Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The cards are dead! Which cards? The ID cards!Or, at least, they are essentially dead and dying. No longer compulsory, with the Home Office now claiming that their major benefit will be to help eighteen-year-olds get slaughtered. Hardly the message the Home Office will want to be promoting for long, I suspect.
Teachers in England will need licences to practise which would have to be renewed every five years, under government plans. The idea, to weed out weak teachers, is among plans in an education White Paper that will form the basis of new laws. (BBC)Isn't there an easier mechanism to do this? I don't profess to understand the limits within which a headteacher operates, but I suspect they will be far more restrictive than the private sector. Isn't it easier to give them as much freedom as a private sector employer? Isn't it, in fact, easier to remove the dead hand of governmental oversight and control and open the system up to competition and the free market? Isn't, truth be told, the best thing to do to follow something like the Swedish model of schooling?
This is not hyperbole. The recent
Labour manifesto "Building Britain's Future" document has some pretty barmy stuff in there. Under the heading, "Investing in young people", we read the following:
We are working towards ensuring that, in time, every young person gives at least 50 hours of service to their community in their teenage years.… Through the new Youth Community Service, all young people will be expected to give something back to their communities, and this will become a customary part of the growing up process for every young person.The pdf document talks of "the opportunity to give something back to the community". The html, though, tells a different story: not an opportunity, but a legal duty. Young people will be made to "give something back", and made to carry out "community service". You know who else is made to carry out community service, don't you: petty criminals. Given that being a young person is not a crime, the only name I can come up with for the concept of forcing young people to engage in work is child slavery.
Following on from my last post, it occurred to me that in a fair fight between economic freedom and control, you have to tilt the tables in favour of control before it will ever dominate. Why is this? Well, I wonder whether it might just have something to do with the fact that the free market fundamentally is a fair fight. It's almost as if the boxer from the red corner isn't just fighting against his opponent in the blue corner, but he's also fighting the referee, the crowd, the ring and the ground on which he is standing. Such a task would be futile unless the red corner were given a massively unfair advantage; hence, opponents of freedom will always want to get the power to tilt those tables.As long as we remain free, we cannot have our freedom taken from us, but as we give up our freedoms we shall slowly find that we are unable to resist having more and more taken away.
In Sunday's Observer, Madeleine Bunting made an "only in the Guardian" comment:
Every other modern narrative – communism, socialism, even those that were destructive, such as neoliberalism and fascism – laid claim to a version of the kingdom of God, a better world that would nurture a better human being.One has to wonder in what kind of fantasy world communism was less harmful than neo-liberalism, and neo-liberals claimed to be presenting a guarantee of a better world. Free marketeers make no promises of a better world, but we do point to the fact that free markets have raised more people out of poverty than communism ever impoverished. Communism guarantees poverty; freedom makes no promises but holds out the hope of a brighter tomorrow. Which is more destructive again?
Monday, June 29, 2009
Oh, the Daily Mail can be so predictable at times. Here is a story titled, "The shocking picture of a white boy aged 11 being 'converted' to Islam by radical preacher" . I fail to see the shock. If the lad has come from a non-Christian background, then it is not as though I should bemoan the loss of a professing Christian. Looking more closely to home, I am sure that most evangelical churches have had 11-year olds become Christians; we certainly have had younger children that that profess faith in Christ. And I am quite sure that some of the churches I have attended would be classed as 'radical'. As far as I'm concerned, this is a matter for the family and the imam, but not a matter of national outrage.This lack of shock is shared by one Liz Ward of Huddersfield (I think this may be the Liz Ward who frequents GenevaNet, but cannot say for certain), who commented,
Islam is a missionary religion. As is Christianity. Since I don't want conversion to Christianity outlawed, I can't very well complain about conversion to Islam.And for her pains, she obtained from fellow-readers a score of -383. Far be it from me to suggest that Daily Mail readers put their antipathy towards Islam higher than their commitment to freedom of religion! I can rememeber some years ago reading an article in my grandfather's copy of the Wail and commenting to the effect that it's so refreshing to read a newspaper which doesn't wait for the editorials to tell you what to think.
This is one of my favourite videos on the Dawkins debate, not least because it manages to illustrates the speciousness of many of his arguments using the best of weapons: parody.
The Times' Morland summarises incredibly well what I am about to say (click to enlarge).
The government is set to announce, so we are told, that they are abandoning targets in favour of 'entitlements'. People will be given the 'right' to have their operation within eighteen weeks, and so on. Really, of course, this is targets by stealth, but nevertheless let us deal with it at least partly on the government's own terms.These entitlements will, necessarily, cost money. How will they pay for this? The second announcement, foreshadowed by the Archbishop of Titipu, is that the government's comprehensive spending review, scheduled for this year, will be postponed until after the election. The reasoning, according to Lord Meddlesome, is that spending reviews are necessarily speculative exercises and that their figures can't be trusted: why we had them before, then, is something of a puzzle! Nevertheless, the government's election line appears to be taking the form, "Labour will spend more than the Tories, and we're not telling you how we'll pay for it."And so when Nick Robinson explained on Today, very cogently, that Labour's election strategy appears to be a guarantee of entitlements under Labour as opposed to the risk of the Tories, I had two responses. Firstly, entitlements are not guaranteed: they are dependent on all sorts of things, not least of which is taxpayers' willingness to stump up for them, and public service delivery. Secondly, the people of North Korea have a guarantee of being dirt poor. Guarantees can easily make things worse, not better.In sum, the creation of yet more entitlements proves that Gordon Brown isn't listening, isn't learning, and is solidly committed to his centralised state. I know that the Tory (and also Lib Dem) approach takes a risk, because you cannot predict what will happen when you give people freedom to choose, and companies freedom to provide and compete. But the chances must be better, surely: if people have the freedom to change supplier in a free market, service provision can improve through competition.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Apart from Sunday, which obviously is about religious news, Radio Four also seems to carry more religious news on its Sunday morning broadcasts. This morning, we 'learnt' (I already knew this) that Richard Dawkins is helping at a summer camp for atheist children. Modelling themselves on evangelicalism? Before long, they'll have their very own atheist health-and-wealth teachers, and the corruption will be complete! Mwahahaha.We also learnt that a doctor from South Wales wants doctors to be free to ask patients if they'd like prayer. The reporting of this story evolved interestingly, though. At eight o'clock, it was, "The GMC is to debate a proposal which would stop doctors from being automatically suspended if they offer to pray for patients." By nine o'clock, it was, "Christian doctors are demanding the right to pray with patients if they want it!" Funny that: I thought the BBC tried to be neutral and balanced.I can't find a reference to the story on the web, but Radio Four news carried an item this morning saying that St John's College had conducted a survey which showed that only a minority of British people now have even a loose grip on the content of the Bible. The story was immediately followed by this story: US pastor opens church to guns, "Pastor Ken Pagano told parishioners to bring their unloaded guns to New Bethel Church in Louisville for a service celebrating the right to bear arms."I think there is more connection between these stories (despite being from different countries) than merely being placed next to each other…
Saturday, June 27, 2009
As I might have mentioned, I'm picking through William Naphy's Protestant Revolution, and my suspicions are being vindicated: despite not being a theologian, he is clearly on the side of the liberals, and against orthodox Protestanism. He also has this weird assumption that because we Reformed are more vocal about our belief in sanctification than the Lutherans, that means our respective theologies differ wildly on that point. Of course they differ slightly, but not half as much as Naphy makes out. But I digress.Naphy goes on to talk about the Enlightenment and Stuff Like That, and deals (briefly) with Adam Smith. My comment here is not going to be about theology, nor even strictly about political economy, but about mathematics. Here is Naphy, first, on Smith's view of limited government.
It has to be said that an emphasis upon progressive rather than regressive tax (in other words, related to an ability to pay, such as graduated income tax, rather than the same amount levied on everyone, as with sales tax or VAT) is not an idea one might immediately associate with Smith, who is more often seen as the advocate of 'unfettered' market forces. (p. 214)The difficulties are twofold. Firstly, Naphy mis-represents Smith; secondly, he mis-represents the mathematics.To Smith, then. Naphy's quotation of Smith, immediately preceding Naphy's commentary above, reads as follows. Naphy has added 'explanatory' remarks in brackets.
The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities [progressive taxation]; that is, in proportion [means-tested] to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.Smith says levied in proportion to income; Naphy hears this as meaning progressive taxation, where the tax rate rises with income. But this is a gloss which undermines the meaning of Smith's words. Taxation in proportion to income means a flat rate, so when your income doubles, the amount of tax you pay doubles as well. That is not a 'progressive' taxation régime, but what is more commonly called the 'flat tax'.Secondly, then, as I necessarily implied in my preceding comment, Naphy screws up the mathematics of taxation. He does this because he thinks that sales taxes and VAT levy the same amount on everyone. This is patent nonsense: a very rich man's VAT bill could easily be into five figures, but I barely earn a five-figure salary. Is all my income swallowed up in VAT?No, in fact sales taxes and VATs do something very much akin to what Smith was envisaging (parking the issue about reduced and zero ratings): they tax strictly in proportion to consumption, which is itself related to income.So why my title? Because the dimensions (in the physics sense) matter. When something has a dimension, it is useful. Quantities without dimensions tell us how useful things scale against each other. So amounts of money come with the dimension of currency (one pound, two dollars). Rates and proportions are pure numbers (0.1, which we also write 10% but remember '%' is not a dimension). Because Smith is bothered about actual money the government can spend, he wants the amount of tax paid to scale with income, and not the tax rate.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Twice now, once on Question Time and this evening on Any Questions?, I have heard Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs claim that he cannot understand how MPs can cope with a second job. He tells us that being an MP is a full-time job, and that he thinks it must be very difficult to manage to do constituency work and a second job well, even when that second job is a day a month as a non-executive director. And everyone on the panel and in the audience accept this view without the slightest shred of challenge.So am I missing something here, or am I about the only person in the country to spot that Hilary Benn himself has a second job? He is the MP for Leeds Central and a Cabinet Secretary. Before he goes pointing the finger at other MPs, should he not tell us how he manages to find the time to do both?
Watching her on Question Time, I am reminded that she is one of my favourite politicians across both Houses, I should think. An old spook and now a Baroness, she is exceptionally impressive as a politician. I suppose it is her straight-talking knowledgeability, which is completely different from many others of her profession, and she not only speaks her mind, but her mind is basically in the right place. Despite (or perhaps because of) her background, she is clear on the important place our liberties occupy, and of the need to behave according to basic human decency. Her positioning as Shadow Security Minister is great: she makes a good foil to Dominic Grieves in his concerns for civil liberties shadowing the Justice Ministry, and therefore I should think that between them they form an effective team in holding back Chris Grayling's more obviously authoritarian instincts.
He has demanded that prospective Labour MPs—and he hopes to extend this to sitting ones too—sign up to a pledge to integrity in public office and prudence with public money (Guardian). This is the man who is claiming that public spending will not, can not, must not go down, remember. If he is lying, then he is lacking in the former quality; if telling the truth, then lacking in the latter.But will he leave office, seeing the impossibility of sticking to this pledge? Only when we get our election.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Leonard E. Read wrote a famous essay, I, Pencil, about the miracle of markets. It is written from the point of view of an ordinary pencil: a Mongol 482, to be precise, although I am sure a Staedtler HB would be able to tell a similar story. His introduction contains the following words:
I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that's too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.The truth that there's not a man alive who can operate the whole process of an ordinary pencil is a profoundly powerful one. You can hate it or you can find it a marvel; and you can read the whole thing here.
Yesterday at PMQs (iPlayer; UK-only), Gordon Brown informed the House that it was a shame that the Euro-Parliamentary Tories had left the EPP to form their own grouping, effectively excluding the parties of Merkel, Sarkozy and Berlusconi, reputable parties all. If only a Tory had been able to ask a question immediately after! In that position, I'd have asked:
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has just said that the Conservative party has excluded the reputable party of Prime Minister Berlusconi. Would the Prime Minister like to be associated with the Italian Prime Minister's exceedingly reputable parties?On another note, I thought John Bercow didn't do too badly at PMQs. He calmed down the rowdier elements of the opposition back-benches without completely shutting them up, and cut short the worst offenders on the Labour benches when it comes to rambling patsy questions. He also appears to be somewhat more lenient on the occasional slip into the second person singular than was Michael Martin.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
In yesterday's Guardian, Simon Jenkins bemoaned the demise of the Labour party of his student youth. As a much younger turk, it would be silly of me to pass comment on the halcyon days of yore, but I cannot allow this to go un-noted:
Those on the left who are against the current wars, the drug laws, an authoritarian Home Office and a centralised state have no voice.Simon, mate, those of us on what one might term the liberal right (or the moderate libertarian right) have no voice, either, and we are against all those things as well. The political divide is currently, and I would argue normally, between authoritarians and liberals: the table of politics is necessarily tilted away from those of us who want to say that we can sort it out amongst ourselves and towards those who want Someone Else to handle it. Democratic politics is all too often about convincing enough of the electorate that the Someone Else will pay, and that the politician can solve the problem. It is an uphill struggle to convince people that they need to take more responsibility themselves.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Tories have a wall of short video clips of ordinary party members and the occasional high-profile politician explaining why they are Tories. I'm not a party animal, so I'm not particularly bothered about the party-political side of it, but the politico-philosophical aspect is interesting: in amongst a varied selection of reasons (some focussing on a strong society, or the national interest) are some pretty eloquent defences of classical liberalism, which does interest me.One chap put it very bluntly when he said, "I want less government and more me", but the hyper-individualism of this can be understandably off-putting. The one I found to be particularly good was John J C Moss (I have substituted liberal for Conservative):
All the other [politicians] think they know what's best for us: they ask us to trust them. Liberals know that most of the time, most people can sort out most things for themselves: put simply, they trust us.True liberalism is about realising that basically, by and large, people are better placed to fix their own problems than anyone else, and that we therefore should trust politicians less and trust individuals more.
Mike Horton talks to CBN about his new book, Christless Christianity. (A copy is on my shelf, waiting for me to have finished about three more first!)
(Thanks to Kim Riddlebarger for the heads-up.)
It may seem the height of silliness, but without stuff like this, Britain would be half the country she is. The bowing, the doffing, the wonderfully florid announcement by the clerk: although I have wobbled on the monarchy from time to time, I have always firmly believed that our traditions are the strongest part of the institution. Without them, we would be just another faceless Northern European Protestant monarchy: and where would be the fun in that?
Monday, June 22, 2009
From yesterday's Sunday Telegraph,
Gordon Brown to reconnect with voters by appearing on Songs of Praise (full)May we be ever preserved from Prime Ministers choosing hymns, apparently to include "Be Still My Soul, Fight the Good Fight and Psalm 23." I'm surprised Psalm 83 does not figure, given his recent travails. Of course, if he announced, "I have asked her Majesty the Queen to dissolve Parliament, and we are proceeding to a general election with all due haste," I would happily break forth into joy with glad tidings, and probably be inclined to belt out a few verse of this, to boot.But who on earth thought that this would reconnect him with Middle Britain? Does anyone under the age of sixty-five watch SoP any more; and how many people will switch off as soon as they see who's leading it?I keeping thinking it is impossible to sink any lower than Brown already has, but every time he proves me wrong.
David Mitchell wrote in yesterday's Observer,
Sacrificing our rights and freedoms, or the use of them, for the greater good is much called for at the moment. There's pressure to recycle, pay higher taxes, not travel on planes, avoid products manufactured by enslaved children, stop borrowing money we can't pay back, stop lending money to people who won't pay it back and abstain from tuna. And psychologically we couldn't be worse prepared. … Any self-sacrifice feels to us westerners like tyranny.Let me try the notion of self-sacrifice on the OED:
Sacrifice of oneself; the giving up of one's own interests, happiness, and desires, for the sake of duty or the welfare of others.So in what sense is being made to do something (let us take the payment of higher taxes) self-sacrificial? If the government hoiks your tax rate up, you pay because it is in your own interest not to go to prison. On the other hand, if you decide not to have that holiday in Hawaii because you think the money could be better used building a school in Tanzania, then that is self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice involves my making a decision to forego some pleasure or comfort in favour of another, but what Mitchell wants is for a majority decision to be enforced on the whole.For sure, I appreciate the appeal of recycling (and one day it may even be economic; who knows?), and certainly do not approve of enslaving children (although I suspect that what Mitchell calls enslavement the rest of us may call a sad economic exigency), but when I am made to choose the way Mitchell thinks I ought (and note the implicit claim to moral superiority he is making here) the nobility of self-sacrifice must be replaced with the degrading reality of a softer, gentler form of indentured service.If we claim the name of 'liberal', we should use our freedom of speech to persuade the mind, and expect the behaviour to follow. Freedom need not be sacrificed in order to do what is right: in fact, liberty provides by far the best soil for the growth of civic virtue.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Something I just read on a newspaper's comments section. Suppose that we barred all references to parties from appearing on ballot papers. Candidates for election can still be members of parties, but they will not appear as 'party candidates' on the ballot. Of course, they may freely campaign as a party's candidate, the party may back them, and they are free to associate with whomever they wish. But if you simply turned up to the polling booth without having interacted with the campaigns at all, you wouldn't know who was which party's candidate.Apart, perhaps, from some nutters changing their names to "Mr. Labour Party candidate for Dagenham and Redbridge", what might be the effect? Would we see fewer votes, but better-informed ones? I'm not sure it's necessarily a good idea, but it's a point worth pondering, I think.
Dominic Lawson's column in today's Sunday Times makes the same point as I alluded to earlier. He cites the example of some of his wife's schoolgirl colleagues at a convent school, in response to some over-zealous redaction. They took a song from My Fair Lady and produced:
I could have ████ed all night!
I could have ████ed all night!
And still begged for more.
I could have spread my ████
And done a thousand things
I've never done before.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Finland, centre of the tax cartelThe Finnish Prime Minister evidently thinks that governments are immune—or ought to be—to the concept of competition:
raising … taxes can have detrimental effects on economic activity. This is especially so when a country acts on its own: capital and people can respond by migrating to jurisdictions with lower rates. Deeper co-operation is therefore necessary if tax revenues are to be increased in a way that truly helps fiscal consolidation. …It is important that different countries do not find themselves with very different tax solutions. We should avoid tax competition and the damage this would cause to Europe’s economic growth. (src)Yes, because tax competition has such negative effects. Look at it this way: most private enterprises appreciate having a healthy, well-educated workforce, low crime rates and all the rest of it. Different jurisdictions achieve this in different ways, but the European model is quite common. However, reducing tax competition is a bad route to take, for this reason: it is better to achieve the same results with fewer resources. Therefore, private enterprises will move themselves to a jurisdiction which has the kind of clement conditions it seeks, but at the best price.In other words, tax competition does not necessarily encourage lower taxes at any cost, but it does encourage public sector efficiency with whatever taxes are collected. That, surely, is a good thing.Shock news: public sector union opposes free marketIn other news, in response to a Today programme request for ways to save the NHS money, the BMA has called for the private sector to be "cut out" and for market-based reforms to be abolished. This, too, is folly. The BMA is essentially a public sector union, and as such is ideologically opposed to any private involvement; health workers in particular are notorious for arguing that their sector simply cannot abide any private provision whatsoever. "Special pleading" was a phrase used by the lady from the CBI, and it is an accurate description.The private sector is already involved in healthcare, such as the development of drugs. Market-based reforms simply mean allowing hospitals to compete against each other for the money associated with a patient, and that surely will provide an incentive for the public medical services to become more efficient and to do more with less. Surely if the BMA is so convinced that the public sector is so much better than the private sector, then they should welcome the chance to prove it in a fair and open market?The BMA is sticking up for its members, as is its duty, but it is not sticking up for taxpayers or for good sense. Competition is good, even for government.(Thanks for Tom Clougherty at the ASI for the first story.)
Friday, June 19, 2009
I am reminded of the I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue round in which the teams self-censor songs, expurgating those parts which could cause offence. Or hilarity. It reached its zenith when Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden sang,
████ and ████
and ████ and ████;
████ and ████
and ████ and ████;
████ and ████
all tied up with string,
these are a few of my favourite things!
With regard to their child's education, no. Section 7 of the Education Act 1996 (link) states,
Duty of parents to secure education of children of compulsory school ageThe parent of every child of compulsory school age shall cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable—(a) to his age, ability and aptitude, and(b) to any special educational needs he may have,either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.Note "or otherwise." This, contrary to what you might think, is good news. It means that the state recognises the duty of parental influence in education and cannot take it away; leastwise, not without amending the 1996 Act. It is not a parent's right to procure decent education for their child, it is a duty.And I would argue that this correlates well with how things ought to be. "Parental rights" as such do not exist, at least not in most areas I can imagine. What exist are the child's rights, and the position of the parents is like a regent or a trustee, exercising the child's rights on his behalf, until the child is able to exercise them for himself. Trusteeship and regency are not rights, but duties; likewise, parenting is not a right, but a (wonderful, no doubt) duty.
Gordon Brown's nose must be getting longer by the day. From a BBC article about the Sonnex probation cock-up:
The Probation Chiefs Association confirmed that that they had been advised in October 2008 that they could carry forward 2% of their budget to the next financial year.In a statement, Sue Hall and Steve Collett, the joint vice-chairs, said: "This was welcomed as the National Probation Service was facing a significant budget cut in 2009/10. The ability to carry forward savings would have helped to minimise the impact and would have been seen as a prudent step and good financial management."A significant budget cut for the probation service is due next year: why ever would that be? Isn't Gordon promising to be a veritable debt-fuelled cornucopia for the public services?
Thursday, June 18, 2009
This deserves to be trumpeted from the rooftops. ConservativeHome caught a registered charity, the Campaign for Better Transport, sending the following to its mailing list:
We’ve been approached by a campaigner in Nottingham who’s alerted us that the Conservatives, who have just won control of the local council, have said they’re going to cancel the planned tram extension there. So to help, we’ve been wondering if we can find other examples of things the Tories are doing which are bad for sustainable public transport. Can you tell us if they’ve done or said anything in your area that’s grabbed your attention about local bus, tram or rail travel, planned roads, or airports? We’re thinking of ‘negative’ things – things that show that they’re hostile to good public transport. Perhaps also, what they do and say locally can give us some idea of how they’ll really behave in government.Charities aren't meant to engage in party-political activities, of course. So today they issue the following clarification:
The email referred to the Conservative Party because in the elections earlier this month the Conservatives gained control of 30 of the 34 councils. It should instead have asked for examples of 'council' actions or thinking. Because of the dominance of the Conservatives at the council level, the term Conservatives was used almost as shorthand. It should not have been. We are interested in information about local council transport decisions, not solely Conservative council decisions.Ri-ight. That's why you specified interest in "how they’ll really behave in government." And you were fishing for "'negative' things" because, um…
In amongst all the kerfuffle about Gordon Brown's appointing a multiplicity of peers of the realm as government ministers, it occurred to me that this is in fact entirely consistent. Commons ministers don't stop being MPs, and he wants to stop members of the Commons from holding second jobs, remember?There is a serious point here. Government ministers often defend their attempts to shut down MPs from having outside interests (which I support, as it gives them current experience of the real world) by saying that being a constituency MP is a full-time job. So, one would hope, is being a Cabinet minister. So what are these people thinking who say that you can only do another job as an MP if it is on the government's payroll?
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
It is only natural that the complaints against the Badman review rumble on in the home-schooling sector; and you've no idea what this has done for my hit counter. In drafting a letter to Michael Gove (there's no point writing to anyone in government about this), I skimmed through the report and read the recommendations in detail. Here is something very worrying for everyone from the there. In Recommendation 7, proposing local authorities inspect and monitor home educators, Badman says,
designated local authority officers should:Note the first point: this designated person should have the right of access to the home. What can this mean, apart from what amounts to a warrantless search? Anyone may enter a home where the homeowner grants permission; therefore, this 'right', if it is to mean anything, must mean that there is a right to enter without the homeowner's permission.Of course, the police have a limited right of access to homes, provided they have obtained a proper court order. Is any such restriction in view here? Apparently not. Do we think that Ed Balls cares? Ha! Does Labour have any scruples when it comes to respecting proper limits and boundaries?
- have the right of access to the home;
- have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.
Watch this short clip of Michael "Useless" Martin berating party leaders and wait for the two chief front-benchers to come into shot. And then play spot the difference.Even if he was only feigning interest, at least Cameron's aware that it's necessary.(Thanks: Danny Finkelstein.)
This is partly in response to the irresponsible and anti-democratic suggestion that Labour should entrench its values, for this reason: entrenchment is essentially as close to a written constitution as the United Kingdom gets. (One commenter at LabourList pointed out that the suggestion made was akin to painting one's sold house shocking pink the day before handing over the keys.)The issue is quite simple. Particularly as presently arranged, Labour can't be trusted with the task of writing a constitution. If we were to engage in the task, they would almost certainly want it to restrict the public and assert the rights of the State. You can imagine the provisions: you have the right to have to carry an ID card, you have the right to have your children educated in the way we see fit, we are responsible for taking your pension without due cause, we are responsible for running your lives…We cannot have a written constitution, because Labour would turn it into a partisan attempt to enforce their own view of the world, rather than a simple codification of British liberal democracy as it currently exists.
I think I can write Gordon Brown's standard answer to any PMQ now.
Labour investment against Tory cuts … we are the party of the many, they are the party of the few … investment in public services against a cut for millionnaires … ten per cent cuts in departments …Incidentally, some twerp on LabourList proposes that the government should "Entrench Labour policy in law". This is, of course, happening already: Harman's Equality Bill, the child poverty targets, ID cards, and various other bits of legislation are essentially an open conspiracy by Labour to tie the hands of any incoming government into the pursuit of policies they oppose. It is profoundly anti-democratic. Can you imagine the outcry if the Tories tried that trick?
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Gordon Brown has warned against Tory "dogma" over tax and spending (BBC). This is the man who is trying, utterly mendaciously, to conflate a real-terms cut with a nominal increase in "investment". I use the scare quotes because when Brown orders a curry, he probably says "I'd like to invest in a chicken madras…"He insists that he is increasing spending, when as everyone from Fraser Nelson to that bloke off the telly is saying it's going down, it's got to go down, and we'd be fools if it didn't. He insists that his spending is "investment", when by any sensible measure it's spending. He insists that investment is rising, when his own government's figures show that what the Treasury itself calls investment is going to halve over the same period as he is considering. He says we need to grow our way out of recession, and immediately proposes new taxes and restraints on growth.If the Tories are dogmatic, then that must make Brown delusional. Given the Lib Dems aren't a viable option as a government, I know which I'd prefer.
Monday, June 15, 2009
The Wall Street Journal explains cogently why scrappage schemes stink, even when they are done after the UK style. Note that although the government avoids a floor in the market by forcing ownership for a year, it still soaks up second-hand cars which puts upward pressure on the price for second-hand and also decreases the supply of spare parts. I wish Osborne had had the nous to use the WSJ's example and point out that the scrappage scheme is like saying that you can re-vitalise the construction industry by paying homeowners to burn down their houses.On an unrelated point, the language in the WSJ makes me wonder whether the writer, who is anonymous, is an Austrian in disguise: the concepts of mis-allocation and subsidy distortion get a mention.(Thanks to the Fearsome Comrade.)
Having just seen ten of the candidates squaring off, I'm left mulling over a conspiracy theory. Parmjit Dhanda is a Labour patsy, a creature of the whips: why is he running? Reports that the Labour whips are agitating in favour of the 'Conservative' John Bercow only make the question more pertinent. (I put 'Conservative' in scare quotes because Bercow now be thanking his lucky stars he didn't cross the floor despite having moved from the stolidly Conservative Monday Club to being well to the left of a good number of Labour MPs.) So what's going on?Well, here's this. Bercow's age was being cited as a problem for some MPs, but Dhanda is younger. Did the Labour whips put Dhanda up to running on a no-hope ticket to stop people from saying that Bercow was the youngest candidate?
Scotland on Sunday reports, "McBride 'back working for government'". Could we ever think that he had really left? A clearer case of dogs and vomit, sows and mud, I could not have seen. In fact, a commenter makes a similar analogy in the comments:
For Scotlands Future, Vote for the SNP 14/06/2009 10:41:20'S all right though, pigs can't sue.
I wonder if any of you has tried to keep a pig AWAY from a trough.I once made a mistake of giving a pig a piece of chocolate. I'll never do that again. I narrowly escaped serious injury. But that picture in my mind is what I consider Labour supporters like McBride and Labour politicians are like when you feed them from the public purse.Joe Plaice, the Nutmeg of Consolation , 14/06/2009 14:39:01
#10 For Scotlands Future: Don't you think using those terms to describe a member of Her Majesty's Government might be construed as libellous?
Sunday, June 14, 2009
I have been reading William Naphy's The Protestant Revolution (a Christmas gift; I got rather a lot of books), which was the book which sparked the BBC series of the same name, presented by Tristram Hunt. The series was moderately insightful with some silly bits, and I suspect the same will be true of the book: as Richard Holloway put it in his review, "Naphy has brought his sweeping command of church history towards a controversial conclusion." I have not read the end, but I think his conclusion is going to be that the Protestant spirit is in favour of gay marriage, abortion, and general social decay and godlessness. But I digress.There is a brilliant bit on the Puritans, which I have just been reading. He writes,
contrary to their present-day image (or the views of their supposed heirs), Puritans were not opposed to drinking alcohol in moderation or to enjoying their sexuality within the bounds of marriage as a gift from God, (p. 129–130)which, coupled with Erskine's poem on tobacco, gave rise to the following amusing summary in my mind: the true Puritans smoked, drank and made love to their wives. Hardly matches Mencken's description of puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy," does it?
Saturday, June 13, 2009
From an opinion piece on Lib Dem Voice a year ago, concerning the Lib Dems' and Tories' excellent proposals on schools. (My highlighting.)
Both Cameron and Clegg have made it clear that these schools would not involve academic selection (indicating a return to grammar schools) or be able to charge a top up fees (indicating the introduction of school vouchers). Both leaders are right to do so. Taking either or both those options would see an end to the meritocratic basis on which education is provided: state funding in education should go to all, regardless of ability, and shouldn’t be used to help the rich gain superior education.Hm. Saith Wiki:
Meritocracy is a system of a government or other organization wherein appointments are made and responsibilities are given based on demonstrated talent and ability.So let's try this again: academic selection, which is the awarding of school places on the basis of talent or ability, is anti-meritocratic. Uh-huh…
Friday, June 12, 2009
If you want to be encouraged, read Dame Pauline Neville-Jones in today's Guardian on her inherent distaste for control orders, a distaste she argues that the Conservative party, for whom she speaks very knowledgeably on matters terroristical, shares. I was overjoyed to hear of the Law Lords' decision, which opened the door to challenging these unjust uses of overweening executive power to punish without access to evidence, or in some cases even charges.If you need something a bit more depressing, then you could read Libby Brooks from yesterday's Guardian instead. She opens with a paragraph greatly deeserving of unpicking:
It is hard to decide what to object to most, so opaque and randomly synthesised is the draft legislation in the welfare reform bill. Perhaps it should be the clause allowing for the abolition of the fundamental state safety net of income support, or the privatisation of back-to-work services that will benefit only shareholders. Maybe it's the requirement that single parents with children as young as three should be available for "work-related activity" or face sanctions, with the adequacy of childcare provision to be judged by a jobcentre adviser. Others might choose the piloting of "work for your benefits" schemes, which will undercut the minimum wage, offering as little as £1.73 an hour to claimants who have been unemployed for more than two years.So, let us deal with this point-by-point."The abolition of the fundamental state safety net of income support": fundamental? Income support? It's only been here for what, ten years?"The privatisation of back-to-work services that will benefit only shareholders": yeah, 'cos getting people into work is not a benefit to the workers at all. If a private recruitment firm works hard to get people into a job, isn't the worker worthy of his hire? Funnily enough, I don't think that's a principle Ms. Brooks recognises."Single parents with children as young as three should be available for 'work-related activity'": perhaps three is a bit low, but surely there comes a point (normally; I am fully aware that exceptions exist) where even single mothers should be encouraged to be doing something to support their family? Once children are expected to be in school, surely a single mother can use the time freed up to earn a bit of money to put food on the table and clothes on the back?"The piloting of 'work for your benefits' schemes, which will undercut the minimum wage": the minimum wage ensures that fewer jobs are available than would otherwise be (proof: a job which is not economic above £5.00/hr cannot legally be offered and therefore goes un-filled). Then which is better: to do nothing and receive £60 a week, or to work and earn more than £60?That last point is quite important: the minimum wage combines with unemployment benefit to make for some pretty sticky employment situations, where employers cannot make it economic to offer work above the minimum wage, and where recipients do not find it worth their while to move off benefits onto work which is not particularly well-paid.To combat both of these, I favour moving to a system known as the negative income tax, where everyone (for a given definition of everyone: all UK adult citizens at the very narrowest) receives a tax-free annual income, and then income tax is applied to all subsequent income. Clearly, the net effect is that below a certain figure, people receive help from the public purse, and above it, they pay. So it is a progressive scheme. But it is also very simple: one basic payment made to everyone, with qualification very easy and transparent, and all income to be taxed at easily-understood rates.The labour market-distorting minimum wage is then unnecessary and can safely be scrapped. As regards the basic income, the intention is that it would be used by individuals to fund their own social security, through insurance or savings. Thus, social security programmes can be abolished in favour of direct payment. Taxpayer-funded, privately-provided social security, and nary a bureaucrat in sight: no wonder governments of all hues would never consider it!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
A review on home education was released today; unsurprisingly it recommended that the government interfere even more, and even less surprisingly the government is accepting all of its recommendations wholeheartedly. What a surprise, Ed Balls accepting the recommendation to exercise more influence and control over home and family life!The BBC reports:
Home educating families in England are going to have to register annually, as the government has accepted the recommendations of a review.The review also says local authorities should have the right to visit any child taught at home.The government commissioned a review to find out whether local councils were monitoring home educated children, or offering parents enough support.It has also been concerned that home education could be a cover for abuse.Firstly, as a point of principle, education is the primary duty of the family, not the state. Therefore, on the question of who should be inspecting whom, parents should be inspecting local education authorities, and not vice versa.Secondly, the government assumes that it knows better than the parents how to educate children. I do not think that this holds sufficiently generally to be a justifiable premiss: for sure, some parents teach inappropriately, but not enough to warrant the intrusion proposed.Finally, we have seen this week that guarantees do not exist in this world. According to the fount of knowledge, sixty percent of all child sexual abuse is committed by an adult who is unrelated but known to the child; like, for instance, a nursery worker (BBC).What causes such things to happen? I suggest that in large part it is the nannying attitude of the government. We have to submit ourselves to checks and procedures in all walks of life—I am about to draft a covering letter for some documents intended to prove that I live where I claim for a financial product—and the overall result of these checks and procedures is that once they have been cleared, the person is considered 'clean' and permitted to go about their business. Rather than have a culture of discretion and good judgment, we have instituted a culture of compliance and box-ticking.There is no evidence to warrant the concerns about home-educational child abuse, and it is statistically more likely to happen at school or nursery, yet LEAs are being told to interfere in family lives. If this simply creates yet more compliant box-tickers, it is likely to make matters far, far worse.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I watched the last episode of Blood, Sweat and Takeaways last night. The conclusion was predictable enough, ending with what amounted to a plea for fair trade purchases, completely ignoring that Fairtrade will not work with big factories and that it is not a viable economic model for the entire system to pursue. The character who consistently came across as the most sympathetic was the farmer James who got stuck in, worked alongside nationals, respected their culture and their way of life: his conclusion was far closer to the mark, when he admitted that his initial way of thinking, that buying British was best, had been shaken as he had realised that international trade had given these people better jobs and higher wages than they would otherwise have had. Good for him.The most striking part of the episode was when the young people went out to one of the seedier districts of Bangkok. They were understandably struck by what they saw, and were distressed that some of the girls had been working in the food industry, but moved into prostitution which paid more money. One of the girls in particular was clear in her own mind that this was essentially the fault of the food industry. However, that analysis does not stand up.Prostitution, sad to say, exists wherever large numbers of men are congregated in one place: Bangkok's prostitution, of course, is driven in large part by the notorious Western 'tourists' who visit. To the extent that it is a problem driven by Thai men, the most simplistic response would be to suggest that the wages in the industries from which the women come should be raised, but this will not work: the men who work in the factories where the wages have just been increased will also simply bid up the wages of prostitutes. The tourists, of course, can always outbid any factory.If the women cannot be retained in the factories, can they be kept in their villages? To ask the very question makes one sound patriarchal and patronising. And as an approach, it too is flawed. These women have families to support. If agricultural work is too sporadic or too poorly-paid, then they have to leave home and look for work elsewhere, and cities offer more jobs, higher wages, and better conditions. Far from being the exception, migrant working is how most of the world lives. As we are aware, migrant workers exist in large numbers in the UK even today, and certainly existed in larger numbers during our period of industrialisation. Furthermore, the work in the factories may be long and tiring, but it is nothing on the back-breaking agricultural work the group saw, which resulted in one of the group contracting a serious infection.So if going to the city is on balance positive, and if it is simply not possible to stamp out prostitution by dissuading women from entering it, what can be done? In truth, the only thing which can resolve the issue is to tackle demand: for the hearts of men to be changed. As long as men are willing to pay for sex on demand, prostitution will command wages which easily rival those to be earned elsewhere. And how can the hearts of men be changed? That is not a matter of economics!
Is it just me, or does Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham, First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Privy Council, Secretary of State for Business and Secretary of State of Innovation and Skills sound more like a character from a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera than a member of Her Majesty's government?
Calvin is reputed to have commented of Christians, that inside each of us lives a little unbeliever, and the experience of all Christians bears out his observation. In a like manner, Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk hits it for six when he says,
deep down, there is a little fascist in all of us. There is a part of all of us which doesn't respect the freedom of others.It is usually trivial: When we ban smoking in pubs because we feel people aren't capable of making their own choices, it's a tiny fascism. When anti-alcohol groups suggest we ban parents from introducing their children to wine in a controlled home environment, it's a tiny fascism. When we encourage ID cards, it's a tiny fascism.When we call for immigrants to be forced – not encouraged – to speak English, it's a tiny fascism.We allow the fascist in us to win anytime we force others to behave as we behave. There is only one scenario in which we are entitled to stop others from doing something – and that is when their action limits the freedom of other people. When someone drink-drives, for instance, we are entitled to stop them, because their driving can kill others.But the government has recently gone so much further than that. It has shown no understanding whatsoever for this unique and pivotal principle of British society. Instead, it sees itself as the arbiter of good and bad behaviour. It now legislates to create the ideal citizen, who never does anything unhealthy, and can be monitored and watched at all times.As King James might have had it put: And all the liberals said, "Amen," and among the disciples of Mill and Hayek was there much rejoicing. But from the weaker brethren came a muttering, saying, "This fellow will achieve nothing by this talk." Yet bear with them, for in their weakness they have not yet realised the frailty of the flesh, and the temptation unto fascism which is common to all.Ahem. The illiberal tendency to ban or control behaviour will lead us to very dark places, unless it is checked. People must be free even to do and say things of which we disapprove heartily, provided by them they do no direct harm to another. Otherwise, we become the mirror image of the fascists we claim to oppose, something which "Unite against fascism" appears to be achieving with alarming rapidity.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
UK Polling Report has an analysis of some of the results from a YouGov poll released recently, about voting patterns and voters' beliefs and so on. Anthony Wells focusses on the BNP, and I shall extract some interesting figures there, but here is a starter for ten: voting Labour is hereditary, more so than the Tories.
So in terms of priors, given that you parents vote/d Labour, you are six times as likely to vote Labour as Conservative; if you parents voted Labour, you are about twice as likely to support the Tories in elections. The Liberal Democrat figure is something of an oddball, probably because their history does quite not stretch across a generation. This is particularly peculiar because it would suggest that Labour retains votes very well, but presently they are haemorraghing them.Moving onto the political hue of the country, we have the following two questions: how left/right-wing do you think you are; and how left/right-wing do you think the party you vote for is? Here are the results: negative numbers are left-wing, and positive, right-wing. (YouGov's choice, not mine!) I have added a variance figure .
You can see that the variance is reasonable for all the other parties—noticeably lowest for the Lib Dems, which is interesting—but it shoots up for the BNP, with its electorate thinking it far more 'right-wing' than they are personally.Although the figures go on to suggest that a disproportionate contingent of BNP voters genuinely are racist bigots, as Anthony Wells goes on to explain, this inexplicably huge variance does lend credence to the suggestion that BNP voters are not, in large part, voting for the BNP, but against everyone else. This is only strengthened by the following facts: firstly, that the BNP vote profiles itself as about as different from the BNP as from Labour; and secondly, that the BNP voters scored variances of 1.12 and 1.65 against UKIP and the Tories respectively. In other words, BNP voters would probably vote for UKIP or the Tories if… something were different.  What, I do not know. I derived the variance figure by taking root mean square deviation over the political spectrum found in the full tables. I can supply an Excel spreadsheet if you can prove that you are a fully paid-up nerd.
 Readers may wonder whether how I view all this in the context of my view that the BNP is not simplistically right-wing. My answer: the media tends to focus on the racism side of things, and it clearly serves the left-wing end of the media to insinuate that racism is a 'right-wing' attitude. They ignore the economic policies, about which I understand Griffin was expostulating at some length on his election, and showing himself to be as socialist as they come. Clearly, some aspects of the BNP's political positions resonate with the right's own, but equally, some are on the left.
|%||I vote Conservative||I vote Labour||I vote Lib Dem|
|My parents voted Conservative||47||11||23|
|My parents voted Labour||25||66||38||My parents voted Liberal/Liberal Democrat||4||3||12|
 Readers may wonder whether how I view all this in the context of my view that the BNP is not simplistically right-wing. My answer: the media tends to focus on the racism side of things, and it clearly serves the left-wing end of the media to insinuate that racism is a 'right-wing' attitude. They ignore the economic policies, about which I understand Griffin was expostulating at some length on his election, and showing himself to be as socialist as they come. Clearly, some aspects of the BNP's political positions resonate with the right's own, but equally, some are on the left.
The UK is a member of two Western, European, treaty-based, liberal-democratic international institutions, but for all that, very different.Nato is a defence treaty organisation: its members are bound by certain common promises and requirements, but are essentially free to go their own way apart from that. It has no Parliament, and needs only modest administration. Its head is called a Secretary General, and that is no mistake, because the head of the alliance has nor needs no executive power.On the other hand, we are also members of the EU. It has a Parliament, which is immediately a warning sign: elected politicians have a nasty habit of assuming that because they were voted in by the people, they have some kind of inherent mandate to act. The European Commission is over-mighty, and interferes in matters which have no cross-border implications whatsoever, such as children's car seats.I think most people in the UK would prefer the EU to be more like Nato: a trade treaty organisation, with minimal administration and an administration which is limited to those matters strictly cross-border in nature. On the whole, I think we favour continued membership, but would vastly prefer an EU constituted on a similar basis to that of Nato. Does anyone seriously think that the Lisbon treaty, in all its incomprehensible Eurocratese, is a step of any magnitude towards that?
Monday, June 08, 2009
I know it is not very couth to make a political point off the back of a tragic murder, but the reporting to this story is an interesting example of a modern incoherence on the unborn infant. Here are some of the reports, chosen from news outlets traditionally thought of as being in some sense on the left.
Murdered woman's unborn baby diesThe unborn baby of a pregnant woman killed in a "completely random" street attack also died in the incident, police have confirmed. (BBC)Tributes paid to pregnant woman who was fatally stabbed53-year-old questioned over deaths of woman, 22, and unborn babyClaire Wilson, 22, whose unborn baby also died, was attacked as she walked to work in Grimsby, north-east Lincolnshire, on Sunday afternoon. (Guardian)Mother and unborn child die in stabbingThe unborn child of a woman stabbed and killed in a broad-daylight attack on Sunday died with its mother, police have confirmed. (Ind/Reuters)I say that there is an incoherence because it is evidently newsworthy that the child died too. Those who argue the most vociferously for abortion must hold the line that an unborn child is no more important than an organ of the body: not something you would like to lose unnecessarily, but sometimes it has to be done. In fact, one might suggest that abortion advocates sometimes treat the embryo even more cavalierly than they do organs.But in the context of a murder, it is not newsworthy that the victim's lung died: the lung, after all, does not have independent life or value. If its owner dies, it dies, and we think nothing of it. But if the killing of this unborn child is newsworthy, then are not other killings of unborn children also newsworthy?
One of the more depressing stories (BBC) of the European elections, my phlegmatism notwithstanding, was that the BNP polled sufficiently many votes to harvest two seats, one apiece in the North-West of England, and my own region, Yorkshire and the Humber. People are asking, What went wrong? Here are a number of facts and suggestions.Firstly, the turnout was woeful. Last time round, we had about 42% turnout, which is pretty dire; this time, it collapsed to 32%. Only the Greens and the English Democrats increased the number of votes they received; everyone else, BNP included, lost votes to the "Stay at home" party. So there is a positive message here: the BNP dropped 6,000 voters between '04 and '09. But there is also a question about turnout. How can it be improved?That moves to my second point: the political turmoil. Parliamentary expenses (and the European Parliament is far worse than Westminster on this), and the continuing will-he-won't-he leadership saga in the Labour party, are sapping turnout. I suspect that the Tories' understandable reluctance to publish serious manifesto commitments until an election is more obviously visible has contributed to this. For all these reasons, we need a general election; not that we shall have one soon.Thirdly, the voting system is a complete crock. For this, we can blame Labour, and more specifically Jack Straw. The legislation governing Euro elections was passed in 1999, and the closed regional party list system is an absolute abomination. We need to be able to vote for named individuals, either on approval or with STV, and not simply stick a cross against a party. Each candidate needs to be made to work for their votes. And, by the way, notice this: PR gives the BNP a fighting chance of getting elected. So all those lefties who simultaneously want (a) no BNP representatives, and (b) PR, should give up one or the other.Fourthly, however, those voters who did not go to market, but stayed home, have their own responsibility. It may seem a pointless act to spoil a ballot, and unless "None of the above" is ever introduced as a valid option (I think we should consider it seriously) it will not actually stop the BNP from getting a seat; yet when apathy reigns, undesirable results will soon follow.Fifthly, those voters who voted for the BNP need to have their concerns listened to. It is no surprise that I do not agree that immigration needs to be curbed, or that industry needs to be protected, or indeed that I disagree with all of the other insane things the BNP stands for; yet, the debate needs to be had, and honestly.It is perhaps a little too strong to lay the blame entirely at Labour's feet, as Tim Montgomerie did, but it is reasonable to point out that they are in large part responsible for points 2 and 5, and entirely responsible for point 3. Moreover, the BNP's natural constituency is not Tories, but disaffected working-class Labour voters, for reasons I have previously outlined concerning the BNP's left-wing economic policies. Montgomerie makes this point well in a letter he proposes sending to the BBC (link).
John Baez famously drew up his Crackpot Index, a sort of ready reckoner in place of a fully technological crank-o-meter, scoring a novel suggestion according to how wacky it is. Here is a fully paid-up member of the Crack Pot Brigade (against my better judgment, link) on curved space:
Curved Space: The concept of a 'curved space', which is essential for present cosmological models, is logically flawed because space can only be defined by the distance between two objects, which is however by definition always given by a straight line. Mathematicians frequently try to illustrate the properties of 'curved space' through the example of a spherical (or otherwise curved) surface and the associated geometrical relationships. However, a surface is only a mathematical abstraction within the actual (3-dimensional) space and one can in fact connect any two points on the surface of a physical object through a straight line by drilling through it.Ahem. *headdesk*The whole point is that we can only begin to imagine a space which is curved by immersing a lower-dimensional curved space in the three-dimensional flat space we are used to. (Technically, not entirely flat, but the curvature is so small we never notice it in everyday life.) The surface of a sphere is two-dimensional, as is a flat sheet of paper. However, the two are not equivalent (you cannot flatten out an orange peel onto a piece of paper, as we all remember from geography lessons), and if we write the distance between two points, then the function from the first is different from the one from the second.This matters because as I suggested, space-time is curved albeit only slightly. Particularly, when electrons accelerate in a curved space-time, they may behave a bit differently from a flat space-time: and that possible effect matters, because I hope to get a PhD on the back of it.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
A friend posted to Facebook a review by the IEA of studies about the effectiveness of 'fair trade': Half a cheer for fair trade, Booth and Whetstone, IEA, 2007 (pdf).
Tear down tariffs, and scrap the CAP!
Abstract: The fair trade movement claims that the products it provides are sourced “justly” and that purchasing fair trade products brings economic benefits for the poor. Whilst it is clear that fair trade might bring some benefits to particular groups, whether it brings significant net benefits to the poor in general is questionable. Moreover, the claim that fair trade transactions are more “just” cannot be substantiated. Customers also might be surprised to learn that the majority of the Fairtrade Foundation’s income is spent on promoting its own brand.That last point is something I had not realised: the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation has a large 'education' budget, but spends a lot of it on promoting the Fairtrade brand and comparatively little on genuine education. If a for-profit commercial organisation tried to pass off advertising its brand as 'education' they would be a laughing-stock. Moreover, the FLO's most recent academic studies, which truly are educational work, make arguments and claims which are now out-of-date. The FLO's attempt to gain a moral monopoly can be seen in their attempts to get public institutions and whole communities to declare themselves 'fair trade'; such monopolising is inherently dangerous.The main message of the review, of course, is that free trade is what helps poor countries grow their way out of difficulties—a point lost on our Prime Minister—and therefore we need to do what we can to press that agenda. Allow me to quote from the conclusion:
The desire to help others is a wonderful and important part of civil society but if we genuinely want to help people, all people, escape from grinding poverty we really must not ignore the facts. Fair trade may be fashionable and give people a nice warm feeling but only free trade backed up by the rule of law and the protection of private property have actually lifted entire populations out of poverty for the long term.Western barriers to trade, both tariff and non-tariff (such as unnecessarily high food standards), are the real culprits in this story.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;It was for Trinity Sunday, 1826, that Reginald Heber wrote this, his most famous hymn; and the church is still using it in singing of her Triune God nearly two centuries on.
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!On this Trinity Sunday and onwards, may you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Earlier today, I posted a link to a video about Warren Harding, 29th President of the United States Republic. Here is an excerpt from his inaugural address:
I speak for administrative efficiency, for lightened tax burdens, for sound commercial practices, for adequate credit facilities, for sympathetic concern for all agricultural problems, for the omission of unnecessary interference of Government with business, for an end to Government's experiment in business, and for more efficient business in Government administration. With all of this must attend a mindfulness of the human side of all activities, so that social, industrial, and economic justice will be squared with the purposes of a righteous people. (src)Apparently, he did what he said he would do: lower taxes, easier administration, stopping government interference. And by Jove, it worked!Harding did become embroiled in a corruption scandal, his speaking style was mocked (although Mencken, one of his fiercest critics, was quite literally a professional cynic), and he had numerous personal flaws which easily made him dislikeable. Despite all that, however, he managed to bring the US out of a deflationary spiral by the simple virtue of doing nothing.
Watch our esteemed Prime Minister be slammed by Fraser Nelson at the re-shuffle press conference. The facial expression, as he realises who is asking him the question, is priceless, as are some of the others throughout Nelson's attempt to get him to face facts.Nelson points out that the most recent Budget projects, according to the IFS, 2.3% (real terms) cuts in public services per annum for at least three years beyond 2011. (Guardian) Brown's response is that spending is going to rise, to keep rising, and that it is the Tories who are proposing massive cuts of 10%; the reality, of course, is that the Tories are simply observing what must needs happen according to the IFS.Earth to Gordon… Earth to Gordon…
From mises.org, Thomas E. Woods Jr. delivers what looks like an after-dinner speech address about Warren Harding, the depression that never was of 1920–21, and why governments make things worse during economic downturns. The short answer is that price signals matter, and interest rates are the price of money, so it should be little surprise that messing around with the price of money causes monetary disasters. In other words, this blog's editorial stance that interest rates need to be left well alone is justifiable, at least according to some economists.Be warned, the video is 50min long, but it is worth watching, at least until he starts to wax lyrical about the beauties of Austrian economic theory in the last five minutes. (link)EDIT: Thanks to Dr. Woods himself in the comments, we now have the video embedded, so you don't even need to leave this page. You've no excuses now!
The question on everyone's lips: who beat Labour in St Ives?
|Reynolds, Kevin Antony||Conservative||2553|
|Pegram, Dennis Roy||Conservative||2307|
|Hodge, David Frederick||Liberal Democrat||1543|
|Waters, Robin Sherwood||Liberal Democrat||1412|
|Jug, Lord Toby||The Official Monster Raving Loony Party||566|
|Allen, Richard John||Labour||362|
|Richards, Angela Louise||Labour||343|
Friday, June 05, 2009
It seems to me that in the debates around electoral reform, the left has a rather odd tendency to fetishise proportional representation. Rather odd, that is, until I thought about what is going on. Allow me to suggest an explanation which I think makes a lot of sense.The 'progressive' left has a nasty habit of being all about identity politics. They start with a list of identifying labels, and then define people in terms of those labels. So I am not, in many senses, Philip Walker: I am (among other things) a white, male, middle-class, post-graduate, Christian mathematical physicist. Most of these are not oppressed groups—I say most: post-grads definitely are!—but the key point is that in the eyes of the identity-political, I am defined by my labels. When it comes to politics, the same holds true.The identity-political left does not see politicians as individuals, who may or may not be good or bad representatives, but as 'Labour', 'Liberal Democrat', 'Conservative' and what have you. The labels are what define the politicians, and so the identity-political get themselves in a horrendous tizz whenever the national vote does not match up, percentage-point for percentage-point, with the overall parliamentary result.Essentially, the argument for strict proportionality does not treat MPs as individuals, but as pawns in some great party-political game. The parties are seen as primary and basic, and the politicians are defined with reference to the parties. They suppose that there exist such things as 'excess' votes (which amount to the votes a winning candidate received over the required amount to win), and that it is fair to re-distribute those votes to a losing candidate of the same party in another constituency.But I disagree. Parliamentarians are not defined by their party, and they are not simply cogs in a party voting machine: they are individuals, with consciences and expertise and interests. The parties are groupings of like-minded MPs, and thus the MPs are basic and the parties defined with reference to them. Hence, 'equalising' party representations against national vote is not necessarily a fair or reasonable system.Following this line of thought through, if persons, and not parties, are basic, then our first priority in any electoral reform should not be to entrench parties, but to get the most high-calibre individuals possible. Any system which treats politicians as creatures of their parties will inevitably fail in this regard: and while some, such as STV and AV, do not fail this test, any system involving a party list will have this result.
(Great credit and much kudos to John H (twitter) for the title, which is his wonderful description of current events.) Harking back to events in my natal year, is the current dissolution of the Labour party going to be the longest suicide in history?
The final of the Apprentice was nearly going to compete against a World Cup qualifier [what that? - Ed.] but was moved to avoid the clash (BBC). It was moved to Sunday night, thus competing against the European election results instead. Not content with interfering with European politics, however, Alan Sugar has now accepted a post in the government (FT, 11.10), forcing next year's Apprentices (for I assume he will still be available for shooting in the autumn) to stop calling him S'ralan and start calling him Lord Sugar. Can you imagine it?
Thursday, June 04, 2009
The left's anti-BNP campaign is called "Hope not Hate", which is a bit silly: don't they hate what the BNP stand for?As a liberal, I certainly do, and I suspect the feeling is mutual. I hate practically every point of their manifesto as an intrusion on the freedom of human beings possessed of equal dignity and worth with everyone else. I accord them the freedom to hold their views, and use my freedom to state baldly that I hate any call to restrict the freedoms of others.
OPD Group plc is a small recruitment business, operating internationally out of the UK. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange, with a market capitalisation of about £15mn. The most famous of the executive directors is Baroness Bottomley, wife of Peter; there are three other executive directors and four non-executives. Why am I going on about them?Here is an extract from a recent statement from the company:
The board of directors of OPD Group plc notes the recent movement in its share price and announces today that it is in discussions with the Chairman, Peter Hearn, with the support of certain members of the executive management team, regarding a cash offer for the entire issued and to be issued share capital of the Company at an offer price of up to 57p for every ordinary share of five pence each in the capital of the Company. (15 May 2009, src)As you can see from this chart (link), OPD's shares have slumped in recent months: two years ago, they were as high as 486p, but have under-performed the all-share index and hit a low of around 40p before the announcement pushed them up a bit. The reason for the slump is comparatively simple: the company has been losing money. It was very profitable last year, but this year posted a loss of £2.3mn (src). In consequence, the chairman together with other members of his team is proposing a management buy-out.But before we go much further with this sorry tale, let us ask ourselves how much the board cost the company. The annual report, p. 23, has all the details (pdf). In 2007, the board cost £2.5mn; in 2008, the board cost £2.2mn. In other words, the company would almost be in the black, had the board simply gone without pay and pensions for a year.So the story is this: the board have mis-managed the company but not been paid significantly less for doing so; the money they were paid almost covers the entire loss for the year; they now propose to use (in effect) the company's own money to buy the shareholders out at a low price. OPD passed audit, and properly so, since this is all within the rules and legal. But while it is legal, I cannot help thinking it is still very dubious.The major shareholder is the chairman; the other large shareholders are all City asset management firms, who are absentee landlords in general and for whom a £3mn investment is probably not worth the effort in becoming activist, especially given the lack of power shareholders have. While shareholders lack basic rights over the companies they own, this kind of story will continue to happen. Can we have our companies back?
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Following on from the interesting discussion about sustainability and local sourcing yesterday, I should like to pass on the following article I bumped into on Reason: The Food Miles Mistake. Essentially, the argument is that when it comes to carbon emissions, it is best to grow food where it grows naturally and then ship it to where it is desired, rather than growing it under artificial light and heat (or cool!) near to the demand. The artificial growing methods contribute far more to greenhouse gas emissions than transport ever could.The other lesson is, as you might expect, about subsidies. A free market, undistorted by subsidies, would tend to push production out to the developing world, which has obvious and immediate benefits for those countries which will begin to enjoy stronger trade connections with the rest of the world. The subsidies also ensure that crops are grown in the West using methods which are ecologically damaging (and thus, in the mot du jour, 'unsustainable'), rather than grown elsewhere using less damaging methods.To those who will be voting in the European elections tomorrow, it is worth remembering that the Common Agricultural Policy is a collective iniquity and a stain on the record of Europe concerning development and environment. Obviously there are more issues than merely the CAP to take into account, and we are fortunate in the UK that all of our major parties agree in principle that the CAP is a cancer which need radical surgery; nevertheless, I would urge you to esteem a party which has the will and the wherewithal to abolish or radically reform the CAP more highly than one which claims such, but has done little or nothing to do so.
Scrap the CAP!
If we're the "Free World", why do we need a leader? Isn't the point of being free that we're beholden to no man?Anyway, I know it's still bad form this side of the pond to criticise the Chief Pooh-Bah of the Partially Free World, but since I didn't vote for him, I guess I get a free hit or two. I am impressed at his ability to say one thing and do the opposite. I know most politicians do: that's the point of politics; but the way he gets away with it is quite impressive. You have to look somewhat outside the mainstream, but suddenly you find that the mainstream still hasn't quite caught up with him.For instance, Rachel Maddow (wiki)—not precisely a foaming right-winger—takes the Prez to task for saying he's (a) upholding the rule of law on Guantanamo, and (b) making the rules up as he goes along on Guantanamo. Reason, a California-based libertarian magazine whose staff had some kind of collective mental breakdown and in large part voted his way, has an article today detailing how he (a) says he will not run GM, while (b) meddling with the bankruptcy procedures and setting production standards and all the rest of it.Seems like on the big questions at least, the way to work out what Potus is actually doing is take his words and invert them.
This one's for Nick Clegg, in response to what was a small tactical slip by the PM.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to hear the Prime Minister tell the House that the Tories are the only party calling for a general election but does not have policies to deal with the recession. I am glad, because he acknowledges that we have those policies. Will he go one step further and start adopting them?
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Need I even preface these comments? Murder is unilaterally, unequivocally wrong. It is not wrong because it sets back the pro-life cause, or because it puts people in a difficult position, it was wrong because extra-judicial killing is always wrong, full stop.Right, so now that that is out of the way, here is Michael Tomasky:
Fox "news" personality Bill O'Reilly has often called the murdered doctor "Tiller the Baby Killer" and has compared his practice to Nazi Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union and (to keep things up to date, natch) al-Qaida.Does O'Reilly have blood on his hands? It is at the very least a fair question.So let me get Tomasky's suggestion straight. If some nutter reads in a newspaper, or sees on the telly, some talking head who thinks that another's actions are morally reprehensible and equivalent to mass murder, and said nutter sallies forth and kills another on that basis, then talking head is guilty of, um, something? Turn it around, then: if some left-wing idiot took on himself to purge the world of the stain that is Bill O'Reilly, would Michael Tomasky be guilty of, um, something?More sanely, here is Brendan O'Neill (of Sp!ked, writing for Reason):
Echoing censors throughout history who have claimed that words and ideas pollute society, Tomasky says O'Reilly and other shrill media commentators have contributed to a "toxic atmosphere" on the abortion issue. …This reaction to Tiller's death is driven by cowardice and censoriousness, by a desire to protect the pro-choice argument from the extremely vivid, sensationalistic, and, yes, frequently hysterical attacks of the anti-abortion brigade.Free speech is not free when we only extend the privilege to people with whom we agree, or of whom we approve. Either free speech is for the racist, the homophobe, the misogynist, the crank and the all-round fruitcake, or free speech does not truly exist. Either they are free to be as outrageous and as offensive as they like, or censorship once again stalks the presses and flies on the airwaves. Which is it to be?