Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this – that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. (Sir William Harcourt, 1873.)(Thanks: Wordsmith at the ASI blog.)
Monday, September 28, 2009
The bad news was that a couple of years later the dead hand of government fell on the CHBC: Ofsted stepped in and removed the children for their safety while all the parents were prosecuted for running an illegal child-minding business, receiving untaxed services in kind, potential child abuse and sundry other crimes. No further co-ops have been set up, and most parents are scared ever to let their children out of their sight. The few parents who are willing to run the risk of allegations of neglect and are able to afford it now pay a professional, accredited child-minder when they go out instead.Okay, I exaggerate slightly, but as a scenario it's one step further towards reality than it was a few months ago.(UK voters can sign a petition to the government about this issue here.) It is irrelevant to the main body of this post, but Krugman claims that the recession was due to an excess of savings. I suspect that two different factors are at play: firstly, that the rules required parents on leaving the co-op to hand back the twenty coupons they were given (thus encouraging hoarding), but secondly, because the value of a coupon was fixed rather than left to parents to decide through trade. Why should a Wednesday night's child-minding be priced the same as a Saturday night's? Why should a five hour stint all at once attract the same rate as five one-hour blocks? Price-fixing doesn't generally lead to happy conclusions.
In terms of financing, among other things, we've proposed roughly 400 spending cuts in the budget -- although these calculations, of course, don't include all the nonsense with the cash-for-clunkers program or the billions in tax money wasted on the crazy health care fund. src)Does opposition to car scrappage schemes, especially for a German politician whose nation's economy is so tied to the automotive industry, sound like a pro-business political stance to you? It doesn't to me. I think the FDP are pro-market, rather than pro-business.On other matters, the FDP is the most strongly Atlanticist German party, which should be good for US-German relations, especially as Herr Westerwelle is marked up for the foreign portfolio. It may, interestingly, be less good news for the UK, as Obama's evident disdain for the special relationship, helped by our Government's incompetent bungling and coupled with a renewed German Atlanticism, may mean that we are increasingly by-passed by the US State Department as it deals more directly with Europe, treating the UK less as its Vicar in Europe. The FDP is also socially liberal — Herr Westerwelle is openly gay — and solidly in favour of civil liberties. While there is a small foreign policy niggle for the UK, I am definitely smiling for Germany today.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
(1–0.015)×(1–0.015)×…×(1–0.015);that is, forty lots of (1–0.015). If you work this out (e.g.), you will find that at the end of the forty years, you have only 54.6% of what you would expect without the fees.A 0.5% fee, which is what the RSA proposed as being a reasonable fee, would do less damage, resulting in a 12% erosion over forty years, or the client retaining 88% of the total value. As you can see, all that matters is the annual fee and how long you keep your pension for. (But remember: running a pension for fewer years is a false economy!) The overall effect of cutting fees by a third (from 1.5% to 0.5%) is to increase the final value of a pension pot by over a half (from 54.6% to 88%), which shows how important it is to keep fees low, assuming you're not getting any special performance from the higher-fee manager, which typically you aren't.So that leaves a question: what's a guy to do if he wants to get a pension? (I don't have a pension plan, because I don't have an employer making contributions. My retirement investments are in an Isa.)If you are taking out a pension and want to avoid the effect of these very high fees, let me plant a seedling of an idea: try finding out about Self-Invested Personal Pensions (Sipps, a lower-charge pension which you administer yourself) and exchange-traded funds (ETFs, a lower-charge way to buy index funds of shares or bonds). I reckon it's entirely possible to run your own simplified pension fund (you have just a few basic index funds), without it needing to be hard work (you simply re-balance once a year), for lower fees (Sipps and ETFs make sure of that), and without taking on greater risk (most pension funds buy basically the same kind of investments). The plan, at its simplest, is to buy a FTSE stock market tracker and a bond market tracker, and then to move your allocation between the two as you get older. Both generate income, so it may even be as simple as merely using the investment income carefully to provide that balance. You should only need to look at it once a year if you really can't stand financial stuff, and I believe it should be as secure as a pension plan. However, if you have any doubts or questions you should ask an Independent Financial Advisor (one whom you pay per hour, so you know he's not getting commission) for professional guidance.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Having spoken out against piracy, Lily Allen has made herself the subject of attacks from those who disagree and believe, essentially, that copying everything should be legal.The burden of their attack is that she has, herself, infringed the copyright of various news sites by pasting their material on her site.I think this attack is absurd.Lily Allen has used posts from free websites. That is entirely different from file sharing of movies and recorded music.And her essential point is definitely correct. If we cannot find a way to protect copyright, then it won't pay anyone to create material worth copyrighting.I didn't say which net, though. I think it's a serious own goal. On his principles, I've quoted his entire post, and am refusing to provide a link, because it's available on a 'free website' and frankly I'm only naming him because I think he's been rather silly. I was sorely tempted to start copying, unattributed, whole stories from his employer's august publication the Times. Because if it's on a 'free website', you can copy it entirely legally, doncherknow, whereas if it's recorded, then you can't. A recording, after all, is nothing like a document on a server somewhere: one is a sequence of ones and zeros, while the other is… um… Well, look at it like this: one is put into an electronic device and is original content generated by someone's creativity, while the other… Oh, this copyright thing is harder than it looks, isn't it?Copying anyone's content without their permission is illegal, subject to provisions about 'fair use', and it matters not a jot how that content is made available. We can argue about whether it ought to be — there are arguments from all sorts of people about reform, abolition, retention, etc. — but as I understand it that is the law as it stands.On the subject of reform, meanwhile, Nellie, a commenter on the thread, put it well:
…and carriers with horse-drawn wagons should definitely have been able to force through laws to stop the use of trains and lorries.Technology is making copyright hard to enforce. That is not the fault of technology, but the fault of copyright, and it shows that rather than bumping up fines and cutting off Internet access, letting the content industries use the government as proxy bullies, we need to re-think what copyright means in the digital age. The arts pre-date copyright (in fact, from a cultural perspective, we had better art before copyright!), so it seems reasonable to suppose that the arts would survive copyright abolition, never mind the much milder proposition of reform.
Of the current cabinet, only one member is a resolute refusenik. (src)Who is it? (Honest question. Of the somewhat more long-term political members of the Cabinet, Mandelson, Darling, Balls, Miliband (E), and Cooper have never appeared on QT. A shame, because I really think that Balls, Cooper and Mandelson would do so much to endear the government to the British public.)
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Labour, of course, is a party committed to blowing away all the dusty traditions associated with British politics and marching forward in progress to a newer, brighter age. (This is why the House of Lords is now a completely democratic institution after twelve years of Labour government.) Traditionally, the A-G has been an elected MP, but despite Tony's links with the world of silk, they evidently weren't able to get enough into Parliament to appoint a decent Attorney General from the massed ranks of the Commoners. As a consequence, Labour has had to break with a dusty old tradition of British politics, and instead of democratically-elected Attorneys General has appointed them in the Lords (they have, however, kept the tradition that the A-G barely ever votes in the House).
Isn't it lovely to see that they're breaking with fusty old democratic traditions and progressing towards a better age where government ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister, and are given a seat in the Lords and substantial leeway when having to comply with legislation which they themselves were responsible for? Progress: it doesn't always have to be towards democracy or the rule of law, you know!
Monday, September 21, 2009
On the face of it, Conservatives had a disappointing result in the recent Heworth council by-election, polling 591 votes which represents around 26% of the low turnout. Heworth is perhaps the strongest Labour ward in the seat, embracing the Tang Hall estates mentioned earlier on this site.Many core Conservative voters were away over the summer and, crucially, at the time of the election, as were half our activists who would at any other time have been available to work the seat.Conservatives in Heworth came in 17 votes behind the Lib Dems.Frustratingly, a percentage of our declared committed voters in Heworth chose this by-election to vote ”tactically” (their words not mine) for UKIP and the Greens, though all those identified have pledged to vote Conservative at the General Election.Lessons have been learned. (src)Perhaps it's just me, but that all sounds a little sinister. It gives me visions of Tory activists kidnapping voters, applying thumbscrews and wet towels, and brainwashing them into returning to the Tory fold, and makes me wonder whether the lessons have been learnt by Conservative pols or by the hapless voting public of Heworth.I think I need Spooks to come back on the telly before my imagination really runs away with me…
Sunday, September 20, 2009
“May he defend the cause of the poor and needy, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” – one of a large number of texts that call on the king to actively promote the interests of the poor. (Yes, there are also texts calling on the ruling authorities not to tip too far in the opposite direction, unjustly favouring the poor against the rich, but those are a minority – reflecting where the balance of risk tends to lie in practice.) (src)Or again, referring to:
Proverbs 31:8,9’s call to exercise power in favour of the “poor and needy”. (src)(Those verses say, for reference:
Open your mouth for the mute,The key question, though, is what the vision of these passages actually is. It can be all too easy, I suspect, to fall into the trap of reading modern social democracy back into these verses: tempering material inequality through redistribution, state regulation of economic activity and altering the basis of international trade. I would suggest that these verse are a call for justice: for equality before the law, access to redress, and a refusal to ride roughshod over the weak and the poor. In fact, I think this is the more obvious reading, and I suggest that they tend to push us towards a view of state and law which are more like classical liberalism than any variety of social democracy.As I read these passages, I see not a call to promote the poor, but a call to avoid promoting the rich. It is the difference between ensuring that courts and laws are not stacked against the poor, and stacking them in favour of the poor. (Of course, if we are to err on one side or another, I will always prefer to err on the side of the poor. Yet even if we err on the side of the poor, it remains an error.) The distinction may seem nice, but it exists and I think the Bible lands on the side of trying to ensure that the powerful cannot abuse the weak, nor the rich the poor, rather than trying to make the poor rich, or make the weak powerful. In other words, the vision is for a genuine equality before the law, rather than promoting the interests of the poor.To take a practical example, compulsory purchase is a real injustice in many modern societies. It forces people to leave their property, simply because a big company or some arm of the government wants to build there; it puts me in mind of Naboth's vineyard, in so many ways. (As a general point, the left always seems to get more exercised about corporate compulsory purchase than state schemes. Odd, that. Oh, and while I'm being parenthetical, it doesn't stop being unjust simply because the property is a limited company rather than a house. Yes, Alistair, I'm looking at you.) The powerful get to exercise their power in order to have their own way, and they do so using the force of law. We would be in a better position if the law simply protected property rights and let people negotiate a settlement! Justice, in this case, is intimately linked to freedom: the freedom of both sides to negotiate without harassment and with the law defending the property-owner. In short, the classically liberal view is a step towards justice, rather than away from it, and I claim that is generally true.To defend my appeal that these verses are a call for impartiality, I note that God says in Exodus 23:3, "nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit," and in Leviticus 19:15, "You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour." Someone might object that the temptations to partiality are greater in terms of being favourable to the rich and the powerful. I agree absolutely, and sometimes those temptations are in-built, such as the fact that legal representation can be too expensive for poor people. I hope that I am not wilfully blind to the importance of programmes like legal aid (properly administered), nor to the importance of ensuring that the poor are able to access basic services like healthcare and education. For all that, though, I cannot get past the fact that all these calls for justice for the poor are calls for justice: a call for law to rule, rather than wealth or power, a call for impartiality and therefore for an essentially level playing field. It is surely an unattainable ideal, an impossibility this side of glory, but it must be the ideal to which we strive, and it is the essential ideal of classical liberalism: a society in which all are free, and all are equal before the law.
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.)
Friday, September 18, 2009
- Negative. It is funded by a compulsory payment, which is a real problem if you watch television but never BBC. It's not great if you don't use the BBC much. (Of course, it is cheaper than Sky. But the compulsion is still a point against.)
- Negative. Related to that first point, it is perceived to have an institutional bias towards the left and the left's particular concerns. Tony Benn may complain that it is right-wing, but very few people further right than Marx would agree. That would be less of a problem in a privately-run situation, but the compulsory funding model makes anyone who dislikes the BBC's ideological stance choose between not having a television at all, or funding something they would prefer not to fund.
- Positive. It is not driven by commercial pressures. This means it can produce stuff which a private company, especially an advert-funded one, could not produce.
- Positive. The BBC is publicly-owned, although formally independent of the government. That means that the paying public have a sense of ownership, even if it is somewhat removed and mediated through the trust
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
In other words, the state’s actions in establishing what Marx would call “bourgeois property” – for example, the Enclosure Acts or the invention of limited liability companies – are to be accepted, but any proposals to change what we have inherited from those earlier actions is unacceptable interference in private property by the state.There are two issues here. The Enclosure Acts were an act of private theft, pure and simple. The principle behind it — that privately-owned land is more efficient than publicly-owned land — is clearly correct, but the Act itself was simple theft, with the wealthy suborning the legislative process in order to raid the state. However, that does not mean that it is practical to go round trying to "right" a wrong that was done nearly two centuries ago. We are where we are, after all.The limited liability company is a more interesting topic of concern, and ties in with the question of whether a company is a legal person in its own right. John raises, implicitly, the question of whether a classical liberal could contemplate 'undoing' the Limited Liability Act 1855: it is interesting to note that the Act was, at the time, controversial. The truth is that there is probably a spectrum of opinion among classical liberals, but my own is that in principle we could quite cheerfully undo the Act; again, it would be practically very difficult. However, I agree on the principle: if banks want to agree to limit a company's liability, then as far as I am concerned that is their own affair and there is no need to involve the law beyond the honouring of any contract which is signed.Classical liberalism and the stateClassical liberalism is not anarcho-capitalistic. We do not believe that the state should cease to exist, and although we may place the limits at different places among us, we are all agreed that it should respect proper limits. This is a contrast with the social-democratic left, which has not yet seen a problem it does not believe that politics and the state cannot make better. So while most classical liberals are strong believers in universal access to education and healthcare, we are not at all concerned that the state should be the only provider of those services: in fact, we generally argue that all monopolies are potential for abuse, including state monopolies.Classical liberalism and taxationAlthough he mixes his political philosophies a little, John observes that classical liberalism can appear, at its most anti-state reaches, to descend into a view of taxation which sees it as "unacceptable “coercion”". Of course, the latter of the two words is a simple matter of fact: no-one has yet found a way of making the state survive by voluntary subscription, so taxation is inherently coercive.The question is whether the coercion is justified. A classical liberal, believing in the importance of a state, will agree that taxation is not in principle unacceptable; however, we would generally I think be of one voice in saying that the present burden is unacceptably high. So even I would agree that, at the margin, taxation is unacceptable coercion; however, once it is cut it will become acceptable coercion.Classical liberalism and the football pitch of societyThe last point I want to make is to pre-empt what I hope may be a useful dialogue on the Co-operative Party, which John is currently considering. There is, I believe, an inherent distinction between the classical liberal (and let me include the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist in this as well) and most of the rest of the political discourse. Most other parties see themselves as being engaged in the business of turning the state to the advantage of some special interest group or another: business, labour, ethnic minorities, "the indigenous people", corporations, co-operatives etc.  It was Bastiat who described the state as "the great fiction through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else."We are different. We don't want to get the government to pass laws favouring any given structure or group: we just want to be free. So while the rest of the parties in the football game of politics are busy cheering on their team and trying to tilt the pitch in their favour, the classically liberal have the best claim to being in favour of a level playing field and an impartial referee. We are not tied to any given structure or any particular interest group: instead, we want a society where all are free to speak their minds, to exercise their skills, and to own and enjoy their property in peace and quiet. Perhaps the poor, the marginalised and the relatively powerless are a category apart, in that I would certainly consider the effects of policy on them first. However even here, I prefer policies which give them the chance to help themselves, rather than simple hand-outs.
Friday, September 11, 2009
I think the co-op trust model - together with Labour's other school improvement policies like National Challenge and Academies - will go from strength to strength. Unlike the Tory free market model we know our approach is not just affordable and fair, but it works too. (src)I guess it's just too hard for the Secretary of State for Education to get his head round the fact that the Tories' proposals would allow people to set up co-operative schools of the sort that he favours, as well as schools of sorts that he doesn't favour. Then, schools which are efficient at providing a good education will grow and thrive, while schools which are not so efficient will have to adapt or wither.You see, I'm not bothered about any given structure in a sense. I have my philosophical prejudices about education, of course, but I don't much mind whether other people set up a Steiner School or a Montessori Academy or an unschool or a co-operative school or a business-oriented school or a classical school or a traditional school or… the list of educational philosophies is endless. I really don't mind! But what I do want is freedom, because it is only when people are free to set up schools and parents are free to choose that we will start to find out which schools educate children well.One might have thought that the economically-minded Ed Balls had learnt that lesson, but evidently in his mind the government knows better than parents. That is the only explanation for his insistence that only certain models for schooling are permissible. Still, at least he is consistent with the latest piece of authoritarian [CENSORED] to emanate from Whitehall: the "Independent" "Safeguarding" Authority.A vote for Labour is a declaration that adults can't be trusted to look out for children, not other people's and not their own.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Vouchers sound attractive because they apparently give power to citizens to choose the best schools and health services. But in many poor countries there are no services available, full stop. There is a chronic shortage of teachers, nurses, doctors, infrastructure and materials. What is needed is aid money invested in helping poor countries build and maintain free public health and education systems.Is it any surprise that an organisation which derives about 23% of its income from various governmental and quasi-governmental bodies should be ideologically opposed to the involvement of the private sector?The man from Oxfam misunderstands what is expected to happen, too. By giving people vouchers, the Conservatives plan to generate demand for healthcare and education, and where there is demand, entrepreneurs will be incentivised to step in and supply the services demanded. This is a revolutionary approach to aid, which puts the power in the hands of the poorest. Instead of treating them as passive recipients, this policy treats them as active participants, with ideas and desires worth funding.Big Charity struggles to treat the poorest with the respect they deserve. It's time to by-pass them and go straight to the people in need of the aid.(Thanks: Thomas Byrne at Charlotte Gore's blog.)