Thursday, March 30, 2017

Brexit: escape from the progressive prison

Teflon Tony they called him. The untouchable prime minister. I don't know if you remember why they called him that but I do. It's because in the first term of New Labour we saw a number of scandals and failures on the front benches and yet still we saw no u-turns, no resignations, no reshuffles. Electorally, they were untouchable.

I also remember the political culture that came with it. Spin. Behind that was a ruthless competence in imposing a political agenda. That was a government that could do as it pleased. It was the era of political fuckyouism.

By the end of that Labour administration public finances were in a mess, the public sector was bloated and a corrosive welfarism had taken root. Qualification inflation had all but nullified the value of a degree and personal debt was reaching crisis point. We were also bogged down in two unwinnable wars. Amidst all that mess the Treaty of Lisbon was pretty much rail-roaded through parliament with less dignity than an Alabama shotgun marriage.

Enter Cameron. The Eton coup. The Tories had demonstrated with Michael Howard, IDS and William Hague that a traditional conservative party could not win. Or so the narrative goes. Cameron had bought the line that in order to win you had to occupy the centre ground and shape the party in the image of the soft left social democratic consensus.

Many would credit Cameron with making the Tories electable. This ignores the fact that Cameron did not actually win the 2010 election and instead formed a coalition. The reason being that the right of the party had deserted Cameron and instead backed Ukip - or didn't bother to vote.

The change of Conservative party logo to the scribble tree was significant. It marked a change of values. Moreover it was continuity fuckyouism. It was a clear message to the right that they were not wanted or valued. The message was heard loud and clear. Fast forward to 2015 and we would have seen Cameron lose to Miliband were it not for the promise of a referendum. Ukip would have done just enough damage in the marginals to swing it for Labour.

Underlying these tides was a sentiment that whoever you voted for nothing would change and there was little to choose between the main parties. Moreover they were parties who would continue to pile on insult after insult and rub our noses in it. This is ultimately where the anti-establishment revolt came from.

What we saw during this time was a series of leaders attending all the international jamborees signing us up to ever more improbable and costly environmental targets. The international stage had become a platform for climate change virtue signalling. Meanwhile, climate change narratives had woven themselves into all walks of culture and public life. What became clear was that government was something done to us, not something we were participants in. The way in which the EU bribed the affections of NGOs and institutions using climate change as the vehicle to capture activist bases was symptomatic.

All the while we were subject to pious climate moralising and it became increasingly clear that there was a gulf been the governors and the governed. Our concerns were not theirs. This became acutely obvious around 2008 when everyone was struggling financially, when petrol prices were soaring and our government saw fit to pile massive costs on household energy bills. When we complained they merely said "switch your supplier". This policy continued into the Cameron administration. The modern day "let them eat cake".

We shouldn't forget also that somewhere along the way the motorist became the favoured cash cow. Road tax sky-rocketed, and Londoners were hit with the congestion charge. You can argue that the system has some merit but behind it was a ruthless and malicious enforcement system administered by law breaking thugs. Oh and let's not forget the explosion of gatsos and CCTV. The hallmark of the Blair era.

In a lot of ways the banking crisis was the best thing to happen to the UK for a very long time. The only thing worse than an underfunded government is a well funded one. The cuts to national and local government brought about more conservatism than any conservative party has in recent history. The constant harassment by the state seems to have abated somewhat.

The era was marked by an oppressive bureaucratic authoritarianism where a minor infraction could see you dragged through the courts and hit with fines. It eroded the very fabric of public life, with people widely believing the police were little more than revenue collection agents. Effectively, the missing component was government by consent.

Totemic of this was wind turbines. No government ever sought to win the argument. The policy was simply rail-roaded while fat cats creamed off a subsidy and vain politicians met their EU targets. We have seen two decades of abuse of power and government we have no say in.

Often when I go off one of these tangents (for it is far from the first) people point out that the EU is not responsible for this. In part it is, but for the most part, the EU is a symptom. It has evolved into a construct for global elites where they concoct ever more virtue signalling gestures - which ultimately eat away at our disposable incomes and transfer our wealth into the hands of energy companies and other corporates. The government takes its cut which it then uses to imprison and coerce us. It's no coincidence that this era spawned a populist form of libertarianism on the right.

Meanwhile, when I now look at local authorities I effectively see EU regional management agencies. They are not doing as we instruct them. They are dancing to someone else's tune - fulfilling statutory statistical exercises and promoting political agendas in public services. The whole edifice of government is infected with a hectoring and nannying psychopathy. This is the experience that shaped my politics and this is why I voted to leave the EU with out hesitation.

Unlike many brexiteers I do not believe Brexit is an economic remedy and for the time being I do not see much economic benefit from it. I see it is as massive spanner in the works and a means of snatching their toys away from them. It's a little "fuckyouism" of our every own.

I actually think the UK is going to be quite a bit poorer for having left the EU, not least because of the manner in which we leave. I think this government is incapable of securing a workable deal. We'll be taken to the cleaners. I don't care though. Like the banking crisis it will de-fund government and force our politicians to focus on priorities rather than the displacement activity we have seen in recent years.

The UK does not have a constitution as such. There is no system that limits the power of government. There is no means of ensuring government by consent. The only way to rob it of its power over us is to hit it in the wallet. In this I would hope that the politics that follows Brexit will present the necessity to rethink our constitution and make damn sure they never get to do this to us again. That is why I will continue to promote The Harrogate Agenda.

Brexit creates a number of headaches for the UK. This government's approach to leaving will result in a number of avoidable body blows. It will force us to completely reconsider how we do things. It will see a number of white elephants go on the scrap heap and it will force us to rethink the NHS too.

Leaving the European Medicines Agency will likely increase the price of drugs and reduce their availability. Even if the NHS were to see an extra £350m a week (which it categorically won't) it's going to be swallowed up on pharmaceutical certification costs on top of the cost of transitioning to a new regulatory regime. The NHS is going to have to do more with less.

In fact I can see a number of services and facilities cut to the bone. I might even go as far as saying that the NHS will survive in name only. It will have to go the most radical shake up in recent history. Those with means will be expected to contribute to certain treatment costs. This will likely see a new boom in health insurance and non-profit friendly societies. This is already the underlying trend, but this has been a slow drip revolution. Brexit will probably open the floodgates.

We might even GP services to be fully marketised. I don't see that as a bad thing at all. It will more than likely increase availability while creating a genuinely competitive wage structure. The way I see it is that the NHS's days were always numbered. Eventually there would have to be a correction to a system long overdue a rethink. It didn't happen when we had a banking crisis and it wasn't going to happen any other way. Politically it won't be popular but then asking voters to face own to their own hypocrisy never is. People want the world on a stick for free. There's a bubble that needs to be burst.

There are other ways we will see corrections. Morgan Stanley seems to think office values in London will drop by a third. They say that if potential property buyers lose confidence in their ability to charge more for vacant space when it becomes available, prices will drop sharply, especially given the new supply of offices under construction.

This is apparently a bad thing. Personally I'm not seeing a downside to prime real estate becoming affordable. It will bring renewal and it will be a boost to start-ups. More to the point it will close the economic gulf between London and the regions - a dynamic which is doing more to damage the Union than any other factor. The cultural and economic disparity needs to be bridged urgently.

From a purely economic perspective, at face value, Brexit doesn't have much going for it - but it is a corrective to some unwholesome political trends - and it is the shake up we need. It isn't a silver bullet, and if we want to make good of it then we will have to work at it. I think Britain will be a better and happier country for it. The political stranglehold of the centrist consensus was toxifying British politics and eroding public life. Brexit is the wake up call - and not before time.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Brexit and all that...

After agitating for nearly 30 years, and writing endless screeds on this 'ere blog, it would be remiss of your humble Devil not to mark the passing of the bill to Trigger Article 50 through the House of Lords.

So, hooray!

However, I have always (at least in my more sober moments) maintained that Brexit entails considerable risk—and it is important that we keep these risks in mind when negotiating our exit from the EU. To be able to do so, one needs to actually understand what is involved: not only so that we can measure the risks, but also so that we can understand—faced with limited resources—which ones we really need to focus on.

For these kinds of discussions, EU Referendum and Pete North have always been an excellent resources for the ignorant (although, possibly, not the short of fuse!). However, it is for this in-depth, technical knowledge that I asked Pete to contribute to the Kitchen a couple of weeks ago—you can read his perorations here, here, and here (and I would urge you to do so).

Trade in general

Since your humble Devil is unable to match Pete's in-depth knowledge, I would like to summarise how I understand the different strands of the situation and how, therefore, we might proceed with minimal resource and minimal risk. Let me summarise, from my understanding, how this works:

  1. the first thing to understand is that the world of trade actually encompasses a huge web of standards: many of these standards have been initiated unilaterally, but then developed alongside other countries through various trade agreements, treaties, and supra-national efforts. Just think—there are standards for labelling car tyres, let alone medicines, food, etc.;
  2. in order to facilitate trade between companies—whether within the same country or between nations—there needs to be a basic, and agreed, standard of quality (for just about everything). There are essentially two ways to approach this: "harmonisation" (favoured by the EU and in which the standards are defined by the EU, and then imposed on Member States through legislation) or "mutual recognition" (usually bashed out via bilateral treaties, and whereby one country recognises the other country's standard as being broadly equivalent to its own);
  3. these standards are generally a means to protect the general public from dodgy... well, dodgy anything. As such, they tend to be rigorously enforced by the more developed nations in particular.


Many of the trading standards are defined by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), at which most countries have some kind of representation; and it must be understood the the WTO is essentially as technocratic as the EU. Some quick headlines however:

  1. agreements made at the WTO are, in the main, voluntary—not enforced by supra-national law. The downside being, of course, that if you do not agree to abide by the standards defined then no one has to trade your goods;
  2. the other thing to understand is that the UK is a member of the WTO. However, whilst we are part of the European Union, we are obliged to vote for the common EU position—whether we want to or not. In effect, the EU takes our vote by proxy;
  3. and it is because of this that many declare that, the WTO—but not EU—member, Norway has rather more control over their own trade policy than the UK does. And this despite Norway's rather less powerful status in the world as a whole.

Please note (and you will see that this is a constant refrain as we delve into our relationship with the EU) how our vote is co-opted by stealth.

Many Leavers will tell you that the EU does not have a seat at the WTO—that we are only represented by the EU; Remainers, on the other hand, will argue that we do have a seat, and that Leavers are talking bollocks.

It is worth, for a moment, sitting back and admiring the way in which the EU and our own governments have made both statements true—whilst concealing the true state of affairs.

Why do we care?—it's imports that are important...

Well, yes, of course—as good little economists, we understand that.

I cannot make bread (and have not the slightest interest in learning to grow corn, grind the bastard, make bread, etc.), and so I import it. I do this by exporting my labour in exchange for money, and then using that money to buy bread.


However, when you import bread into your home, you want to make sure that it's not cut with rat poison, for instance (this problem is, after all, why illegal drugs do so much damage—they are unregulated and thus cut with all sorts of adulterants that are, in large part, what do the real damage to the body).

And so we have standards—standards that say, amongst other things, that we trust that your bread is not cut with rat poison. And part of the reason that we trust that it is not cut with rat poison is because your government has already certified that you meet the standard for non-poisoned bread.

Great—80% of the UK's trade and commerce is internal to this nation. Fantastico!

Imports sorted!

But we've had a shit harvest, and we'd like to import some bread from Holland.

"I know—we'll tell Holland what our non-poisoned bread standards are, insist that they should meet them, they disagree and say that our standards aren't good enough, we negotiate around that, have a few junkets, and then...

"Oh, fuck—everyone has starved to death for lack of bread. And now we politicians have no one's tax to live off. Shit."

Sorting it all out beforehand...

Luckily, we create treaties and agreements between nations in order to stop this kind of problem (and remember that, currently, some 30% of our food comes from the EU).

And we have been doing this in concert with the European Union for nearly 50 years now. This is the essence of the Single Market and, indeed, the Customs Union.

Because the EU sets the standards and forces the EU Member States to enforce these standards into law (and enforce those laws. Ideally—we all remember the horse-meat problem, right?), we are able to trade goods pretty freely across the EU.

So why leave?

Well, the problem is that all of these things are very slow-moving: and with the EU setting standards, there is an inevitable stifling of new technologies and processes. I think that the potential for change—across the entire political sphere—is a massive opportunity (which I shall more about later).

In one of his recent blogs at the Kitchen, Pete North stated that...
... we need to make the distinction between government and governance...
... and I would consider the maintenance and agreement of these standards to be part of that. At present, this is the most dangerous part. (I shall deal with the "government" in subsequent posts.)

Again, to quote Pete...
The fact is we are not simply ending membership of a golf club where we settle the bill and part company. We are disengaging from a network of agreements, long standing policies and institutions. This cannot be done at the stroke of a pen. There is no ripping up treaties and starting over. For starters that would destroy our credit rating and our international standing, and it would end all of the market access we presently enjoy. Moreover, it would ruin our chances of securing a replacement agreement in the future.
This is going to be difficult. But the best way to face the problems that we are going to have is to understand them, break them down, and to design solutions to them.

None of this will be easy—our supply chains work on "just in time fulfilment", and we need to have software and processes ready. Given the vast volume of transactions that we are talking about—from the point of view of politics, practicality, software, customs checks, etc.—this is going to be a huge endeavour.

Will it be worth it? I believe it will, but time will tell.

Am I glad that we are taking this step? Yes—absolutely.

Why? I shall return to let you know...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

There is no "walk away" option

Due to the lack of a proper threading system, it is difficult to reply to comments adequately. There is one comment on the previous post though that demands a response - with particular regard to what happens if we leave the EU without an agreement...
What you don't get is the WTO rules. Tariffs and barriers ratchet down. Countries that agree to no barriers or tariffs cannot reintroduce them unless both sides agree. The countries are to use the jargon, "bound". So the EU needs the UK's agreement to change the UK's access to the single market post Brexit.

Why would the UK do that when if the EU imposes barriers, it goes to the WTO and gets penalties on the EU countries involved? Remember, the WTO and the EU are separate parallel agreements. Both have to be adhered too. Leaving the EU, the EU countries and the UK still have to adhere to the WTO rules [or leave]
This is the same misapprehension we see in David Davis and John Redwood et al. Our commenter has misunderstood the concept of reciprocity. The EU, under WTO rules cannot impose barriers on us that it does not apply to anyone else. What gives us preferential access is membership of the EU or a specific comprehensive trade agreement.

The crucial point on this issue, is that when we leave, the EU will be applying existing "third country" rules and controls to UK exports. The same ones it applies as a default to all countries which do not presently have some kind of deal with the EU. Contrary to the assertions of Brexit zealots, it will not be erecting barriers against us. They already exist. We are voluntarily moving outside the castle walls.

We are told by Brexiteers that we can trade on WTO terms citing the USA as an example. Except that there are many different kinds of trade agreements. The USA may not have a deep and comprehensive agreement with the EU but it does have dozens of cooperation agreements and customs accords (as illustrated above). In fact, there are only nine countries presently trading with the EU without an agreement of some kind. Most of the world has some sort of agreement, be it only a basic one.

Leaving without an agreement means ending our EU relationship in entirety without anything to replace it. That means an immediate end to free movement of goods and services along with passenger rights, chemicals registrations, pharmaceutical certifications etc. Tariffs are neither here nor there. The EU is a complex system of government developed over forty years and without an agreement our exports are dead in the water.

In this, we cannot retaliate since, under WTO rules, we cannot apply a new set of barriers to the EU without extending them to everyone else. Since imposing import controls would effectively disrupt supply chains, that would lead to empty shelves within days. Do we stop supermarket shelves being restocked just so that we can retaliate against the EU? And what do we tell people when they go hungry?

The fact is we are not simply ending membership of a golf club where we settle the bill and part company. We are disengaging from a network of agreements, long standing policies and institutions. This cannot be done at the stroke of a pen. There is no ripping up treaties and starting over. For starters that would destroy our credit rating and our international standing, and it would end all of the market access we presently enjoy. Moreover, it would ruin our chances of securing a replacement agreement in the future.

Like any other Brexiteer, I would like to see us out of the EU as soon as possible but there are no magic wand solutions - and whether we like it or not, the EU will continue to exist for a time to come. We need an amicable and measured departure and where possible we should seek to minimise disruption to the normal flow of goods. That is not going to happen without compromise and it is not going to happen overnight.

For decades, leavers have been screaming from the rooftops that the EU is more than just a trade bloc. This is something of an understatement. It is a supreme government for Europe - and one we had no business joining. But since we did join, the damage will take considerable work to undo - and it will take a very long time. Leaving without an agreement would be an act of self harm and it would make the process far more costly than it ever needed to be. The WTO option is not a realistic proposition much though I wish it were otherwise. It's time that Brexiteers grew up and accepted that leaving the EU has consequences.

Leaving the EU is only half the job

Speaking with The Devil last night, he asked me to pen five basic points as to how we make a success of Brexit. And that is half the problem with Brexit. Everyone concerned wants the inherently complicated made easy. We have a political class which not only doesn't want to be troubled with detail, they will actively avoid any new information that complicates or disturbs narratives.

I could list five broad principles or the five most pressing objectives but that would not do justice to it. Broad principles would likely be motherhood and apple pie stuff we can all agree on but where does that get us? And though there clearly are priority objectives such as the free movement of goods across borders, that doesn't even begin to touch on the wider issues.

More to the point, it's a little late to try and steer the process. Before the end of this month we will likely see Article 50 invoked and the balloon goes up. It's out of our hands. The process is now entirely in the hands of the Tories who think it's a simple case of hammering out an agreement on tariffs and giving the French a swift handbagging over the final bill.

The intel I'm getting is that ministers really do believe their own rhetoric. What you see is what you get, compounded by the most extraordinary ignorance. They will go to Brussels imbued with the idea that "they need us more than we need them" and completely screw it up.

You can't tell these people anything. The only way to be heard inside the bubble is to tell them exactly what they want to hear. Had I spent the last three years making the case that we don't need to pay anything and that WTO rules were perfectly viable and that we can have a bonfire of regulations I expect I would be very popular in the Brexit bubble. Now, with the debate now being so hopelessly polarised, anybody contesting that woefully simplistic view is written off as a remoaner.

But then there is something very familiar about all this isn't there? This is the exact mirror image of the hubris that took us into the EU in the first place. A government so intoxicated with its own rehtoric it will steam ahead, listening to nobody and disregarding any and all words of caution.

Richard Dawkins on Newsnight this week said: "We have no right to condemn future generations to abide, irrevocably, to the transient whims of the present". I quite agree. This is exactly why Lisbon should never have been ratified. But in they went, conniving to dodge democracy and signed us up to this booby trap.

This to me suggests that as much as the EU is a problem, it is only half of the problem and Brexit alone doesn't get close to resolving anything. At the heart of this is a Westminster establishment, which, no matter who is in charge, is accountable to nobody.

And herein lies the hypocrisy of Brexiteers who have been vocal in denouncing "the establishment" only to roll over when that same establishment is singing their tune. Unless we are serious about pressing home meaningful democratic reform then we haven't resolved anything. As soon as the left inevitably take their turn to rule they will abuse the levers of power in exactly the same way.

From Brexiteers we have heard much about "returning powers to Westminster" but it should not be forgotten who it was who handed over powers to Brussels to begin with. More to the point, many of those powers were confiscated from local authorities by Westminster. Consequently the return of powers to Westminster will mean all of the power is in the hands of an entitled born-to-rule political class.

I've been around the block a few times now and I have seen how the system works. If you want influence you need to play the game and suck up to the right people, telling them what they want to hear - and even if you go into Westminster with the best of intentions, the system soon turns you native.

The system is festooned with PPE Oxbridge graduates, fast-tracked know-nothings and LSE policy wonks having done the right unpaid internship, none of whom have any exposure to real life and have never worked what you are I would call a real job. The same dynamic extends to the media where hacks are interchangeable between the Guardian and the Telegraph, each climbing the greasy pole, learning nothing as they go.

The politico-media bubble is an oral culture whereby information is traded over dinner in the form of factoids, where MPs have ever more stresses on their attention to the point where they agree with whoever it was they last spoke to. Trying to affect change at this level is pointless.

It is a culture that prizes conformity over knowledge and loyalty over substance. The system rewards obedience with money and prestige. It's a time honoured means of silencing dissent. The incorruptible, however, are simply unpersoned, bullied and skilfully marginalised.

This is how we end up with a disconnect between the politicians and the people and it is how politics becomes deeply London-centric, self-absorbed and insular - and consequently incapable of engaging in serious politics. Their feeble grasp of Brexit issues is all the proof you need.

And it is so telling that the referendum result was an inchoate howl of rage. Look where it comes from. It's the regions giving London the two fingered salute. Economically, culturally, politically, London is divergent in every conceivable way.

This is ultimately why Brexit needs to happen. The referendum has not divided the country. The country is already fractured. All Brexit has done has exposed the fault lines. And so when it comes to Brexit, we just have to let them get on and make a pig's ear of it because that is all we can do. It is the reckoning that comes after that should concern us.

My own studies lead me to believe that, thanks to the Tory approach to leaving the EU, we are going to be considerably worse off and we will lose a substantial amount of trade with the EU and, by proxy, with the rest of the world as well. This will not be EU obstinacy. This will purely be an act of self-harm, going into talks with unrealistic demands with no functioning knowledge of the EU.

When that happens there is an opportunity afoot. Free of the EU there are no longer any excuses. The buck stops with Westminster. The establishment must now take responsibility for its own failings. If we collectively roll over and make excuses for the Tories (by blaming the EU) then we will squander a once in a generation opportunity to correct a long standing problem. Brexit is a chance to dismantle the ossified structure of Westminster; a system designed before the internet and when MPs faced several days on horseback to meet in the Commons.

The task before is to heal the many rifts that make the UK so fundamentally divided. To that end, Brexit could very well be a window of revolutionary opportunity - to revise, modernise and decentralise government - and break it away from the sordid den of virtue signalling prostitutes in Westminster.

I had hoped to avoid Brexitgeddon, but my hopes fade with every utterance from David Davis and the Brexiteer back-benchers. Success seems unlikely because the ingredients for success are not there. Sceptical voices have been silenced and purged and replaced by soothsaying charlatans seeking consultancy fees, aided and abetted by dogmatic zealots. I think we have lost the capacity to make a success of it.

If however, the outcome of Brexit is a serious examination of how and why Westminster is failing so badly then it is more than just a mere consolation prize. I would value a reunited Britain and a rejuvenated politics over this buccaneering free trade paradise we are promised.

To bring that about we must start a national debate about how we want government to be shaped in the wake of Brexit. We must ensure that the Tories are exposed and brought to account for their hubris and we must mobilise to present new ideas. Unless we make good of this opportunity then we will have wasted the once chance we had for lasting reform. Brexit will have been a total waste of time.

The EU is not so much the cause of our problems. Rather it is a symptom of a deeper malaise, where government wants all of the power but is happy to deflect the responsibility and the blame to the EU. Our EU membership underpins that dynamic - and that is why nothing was ever going to change unless we voted to leave. Now that we have, it would be a travesty to leave the job unfinished. Brexit is a starter for ten, but the real work is only just beginning.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Quote of the Day: ASI on Ayn Rand

Regardless of any criticisms of her prose style, reading Ayn Rand's books inspire me. It seems that this applies to those at the Adam Smith Institute too...
Though she died in 1982, huge numbers of people still come to Ayn Rand through her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged – and their lives are changed as a result. No wonder. These novels assert the nobility of using your mind to reach your full potential. They make self-belief cool.

Rand’s heroes are individualists who live by their own creative talents—existing for no one else, nor asking others to exist for them. They are rebels against the establishment and its ways. They do not conform to social norms, but stand by their own vision and truth: a vision built on their own values and a truth built on fact and reason, not on the false authority of others. They are the creative minds who discover new knowledge, who innovate, drive progress and consequently benefit all humanity.

But minds cannot be forced to think. Creativity, and therefore human progress, depends on people being free to think and act in pursuit of their own values. That is a powerful case for liberty, values, mind, reason, creativity, entrepreneurship, capitalism, achievement, heroism, happiness, self-esteem and pride. And against the life-destroying consequences of coercion, extortion, regulation, self-sacrifice, altruism, wishful thinking and refusing to use one’s mind.
Ayn Rand made the abrogation of one's mental facilities shameful—and shameful because it is a waste of your own potential, not because others might think less of you. If only more people read her works...

Friday, March 03, 2017

Taking back control

Those readers who know my name (Pete North) will most likely dislike me intensely. Or at least I hope so. The Devil has asked me to contribute to this website for reasons best explained by him. That, though, is a subject for another time.

If you know me from my blog, you will know that I specialise in giving Ukippers, libertarians and Brexiteers a hard time. In fact, I have gone out of my way not to make any friends in those circles.

Probably like you and our host, I believe that government should be as small as possible and interfere with our lives as little as possible. Where we differ is that, having examined why much of our glorious bureaucracy exists, I happen to think that even the minimum level of government will necessarily need to be quite large. Check this out...

When an American Airlines plane smashed into a Colombian mountainside, outlaw salvagers didn't even wait for all 159 victims' bodies to be collected before they moved in. "Using sophisticated tools, they extracted engine thrust reversers, cockpit avionics and other valuable components from the shattered Boeing 757 and then used helicopters to fly the parts off the steep ridge, U.S. and Colombian sources say. The parts were offered for sale in Miami, a hub of the thriving black market in recycled, stolen and counterfeit aircraft parts. "They wanted to sell the whole lot, including the landing gear," a law enforcement source said, speaking on condition of anonymity."

Parts illegally salvaged from crashes, counterfeit parts and other substandard components regularly find their way into the world's air fleets, sold at bargain prices, often with falsified documents about their origin or composition. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized $4 Million worth of counterfeit electronic components in Fiscal Year 2009. According to a 2001 publication produced by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “as much as $2 billion in unapproved parts are now sitting on the shelves of parts distributors, airline, and repair stations".

When I started looking at the scale and size of counterfeiting and fraud I realised that the libertarian "caveat emptor" approach was every bit as deluded as socialism. There are many examples of industrial scale manipulation of supply chains. A food fraud scandal came to light in 2008, when over 20 companies were found to have added melamine, a flame retardant plastic, to baby formula in order to fool tests designed to ensure adequate protein content. Around 300,000 babies became ill in China, with tainted formula being linked to 54,000 hospitalisations and 6 deaths from kidney damage and malnutrition.

Additionally, the product category Herbs and Spices is listed as number four in the ranking of most frequent product alerts in the European Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF). About 75% of these reports are due to improper composition or contamination, both of which can affect the health of the consumer, as well as damage the brands of those involved in the supply chain. In 2005 over 600 finished food products were recalled in Europe and the US due to the presence of the carcinogenic red industrial floor dye "Sudan", which had been added to chilli powder to disguise its ageing.

When it comes to governance, I defer the the authority on this subject. The TV sitcom, Scrubs. Most political isms assume people have a hard outer shell, but inside have a creamy centre. I'm with Dr. Perry Cox: "People aren't chocolates. Do you know what they are mostly? Bastards. Bastard coated bastards with bastard filling". We need systems that bet against basic human decency because the bastards always win.

And then we come to the EU. For decades we eurosceptics have complained that our political elites have imposed upon us an economic and political system without our consent. That is reason enough to rail against it. The problem we have though, save for the egregious stupidity of monetary union, the system they have sought to impose on us is actually quite good.

That makes us Brexiteers look like right proper dickheads railing against progress. For sure we have seen the PIP breast implant scandal and the horse-meat scandal but the only way that ever became public knowledge is with an EU wide public health surveillance system.

The truth of the mater is that much of the government that rules our everyday lives is wholly invisible and under-appreciated. It means that we can buy in confidence and that our rights are upheld. As a pragmatic libertarian I take the view that there are positive and negative liberties whereby the externalities of other peoples freedoms must not impinge on my own. And on a small and densely populated island such as this, that is all the more likely to happen. As much as there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are no libertarians when the neighbours dog is barking at 3am.

So now is the time for a real debate about technocracy vs democracy. We may very well wish to "take back control" but we must ask what we are taking control of and to what ends? Is it really worth unplugging from all EU market surveillance systems just so we have ultimate sovereignty over aubergine marketing standards?

After three years of writing about technical governance, I can see from my hits that the vast majority of people are not remotely interested in the details of governance. The more technical I get the fewer readers I have. They would much rather I wrote a rabble rousing polemic about that Milo chap and some other moral outrage. We say we want to take back control but evidence suggests that most are more than happy to leave the details to the experts. So the dilemma of our generation is where the lines are drawn between technocracy and democracy and how much we are willing to cede to the bureaucrats.

To be truthful, I do not have any real answers. Somewhere along the line things got a bit more complex than normal political narratives can accommodate. There is every advantage in international and scientific cooperation on standards and practices, and regulation has a clear role to play. But how do we make it transparent, democratic and accountable, and beyond the reach of the NGOcracy and the climate change zombies? In this we need to make the distinction between government and governance and ask how we the people ensure that we are not just passengers in the grander schemes of the globalist left. I am all for "taking back control" but increasingly we bump into the questions of what, why and how?

The alternative Devil Budget

It's time to throw in an alternative policy initiative for the UK. My ministers will do so presently...

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...