The BNP will create a pan-British parliament to oversee those policy areas currently determined by Westminster and invite the Irish Republic to join as an equal partner.Yes, good luck with that.For sure, pin him down on immigration and race and all the rest of it, and Griffin managed to make a fool of himself by telling a caller that he couldn't tell him if he was British without seeing him (src). That after telling the nation that 'British' wasn't to do with skin colour, you may recall.But do, please, also get them on this kind of thing. You really don't have to look hard to find insane proposals from the BNP. There's more reasons not to vote BNP than simply their odious immigration policies.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Ack, I forgot that the Führer-in-chief and Mosleyite extraordinaire was on Radio Four's Election Call today. I dearly wanted to check whether the BNP still had one of the barmiest policies I have yet seen a party attempting to be serious to put forward. They do.From page 39 of their manifesto (I'm off to wash my mouse and computer screen in a moment):
Not content with attacking the other parties' proposals as 'cuts for children' (src), Gordon Brown was keen to develop the line in last night's debate. He claimed that children's tax credits are paid 'to children': no slip this, since he continued on the basis that they really are paid to the children and not to the parents. Something tells me that it's probably the parents who get them.But this is obviously a line they think is going to work, because they have launched, amid burning vehicles (src) and jeering binmen (src), a series of posters which makes out that children are begging their parents to vote for Labour:
But I do wonder. It isn't patriotism, but 'the children' who are usually the last refuge of scoundrels: people will do things for their children they would never do for their country. It's not a particularly subtle campaigning message, and hopefully the electorate will see it for what it is: a tired and manipulative message from a tired and manipulative government.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
It's easy when you don't have any principled commitment to things like the truth. Let me demonstrate.Labour has concluded that because the Tory manifesto makes no mention of winter heating allowances, this means that they have enough evidence to claim that the Tories are planning to cut the allowance (src). (The Channel Four FactCheck team did a sterling job of dissecting this rather scurrilous set of claims [src].) Hot on the heels of this exclusive revelation, I can exclusively reveal a few of the things Labour is planning to do:
- Declare war on five minor asteroids.
- Ban antidepressants.
- Require all cheese to be thirty percent potato.
- Make everyone do star jumps five times a day.
- Sell the United Kingdom to the French. If Stephen Hawking's aliens don't get us first.
Liberal Conspiracy reports, with outrage, that only thirteen Tory candidates were prepared to sign a pledge opposing an increase in university tuition fees (src, via). Allow me to report with outrage the fact that as many as thirteen Tory candidates don't understand the idea of paying for what you get.The Liberal Conspiracy team well understand the idea of under-funded public services. I bet they can still be heard repeating that famed formula, 'decades of underinvestment by the Tories'. So do they want better universities, or don't they?Because we sure as anything will not get better universities by magic. Clearly there are some changes we can make which are not expensive, but a good many will cost money. In case the Liberal Conspiracy team hadn't noticed, we have a small problem with the national budget at the moment. Increasing funding from the centre is going to be tricky.So if not central funding, then what? Research funding only encourages universities to focus on research, which isn't exactly what students want to hear. They want to find that their universities are focussed on paying people to teach. And if they want the universities to pay people to teach, then students had better expect universities to be paid for their teaching.We must conclude that there is a need for a funding formula which rewards universities with a good reputation for teaching. Surprisingly enough, I hear that people are willing to pay more to study at Cambridge than at an old poly. (Notice I do not say they pay more for a degree: you can pay for my time, but you can't buy a brain.) Suppressing this differential does not encourage poorer-quality universities to improve their offering. Who is helped by sustaining a two-tier system?Add to that the fact that subsidising places at university tends to distribute resources from the relatively poorer to the relatively better-off (src), and the idea that there is a good case, even for left-wingers, against tuition fees begins to erode rapidly.We need proper competition in pricing in order for good teaching to be adequately rewarded. We need proper competition to ensure that those who do not attend university are not made to pay the way for those who do. We need proper competition because it's the best defence for undergraduates.Disclaimer: I must, in fairness, point out that I have a personal and professional interest in seeing universities focus more on teaching.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
There are two basic approaches to this most novel of electoral strategies. The first is to propagate material about one's opponents which engenders a desire among wavering voters to defy anyone prepared to stoop so low. The Lib Dems' 'DIY society' comes fairly close to this, at least for me; some of the more stridently anti-Tory material from Labour and Labour supporters also cuts into this category. The second is to paint your opponents in colours which you think are highly negative, but which are in fact attractive to people who are moderately favourable. Gerald Warner, a strident right-wing critic of Cameron's liberal conservatism, demonstrates this latter strategy when he wrote in yesterday's Telegraph:
The Vichy Tories are blatantly planning the worst sell-out of any political party’s supporters in British history. They have virtually abandoned the last trappings of Toryism as they assume the liberal identity that is, in any case, more congenial to them. “If you want a government with liberal values, vote Conservative,” Caroline Spelman said this morning, backing up Dave’s appeal to people who have “progressive ideals hardwired into their DNA”. (src)Warner thinks Tory liberalism would be a bad move. I have to say, that says more to me about the negative qualities of Warner than it does about the Tories. After all, the fact that Chris Grayling is still allowed anywhere near a microphone suggests that liberalism has yet to take deep root among the Tory leadership. On civil liberties and localism, they seem to have got it. Their schools policy, also, suggests they have some liberal ideas, but their health policy shows they haven't been entirely gripped by a bout of liberalism. The Tories have never evinced very much liberalism on crime and immigration, more's the pity. However, I'll take what I can where I can, so Gerald Warner is doing quite well at selling the Tories to me.If they're getting vituperation from the left simply for having the temerity to wear a blue rosette, and from the right for daring to espouse liberal values however weakly, then it suggests they might just be doing something right.
Monday, April 26, 2010
The comments by a junior FCO official, mocking the Pope and Roman Catholicism, have rightly caused some comment in the media (1, 2). (It is instructive that the Telegraph was trying to play the issue up this morning, while the BBC was trying to play it down.) Clearly the official in question was rather foolish, and being moved to other duties seems a reasonable response to an exceptionally ill-judged attempt at internal humour.It was, though, heartening to hear that the Bishop of Chester was going to speak to Today and argue that the episode illustrates the fact that the establishment does not understand Christians and finds it impossible to imagine that someone might have different values and beliefs. It was heartening, until he actually opened his mouth. Somehow, he managed to let himself get side-tracked by John Humphrys onto whether this is a matter of free speech for civil servants.But of course, it isn't. In his capacity as a presenter of Today, John Humphrys does not have the freedom on-air to make the comments which the civil servant made: if he did so, he too would be 'moved to other duties' and pretty sharpish. Similarly, a civil servant is not writing in a personal capacity, even when the document is an internal memo, and he does not have, in his capacity as a civil servant, freedom of speech.The key question is not whether the civil servant has freedom of speech: it is whether he has the freedom to act in a way which brings his employer into disrepute. I'm not so sure that employers ought to be required to pay for their employees to drag their good name through the mud. And on the matter of tolerating religious viewpoints, Whitehall doesn't have a brilliant reputation to start with.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Jerome K. Jerome was nothing if not an exceptionally sharp observational comic. His most famous book is Three Men in a Boat, which I have finally got round to reading, and there is a passage which demonstrates, brilliantly, quite how sharp he was:
Will it be the same in the future? Will the prized treasures of to-day always be the cheap trifles of the day before? Will rows of our willow- pattern dinner-plates be ranged above the chimneypieces of the great in the years 2000 and odd? Will the white cups with the gold rim and the beautiful gold flower inside (species unknown), that our Sarah Janes now break in sheer light-heartedness of spirit, be carefully mended, and stood upon a bracket, and dusted only by the lady of the house?…The "sampler" that the eldest daughter did at school will be spoken of as "tapestry of the Victorian era," and be almost priceless. The blue-and- white mugs of the present-day roadside inn will be hunted up, all cracked and chipped, and sold for their weight in gold, and rich people will use them for claret cups; and travellers from Japan will buy up all the "Presents from Ramsgate," and "Souvenirs of Margate," that may have escaped destruction, and take them back to Jedo as ancient English curios.Blimey. I mean, perhaps not 'their weight in gold', but the antiques trade is as popular as ever it was, and blow me down if he didn't even foretell, in humorous prose, the ubiquity of Japanese tourists. The only thing he missed was an orange gentleman declaring to all and sundry that the asking price for this fine Victorian sampler is 'cheap as chips'. And let's face it, no-one would have been able to predict him.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Thinking at the margins is an important skill for understanding economics. The effects of small changes on behaviour are critical, and notions like the cost of an extra unit do matter. However, it is important to think about the correct margins.For example, the house I rent has four rooms priced at £300 a month. Currently, two are empty, and a third is going to be empty shortly. So my landlady has two rooms at £300, and is struggling to fill the other two at £300. I don't know the full figures, but she might in fact be better off pricing the rooms at £200 and having all four filled: she would be getting £800 a month instead of her current £600. If she could get an extra room filled by dropping to £250, she would still be much better Of course, if she didn't get the extra tenants by dropping her rents, then she'd be worse off, which is the risk one always takes with this kind of approach.I haven't put this to her, and don't know whether she has taken this into account. Perhaps she has. But you can find examples of this all over the place.We don't tend to think about the idea that dropping our unit prices could result in an increase in units transacted which more than offsets the decrease in the per-unit price. So landlords keep rents too high, because they have this odd notion that not letting a room at £300 is somehow better for their pockets than letting it at £250. The publishing industry, likewise, has this curious idea that not selling a book at $13 the unit is better for them than selling one at $10 the unit:
“I’m not sure the ‘agency model’ is best,” the head of one major publishing house told me. Publishers would collect less money this way, about nine dollars a book, rather than thirteen. (src)As I say, not if they don't sell that book at thirteen but do sell it at nine. And so we learn, further down the article, something which I predicted a little while ago (link):
It remains an open question whether consumers accustomed to paying $9.99 for an e-book will be willing to pay $13.99, or more, regardless of extras. Tim O’Reilly, the e-books publisher, has found that the lower the price the more books he sells. O’Reilly’s company sells e-books as apps for the iPhone for $4.95, and he says that they generate “a lot more volume” and profit than his company loses in hardcover sales.Surprise, surprise: basic economics rides to the rescue once more. Since the marginal cost of supplying an e-book is practically zero, the point of maximum profit is equal to the point of maximum revenue. If publishers insist on selling an e-book at the same price point as the dead-tree title, then they will not maximise revenue for e-books, and therefore will not maximise profits. They can increase profits by cutting the price they charge.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I've got a new policy for Ukip:
All Icelandic volcanoes to be stoked regularly.I was told, much to my chagrin, by one of these on-line thingummybobs that I ought to vote for them. I'm sure there was some mistake: I gave a mildly Europhile answer to the only question on Europe. Anyway, imagine my conniptions of delight and pleasure when a leaflet from the local candidate comes through the door.Judith Morris is the candidate, so I am told, and you can read most of the leaflet's rearside text at this link (src). Without further ado, here's a brief commentary, 'cos I like to amuse myself that way sometimes.
I was born, raised, educated, live and work in our beautiful City. I am happily married to Malcolm, a mechanical fitter and we have two daughters, 1 of whom is a history teacher and the other an archeologist. I myself run my own business providing English Language and activity courses for foreign students from around the world. I also hold a part time role as UK Homestay and Student Welfare Manager for a large Company based in Edinburgh which also offers courses for foreign students. My role as Welfare Officer is fully accredited by the British Council.'Archeologist'? Not teaching British English, plainly. And she must be well be on-board with Ukip's 'No to mass immigration' thing. They come over here, take all our jobs. Oh, no, sorry, they come over here and give her a job. It's political correctness gone mad, I tell you.
In my free time I love foreign travel, Italy being a particular favorite, reading and visiting places of historical interests both at home and abroad.'Favorite'? Is this individual a patriotic Brit, or an interloper? She says she was born in York, after all, but you can never be sure. Perhaps it was York, Ontario. And she likes to visit Italy. Because the EEC-EC-EU has done nothing for us on that score, like dismantling border controls and so on.
My particular interest in politics is Europe with special reference to The Lisbon Treaty, the negative effects of the smoking ban and the inaccuracies told about SHS, our current Immigration Policy, the negative effects of PC correctness and all matters appertaining to the Education system, especially the unfairness of student debt.'PC correctness' is a tautology, but Mrs Morris probably avoided grammar school and thus wasn't taught ologies. And what's SHS when it's on an order paper? It's a bit 'special interest' to throw around acronyms your average voter (I know, I flatter myself) doesn't understand. Oh, and she is on board with their immigration policy after all. A turkey voting for Christmas is one thing, but isn't this more like a turkey standing for it?
I would love to be elected to represent this great City and promise that I would try to bring respect and honour back into politics and ensure that I truly represent the people of this City, not my own interests.Click here to email Judith'Honour'. At least she got that one right. The best bit about the email link is it's wrong. And not obviously wrong, either: it points to yorktudors.co.uk, but Mrs Morris' outfit is yorktutors.co.uk.Yep, Ukip is pulling out all the stops for York Outer.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Alex Massie observes that despite their inherent conservatism, the Conservatives' plan for citizen initiatives could make the Tories responsible for more constitutional reform than, arguably, even first-term Labour:
If a referendum on electoral reform is all that's needed to purchase Liberal support then, crikey, the Tories should be able to manage this. Again, Cameron's Conservatives say they're in favour of referendums on any number of issues and, while it might not be many people's number one issue, there's little doubt that a voting reform petition would attract enough support to bring the issue before parliament in the manner endorsed by the Tories own manifesto. (The same might be said, incidentally, of a referendum on Scottish independence.) (src)Crumbs.He implicitly raises the interesting tactical question of how the Tories ought to treat the Lib Dem strength. A little bit of a Lib Dem swing is bad for the Tories, who lose marginals in the South-West (and here in York Outer, a highly marginal Lib-Con swing seat at number 3 on the Tories' hit parade). But once you get beyond that stage, which on a uniform national swing we have well left behind, it is Labour who start to lose marginals to the Lib Dems.So it may just be worth the Tories trying to shore up their position by trying to split the centre-left vote and distinguish themselves from the Lib Dems. Obviously, doing that carries the risk of turning back into the nasty party which insists on talking about crime, immigration and Europe, but with the debates coming up they'll get a chance to talk about those without seeming out of place.Wait, why am I giving tactical advice to the Tories…?
Monday, April 19, 2010
This has appeared today on jobs.ac.uk (src):
University of Bristol — Department of Earth SciencesFull marks for topicality!Although of course, the real problem isn't so much the fluid within the volcanoes as the fluid above it. And even there, what we probably need is (a) a saner application of the precautionary principle — Gordon Brown told us all that safety was the only priority, which of course would ground every aeroplane forever — and (b) research into some sort of filter system which can be fitted to aeroplane turbines so that they can fly through these dust clouds safely. In fact, if this dust cloud and the regulatory over-reaction keeps up, there may be some immediate profit for anyone who has a sketchy idea which they could convert speedily into a working system.
Postdoctoral Research Assistant
Volcano Fluid Dynamics
Firstly, here is a graph of British 'openness to trade' from 1970. The 'openness to trade' is calculated as imports plus exports divided by twice GDP.
Note the absolutely immense spike from 1972–1974. My twentieth-century history is fairly sketchy at best, but certainly beyond about 1945, so I'm not entirely clear what was going on economically between 1971 and 1975. There was the oil crisis in '73, but the spike actually begins before then. So, can any of my dear readers enlighten me as to what's going on there?Secondly, Hasan Afzal on ConservativeHome writes a stout defence of free trade (link). The comments are almost universally depressing. All of them relying on old sillinesses.For example, the 'level playing field' argument. But trade exists because there isn't a level playing field. People have different skills and abilities, and the theorem of comparative advantage implies that it is most efficient to play to your strengths. And just like people, regions and countries have comparative advantages, so people play to them and then trade the results to get what they'd really like. Level out the playing field and you get no trade, and we're all worse off.But there is also the mutually-assured protectionism thing. You know: China (or whoever) subsidises its exports, so we should slap on tariffs or subsidise our own. But a subsidy is, effectively, a payment from the Chinese taxpayer to British consumer: we wouldn't complain if the goods were free, so why complain if they're ten percent off?The other side of that is to say India (or whoever) has put a tariff on our goods, so we should put a tariff on them. But we can still export elsewhere, so a tariff doesn't harm us very much: it harms Indian consumers more. So retaliating with our own tariffs would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
I've been getting a few of these lately. Of two that stick in the memory, the first occurred to me a few days ago: as I was entering church, I spotted a young lady distributing leaflets for the local Labour candidate . Presumably the situation made it a breach of Christian charity to shout 'Hope you lose!' But it was an act of extreme self-will, I can tell you.The second is a real conundrum of a sensible sort. It's an interesting one in that it's never happened to me before, and is probably the sort of moral conundrum you'd quite like. I was just running through my debit receipts and noticed that one of them from the 27th March hasn't yet appeared on the account. Later payments to the same shop have hit the account, so I'm assuming some kind of computer error. Now, in this situation, having noted the absence of a payment which ought to have occurred, what should — indeed, what could — I do? Looking quite well-to-do, as it happened: no sturdy member of the lumpenproletariat, she. Although sturdy's not the word, given as my local Tory candidate is Sturdy by name and looks, from the photos, to be somewhat sturdy by nature.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Nick Clegg, obviously. Basically he won just by being there, but his performance was pretty good.(Incidentally, a word to the media: just because I think he won the debate doesn't prove I'm about to vote for his preferred candidate. Like most ordinary voters, I answer the question I've been asked, not the question you'd like to think stands behind the question you've actually asked.)What is interesting is that no-one is asking why Cleggy managed to do so well, beyond the simple facts of appearing to interact with the questioners and look into the camera a lot more. It is a classic illustration of people's blindness to the incentivising effects of rules.The audience was under strict instructions not to applaud or boo; I think the producers might have preferred them not to breathe, but there would have been practical difficulties with that. It was, in fact, rather difficult to see what having an audience achieved. In short, the audience was not just invisible, but also almost entirely inaudible.So what incentive did the politicians have to play to the audience? None at all. Clegg did what was most sensible under those circumstances: he first directed his attention to the questioner, and then turned and looked straight down the camera's lens. There was no incentive to play the audience, no incentive to try and appeal to the people in the room, so he didn't: he went for the people with no such participation restrictions at home.David Cameron, I thought, missed a trick in his answers. The Tories have, in their manifesto, a big idea to talk about. Not necessarily one that everyone believes or agrees with, and certainly not one which is consistently applied, but they do have a big idea: a 'DIY', bottom-up society. That big idea never came through in any of Cameron's answers, even though it often motivates a large bulk of their policy. In fact, that big idea only came through in his closing statement, which I thought was about the best thing he had had to say all night.And Brown? Well, he never appeals to anyone. He did smile a lot, though, which has probably cost Labour a few marginals, so it wasn't an entirely wasted evening.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
If there are any Labour-supporting friends reading this, I'd appreciate your comments on a line in Labour's manifesto. They describe themselves as 'proud of [their] record on civil liberties' (pdf, p. 5:4).My view on this is that it must be deeply concerning for any Labour supporters with a robust view on civil liberties. Because I can see only two ways to read that line:
- Possibly, Labour knows that it has nothing to be proud of, but hey, this is a political manifesto and not delivered under oath. They know that they ought to hang their heads in shame but prefer to lie through their teeth.
- If not that, then more concerningly, Labour does not see any gross intrusions to be ashamed of. They see the constant accrual of power over the citizen by the State as good policy in its own right.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Gerald Warner's commenters are about as generous as Warner himself in the demonstration of many idiocies, as hctroubador demonstrates:
What precisely is “Toryism”? I see very little resemblance to the classical liberalism of Smith upon which it was founded. Where are the small government, individual liberty, and free markets? (src)Let's see. Sir Robert Peel, to whom Warner alludes in his opening paragraph, supported free trade and for his pains was nudged out of the Conservative party and into the Whigs, who by that time were evolving into the Liberals. Originally, Toryism was quite certainly not founded on the classical liberalism of Smith, but rather on the conservatism of the land-owning classes. That's why the Liberals were called the Liberals, you see, and why if this blog had a patron saint it would be William Ewart Gladstone who supported Peel, and not that knave Disraeli, who opposed him.We are, of course, the better for the Tories' subsequent conversion, but Toryism was not originally founded on the classical liberal principles of limited government and individual liberty. If anything, the Tories were founded on the principle of keeping the labouring masses toiling away on their farms. When industry came along they really had something to oppose, and it was all to the good of the sectional-interest war that the industrialists supported free trade, because it meant that they could import and export more easily. Thus the Liberals tended to be the party of industry and the cities while the Tories represented the rural, agricultural interest.Disraeli learnt from Gladstone's electoral successes, and he dragged the Tories away from their highly rural politics towards a politics which also appealed to working men. Low taxes and political reform were high on the agenda: remind you of anyone? But Disraeli's approach was to mark a more significant shift in Conservative politics. They were no longer to be a party which stood for principles, even if they were the wrong sort of principles: he had realised that the way to win elections is to appeal to the electorate. So Disraeli pulled Toryism not towards liberalism, but towards pragmatism.Thus we can see that the history of industrialisation is, in part, a history of opening up new opportunities for people who had not previously had them, and of the associated political shift towards greater freedom. The popularity of Gladstone's classical liberal emphasis on individual freedom, and of Disraeli's shameless aping of him, can be seen to come straight out of that kind of world, where even working men felt that anything could be possible for them, too.And likewise today, the Internet is opening up new opportunities and new ways of doing things. It is changing society to an extent arguably not felt since the Industrial Revolution. And once again, it seems that the political wheel could be turning towards greater involvement, greater engagement and greater freedom.There is one key difference: last time, it was the Liberals making the running and the Conservatives playing politics and catch-up. This time, it appears to be the Conservatives making the running. So all that remains to be seen is whether the Conservatives' current manifesto stems from the dangerous, Disraelian tradition of pragmatism for votes' sake, or whether the leadership truly is as liberal as it claims to be.(I'll give you a clue: I'm not that hopeful.)
That's the Lib Dems' great attack against JCM Dave's big idea: that it is the 'DIY society' (src). I'm not so sure they're entirely correct, but it's probably a fair description of the Tories' schools policy. Where I really differ, though, is that the idea is an appealing one, as I wrote at the end of January:
[the new politics] means politicians realising that we don't want them to act 'in our interests'. We want them to ensure that we have the tools to do it for ourselves: the politics of choice is the politics of the DIY spirit. (src)By using the phrase 'DIY society' as an attack line, the Lib Dems have just lost my vote. They have also shown themselves, for all their rhetoric and puffery, to be fundamentally, and possibly irredeemably, illiberal.If society is to mean anything, it must mean something in which we are all engaged. Society doesn't mean anything if we are all dead weight. We can be engaged as people making sensible choices about our lives: where the children are educated, where we are treated, which job agency to sign on with and so on. It may also mean getting involved in running the service, possibly as a member of a co-operative or as a part-owner of a school or hospital. Perhaps it will mean a local community concluding that while it cannot run things itself, it will instead try to attract outside agencies to come and run a school or hospital.The DIY society does not mean forcing people to do everything themselves, but encouraging them to do what they can. Such an idea is not something to be attacked: it is an empowering, positive vision of a future where we can have a hand in running those services which are vital for us all.
With it being Easter season, I'd just like to set out a very simple proposition. For some of you, this isn't news, but for others it will be. Here it is:'He lives within my heart' is insufficient as an answer to the question 'You ask me how I know he lives?' For we have a name for experiences which don't correspond to reality: hallucinations. And if all that can be said for the Resurrection is a load of subjective experiences, then it is indistinguishable from an hallucination and we Christians deserve pity — and the attentions of clinical psychologists.The more surprising thing is that I suspect this puts me on the same side as Richard Dawkins and the other side from too many evangelicals. Dawkins and I disagree on whether the Resurrection actually happened — not the first time people have disagreed over the historical record, although it's the most important disagreement one can have — but I think we probably agree on this one principle: the most important question about the Resurrection is whether it actually happened in history.Dawkins says it doesn't, and indeed derides the very idea as 'unworthy of God'. Well, his view has a pedigree: the Greek philosophers were saying exactly the same thing when Paul was on his travels.But I shall stand, in the words of a song we sometimes sing at church: 'an empty grave is there to prove my Saviour lives.' The Resurrection makes a difference in our lives because it happened in history.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Labour's manifesto is out today (src). I enjoyed the socialist-realist-style front cover immensely. Tractor production statistics are up again, comrades!I'm not really going to bother with the content much, except for one of their policies, because I think that it is a really bad idea. They say, and I quote, 'To help protect frontline services, we will find greater savings in legal aid and the courts system'. It's particularly the first area of saving that I'm concerned about.It sounds like a bit of a minority sport, defending legal aid, but it is really important. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that having some means of ensuring reasonable access to the law for everyone is fundamental to the rule of law, and the rule of law is fundamental to a truly liberal society. So it's not just a programme which should appeal to social-justice types but to liberals as well. It also has the benefit of being rather cheap: £34 per capita per annum is quite reasonable to ensure that the law remains impartially administered.So why in the name of Keir Hardie is Labour making vaguely menacing noises about one of the most important programmes we have?
No, of course it hasn't. But journalism is capable of it. Here's a headline from last November's Windy Pendant:
Britain faces return to Victorian levels of poverty (src)Shocker, eh? Children going up chimneys because the family couldn't be fed any other way. Slums, and sewerage still running through major London streets. Dirty air and dangerous factory jobs. A truly horrific, Dickensian vision.Only not a word of it is true. Britain faced, according to a partisan interest group, returning to Victorian levels of inequality. This is completely different. It may or may not be a problem to have such a gap between the rich and the poor, but it certainly doesn't condemn the poor to a quality of life last experienced in the Victorian era. Andrew Grice is a Journalidiot for failing to understand this basic point.The reason we don't have those levels of poverty any more is because of economic growth. It isn't the case that the law has simplistically stopped children from going out to work: of course it has banned that, but the point is that we have been able to afford the ban. Think about it: for almost all of human history, people's children have normally had to work as teenagers. They have had to and the consequences of a ban would have been quite dire in many places, even stretching to starvation. Indeed, this remains true in very many countries on the planet even now, where children have to go out to work in order for the family to have enough to eat.We enjoy this luxury because economic growth has delivered an abundance for our wants and needs, and a part of that abundance has been 'spent' on removing the obligation to work from our children. Likewise, a part of the abundance has been spent on removing the obligation to work from our elderly. Somewhat more short-sightedly, we are continuing to spend some of the abundance on keeping able-bodied people fixed in locations where they cannot find work.Free market capitalism has delivered the opportunity for our children and our elderly not to have to work, and pays for the former to have chance of a (semi-)decent education. If it were allowed the freedom to do so, it would bring those countries I mentioned earlier into an estate of more ease as well: except too many in the development world want to put the cart before the horse and get the children out of work before they can afford it. The growth must come before the (necessary) social programmes and legislation.The good news is that with the West having blazed the trail, many of the false starts which we encountered can be avoided. The bad news is that too many in left-wing development circles seem intent on killing the goose which lays the golden eggs.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
One of the sets of measures which got dropped during the wash-up period was the addition of compulsory (Labour's favourite word) financial education for schoolchildren (src). Not a bad idea, although one can always trust politicians to wreck it one way or another. The easiest way to wreck it is to scupper it, and that is what has happened.The specific reason is that it is in the 'Personal, Social and Health Education' section of the Children, Schools and Families Bill along with the sex education proposals, and the Tories object to the latter so the whole section was dropped. You can see how the horse-trading goes. But what it means is that children will continue to leave school without having been taught anything about handling money, unless their maths teachers have a bit of nous. A part of education is fitting children to live in the world around them: that can often take a high-minded, cultural and literary tinge and rightly so, but it must also encompass rather more mundane matters such as understanding savings accounts and mortgages.The fact that our population is so inexplicably frightened of numbers doesn't help, of course, but schools are turning out financial illiterates. This has made the British public rich pickings for the financial services industry: not so much because the latter are inherently corrupt, but rather because market discipline from informed consumers has been lacking.In addition to its suiting the financial services industry for the UK public not to understand finances or economics, I might add that it suits our politicians, and particularly the Labour ones whose grasp of economics has rarely been very firm. Imagine for a moment that we taught schoolchildren some basic economics: supply and demand, the reason why free trade is best, that sort of thing. How many votes do you think Labour would lose? And how often do you think the Tories could get away with their simplistic sloganising?
Thursday, April 08, 2010
Sadly, as with most sensible points, the Daily Mash got here before I had a chance to post this (link, via). Still, here we go.Can someone, anyone, explain to me why Gordon Brown hit the airwaves this morning telling us all that the Tories want to take £6bn out of the economy? They want to stop a tax rise of £6bn by cutting government spending by £6bn. The Government wants to protect the spending by raising the tax. The difference, at first order, is about allocation: should that £6bn be in the pockets of private citizens to spend (one way or another), or the State's? Only if you equate 'economy' with 'State' can you accuse the Tories of taking £6bn out of the 'economy'. Some economy, if you make that equation!At second order, though, it's about which way is going to get the economy moving most rapidly: tax-and-spend policies designed for the boom years, or cutting back and by giving the private sector breathing space. It's hard to believe that £6bn is going to do more good if spent by the Government than by private citizens and businesses. Brown's dissimulation, which he hopes to smuggle past financial and economic illiterates like John Humphrys, is an attempt to cover over the fact that it's the Government's policies which are aimed at taking growth out of the economy.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
I just heard William Hague valiantly defending the Tories' desire to limit the right of recall to involve a committee of Parliament first, insisting that MPs have to have been found to have done something seriously wrong before they can be recalled. Otherwise, he argued, you could have a general election at any time.We already have limits to the length of a Parliament and I wouldn't propose doing away with those, but within those limits why not give the public a mechanism by which they can force a general election to occur? It sounds quite democratic to me.In cases of wrongdoing, I should think that a recall ballot ought to be pretty much automatic, but more generally recalls should be allowed at any time for any reason, with the proviso that they carry a very strong hurdle to overcome. After all, even with the Tories' recall ballots, some people will sign the petition for reasons other than the wrongdoing of an MP; all I propose is regularising the inevitable situation and giving the public more power over politicians, even to the point of letting them tell the politicians when they will face the electorate once more.
Tuesday, April 06, 2010
It will be one of those weeks: my mornings are to be spent chasing children around a church building, which means that my brain is nearly fried afterwards. The small, non-fried part remaining has to be used for some teaching work I have, happily, acquired. So that's my excuse for a series of thoughts which terminate very rapidly.
- Has anyone noticed that the phrase, 'The straw that broke the camel's back,' is a brilliant illustration of negative marginal utility? I did a Google search, but got very little.
- Things have come to a pretty pass when National Savings is one of the better deals on the market for savings. 2.50% in an Isa is pretty good, and inflation plus one percent on a index-linker doesn't sound too bad (src). Though why they've got the three and five-year certificates set at the same rate is a bit of a mystery to me.
- I hadn't heard about Clause 43 of the Digital Economy Bill before. According to a pressure group opposing it (link), there's yet another reason to oppose this silly legislation: just as it hands power over to the music industry to treat suspected copyright breachers as criminals, it takes power away from some rightsholders and gives it to, you guessed it, big business. The works in question are photographs whose rightsholders cannot (allegedly) be identified, so-called 'orphan works'. And the powers are UK-specific, so they undermine the multilateral copyright agreements to which the UK is a signatory. Makes you warm and fuzzy to think that Mandelson is a Labour minister, doesn't it?
- One other thing about this clause: the government takes payment from people wanting to use these orphan works. So the rightsholders are disenfranchised in favour of the State. If existing copyright arrangements are like the enclosures (a disputable proposition, but let's run with it), then this surely has to be the collectivisation of the farms. For all the faults of the Enclosure Acts, collectivisation was a far greater evil.
- Clause 46 of the same bill is a so-called 'Henry VIII clause' (wiki), which frankly sounds like an utter abuse of process. If the DE Bill were renegotiated during wash-up (itself a seeming abuse) and still included the Henry VIII clause, all the dodgy provisions could be put straight back in again. Especially if Labour wins the election. This bill should die in the House, and Labour should die in the country.
- On which point, I see the BBC is running 'Live coverage' of 'General election 2010' (src). Live coverage for a whole month? I've got a contributing cause to voter apathy right here.
Monday, April 05, 2010
Chris Gayling's remarks about B&B owners letting gray men into their premises (did I get that right?) have caused no small amount of controversy (BBC). There is an issue about the 'dog-whistle' element in the story, naturally: the shadow Home Secretary does have form in this area and he doesn't generally have my backing. However, on the point of principle I think he is right, if applying it a little too narrowly. One of the commentators does a brilliant job of explaining the principles involved.Neil Midgley is a [the? – Ed.] gay man who writes for the Telegraph, and he poses the following hypothetical situation, reversing the roles:
[An anti-homosexual campaigner] prints some flyers with what she believes to be the word of God, saying that homosexuality is a sin and that practising gays must repent.She then goes to her local gay club at 11pm on a Saturday night and offers to pay the entry fee so she can go inside and hand her flyers out to those who are off their faces inside, sinning.Should the gay club owner be forced to let her in? (src)Midgley says that the club owner is under no obligation to let her in and is well within his rights to deny her entry. He points out that Labour's logic dictates that she should be allowed in.Like Midgley, I would prefer to side with the property owner in both cases. I'd got further, and be inclined to take that view even for large hotels. Such a position is not homophobia, it's just respect for people's private property.If you take the opposite view then you are insisting that your own views matter more than the person whose property it is. I wouldn't agree with such a position, but I would hope that anyone taking that view at least had the honesty to recognise the implicit claim to moral authority which they are making.Labour's term in office is marked with a lack of respect for civil liberties, private property and freedom of conscience. How much longer will we have to put up with them?
There was a rather undignified pair of posts yesterday on the two main parties' unofficial blogs: Andy Flannagan for LabourList on why Jesus might vote Labour (src) and a rejoinder by Tim Montgomerie on why he mightn't (src). Trying to claim Jesus for either political side is unwise at the best of times, but as Montgomerie implies, to do so on Easter Sunday is downright distasteful.To reinforce that point, allow me to make the following observation: our best surmise is that prior to the start of his public ministry, Jesus was a small businessman who had inherited the family firm from the man whom everyone regarded as his father. When he began his ministry, he was dependent on the charity of his followers. He never raised an army, and declared that his kingdom is 'not of this world', and elsewhere, 'in [it] but not of it'. If I might put it in anachronistic terms, Jesus lived practically his entire life in the 'private sector': so far as we are aware, his only significant 'public sector' involvement was in the day or so before his execution.I don't point that out in order to claim Jesus for a particular view of the relative merits of private and public sectors, but rather to note that the highly state-based arguments about 'which political party?', and even 'how much redistribution?', are actually very alien to the Jesus who actually lived and died in first-century Judæa. If, in addition to recognising his life and death, we also celebrate his resurrection, then we have a far greater list of reasons to avoid ascribing mere political views to the risen and ascended King of kings and Lord of lords; but even people who are not Christians should, I think, see the historical implausibility of treating a carpenter from Nazareth as a political figure.
Friday, April 02, 2010
I try to keep Good Friday free from 'business as usual' for obvious reasons, but here's a topical piece of BBC foolery:Pope presides over Good Friday rituals (src)I await news of the habits of mammals of the family Ursidae in afforested and woodland regions.
Recently, we had a sermon at church on Psalm 63, and we read 2 Sam. 15 for background. As we were reading it, a couple of the geographical references stuck out to my perception. (Normally, the geography passes me by.) Here are some excerpts from the passage:
And a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.” Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” … And all the land wept aloud as all the people passed by, and the king crossed the brook Kidron, and all the people passed on toward the wilderness.But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered. And all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went. (2 Sam. 15:13–14, 23, 30; ESV)A king of Israel leaves Jerusalem, crosses the valley of the Kidron, and ascends the Mount of Olives weeping. He flees his enemies, lest he and the people be overtaken.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. (John 18:1)And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. (Lk. 22:39)He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matt. 26:38)Interesting, isn't it? The great king of Israel, 'great David's greater Son', leaves Jerusalem, crosses the valley of the Kidron, and ascends the Mount of Olives to weep. But this one is not fleeing his enemies, for he and his disciples are overtaken in this very garden. There is yet another difference, the most important of them all. Whereas David's foe was killed hanging from a tree, Jesus hung on a tree for his foes: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That's the story of Good Friday.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
It was Oscar Wilde who commented that he refused to have a battle of wits with an unarmed man. If politicians made that pledge, I fear they would never be interviewed; but then the same might also be said in reverse. Certainly Justin Webb appears to have entered the fray this morning cheerily deprived of all but the most rudimentary weapons.The topic was the Tories' pledge to scrap Labour's National Insurance cut, and the interviewee was Liam Byrne. Naturally, like a good politician, Byrne was sailing as close to the winds of outright falsehood as he thought he could reasonable get away with.He clung, limpet-like, to a nice little factoid he'd picked up that Labour had raised NI some time ago and the number of jobs had grown. He was very careful to avoid ascribing any agency or causation there, which was enough for Webb to pick up on. But did he ask the right question?Did he heck. Twice he asked whether it was really true that NI and the number of jobs had both increased. Of course it's true; it's just not relevant. Webb did not stop to ask the real question, which is the counterfactual: what would have happened had the increase in NI not taken place?By doing that, he allowed Byrne to get away with slipping around the truth, which is that the NI increase will cost jobs relative to the situation if it is not imposed. Even if new jobs are opened, fewer will be opened than would be without the increase. We don't know — we can't know — which jobs, in which places or in which industries. But we know that jobs which could have existed won't.Even Alistair Darling knows this (src). Certainly Evan Davis wouldn't have let Byrne slither around like that. For not asking the obvious question, Justin Webb gets inducted into the Hall of Shame of Journalidiots.
Natalie Haynes, who is normally quite amusing, has managed to pull out some the typical tools of the hack's trade in order to come up with her latest effort (link). Her title is Are you thinking of putting money into an Isa? Think again, and her tools are three:1. Wild generalisation.She means Cash Isa, of course. Stocks and shares Isas are a different proposition.She goes on to write, 'Banks reward the fickle and penalise the loyal — interest rates suddenly drop after a year.' By no means in every account, they don't. When looking around the market for Cash Isas, a job I always do at about this time of year, I generally exclude accounts with an introductory bonus. Currently on moneysupermarket.com, the best account with a bonus is 2.75% dropping to 0.5% after 12 months. The best buy without a bonus? 2.70% if you don't mind a withdrawal penalty, or 2.25% if you do. Not such a great disparity after all.2. Mis-attributing blame.She writes about the long time it takes to transfer Isas. Nothing to do with regulations, I suppose. The exceptionally long-winded forms one has to fill in in order to open an account have nothing to do with the exceptionally long-winded procedure for transferring accounts. More regulation will only make this worse: the Government needs to back off if it wants consumers to get a fair shake. Complaining won't do any good, because every time a government imposes more costs and regulations, the system is held up even more.3. Getting the facts wrong.She writes, 'Nationwide Building Society, with no shareholders to placate, offers the pleasingly named Champion Isa, which pays out at 0.1 percent.' Only if you have less than £1,000 in it, it does. Note that her premiss is that a customer has £3,600 to save. It actually pays 2.80% on savings over a grand (this includes a bonus of 1.35% until the end of June '11). Not quite the rip-off that she wants us to believe, is it? And well within the 2% interest margin she thinks is reasonable for banks and building societies to charge.There are problems with the way Isas operate, some of them quite interesting. I may re-visit the issue sometime. But this presentation of the problems is completely lacking in correspondence to the real world.