Monday, May 31, 2010

Obama and the Hopey-Changey Fairy

A few weeks ago, Timmy highlighted an article by Glenn Greenwald that ran through some of the continued abuses and illiberal actions by the wonderful new Obama-Caring government of the US.
The most recent liberty-abridging, Terrorism-justified controversies have focused on diluting the legal rights of American citizens (in part because the rights of non-citizens are largely gone already and there are none left to attack).  A bipartisan group from Congress sponsors legislation to strip Americans of their citizenship based on Terrorism accusations.  Barack Obama claims the right to assassinate Americans far from any battlefield and with no due process of any kind.  The Obama administration begins covertly abandoning long-standing Miranda protections for American suspects by vastly expanding what had long been a very narrow "public safety" exception, and now Eric Holder explicitly advocates legislation to codify that erosion.  John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduce legislation to bar all Terrorism suspects, including Americans arrested on U.S. soil, from being tried in civilian courts, and former Bush officials Bill Burck and Dana Perino -- while noting (correctly) that Holder's Miranda proposal constitutes a concession to the right-wing claim that Miranda is too restrictive -- today demand that U.S. citizens accused of Terrorism and arrested on U.S. soil be treated as enemy combatants and thus denied even the most basic legal protections (including the right to be charged and have access to a lawyer).

This shift in focus from non-citizens to citizens is as glaring as it is dangerous.  As Digby put it last week:
The frighting reality is that not even Dick Cheney thought of stripping Americans of their citizenship so that you could torture and imprison them forever --- even right after 9/11 when the whole country was petrified and he could have gotten away with anything. You'll recall even John Walker Lindh, who was literally captured on the battlefield fighting with the Taliban, was tried in civilian court. They even read him his rights.

I think this says something fairly alarming about the current state of our politics.

No shit.

Even further back, the wife highlighted the fact that Obama has not even restored the freedoms that Bush removed through the Patriot Act, for example—a piece of legislation that Obama specifically promised to repeal.
Having campaigned on a platform that consisted largely of reversing the mahoosive mistakes of the Bush administration, once in office, he immediately set out to… not reverse any of them. Patriot Act? Still there. Guantanamo? Still there. Wars? Still there. Bailouts and stimuli? Still there.

Bella even commented on Obama's approval of extra-judicial killings of US citizens on foreign soil.
Several weeks ago I saw a story on a blog somewhere about Obama’s authorising the assassination of an American citizen abroad (sans due process, naturally) because he was suspected of terrorist activity. I didn’t write about it then because I was sure it was a right-wing conspiracy lie.

Apparently it’s not.

Other restorations of our civil liberties include proposals to deny terrorist suspects arrested on US soil their Miranda rights, strip American citizens accused of terrorism of their citizenship, and treating American citizens arrested for terrorism as enemy combatants and barring them from trial in normal American courts.

I’m a bit confused about this, because while I obviously think restoring civil rights is a wonderful thing, these plans all sound to me like stripping Americans of every possible legal and Constitutional protection based solely on an accusation of a particular crime.

Perhaps the definition of ‘civil liberties’ has Changed™ since 2008. Perhaps, as appears to be the case, this legislation has been proposed by eeeevil Republicans. But if the latter is so, why are the good and kind Democrats in charge not screaming bloody murder about it? Why are they not swearing with their every last breath to use their Congressional majority to kill these bills stone dead?

And why, in the name of all that is holy, has the era of Hope and Change not only not reversed any of the rights-abuses perpetrated by the previous administration, as was promised, but perpetrated new ones itself?

So, I think that it's fair to say that Obama has not been an unmitigated boon for the citizens of the US: indeed, when touching base with friends and relations in that country, the wife reports that even Bush wasn't hated as much as some people loathe Obama.

And, it seems, they have good reason. Because one thing that The Boy Blunder most definitely is not is some kind of libertarian, liberal, liberty-loving chappie who definitely won't take more freedoms away from the US people.

But despite the litany of shit (of which the horrors listed above are but a fraction of the infractions), via Obo, I see that The Keepers Of The One True Libertarianism™ have decided that any libertarians who don't praise Obama—even had they not noticed the story—for allowing openly gay people in the military are, in fact, traitors to the cause.

Which is slightly bizarre because only a few weeks ago, The Keepers Of The One True Libertarianism™ were complaining that libertarian bloggers who extended a cautious welcome to the stated intentions of Our New Coalition Overlords™ were, in fact, traitors to the cause.
All my fellow libertarians are either celebrating, silent, or seemingly willing to give the new guys a go.

What does this mean? Well, it means there will be less reason to listen to libertarian bloggers and less reason to visit their sites.

And where is the fun if there is no counter-authority sentiment, no insurgency, no angry voice of revolution to rally around? People have flocked to libertarian bloggers because they generally attack 'the Man' and create a vibe.

So, welcoming the promises for more freedom, fewer laws and more transparency in the people who have taken over our government is a betrayal of the libertarian cause because Our New Coalition Overlords™ are "statist, high taxation, anti-individual, social democratic, social engineering, tinkering, meddling authoritarians. I.e. more of the same."

However, failing to "applaud and give credit" to Barack "The Man" Obama—a man who is so far from being libertarian that he... Ah, fuck it. The man's authorised extra-judicial killings of his own citizens merely because they have been accused of a crime, for crying out loud!—because the Obama's US has "taken an important step" that "paves the way" to allow openly gay people into the military (replacing the current "don't ask, don't tell" policy) is "weirdly partisan and aggressive" and a failure "to support and encourage the rights, freedoms and liberties of people regardless of their wealth, standing and status as property owners".

Well, here we go, boys: I wouldn't want anyone to question my commitment to libertarianism, least of all you two, so here's my tribute to The Boy Blunder.
"Well done, Obama, for offering this derisory fig leaf of freedom to gay people, whilst fucking everyone else up the arse with the rest of the tree."

As for the whole issue of gays in the military...

OK? 'Kay? 'Kay.

Defining "poor"

Wat Tyler helpfully puts some comparisons on the table.

You'd never guess it from the constant wailing of poverty lobby, but over the last half century the poor have got a whole lot richer.

A standard measure of poverty is net income of the poorest 25% of households (the bottom quartile). And as it happens, the Institute for Fiscal Studies [ZIP file] have recently published a compilation of the official figures going back to 1961 (obviously it's far too much to expect HMG to publish its own compilation). They have helpfully adjusted the figures for inflation so we can see the underlying trends in real income.

The figures show that the real income of this poorest group has approximately doubled since 1961, an average annual growth rate of 1.4% pa.

In fact, it turns out that in real terms the bottom 25% are now considerable richer than were the top 25% in 1961.

Just think about that.

Indeed. It would seem that poverty is Britain—absolute poverty, that is—has been solved for some time. So how is it that we seem to be paying out £200 billion every year in benefits to the poor?

Of course, it's partly that the £200 billion is what stops many people from actually living in absolute poverty—that's true. But we also pay out considerable amounts to those who are not, by any stretch of the imagination, in poverty.
Ah yes, I know—the world has changed since 1961. Everyone's so much richer today. Virtually every household has a telly, a fridge, a telephone, and central heating. 75% have a car. Having those things may have made you rich in 1961, but these days it's a given. You can have all of that and still be poor.

Except of course, you can't. If you're housed, clothed, fed, and in possession of a fortune in consumer durables, then sorry, you are not poor. By both historic and international standards, you are in fact pretty rich.

The trick is, of course, that certain vested interests—including many fake charities—define what poverty is, and they do so by defining it relatively. Poverty is, I believe, defined as having an income under 60% of the median: the median income is around £24,000, so you are, apparently, living in poverty when you have a household income under about £15,000.

This is, of course, quite insane. Wat Tyler draws all sorts of comparisons with his childhood in the 60s, but even your humble Devil's first job paid a mere £12,500—have I missed out on thousands of pounds of benefits...?

In any case, this relative definition of poverty is absolutely insane because it means that, quite literally, the poor will always be with us—we can never, ever end poverty.

Which is very convenient if you are a fake charity devoted to "ending poverty" (or something similar) since you can (even in the face of all reasonable evidence to the contrary) justify your existence forever—no matter how rich everyone actually gets.

Of course, it is just as convenient if you happen to be a socialist political party, claiming to champion the "working poor" and promising to "end child poverty" with other people's money—because, of course, as everyone gets ever richer, those children are still in poverty even if they have XBoxes coming out of their ears.
Yes, there are plenty of people who live sad dysfunctional workless lives. But that's nothing to do with lack of material resources. That's to do with poor education, destructive personal behaviour, and our grotesque level of welfare dependency. None of which will be solved by yet more welfare cash.

Which is why we have long argued for reformulating our definition of what constitutes poverty. Ideally, we'd like to switch to an absolute standard of poverty such as they have in the US. But if we have to stick with a definition measured relative to median income, we'd settle for dropping the current poverty line at 60% of median income, and switching to a 50% line.

First, because we estimate it would save £20-30bn pa from the current welfare bill. And second, because it would increase the attractiveness of work relative to welfare (ie it would make the poverty trap problem a whole lot easier to solve).

Of course, that would put the poverty line at about £12,000—which accords pretty well not only with full-time earnings on the National Minimum Wage, but also with what the Rowntree Foundation defines as poverty too.

And then, of course, we could raise the Personal Tax Allowance to £12,000—because it's utterly immoral to tax those who are already on the poverty line, is it not?—and suddenly we have actually solved relative poverty, as well as absolute.

What's not to like?

UPDATE: Timmy opines upon this too.
What’s that, 50 years….generation and a half perhaps?

The poor are now rich.

This capitalism thing’s a bit of alright, innit?

Indeed. I wonder what the Cubans and North Koreans think of it all...

A new age of transparency?

David Cameron has apparently written a letter to all government departments, laying out his plans for greater transparency.
He said: "Greater transparency is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account."

Hospitals will start publishing data on infection rates online from this week - initially releasing three months of information before producing weekly statistics from July.

Details of large government contracts will be published from September, items of central government spending from November and local government spending over £500 from next January.

Civil servants earning more than £150,000 will be named and their salaries disclosed, and this figure will be lowered to £58,000 later in the year.

In a podcast on the Downing Street website over the weekend, Mr Cameron said: "If there's one thing I've noticed since doing this job, it's how all the information about government - the money it spends, where it spends it, the results it achieves - how so much of it is locked away in a vault marked sort of 'private for the eyes of ministers and officials only'.

"I think this is ridiculous. It's your money, your government, you should know what's going on. So we're going to rip off that cloak of secrecy and extend transparency as far and as wide as possible.

"By bringing information out into the open you'll be able to hold government and public services to account."

This is very encouraging—let us see if it actually happens...

Harrabin: One paragraph, two words

One paragraph:
Surveys show that many people don't believe the truths of scientific orthodoxy anymore and prefer to seek their "facts" in the blogosphere where it's easier to get insouciant endorsement of high-consumption western lifestyles.
Two words:
1. F*ck
2. *ff

This is posted here because - I appreciate that this may surprise you - comments aren't enabled at Harrabin's piece. You'll also be immensely surprised that the sources of this mountain of survey data aren't linked.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

In which I am a bitch

Dan Hannan keeps referring to himself as a blogger: this really grips my shit is a big way. So I left a comment there...
You know what, Dan? I'd try to answer you except that you never answer anyone.

Don't pretend that you are a blogger: you aren't. You are an old-style columnist who cannot be bothered to answer his critics: there is no difference between you and Polly Toynbee.

You want to see what a blogger is? Look at the rest of us out here or—better—look at Lord Tebbit. He answers his critics: you cannot be arsed.

The fact that you won an award for "blogging" is one of the biggest travesties of our times.

You are generally good at what you do—indeed, I agree with you much of the time (as you know). But you are not a blogger, and you should stop referring to yourself as such.


Oce upon a time, we bloggers were bloggers: we weren't divided by party lines. It was us versus the established media: now, we seem all too eager to accept those MSM wankers calling themselves "bloggers". I blame (mainly) that cunt Oliver Kamm, who is the first blogger that I know who crossed the line.

Here's the trick, chaps: bloggers answer their critics—they engage in conversation. And I don't care how much I agree with Hannan and endorse his attacks on our government—he is not a blogger.

The worst thing that politics ever did was to destroy the blogger-to-blogger relationship: it's dead, but we should now (in the spirit of coalition) resurrect it and give the Establishment hell...

UPDATE: one other blogging convention is that, every now and again, you have to get a bit pissed and post a nonsensical, rageous and gratuitously insulting post, in which you pine for "the good old days"—a mythological golden age probably located sometime in 1954(b).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

In which I disagree with Dan Hannan...

It's not that I disagree with his premise (I am undecided), but I do disagree with the way in which he argues it.
If there's anyone out there who still opposes reform of the House of Lords…

… I have two words for you: Ian Blair.

What? This is utterly wrong on two levels:
  1. Difficult cases make bad laws. Yes, The fact that Ian "shooty" Blair has gained a peerage makes me want to fucking vomit—but is every appointment in this round of honours utterly unsuitable? In fact, we don't even know that Ian Blair will not be a good, sensible and conscientious legislator (although I seriously doubt it).

  2. Ian Blair's peerage is not a symptom of the need to reform the House of Lords: it is an indication of how bankrupt is the elected House of Commons. Blair was not given his peerage by the Lords—he was nominated and approved by Members and servants of the elected House of Commons.

So, when Dan Hannan asks this question...
How can an elected Upper House be worse than what we have now?

... I would tell him to look at the self-serving corruption of the elected House, and cite the elevation of Ian Blair to the Lords as evidence of said turpitude.

So, yes, Dan: I can think of many, many ways in which an elected House of Lords could be worse than what we have now—how long have you got?

Spain: next down the panhole...

The Times reports that the economies of Europe continue to reap the consequences of their own mismanagement, with Spain's credit rating being downgraded.
The euro plunged and US stock markets dived last night after Spain was stripped of its top-level credit rating by a leading rating agency over concerns about its economic growth.

In the latest blow to the eurozone, which is struggling to cope with the fallout from the Greek fiscal crisis, Fitch Ratings downgraded Spain’s sovereign credit rating — a measure of how easily it can meet the interest payment on its debt — by a notch from the top AAA rating to AA+.

Standard & Poor’s, another ratings agency, downgraded Spain’s rating for the second time to AA last month but Moody’s, the other leading agency, has maintained the rating at AAA.

As EU Referendum warns us...
This may be survivable, but even those with short memories will recall that this is how the Greek crisis started. And Spain is a much bigger economy...

Indeed. And just remember, Richard Murphy wants us to run our businesses in the same way that our governments run themselves.
Until multinational corporations are required to have non-execs from outside business they will not be brought to account.

And don’t argue the skills aren’t possible. We run governments on this basis - and it does work.

Actually, right now government is one of the very few thing that is working.

Yep, Richard: Greece's government is working really well. So is that of Spain. And our own dear state has only racked up about £700 billion of debt—a figure to which it is still adding £0.5 billion per day.

Yes, Richard: government's working alright.

As I wrote earlier, Richard Murphy must be one of the most deluded nitwits in the Western World, possibly on a par with Gordon Brown. Murphy isn't interested in the betterment of the poor—he is only interested in bringing about the destruction of capitalism and the collapse of the civilised world.

As a commenter pointed out on my earlier post, now might be a good time to highlight the activities of The Cobden Centre, a think-tank dedicated to "sound money", and in particular Toby Baxendale's post in which he outlines a way in which we could "pay off the National Debt and give a 28.5% tax cut".

I have yet to be totally convinced by The Cobden Centre's philosophies: whilst libertarians want sound money, Adam Smith saw the value in fractional reserve banking, i.e. faster economic growth. Which is why I like the Libertarian Party's monetary policy—a policy that allows for fiat currency, sound banking and fractional reserve banking through a relatively simple policy of currency competition.

I am open to ideas on currency: there is only one thing that I am absolutely sure of—that Richard Murphy should not be allowed anywhere near any kind of fiscal policy...

The Spirit Level Delusion

A few days ago, the IEA blog recounted the story of an ancient Nordic legend, as a way of illustrating the destructive potential of a book called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.
Once upon a time, an old Nordic legend tells, there lived a princess in Burgundy who owned a huge treasure of gold. One night the treacherous Hagen von Tronje, an advisor to the king, broke into the treasury and looted it; but not for himself, nor for anyone else. Hagen stole the gold so that the princess could not have it. He feared the power gold could buy, so he plunged it into the torrents of the Rhine.

In Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Hagen von Tronje has two worthy modern-day successors. Their book, The Spirit Level, is a radical plea for egalitarianism. Greater income inequality, they argue, is correlated with just about every social problem. But unlike traditional egalitarians, the authors’ aim is not to raise the material living standards of the poor through redistribution. They believe that in the developed world, absolute income levels have become largely irrelevant: “Once we have enough of the necessities of life, it is the relativities which matter” (p. 225).

So here’s how the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place: as long as inequalities exist, people will not be willing to give up growth, because growth contains a promise - we may see lifestyles more luxurious than our own all around us, but in the near future we too may be able to afford the things that our wealthier neighbours afford today. Wilkinson and Pickett believe that the reverse relationship also holds: if our neighbours lose their luxuries, we too will lose interest in them. Remember, it is the relativities which matter. Eradicate inequality, and the scourges of consumerism and materialism will disappear, and we will live happily ever after in a climate-friendly zero-growth economy.

Those of us who believe in the potential of capitalism, free trade and liberty to make everyone's lives better, more comfortable and, yes, richer, would do well to be worried by this book—especially since it has been quoted in the House of Lords, and mentioned approvingly by our massively-foreheaded Prime Minister.

This latter speech was picked up by Polly Toynbee, whose article was then, in turn, commented on by the Equality Trust.
As Polly Toynbee indicates, The Spirit Level's findings are unequivocal. In order to achieve the benefits of greater equality - and improve health and well-being for everyone in society - we cannot leave the top well alone. It is essential that we narrow the gap between the highest and lowest paid.

I would like you to take note of the language of the first sentence in that quote and, in particular, the word "findings".

"Findings"... Hmmmm. It's the kind of word that one might use when referring to the surprise results of some scientific experiment, is it not?

This is hardly a surprise, because the entire raison d'etre of The Spirit Level is to present a set of results in a pseudo-scientific manner. In practice, this means that epidemiologists (not real scientists) Wilkinson and Pickett have taken some data and drawn some graphs—and then used those graphs to show that the more unequal a society gets, the worse the society gets.

Through so-called "psychosocial pressures"—caused by inequality—the people of these societies suffered from ill-health, massively increased rates of mental illness, crime epidemics, suffering, misery and premature death. Comparing their findings to that of Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister, the authors themselves declared that "Understanding the effects of inequality means that we suddenly have a policy handle on the wellbeing of whole societies."

There is only one problem: as Arnold Schwarzenegger once intoned, it's bullshit—all of it.

The new book from Christopher Snowdon—the author of the excellent Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking—is called The Spirit Level Delusion and it shows just how dishonest Wilkinson and Pickett have been.

Wait—did I say "dishonest"? I didn't mean to: I meant to say, of course, "deluded" (at least until Our New Coalition Overlords™ overhaul the libel laws).

In any case, Chris Snowdon ably demonstrates how Wilkinson and Pickett have cherry-picked data to suit their case, ignored other, obvious causative factors and, in some cases, have become so rampantly... er... "mistaken" that one might almost think that they were deliberately lying.

As with Velvet Fist, Iron Glove, the entire volume is well-researched, very readable (I whizzed through it in one sitting) and utterly comprehensive in its demolition of The Spirit Level's data and conclusions.
"Snowdon's ability to find the methodological flaws within specific pieces of research, unearth and explain contrasting pieces of research, and present this set of conclusions in an accessible manner is a skill possessed by a comparative few and one for which his readers should be thankful."—Foreword by Dr Patrick Basham, Democracy Institute.

The Spirit Level Delusion also addresses some of the lies inaccuracies peddled by Wilkinson and Pickett's antecedents, such as Richard Layard's Happiness and Oliver James's Affluenza; it is important to stress, however, that one does not need to have read either of these books (or, indeed, The Spirit Level) to appreciate The Spirit Level Delusion.

I should, of course, declare an interest at this stage and point out that your humble Devil was, once again, engaged to create the cover for Chris Snowdon's book—but I was happy to do so, for it is a compelling and important read.

Why "important"?

Because The Spirit Level's pseudo-scientific rhetoric appears to have convinced those at high level in our society—including our idiot Prime Minister—that reducing inequality is not simply a necessary evil, but an important moral crusade.

The Englishman put it very succinctly in his review:
I have read the book, not only is it comprehensive in its demolition, it is well written, amusingly thorough and easy to digest. Even El Clegg would be able to understand it.

We are going to hear a lot more about how limiting growth and reducing inequality will make everyone happier and how we must legislate to make this happen. You need the evidence to show it is guff, you need this book.

You can order signed copies of The Spirit Level Delusion through the website, or through Amazon UK and Amazon US.

You need The Spirit Level Delusion because our leaders are in the grip of The Spirit Level's delusion.

The wisdom (or otherwise) of Richard Murphy

Doing business, the Richard Murphy way.

Truly, Richard Murphy scales new heights of rampant stupidity and shows every statist moron the way to Utopia—has there ever been such a blind, ignorant, wilfully destructive man as this retired tax accountant?

Timmy points me to one of the great man's latest witterings—a particularly egregious extract from a severely deluded post...
Until multinational corporations are required to have non-execs from outside business they will not be brought to account.

And don’t argue the skills aren’t possible. We run governments on this basis - and it does work.

Right. So Richard Murphy thinks that we should run our businesses like we run our governments run themselves, does he? And Ritchie thinks that this will lead to more stable businesses and better finances...

Are you absolutely fucking insane, Murphy? Have you not noticed what's been going on recently, you utter, utter prick?

So, you think that businesses should be run on the Greek model, do you? Or maybe on the same basis as Gordon Brown ran our own economy, i.e. into the fucking ground.

This is a man who criticises the banks for taking on massive amounts of dodgy debt—piles of it are probably from the bloody, basically bankrupt governments of the Western world.

It has been an unedifying spectacle watching these clueless, social democratic governments slamming the banks for irresponsible borrowing and lending, for dodgy financial practices and dodgier balance sheets whilst it seems to me that the banks were simply following the governments' example.

Banks in Europe, most of which are holding billions of Euros worth of debt from European governments, are now under severe threat of collapse again—a crisis caused by the utterly irresponsible policies of the governments of the Eurozone countries—most notably Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

The only thing that is keeping these countries afloat is massive bail-outs from the nations whose finances are not completely fucked (but which are, nonetheless, still racking up debt at an eye-watering rate—our own government, for example, is still borrowing at the rate of £0.5 billion per day).

The governments of these countries have borrowed without regard for ability to repay; when crisis has hit, they have shown no willingness or ability to stop spending like drunken sailors in port; and their irresponsibility is on the verge of collapsing the banking system (again).

One has the suspicion that the main reason that our governments bailed out the banks is because those institutions were the only ones big and stupid enough to continue buying government debt. If the banks collapsed, who would buy the gilds and bonds that enable the state to keep on spending money like it is water?

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is how Richard Murphy wants all businesses to run. So, dear readers, you decide...

Is Richard Murphy insane or is he just so stupid that he can barely tie his own shoe-laces?

Social Security Assurance

In commenting on this rather sensible article about pensions, Timmy illustrates a very simple—but absolutely crucial—point about state welfare.
How and when you retire on your savings or private pension arrangements is of course entirely up to you. But the State pension should really be seen as a form of social insurance. Insurance against living longer than your savings.

When the various systems came in (Bismark in Germany, Lloyd George here, FDR in the US) the age at which you got your state payments was around and about the average age of death. For good reason too.

As a rational 20 year old (just as an example) you could expect to live a further 45 years (again, just an example). Of course you don’t really know what your lifetime earnings are going to be but you can at least make some assumptions and plan for that expected lifespan in your savings habits.

But what happens if you hit 68 and are still going? You’ve acted rationally and responsibly but now you’re skint. In comes the State pension. Insurance against outliving your savings.

However, average lifespan is now something like 78 for men. The retirement age is still 65. Far from the State pension now being social insurance it is now social assurance. It’s gone from being a payment against a risk of outliving your savings, something unlikely, to being a method of paying for something which is likely, your living past that state retirement age.

The old age pension should therefore be returned to what it originally was: that social insurance. The pension age should be set at the average lifespan. Yes, we don’t know what the average lifespan of the current cohort is, so we’ll use the cohort before. But that would mean that the state pension age rises to 78. And as lifespans continue to lengthen, it will rise further.

As Timmy points out, this is a difficult thing to do politically but it desperately needs to be done—not only to get us out of our current financial bind, but to ensure that we never get into this position again.

But, further, we need to have this attitude to all state benefits: they should be methods of social insurance, not assurance, i.e. an absolute last resort when you have no personal resources to fall back on. This is what the state safety net was intended to be when it started—to provide a method of protection for those who had no other protection.

The unintended consequences, of course, was that the universality of the National Insurance levy crowded out other suppliers of these services—most notably, as I have pointed out before, the Friendly Societies (which only covered about half the population by the time NI was introduced).

Before the introduction of NI, people bought insurance from mutuals, or kept savings or relied on families to help out. After the introduction of NI, the state became the de facto supplier of assurance, not insurance.

The result is the bloated and, quite frankly, unaffordable Welfare State that we now have.

One of the reasons that it is unaffordable, of course, is that the state is so desperately bad at spending money. And why is it so bad? Well, I used to quote the following quite frequently at the old place, so I'll resurrect it here.
It's always worth, at points like this, reminding ourselves of the four ways of spending money, as espoused by Milton Friedman and summarised by P J O'Rourke in All The Trouble In The World.
  1. You spend your own money buying something for yourself—you therefore try to get the best possible product for the best possible price.

  2. You spend someone else's money buying something for yourself—you still try to get the best possible product, but you are not so concerned about the price.

  3. You spend your own money buying something for someone else—you are deeply concerned about the price, but you are not nearly so worried about the quality of the product.

  4. You spend someone else's money buying something for someone else—in which case, who gives a shit?

The government spends under category 4, and so value for money—and, remember, that every single penny represents someone's hard work—is absolutely dismal. The general estimate, I believe, is that of every pound that goes into the Treasury, only about 30p makes it to the famous "front line services".

Or, to put it in terms of the new TPA video, whilst you may work five hours and twenty-one minutes of every day in order to pay the taxman, everything that you earn from 9am until a bit before noon is pissed up the wall.

Any monopoly is bad, and government is the biggest monopoly of all—not least because it has a monopoly on force. If you don't like Tesco's service, attitudes or prices, then you can stop shopping there; you don't even have to shop at another superstore (yet). If you don't pay your taxes, then you go to prison.

But it is worse than that, because the government is, so often, both payer and provider of services. And this is where the big mistake was made, in your humble Devil's opinion.

To bring it back to the original point (and back onto one of my hobby-horses), the government should never have introduced the National Insurance Contributions, for a few reasons:
  • NI crowded out other service providers. You are a poor man and you can only afford to put away 5p a week; up until now, you have been conscientiously paying that 5p to your Friendly Society but, now that the government is taking it directly from your pay packet to pay for your NI—whether you want to use the government's service or not—you can no longer afford to pay your FS contributions.

  • Those other service providers were often more efficient, more humane and more responsive.
    As insurance-assurance co-operatives, Friendly Societies fulfill our desire for voluntary collectivism. As local societies, they also help to provide some cohesion to communities; many Friendly Societies provided a social function as well as an economic one.

    Most societies allowed their members to choose their level of pay-in; how much was paid out was determined by numerous factors, but criteria usually included how much you had paid in, how long you had been a member and your actual need.

    This last is important, for our current Welfare State is not based on need—it is based on an inhuman, box-ticking system. Learn how to play the system and you can get more than a living wage; but this system is not based on need. (The one time that I have been starving, I was unable to get any help because I was employed as a company director—the fact that the company had almost no money to pay me was irrelevant.)

    As such, Friendly Societies address the issue of self-reliance too; you are responsible for ensuring that you pay in and, should you fall on hard times, your pay-out is related to what you paid in.

    Friendly Societies also address the issue of fraud. People are far less likely to steal from those whom they know personally; further, knowing you personally, those people will also be able to check whether you are, in fact, stealing from them. And this applies, of course, not only to benefit claimants but also to those running the Society.

  • NI placed the state not only in loco parentis, but in place of people's responsibility to themselves and to others.

  • The funds were misappropriated and, instead of forming a genuine insurance fund, the government simply amalgamated the insurance contributions into general spending. In practical terms, you have no National Insurance Fund of your own; your needs are paid for out of general taxation.

But we cannot deny that NI was introduced to deal with genuine problems: first, that the Friendly Societies (though growing rapidly) simply didn't cover all of the population and, second, that some people simply could not afford even 5p a week.

Now, in theory, NI does not address the latter problem at all, since you were supposed to pay in before you could get any money out. NI did address the first problem but at the expense of destroying other providers who were doing the job better.

So, what should the government have done?

The first thing would have been to encourage faster growth of Friendly Societies and other assurance mutuals through tax breaks and other such schemes.

The second would be to provide a temporary state social insurance fund in areas without a Friendly Society, run by local workers, with an aim to signing this over to the fund owners once properly up and running. In other words, the government would provide a financial incentive to start new Friendly Societies. This could have been paid for, initially, by slightly increasing general taxation on the rich (if necessary—these funds should swiftly become self-sustaining).

The third would be to continue to encourage charities and other aid organisations to address the need to help those who—in not earning at all—were unable to benefit from either Friendly Societies or NI provision.

For what it is worth, and at a very high-level, this would be my preferred way of addressing the Welfare State reforms that we so desperately need right now. Whether we should force workers (and employers) to pay a certain percentage of their wages into a Friendly Society (for yes, there must be competition)—or not is one point of debate, and I am sure that there are others.

However, at the end of it, we would have a more efficient system and, I believe, a better, more humane one too.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Questions to which I don't know the answer...

Via Iain Dale, Harry's Place has a poser today...
I ask, in all seriousness: what is the point of Sunny Hundal?

Nope. I've got nothing.



How long do you work for the tax man?

In advance of the Adam Smith Institute's Tax Freedom Day - which sadly shows that the whole nation is still working for the tax man until Sunday 30th May - the TPA have released this video showing how long an average worker has to slave each day before they pay off tax and start making some money for themselves:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Janet Street-Porter: contradictory crone

(nb. I am not the Devil's Kitchen)

It's a terrifying prospect, but we must consider the possibility that there is more than one Janet Street-Porter at large. How else can we explain the contradictory articles that appear under her byline every week in The Indepedent?

Street-Porter has swallowed the temperance movement's myths hook, line and sinker and is a result is a keen advocate of

Back in 2007, that something was education. ('Can't we drinkers just be left in peace?'):
The only way to stop people drinking to excess is via education and support at primary school.

Back then, Janet was keen to stress that the kids were alright. If there was a problem, it was to be found behind the net curtains of Middle England ('Don't blame the young: we're a nation of boozers'):
By the way, the biggest number of problem drinkers, according to recent surveys, aren't teenagers – who happen to be more visible and easier to pick on because they hang around with nothing to do but swig from tins – but the salaried classes, the middle aged, who sink a bottle of wine a head every night out there in suburbia.

That was all fine until Janet remembered that she was one of those salaried, middle-aged wine-drinkers, and she was damned if the government was going to tell her how to live her life ('I like a drink. Does that make me an alcoholic?'):
No day passes without a new piece of research about the amount we drink and a lot of it focuses on the cost to the NHS. We were recently told that the drinkers the Government is most concerned about aren't the young, but middle aged and middle class. You don't need to be Einstein to work out the largest social group in the country are middle class and middle aged, but we'll let that pass. The same group probably own the most pets, spends the most at garden centres, and eats the most breakfast cereal.

This government has decided to interfere in our lives to a completely unacceptable degree.

Was this libertarian, Big Government-hating Janet Street-Porter the same person who gave us, only four weeks earlier, her brilliant new solution to the alcohol 'epidemic'? ('Bring back ration books – for booze'):
Here's a radical thought. Why not re-introduce ration books for booze?

And yes, she was serious. It was also her solution to childhood obesity ('A return to the ration book is the answer to obesity'):
Bring back rationing. Don't talk to me about human rights.

Still, at least she doesn't agree with making alcohol more expensive. As she said in 2007 ('Can't we drinkers just be left in peace?'):
Taxing drink won't make any difference - punitive pricing hasn't deterred cigarette smokers.

But then she's a woman of many moods, our Jan. The column she wrote in February 2008 ('Don't blame the young: we're a nation of boozers') showed off her ability to contradict herself even within the same article:
You know there's a problem when Tesco – the retailer who sells booze cheaper than mineral water – finally puts its hands up and admits the blindingly obvious: that perhaps the price of alcohol could have something to do with binge drinking.

But three paragraphs later, the link between price and binge-drinking was no longer so 'blindingly obvious':
There is absolutely no evidence that making drink more expensive will have any effect on the number of people getting slaughtered night after night.

Except for alcopops, apparently. By the end of the year she was calling for alcopops to be made more expensive to, y'know, reduce the number of people getting 'slaughtered every night'.  
The government still doesn't tax alcopops as heavily as other countries, for example Germany and Australia, where they are regarded as unsuitable for the young.

And she was supporting arch-crank Sir Liam Donaldson in his mission to bring in minimum pricing:
In Scotland, plans have already been announced to introduce minimum prices for alcohol, so why not in England?

I happen to agree with Sir Liam. Drink doesn't cost enough, and as prices have tumbled, so our attitude to booze has changed.

When the Conservative party committed itself to taxing alcopops in January 2010, you might think Janet would approve, but that would be to underestimate the complexities of the woman:
In this phoney booze war politicians have plenty of policies, but they're toothless. The Tories want to levy a charge on late-night off-licences and bars and say they'll tax "problem" drinks such as alcopops, strong beers and ciders. Labour promises to ban promotions offering cheap booze and say pubs should offer free tap water. Talk about not facing up to the gruesome reality.

So what's the plan, Jan? Education? Nope. ('Only a price rise will stop Britain's booze culture').
Education has failed. Self-control is hopeless. The Lib Dems are right: minimum pricing and an advertising ban are logical. But very unlikely.

Janet's dilemma is that she hates corporations even more than she hates binge-drinking. So when Tesco supported minimum pricing last week, what was she to do? Hey, every gal's got the right to change her mind, hasn't she? Minimum pricing, doncha hate it?!?! ('Tesco – every little bit of brand promotion helps'):
Minimum pricing won't change behaviour – that requires education at primary-school level.

Could this be the same Janet Street-Porter who said education "has failed" and minimum pricing was "logical" only 5 months earlier? 

And she found another reason to oppose minimum pricing:
It will put [Tesco CEO] Sir Terry's smaller competitors out of business

Quite possibly, but the think-of-the-economy line had been used by the industry for some time, and Street-Porter has always treated it with distain. A year earlier, for example, she had written...
..the brewers and distillers are formidable lobbyists who always claim massive job losses if their product isn't available at rock-bottom prices.

In fact, now that Tesco has got involved, Janet's having second thoughts about the whole 'alcohol epidemic':
Let's consider a few facts. Is drinking on the increase? Not really, according to Nigel Hawkes of Straight Statistics. The number of men who say they drink more than eight units one day a week has actually gone down. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of men who drink more than 50 units over a week dropped by 2 per cent. In fact, the statistics are somewhat misleading because the way that units are computed was changed. Binge drinking among 16 to 24-year-old women peaked in 1998 at 42 per cent and had fallen to 35 per cent in 2006.

Indeed so. As my hoof-footed host and I have been saying for some time, there is no alcohol epidemic. The real problem is the behaviour of a minority, ie. people who are twats when they're sober who become even more twattish when drunk. None of the temperance movement's Mickey Mouse policies are going to sort this problem out. What we really need is a war on twats.

Still, better a sinner who repents and all that. If it takes Tesco supporting the temperance nuts for Street-Porter to change her mind about minimum pricing, so be it. 

(By the way, the Janet Street-Porter who writes endlessly about the evils of binge-drinking is not to be confused with the Janet Street-Porter who told the Observer
"Fleet Street was different in my day. I was at the Mail in the early 1970s. On Fridays we'd start drinking about 1pm at El Vinos, then the French House, lunch in Wheelers, to the Colony Room, then down to Jerry's, and then fall home completely trolleyed about nine. So I'd write my column in the morning."

Written with a thumping hang-over they may have been, but it's hard to imagine those columns being any more piss-poor than the ones she writes today.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Pensioned off

With reference to my earlier post about British Airways, John Band has an excellent post up pointing out that all is not quite as it seems in that company—especially as regards the assets.
BA’s enterprise value – the amount that its assets plus goodwill are worth, before taking into account its financial liabilities – is something like GBP7bn. The reason its market cap is only GBP3bn is because it also has a GBP4bn pension deficit. In other words, money that BA owes to its workers and former workers accounts for more than half of the company’s total value.

This has two policy implications.

One is that Red Tory Philip Blond’s suggestion that the government should mutualise BA isn’t quite as insane as it looks – more than half the company is already owned by the workers, and if things were to get worse then the pension fund has priority over the shareholders as a creditor. A deal like the one the US government brokered for GM, leaving the workers as majority shareholders, isn’t totally implausible.

The other consequence of this ownership pattern is something which should make BA shareholders rather nervous.

If the industrial action were to turn into a major, long-term dispute that drove down passenger numbers and revenues to such a severe extent that BA had to go into administration, then the pension fund would have priority over BA’s assets (including not only its physical assets, but also its brands, goodwill, systems, etc). It’d be hard work to rebuild BA as a global brand after that kind of collapse, but it wouldn’t be impossible – particularly with worker ownership ending the company’s labour crisis overnight. The shareholders, however, would lose everything.

It really is worth reading the whole thing, but the main point is: don't buy shares in BA.

The other point is that—if BA is mutualised—then we are going to see just how good the workers are at running a massive, international, multi-billion pound business. My personal opinion is that it will hurtle down the toilet at a phenomenal speed.

Now, it may be that the workers are thinking along the same lines as John Band—but I'll bet that they aren't. Apart from anything else, workers tend to have a very high opinion of how much better they'd be at running things than they actually are.

Running a company is not an easy thing. I am part of the management of a small web software company employing under twenty people, and trying to ensure that everything runs smoothly is not an easy task—and my main job really only entails running the actual day-to-day software development side of it.

Do we think that BA cabin crew—who are unwilling to lose perks when their company is currently losing nearly £1.5 million per day—are going to be any better when this multi-billion pound company is "theirs"? No.

Because many workers—like those spending government money—have a real problem with understanding that companies (even ones the size of BA) don't just have magic money floating around.

Let me give you an example from a company I worked in once: on hearing the news that said company had won a major contract, one of the designers turned to the sales manager and said, "so? I won't see any of it."

To which the sales manager replied, with remarkable restraint, "what the hell do you think pays your salary?" The designer hadn't even thought about it: he just assumed that his wages appeared in his bank account... Well, actually, I don't know how he thought it got there—by magic presumably.

Anyway, should BA go into administration and be mutualised, the pension obligations wouldn't end—because this isn't just the pensions of current workers, but those who have retired and are busy living off said pensions. All that would happen is that a mutualised BA would have less credit and still have a £4 billion pension fund hole.

And no one in their right mind would want to go and manage a company made up of workers who were willing to bankrupt said company rather than accept that they were going to have to accept some cuts; similarly, no one is going to lend money to that company and, most certainly, no one is going to buy the shares of said company.

Even were BA to be mutualised, it would go bust long before the oil runs out...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Change Coalition: lies and bullshit

When Our New Coalition Overlords announced a programme of cutting back the state and returning powers to the people, many of us were prepared to give them a chance—more in hope than in confidence. And, sure enough, they have neatly demonstrated that their promises were, in fact, all lies and bullshit.

For, in their latest Coalition Programme for Government [PDF], the ConDems have decided that one of their very first acts will be yet more controls on alcohol.
  • We will ban the sale of alcohol below cost price.

  • We will review alcohol taxation and pricing to ensure it tackles binge drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers, pubs and important local industries.

  • We will overhaul the Licensing Act to give local authorities and the police much stronger powers to remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to, any premises that are causing problems.

  • We will allow councils and the police to shut down permanently any shop or bar found to be persistently selling alcohol to children.

  • We will double the maximum fine for under-age alcohol sales to £20,000.

  • We will permit local councils to charge more for late-night licences to pay for additional policing.

Commenting on the BBC article, The Nameless Libertarian explains why the minimum pricing for alcohol is such a bad idea.
Just for old time's sake, let's rehearse the reasons why this policy is both wrong and pointless. It won't stop binge drinking—that will continue, but people will just have to spend a little more on getting arseholed. It is an impingement on the freedom of business during a feeble recovery from a deep recession. Laws already exist that allow for the refusal to sell/serve alcohol to those who are drunk, and laws already exist that can deal with the anti-social behavior of those who are wasted. We should enforce those laws, rather than creating a new, illiberal rule to punish everyone in society who might want to buy alcohol at a cheap price. I don't think there is anything liberal, democratic or even particularly conservative about this policy—other than the fact that the Con-Dem coalition has jumped on it with unseemly haste.

This is, of course, one of the main points that I made when Boris banned drinking on the Tube—and the vast majority of commenters leapt upon me, supporting the ban. I maintained that the ban would punish responsible drinkers, and that we already had laws against being drunk and disorderly, etc.

"No, no," maintained the commenters. "Bans are fine when it's banning something I don't like or don't do." Now, how do you like them apples, guys?

What is the point of the Coalition introducing a Great Repeal Bill—designed to abolish thousands (ha! I bet it will be about ten) of "unnecessary" laws introduced by NuLabour—if they are simply going to replace those laws with other, even worse laws?

And if the Coalition can't work out by themselves why a minimum price on alcohol is a bad idea, this should give them a massive bloody clue.
Supermarket chain Tesco says it wants to see curbs on the sale of cheap alcohol during this Parliament.

Tesco has welcomed a promise by the coalition government to ban below-cost sales of alcohol in England and Wales.

The UK's biggest retailer goes further, saying it would back the more radical step of introducing a minimum price.

Here's the thing, Dave and Nick: Tesco doesn't need laws to introduce a minimum price on the alcohol that it sells—it could simply stop selling alcohol below cost price. If this massive corporatist organisation supports a minimum price on alcohol, then a minimum price on alcohol is definitely something that you should not introduce. Understand?

If Tesco wants a minimum price on alcohol, it is because the law is either going to give them an advantage over their competition or it is going to allow them to gouge the public for more money—or, of course, both. And propping up the proficts of Tesco is not—repeat, not—in any government's remit.

Never mind, I'm sure that Dave, Nick and their merry Coalition will carry on regardless.

Say "hello" to the new boss: same as the old boss.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Libertarian Roundup #13

The UK Libertarian challenges the vilification of price-fixing. He goes on to say government regulation is completely useless to us and helps the people being regulated.

From the other side of the political spectrum, the Socialist Squirrel offers this rather gnomic take on libertarian socialism.

Samizdata offers a cautionary tale of the modern state.

Left-libertarianism: some thoughts from my lovely wife, and the slightly less lovely Obnoxio The Clown, Jock Coats and Boatang and Demetriou.

Obsidian points out the folly of minimum alcohol pricing, tersely.

The excellent Reason magazine points out the consequences of policing by targets.

Timmy opens a can of worms.

It's early days, but Burning Our Money contrasts words with deeds.

And finally, Decline of the Logos dissects this panopticon Parliament.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A sincere plea to Labour supporters

(nb. I am not the Devil's Kitchen)

The face of Britain has changed radically in the last 50 years but our Parliament still does not reflect our diverse population. There are literally millions of overweight morons in this country who do not have a voice.

This has to change.

It's time for the Labour leadership to reflect the face of the smug minority.

It's time for supercilious half-wits to be properly represented.

It's Abbott time.

A vote for Diane Abbott is a vote for

  • Eye-rolling

  • Interrupting

  • Saying one thing and doing another

  • Inexplicable self-satisfaction

  • Patting Michael Portillo on the knee

  • Obesity

For too long, politics has been dominated by a privileged elite. Diane Abbot represents people like you—normal, everyday wealthy Cambridge graduates who send their children to public school and who have never had a proper job.

If you're one of the 50% of Britons who don't know what the fuck you're talking about, Abbott will make your voice heard.

If you're one of the 19% of population who indulge in rank hypocrisy, Abbott knows how you feel.

If you're one of the 8% of the population who conduct conversations with your eyes closed, as if talking to a six-year old, you must vote Abbott for Labour leader.

Only one candidate can lead Labour into the wilderness promised land. Abbott is not tainted by the failures of the past because she has never held a cabinet post or a position of any real authority despite being an MP for 23 years.

Abbott is her own woman with a fiercely independent mind. She prides herself on never listening to anything anyone says to her.

Abbott has already gained national notoriety for her appearances on BBC's Thursday night politics show It's Nearly Midnight And We're All Pissed, in which she takes up two-thirds of a sofa alongside Michael Portillo. Portillo, a committed supporter of the Conservative party, has enthusiastically endorsed Abbott's candidature.

So don't vote for the same tired old faces. Vote for someone who once read a book by Michael Moore and can recite bits of it on television while the other guests stifle their laughter.

After 13 years of Labour rule, Britain is on its knees. Give Diane Abbott the tools and she will finish the job.

If Abbott becomes Labour leader, it will be a historic moment for the party. So go on, vote Abbott and make Labour history.

Flying by the seat of their pants

Last year, British Airways were losing over £1 million per day: surely they could do better this year? Er—define better...
British Airways has reported its biggest annual loss due to lower passenger numbers, higher costs and the impact of strike action.

The flag carrier lost £531m ($766m) in the 12 months to March - BA's biggest loss since it was privatised in 1987.

That adds to the £401m it lost in the 2008-9 financial year, but as it was less than expected, BA shares rose.

Do bear in mind, however, that this does not include losses from the volcanic ash cloud—which could push BA even further into the red.
The results come as BA faces 15 more days of strike action by cabin crew, due to begin on Monday.

I cannot articulate how bloody stupid I think that Unite's leaders are—Tony Woodley and his merry crew are going to bankrupt BA. Many thousands of people—most of whom are not members of a union—will find themselves in the dole queue.

And what will happen to Woodley's precious union members then...?

Oh, wait: that's right—they will get massive redundancy pay-outs, courtesy of the British taxpayer.

I really hate the bloody Unions.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Voices of Freedom

Voices of Freedom is a series of debates hosted by The Free Society.

Whilst I, of course, welcome the more liberal policies of Our New Coalition Overlords—and would like to remind them that, as a very slightly respected (or at least popular) blogger, I can be useful in rounding up the population to toil in their underground tax mines—it is worth bearing in mind that these people are still very far from being libertarian.

There may well be a small leavening of the state's intrusion into the tiniest aspects of our lives but, despite the dire financial situation, Our New Coalition Overlords are still barely scratching the surface when it comes to shrinking the state.

Unlike the Labour Party however, they are at least heading in the right direction and it is thus worth pushing for more: this lot are, at least, more likely to listen to our supplications rather than dismiss them utterly as the ravings of disgusting free-market loons.

As such, your humble Devil is happy to be taking part in the a series of debates, hosted by The Free Society and gathering together people from across the libertarian spectrum, called Voices of Freedom: the press release runs as follows...

The battle against Big Government—join the debate!

The Free Society, an offshoot of the smokers’ lobby group Forest, today announced an exciting new programme of events that will take place in London in June.

In association with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the Adam Smith Institute, Big Brother Watch, The Manifesto Club and Liberal Vision, The Free Society is hosting a series of debates entitled Voices of Freedom: The Battle Against Big Government.

Subjects include ‘Economic Freedom in Welfare’, ‘Big Government is Watching You’, ‘Can a Big Society be a Free Society?’, ‘Hyper-Regulation and the Bully State’; and ‘Who Holds the Liberal Torch in 2010?’.

The debates will be chaired by Mark Littlewood, general-director of the IEA; Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas; James Panton, co-founder of The Manifesto Club; and political blogger Iain Dale. They will be held at the IEA on 3, 10, 5, 24 and 29 June.

Speakers currently include Philip Davies MP; Brendan O’Neill (editor, online magazine Spiked!); Michael White, assistant editor of the Guardian; Ross Clark, author of The Road To Southend: One Man's Struggle Against the Surveillance Society; Dr Eamonn
Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute; Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch and former chief of staff to David Cameron; Dr Tim Evans, president of the Libertarian Alliance; freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke; Chris Mounsey, leader of the Libertarian party; Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club; and journalist Philip Johnston, author of Bad Laws: An Explosive Analysis of Britain’s Petty Rules, Health and Safety Lunacies and Madcap Laws. More speakers will be confirmed shortly.

Announcing the series of events, Simon Clark, director of Forest and The Free Society, said: “The Conservatives say they are going to tackle Big Government while the deputy prime minister, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, says he wants to ‘transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state’.

“Voices of Freedom: The Battle Against Big Government will hold the Conservative-Lib Dem administration to account. Our goal is a society that adopts a sensible and pragmatic approach to social and economic affairs, trusting people to make their own decisions about how best to live their lives, mindful of the effect their behaviour may have on other people.”

Welcoming the series of debates, Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “The emergence of a Conservative-Liberal coalition government might now provide the opportunity for a politics based around individual freedom and responsibility, rather than government diktat. The new prime minister and deputy prime minister use the language of liberty, but will they have the guts and determination to actually put Big Government into reverse gear?

It should be an interesting series of debates; the one in which your humble Devil is taking part is the final one...


Libertarians, Lib Dems or the “liberal elite”?

Tuesday June 29, 2010
IEA, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster, London SW1

Chaired by Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), speakers include Julian Harris (chairman, Liberal Vision), Chris Mounsey (leader, Libertarian party), Brendan O’Neill (editor, Spiked!) and Michael White (assistant editor, Guardian)

Do come along!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Labour is not the opposition... The civil service is."

Via Dick Puddlecote, this NewScientist blog entry welcomes Our New Coalition Overlords' "astonishingly libertarian agenda" as regards civil liberties, but also warns that the civil service may well try to block many of the changes.
Facebook's Richard Allan, a former Liberal Democrat MP steeped in the traditions of Westminster, predicts the real challenge to the surveillance state rollback will be national security-related pressure from civil servants:
"In meetings with ministers, they will always say they need to keep a record of everything that anyone has ever said on the internet because they once caught somebody that no-one knew about that way."

"Labour is not the opposition," agrees [Privacy International's policy director, Gus] Hosein. "The civil service is."

I have no doubt that this is true: the civil service have long since ceased to serve anyone—it views itself as master of both politicos and citizens.

Which is why I have maintained for some time that, were I in government, my very first act would be to sack every, single civil servant in at least the top three grades. Not only would this make it much easier to get a radical agenda through, it would provide a massive shock for those who think that a civil service job is for life, and would also save large amounts of money. Plus, of course, it would be thoroughly hilarious to see the looks of shock and outrage on the once-smug faces of the assorted Sir Humphreys.

Sounds like a winner to me...

In Europe, ruled by Europe...*

Via the ever-scathing EU Referendum, I see that Our Delightful New Coalition of Doom is about to break the first of its promises.
David Cameron’s fledgling coalition Government faced its first major test in Europe last night as European regulators looked set to push through controversial new hedge fund and private equity regulations despite fierce opposition from the new administration.

In the face of last-ditch lobbying by UK officials during the past two days, the European Parliament looks set to go ahead with a draconian crackdown on alternative investment fund managers early next week.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, is likely to be in Brussels for the agreement on the new rules, which are being driven by France and Germany. He is expected to try to extract a compromise but is resigned to the vote going against him, as he believes that the process is too far advanced for him to intervene.

Now, the EU Relations part of the agreement which brought us Our Delightful New Coalition of Doom states how we should deal with this really rather clearly.
We agree that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament.

OK. So, if this legislation goes through the EU, it will obviously be a "further transfer of sovereignty or powers" and so Our Delightful New Coalition of Doom will...

... er...

... do what?

Now, my bet is that they will sit back and take it. Does anyone disagree...?

* Obviously, this should be "in the EU, ruled by the EU".

Like the turn of a page, or a change of gear...*

Ah, technology! How do we love thee? Let me count the ways...

... later. Right now, the normally non-sweary Ministry of Type has a gripe that he needs to get off his chest.
Then we get to the real fake-Georgian pediment over the front door, the overly-shiny brassy door furniture, the PVC window frames, something that infests reading software rather than dedicated e-reader hardware (but is no less annoying for it): yes, it’s the page turn animation. Oh how these software producers love their page turn animations. They might not make a big deal about their font selection, their crappy justification algorithms or even the number of books you can buy through their store, but they will always make a great big bloody feature of their sodding page turns, even the app I pointed to above. Even if an app doesn’t have these damn things, you get the impression they’re working on adding them. In a book, an actual dead-tree book, you don’t notice turning the page because it’s just part of what a book is. That’s how you get to the next bit of text. The whole idea of pages bound like that is an artifact of a particular printing technology — it’s the nature of the delivery medium, not the message. So when we have a digital book, we’re using technology that has its own set of conventions, its own restrictions and its own freedoms, and every bit of digital technology has some means of moving through any arbitrary content: a keyboard has cursor keys, page up and page down keys, a mouse has a scroll wheel, laptops have trackpads with scroll areas, and smartphones have touchscreens, joysticks or D-pads. But no. Those aren’t good enough. They’re not booky enough. You’re going to be reading Ullysses on this thing, War and Peace, The Illiad with this thing for crying out loud! You can’t sully things like that with a scroll wheel! You’re supposed to be imagining reverentially turning the thick, musty, ancient pages in some great national library somewhere, worshipping at the altar of Knowledge! Never mind the story! Never mind leaving you free to just read! No, every 250 words, perform the gesture, watch the animation!

Just let me scroll, please? I’ve been reading stuff off the screen seriously for what, 15 years? More? Scrolling is fine, you know.

Like Aesir, I'm not interested in the state of e-readers (or whatever) themselves. Nor have I ever used an e-book reader. But I have watched the videos of those page-turning animations and thought...

... o god, why?

* From the excellent Waterboys song, Good News.

New debts? What a surprise...

I'm sure that no one saw this coming...
THE government last night accused Labour of pursuing a “scorched earth policy” before the general election, leaving behind billions of pounds of previously hidden spending commitments.

The newly discovered Whitehall “black holes” could force even more severe public spending cuts, or higher tax rises, ministers fear.

Memo to the taxpayers of Britain: get ready for a massive shafting.
The “black holes” that ministers have already unearthed include:

- A series of defence contracts signed shortly before the election, including a £13 billion tanker aircraft programme whose cost has “astonished and baffled” ministers.

- £420m of school building contracts, many targeting Labour marginals, signed off by Ed Balls, the former schools secretary, weeks before the general election was called.

- The troubled £1.2 billion “e-borders” IT project for the immigration service, which, sources say, is running even later and more over-budget than Labour ministers had admitted.

- A crisis in the student loans company where extra cash may be needed to prevent a repeat of last year’s failure to process tens of thousands of claims on time.

- The multi-billion-pound cost of decommissioning old nuclear power plants, which ministers claim has not been properly accounted for in Whitehall budgets.

- A £600m computer contract for the new personal pensions account scheme rushed through by Labour this year, which will still cost at least £25m even if it is cancelled.

Maude, who has been given the task of reducing Whitehall waste, insisted that ministers were not scaremongering to paint their predecessors in a negative light. He said there was widespread concern that Labour had become particularly spendthrift in the run-up to the election campaign.

Given the scale on which Labour have been spending for the last ten years, the fact that they have become "particularly spendthrift in the run-up to the election campaign"—whilst hardly surprising—should worry us all very, very deeply.

Mainly because we are going to have to dig very, very deeply into our pockets in order to pay for it all.
With speculation growing that Osborne is planning to announce an increase in Vat from 17.5% to 20% next month, there are growing fears he could face a tax revolt from left-leaning Lib Dem backbenchers.

Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes said on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: “Our party remains an independent party. We will take views. We don’t suddenly change our policy.”

As I said, get ready for another election very, very soon...

The illusion of sovereignty

Rowan Atkinson Zapatero tells it like it is. But he's gonna get told...

Well, well... The EU finally decided that it is in a strong enough position to shed the sheep's clothing and show us just exactly what they have planned.
Commission president Jose Barroso unveiled plans for EU control over national budgets, including an incendiary demand that Brussels should vet budgets before their first reading in Westminster, the Bundestag, and other parliaments.

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the iron fist inside the velvet glove.
Such a plan would greatly improve the working of the EMU system, but it would also entail a drastic erosion of sovereignty.

No shit.

This is interesting from anyone's perspective but most pertinently from that of our Super Coalition of Doom—as Timmy points out.
Essentially, the end of any fiscal or economic independence.

Going to be interesting in that coalition government really….the most eurosceptic of the large parties in alliance with the most federast of them...

How much fun is this going to be, eh? Mind you, the exciting agreement between these two delightful parties does deal with the whole EU bug-bear...
We agree that the British Government will be a positive participant in the European Union, playing a strong and positive role with our partners, with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty.

We agree that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament. We will examine the balance of the EU’s existing competences and will, in particular, work to limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the United Kingdom.

We agree that we will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future Treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that Treaty – a ‘referendum lock’. We will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that the use of any passerelle would require primary legislation.

We will examine the case for a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority remains with Parliament.

We agree that Britain will not join or prepare to join the Euro in this Parliament.

We agree that we will strongly defend the UK’s national interests in the forthcoming EU budget negotiations and that the EU budget should only focus on those areas where the EU can add value.

We agree that we will press for the European Parliament only to have one seat, in Brussels.

We agree that we will approach forthcoming legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case by case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting Britain’s civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system. Britain will not participate in the establishment of any European Public Prosecutor.

Well, that seems pretty clear. Obviously it isn't stated explicitly, but I would assume that the EU taking control of our economy would count as a "further transfer of sovereignty or powers" to Brussels...?

But then again, as far as most people were concerned, the Lisbon Treaty was the same as the EU Constitution—but the politicians disagreed.

I'd start getting ready for another general election if I were you.

Either that, or bloody revolution...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Climate denier

The New Scientist: it's like Glaciergate never happened...

Is there anyone in the world worse than that appalling arse, Johann Hari? Yes, I would rather have a humbled Gordon Brown to tea than this prissy, authoritarian little shit. But, perhaps Hari's awfulness is a post for another time: for this little fewtril, I shall simply use one of Hari's repulsive screeds to introduce a rather more reasonable point of view.
Clegg deserves real credit for these changes – although it will be very hard to get any of this past the parliamentary Conservative party, who are now even more right-wing than before. To pluck just one example: an incredible 91 per cent of them don't believe man-made global warming exists.

Riiiight, Johann: and these people are loons? Perhaps they are sceptics or—horror of horrors!—deniers?

Well, I will take on the mantle of "denier", but only in the same way as Climate Skeptic does.
By the way, as I said in the intro to my last video, I have chosen to embrace the title of denier – with one proviso. Being a denier implies that one is denying some kind of proposition, so I am sure thoughtful people would agree that it is important to be clear on the proposition that is being denied. For example, I always found the term “climate denier” to be hilarious. You mean there are folks who deny there is a climate?

I don’t deny that climate changes – it changes all the time. I don’t deny there is global warming – global temperatures are higher today than they were in 1900, just as they were higher in 1200 AD than they were in 900. I don’t even deny that man is contributing somewhat to the warming, not just from CO2 but from effects like changes in land use. What I deny is the catastrophe — that man’s actions are leading to catastrophic changes in the climate. I believe many scientists have grossly over-estimated the sensitivity of temperatures to CO2 by grossly overestimating the net positive feedback in the climate system. And I think much of the work assigning consequences to even small increases in global temperatures – from tornadoes to hurricanes to lizard extinction – is frankly crap. While I think the first mistake (around sensitivity) is an honest error, some day scientists will look back on the horrendous “science” of the consequences of warming and be ashamed.

Climate Skeptic is referring to the latest issue of The New Scientist—a magazine which shut the hell up about climate change after it realised that one of its own interviews had been used in the IPCC's ARA4. Unfortunately, it seems that, having triggered Glaciergate, the silly sods have picked up the baton of CACC again.
It strikes me that a real scientific magazine that was actually seeking truth would, if it wanted to dedicate a whole issue to the climate debate, actually create a print debate between skeptics and alarmists to educate its readers. If the alarmist case is so obvious, and its readers so smugly superior in their intellect, surely this would be the most powerful possible way to debunk skeptics. Instead, the New Scientist chose, in a phrase I saw the other day and loved, to take a flamethrower to a field of straw men.

The New Scientist: a magazine fit only for those who know stuff all about science.

Nothing really changes, eh?

NHS Fail Wail

I think that we can all agree that the UK's response to coronavirus has been somewhat lacking. In fact, many people asserted that our de...