Monday, March 04, 2019

Reforming politics (1): the state of play

Whilst all of politics seems to be devoted to Brexit at the moment, your humble Devil has stated repeatedly (both before and after the vote) that the political and economic landscape of the UK needs massive structural reform.

If, as many assert, the vote to leave the European Union was inspired not by the EU itself, but by the many and varied issues facing the country—issues that go way beyond the vaunted “austerity” measures—then, regardless of the outcome of the current (pathetic) negotiations (and regardless of how you voted), it is very much worth looking at what might be done to fix them.

The problems come in two interlinked flavours:

  • politically, the UK is hugely centralised—more so in some ways, it has been asserted, than the Soviet Union. This leads to people feeling that their voice is not heard, and to a degradation of democracy;
  • economically—outside of London and the South East (and a few scattered cities), the UK economy is moribund at best, and near non-existent at worst.

Combine a massive population of people who believe that they have very little with a demos that feels it has no power, and history tells us that you will always have an irruption of protest, at best; bloody revolution at worst. (It is why democracy is said to be the "least worst” political option that we have found—because people believe that they have power, even when that power is hugely diluted.)

The Leave vote is at the less harmful end of that protest scale—for which we should be grateful. Our tin-eared politicians are, of course, working diligently to prove to population that the UK’s democracy is a sham and that their power is utterly illusory—but let us assume that our lords and masters locate their testicles, and extract us from the EU properly.

And then what?

The internal settlement


What our trade and foreign policy should be (free trade, obviously) is out of the scope of this post: let us focus, instead, on our internal political settlement.

Although I do not necessarily agree with all of the details of the Harrogate Agenda, your humble Devil does agree with many of the principles outlined in it—and including Pete North’s assertions that we need to radically decentralise our political structures.

But, in the spirit of Chesterton’s Fence, let us look at:

  • how our governance is currently conducted;
  • where we want to get to, and;
  • why we might have got to where we are.

Our current government structure


Most cursory students of government will understand our current structures rather similar to this diagram:


In the current model:

  • people pay the bulk of their taxes to central government;
  • central government is lobbied by think-tanks and quasi-automonous non-governmental organisations (QUANGOs) and Non-governmental organisations (NGOs—many of whom are, in fact, fake charities or, if you prefer, sock-puppets);
  • central government departments administer some of the policies centrally;
  • central government actually offloads the vast bulk of the administration of these centrally dictated policies to local authorities;
  • most of the time, policies that the government thinks are going to be hugely unpopular are handed off to QUANGOs;
  • which, in turn, offload the administration of these policies to local authorities;
  • crucially, local authorities have very little policy-making and minuscule tax-raising power;
  • and local authorities must then spend their money on enforcers to ensure that cigarettes are suitably hidden behind shutters rather than doing what voters expect them to do, i.e. collect the bins once a week;

This whole structure is, frankly, crap. Some of the reasons that it doesn’t work:

  • central government makes homogenous policies with little to no consideration of operations (or prices) at a local level;
  • with central government often divorced from local pressures, government becomes even crappier than it might be;
  • local authorities have almost no power: which means that local people do not engage with local politics. One side-effect of this is that those elected tend to be even more shit than national politicians but, most importantly, people feel disenfranchised from politics entirely;
  • central politicians generally like this, as political disengagement means that the electorate are disinterested in examining the myriad ways in which politicians line their own pockets and, frankly, fuck things up through their sheer incompetence;
  • civil servants love it, because no one knows or cares just how much they, too, are filling their boots and avoiding scrutiny;
  • crucially, with central government making most policy decisions, there is almost no scope for competition—except, of course, between countries (and this is being constrained, as we will see);

In short, this is a recipe for unbelievably rubbish politics in the short term, and political disaster in the longer term. But, of course, it just gets worse…

Everything is a remix (of sockpuppetry)


The corruption of local politics was a central reason for the ever-increasing centralisation of government—especially under the Conservatives in the ‘80s. Further, for Thatcher’s government—fighting wars on multiple fronts e.g. the unions) whilst requiring swift, radical change (to bring the economy back from ruin)—centralising power meant that reforms could be made faster and with less local oversight (but I repeat myself).

However, for governments with an internationalist agenda, these reforms also proved fortuitous in other ways.

In we take account of structures outside of the UK, the world works rather more like this:


In this model:
  • supranational organisations—such as the United Nations (UN), World Trade Organisation (WTO), World Health Organisation (WHO), and others—make worldwide policies, which are passed down to national governments or other supra-national organisations (such as the EU);
  • these supra-national organisations are paid for by national governments, which often lobby these same supra-national organisations to “force” national governments to do things which their populations do not want. As an example, the UK is the biggest funder of the WHO (£168m in 2017) and of their Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (3.5m in 2017) and has advocated some of the strictest anti-smoking measures within those fora—the policies of which filtered down into the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (which, amongst other things, introduced stricter advertising, banned the sale of ten packs and, shortly, menthol cigarettes). The plain packaging was, of course, our own government taking its cue from Australia’s failed experiment. If you don’t remember voting for any of this, you’d be right—you didn’t. And if you asked the government… well… it’s out of their hands, innit;
  • at the behest of member states, supra-national organisations aim to “harmonise” as much of life as possible (state-speak for “remove choice from common people”): if you have got the impression that there is essentially no difference between the political parties, this is why. And you wouldn’t be alone—witness the election results favouring “populist parties” (state-speak for “parties representing the concerns of the ignorant, dirty common people”), in the last few years, in USA, Italy, Brazil, etc.;
  • so, supra-national organisations hand down (lobbied for) policies to national governments, who pass some legislation (“terribly sorry, old chap: you may not have voted for it, but it’s out of our hands.” [snigger]), and then (usually) pass enforcement down to the local authorities;
  • local authorities must then spend their money on enforcers to ensure that cigarettes are suitably hidden behind shutters rather than doing what voters expect them to do, i.e. collect the bins once a week;
  • finally, do remember that all of the funding for these supra-national organisations comes, ultimately, from member states’ taxpayers. If you thought that the UK’s central government was unresponsive to people’s local needs, just how responsive do you think the rarified policy-makers of the Geneva-based WHO are, eh?

I want to break free


In (attempting to) leave the European Union, we are getting rid of one level of supra-national government—and one of the worst. For whilst the policies of the WTO, WHO, etc. depend on countries agreeing to abide by them—and countries can, to an extent, opt out of certain policies—the EU tends to enact those same policies into legal instruments that member states must legally abide by.

And one must acknowledge that these supra-national organisations do have their uses: the WTO tries to standardise rules for trade, and push for more free trade by lowering both tariff and non-tariff barriers.

But the problem is that, sooner or later, such bodies always become corrupted. The WHO, for instance, has moved from its drive to eliminate real diseases such as smallpox (which it was successful in), to attempting to “eliminate non-communicable diseases by 2030” (state-speak for ”anything that might kill you that isn’t a disease” or, in this case, ”eliminating death”!): this latter mission means regulating the day-to-day lifestyles of ordinary people which is, and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough, )not the proper business of government.

Central dictatorship


These organisations love a centralised government because it makes it far easier for them to implement their increasingly deranged policies—with a centralised modern government there is, as it were, one throat to throttle.

And in the UK, central government essentially has all of the power—local people do not really have any representation at all, except for a sham General Election every five years or so. They do not even have the kind of multi-tiered representative structure of states in the USA.

This needs to change—and change soon. My next blog post will examine, at high level, what this change should look like and the systemic implications of doing so.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A paucity of vision

Via Guido, I find this (for some reason) much lauded video of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox making the case for May's subsequently doomed Withdrawal Deal.

It is an extraordinary piece. For, around 25 seconds in, the silly sod says this:
I believe the opportunity for this House [of Commons] to hold the pen on forty percent of our laws—from environment to agriculture and fishing—should excite us.
Really.

Uh huh.

A whole forty fucking percent?

You think that being able to control a whole forty fucking percent of our laws should excite us, you fat fuck?

This...? This is your vision of an exciting Brexit?

For fuck's sake, no wonder our negotiators have done such a fucking shit job—after all, our Attorney General sounds like he would have got a semi at 5%.

Fuck you, you terrible, visionless twat. Fuck you right in your fat face.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Oh yeah? So what has happened for the last ten years, exactly?

Over at the ASI, they are posting some of the winning entries of the Young Writers on Liberty. One does not want to put such keen minds off, but there are some slightly odd assertions being made: let us take, as an example, the essay titled Immigration is key to solving the productivity crisis.
Currently the UK falls significantly behind the levels of productivity in similar countries. Between 1997-2007, average productivity grew by 2.1% each year: only 0.01% behind America. But from 2007-2017, the UK has only experienced an average of 0.2% productivity growth per year, falling behind America, Germany, France and more. The financial crash of 2007 is partly to blame for a decrease in productivity, as experienced by all countries worldwide, however the UK has not recovered as well as other countries and this can be put down to poor policies which do little to boost our productivity.
Well, there is very little to disagree with here—our governments have been spectacularly rubbish, for sure.
Immigration is a key policy area which will need to be addressed to increase productivity.
Oh, rilly? Colour me sceptical...
Many overlook the advantages of skilled migrant workers in an economy as it is argued that they “steal jobs” from UK citizens. It is also claimed that migrants are a burden on our economy and welfare system. In reality, migrants do not crowd out employment (the so-called 'lump of labour' fallacy) and many take up lower-skilled jobs that UK citizens do not want to carry out.
OK, so we have a definition problem here: skilled migrants, by definition, do not take-up "lower-skilled jobs"—and I don't think that you'll find many people objecting to skilled migrants. But, as pointed out by Alex Noble at the Continental Telegraph, we need to define our terms and understand what we want.
So far so good—we need a supply of skilled migrants for the foreseeable future. Hopefully we can all agree on that.

Do we need unskilled migrants?

Because when people with no skills come to the UK, we suffer and so do they. They are either forced into crime, fall into modern slavery, or find themselves exploited working on the black market.
To return to the ASI article, the conclusion is wrapped up as follows:
Therefore it is clear that migrant workers are a vital part of our economy.
[...]
Policies need to be put in place by our government to allow free movement to continue if our economy is to become more productive. Also we need to allow workers to come into our economy to fill occupational shortages. If we have occupational shortages and no migrants fill the places due to government policies creating a barrier to their entry, we will have failed in boosting productivity and becoming a more diverse, rich society.

The bottom line is that a boost in productivity will increase our living standards and immigration is a key factor to helping us along the way. Skilled migrants do contribute to the economy and to a much larger extent than many are willing to accept.
Skilled migrants might do—but it is not clear that all migrants do. And I am very far from convinced that becoming a "more diverse" society is necessarily what the British people want: some large proportion of them do not—there are many memes mocking the "cultural enrichment" of this country.

But leaving aside the potential damage that "diversity" does to a demos, this argument ignores the progress of the last ten years: a decade during which, apparently, our productivity has fallen off a cliff.

Has the last decade seen a notable drop-off in immigration? No, it has not: in fact, net migration has pretty consistently increased over the last decade.


So, I am confused: if immigrants are so good for productivity, then why has the last decade seen so little improvement in said productivity?

There are a number of possible answers to this question—with the idea that we are counting wrong being one of the more credible. However, let's be clear: productivity is, essentially, a function of output and the hours that go into producing said output. And whilst high-skilled migrants—your computer programmers, etc.—might well boost this measure, a great number of migrants are doing low-skilled, low productivity jobs.

Indeed, a number of skilled migrants are doing low productivity jobs—such as nursing. Yes, we need nurses but working in our health service—prone, as it is, to Baumol's Cost Disease—does not increase productivity by any significant amount. In fact, needing to recruit more nurses from abroad is a symptom of the very problem that we are examining—if productivity were increasing in the NHS, we would not need so many nurses.

Regardless, I am not convinced—on the evidence of the last decade—that immigration (skilled or unskilled) are the secret sauce to an increase in productivity.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A rubbish fairytale

Inspired by this photo, delivered to your humble Devil's Facebook timeline...


And the government of 500 million of those 8 billion people decided that they didn't like all of the rubbish being buried near them. So they imposed a colossal rubbish burial tax onto the waste disposal people, who wept and wailed.

"Fear not," said the government of the 500 million. "Just ship it off to some poorer countries with lax standards of disposal, and get them and their children to sort through and to dispose of it."

And lo! it came to pass, and everyone was happy.

But then the biggest of the poorer countries (which had now become moderately rich) said, "we do not want your rubbish anymore; and we will not take it." So, the rubbish went to countries with even laxer standards of disposal.

And, yea, a few years later, the 500 million were terribly surprised that the oceans were full of their rubbish! It was almost as though all the countries with lax standards of disposal had just chucked it all into the sea.

What was the government of the 500 million to do? Should they realise that their mining operations created holes more than big enough to take all of their rubbish, and lift the tax on chucking the rubbish into them?

But how would they then fund their exotic travel, and high salaries, and gold-plated pensions?—after all, there was barely enough money to pay for those as it was. But then, with the help of some very large environmental organisations, the government of the 500 million realised that they could have their cake and eat it...

The government of the 500 million decided that they could keep their tax on chucking rubbish into big holes—but get more money by also putting a tax on the rubbish that wasn't chucked into big holes!

And everyone lived happily ever after.*

* Apart from the poorest amongst the 500 million, who were made poorer—especially the disabled poor people who needed straws to drink through. But then these poor people didn't much like the government of the 500 million, and since the government of the 500 million wasn't elected anyway, the views of these poor people didn't really matter.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

The Cuban Health System

The Cuban Medical system.

Over at the ASI blog, Tim Worstall asks if the Cuban Health statistics are true.

I can't comment as to the statistical verisimilitude, but I can provide some perspective on the standard of care—via a junior doctor friend who was sent on elective in Cuba, in the first quarter of this year.

People may get treatment, but it is (to be understated) not good: my friend used phrases like "torture", "gynaecological violence", and "shocking filth".

Births are often "'induced' by violently finger-banging the mother"; she describes seeing a doctor "up to his elbow in a woman's vagina"; "c-sections performed, and sewn up, without any anaesthetic at all*"; and women "left in agony without even a paracetamol".

There are, really, no drugs at all beyond basic opiates, paracetamol, etc.—and doctors prefer to "wait and see" for days before prescribing even those: the preferred option is to see if the (literally) screaming patient has any family who will bring them painkillers first.

Many of the medical procedures and practices that we take for granted in civilised societies are dismissed as "Western propaganda" or "unproven lies".

So, having heard from someone first-hand about the Cuban medical system, I would say that the statistics are highly dubious: and, even if they are true, they hardly paint the whole picture—which would look like something painted by Hieronymus Bosch.

Incredibly, I have had arguments with stupid fucking socialists who extol the virtues of Cuba's medical system—useful idiots who uncritically cite WHO statistics whilst having no idea about the reality. These people are either ignorant or lying.

Be in no doubt that the Cuban medical system is—like everything else in that poverty-stricken shit-hole—an absolute fucking nightmare. But most enraging of all—as in the rather more recent cautionary tale of Venezuela—it is a nightmare built and maintained by precisely the kind of evil socialist shitbag who refuses to believe that hard socialism always and everywhere leads to poverty and oppression.

In other words, the kind of arsehole that supports that monkey Corbyn, and his organ-grinder McDonnell.

*EDIT: my junior doctor correspondent would like to add the following corrections and additions...
The reason the consultant had his arm inside the woman, as referenced above, was that he was scraping the placenta out.

Caesarean sections are performed with anaesthetic. What I saw was some episiotomies [essentially, cutting of the perineum to facilitate birth—Ed] without anaesthetic and no pain relief for their subsequent suturing. In this particular case, I had to hold a torch over the woman’s genitals whilst she writhed in pain and begged them to stop...

I mentioned paracetamol, not aspirin. I was told that paracetamol would give the patients liver failure. I argued that, at the prescribed dose, it would not: but they still do not use it.

The other case I found deeply disturbing was that of a woman, post Caesarean-section, who was lying prone in bed unable to move due to the agony of her surgical wound. She was the “let’s wait a day and see” patient. The doctors said that they would, after a day, “maybe consider tramadol.” She was crying and punching the wall with the pain. She had no TED stockings on and was unlikely to move due to the pain. This increased her risk of post operative blood clots! The medical students told me they were helpless and hated that they couldn’t give her anything. It was therefore up to her family to provide painkillers...

Oh, and BTW, you can have as much pain relief if you want. As long as you pay.

Finally, to quote a Cuban medical student: “we can do whatever we want. What are they going to do—sue us? It’s free heath care!”

So much for the socialist model the Cubans say is so fucking great...

I would point out that my junior doctor friend is very far from being the rabid anti-state healthcare libertarian that I am. But, after two months in Cuba, I think that I detect some slight disillusionment with the wonders of socialised medicine. This is, and particularly from a woman's perspective, the reality of healthcare in this benighted country.

Of course, if one is sent to Cuba on an elective shortly before starting a job in the UK (and one of her other options was Uganda), the NHS must seem like the best system in the entire fucking world. A fact that is, I am sure, entirely coincidental...

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Why can't the Tories PR?

Though they are not a party that your humble Devil whole-heartedly endorses, the various Tory governments since 2010 have not been entirely shit. They have, on the whole, taken actions that support their aims supporting people into work—and that allow more low-paid people to keep more of their own money.

Philip Hammond's recent article in the Telegraph spells some of this out very clearly—especially as regards income tax.
Today’s increase in the personal allowance means that everyone will pay less income tax. A basic rate taxpayer will pay £1,075 less income tax than they did in 2010.

And the benefits aren’t just for those of working age: from today, pensioners on the full basic state pension will receive an extra £180 a year; the threshold at which young adults start paying back their student loan will increase to £25,000.

And we are taking the next step to deliver our commitment that by 2020 parents will be able to pass on a home worth up to £1 million to their children without paying any inheritance tax.

But part of the problem that the Tories have had—not least in gaining a majority in the Commons—is that they are utterly crap at PR. They simply do not seem to be able to trumpet their achievements, whilst they encourage certain media outlets to focus only on perceived failures.

The cause of this is very easily understood once you have read Hammond's full article: three of last four paragraphs (in an article of only 19—that's nearly 16%) are dedicated to bashing Labour.

What idiot decided that was a good idea?

One assumes that it is someone who has never worked in the private sector. Let me explain why this approach is so stupid...

In the private sector, you never bash your competitors by name. Why?

Because if you name your competitors you not only acknowledge that you have competitors (rather than being the absolute best), but you also give your potential customers a name to search for—to see if they have a better offer.

Yes, you can downplay concepts: I work for a company that makes proprietary software, so we happily point out the downsides of Open Source—but we never cite specific companies who are deploying those solutions.*

So, the last four offending paragraphs are as follows:
In this way, we will build an economy that works for everyone – but it would all be at risk under Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, have announced plans that would see debt spiral to more than 100 per cent of GDP, leaving our economy vulnerable to shocks, forcing us to waste billions more on debt interest and handing the next generation an unmanageable burden.

Taxes on families and businesses would rise to their highest level in peacetime history – with ordinary working families left to pay the price.

Contrast that with the Conservative commitment to building an economy fit for the future based on sustainably rising living standards, low taxes, falling debt and investment in a future we can be proud of.

The last paragraph is fine, but the preceding ones are terrible. So, in the spirit of Open Source, let me rewrite these sections as I would do it and give it to any Conservatives reading...
In this way, we will build an economy that works for everyone—but not every political party takes the same view that we do.

It is a sad fact that previous governments’ over-spending means that simply paying the interest on our National Debt costs over £40 billion per year. This is more than the entire Defence budget, and almost as much as it costs to educate every child in the country.

We know that this debt has to be paid off. But there are many ways in which we can find the money to do so.

As Conservatives, we have chosen to concentrate on our core belief that hard work should be rewarded: that is why we have targeted our tax cuts to benefit the most needy and deserving in our society.

Many argue that recent Conservative governments do not care about the poor, but the actions that we have taken at the Treasury simply do not bear this out.

The simple fact is that this Conservative government is committed to building an economy fit for the future based on sustainably rising living standards, low taxes, falling debt and investment in the type of society that you have told us you want to see.

All of the main issues are addressed: the government strategy, the emphasis on work rather than benefits, the achievements of the government in taking less money from the poor, and addressing the democratic issue—brought into sharp focus by Brexit—that it is the voters' issues that matter.

At the same time, the phrase "previous governments" allows this government to take issue not only with Labour, but also the Coalition and the Cameron/Osborne government if it wished to do so.

And, I believe, that fundamentally the article is more positive—without mentioning the Labour Party once.

But, hey—I have no professional degree or qualification in PR: I would be interested in your thoughts...

* This is not dirty tricks: if we didn't believe that our own software was better, we wouldn't bother with the expense of a development team.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A certain degree of value

A student is suing her university, alleging that the course was crap. Quelle surprise!

But here is a lovely comment on the situation...
Amatey Doku, National Union of Students vice president for higher education, said the fact student complaints are becoming “increasingly common” proves the current system is not working.

“With fees now so high, and students accruing such unsustainable levels of debt, it is no wonder that some students feel they have no choice but to demand more from their courses, and to seek recourse if those standards are not met.

“This is an obvious consequence of government policy to transform Higher Education into a market, with students pushed into the role of consumers.”

Students have been "pushed into the role of consumers", eh? And they have "no choice but to demand more from their courses"?

So, what is the implication here?

It's pretty clear, I think: students were entirely happy to put up with crappy, "mickey mouse" degrees as long as someone else* was paying for it.

* i.e. the taxpayer.

Reforming politics (1): the state of play

Whilst all of politics seems to be devoted to Brexit at the moment, your humble Devil has stated repeatedly (both before and after the vote)...