Britain should leave the United Nations

Much talk these days is made of Britain leaving the EU. But what of other bodies that violate Parliamentary Sovereignty? What about, for example, the United Nations?

The EU, is made of 28 member states, most of whom could broadly be described as liberal democracies . The UN is made of 167 non-micro states, 88 of whom The Economist would describe as “Hybrid regimes” or “Authoritarian regimes”. Only 25 are full democracies. When dictatorships have a say on the policy of Great Britain, one should not be surprised when the results are bad. Britain, if serious about Parliamentary Sovereignty and democracy, should leave the UN.

To be clear, such a move would likely mean the entire UN would disband. Unless there were major consequences imposed upon our country, the world would remember that membership of the UN is voluntary and thus nations are free to leave at any point in time. And what would the world really lose? Peace has been maintained primarily by two forces over the last 70 years:

1) Democracy- Democracies are less likely to go to war than Autocracies.
2) Free Trade- Building trade relations between countries means going to war with other countries is extremely expensive in terms of lost trade.

The UN facilitates neither and discourages both. By passing numerous binding resolutions- often against democratically elected governments such as Israel, it violates the principle that National Parliaments are sovereign and furthers the neoconservative delusion that imperfect countries can be perfected through the “General will” of other countries, many of whom are far less democratic than Israel.

The UN also implements trade sanctions. The UN claims that this is peaceful, but aside from economic damage- we should also learn from Otto Mallery (Not Bastiat) who said “When goods do not cross borders, armies will”. Iraq makes a good example. On August 6th 1990 the UN approved trade sanctions against Iraq which lasted until 2003.

These sanctions resulted in the deaths of over 576,000 children, and agitated Iraq further into isolation and radicalism. Mallery‘s lesson was proven when the US and UK invaded Iraq in 2003. This was not only an example of the UN failing to secure peace- it was an example of the UN actively discouraging it.

Membership of this organization is at best useless and at worst malign- it is time Britain set an example and left.

Theo Cox Dodgson is winner of the Under-18 category of the ASI’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. You can follow him on Twitter @theoretical23.                             

Britain needs more slums

The problems with the UK housing market have been well-documented. There is a ‘housing crisis.’ No-one today can afford to buy the sorts of houses their parents did. Household formation is depressed. Every day, the reports get more lurid. The latest example of this is a survey suggesting that all 43 of the affordable houses in London aren’t actually houses, but rather boats. There has been a proliferation of not-houses in recent years, from houseboats to ‘beds-in-sheds.’ The reason is clear – Britain has a sore lack of proper slums. Government regulations designed to clamp down on ‘cowboy landlords’ restrict people’s ability to choose the kind of accommodation in which they want to live.

Local authorities require exhaustive safety inspections and energy efficiency standards – if they allow construction at all. Each individual requirement sounds fairly reasonable, something that almost everyone would want. But housing should cater to a wide array of preferences. Some people might not feel like they need a bedroom space as large as the state expects, while others might not mind sharing a bathroom with another family if it means lower rents.

The consequences of forcing people outside the law are serious, as with immigration. If the only way you can afford housing is to live illegally, you have no recourse to the law if you do have a dispute with your landlord.

These regulations don’t just affect the type of squalid accommodation that they were designed to outlaw. A recent project to build ‘micro-flats’ worth up to £231,000 required the intervention of the London Mayor to exempt it from certain regulations. Developments like these might be the future for young people like me struggling to get onto the housing market, but this kind of ad-hoc policymaking is no way to run a country. Wholesale change is needed.

The market desperately wants to provide houses people can live in at prices they can afford – but in the eyes of local authorities these houses are too small, or too tall, or the ceilings are too low, or the windows not energy efficient enough. Sweeping deregulation is the only way to provide Britain with the slums it is crying out for.

Theo Clifford is winner of the 18-21 category of the ASI’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. You can follow him on @Theo_Clifford, and read his blog at economicsondemand.com.

Can we really decriminalise sex work, globally?

Amnesty International (AI) have released a draft policy arguing for global decriminalisation of sex work. As a rule, decriminalisation of consensual actions between individuals that do not directly harm others is something I support. Prioritising the removal of legislation that disproportionately hurts the worst off/most marginalised is top of this agenda. However, wading into an unfamiliar political landscape and applying libertarian principles without care for the consequences is not something I endorse. In this case, I think AI have missed a trick on nuance, in mandating a global recommendation for decriminalisation.

In a previous paper, AI say:

Approaches that categorise all sex work as inherently nonconsensual, actively disempower sex workers; denying them personal agency and autonomy and placing decision-making about their lives and capacity in the hands of the state. They also limit sex workers’ ability to organise and to access protections which are available to others (including under labour laws or health and safety laws).

Arbitrarily broad laws prohibiting organisational aspects of sex work often ban sex workers from working together, renting secure premises, or hiring security or other support staff, meaning that they face prosecution themselves if they try to operate in safety.

This is a sound argument for decriminalisation. Even those who think that we should categorise sex work as nonconsensual should nevertheless see that at least decriminalising it makes it safer (since we can regulate and sex workers can report illegal behaviour without fear of prosecution themselves!).

There are two main criticisms of Amnesty’s plan. One is the fact that they somehow see the needs of buyers as relevant to how we should treat sex workers (i.e. because some clients of sex workers often purchase these services because they would otherwise struggle to enjoy them unpaid, we ought to consider making it easier for them to do so). I sympathise with this concern – nobody has the right to sexual gratification, so the idea of legislating with this in mind just seems bizarre.

But the main reason to be sceptical of Amnesty’s call for decriminalisation globally, is that they don’t appear to have done an awful lot of research to understand whether decriminalisation is right everywhere.

Sure, it’s very likely to be a good idea in the UK and most European nations. We can debate the merits of various regulatory frameworks to put in place once this has gone ahead. For example, despite concerns that decriminalisation would lead to more prostitution, and more visible prostitution, the evidence in New Zealand post-decriminalisation does not support this. From other countries, we see that police are a huge source of violence against sex workers (the study attached to that link is very graphic) and by the admission of police and sex workers themselves, the lack of access to justice for sex workers is a huge problem. If decriminalisation makes any headway in increasing sex workers’ ability to use the legal system to assert their rights, this is a step forward. The BMJ recognises that decriminalisation improves sexual health for sex workers.

But in every other policy debate, we would always consider whether the subject of our enquiry differs depending on the context in which we’re applying it. Do cultural, social, economic and legal differences between countries inform the kind of effect we might expect decriminalisation to have? It is impossible for them not to have a huge impact on the success of decriminalisation.

Consider the example of a country where the stigma attached to sex work includes serious bodily harm to the sex worker by aggrieved members of the community to which they belong. By criminalising sex work on the part of the buyer (commonly known as the ‘Swedish’ model), you increase the incentive for the buyer not to ‘out’ the sex worker, which may actually make the sex worker safer. The example of Cambodia gives us reason to suspect that it isn’t as simple as decriminalising – according to the same source, Cambodia is highly restrictive of women’s sexuality, which indicates that decriminalisation is not going to deliver the benefits we might hope for, and might do much worse if society takes the police’s place.

Imagine a situation in which decriminalisation would actually result in higher people trafficking, masked as sex work to reduce the legal repercussions. Criminalising the practice, either by punishing organisers of sex workers or by criminalising buyers may result in higher welfare for sex workers particularly as it discourages their exploitation. In Sweden, anecdote suggests that traffickers are seeing it as a less profitable place to operate, suggesting that there are some perks to criminalising the purchase of sex whilst not criminalising the sale – this kind of outcome might be appropriate for countries which have particular concerns about people trafficking, or whose current legislation makes it difficult to appropriately address trafficking. Again, though, it raises the worry that this second-best policymaking actually targets the wrong problem and is evidence that Sweden hasn’t got to grips with trafficking and is having to do so via indirect means. We also need to worry whether global trafficking volumes have changed – or just been moved elsewhere, to places where perhaps women don’t have the same degree of access to justice.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t aim for decriminalisation in the long-term, but to recognise that there are a number of factors which will get in the way of achieving the aim we are pursuing in decriminalising in the first place – advancing the autonomy and, hence, safety, of sex workers. When embarking on a full-scale decriminalisation, perhaps we ought to consider addressing those problems concurrently. Certainly, Amnesty shouldn’t be mandating what the entire world should be doing with such insensitivity to the cultural, economic and legal norms of the various nation states that might alter the consequences of decriminalisation.

If only the warmists bothered to read the actual research

Talking about climate change inevitably brings up huge shouting matches. But let’s put that to one side for a moment and just start insisting that those who do urge action on it actually read the reports that lead to the urging of action. As The Guardian quite obviously isn’t here:

The fact is that it is in the very poorest countries where women have the most children, on average. And where population growth slows, generally economic growth speeds up, and carbon emissions rise faster. This happens on a global scale and even within countries – certainly within the poorer ones where there is most scope for population control, and where, also, the potential for industrialisation is greatest. It is unclear which is cause and which is effect: it is likely that they play off each other. And in some cases, perhaps, population policies go hand in hand with economic reforms. Only in the wealthiest countries, though, which already have lower fertility rates, are these links weakened or even broken.

This phenomenon raises the counterintuitive possibility that curbing population growth could generate higher global emissions than would otherwise be the case.

No, that’s not something you’re allowed to do. For, as the SRES, the economic models upon which the whole game is based, have entirely the opposite assumptions baked into them. A richer world has a smaller population. And those richer, smaller, worlds have lower emissions than poorer and more populated ones. Other than the entirely extreme world of A1FI that is (and really, nobody believes that coal is going to provide 50% of energy in 2100).

Economic growth leads to falling fertility and thus a smaller future population. The combination of these two is part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem.

It is, of course, fine to have differing views on the subject itself. But we’re adamant that whatever your views are they must at least be consistent with the evidence that leads you to them.

There is no right time to sell the RBS shares

This is a simple point, but it’s one that some people who should know better seem to keep getting wrong. Share price movements are unpredictable and there is no more reason to think the price of shares will be higher next year than to think that they’ll be lower. Which means that there is no ‘right time’ for the government to sell its RBS shares.

If we thought that RBS shares would each be worth 50p more by Christmas then we’d be buying them now and bidding up the price towards 50p now. The price wouldn’t quite reach 50p because there’s still the chance that we’re wrong.

And indeed that is exactly what happens, and why we can only assume that share prices reflect what we expect them to be worth in the future. Because share prices can go down as well as up, we get a return from investing in the stock market above what we get if we invest in safer assets, like government bonds.

You would think this was obvious, but the BBC quotes:

Ian Gordon, a banking analyst at Investec, told the BBC’s Today programme: “The taxpayer is being short-changed.” The shares could have been sold for a higher price in February, when they were changing hands for more than 400p, he said.

But of course we had no idea in February that they would fall, and we have no idea what will happen to them next. Like the Royal Mail shares they might rise after we sell them off, or they might fall. Or they might not move at all.

BusinessInsider’s Mike Bird makes this point very well, and as well as reminding us that the RBS bailout was always going to be a money-loser, he points the people who think we can just wait and hold on to the shares until they rise back up to their 2008 level to this chart showing RBS’s share price since 2007:

rbs bailout

To be fair, quite a lot of RBS has been spun off so it’s a much smaller company than it was in 2008 anyway, but the point still stands that there is no rising trend that we should be riding, as many people seem to think.

The flipside of all this is that Gordon Brown is equally blameless for selling off the government’s gold at ‘historically low levels’, except to the extent that we might want the government to own gold for other reasons.

So there is no ‘right time to sell’ except to the extent that we do or do not want the government to own shares in the banks, or to try to make money by taking risks. If we don’t want the government playing the stock market, the ‘right time to sell’ is always now.