Friday, March 30, 2012

Against State Funding of Political Parties

Another party funding scandal inevitably means that the call would go up from somewhere for state funding of political parties. And, lo and behold, it arrives – in the form of The New Statesman’s. Mehdi Hasan. He starts as he means to go on (i.e. idiotically):

Would you be willing to fork out 50p a year to help clean up British politics? I don't know about you but I would. Happily. So, too, would the Independent's Mary Ann Sieghart

To answer your question, Mehdi, no I would not be willing to spend a single fucking penny on funding British parties which – given it keeps the same old shit in power – would not “clean up politics” but merely perpetuate the status quo. And the fact that a journalist for The New Statesman and The Independent proves precisely nothing.

The article then rambles on, presenting a largely tedious case for state funding that life is too short to really engage with. The real meat of this article, though, come when Hasan attempts to rebut the objections people have to state funding if political parties:

Let's deal with the two most common objections to state funding: the practical one and the principled one. The practical one says that in our "age of austerity" and in the wake of the afore-mentioned expenses scandal, it would be near-impossible to persuade the public to sign up to state funding, to having the revenue from their precious taxes diverted towards political parties.

Which strikes me as a pretty good objection; every penny spent on saving David Cameron from having to have dinner with an opinionated business man is a penny that isn’t spent elsewhere. It is also – given what Hasan is effectively calling for here is a new annual tax – money that has to be taken from a tax paying public already stretched to the hilt. The practical side to this really is rather important. But not to Hasan:

For a start, the 50p figure, in my view, is sellable to Joe Public. Come on, it's the cost of a first-class stamp! Warsi talks of "£100m" (I assume she gets this amount from adding up the £23m-per-annum cost over four years) as if it some huge, unaffordable sum of public money. Yet, in December, her leader, the Prime Minister, clicked his fingers and doubled the budget for the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics - from £40m to £80m. That we can afford? Really? But we can't spare £100m over four years to clean up British politics? To help fix a broken, discredited and unpopular party funding system? Critics of state funding refer to it as the "state funding of politicians" which, of course, is a phrase that turns off voters. Supporters of reform, therefore, should refer to it as the "state funding of democracy".

Well, it is the cost of a first class stamp only for now. Besides, I would rather spend that money on a first class stamp than on political parties. And this notion that because Cameron is spending more money on the Olmypics more money can be spent on political parties is an argument drowning in its own lack of logic. Firstly, the state funding of political parties and the Olympics are completely different things. Secondly, the fact that Cameron is willing to spend more money in one area does not make it right to spend it either there or in another area. And frankly we don’t have the money to spend on the Olympics, so spending even more money on an even less worthy cause is the very definition of stupid.

And critics call this the “state funding of politicians” because it is the state funding of politicians. The state already funds democracy through the administration of elections; Hasan’s proposal is effectively the state funding of the status quo.

Then there's the so-called principle behind opposing such funding. It's wrong, say the critics, for the state to fund political parties. It's undemocratic and statist. This is nonsense. First, free-market, small-government America has no such "principled" objection to the state funding of presidential candidates - in 2008, Republican candidate John McCain turned down "matching funds" in the primaries but then took them in the general election.

I’m pretty sure that you could find a lot of people in America who do object to state funding of politicians. And John McCain, with the best will in the world, is hardly a radical libertarian politician. Furthermore, the fact that he did something in a floundering campaign proves nothing; It doesn’t make state funding of political parties either practical or right.

Second, the same political parties and politicians who say state funding is wrong in principle refuse to acknowledge or recognise that we already have a form of state funding: it's called "short money"… In 2009/10, the Tory opposition led by David Cameron took £4m in taxpayer-funded short money; in 2010/11, Labour under Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband took £4.6m.

So what? Again So what? The fact that Cameron and Miliband Minor did something does not make it a right or a good thing to have done. There is a crucial difference between the right thing to do and the self-serving thing to do.

So let's have a little less moralising from our politicians about the supposed evils of state funding. They should just get on with fixing our broken system of party funding. The status quo is unsustainable - and an embarrassment.

It may very well be true that status quo is an embarrassment, but there is nothing in Hasan’s account that suggests that his solution is any better than the status quo. Indeed, his solution is all about preserving the status quo; it is about funding the main parties already in existence. What he argues for – and what everyone who argues for state funding of political parties – is political parties as welfare recipients; as the clients of the very system the purport to run and change.

So by all means change the way parties are funded; state enforced caps and state offered funding are not the way forward - particularly since much of the problem comes from the inability of parties to obtain funding by actually inspiring the public to give their hard-earned cash to them voluntarily.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The problem with healthcare

Some of you might have noticed that there is a lively debate going on in the US Supreme Court over the so-called Obama-care Programme. Whilst the wife has been avidly reading the transcripts—with some interest, outrage and amusement—we have been debating the more general point of how healthcare is delivered.

It's a tricky subject—not least because it is emotive and, as such, tends to give rise to bad headlines for politicians when the inevitable rationing happens. Because the really big problem with all healthcare systems is that there simply isn't enough money to pay for what is desired (if not absolutely required).

All of these debates about the actual delivery and payment of healthcare—both here and in the US—simply doesn't address the basic problem of healthcare being massively expensive. I would like to posit some reasons, and put forward some hopes of solutions.

The first pressing problem is that healthcare services are extremely prone to Baumol's cost disease.
In line with the government’s 2% inflation target, the Treasury’s assumption is that productivity in the economy as a whole will rise at 2% a year and pay at an average of 4%. Hence, if pay in the public services is to remain competitive with that outside, it must rise on average by about 4% a year. So to be able to afford the same number of staff in any particular service, expenditure also needs to go up by 4% a year – a “real increase” of 2%. The problem for services, such as health and education, and for the armed forces, is that they need such a “real increase” to keep the same number of staff to maintain existing standards, because there is little or no room for improving productivity.

As Timmy points out, there are ways to mitigate for this—particularly in how services are delivered.
The reason being that productivity in services is merely more difficult to improve, not impossible. Only if you say that a near monolothic organisation of 1.4 million people is the most efficient manner of delivering health care to 60 million people can you say that the NHS productivity cannot be improved. And that certainly ain’t an argument I’m going to try and make.

One obvious method of improving efficiency would be to abolish national pay bargaining... but no one has the balls to try that as yet unfortunately.

There were rumours that Osborne was going to do so in this budget and certainly is seems that the government is moving that way. And there is no doubt that the NHS could be run more efficiently—especially if the providers were not run by the government and thus had some efficient way of measuring quality.

One of the biggest goals in healthcare service delivery must be to adopt the strategy of manufacturing and remove, as far as possible, as many people from the delivery as possible. Now, there are many ways to do this, but one of the most exciting is to harness new technologies as much as possible—like, for instance, being able tobuild new organs or even print new kidneys (truly amazing video)!

Just think: although it's still a prototype (both printer and organ), that machine can print a new kidney in seven hours. And that kidney can be printed from the recipient's cells.

Just consider the cost reductions over conventional treatment—no cost of keeping the patient on dialysis for months or years whilst waiting for a donor; no surgical teams required to remove the organs from the donor; no need to go through the whole thing again to replace the organ after ten years; no drugs required to deal with rejection nor having to treat the patient for the panoply of diseases inevitable with immunosuppressant therapies.

We are on the cusp of a healthcare revolution—where technology really can start to make healthcare delivery cheaper.

One of the other big costs is drugs, and this is largely a political problem. To make you marvel and to illustrate this point, I'd like to introduce you to bexarotene. Bexarotene is a cancer drug that has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for a decade (this is important later on).

Now, bexarotene has been shown to be immensely effective in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease—not only can it slow it, but it seems likely that the drug can actually reverse the effects.
In the study described below, the cancer drug Bexarotene quickly and dramatically improved brain function and social ability and restored the sense of smell in mice bred with a form of Alzheimer's disease.

Within hours of taking the drug, amyloid plaques began to clear out of the mice’s brains. After three days, more than 50 percent of the Alzheimer’s plaques had disappeared, and the mice regained some of the cognitive and memory functions typically lost in Alzheimer's disease.

Neuroscientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have made a dramatic breakthrough in their efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers’ findings, published in the journal Science, show that use of a drug in mice appears to quickly reverse the pathological, cognitive and memory deficits caused by the onset of Alzheimer’s. The results point to the significant potential that the medication, bexarotene, has to help the roughly 5.4 million Americans suffering from the progressive brain disease.

Sounds pretty cool, yes? Alzheimer's is not only an incredibly expensive disease to treat, it is extremely distressing.

When I worked as an Auxiliary Nurse in a medical centre, I saw people with progressive brain disorders such as Alzheimer's. One woman was nothing more than a still moving shell of a human being—no thinking human being existed inside her. She simply wandered about making a soft ululation day after day: when she got to a wall, like a wind-up toy, she just kept walking and walking against the wall.

Another time, I had to comfort a twelve year old boy because his father no longer recognised him. These patients had been there for years—at a cost of more than £1k a week—and would be there for years more.

A drug that could stop all of this would be amazing. But there are a couple of problems.

First, bexarotene is pretty expensive.
How much does Targretin (Bexarotene) cost?

Targretin is a tier 5 drug, this means it is very expensive. An Internet search indicated that 30, 75mg capsules cost $1,156.64.

Now, we might guess that this is probably still considerably less than £1,000 a week (minimum) in a nursing home but actually we don't know—and herein lies the rub.

Despite being approved for the treatment of cancer at specified doses, bexarotene, and the dosage, would need to be re-approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer's. And, as we all know, that kind of testing costs a lot of cash.

Will the drug company stump up for it? No. Why? Because bexarotene is about to come out of patent.
Unfortunately, the drug is going to have to go through several rounds of clinical testing before the drug is approved for Alzheimer's. This will takes years.

Will the drug ever get tested and get approved by the FDA for Alzheimer's? The current drug Targretin is scheduled to lose its patent in 2016. So, in order for Targretin to be financed into a Phase 3 clinical trial it will need to be re-engineered and re-patented to make the numbers work. In other words, it is unlikely that anyone is going to step up and finance the testing of a drug that is likely to be an available generic by the time it is approved for Alzheimer's patients.

And there we have the big problem with drug development.

It takes something like 8 years and $600 million to get a drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of humans. Those are big numbers, and it is why we have Big Pharma. I know a couple of people in Edinburgh who run small drug research labs; when they find something promising, they sell the patent to Big Pharma because only big corporations have the colossal amounts of cash required to get a drug to market.

And the patent life for a drug is, if I recall correctly, about 14 years. So, you spend 8 years bringing a drug to market and then you have about 6 years to recoup over half a billion dollars. As the Americans would say, you do the math.

This problem is only going to get worse as we move towards personalised treatments; if the regulatory agencies insist that every drug tailored to an individual—because that is the kind of breakthrough that we are looking at—need to go through this kind of approval process, then we may as well kiss tailored treatment goodbye.

There needs to be a fundamental rethinking of drug regulation: either it needs to be relaxed, or the patent life needs to be extended.

So, both technology and relaxed regulation can play a part in ensuring that we—the customer—get more healthcare for our limited resources, i.e. cash. But, you can bet that these innovations will be fought tooth and nail.

The medical establishment and the unions will fight to the bitter end to protect their own interests—as we have seen with the Healthcare Bill in this country. After all, the bastards of the BMA were happy to destroy the Friendly Societies and oppose the NHS because they believed that each of them were opposed to doctors' interests—they couldn't care less about patients and never have. The same applies to all of the other trades unions.

And governments love their regulation, oh yes. And so do big corporations because they are set up to deal with them. The people who lose out are... well... we poor idiots who pay for it all.

Technology will make us freer, happier and richer than ever before: the forces of conservatism will stop that if they can...

A modest proposal

The Quote of the Day comes from The Commentator (although, admittedly, it's actually from Friday), where Simon Miller echoes my long-standing contempt for most parts of the electorate.
And you know what? It is our fault. We constantly demand that the government should do something about a situation. Instead of common sense, instead of saying to our leaders “listen we’re adults, give us our money back, give us our freedoms back and we’ll sort ourselves out” we and the fast food media demand that nanny helps us.

Well nanny has spent all our money, taxed us to high heaven and is gradually removing all aspects of the rule of law through retrospective actions and interfering dogma. Instead of shrilling about this and that, we should give a simple message to these politicians, this is our country and it is our money you are spending. We are permanent; it is you that is temporary.

Quite. He actually uses another example that has pissed me off too—that of "low tax" aficionados who bitch and moan about families on fat salaries losing Child Benefit.

I consider Child Benefit to be one of the most stupid, pernicious and suicidal pay-outs ever invented—and it is not simply that I object to being robbed to pay for other people's lifestyles (although I do). It is because its very purpose is to encourage those on the margins—i.e. those who are not mature, sensible or intelligent enough to look after themselves, let alone a child—to have children.

And what is the result? Those who are vaguely successful are taxed to buggery, thus ensuring that they wait longer and have fewer children; in the meantime, the country is rife with a growing underclass of disenfranchised, ill-educated and hopeless youths who have neither the drive nor the wherewithal to ever look after themselves.

And before people start whining about this view being tantamount to eugenics (as I'm sure some will), it most certainly is not. Not paying people to do something is totally different from rounding up those you consider undesirable and systematically having them castrated or spayed.

And no—neither am I denying anyone their Human Rights: whilst having the choice to spawn might be a fundamental right of being alive, forcing other people to pay for them is not.

And, whilst we are about it, let's stop with the whole "we're leaving our children with oodles of debt" argument too: one way and another, a very great deal of that debt has been spent on them—their Child Benefit, their housing, their education, their Educational Maintenance Grants, their Child Bonds (or whatever it was called), and their parents' Working Tax credits (so they could pay for their kids).

That little lot adds up to well over £100 billion per annum—and I'm not counting every other expensive initiative that is done "for the sake of the chiiiiiiillllldren"—so I reckon that it's fair enough that the kiddie winks should be the ones to pay some of it back.

Come the rolling black-outs in 2014, I reckon that coal fires are going to become immensely popular again, as people struggle to keep warm.

So, start training your little darling now and, in a couple of years time, your little urchin can be earning a fine living up the chimneys—as well as doing their bit to pay back their debts.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A open letter to David Cameron

I have just sent the following email to the office of the Buttered New Potato...

I have attempted to send said email: alas, the only way to contact the Buttered New Potato electronically is to use the Number 10 submission form—which limits you to 1000 characters. So, do I break it up into several emails, just send him the link or shall I print it out and post it in the old-fashioned way?

Or, since all the Tory grandees seem to be reading him at present, perhaps Guido would be kind enough to ask on your humble Devil's behalf...?

Answers on a postcard or, preferably, in the comments below.

Anyway, on with the fun...
Dear Mr Cameron,

I am writing to ask you—as politely as I can—what you think you are playing at as regards the minimum pricing of alcohol?

Since you are Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, I assume that you have a great many researchers and advisors (who will, no doubt, be the only ones who read this); as such, I am forced to assume that you also know that:
  1. the amount of alcohol consumption has been steadily dropping over the last ten years;

  2. the proportion of people drinking more than their recommended weekly units is also on a solid downward trajectory;

  3. this is true even amongst "the young";

  4. the nation's alcohol consumption has dropped by about 20% in 5 years;

  5. these figures come from your Office for National Statistics' General Lifestyle Survey—helpfully summarised by Chris Snowdon.

Further, you will also know that:
  1. about 4 years ago, Richard Smith—a member of the Royal College of Physicians group that produced the report on which the recommended weekly units are based—told The Times that "... it’s impossible to say what’s safe and what isn’t... we don’t really have any data whatsoever... Those limits were really plucked out of the air. They were not based on any firm evidence at all. It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee" (no longer generally available online but also reported by The Register);

  2. the ONS changed assumed that people were drinking bigger glasses of stronger alcohol in 2007, thus producing a strong upward trend where none actually existed (as measured in volume of pure alcohol)—Myth 1, here;

  3. although you were recently quoted as saying "When beer is cheaper than water, it’s just too easy for people to get drunk on cheap alcohol at home...", this is, in fact, not true. Alcohol is not cheaper than water, even bottled water—Myth 5, here;

  4. alcohol is roughly 20% more expensive, in real terms, than in 1980 (the year often quoted as a yardstick)—Myth 2, here;

  5. that alcohol, smoking and obesity actually cost health systems less money than "healthy people" due to their tendency to die younger.

Finally, for the moment, I will also assume that you know that the EU has already said that minimum price fixing is illegal under Free Trade rules—for both alcohol and cigarettes, e.g. media reports here (Ireland's attempt to set a minimum price for tobacco), here (Scotland's minimum alcohol price), here (an EC Council Directive on tobacco which lays out the judgement on minimum pricing of anything), and references to two other cases here.

Let us leave aside whether the minimum pricing of alcohol is a suitable policy initiative for a man who said, in 2008, "The era of big, bossy, state interference, top-down lever pulling is coming to an end". Yes, we'll leave that—no one actually expected you to keep such a promise, nor any others about restoration of our freedoms.

No—what I am asking is why you would adopt such an illegal, regressive and illiberal policy when you yourself must know that the problem that minimum pricing is supposed to solve simply doesn't exist?

And given that you must know all of the above, why you continue to tell lies to the public?



I look forward to publishing the Prime Minister's response.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Minimum price for alcohol

So, David "buttered new potato" Cameron—the man who once said "The era of big, bossy, state interference, top-down lever pulling is coming to an end."—has announced that he intends to pass a law setting a minimum price per unit for booze.
The Prime Minister is to say: “Binge drinking isn’t some fringe issue, it accounts for half of all alcohol consumed in this country.

What? How the fuck can he possibly determine that? I call "bollocks" on that one.
“The crime and violence it causes drains resources in our hospitals, generates mayhem on our streets and spreads fear.

Sure, alcohol-fuelled crimes are deeply unpleasant. So, the solution is to stop accepting drunkenness as mitigation when convicting people.
“When beer is cheaper than water, it’s just too easy for people to get drunk on cheap alcohol at home before they even set foot in a pub."

Oh, this old canard lie again. As my colleague, the Filthy Smoker, pointed out in his Five Myths About Alcohol post (back in 2009), alcohol is not cheaper than water.
This doozy is a favourite of pretend charity Alcohol Concern and has been repeated many times...

Let's ignore for a moment the obvious point that someone wanting to buy water is hardly likely to buy lager on an impulse instead. Let's even ignore the fact that water comes out of the tap for 0.02p per glass.

Instead, let's look at Tesco's own brand lager. Here it is.

It costs 91p for a 4-pack, or 5.2p per 100ml.

And here's Tesco's own brand mineral water.

It costs 13p, or 0.7p per 100ml.

So please can we put this one to bed now?

Apparently not, because the leader of this country is repeating it. Again. Given the number of advisers the man must have, it's hardly even worth applying the Polly Conundrum* because Cameron must be lying.

So, what else does the scumbag has to say to justify this massively illiberal act?
“So we are going to introduce a new minimum unit price—so for the first time it will be illegal for shops to sell alcohol for less than this set price per unit.

“We’re consulting on the actual price, but if it is 40p that could mean 50,000 fewer crimes each year and 900 fewer alcohol-related deaths per year by the end of the decade."

So they're "consulting on the actual price", are they? So, given that we know the usual suspects, let's think who they'll consult...
  • The BMA and other assorted medical charlatans: they'll be for a much higher price, because their massive salaries will bear it and they are a bunch of interfering, self-righteous, patrician arseholes.

  • Alcohol Concern, Alliance House Foundation, and other fake charities: they'll be for a much higher price because they are insane, temperance supporters and, besides, telling the government what they want to hear is what the government funds them for.

  • Drink companies, pubs and off-licences: they'll be for higher prices (within limits) because they will get a fuckload more cash.

So, the ordinary people of this country are going to get royally stitched-up, eh?
“I know this won’t be universally popular."

Well, it'll be popular with those groups outlined above.
"But the responsibility of being in government isn’t always about doing the popular thing. It’s about doing the right thing.”

The right thing, you pompous prig, would be to leave people to go to hell in whatever way they choose, frankly. As your Deputy Prime Minister once said, "Taking people’s freedom away didn’t make our streets safe."

In the same article, Clegg also said...
... the Government wanted to establish “a fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge”.

Excuse me whilst I let out a hollow, derisory laugh.

As ever, the brilliant Chris Snowdon has done some sterling work on this issue, so forgive me whilst I quote large chunks of this neat round-up post.
I have written much about this subject on this blog in the last two years—that campaigners have used statistics dishonestly to promote the policy; that it is very likely to be illegal under EU law; that pub chains have gone all bootleggers 'n' baptists in their rent-seeking; that the BBC has bent over backwards to amplify the voice of temperance groups; that the government has used public money to lobby itself.

I see minimum pricing as a sister policy to plain packaging in that it will give the government an unprecedented right to impose its will on the free market. Sin taxes and health warnings are one thing. Having the government setting prices and seizing control of a product's entire packaging is quite another. These are powers that the government has never had in our peacetime history (correct me if you can think of an example to the contrary) and they are being taken without any kind of rational debate. The binge-drinking 'epidemic' is a modern moral panic which will baffle sociologists for years to come, and the packaging of cigarettes would be trivial if it were not such a blatant trampling of private and intellectual property.

As James Nicholls wrote recently:
That it is the Tories, rather than Labour, who have been first to throw their weight behind minimum pricing is remarkable enough: it is, after all, a concept entirely at odds with free market principles. 

Indeed. It is especially disappointing—though not surprising—of a government that came to power promising to restore freedom to this country. The so-called Freedom Bill seems to have been shelved and, whilst the Coalition seems to suffer less from legislatory diarrhoea than their predecessors, they are quietly carrying on with the job of removing more of our liberties.

Chris goes on to make this prediction...
Nothing—absolutely nothing—is more certain than that within weeks, perhaps days, of minimum pricing being introduced, you will hear the usual shrill voices complaining that 45p, or 50p, is mere "pocket money" and the minimum price should be 60p, 70p, 80p, £1 a unit. What hope can we have that the government will stand up to them then?

... and, sure enough, this little gem appeared in the Telegraph on Friday.
Minimum alcohol price 'could be higher than 40p per unit'

Drinkers face paying more than 40p per unit of alcohol under a minimum price scheme to tackle the country's binge-drinking problem, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has indicated.

Now, Chris Snowdon has studied the tactics of temperance loons—and published two excellent books about them: Velvet Glove, Iron Fist and The Art of Suppression**—but most of us, I think, would easily have predicted this move.

See, it's brilliant for the temperance movement: it's a campaign that they can continue to fight (thus continuing to justify their existence and, thus, their dollops of taxpayer-extorted cash) through demands ever higher prices, until eventually moving in for the ban.

Hmmm, that tactic sounds somewhat familiar...

Did I mention that fags have got even more expensive in the Budget?

Anyway, over at the ASI, Timmy is incensed...
This is the most monumentally insane, stupid and illiberal nonsense that we've had imposed upon us in years. There have been things more illiberal, yes, but not insane at the same time. I'll leave you to fill in the (...)s in the title there for I'm afraid that my carpet biting outrage at this silliness might lead me to become intemperate in my language. Idiots just isn't strong enough.

As Sam points out a lot of the detailed heavy lifting on this has been done by Chris Snowden, sometimes of this parish. Alcohol consumption is falling, definitions of "binge drinking" are ludicrous, the statistics on alcohol related hospital admissions are nonsense (they are assumed, not counted or calculated), boozers, smokers and lardbuckets save the NHS money, not cost it and anyway, what is this interference in our charting our own way from cradle to inevitable grave? Not to say that it's regressive in distribution.

There is worse though than just entirely shakey evidential support (much of it cooked up by people paid by the government to lobby the government) and gross illiberalism. There's actual stupidity as well in at least two points. The first is that minimum pricing is almost certainly illegal. We even have case law on the point.

The second is so glaringly, inanely, stupid that it even has the European Commission on the right side of the point. And yes, you know someone has to have been really barmcaked to have managed to get them on the right side of any question more complex than the cuteness of kittens:
The European Commission sounded a warning to Britain about the policy, saying it believed “minimum tax rates to be preferable to minimum pricing for alcohol”.

“Minimum tax rates put all products on an equal footing from a market perspective, whereas minimum prices can increase the profit margin of products with the lowest production cost,” a spokesman said.

Let us assume that all of the evidence is in fact sound: that there is an outbreak of binge drinking, that this is doing harm and that higher alcohol prices will reduce these evils and harms. How magnificently chocolate teapot do you have to be to insist that that extra money from the higher prices goes to brewers and supermarkets rather than into the Treasury? If you're going to sting the boozers because they've been naughty boys and girls then the least you can do is reduce the tax burden on others, no? Instead of pumping up the profits of some favoured sector?

Me? I am so tired of this crap that I can barely summon up the energy to curse them all as a pack of cunts.

But they are a pack of cunts.

P.S. As a special bonus, let me introduce the Turn-coat of the Day—one Andrew Lansley—who, in May 201o, said this:
All our decisions must be evidence-based, and on that basis, we do not currently support an introduction of minimum pricing.

It seems that Lansley has been bought off because, on Friday, the following was reported:
Mr Lansley said last night that he had changed his mind about the wisdom of minimum pricing.

He said: “I think it is important to send a signal that we will not have a situation where people are being continuously prompted to drink to excess.”

What's that jingling sound coming from your pocket, Andrew? Gosh—are they solid silver...?

* The Polly Conundrum is named after Polly Toynbee, of course, and asks this simple question: "are they pig-ignorant or are they lying?"

** DISCLAIMER: I did the covers for these books, and I stand to make a few pennies if you buy them.

Can anyone tell me what comes next...?

So, the Tory Party Treasurer has resigned after being caught promising to get donors into "the Cameron/Osborne dinners" for £250,000.
Prime Minister David Cameron has criticised the party's former treasurer for boasting that a big enough donation could lead to high-level access.

He said Peter Cruddas' claims, filmed by undercover Sunday Times reporters, were "completely unacceptable". Mr Cruddas quit hours after publication.

The PM pledged a "party inquiry" into the claims that £250,000 would get donors a private dinner with him.

And quite right.

Because anyone who is willing to pay a penny to have dinner with that massively-foreheaded shit or his rat-nibbled-nosed Chancellor needs their head examined.

Besides, anyone who thinks that Cameron would keep any promise made at that time also needs to get a fucking grip. The man is a shifty, dishonest little bastard.
Mr Cruddas had been secretly filmed saying that a donation of £250,000 gave "premier league" access to party leaders, including private dinners with Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne, and with any feedback on policy shared with Downing Street.

Donors get an input into policy, eh? Well, that's nice. But, as Douglas Carswell indignantly tweeted...
DouglasCarswell: An input into policy making? I thought that is why I stood for election. Where are the MPs in the policy unit?

No, Douglas: what you are there for is as lobby-fodder. Now shut up and toe the damn party line, or you'll be getting deselected, sunshine.

This is an argument that I will develop in another post sometime, but I actually have little objection to rich individuals* paying for access to party policy-makers. It seems only fair, since the poor and middle-class have far greater numbers: as we have seen from all the outrage at "the rich" being thrown a bone in the budget, people in this country would happily vote for "the rich" to pay for the plebs' every whim.

Having rich individuals paying for access to the top party echelons simply redresses the balance a bit: otherwise, the politicians—pandering to their electorate—would pander to the worst desires of their electorate, i.e. vote for us and we'll give you loads of shit, and make someone else pay for it (admittedly, that is modern democracy in a nutshell, but it could be worse).

No, what I am concerned about is the greater implications. When they came to power, the Coalition promised an "agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding", and we all know what that means, don't we?

State-funding of political parties is what it means.

Although Nick "wet dishcloth" Clegg has supposedly ruled out state funding for this Parliament, we all know that all three parties are just itching to get their hands on some of that lovely tax-payer cash.

How do we know this?

Well, because they told us last time state funding of political parties raised its head—back in 2006 (lots of swearing)—and all three major parties were in favour of it.

The trouble is, neither NuLabour nor their Change Coalition successors have worked out how to get around the outrage from the general public. The trouble with funding scandals is that the populace's response is, "well, the politicians have once again proved that they are crooks: why the hell would we want to give them more of our money?"

So, watch out for the next move...

UPDATE: well, that didn't take long...

* Corporations, however, are another matter entirely...

Healthy people are expensive

Anyone follows politics in even the most cursory manner (or, indeed, reads the letters page of the Metro) will, I assume, be thoroughly pissed off with self-righteous fucknuts bollocksing on about how drinkers, smokers and obese people should be taxed to buggery because they cost our brilliant NHS buckets of cash.

For many years, those of us who indulge ourselves in our pleasures have pointed out that we pay a fuck-load of tax for the pleasure of doing so—not just in the ludicrously high National Insurance payments, but also duty on the fags and booze. We pay far more in tax, in fact, than the cost to the NHS.

"Nonsense!" cry the prodnose temperance loons.

Well, now a nice little report has come out which points out that "healthy" people really do cost, as Timmy reports.
The question is, are the costs of treating the illnesses and deaths brought on by those three indulgences higher or lower than the costs of treating those who live healthily but still inevitably die? We could argue it either way: Alzheimer’s costs more to manage than lung cancer costs, the cracked hips of age related osteoporosis perhaps more or less than fried livers from excessive bourbon. What we need to do is actually go and tot up the figures. Fortunately, that has been done:
Obesity is a major cause of morbidity and mortality and is associated with high medical expenditures. It has been suggested that obesity prevention could result in cost savings. The objective of this study was to estimate the annual and lifetime medical costs attributable to obesity, to compare those to similar costs attributable to smoking, and to discuss the implications for prevention.
Although effective obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases, this decrease is offset by cost increases due to diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained. Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for increasing health expenditures.

The actual numbers for lifetime from 20 years old medical costs were:

The lifetime costs were in Euros:
Healthy: 281,000

Obese: 250,000

Smokers: 220,000

There are excellent arguments in favour of taxing in order to reduce the occurrence of smoking, excessive boozing and obesity. We humans are subject to hyperbolic discounting, not taking full account of long distant future costs for current pleasures, sometimes those running the public health system really do know more than us, there are externalities associated with these behaviours (late night drunks, passive smoking and the visual pollution of someone 300 lbs overweight perhaps). But the argument we cannot use is that these behaviours increase the costs of health care.

The reason we cannot use this argument is that it simply isn’t true.

So all you health fascists can stick that in your pipe and I'll smoke it.

This is a work of non-fiction

In case you don't know, a certain gentleman named Mike Daisey caused something of a stir with his one-man monologue called The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. In it, he tells of visiting the Foxconn factory in China, and of the appalling working conditions there which he heard about, first-hand, from the workers that he met (many of them horrifically crippled from their work in the factory).

Mr Daisey has actually been hawking his play around the smaller theatres of America for some time now, but his big break came when a radio station called This American Life broadcast the show in one of their episodes. Now, I bet that they wish they hadn't: for, whilst it was their most listened-to show, it turns out that it was a pack of lies—and they had to publish an embarrassing retraction.

Over at Forbes, Timmy published an excellent article that took a far more balanced view of the working conditions at the Foxconn factory (which, by the way, assembles just about every computer brand going—not just Apple machines).
The general suicide rate in China is 22 per 100,000 people. That is a high rate by international standards but that is the one that we should be looking at to try and judge the suicide rate at Foxconn.

Foxconn employs some 1 million people in total so, if the Foxconn workforce were to have the same suicide rate as the general Chinese population (which, to be accurate, it won’t for suicide is not equally divided over age groups and the workforce is predominantly young) we would expect to see 220 suicides among such a number each year.

Timmy also points out that, whilst there have been some tragic deaths at Foxconn, it's actually safer than the American workplace. And, whilst wages are low compared to the West, they are high compared to the rest of China. Paul Annett then produced a graphic that neatly illustrated all of this...

Let us return to Mike Daisey, however.

Mr Daisey claimed to have travelled to China and hung around outside the Foxconn factory. Since he doesn't speak Chinese, he hired an interpreter and, through her, was able to elicit these tragic stories from the workers as they changed shifts. Unfortunately for Mike—who made every effort to stop This American Life contacting the interpreter (as you'll hear in the retraction)—a China-based reporter named Rob Schmitz decided to investigate, and tracked down said interpreter.

What he found was that Mike Daisey had not, in fact, actually seen any of the things that he claimed.
Take one example from his monologue—it takes place at a meeting he had with an illegal workers union. He meets a group of workers who’ve been poisoned by the neurotoxin N-Hexane while working on the iPhone assembly line: “…and all these people have been exposed,” he says. “Their hands shake uncontrollably. Most of them…can't even pick up a glass.”

Cathy Lee, Daisey’s translator in Shenzhen, was with Daisey at this meeting in Shenzhen. I met her in the exact place she took Daisey—the gates of Foxconn. So I asked her: “Did you meet people who fit this description?”

“No,” she said.

“So there was nobody who said they were poisoned by hexane?” I continued.

Lee’s answer was the same: “No. Nobody mentioned the Hexane.”

I pressed Cathy to confirm other key details that Daisey reported. Did the guards have guns when you came here with Mike Daisey? With each question I got the same answer from Lee. “No,” or “This is not true.”

Daisey claims he met underage workers at Foxconn. He says he talked to a man whose hand was twisted into a claw from making iPads. He describes visiting factory dorm rooms with beds stacked to the ceiling. But Cathy says none of this happened.


On his blog, Daisey defends his lies thusly...
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic ­- not a theatrical ­- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.

Again at Forbes, Timmy uses pretty much the same defence.
Which is where my defence comes in: I think it’s just fine to manipulate an audience, to tell them half truths, even to make up events entirely in order to get at those emotions. No one really thinks that Romeo and Juliet went down just like Shakespeare said (nor even the Leonard Bernstein or Mark Knopfler versions) but we’ve been queueing up for centuries to be so lied to. Even when The Bard was obviously correct as to the righteous course of action (“First, we kill all the lawyers” has always appeared pretty sound to me) we know that it’s something said by a character to contribute to the overall truthiness of the entire experience.

Which would be fine, except...

Except that Daisey, despite his protestations, actually insisted that what he said was truth. How do we know this? Because the marketing manager at the theatre which developed the show, Alli Houseworth, has told us. [Emphasis mine.]
In 2010 I worked at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, when The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (TATESJ) was “birthed” at the theatre, and the following spring was the marketing and communications director who worked on the show at Woolly. Today, as an independent consultant, I write as a former marketing director who is no longer bound by the public statement of her institution in this matter, and what I would like to say is this: Mike Daisey, you should be ashamed of yourself. And to members of the American theatre: we should be disappointed in ourselves too.

For months and months four major non-profit organizations across the US (Seattle Rep, Berkeley Rep, Woolly and the Public Theater) worked to put TATESJ on the stage, bringing the story we all felt was so enormously important – a story Mike told at least me time and time again was true. He insisted that “This is a work of non-fiction” be printed in playbills [PDF]. This was to be a work of activist theatre. Staff at Woolly handed out sheets of paper to every audience member that left our theatres, per Mike’s insistence, that urged them to take action on this matter. (I and other staffers would get nasty emails from him the next day if even one audience member slipped by without collecting this call to action.) As the head of the marketing staff at Woolly, my staff and I worked hard to get butts in seats, and it worked. We sold out our houses. As in the other cities where Mike appeared, we got Mike in every major news outlet in DC, and the buzz, hype and importance of the show only grew along the way.

And then what happened? We learned from a radio producer, a year later, that Mike’s facts weren’t true. And what Mike did was apologize to him, to Ira. But he never apologized to us, and he never apologized to our audiences. In fact, what he did in his retraction interview [PDF] was say, “I believe that when I perform it in a theatrical context in the theatre that when people hear the story in those terms that we have different languages for what the truth means.” My answer to that is that “This is a work of non-fiction” is pretty clear language. And how dare you, Mike, how dare you say to Ira Glass that the context in which the work is presented is different. All this time I thought you respected this industry, respected our audiences the very same, if not more than the audience of This American Life. To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement.

The defence that theatre is not journalism simply doesn't hold up in this case. When we go to the theatre, or watch a movie, we assume that it is fiction: for sure, it might want to make a point and, in doing so, employ some "truthiness" (as Timmy put it). But we assume that elements have been dramatised.

However, when the writer of the piece insists that "this is a work of non-fiction" be printed on marketing material, we must then assume that... well, that it is a work of non-fiction—that all of the facts and experiences are true. We expect, in fact, the journalistic standard rather than the theatrical.

Alli Houseworth's revelation blows Daisey's defence out of the water: he is revealed as a liar and a charlatan, who will stoop to sordid depths in order to promote his own work. And, a little like a woman who falsely cries rape, Mike Daisey has implicitly tainted any other reports of worker abuse in China.

DISCLAIMER: I no longer own any Apple shares although, given current performance, I wish I did! However, to me the company has the same kind of status as their football team has to many other people.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Great minds, and all that...

Back in December, the wife wrote the following in a short post musing on the Welfare State...
Seriously? No, seriously?

Just cut out the middleman and let rich people sponsor a poor person. There would be less waste in the long run, jobs for council workers (the OKCupids of wealth patronage!), and a powerful social impact.

After all, why give your money to charity when you can give it to your own impecunious client?

... and today, Blue Eyes posts one of his increasingly infrequent missives.
I’ve got an idea.

Instead of running an entitlement-based welfare system where Parliament decides the rules and then makes up taxes to pay for it, how about a sponsorship system. The system should match up contributors and recipients in, say, a local area and provide information for the sponsor. The sponsor would get to see how the people he/she is funding are getting on and the sponsored might be encouraged to persuade the sponsor that he/she is getting value for money. Sponsors might even want to give advice to their mentorees to help them get on in life.

Those wanting to receive money from benefactors should have to provide certain information in return for their money: what is the money going on, how are the children getting on at school, how is the job hunt going?

If all this sounds quite intrusive to you then that is the idea. It’s about time the relatively small number of people who pay for the huge all-encompassing welfare machine got a little bit of influence on it.

Sounds good to me.

One of the biggest problems with the Welfare State is that the recipients truly believe that their money comes to them—not as charity, nor as pay-outs on insurance payments that they have made—but as of right.

Which, of course, partially it is. The idea that one should be ashamed of living off the hard work of others has long gone; similarly, as politicians have sought to bribe ever larger and more biddable swathes of the electorate, the idea that one should first have to pay into the system in order to get anything out of it has become similarly redundant*.

Long-time readers will know that I consider the National Insurance Act of 1911 to be—as viewed over the long term—one of the stupidest and most evil acts ever passed by a British government. (Had it remained as it was intended—that is, buying Friendly Society memberships for those who could absolutely not afford them—then its consequences might have been mitigated.)

As it turns out, that Act simply started the rot.

Because the doling out of subsequent monies to those who have never paid a penny into the system—and which often rewards them for doing the most perverse things, such as having myriad children which they can neither afford nor properly care for—must be some of the wilful, stupidest and downright evil acts in history. Especially, I say again, the bit about encouraging them to have children.

So, as an alternative to simply stopping these payments overnight, perhaps we should consider Blue Eyes's and Bella's proposals...

* Unless, of course, you do actually pay in—in which case you must prove you have done so in order to get a brass farthing of your insurance. Especially if you are freelance.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Ron Paul Solution

Please note: I am not the Devil

Ok, let’s start with a couple of points that, while to most people are clearly true, will be upsetting for some; firstly, Ron Paul is not going to be the Republican nominee for President. Secondly, he is never going to be President. That is not to say that he isn’t the best of a bad bunch, and clearly the best (and arguably only) libertarian option in the 2012 race. And that is not to say that of all the candidates he’d be the one I’d back if I had any sort of influence or vote in the primaries or the general election in the US. But we have to face reality here, my good people; Paul may have performed consistently in the primaries, but he has not done well enough to get the prize he seeks.

Let’s pause for a moment and think about why Paul hasn’t done as well as perhaps he should have done. The first (and increasingly tired) excuse that a Ron Paul supporter might come up with is media bias; that Ron Paul simply does not get the same level of attention as other insurgent candidates who have apparently risen from nowhere to challenge Romney. This is partially true, but it is also partly because there is nothing really new going on with Paul’s campaign. He contends in primaries, he does ok in them. There are only so many ways in which the media can write that story and when you have someone like the barking fucking mad Rick Santorum winning primaries despite his inept and extremist campaign, that’s going to dominate the headlines rather than the story of “Paul did ok. Again”.

Then there are Ron Paul’s – how shall we put this delicately – presentational problems. He seems to only have three facial expressions, and each of them looks a little odd. He either looks bored and faintly grumpy, utterly startled or positively demonic. Of course, such things shouldn’t matter; unfortunately, they do. And while he doesn’t look as ridiculous as the rotund Newt Gingrich – who increasingly resembles a greying teddy bear who has just sucked on a lemon – he still seems awkward compared to Santorum (who seems to have lost his neck somewhere) and Romney (who seems to be the cliché of a career politician in every way, including how he looks). There is also the potentially more worrying problem of those apparently racist newsletters; I’m not going to reignite the debate over them (there are plenty of other places you can go to if you want to indulge in that); for now, it suffices to say that such newsletters don't really create the impression of someone destined for the nomination or for the highest office in his homeland.

But by far the biggest problem Paul has is that he’s ahead of the debate. What this primary season for the Republicans is boiling down to is what the last one was about as well; namely, the fight between mainstream statist republicanism and the more extremist Christian fundamentalist wing of that party. Last time it ended up being McCain vs Huckabee; this time it’s Romney vs Santorum. And there’s Paul, stood on the sidelines, making genuinely radical proposals with the mainstream just not listening to him. And because he stands alone among the candidates, he’s painted as some sort of an extremist when all he is really saying is “the state can’t cope with what we want it to do and therefore we should rely on it less”. I hope that there will come a point when Paul’s basic politics is considered the common sense mainstream; unfortunately, that time is not now.

So he’s not going to win either the nomination nor the presidency. So what should he do? Pack up and head back to Texas to chill with the idiotic Rick Perry? No. He should do something far more radical. He should run for President. As an Independent.

A number of questions immediately arise. Firstly, can he win? Almost certainly not; he would lack the massive get out the vote infrastructure that the two main parties have. Can he even run an effective national campaign? Here, I think he stands more of a chance. He has a band of devoted followers and passionate advocates; plus, he is able to raise money without dipping into his personal fortune (indeed, I’m not sure he really has one – especially when compared to the likes of Romney) and without begging from major donors. There are people out there to fund him and fight for him; it wouldn’t be a mighty party machine, but he could conduct the guerrilla politics of the independent candidate, and be able to move with far more fluidity and speed than those with large monolithic party bureaucracies behind them.

And he as the added advantage – assuming, as is almost certainly the case, that Mitt Romney wins the nomination – that there will be bugger all difference between the two main candidates. This means that the media will need some sort of different narrative, and what could be better than being able to report on a candidate who actually has different policies?

Of course, there’s the immediate charge that Paul might split the Republican vote and hand a second term to Obama. But there’s a couple of things to note there. Firstly, with each passing day, a second term for Obama becomes more and more likely. Yes, he’s been an appalling disappointment as President who has failed to impress even his own base let alone build up a wider consensus behind him in the US. But he’ll be fighting Mitt Romney, who has exactly the same problems and lacks the massive advantage of incumbency in the White House. Romney’s going to lose; thus Paul wouldn’t really be making a great deal of difference there.

But there’s a more fundamental point here; Paul has cross party support. He can win over small-state Republicans but, with his foreign policy, he can also win over younger people who stand against US bellicosity and who have been bitterly disappointed by a President who has, among other things, left Gitmo open. Put crudely, he could take votes from both left and right, and thus form a radical alternative that hits the vote tally of both the Republicans and the Democrats.

Yet… I’ve already said he’s not going to win. So why spend millions of dollars in an exhausting campaign that on first glance looks a lot like tilting at windmills? Well, Paul has the opportunity to change the terms of the political debate in the USA. I noted above that he’s ahead of the debate in the Republican party; if he can take votes from both parties, though, then at least one of them (most probably the Republicans) will start asking themselves what they can do to get these people back. And thus the debate in the Republican party might change from being an ongoing culture war between reasonable Republicanism and it’s virulently Christian extreme to being one between statists and libertarians. Likewise, the Democrats might start to clock that it is not good enough to promise a more sensible foreign policy and then do fuck all about it once in office. Ron Paul has the chance to show how popular libertarian ideas; but as this primary season and the one back in 2008 show, he needs to do so outside of the confines of the Republican party. A well-run independent campaign might push his ideas towards the political mainstream – where they deserve to be – and start laying the groundwork for a major party (again, most probably a Republican) nominee to actually endorse libertarian principles.

So Ron Paul 2012? Yes please. But as an independent candidate.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Mitt Romney Problem

Please note: I am not the Devil.

For those of us who keep an eye on such things, there is a perverse joy to be had in watching Mitt Romney limp towards the Republican nomination over in the US. The primary results seem to be taking on an oddly predictable pattern; Romney wins a contest, and then the next time the vote heads in the direction of Gingrich or Santorum. It is as if the Republican party faithful realise that there is an inevitability to Romney's nomination, but at the same time they resent it; so half the time they accept what is inevitable, and the other half they want to kick against Romney and go for someone - hell, anyone - else.

So what is the Romney problem then? The first thing to acknowledge is that he is being (relatively) successful simply because he is faced with a bunch of the incompetent, idiotic and unlucky; he is running against those who for whatever the reason are quite simply not destined to be the nominee, let alone in the White House. Herman Cain was buried underneath a landslide of snide innuendo; he didn't even make it to the primary season. Rick Perry sank his own campaign by appearing to be more stupid than George W Bush (which is no mean feat), while Michele Bachman failed to inspire the sort of misplaced confidence that many have/had in Sarah Palin (who herself seems content to sit this one out). And then we have Gingrich, the thrice married Catholic social conservative with a focus on moon bases. Of course, there is also Rick Santorum, who puts the mentalist in Christian fundamentalist. And finally there's Ron Paul - whose own woes are (or will be) the topic of a different post* - who, with the best will in the world, is painted as an extremist by an increasingly disinterested media. Rather like Cameron on this side of the Atlantic, Romney ends up being aided by the fact that he is surrounded a group of people who are basically (Paul excluded) fucktards against whom he looks faintly credible. But again, because he is for many the least worst option is no hearty endorsement; and like Cameron, he fails to inspire.

And that is another component part of his problem; he fails to inspire even his own base. This manifests itself not only in the occasional victories handed to much less mainstream and credible candidates, but also in the hopes of some for a brokered convention or the rise of a realistic alternative to him. Romney's success is not because he is the chosen one, but rather because there is no-one else to choose. He is a grudging compromise of a candidate; his faltering baby steps towards the Republican nomination remind me of John Kerry as the 2004 Democrat nominee; Kerry was chosen not because he was any good (and the general election of the year showed that beyond all reasonable doubt) but because he was less mental than the alternative.

But that then leads us to what the worst of Romney's issues actually is and what is at the heart of the Romney problem; as things stand, he's not going - even if nominated - to beat Obama (as some affiliated with his party are starting to acknowledge) in the race for the White House. That's right, he's not going to be able to take the White House back from that incompetent incumbent. Even now, he's struggling to make any headway against Obama. Come the actual election, when the massive Obama war chest is turned against a Mitt Romney already crippled by attacks from his own side during the primary season, the latter will be the one who almost certainly falls. Obama will be re-elected grudgingly because the alternative is too samey and uninspiring to provoke any sort of change; further, if the American economy continues to improve (largely despite rather than because of Obama's policies) then we could be about to witness the grudging landslide. Obama wins a second term not because he is any good, but because the alternative is so uninspiring that he actually becomes the best option. And the irony is that it is exactly the same logic allows Romney to win the opportunity to lose the election in the first place.

So what is Romney's problem? In a nutshell, he's going to lose. It is just a question of when.

*I'm writing it at the moment...

Thursday, March 01, 2012

"Are we coming or going?", asks Cable

Via the deeply scornful Capitalists@Work, I see that Grandad Cable—the Sage of Twickenham—has decided that the Coalition is going to adopt a "proper industrial policy" and "support the oil and gas industry".
In a move that represents a shift from last year's controversial tax raid on North Sea oil, the Business Secretary said the Government wanted to help the sector "re-energise" its supply chains, which include thousands of small businesses.

In a speech in London, Mr Cable said targeted Government support was needed to create a "different kind of economy" based on manufacturing and trade. Britain could not "just hope it happens naturally", he said. He and Charles Hendry, the Energy Minister, will chair meetings to "see how together we can support this important industry".

Well, Vince, one way of supporting "this important industry" might be not opportunistically taxing it whenever you fucking feel like it. But, then, what do I know, eh?
He insisted the plans were different to the "cack-handed interventionalism of the 1960s and 1970s" and denied that the Government was reverting to "picking winners" rather than trying to create a benign business environment.

Yes, of course it is completely different.
But he argued: "There is a case for being more explicit about the choices we are making and linking them to a clearly articulated economic strategy."

We are now two years into this Coalition government: one would have thought—especially given the current economic crisis—that, if they were going to form a "clearly articulated economic strategy", they would have done so before now.

But, as I say, what do I know?
With a nod to the previous Labour government, Mr Cable said Britain's car manufacturing industry had benefited from the "explicit choices" of government support.

We have a car industry? Who knew...?
Other industries to be destroyed targeted include aerospace, media, film and fashion.

What's that old Reagan saw about the most terrifying words in the English language?

Oh yes: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help".
Mr Cable said: "Revolutionary technologies are often too risky, or simply too complex or resource intensive, for an individual company to make the necessary investment.. for Government, there is a significant role here."

Well, yes: if any organisation is adept at pissing our money up a wall, the government is surely a prime candidate to walk away with that prize.

The mind boggles.

DISCLOSURE: I hold a pretty insignificant number of shares in various oil and gas exploration companies. Most dropped sharply on the 27th and 28th and we have seen increased volatility.

I'm not saying it's linked, but Cable made his speech on the 27th and the Telegraph article was published on the morning of the 28th. Just sayin', is all...

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...