Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The good kind of drones

In today's City A.M. - Amazon floats plan to use drones to deliver packages:

AMAZON is preparing to make next-day delivery obsolete by using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in an audacious plan to introduce 30-minute home delivery.

The online retailer hopes to revolutionise online shopping by delivering directly from its warehouses to customers’ homes using autonomous drones that can carry small packages weighing up to five pounds (2.3kg).

The main obstacle?

Bezos said the main challenge the service will face is regulatory approval for the drones to fly across the country unmanned and unmonitored by a pilot.

Current UK rules from the Civil Aviation Authority on commercial unmanned aerial vehicles require drones to always remain within sight of a human operator.

But Bezos remained undeterred by the challenges: “Could it be four, five years [away]? I think so. It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Amazon said its Prime Air drone deliveries could take off as early as 2015 in the US.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Salon vs Hayek & Mises

A tweet from Tom Paine brought me to a Salon article by Tom Watson: Don’t ally with libertarians: Ideologues co-opt an anti-NSA rally

Watson quotes an earlier, 'must read' Salon article by Michael Lind :
Friedrich von Hayek, who was, along with von Mises, one of the patron saints of modern libertarianism, was as infatuated with the Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet as von Mises was with Mussolini.

My initial reaction was the same as Tom's: LOL. But I hadn't heard these accusations before, so I couldn't resist some digging.

Lind's claim about Mises was staggeringly dishonest, as Jeffrey Tucker explained at the time:
The passage from Mises as selectively quoted:

It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aimed at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has for the moment saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.

And that’s where Lind ends it, failing to add Mises’s actual conclusion:

But though its policy has brought salvation for the moment, it is not of the kind which could promise continued success. Fascism was an emergency makeshift. To view it as something more would be a fatal error.

The passage was part of Mises’s book that was published in 1927, just after Mussolini took power. Mises could easily discern that many people regarded Fascism as a savior, and this passage is merely acknowledging that common view. This view lasted for many years. For example, fully six years later, the New York Times Magazine published (March 19, 1933) a massive tribute to the glories of Professor Mussolini ...

The NYT was hardly alone in singing hymns to Mussolini. Nearly the whole establishment was fooled by this blowhard.

Mises, on the other hand, was not fooled. He was a prophet in understanding the evil of fascism – and six years before everyone else was still heralding the glories of this Italian FDR (which is how people saw Mussolini). Yes, evil. That’s the word Mises uses, which you can easily see from the entire section, which you can and should read. The Fascists and Communists use the same “unscrupulous methods…. Still others, in full knowledge of the evil that Fascist economic policy brings with it, view Fascism, in comparison with Bolshevism and Sovietism, as at least the lesser evil. For the majority of its public and secret supporters and admirers, however, its appeal consists precisely in the violence of its methods.”

It seems there's a slightly stronger basis for Lind's claim that Hayek respected Pinochet, but this too is disingenuous. Wikipedia has a section devoted to Hayek's views on Pinochet's Chile
Hayek is translated from German to Spanish to English as having said, "As long term institutions, I am totally against dictatorships. But a dictatorship may be a necessary system for a transitional period. [...] Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism.

Is this really so controversial? Democracy, famously, is "two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner". It is the tyranny of the majority. Strength of numbers does not imply moral weight. Can we conceive of a democracy so brutal that Salon would not support it?

Google also turned up an article by George Reisman, setting Pinochet's legacy in context:
On Sunday, December 10, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile died, at the age of 91. General Pinochet deserves to be remembered for having rescued his country from becoming the second Soviet satellite in the Western hemisphere, after Castro’s Cuba, and, like the Soviet Union, and Cuba under Castro, a totalitarian dictatorship.

The General is denounced again and again for the death or disappearance of over 3,000 Chilean citizens and the alleged torture of thousands more. It may well be that some substantial number of innocent Chilean citizens did die or disappear or otherwise suffered brutal treatment as the result of his actions. But in a struggle to avoid the establishment of a Communist dictatorship, it is undoubtedly true that many or most of those who died or suffered were preparing to inflict a far greater number of deaths and a vastly larger scale of suffering on their fellow citizens.

Their deaths and suffering should certainly not be mourned, any more than the deaths of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, and their helpers should be mourned. Had there been a General Pinochet in Russia in 1918 or Germany in 1933, the people of those countries and of the rest of the world would have been incomparably better off, precisely by virtue of the death, disappearance, and attendant suffering of vast numbers of Communists and Nazis.

The whole article is well worth reading.

Reisman concludes:
General Pinochet was thus one of the most extraordinary dictators in history, a dictator who stood for major limits on the power of the state, who imposed such limits, and who sought to maintain such limits after voluntarily giving up his dictatorship.
Dictatorship, like war, is always an evil. Like war, it can be justified only when it is necessary to prevent a far greater evil, namely, as in this case, the imposition of the far more comprehensive and severe, permanent totalitarian dictatorship of the Communists.

I'll leave you with an image tweeted by Daniel Hannan amidst the ridiculous furore over Ralph Milliband:

... and these fine words from Russell Taylor:

Eric Hobsbawm, the acclaimed Marxist historian and friend of the Miliband family, claimed that the tens of millions killed by communist regimes would have been justified had the Red utopia been realised. This astonishing admission should have lost Hobsbawm his membership of the human race, but his reputation was unharmed – at least in left-wing circles. A similar sentiment from a Nazi sympathiser would have been rightly taken as proof of their depravity, but from a Marxist it’s nothing to get excited about. One can only conclude that in the topsy-turvy world of socialism motive is everything. There is something so noble about the egalitarian ideal that nothing committed in its name, no matter how abominable, can call its validity into question.

Topsy-turvy indeed. I stand for voluntary relationships, and sleep soundly.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Happy Canada Day?

Besides a superabundance of not very nice lager and 146 years as a country, Canadians have something practical to celebrate this Canada Day: Mark Carney is now our problem.

BBC Breakfast's segment on Carney this morning was predictably fawning. The only question, it seems, is whether this incredibly brilliant man - "the outstanding central banker of his generation", and a George Clooney lookalike! - will be quite as brilliant as everyone expects, or only moderately brilliant.

I don't share the BBC's faith in central planning. Carneys confidence doesn't inspire any confidence in me; it fills me with dread.

Watch this programme, and decide for yourself. His interviewer had the temerity to question aggressive money printing and ultra-low interest rates. Carney turned on him, smirking: “Is this all about you, Neil? Is it about the money you’ve saved and the return on that in your bank account?”

Clearly our wise and beneficent central bankers must disregard such quaint concerns, for the greater good.

A happy day for Canada, perhaps, but things are looking even worse for Britain.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Have legislators gone mad?

From the Institute for Energy Research:

The Drax plant in Yorkshire, England is one of the biggest coal-fired power plants in the world with an almost 1,000 foot-tall flue chimney, 6 boilers, and 12 very large cooling towers. It consumes 36,000 tons of coal each day, providing 7 percent of the country’s electricity. Starting next month, the plant will be converted to burn millions of tons of wood chips a year, costing £700 million ($1.085 billion).

Most of the wood chips will travel 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, coming from trees downed in the United States. Drax is building 2 plants in the United States that will turn the wood from trees into chips that can be transported by ship to Yorkshire and then hauled to the power station by railway trucks. In order to prevent spontaneous combustion, the wood chips must be stored in domes where the humidity is controlled before they can be pulverized into powder. (Wood is 1,000 times more prone to spontaneous combustion than coal.)

Despite the fact that coal is the least-expensive source of electricity generation in England, the owners of the Drax plant realized that a recently instituted carbon tax on fossil fuels would put them out of business if they continued to burn coal eventually making their electricity become twice as expensive. The political incumbents in Britain decided last year to give any coal-fired power station that switched to ‘biomass’ the almost 100 percent ‘renewable subsidy’ that owners of onshore wind farms get.

The authors ask: have legislators gone mad?

With credit to Sir Bernard Ingham, we might recast that as: cock-up or conspiracy? Are our legislators so utterly inept that they think converting Drax to burn wood chips is a good idea, or are they so corrupt that they knowingly put the corporate interests of the 'green' lobby before the interests of British citizens.

I have a hard time believing that the ministers are quite so incompetent, so I must assume they are corrupt. MPs at large may well be so stupid as to think this policy is sane. Or, more likely, they haven't bothered to consider the question at all.

Whichever way you look at it, it's a damning indictment of our representatives, and the fools who elected them.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Fade to black

This sequence has been making the rounds on Facebook:

A good point, well made.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The trouble with fraud

Libertarian philosophy is often summed up by the non-aggression principle: people should be free to do as they please, so long as they don't initiate force or fraud against others.

Unless you're a philosopher, the 'force' bit is easy enough to understand.

The 'fraud' aspect has always struck me as more problematic. Human language is inevitably vague, and the semantics change through space and time. There is a spectrum of deception, from deliberate outright lies, through subtle mistruth, to the omission of salient truths and even accidental (but avoidable) confusion. What background knowledge is assumed? When things are unclear, whose responsibility is it to seek clarification?

Advertising provides some good examples, food labels in particular.

Consider this "ice cream":

Not just any ice cream, this is "Simply 100% dairy ice cream with real Cornish cream".

But what does that actually mean?

The ingredients sound rather less delicious:

Reconstituted skimmed milk, water, sugar, glucose-fructose syrup, Cornish cream (6%), whey solids, glucose syrup, butteroil, emulsifier (mono and di-glycerides of fatty acids), vanilla extract, stabilisers (locust bean gum, guar gum, carrageenan), colour (mixed carotenes), flavouring.
At what point in our history did butteroil, locust bean gum, and glycerides of fatty acids become acceptable ingredients for ice cream?  If this counts as "100% dairy ice cream", what adulterations would require a softening of the claim to 99% or 50% "dairy ice cream".  Is there such a thing as 'non-dairy' ice cream? Which other countries would consider this "ice cream".

There are countless other examples.

Some M&S roast chicken slices I bought at the motorway services contained potato starch - useful for preserving the product, perhaps, but not something you'd naturally expect to find in roast chicken.   Maybe these days it's accepted that packaged food will contain some additives, and at least the potato starch was there for me to see in the ingredients list.

Often the deception is more subtle.  Consider the case of Canthaxanthin:
Canthaxanthin is widely applied as a feed additive delivering red pigmentation. In poultry pigmentation, canthaxanthin is used to impart a red color to egg yolks and to broiler skin. Used in conjunction with yellow pigments, canthaxanthin increases yolk color intensity to meet market demands for golden-orange yolks. In the pigmentation of salmonid fish, canthaxanthin is supplied inn the feed in order to impart a desirable coloration to flesh.
That's according to BASF ("The Chemical Company").

Is it simple fashion that drives "market demands for golden-orange yolks"?  Do consumers want this colour for its own sake, or because it has traditionally been suggestive of a well-nourished chicken and a nutrient rich egg?  Is the preference for "desirable coloration" of salmon flesh likewise fickle? Or might the "pallid pinkish grey" of uncoloured farmed salmon be suggestive of a less-than-lovely product.

I honestly don't know where the lines should be drawn, and I don't know the proper role for government here.  Most people will be familiar with the great UK-EU chocolate debate, which apparently goes back to 1973.  A BBC News article from 2000 suggests it was resolved when
European MPs ... voted to allow chocolate made with up to 5% vegetable fats or up to 20% milk content to be sold in all 15 member states.
Personally, I'm with the continentals on this one: what passes for chocolate in Britain (and worse still, in America) is not real chocolate.  But who controls the definition?  And when boundaries are clear, aren't they are largely arbitrary? (much as I respect the Reinheitsgebot)

I'd like to leave food labelling entirely to the free market.  I don't think labels for salt, calorie, and fat content should be compulsory (though I'd want to know if my food was laced with arsenic or heroin).  I have nothing but disdain for religious imperatives regarding the slaughter of animals, but I don't think halal labelling should be compulsory.  It is reasonable to expect those who care to do their own research, to spread the word, and to exert market pressure on retailers for voluntary labelling.

But what of the bizarre practices that no normal consumer would suspect, like feeding ground-up animal matter to cows?  Is a tomato with fish genes still a tomato?

Would a libertarian society allow Elmea to be passed off as cream? How far would caveat emptor extend? Would all English words become vacuous, defined by the user, so that Tesco 'cream', Sainsbury's 'cream', and Waitrose 'cream' could be radically different substances?  Would it be left to juries to decide, with inevitable inconsistency, that 'cream' made from cow cells in a lab is ok, but 'cream' made from vegetable fat is not?

I can't be the first to have wondered this. Recommendations for further reading would be most welcome.

Friday, 26 April 2013

A ban on external accountants working inside government

BBC News reports:

A ban on external accountants working inside government, to stop them telling clients about tax loopholes they have found, has been urged by MPs.

To Labour MPs it seems that wherever there's a problem, a ban is the answer.

As usual, their scheme is not only illiberal and heavy-handed, but doomed to failure. As long as there are loopholes, accountants will find them and assist their clients in exploiting them.

The obvious answer is to simplify the tax code to the point that nobody needs tax accountants.

Abolishing corporation tax would be a good start.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary

Last night I watched Martin Durkin's excellent documentary 'Margaret: Death of a Revolutionary'. The whole thing is well worth watching. If you're short on time, an article on Martin's site lays out his thesis:

The reason the Left hates Thatcher so much is that she stole the working class from them. And she was able to do this because she understood and shared their aspirations.

Behind the bluster about her death this week are two very different visions of the working class. According to the Left, the proles are oppressed, and the source of that oppression is economic freedom. The Left wants the working class living in state housing, travelling on state transport, working in state-controlled jobs, receiving a state education. The Left fights not to change, but to preserve working practices and “working class communities”, as it offensively calls them.

Mrs Thatcher had a sneaking suspicion that people wanted to own their own home, perhaps in a leafy suburb rather than a council estate. She had the idea that “working class” people wanted the things she wanted – to leave money to their children, to own a few shares, maybe start a little company, go on foreign holidays, own a car – maybe even two cars! She was right. They did want this, which is why ordinary working people voted for her in huge numbers.

Brilliant stuff.

Monday, 8 April 2013


I heard of Margaret Thatcher's death through Tom Paine's post at The Last Ditch.

Sadly, he first heard from a jubilant lefty:

My tour of my local brewery is rather spoiled by our tour guide punching the air with glee at the news of Margaret Thatcher's end. What kind of human glories in another's death?

I felt compelled to reply:

To be fair, I probably would have celebrated the deaths of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.

The real question is how people can possibly view Thatcher that way.

The sad fact is that far too many of my compatriots are misguided or downright malevolent. Blinded by tribalism, indoctrination or self-interest, they can't see all the good that Thatcher did for Britain.

To my surprise, and to their credit, the BBC's documentary 'Margaret Thatcher: Prime Minister' was really quite respectful.

DK's brief obituary is worth quoting in full, as it nicely sums up my own view:

No, Mrs Thatcher was not a libertarian. But she at least understood that the money that governments' spend is sweated from the toil of the individuals who earn it.

And no, Mrs Thatcher was no infallible goddess. But compared to what came before and (most especially) after, she may as well have been.

And no, Mrs Thatcher did not do everything right: but she had a vision that rose above that of merely lining her own pockets, and she had the balls to see it through.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Self-determination in the Falklands

BBC News:
The people of the Falkland Islands have voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining a UK overseas territory.

Of 1,517 votes cast in the two-day referendum - on a turnout of more than 90% - 1,513 were in favour, while just three votes were against.

Referendum results don't get much more decisive than that. 99.74% of Falkland Islanders want to remain British - even more than the 98.48% who made that choice in Gibraltar in 2002.

Argentina's response?
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has maintained that the Falkland islanders' wishes are not relevant in what is a territorial issue.
So far, so predictable. But what about the response from a government that claims to respect the principle of democratic self-determination?
we take note of the results of the recent democratic referendum in the islands, where the residents voted to retain the islands’ current political status as a British overseas territory. The residents have clearly expressed their preference for a continued relationship with the United Kingdom. That said, we obviously recognize that there are competing claims. Our formal position has not changed. We recognize the de facto U.K. Administration of the islands, but we take no position on sovereignty claims.
That's Victoria Nuland, speaking on behalf of US Secretary of State John Kerry. The full transcript and video is available here.

The US has no qualms about taking a position on sovereignty claims elsewhere, in situations where the wishes of the local residents are far less clear-cut.

Nevertheless, as @GittleBos notes, the US position seems consistent with their Monroe Doctrine, established in 1823:
The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.
We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.
It is of course right for nation states to look after their own peace and safety.  Indeed, I would prefer if they did that and little else.  But it is 6361 miles from Port Stanley to Washington DC - far more than the 3663 miles from London or the 351 miles from Toronto.  If the British Empire posed a threat to the peace and safety of the United States, an attack from islands in the South Atlantic was unlikely.  Today it is inconceivable that the United Kingdom would mount an unprovoked attack on the US, but if it did, a nuclear submarine off the US coast would provide a better attack platform than RAF Mount Pleasant.

The British Government has never 'oppressed' the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands, nor sought to control their destiny against their will.  A British expedition reached Port Egmont, West Falkland, in 1765 and "took formal possession of it and of 'all the neighbouring islands' for King George III", apparently unaware of an existing French settlement, Port Louis, on East Falkland at Berkeley Sound.  The French settlement was handed over to Spain in 1767 and renamed Puerto Soledad.  In 1770, Spain attacked Port Egmont with a force of with five armed ships and 1400 soldiers, forcing the British settlers to withdraw.  The attack risked war with Britain, and lacking French support the Spanish consented to the re-establishment of the British settlement in 1771.  Without good economic reasons to stay, the British and Spanish withdrew from their settlements in 1776 and 1811 respectively, but neither party relinquished their claims to the islands.

In 1816 the state that was to become Argentina, The United Provinces of the River Plate, declared independence from Spain. In 1820 they laid a claim to the islands, but it wasn't until 1823 that they made any attempt at settlement. Their chosen man, Luis Vernet was a merchant from Hamburg with purely commercial interests, and he sought British permission for his venture from the outset. Vernet's claim to a monopoly on seal hunting, however, was disputed by both Britain and America. In 1831 Vernet attempted to enforce his monopoly by seizing American ships, prompting a raid by the USS Lexington that destroyed the settlement. In 1833 Britain reasserted sovereignty, and the islands have been in British hands for 180 years (except for 74 days in 1982). Such are the facts as I've been able to determine them from Wikipedia.

The British settlements from 1833 onwards did not represent the "future colonization" opposed by Monroe's 1823 declaration. It's not at all clear, from what I've been able to discover, that the newly independent Argentina could rightfully inherit Spain's claim to the islands, but that claim was disputed in any case.

In practice, the Monroe Doctrine has less to do with the benevolence of the American people towards the "free and independent" nations of South America, and more to do with the interests of a powerful minority of US citizens who benefit from the right of unilateral intervention within their "sphere of influence".

Even so, considering how little influence Britain gains from possession of The Falklands, I doubt the Americans feel their interests are directly threatened. It is true that the US has a large hispanic population, but they care more about Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico than Argentina. Most likely, America's refusal to acknowledge Britain's sovereignty is based on a desire to appease South American governments, who represent potential markets far larger than our own.

The notion of self-determination is an interesting one, which I will have to return to in a future post. How long does a population need to be established before competing claims are dismissed. Where are the boundaries drawn? Later in this century, if a combination of immigration and procreation pushes certain British cities to a Muslim majority, would they be entitled to declare independence? What about the rights of the large minority who may wish to remain British? All interesting questions.

But this post has focused on the Falklands and the US attitude towards them. The most interesting question here is why Tony Blair supported George W's "war for democracy" in Iraq without first securing recognition of the rights of the British inhabitants of the Falkland Islands.

Time to give up?

Over at The Last Ditch, Tom Paine is in a despairing mood:

the British public frankly deserves servitude because it does not value freedom. I am now bitterly convinced that nothing but the crushing misery of totalitarianism will wake them. Provided that their freedoms continue to be removed slowly, slice by salami slice, they will probably claim even then that the state is their friend.

Schadenfreude is not my bag, but I would find it hard not to smile at the thought of them in some future gulag, were I not likely to be sharing their cell. They are a sad shaming remnant of a once great nation.

When I started this blog from Russia, I was angry with British politicians and felt sorry for the British people, thinking them ill-served. Now that I live amongst them again, my views have reversed. The British masses are a shiftless, ignorant, nastily-envious bunch who believe above all in the arboricultural nature of money, the desirability of the free lunch and the infallibility of the state. I now feel sorry for those few politicians who would like to do right, but are restrained by their electorate's vile inclinations.

Though I haven't yet accumulated Tom's wealth of experience, what he says here rings true.

Even so, I'm not quite ready to give up.

I'm conscious that I don't meet a representative sample of the British population in my daily life, nor do I see the British public accurately reflected by the media. The views of vocal minorities are given undue prominence, and the 'ordinary people' selected for display by the BBC are anything but.

Our electoral system was always vulnerable to what we have seen - a gradual slide to the left, with a small number of voters in marginal seats deciding the course of each election.

But there is some hope. Norman Tebbit often writes about the millions of voters who have gone missing. Unimpressed by the options on offer, they simply stay at home.

We need politicians who will unapologetically set out a radically different alternative, as Thatcher once did. Sometimes people need to be led. Speak plainly and honestly, and the public may yet awake from their social democratic slumber.

Today I think UKIP are our best hope. We'll see in 2014 and 2015. Losing Scotland would probably help too, though I doubt they'll have the courage to go it alone.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Taxing benefits

BBC News reports:

Another idea that has been worked on is taxing benefits. Official Treasury numbers seen by Newsnight show that taxing child benefit would raise £1.5bn, taxing DLA £800m and if you taxed the Winter Fuel Payment (which Vince Cable advocated on Thursday), you would raise £200m.

But the trouble with this is that the Treasury hate it. They point out that it would pull huge numbers of people into self-assessment, making it very messy administratively and politically. The Inland Revenue would probably have to hire 5,000 extra staff to deal with the extra work. But it is £2.5bn and every penny counts.

How desperate do you have to be to consider such an obviously insane idea?

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

All the same

More good commentary from Charles Moore:

A quarter of a century ago, when people used to complain in pubs that “they’re all the same”, I used to argue back: it seemed to me patently false. Today, I stay quiet. Nigel Farage says that we have three social democrat parties now. There is a bit of truth in that, but I would put it differently. It is not so much that they all think the same thing. It is more that they are all the same sort of people. They all belong to a political elite whose attitudes and careers are pretty different from those of the rest of us. The credit crunch has now lasted as long as the Second World War, but it has not seriously dented their way of life. This disconnect is made even more marked by the rising power of the EU – Nick Clegg is our first party leader to have started his politics in Brussels not Britain.

Moore is a Conservative, not a libertarian, but I suspect I'd be much more comfortable in his ideal Britain than the Britain of today.

A very uncivil war

I expect English schoolchildren don't learn much about the American Civil War.

In Canada it features in the High School curriculum. The take-away message was that the Southerners were the baddies - all pro-slavery and generally evil. Lincoln was a god among Presidents, saviour of the downtrodden, defender individual rights.

The reality, as I've realised over the years, was rather different. Slavery was a worldwide problem, and in most places it passed away peacefully. The USA and Haiti were the notable exceptions. Did abolition really justify total war?

It seems that freeing slaves was not Lincoln's primary concern. Here are his own words, from a letter to Horace Greeley (August 22, 1862):

If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

This position is borne out by his choice of allies: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri were slave states. He did not seek to expel them from the Union, nor to abolish slavery within their borders. The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the 'border states'.

A recent article from Mises.org made some points that were new to me (emphasis mine):

The moral grandeur of Lincoln is rooted in the myth that he made a war on the South to abolish slavery. This is, at most, a Platonic noble lie designed to legitimate the Unionist regime. Lincoln thought that slavery was immoral, but so did Robert E. Lee. And Lee, at his own expense, freed the slaves he had inherited, through marriage, from the family of George Washington. Only around fifteen percent of southerners even owned slaves, and the great majority of these had holdings of one to six. Jefferson Davis was an enlightened slave holder who said that once the Confederacy gained its independence, it would mean the end of slavery. The Confederate Cabinet agreed to abolish slavery within five years after the cessation of hostilities in exchange for recognition by Britain and France.

There is much more to be said here, and I will return to this subject when I have time.

La vida sana

This recent post from Christopher Snowdon is a classic.

How it is that Spaniards are living long, healthy lives despite being overweight, drinking heavily, and smoking a lot?

This all adds up to a bit of a mystery if, like the BBC, you have swallowed the public health fantasy that under-regulation of the food, drink and tobacco industries is the true cause of ill health. Perhaps the Guardian hits the nail on the head with this observation...

Spain has an excellent healthcare system, ranked seventh in 2000 on the only occasion the World Health Organisation has compiled a league table. The UK was 18th.

I suppose we could try to improve the NHS (the envy of the world if you exclude 17 countries who do it better), but that would involve the doctors having to do the job they're being paid for instead of issuing press releases and drawing up lists of demands. And that would be asking far too much, wouldn't it now?

How to get away with murder

Castlebeck, the company at the centre of a BBC-exposed scandal into physical abuse and neglect at one of its care homes, has gone into administration.

Eleven care workers admitted a total of 38 charges last year after they were secretly filmed abusing patients at Winterbourne View near Bristol.

There were two lessons to be learned from this morning's news:

1. If you're a low-paid worker, and you want to abuse old people, join the NHS.

2. If you're a manager, and you want to insulate yourself from risks and responsibility, join the NHS.

How else can we interpret the discrepancy between the handling of events at Winterbourne View and Mid Staffs.

If you work for a private company, and you callously neglect vulnerable patients in your care or knowingly inflict suffering, there's a good chance you will go to jail. And rightly so.

If you work for the NHS, even fatal neglect will go unpunished.

Charles Moore reminds us what 'care' was like at Stafford Hospital:

[The Francis Report] is a great disappointment. It is woolly and over-long, full of jargon and euphemisms and forgettable recommendations. It is a waste of two years. But if you go back to Mr Francis’s first report, in 2010, you are sharply reminded of exactly what all this is about. It has 13 pages on “continence and bladder and bowel care” alone. These include stories about an old man forced to stay on a commode for 55 minutes wearing only a pyjama top, about a woman whose legs were “red raw” because of the effect of her uncleaned faeces, about piles of soiled sheets left at the end of beds, and of bowls full of vomit ditto. A woman arrived at 10am to find her 96-year-old mother-in-law “completely naked… and covered with faeces… It was in her hair, her nails, her hands and on all the cot sides… it was literally everywhere and it was dried.” One nice bureaucratic touch: another woman who found her mother with faeces under her nails asked for them to be cut, but was told that it was “not in the nurses’ remit to cut patients’ nails”.

That treatment alone warrants jail time, but at Stafford Hospital neglect turned fatal:

Statistics show there were between 400 and 1,200 more deaths than would have been expected between 2005 and 2008.

Today we learned that Castlebeck, a private company responsible for 214 residents across 20 UK sites will go into administration. Neglect at just one of their sites, Winterbourne View, proved fatal to their reputation.

In a statement, Daniel Smith, one of the company's partners, said the Winterbourne View home had been immediately closed after the abuse was revealed, with the company "promptly undertaking a root and branch internal review of its operations".

He said: "Whilst the board has focused on quality care provision and restoring confidence in the Castlebeck operations, the impact of two further unit closures in 2011 and reducing occupancy has significantly diluted Castlebeck's subsequent trading capabilities."

In the free market, failure is punished. In the NHS bureaucracy, it is rewarded.

Sir David Nicholson was Chief Executive of the Shropshire and Staffordshire "Strategic Health Authority" at the time of the fatal neglect at Stafford hospital. Today he is Chief Executive of the English NHS. Even after the latest report into the mistreatment, Nicholson refused to step down. Our Coalition Overlords seem quite happy for him to stay in his post. Charles Moore explains:

In retaining his power, Sir David, who is a former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, had already been endorsed by our political leaders. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, publicly backed him. David Cameron, in the House of Commons, expressed every confidence in the great man. The political calculation, reinforced by the close relationship between Sir David and the omnipresent Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, is that only Sir David can exercise the financial control and manipulation of waiting times required to prevent the NHS exploding politically at the next election. All the deaths at Stafford Hospital occurred under a Labour government, but the Conservatives are being curiously prim about pointing this out. It is in the interests of both parties to play down the lessons of Mid Staffs.

Regular readers may remember Sir Jeremy from my post about him last year. And how appropriate that Sir David was a Communist. A Guardian article from 2006 notes that he was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain until 1983:

Nicholson has been with the NHS for 29 years. He joined as a graduate trainee in the same year he joined the Communist party, which he then saw as the best vehicle to take forward his passionate support for the anti-apartheid struggle. He says he was not a Eurocommunist: he was among the Tankies who did not see an ideological need to distance themselves from Moscow. During the interview, the working-class lad who has reached the top pokes fun at himself by asking how much of this early baggage needs to appear on the civil service security vetting form that is sitting on his desk awaiting his attention. Perhaps former Communist John Reid, Patricia Hewitt's predecessor as health secretary, might be in the best position to advise?

Whatever might have drawn a Communist to the NHS? I'll leave the conclusion to Charles Moore:

The creation of the NHS in 1948 was not a scheme for making medicine better for patients. It was a way of taking charge of its delivery by centralised bureaucratic diktat, something which happens in no other country today except Cuba, North Korea and (oddly) Canada. It was therefore designed for the people who produced the service rather than for those who received it. Each extra patient was, from the producer’s point of view, a nuisance rather than a benefit. The NHS’s proud boast is that it is free at the point of use, but this is delivered in a variety of much more responsive ways in, for example, Australia, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Spain. Only in this country is the punishment of those whose actions or neglect have killed hundreds of people seen as “scapegoating”.
The truth is the exact opposite of what we keep telling ourselves. The NHS is the least caring and most selfishly run important institution in this country. Until we recognise this, there will be plenty more Staffords.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Monetary madness

Allister Heath has a good article on Bank of England proposals for negative interest rates:

We already have negative real interest rates at the moment, with the interest far lower than the rate of inflation. But negative nominal rates would represent a complete break with the status quo: depositors would have to pay their bank, rather than the other way around.
negative interest rates would decimate savers. They would be the sort of policy that is almost designed to undermine the middle classes, especially those with relatively modest assets and savings. They would chip away at a key foundation of capitalism and a demographic with a vested interest in its preservation; down that road lies Italian or French style poujadisme and middle England rage.

The Centre for Policy Studies provides useful context. QE has already been larger, relative to GDP, in the UK (22 per cent) than in either the US (13 per cent) or the Eurozone (4 per cent). It has helped mop up 46 per cent of the massive issuance of UK sovereign bonds over the past five years – the volume of outstanding gilts has increased by two and a half times in just five years, by £832bn, the equivalent of £33,000 for every UK household, much of which has been monetised. QE has crippled savers, who are losing an estimated £65bn a year in interest forgone, according to Ewan Stewart, author of the research. Between January 2008 and December 2012, sterling lost 17.2 per cent of its purchasing power thanks to inflation. Why are we still so obsessed with loosening monetary policy yet further?

I recommend the whole article.

Also worth reading is the latest from Westminster's most promising MP, who recently made an appearance on Newsnight:

Having mostly failed to see this crisis coming before failing to predict even the general pattern of events, senior economists now want more of the medicine which already nearly killed the patient. This may look like madness or stupidity to those of us without a high level of formal education in economics. It is neither. Contemporary economists are trapped in an intellectual prison founded on now-old errors of method and epistemology: the knowledge and simplifications necessary to make their mathematical models work are unavailable and invalid respectively.
We have been on a merry-go-round of deficit spending, excruciating taxes, heavy borrowing and easy money for most of 40 years. That merry-go-round is now running down and will stop. Attempts to spin it up through monetary policy are extremely dangerous: they will store up worse trouble for later.

If the Government does not act to end expansionist policy in time by a return to balanced budgets, by ending government borrowing from the commercial banks, by stopping quantitative easing and by letting the market determine the height of interest rates, then it will have chosen the German way of 1923.

It will be extremely difficult to convince those clasping the levers of power - at the Treasury and the Bank of England - to give up their absurd attempts at monetary central planning, but it is reassuring that some in positions of influence recognise the madness of current policy.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Schlichter: bubble trouble

The minutes of a recent meeting at The Fed have been upsetting markets:

many participants also expressed some concerns about potential costs and risks arising from further asset purchases. Several participants discussed the possible complications that additional purchases could cause for the eventual withdrawal of policy accommodation, a few mentioned the prospect of inflationary risks, and some noted that further asset purchases could foster market behaviour that could undermine financial stability.

In his latest article, Detlev Schlichter offers a handy translation:

Guys, let’s face it: All this money printing is not without costs and risks. Three problems present themselves:
  1. The bigger our balance sheet gets (currently, $3trillion and counting), the more difficult it will be to ever offload some of these assets in the future. When we start liquidating, markets will panic. We might end up having absolutely no maneuvering space whatsoever.
  2. All this money printing will one day feed into higher headline inflation that no statistical gimmickry will manage to hide. Then some folks may expect us to tighten policy, which we won’t be able to do because of 1).
  3. We are persistently manipulating quite a few major asset markets here. Against this backdrop, market participants are not able to price risk properly. We are encouraging financial risk taking and the type of behaviour that has led to the financial crisis in the first place.

Schlichter's verdict?

All these points are, of course, valid and excellent reasons for stopping ‘quantitative easing’ right away. Readers of this site will not be surprised that I would advocate the immediate end to ‘quantitative easing’ and any other central bank measures to artificially ‘stimulate’ the economy. In fact, the whole idea that a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington scans lots of data plus some anecdotal ‘evidence’ every month (with the help of 200 or so economists) and then ‘sets’ interest rates, astutely manipulates bank refunding rates and cleverly guides various market prices so that the overall economy comes out creating more new jobs while the debasement of money unfolds at the officially sanctioned because allegedly harmless pace of 2 percent, must appear entirely preposterous to any student of capitalism. There should be no monetary policy in a free market just as there should be no policy of setting food prices, or wage rates, or of centrally adjusting the number of hours in a day.

Superb. I recommend the whole article.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Right wing extremists

I caught a few seconds of BBC Breakfast this morning. The presenter was describing an attack on football supporters in France as the work of "right wing extremists".

This sort of casual slander by association is so common that it goes unremarked.  I've said it all before, and I won't repeat it all here, but it's clearly ludicrous to imply that National Socialism, with its glorification of an all-powerful state, is somehow a more extreme version of Lady Thatcher's belief in personal responsibility, private enterprise, and a smaller, less intrusive government [1].

It is obvious to any unbiased observer that Fascists and National Socialists are to the left of the political spectrum.  They have much more in common with Old Labour and the BNP than with today's Conservative party.

But if you point this out, you're liable to be deselected as a Conservative candidate and fired from public office, as Rachel Frosh discovered.

Daniel Hannan's recent post on the subject is worth reading:

'I am a Socialist,' Hitler told Otto Strasser in 1930, 'and a very different kind of Socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow'.

No one at the time would have regarded it as a controversial statement. The Nazis could hardly have been more open in their socialism, describing themselves with the same terminology as our own SWP: National Socialist German Workers' Party.

Almost everyone in those days accepted that fascism had emerged from the revolutionary Left. Its militants marched on May Day under red flags. Its leaders stood for collectivism, state control of industry, high tariffs, workers' councils. Around Europe, fascists were convinced that, as Hitler told an enthusiastic Mussolini in 1934, 'capitalism has run its course'.

One of the most stunning achievements of the modern Left is to have created a cultural climate where simply to recite these facts is jarring. History is reinterpreted, and it is taken as axiomatic that fascism must have been Right-wing, the logic seemingly being that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists were nasty.

[1] Thatcher at least professed this belief, and regardless of the realities of the Thatcher era, this is what is commonly understood as Thatcherism - the furthest to 'the right' that Conservatives have ventured in recent decades.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Tim Aker disappoints

The campaign to free Britain from the EU will require cooperation with some unpleasant people.

Among them are those who think that banning all imports of EU 'beef' would be a proportionate response to the horse meat scandal.
The other big news story is the horse meat scandal, which has exposed the failures of the EU single market and its regulation procedures. Typically the European Union ties our hands when we try to respond to the crisis. The UK cannot introduce a temporary ban on foreign [meat] under trade rules (even though the French banned imports of British beef and cattle during the BSE crisis in 1990 and Italy banned the import of French beef in November 2000). We however are forced to negotiate with un-elected commissioners before we can even introduce random testing. The EU has helped to cause this problem and is now preventing us from fixing it effectively ourselves. Now they are using this exercise to grab more power from member states

In this, as in most things in life, the free market is more than capable of handling the situation. Those who want British beef can easily choose it over the imported variety.

It is of course typical that British officials stick to the rules, while the French and Italians happily take any excuse to favour their domestic producers.  It doesn't follow that we should stoop to their level.

It is of course absurd (if true) that discussions with EU officials are required "about the extent to which this country could randomly test meat being imported from the continent" (as the linked Spectator article claims).

And it is of course predictable that the Eurocrats would see in this 'crisis' an opportunity to expand their powers.

There is no question that we need to restore our sovereignty, but it's clear that the fight for a smaller, less invasive state will continue for a long time after we Get Britain Out.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Horse meat and the NHS, only one is deadly

Through James Delingpole, I discovered this excellent article by Peter Oborne (normally too statist for my liking):

the subject which nobody wants to talk about is the National Health Service. It is just over a week since the publication of the Francis report into Stafford hospital, where some 1,200 patients died in appalling circumstances. Had any other institution been involved in a scandal on this scale, the consequences would have been momentous: sackings, arrests and prosecutions. Had it involved a private hospital, that hospital would have been closed down already, and those in charge publicly shamed and facing jail.

Astonishing to relate, nothing has happened. Politicians have made perfunctory expressions of concern, while agreeing that there must be “no scapegoats”, and that Sir David Nicholson (the senior figure responsible) must remain in his job.

By contrast, consider the media storm over horse meat:

Not a single life has been lost, or even threatened. Indeed, so far as I can discover, no one has even fallen ill as a result. By comparison with the tragic and terrible events at Stafford hospital, the so-called horse flesh scandal does not register. It matters not a jot. It is beneath insignificant.

How to explain, then, the contrast between the recent, obsessive interest in horse meat and the near omertà surrounding Stafford? First, we need to grasp something important about modern media and political discourse: prominence is only very rarely the same thing as importance.

Second, there is a certain type of sentimental British do-gooder who, while relatively indifferent to human tragedy, is captivated by dumb animals. These do-gooders have been much to the fore over the past week. Consider the utterly false and inverted set of priorities at Staffordshire County Council, which (as we know from the Francis report) sat on its hands while hospital patients were dying in agony.

Staffordshire County Council has been among the first to jump on to the horse flesh bandwagon. Courtesy of the current issue of the Staffordshire Sentinel we know that the local council, so negligent and dismissive over the local hospital, has ordered that beef should not be served at the local school as a “precautionary measure”, even though it poses no threat of any kind to human health.

I recommend the whole article.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Political football

Football is a great game. I played it for years as a child and teenager, and I should really take it up again. But I just can't bring myself to watch professional football. All those prancing thugs, alternately violent and whimpering, shouting at the referees and then feigning injury - it is a rotten game.

From what I've seen, the old adage is true enough: soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.

With its vast, corrupt bureaucracy, the last thing football needs is more politics. And yet this is what our Coalition seems poised to deliver:

English football has been told it must introduce reforms within a year or the government will impose changes.

The ultimatum appears in a new report from the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Trillions of pounds in debt and sinking deeper every day, the last thing this country needs is a Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

BBC pride: Commons backs gay marriage bill

The BBC triumphantly reports:

MPs approve same-sex marriage in England and Wales in a key Commons vote, although more Conservative MPs voted against the bill than for it.

Although I'm an atheist and he's a Christian, my own view is exactly that of Westminster's most promising MP:

My strong view has long been that the government should get out of marriage. I am not alone. In December, Matthew Parris set out essentially the same view in The Spectator and showed that it works in South Africa: Gay marriage the easy way. For The Telegraph, J P Floru explained that one “can quite easily defend the position that the state ought not to be involved in marriage at all” before dealing with the fact that it is involved. The Adam Smith Institute’s Sam Bowman replied in support, concluding, “the next push has to be for true freedom for everybody: for the state to get out of marriage altogether.”
As a Christian, I am well aware of the Biblical view of marriage and I support it. However, I do not think it is right for a view based only on faith to be placed in law. If the Bill were merely about whether gay people should be allowed to get married or whether contemporary society accepts homosexuality, then it would be simple. Along with, I think, most people my age and younger, I am relaxed about other adults’ loves and consenting sexual relationships. However, I am not relaxed about muddled law, democratic consent or freedom of religion — whose protection is by no means certain — and I believe strongly that defining marriage is no business of the legislature.

That is why I voted against second reading and why I expect to vote against third reading too.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Starbucks versus Nick Cohen

John Phelan has a good article at The Cobden Centre, attacking a ludicrous piece in The Spectator by Nick Cohen.

It's hard to say whether Cohen is ignorant or disingenuous. He writes:

Now libetarianism, once an interesting anti-authoritarian philosophy, has degenerated into servile money worship, and taken large numbers of right-wing thinkers down with it. Conservative writers cannot see anything wrong with plutocrats gaining an unfair advantage, and do not think about how powerful interests that can demand state bailouts distort markets.

Libertarian is by definition an anti-authoritarian philosophy. Any philosophy that supports authoritarianism is not libertarianism.

As for 'money worship', this plays no part in libertarian theory, nor do I see it in practice. Libertarians respect honestly earned wealth because they recognise that businessmen in a free society are compelled to serve their customers, and those who serve their customers best deserve to be best rewarded.

Far from libertarianism taking "large numbers of right-wing thinkers down with it", it is libertarianism that stresses "how powerful interests that can demand state bailouts distort markets" and libertarianism which condemns "unfair advantage".

Cohen seems to think that corporations only contribute to society by paying taxes:

[Starbuck’s UK managing director] has not asked himself why the British should care if Starbucks cuts back on investment or leaves altogether. It has paid £8.5 million in corporation tax, despite total sales of £3 billion.
From the point of view of the Exchequer, it is a matter of supreme indifference whether Starbucks stays or goes.

The Exchequer probably would care, because the central government creams off 20% of all coffee sales in the form of VAT. They also take income tax and national insurance from thousands of Starbucks employees. Cohen's idea is that "many other chains and thousands of independent coffee shops" would pick up the slack, but this is not certain. Deprived of their preferred coffee shop, people might just drink less coffee. The pie could get smaller.

Cohen's problem is that he fails to distinguish between "the Exchequer" and "the British". People who choose Starbucks over Costa would not consider its departure "a matter of supreme indifference". Every Starbucks customer prefers the products they purchase to the money in their pocket. Starbucks makes each customer better off. Even if Starbucks paid no tax at all, it would be offering a valuable service.

If people are concerned about tax avoidance, they should campaign for a simpler tax system.

Friday, 25 January 2013

A dishonest deputy

Nick Clegg is extraordinarily dishonest, even by political standards.
The Lib Dem leader said it was "wholly implausible" to think the rules could be rewritten to "benefit us and disadvantage everybody else".
Clegg suggests that this is a zero sum game – that our gain must necessarily be someone else's loss. There was nothing in David Cameron's speech to suggest that he intends to stack EU rules in Britain's favour. That would indeed be "wholly implausible", as I'm sure Cameron would agree, but it is not what is being proposed.

What's entirely plausible is that Britain could leave the EU. If the EU rules cannot be rewritten so that the benefits to Britain exceed the costs, it is surely right for us to leave. If our exit causes disadvantage to "everybody else", it will be to the extent that we are currently exploited.

The truth is that current EU rules – most notably the CAP, the CFP and the EU budget – disadvantage Britain and benefit most other European states.

Consider the data from the European Commission itself, as presented by The Telegraph:

I haven't yet managed to find the raw historical data, but this situation isn't new. This BBC chart from 2007 shows net contributions by population:

There are also less obvious ways that other EU states profit at our expense.  The EU's 9.6% duty on garlic, for example, benefits continental garlic farmers while harming British consumers.  The duty hurts continental garlic consumers too, of course, but the point here is that the costs and benefits of EU protectionism are not uniformly distributed across the nation states.

Equally, it's easy to imagine reforms that would benefit Britain as well as everyone else.  Regulations that are burdensome to us are also burdensome to citizens of other EU countries; repealing them would benefit us all.  When you consider matters at an individual level, protectionism means that consumers in each EU country are being exploited by producers (some foreign, some domestic).  Often it is wealthy landowners who profit at the expense of the poorest.  Free trade with the rest of the world would be a net positive for the vast majority of Europeans.  In general, and in the long run, all Europeans would benefit from reduced government activity.  The EU pulls us in the other direction, with directives that require or encourage large, active, redistributionist governments.

Even a passionate believer in freedom would be unable to convince the leaders of France and Germany to abandon dirigisme. Cameron is on even weaker ground, because he himself favours a large, interventionist state (we're not even as free as the EU would allow us to be). But despite Cameron's aversion to transport metaphors, a two-speed Europe is both plausible and desirable – the distinction should be formalised, as Daniel Hannan has argued:

Britain's strategic aim should be to provide for the development of two parallel bodies: the European Union (EU) and the Fiscal Union (FU). The former should be allowed to subside gradually into an amplified free trade area, while the latter becomes a federation. I suspect that, at that stage, the numbers would be far more evenly matched than 26 to one.

Of course, such an EU would be so hollowed out as to scarcely warrant the term 'union'. And I suspect the eurocrats are quite attached to their brand, and would want to retain 'EU' as the label for their federal superstate. But whatever political and semantic games ensue over the coming years, I hope that we edge our way to the exit.

If this upsets our dishonest deputy PM, so much the better.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Cameron's EU speech

Cameron's speech on the EU was well-crafted, and contained many good points.

Nobody can reasonably argue that we should do less than what he has proposed.

The problem, of course, is that he did not go far enough.

There's going to be a flood of commentary over the next few hours and days, and I'll try to find time to blog about some of it, but I largely agree with Tim Aker of the Get Britain Out campaign, who was quick off the mark with an email (sent this morning at 8:52):

As anticipated, David Cameron has let the British people down by avoiding the best option for our country. All the polls indicate a majority of the Great British Public want an EU Referendum. The people of our country, however, must be given an In/Out referendum before the next General Election.

Sadly the Prime Minister is showing he is motivated only by power and politics rather than the welfare of the British people. His actions speak louder than words. The cast iron guarantee on a Lisbon Treaty referendum proved rusty. He ordered a 3 line whip against an EU vote earlier in this parliament. He could easily order a 3 line whip for an EU referendum before the election. Like Tony Blair on Iraq, David Cameron has trust issues on the EU. Cameron’s option to wait after the next election, to offer a weak tinkering of our EU membership is unacceptable.
Years of renegotiation will solve little and cost British taxpayers over £80 billion in membership contributions between now and 2017. In any case, it will not work because other EU member states have already informed the Prime Minister they will not accept his proposals. Our government will squander even more British taxpayers’ money trying to turn the EU into something it is not.

The EU is only going one way. The current solutions to the economic crisis in the European Parliament and Commission will involve even more integration. Banking and Fiscal Union will be complete by 2017. Article 16 of the Fiscal Compact incorporates Fiscal Union into EU law by 2017 at the latest. We have no choice. We are bound by EU laws, rules, regulations and Directives while we remain inside. There is nothing to stop a future government taking Britain into Fiscal Union.
Get Britain Out unswervingly calls for an In/Out EU Referendum now, to leave us free to govern our own country without EU interference, and arrange our own simple trading relationships as we thought we had when we joined the ‘Common Market’ in 1972.

The only possible argument against a referendum in this parliament is that we might lose it. There are a great many people who don't yet see the EU for what it is, and many more who have some concerns, but would be easily swayed by the powerful forces that will campaign for us to remain in. We know that the europhiles will shamelessly mislead the public, with disingenuous arguments and half-truths, if not outright lies. They will try to scare the masses into accepting the status quo, and they might well succeed. Perhaps things need to get much worse before we can be assured that the public will vote out.

Cameron's speech gave a taste of the specious arguments that will be employed. He pretended that we have influence within Europe, in the face of all the historical evidence. He claimed that we have repatriated powers when in fact we have managed only to resist some of the more egregious EU power grabs. He stressed the importance of a hazily-defined 'common market', when what we really need is a free trade area, not a customs union. As Europe's share of global GDP declines, we need free trade with Europe and the rest of the world, not protectionism elevated to the continental level.

There is a risk, of course, that we'll never be given a choice. Or that referendum day will be delayed until the indoctrination of the British public is complete, or until the results can be rigged. Or that by the time we finally choose to leave, the EU will be strong enough militarily to prevent our secession, just as the Union army of Abraham Lincoln used deadly force to deny the Confederates their right to democratic self-determination.

I'd love to know what David Cameron really believes, deep down. I wonder if we'll ever know.

Monday, 21 January 2013

EU tyre labelling

Last Wednesday I finally got some winter tyres fitted, just in time for the recent snow.

In choosing the tyres, I did what most people do: I read some reviews, and I satisficed. I decided I was happy enough with the Michelin Alpin A4s available from KwikFit, and I booked my appointment. So far they're serving me well.

At no point in this process did I feel the need for guidance from the EU. But someone in Brussels has declared 'market failure' and sought to address it:

European Regulation No 1222/2009 came into force from 1st November 2012. Apparently my lovely new tyres have an 'E' rating for fuel efficiency and a 'C' rating for wet grip. Sad, I know, but somehow I'm managing to hold it together.

For those who care about fuel efficiency, engine and driving style are likely to be much more important factors. To the extent that tyres matter, it's probably enough to keep them properly inflated. As for wet grip, without knowing what temperature they performed the test at, I have no idea whether the rating is relevant. I could dig into the details, but life is too short. I suspect this expensive new labelling system will be widely ignored by consumers, just like the energy efficiency ratings for houses.

If the ratings do manage to influence customer behaviour, they may well be nudging people in the wrong direction. Even assuming that their tests are well designed, they focus attention on a narrow range of features and conditions, and discourage critical thought.

Incidentally, there are no prizes for guessing where the BBC stands on this: New European tyre labelling could save money and lives.

And a bit of googling turns up some classic astroturfing. The new EU labels are supported by The Campaign for Better Tyres.

The Campaign for Better Tyres is being co-ordinated by Environmental Protection UK (EPUK), a national charity that provides expert policy analysis and advice on air quality, land quality, waste, noise and climate change.

Environmental Protection UK was one of a consortium of NGO’s which lobbied for the introduction of the new EU tyre legislation, which sets stricter standards for tyres on energy efficiency, noise and safety and introduces mandatory tyre labelling.

The campaign has been funded with a grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, with additional financial support from the European Federation for Transport & Environment.

And what about EPUK? A group of concerned citizens devoting their own money to an important cause? It seems not:

The UK's oldest environmental NGO has been forced to close after government cuts to local authority budgets drastically reduced its income.

Amazing. A non-governmental organisation entirely reliant on government funding. Sorry to see them go.

An EU referendum in this parliament?

Cameron must have been glad for the Algerian distraction. Waging the War on Terror is presumably much more fun than fighting your own back-benchers.

Although I'm looking forward to his speech, I don't have high hopes. Daniel Hannan wrote a piece in defence of the PM last week:

At this stage, several of my regular commenters will say "Ah, but a referendum is worthless unless it takes place in this Parliament". Well, OK, chaps. If you have a way to make Labour and LibDem MPs vote for one, I'm all ears. But if you haven't, it's really a bit much to blame the Tories for how the other parties vote.

But we all know that Dave can't be trusted. If he's serious about a referendum, it would seem sensible to at least try for one ahead of the general election, as I noted in the comments:

Easy. Cameron says that he would like the referendum to take place in this parliament, he whips his party into supporting that, and he dares Labour and the Lib Dems to vote against. If they succeed in crushing the proposal, they look bad, and he can honestly say that he tried.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Another victory for protectionism

Another story from BBC News:

Sweden has issued international arrest warrants for two Britons suspected of illegally importing 10m euros (£8m) worth of garlic into the EU via Norway. Why would criminals do that?

Why indeed?

The answer:

  • EU imposes 9.6% customs duty on foreign garlic
  • China produces about 80% of the world's garlic, cheaply
  • Criminals can make millions of euros smuggling it

[The customs duty] was meant to prevent garlic growers in EU member states from being driven out of business by Chinese farmers, who have captured large swathes of the global market by producing crops at knock down prices.
Garlic in the EU is mainly produced in Spain, but also in Italy, France, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

If you're a continental garlic farmer, the EU is brilliant. For the rest of us, not so much - we're forced to pay more for our garlic. The same applies for countless other goods. The CAP represents the triumph of producers over consumers.

I wish the Eurocrats would read some Bastiat. But since they won't, we really need to Get Britain Out - the sooner, the better.

Another military entanglement

BBC News reports:

An RAF C17 cargo plane has arrived at a Paris airbase to help French military efforts to contain rebels in Mali.

The first of two planes will load up with French armoured vehicles and other equipment before flying to the West African state on Monday.

A second C17 is due to arrive on Sunday evening. No UK troops would be deployed in a combat role, Downing Street said.

France has attacked Islamist militants in Mali in recent days, to support the Malian government.

The first plane flew from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to the Evreux airbase where it will be loaded with French armoured vehicles and other equipment before flying to Bamako. It will make just one trip.

The second C17 will shuttle between Mali and France for the next few days.

You might ask what business we have in this conflict, and whether this will all really be settled in "a matter of weeks".  You might also wonder if "no UK troops" is the whole truth, or if special forces are already involved.  And you might think it strange that we're supporting a fight against Islamists in this part of Africa, after having facilitated Islamist takeovers in the euphemistically named 'Arab Spring'.

But there's another aspect to this story that's worth highlighting.  Note that it's a pair of C-17s we've deployed.  According to the BBC,

The C17 has a much greater lifting capacity than the aircraft the French use, the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris said.

A helpful side-bar elaborates:

  • The RAF has flown C17s since 2001 and now has eight, with No 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton providing the crews
  • The UK's biggest transport aircraft, also used by the US, Australian and Canadian air force, and the Qataris
  • Used for transporting troops and equipment, they can fit helicopters and armoured vehicles, carrying up to some 77,000 kg
  • In Afghanistan, used for transporting troops and equipment in and out of Helmand and casualty evacuation from the field hospital at Camp Bastion
  • They can take off and land on short airfields, meaning they can be used in remoter places or on very basic runways
  • This help for France is part of "pooling and sharing" increasingly scarce military resources, following a defence treaty signed by both countries

All this is very interesting, because I remember an article from Lewis Page about the UK purchasing an inferior Airbus alternative to the C-17:
So we can take it that in fact the A400M costs significantly more than £130m per plane. The UK has been able to acquire much bigger, faster, longer-ranging C-17 Globemasters from the US in recent years for acquisition costs of £70m at most*. A Globemaster carries more than twice what an A400M can and costs half what an A400M does: it is four times better value for money.
why on Earth didn't the A400M get cut in the recent Defence bloodbath? We could have bought 25 Globemasters instead, thus obtaining more than twice as much lift, and still saved ourselves something on the order of £2bn - enough to keep the Harrier jumpjet fleet going for several years, for instance.

The A400M project was colourfully described ...
A peer and former defence minister has described the A400M military transport plane - which is being bought by the cash-strapped UK armed forces for a secret but outrageous amount of money - as a "Euro-wanking make-work project" in the written Parliamentary record.

The straight talk came from Lord Gilbert, who held various ministerial portfolios in the 1970s - including a defence one - and did another spell in the MoD as a peer in the first years of the Blair government. Last week he made the following remarks in the House of Lords:
I regard the decision on the A400M as the most bone-stupid in the 40 years that I have been at one end or other of this building. It is an absolutely idiotic decision. We have a military airlift fleet of C-17s and C-130s. We have total interoperability with the United States... six or seven countries altogether will be flying the A400M. Flying the C130, which it is intended to replace, are 60 countries, with 2,600 or so C130Js currently being used. That is the interoperability that we are losing...

Why on earth are we doing this? I once described this rather vulgarly as a Euro-wanking make-work project and I do not resile from that. I hope that this time Hansard will leave that in and not take it out. It was in the next day's version but Hansard funked it and took it out of the Bound Volume. I hope that this is all on the record.
Lord Gilbert concludes:
I can tell your Lordships why we are buying the A400M because I want to pay special tribute this afternoon to the defence Minister of France, who is our new best ally in Europe...

Monsieur Morin said at a news conference on Friday.

"Giving it up would have meant Europe saying it wanted to be dependent on the United States in military transport".

How pathetic. We are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a plane just to make sure that nobody thinks we are dependent on the United States for military transport.

We must laugh rather than cry. After billions of taxpayers' pounds and euros have been squandered on inferior tech, the French seek assistance from our venerable C-17s.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Auntie says: stay in the EU!

Three EU articles were featured on the BBC News front page this morning.

German MPs warn UK EU exit would be 'economic disaster'

EU debate: Conservative MEP deplores 'pitbull UK' image

Lord Heseltine attacks David Cameron's EU strategy

An EU exit would be an 'ill advised' 'economic disaster' with an 'unknown outcome'.  It would be 'a gamble', 'a punt', and would 'drive away inward investment'.  The EU 'makes the UK more valuable to the US'.  And besides, 'strident Euroscepticism' is 'pretty darned unattractive'.

This is neutrality, BBC style.