A masterly piece of political game theory

This is a subject of some controversy so please, put aside your thoughts, passions and logic on the subject itself, abortion, and instead just think about the political tactic being employed here.

In general in the US it is the left that is strongly in favour of the right to abort. In general again, it’s generally the conservative right that is against. Also, again in general, it is the left that is in favour of detailed and sometimes expensive regulation of activity and it’s the right which is against. So, what would be a useful political tactic if you were against the general availability of abortion? Quite, regulate it:

The last restriction under the law goes into effect Sept. 1. All abortion clinics at that point must have upgraded their facilities to ambulatory surgery centers. Busby says many can’t afford it and more will close.

“This would basically force all the clinics to become mini-hospitals,” Busby said. “They have to have hallway widths a certain length, and a janitor’s closet, male and female locker rooms, which is completely unnecessary – and a bunch of other regulations that are really not appropriate or do anything to increase the safety of one of the safest procedures in the country.”

Pro-life groups supported the law, saying it would protect women by making abortion safer. At the time of the passage of the law, The Texas Tribune quoted Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell saying: “There’s nothing in this legislation that will close a clinic. … That’s up to the clinic. If they want to put profit over a person, that’s up to them.”

The right has been saying for years that regulations can be expensive and those who would regulate have been shouting that that’s nonsense for the same amount of time. Rather a case of the biter bit.

Sadly, of course, no one is going to learn anything from this. Certainly not those who generally propose regulation: for do note that while they argue that clinics should not be subject to this level of regulation they’re not, not at all, arguing that mini-hospitals can be trusted to work out whether they need a janitor’s closet for themselves. Still regulation for thee even if not for me.

Time for a human rights review?

The Times law report (15th July) concerned a Muslim school-age immigrant, granted asylum in France, who had come to the UK instead on the grounds that she was not permitted to wear the burka in French schools. She claimed that to be a human right and therefore the Home Secretary was wrong in seeking her return to France.

The rights and wrongs of human rights and clothing indicating religion are not my concern.  The issue here is the extent to which foreigners are entitled to legal representation to fight their cases at UK taxpayers’ expense.  Some lawyers claim that justice has no price but can that really be so?

In this case, Mr Justice Hickinbottom refused a judicial review of the Home Secretary’s decision.  On 24th June, the Court of Appeal, being the Master of the Rolls and two other Lord Justices, resoundingly supported the earlier judgment.  The appellant needed to show that there was a “flagrant violation” of the European Convention on Human Rights.  In this case, there was no violation at all, never mind flagrant.

Although the report does not say so, it is hard to believe that this school-age asylum seeker had the funds to cover the original hearing, still less the appeal. Perhaps we will be paying for a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights itself even though the ECHR has already ruled several times that France is entitled to ban the burka in schools so long as it does not do so in general.  Other forms of education are available, e.g. distance learning.

Some will feel that an asylum seeker is lucky to be accepted at all and such acceptance should not entitle them, free of charge, to the full panoply of rights built up and paid for by the citizens.  Obviously as time goes by and they integrate, so their rights should build up but not immediately and certainly not before they have gained admission.

One solution would be to require asylum seekers as part of their acceptance to sign, with legal advice, a binding agreement that they are not entitled to legal aid until assimilated into the country as defined by learning the language to conversational level, paying UK taxes for, say, five years and not being found guilty of a crime normally punishable by a prison sentence.

Some will say that the last is both unfair and inefficient.  In effect they would be deemed guilty before being judged and self-defence by someone without the language would clog up the courts.  But the present system lands the UK taxpayer with the not inconsiderable cost of prison followed by a failure to expel them, as we legally can, because deportation is appealed and the Home Office is overwhelmed by cases.  The UK taxpayer funds not only the legal costs of asylum seekers’ “rights” but all the associated civil service, police and imprisonment costs.

Time for a review?

Mariana Mazzucato’s extremely strange economics

Mariana Mazzucato’s got another installment of her rather strange economics in the paper. This is the follow on from the insistence that government funds all innovation. Here’s she’s decrying the rise of “finance” and how it doesn’t actually develop the economy and thus, well, and thus politicians should do it all for us I think.

One interesting little thought is that she doesn’t seem to have understood Piketty:

Indeed, the origins of the financial crisis and the massive and disproportionate growth of the financial sector originated in the 1970s, as finance became increasingly de-linked from the real economy.

It’s also true that Piketty doesn’t really understand his own data either. Yes, there has been a rise in the wealth to GDP ratio and yes, it did start in the 70s. For the US and UK this was a rise of about 150% of GDP. And yes, this has almost all been in financial assets. So we can indeed say that finance has risen in importance as a part of the economy.

But what has also happened is that pensions savings have risen by 150% of GDP over this same time period. That is, that the rise of finance seems very closely correlated with the baby boomers saving for their retirements.

It’s difficult to see this as a problem really.

Then there’s this entirely bizarre point she makes:

In the attempt to “rebalance” economies away from speculative finance towards the real economy, there have been proposals to reform finance so that it helps to fuel more innovation. Various measures have been tried to help those few small and medium enterprises willing to go after difficult high-risk investments, the backbone of innovation. Yet these reforms have been inadequate, slow and incomplete, with the proportion of profits from quick trades in the financial sector, rather than long-run investments, rising not falling. And one of the key tools for long-termism, the financial transaction tax, has still not been applied.

She seems not to have read the EU’s own report on the FTT (which I wrote about here). The EU itself states that the introduction of an FTT will reduce investment in business, so much so that the economy will actually shrink compared to where it would be without the FTT. So Mazzucato is apparently recommending a course of action, in order to increase investment, which we know will actually reduce investment.

It’s an odd policy world she inhabits, isn’t it?

The rest of it is just that we should have a Public Investment Bank and everything will be sweet. Which, given the things that politicians like to invest in (Olympics, HS2, Concorde, write your own list) is a very sweet but most misguided hope.


Rising demand hits static supply: what shall we do?

So here’s a little puzzler. Imagine that we had some good or service that was in limited supply. And that then demand for that good or service rose. What could or should we do to deal with  this problem? For obviously some of those who desire that good or service are going to be disappointed given that we cannot increase supply.

The obvious logical answer is that we should increase the price of that good or service. This will, in the way that rising prices tend to do, reduce demand for that good or service. Further, we also know that that limited supply will go to those who value it the most: we working this out by concluding that those willing to pay a higher price are those who do value something more highly.

Then we get the Mail:

What a rip off! Hotel room prices in Glasgow soar 158 PER CENT to up to £448 a night as city prepares to host Commonwealth Games

A night in a hotel will now cost an average of £344 for the Games period
A year ago prices were on average of £78 per room
The most expensive night – Sunday 27 July – will cost an average of £448

That’s the house magazine of the angrier part of Middle England complaining about the solution to that difficult problem that, well, when a sporting event is going on more people want to stay in a city which has, in the short term at least, a static supply of hotel rooms.

No wonder we all have problems getting economically rational political policies put in place, eh?

Len McCluskey is not entirely correct about the NHS and TTIP

According to Len McCluskey the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is going to mean the end of the NHS. As one might expect from such a source he’s slightly, umm, shading, the reality of what is going on here.

Now Cameron is set on giving these US investors new powers to sue any future UK government if it makes changes to health policy that might stop the dollars rolling in.

The deal will mean that American investors will be able to haul any UK government that tries to reverse privatisation to a tribunal – the “investor state dispute settlement” that would operate outside the law of this land. These tribunals will have the power to award billions in damages and compensation for lost profits and the loss of projected future profits, with no right of appeal. Yes, that is right – no right of appeal.

In short, the British public would face massive costs to bring NHS services back into public hands, making it nigh on impossible.

What is actually happening here is two things. The first being that the investor dispute system under the TTIP is arbitration rather than court action in the state in question. This is for the fairly obvious reason that the disputes will be between the government of the country and the investors and the government of a country controls (well, D’oh!) the legislature of that country and therefore what the law is. And as we’ve seen that’s a very dangerous place for investors to be in. Those who lent money to Greece in Greek law bonds found themselves having a 70% haircut imposed after the Greek Government (and legislature) changed the collective action clauses (what portion of a bond issue must agree to changes in those bonds) after the bonds had been issued and paid for. Those who lent money to the same government but in English law bonds got paid out in full. Because the Greek Government didn’t have the power to change English law in that manner.

We might not think that that could happen in our own dear courts in England and Wales. But this is a deal that includes the entire EU and as we’ve seen this has happened in the past couple of years here in the EU. So what is being offered is legal certainty to investors, that certainty being ensured by insisting that governments cannot change the rules of the game after the whistle has blown. All of which seems fair enough.

As to the second part, what this actually means, it just means that governments must adhere to whatever contracts they sign with foreign investors. If the contract says that it can be cancelled with no compensation to be paid then it can be cancelled with no compensation to be paid. If the contract says that compensation must be paid upon cancellation then compensation (whatever a government might do to change the law later) must be paid.

In this it is very similar to current law on such things as nationalisations for example. Any government is allowed, under international law, to nationalise anything that it might wish to. The UK Government could, if Red Ed were elected to power, simply decide to nationalise all private sector providers of health care and or health care services. Nothing at all to prevent them doing so: but under current law they would have to pay a fair market price for those assets. Under the new TTIP system they would also have to pay a fair market price for them.

The only people who could possibly complain about this would be those who would like to nationalise things without fair market price compensation: you know, thieves.

The whole TTIP system is simply a method by which governments can be forced to stand by the contracts they have signed with people not employed by those governments deciding whether they have or not. Which, given the power that governments do have to confiscate things from people, all seems entirely fair and just.