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.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Depardieu defects

Through Andy Duncan's blog, I discovered a great article by Jeff Berwick on Gérard Depardieu's 'defection' to Russia. As Andy points out, we're unlikely to hear that word used in the mainstream media, but it seems to fit.

If I had told you twenty years ago that the rich of the West would have to flee to Russia for economic freedom, you might have slapped me for lying.

But that is exactly what is going on today as Western governments get increasingly brazen about their true kleptocratic natures, seeking to “expropriate the expropriators” in order to save their unsustainable welfare (European) and warfare (American) states.

Europe has never been the land of economic freedom, but it wasn't as bad as the Communist states of the USSR which kept roughly 100 percent of their citizens' income, a condition commonly known as slavery. Before the fall of Communism, people were actually risking their lives trying to escape places like Russia and East Germany. Now as Russia moves away from economic slavery toward economic freedom and Western Europe takes giant steps toward communism, the rich of the West are both the first targets—and the first escapees.

What I can't understand is why David Cameron isn't keen to welcome all of these rich refugees. Why not offer a low, flat income tax here in Britain? It wouldn't need to be as low as Russia's (reportedly 13%), because London is still a more attractive destination for most people than Moscow.

We could also abolish corporation tax, so that major corporations use us as their European headquarters instead of Ireland.

At the same time, rich Britons wouldn't waste their time contemplating tax avoidance and emigration.

We could do all of this while remaining in the EU. Indeed, we could exploit the free movement of people and capital to attract the right sort of Europeans to our shores - the kind who wouldn't put any strain on 'resources'.

In short, why aren't we a tax haven?

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A European health initiative

Your local medical centre is always a rich source of government propaganda, and I noticed some fine examples the other day, but this one stood out from the rest:

Did you know that the EU had assumed responsibility for our health?

I blogged about EuroNannying back in 2011. A quick visit to shows that the Eurocrats are still expressing great concern for our youth:

They're looking after us grown-ups too, protecting us from harm-reduction products like e-cigarrettes and snus ('quit or die' seems to be their preferred approach, though in practice they're quite happy for you to be forever dependent on nicotine gums and patches, the officially sanctioned solution from Big Pharma):

[As ever, Christopher Snowdon's blog is the best to follow for such matters]

In typical style, EU ambitions in the field of public health are proudly displayed for all to see:
The Health and Consumers Directorate-General is pleased to present the Health-EU Portal (the official public health portal of the European Union) and the wide range of information and data on health-related issues and activities at both European and international level. The main objective of this thematic Portal is to provide European citizens with easy access to comprehensive information on Public Health initiatives and programmes at EU level. The portal is intended to help meet EU objectives in the Public Health field, it is an important instrument to positively influence behaviour and promote the steady improvement of public health in the 27 EU Member States.
The Portal is an initiative of the Community Public Health Programme 2003-2008 intended to permit greater involvement of individuals, institutions, associations, organisations and bodies in the health sector by facilitating consultation and participation. In this framework, attention is given to the right of the EU population to receive simple, clear and scientifically sound information about measures to protect health and prevent diseases. One of the main aims of the portal is to convey that citizens share responsibility for improving their health. Increased awareness of the different EU activities and programmes relating to Public Health will help the general public contribute to and support them.

The Policy is further explained on the page linked above:

The EU is required by its founding treaty to ensure that human health is protected as part of all its policies, and to work with the EU countries to improve public health, prevent human illness and eliminate sources of danger to physical and mental health.

The EU's strategy for protecting and improving human health is chiefly implemented by the health programme. It is one of several programmes to implement health policy at EU level.

The EU is a danger to my mental health and I hereby request that they disband forthwith. More likely, I'll find myself on somebody's list, to be locked away with all the other lunatics. What else but mental illness could explain such phenomena as 'climate change denial' ...

Corporatism in America

Matt Taibbi's latest article is another classic:

It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you'd think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we've been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul – right?


It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.

Although it's sometimes a bit lefty in tone, I recommend the whole article. If a tenth of what Taibbi says is true, it's a damning indictment of the people's representatives, Republican and Democrat alike, who were either too corrupt or too stupid to defend the interests of their constituents.

I couldn't resist a chuckle at the gullible and unscrupulous Democrats who were all too happy to redirect taxpayers' money, so long as it filtered down to 'the common man' - that poor soul who must forever be treated like a child, protected from his own mistakes:

On paper, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was simple: Treasury would buy $700 billion of troubled mortgages from the banks and then modify them to help struggling homeowners. Section 109 of the act, in fact, specifically empowered the Treasury secretary to "facilitate loan modifications to prevent avoidable foreclosures." With that promise on the table, wary Democrats finally approved the bailout on October 3rd, 2008. "That provision," says Barofsky, "is what got the bill passed."

In the event, rather than providing yet more welfare for the poor, the bailouts provided a staggering amount of welfare for the rich - "what was pitched as a bailout of both banks and homeowners instantly became a bank-only operation":

the amount of money that eventually got spent on homeowner aid now stands as a kind of grotesque joke compared to the Himalayan mountain range of cash that got moved onto the balance sheets of the big banks more or less instantly in the first months of the bailouts. At the start, $50 billion of TARP funds were earmarked for HAMP. In 2010, the size of the program was cut to $30 billion. As of November of last year, a mere $4 billion total has been spent for loan modifications and other homeowner aid.

Of course, neither homeowners nor bankers should have been bailed out. Politicians from both left and right are too ignorant and immoral to grasp this basic capitalist principle. The results are predictable.

Taibbi devotes a section to moral hazard:

Worst of all, the Implicit Guarantee has led to a dangerous shift in banking behavior. With an apparently endless stream of free or almost-free money available to banks – coupled with a well-founded feeling among bankers that the government will back them up if anything goes wrong – banks have made a dramatic move into riskier and more speculative investments, including everything from high-risk corporate bonds to mortgage­backed securities to payday loans, the sleaziest and most disreputable end of the financial system. In 2011, banks increased their investments in junk-rated companies by 74 percent, and began systematically easing their lending standards in search of more high-yield customers to lend to.

This is a virtual repeat of the financial crisis, in which a wave of greed caused bankers to recklessly chase yield everywhere, to the point where lowering lending standards became the norm. Now the government, with its Implicit Guarantee, is causing exactly the same behavior – meaning the bailouts have brought us right back to where we started. "Government intervention," says Klaus Schaeck, an expert on bailouts who has served as a World Bank consultant, "has definitely resulted in increased risk."

The truth is that the 'implicit guarantee' had been in place long before the 2007-8 crisis. Supposedly capitalist America has a long history of bailing out those who play the game and lose, provided they're big and well-connected. If there's been a 'dangerous shift' in banking behaviour, it's just a matter of going up a gear.

Taibbi concludes in characteristic style:

So what exactly did the bailout accomplish? It built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government. And if any one of those banks fails, it will cause another financial crisis, meaning we're essentially wedded to that policy for the rest of eternity – or at least until the markets call our bluff, which could happen any minute now.

Other than that, the bailout was a smashing success.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Labour - tirelessly fighting freedom

One of the top stories on BBC News this morning:

Labour has urged the government to consider introducing legal limits on sugar, salt and fat-content in food.

The party says the coalition's emphasis on voluntary agreements with industry is not working.

The Coalition are a sorry bunch of hypocrites. In power they have taken many illiberal steps that both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats would have condemned while in opposition. Labour, by contrast, are amazingly consistent on this point - they tirelessly fight to reduce liberty, whether they're in power or out.

I'm of the view that the Conservative party needs to die in order for freedom to progress, and I've said that I'm prepared to endure another 5 years of Labour rule if that's what it takes, but when you see stories like this, 5 years seems like a long time. The Coalition are going slowly and surely in the wrong direction. Labour would race along that same route.

I still think Sean Gabb's fears about Labour, expressed ahead of the last general election, were comically paranoid:

why do I propose to vote Conservative? The answer is that a Conservative Government would probably continue with most of the suicidal or simply demented policies of the Blair and Brown Governments. But, at the end of five years, it would then allow a free election as these things have been commonly understood in England. A re-elected labour Government would not. When these beasts in human form lied their way to office back in 1997, they came in with the same assumptions as Hitler had in 1933. They did not regard themselves as having acquired a limited and renewable leasehold interest, but as having inherited the freehold. They and their clients would never again have to sell their services in any open market. They would reorder the State wholly to their own interest. No private sphere, no ancient and immemorial rights would stand in their way. 1997 was Year Zero of their Thousand Year Reich.

Perhaps I'm just naive, but I don't think the British people would stand for that, even if it is what the likes of Ed Balls secretly desire. Many of our police officers are deeply corrupt and politicised, especially in urban centres, but even among those natural authoritarians, I don't think a majority would go along with it. Then there's the military. If reports from the Olympics are to be believed, our foot soldiers are a generally good natured bunch who identify more with the common people than the political class.

Having said all that, it's frightening that the Labour Party exists, and that it still draws so many votes. This latest nannying idea is as absurd as it is illiberal.

Will they ban the sale of sugar, butter, and salt? If not, it will be easy enough for people to compensate for the fact that their ready-meals are suddenly tasteless.

Or if people don't feel sated, they'll simply eat more, or find more satisfying alternatives. Will the Labour health nazis shut down every chipshop in the land? Will they reintroduce rationing?

Are cheap, calorific carbs like bread, pasta, and potatoes really so good for us? Might saturated fat be the wrong target? Shouldn't grown-ups be free to choose their own food?

According to the BBC, the Labour objective is "to help parents who are trying to do the right thing". Think of the fat kids! But it's already trivial for parents who care to do the right thing. And nothing but a totalitarian system of government child rearing will prevent parents who don't care from neglecting their children.

If the problem of childhood obesity needs to be tackled, we should consider why neglectful parents are having children in the first place. I'm sure we'll find some state interventions that reduce the natural disincentives.