaty. Although the text is not yet available, it apparently still makes references to the EU institutions. On what possible legal basis, though, can it do so? This is supposed to be an accord among 26 states (though it will almost certainly be fewer in the end) which just happen to be members of the EU. They can no more decree meetings with the European Parliament than with the Majlis of Oman; no more lay down that the ECJ should arbitrate their disputes than that the Idaho Supreme Court should do so.

If they want to use EU institutions, they need the permission of all 27 members. Yet they have made clear that they are unwilling to meet even the token price that David Cameron had demanded in return, namely a guarantee that future regulations in the field of financial services couldn't be imposed without Britain's consent. The PM cannot possibly concede this point: doing so would reverse his veto – the single most popular act of his premiership. Nor can he allow the precedent to be set that the EU's mechanisms and procedures might be accessed without the explicit permission of all 27 members. If he did so, there would in practice be no more vetoes any more – ever. Any countries wanting to adopt some new integrationist measure would simply sign a treaty among themselves, and carry on using the Brussels institutions.


The correct course is also clear:
to encourage the FU, rather than the EU, to become the main forum for integration. After all, if 26 (or 22 or 20 or however many) states have agreed to common economic government, doesn't it make sense for tax harmonisation to take place within that framework? Why not, for example, apply the Tobin Tax through the FU, whose members seem to want it?

Rather than obliging the FU states to establish a wholly new institutional structure from scratch, why not simply transfer departments from the existing EU institutions to the FU? Let the FU run Eurojust; let it run the European External Action Service; let it run the Agriculture and Fisheries DGs at the European Commission; let it take over, bit by bit, the functions of the EU that have to do with political union. And, once all this has happened, let it assume control over the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, leaving non-participant states in alooser arrangement along the lines of the present-day European Economic Area.
Hannan finishes with a beautiful metaphor:
You wouldn't even need to call it leaving the EU. The EU might still survive, like the shell of an egg sucked dry by a weasel, its function reduced to maintenance of a single market and enhanced intergovernmental co-operation. At that stage, though, it might make sense to give it a new name. How about European Free Trade Association?

Gabb on defending the indefensible

Earlier this week, I asked
Is Sean Gabb a racist, or is he just a valiant defender of free speech who's sometimes deliberately provocative. Does he care about race per se, or is he just interested in it as a proxy for cultural issues?
My conclusion was that it didn't matter one way or the other - a libertarian's prejudices may hurt him, but they don't threaten the genuine rights of others.

Today, Gabb has published an article detailing the controversial causes he has taken up over the years as a matter of libertarian principle:
Of course, I have written at greater length about all the usual libertarian things – drugs, guns, porn, kinky sex, taxes, regulations, war, and so on and so forth. But none of this is controversial. What is presently controversial is all that I have written over the years in support of “racists” to have their say and be left alone. I cannot be bothered to link to all the various essays written since 1993. But there was my defence last month of Emma West, and my defences last week of the men convicted of the Stephen Lawrence murder. Miss West has now been charged with assault. I cannot comment on this, but I will say that all she was filmed saying on that tram came under the heading of freedom of speech.

As for the Lawrence convicts, I would never argue that they were nice men. But I do argue that their trial was not fair. Most of the evidence looked fabricated. I suspect the jury was packed – and, however the jury was composed, the men had been so demonised since 1993, that a fair trial would have been impossible. Above all, one of them could only be put on trial by abolishing the ancient and essential rule that no one should be made to stand trial more than once for any one alleged offence. It is a disgrace that the entire “liberal” establishment did not explode with outrage. They would never have put up with this sort of trial for a Sinn Fein/IRA terrorist, or one of the Brixton rioters – and rightly. The long, collective orgasm with which they received news of the convictions will bring them one day into the same universal disrepute as those who cheered the conviction of Oscar Wilde in 1895, or who mobbed people with German names in 1914.

In all this, and much, much more over the past thirty years, there is what ought to be an obvious consistency. I am a libertarian activist, and I see it as my duty to stand up for freedom of speech and freedom of association and due process of law – and for much else – whenever they are denied. And, since I do not have unlimited time or money, I make my biggest noises in those hard cases where other “libertarians” choose to sit on their hands. Sometimes, I have found myself speaking up for people who have become lifelong friends. Sometimes, I have defended people I would normally cross the road to avoid. That is not important. What is important is that, if we do not defend freedom in the hard cases, there will eventually be no freedom at all.
I recommend the whole article.

HS2 pushed ahead - cui bono?

I last blogged about HS2 in November.

On the 5th, the FT quoted Westminster's most promising MP:
The maths doesn’t add up; this is just sinking capital into a lossmaking project. If you’re going to use the power of the state to do that, then you shouldn’t be surprised that this country is getting poorer.
On the 7th, James Delingpole blogged:
I don't think anyone would dispute that our infrastructure is woeful. But I also think you'd be hard-pushed to argue that Britain's most pressing infrastructure problem right now is the inability of rich commuters to get from Birmingham to London half an hour earlier than they would otherwise have done.
On the 10th, Jonathan Isaby had his say in The Telegraph
So, the worst-kept secret in Westminster is finally out: after days of leaks and briefing to the press, the Government has announced that it intends to spend £32 billion of our money (that’s their estimate at this stage, at any rate) on the High Speed Rail link between London and the North of England. And it won’t be completed for – wait for it – more than twenty years (again, that’s the timescale they’re estimating. For now).

By anyone’s standards, £32 billion is an eye-watering amount of cash – and all the more so at a time when families and government alike are having to look for savings. It works out at well over £1,000 for every single family up and down the United Kingdom, and large numbers of us remain unconvinced that this will be money well spent.
The project doesn't make sense. Taxpayers don't want it. For whose sake is it being built?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

What currency for an independent Scotland?

On tonight's Question Time it was suggested that an independent Scotland could somehow be denied the use of GBP as currency.

I'd be interested to know how this could be achieved.

I don't see why they couldn't legislate any currency they like as legal tender: GBP, EUR, USD, XAU. Or they could legislate none at all, leaving it to the people to decide which currency (or currencies) they prefer.

Paine on clichés

A nice little quote from Tom Paine, in the comments on a very good article:

All cliches, I know. But sometimes cliches are ruts worn in language by the repeated passage of truth.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Divide and rule

Dianne Abbott's "divide and rule" tweet instantly struck me as ironic, for it is grievance-mongers and tribalists like the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington who contribute to social division. And Abbott is right that people are easier to manipulate and subdue when they are divided.

In the course of some recent searching [1], I came across the following excerpt from John Stuart Mill's On Representative Government:
Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist. The influences which form opinions and decide political acts are different in the different sections of the country. An altogether different set of leaders have the confidence of one part of the country and of another. The same books, newspapers, pamphlets, speeches, do not reach them. One section does not know what opinions, or what instigations, are circulating in another. The same incidents, the same acts, the same system of government, affect them in different ways; and each fears more injury to itself from the other nationalities than from the common arbiter, the state. Their mutual antipathies are generally much stronger than jealousy of the government. That any one of them feels aggrieved by the policy of the common ruler is sufficient to determine another to support that policy. Even if all are aggrieved, none feel that they can rely on the others for fidelity in a joint resistance; the strength of none is sufficient to resist alone, and each may reasonably think that it consults its own advantage most by bidding for the favour of the government against the rest.
This is where we find ourselves: short on fellow-feeling, divided into so many groups of "us" and "them", bidding for the favour of the government against the rest. Many races. Many cultures. Union v management. Rich v poor. Town v country. Labour v Conservative. Smoker v non-smoker. English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish — and that's just the UK. In the EU, we have an empire whose fragmentation rivals that of the Habsburgs.

But at the risk of sounding conspiratorial, the problem is broader. The loudly and proudly expressed animosity between American and European politicians is largely synthetic. They have more in common with each other than they do with us.

You don't have to be a tinfoil hatter to recognise that there is a ruling class, and that it has been going global. Will the ordinary people wake up, and recognise their true, common enemy. Not any time soon, it would seem.

[1] This article, discovered in the course of writing this blog post.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Andrew Marr on repression and coercion

Reading one of Sean Gabb's articles linked from my previous post, I discovered an interesting Guardian article from 1999 by Andrew Marr. Topically, it was written "post-Lawrence inquiry", and considered what the "elite liberal establishment" should do to stamp out racism.

Though partially tongue-in-cheek, and slightly self-deprecating, the article leaves no doubt about where Marr sees himself in our society. They may occasionally be hypocritical, but Marr and his fellow Übermensch have a right and duty to mould the lower classes according to their vision for society.

What then can be done? (Apart, of course, from widespread and vigorous miscegenation, which is the best answer, but perhaps tricky to arrange as public policy.) First, we need to raise still more taxes to help regenerate inner-city ghettos and to employ more young people, white and black. ...

The next answer was given by Doreen Lawrence, welcoming the report's emphasis on education: 'I truly believe in education our history, our background, is what separates us.' But, though teachers are the most effective anti-racist campaigners in the country, this means more than education in other religions it means a form of political education. Only people who understand the economic forces changing their world, threatening them but also creating new opportunities, have a chance of being immune to the old tribal chants.

And the final answer, frankly, is the vigorous use of state power to coerce and repress. It may be my Presbyterian background, but I firmly believe that repression can be a great, civilising instrument for good. Stamp hard on certain 'natural' beliefs for long enough and you can almost kill them off. The police are first in line to be burdened further, but a new Race Relations Act will impose the will of the state on millions of other lives too.


Charities and public health experts

The BBC's attack on alcohol really is relentless. I'd be surprised if a week goes by without at least one story on the subject. Here's the latest:

People should have at least two days a week completely clear of alcohol, a group of MPs says.

It is one of the recommendations in a report by the Commons science and technology committee, which is calling for a review of all government guidelines on alcohol in the UK.

It says there are "sufficient concerns" about the recommendations on how much people should drink.

The report has been welcomed by charities and public health experts.

Charities and public health experts, eh?

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: "The main recommendation of setting up a review of evidence to come up with clear guidelines would be very valuable indeed."

If you read Christopher Snowdon's blog, that name will be familiar.

Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby said: "Accessible and reliable public information on alcohol harm is an essential element in tackling Britain's problem with alcohol misuse. However, the government must accept that information alone is insufficient.

A grassroots charity lobbying the government on behalf of concerned citizens? Not according to fakecharities.org:


Created by the British government in 1985, Alcohol Concern wages an incremental campaign against drinkers and the drinks industry.



Its 2008/09 accounts show a total income of £1,137,582, of which:

  • Department of Health (restricted grant): £142,000
  • Department of Health (unrestricted grant): £400,000
  • Big Lottery Fund: £127,275
  • Total £669,275 (58.8% of all income)

It received just £8,186 in public donations.

Who else has the BBC lined up?

Chris Sorek, chief executive of alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware, said: "Drinkaware welcomes the committee's recommendation for greater efforts on helping people understand the unit guidelines and how to use them.
Surely this is a real charity, funded by small donations from millions of concerned citizens. Nope:
Drinkaware is funded by donations from the alcohol industry.

Current funders include major retailers, pub companies and producers who have pledged approximately £5.2 million per year through to 2012. We work with a wide selection of organisations to tackle alcohol misuse, to lead education campaigns and develop corporate social responsibility campaigns.
Quite why the 'alcohol industry' is funding these neo-prohibitionists is anyone's guess. Perhaps someone at the Department of Health had a quiet word with them ...

Monday, 9 January 2012

Is Sean Gabb a racist?

I first read Sean Gabb's Cultural Revolution, Culture War (PDF) in September 2009, shortly before I started blogging.

To a friend who suggested it, I replied:
A very interesting read. There's much in there that I agree with.

Although I despise 'political correctness', and I'm deeply concerned about the steps towards Thought Police, I did detect a whiff of racism at times; perhaps I've been indoctrinated by the multiculturalist hegemonic ideology ;-)
My views are much more firmly libertarian now, and my disgust for the British state and the BBC has grown, so I'm minded to re-read the book and re-evaluate my assumptions.

Gabb despairs at racially biased news coverage:

To take a notorious example, everyone knows that the overwhelming majority of interracial crime in Britain and America is black on white. Yet this is not reflected in the media coverage. When the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was killed in South London back in 1992, the story received lavish coverage in the media; and the story continued through failed trials, a public enquiry, and the official and media harassment of the unconvicted suspects. The much larger number of black on white murders—known rather than suspected murders, and containing an obvious racial motivation—are either not reported at all or covered briefly and without comment in the local media.
It should be easy enough to establish whether Gabb's claim is true, but true or not, few people would be prepared to state it as plainly.

Gabb is perhaps even more concerned about propaganda in state-funded fiction:
look at the BBC Radio 4 soap The Archers. This is supposedly an “every day tale of ordinary country folk”. It was this once. Nowadays, it is almost agitprop street theatre in its propagandising. Every male character is a monster or a weakling, or both. The female characters are pillars of feminist strength. The village pub is run by two homosexuals. The village solicitor is an Asian woman. A few years ago, the daughter of one of the characters brought back her black South African husband. His voice made it plain what he was: not one of the characters commented.
Not having listened to The Archers, I can't comment. From what I know of the BBC, Gabb's assertions seem plausible enough, but once again, it's not the sort of argument you tend to hear in polite company.

Some time later, Gabb took up writing for the American website VDARE.com:
Their FAQ page gives a sense of what VDARE is about:
  • What should I read about America's immigration disaster? VDARE.com friend Paul Nachman has written a guide to the literature [PDF] itself a fairly long article. For a brief"introduction to his guide", see here.

For all I know, they make some perfectly valid points, but it's not the sort of site that most British people, even British libertarians, would be prepared to associate themselves with. Alarm bells ring loudly.

Most recently, I was struck by the attention given to race in Gabb's The Churchill Memorandum. One the one hand, the abundance of politically incorrect language seems appropriate to an alternative 1959; its absence would have been anachronistic. On the other, one gets the sense that Gabb is more interested in questions of race than most people alive today. Chapter one gives a taste:
Somebody muttered, from a few places behind me, about the interminable wait. We shuffled forward another eighteen inches. One of my coloured porters strained with his box. Since the others didn’t think it worth the effort of moving theirs, he scraped it an inch or so across the uneven floor, then went back to sitting on it.

“They call me Major Stanhope,” came the reply in a tone that avoided all hint of rebuke. The officer turned the pages of the passport.

“Well, Major Stanhope,” he said, now mockingly, it says here you’re subject to Imperial immigration control. You sure don’t look like no nigger.”

“British bred,” came the now breezy reply, “though born in Cyprus. The law is very strict, you know—doesn’t just apply to Her Majesty’s coloured subjects. One law for all and all that.” The officer continued looking at the much-stamped pages.

“Next,” the clerk grated. It was my turn. Still trembling, I put my passport on her desk and pulled out the paper copy of my exit visa. She ignored the documents and pointed at the five wooden boxes my coloureds were still attending.

“Next,” she cried. I glanced at my coloureds and pointed at the boxes. There were hours still to go till boarding. But I could at least get out of this bloody queue.

You'll find much more of the same in chapters two to six, which are also available online, and throughout the rest of the book. All quite tame, really, but it seems extreme by modern standards.

Is Sean Gabb a racist, or is he just a valiant defender of free speech who's sometimes deliberately provocative. Does he care about race per se, or is he just interested in it as a proxy for cultural issues?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter.

When Gabb makes a factual claim on matters of race, people may be inclined to doubt it, but the claim will either be true or false, and verification is easier now than ever. People may likewise scrutinise his rhetoric, and once distilled down to its essentials, his argument will either be logically sound, or not. In any debate, we must be wary of those who appeal to motive. Arguments stand or fall on their own merits; motives don't matter.

Moving from the academic to the practical, racism in a libertarian, however distasteful and incongruous, is harmless. It is an issue for the racist, his friends, and family, but poses no threat to others. A bigoted libertarian may choose not to hire people of a certain race, or may refuse to serve them. He may say rude things. But nobody has a right to a job. Nobody has a right to be served. And nobody has a right not to be offended. The racist libertarian owes them nothing.

A racist statist, by contrast, can do tremendous damage. She will demand unequal treatment, favouring one group over another. She will interfere with voluntary transactions between individuals, requiring businessmen to act against their instincts and interests. She'll lobby for our speech to be censored, and use the institutions of the state to indoctrinate our children. If we do not at least outwardly conform to her views, the race-obsessed statist will see us arrested, and our children placed in the care of the state. She will create a climate of fear, with legitimate concerns going undiscussed, and tensions steadily rising.

For my part, I think individualism and libertarianism go hand-in-hand. Racists should be free to hold their views, and to go about their business, so long as they don't infringe on the similar rights of others, but I can't understand why they would cut themselves off from so many brilliant individuals.

Aggregates and averages are of little interest to me. The differences within groups tend to be much larger than the differences between them. Even if it's true that blacks, on average, are better lovers, it would be a foolish woman who passed up a promising suitor, simply because he was white. Even if it's true that blacks, on average, are better basketball players, it would be a foolish coach who chose players based on skin colour, rather than ability. And even if it's true that Asians tend to be more intelligent than whites, who in turn are more intelligent than blacks, it would be a foolish employer who hired based on averages, rather than assessing the aptitude of individual candidates.

Racism is stupid, but it shouldn't be illegal.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Is Dianne Abbott a racist?

Toby Young writes:
Diane Abbott is in hot water again. The gaffe-prone Labour MP sent a tweet to a black journalist that read: "White people love playing 'divide & rule'. We should not play their game #tacticasoldascolonialism"
in playing the race card, was Diane Abbott herself being racist? According to the OED, racism is defined as "the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races". By that definition, Abbott was being racist. She was attributing a characteristic – loving to play divide and rule – to a race – white people – and it's plainly an unattractive quality, i.e. intended to distinguish the race in question as morally inferior to the people they're guilty of oppressing.
In an update, he added:
Diane Abbott has now tweeted a response to the outrage her original tweet caused: "Tweet taken out of context. Refers to nature of 19th century European colonialism. Bit much to get into 140 characters." That's weak. She wasn't just referring to "19th century European colonialism", but saying that the same tactic is still used today, hence her warning to Bim Adewunmi not to criticise any black community leaders. She didn't say "White people loved playing 'divide and rule'". She said "White people love playing 'divide and rule'".
True. And whether her tweet relates to present-day whites or 19th century whites, it's still a racial generalisation. I don't think there's any wriggling out of this one.

Young's key point is this:
Imagine the uproar if an equally prominent white Conservative MP said something similar about black people on Twitter? The Conservative whip would be immediately withdrawn and he or she would be forced to step down at the next election.
True enough. But to Young, justice demands that
At the very least, Diane Abbott should apologise and resign from her position as a shadow health minister.
I disagree. Abbott should be entitled to her views, however perverse and unhelpful. Neither she nor anyone else should be pressured to apologise or resign over such comments. Everyone needs to lighten up.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Condell on Christmas

Pat Condell's latest video is well worth watching:

I've just been reading a news report about some American atheists who have been trying to get a public Christmas nativity scene removed because they say it makes them feel excluded and intimidated and offended ... can't you just feel the emotional trauma these poor people must be suffering? No, me neither ... this is what happens when atheism meets political correctness.
as an atheist myself, I can't help but feel horribly tainted by association. And believe me I'm as atheist as it's possible to be. I think religion is utter nonsense, and I claim the right to criticise, ridicule, and insult it as much as I like. But not the right to stamp out harmless aspects of it, which is why I'm a secularist, and not a totalitarian.

I have a copy of the bible in my house, because it's part of my cultural heritage. Not because I think the bible is true, any more than I think that Shakespeare's plays are true, but I wouldn't be without them either. I like churches, especially the sound of church bells, and I don't want to see them bulldozed. But I do want to see the power of the church, not only bulldozed, but ground into a fine dust, and buried in the deepest part of the deepest ocean on the furthest planet it's possible to find.

Religion needs to be kept in check when it tries to step on people, or when it tries to elbow its way into their lives uninvited. The nativity doesn't do this. It doesn't even come close. It's part and parcel of the Christmas furniture. It's part and parcel of the culture that I and most people in the Western world were born and raised in, and it only excludes people who want to be excluded.
And yes, we all know that the story itself is ridiculous. The entire tableau is utterly barmy and worthy of open mockery and ridicule. But to claim that it sends a message of intimidation and exclusion, and therefore must be banned, is both infantile and sinister ... Yes, some people may choose to be offended, but some people are offended by anything, and frankly, they can go to hell.
I couldn't agree more.

Condell goes on to highlight some truly ridiculous research from Simon Fraser University in Canada, which The Telegraph covered on the 20th of December:
Michael Schmitt, a social psychologist behind the research, decided to carry out the study after controversy over whether Christmas should be celebrated in public in case it offends non-Christians.

He said: "Simply having this 12-inch Christmas tree in the room with them made them feel less included in the university as a whole, which to me is a pretty powerful effect from one 12-inch Christmas tree in one psychology lab.

"I don't think it's really going to undermine anyone's experience of Christmas to tone it down.

"We're not suggesting 'no Christmas' or 'no Christmas displays at all,' but in contexts where we really do value respecting and including diversity in terms of religion, the safest option is not to have these kinds of displays.

"I understand why it might feel threatening to people.

"But I think if people do care about making a whole range of different kinds of people feel included and respected, then we can make some small changes that would go a long way toward creating a more multicultural or inclusive society."

The researchers published their results in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
I'm sure Condell is right when he suggests that "if all the social psychologists on the planet were to disappear in a puff of smoke, nobody would be worse off".

Returning to the original story about the nativity scene (covered by the Daily Mail), I should add that while I share Condell's contempt for those who cry 'intimidation' and 'exclusion', I don't think it's appropriate for public funds or public property to be used for religious displays — or indeed for any other purpose beyond their essential function. There's a huge difference between resenting inappropriate public expenditure and calling for displays on private property to be banned. It's unfortunate, and perhaps disingenuous, for Condell to conflate the two issues.

But a nativity scene on a courthouse lawn is such a minor abuse of taxpayers' resources, compared to the US government's multi-trillion dollar profligacy, that anyone taking offence at it can scarcely claim the banner of Reason.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Gabb on disabled parking spaces

In a recent interview with BBC Radio 5, Sean Gabb reportedly argued:
  • That there are seriously disabled people, and these deserve some consideration.
  • That only those evidently disabled should have any parking privileges.
  • But that many evidently able people have acquired disabled parking badges.
  • That there are too many disabled parking bays in most car parks - anyone looking at these alone would conclude that there were more seriously disabled people in the country than parents with young children.
I agree.

Driving around the recently-redesigned car park of my local Sainsbury's, I was struck by the number of disabled spaces. They stood empty, despite the gay abandon with which disabled badges have recently been issued. A quick search of their website confirms that they have 5 more disabled spaces than parent-and-child spaces.

I'm not sure whether Sainsbury's feel under legal pressure to offer these spaces, or if they've fallen victim to independent lobbying from disabled rights groups. The move certainly doesn't seem to be in response to actual customer demand.