TfL and the cabbies are conspiring against the public

James and Charlotte have already written about why Transport for London’s (TfL) proposed regulations of private hire taxis like Uber are a bad idea.

I have not yet seen any defence that the regulations will improve standards for Londoners – they appear to be wholly designed to protect black cab drivers. And that seems to be exactly what’s going on.

Back in August, Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, wrote in Taxi Magazine (p. 3 at that link) that “all of the proposed regulatory changes were proposed by the trade in our response”, which were said to be:

  • A five minute period between booking and pick up
  • Operators must not show vehicles available for immediate hire – either visibly or virtually, via an app
  • The fare must be specified at the time of booking
  • Drivers to only work for one operator at a time
  • No ride sharing
  • Operators must offer a pre-booking facility – up to seven days
  • Operators will have to record destinations at time of booking
  • Operators to have a landline
  • PH operators will be required to have Hire and Reward insurance policy for their fleet
  • Satellite or temporary event licenses will be scrapped

These – published a month ago – are almost word-for-word what TfL is now proposing. And the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association has a seat on TfL’s board. This is regulatory capture, pure and simple.

That the LTDA have been able to dictate TfL’s policy so precisely seems like virtually ‘smoking gun’ evidence that TfL – with London Mayor Boris Johnson as its Chairman – is regulating against the public interest to protect black cab drivers from competition from Uber and similar firms.

Nobody thinks these regulations will help consumers. This isn’t misguided regulation, it’s a conspiracy against the public. We’re being stitched up here.

The housing crisis has a simple solution: build, baby, build

Over at the IB Times I’ve written about the government’s housing targets (not worth the paper they’re written on, basically), and why we want to concrete over the green belt – well, at least some of it:

By freeing up green belt land the supply of housing could grow enough to let prices fall considerably. All of this would actually require very little green belt land to be built on – less than 1.5% of it would give us the space we’d need to build an extra 1.4 million new homes. We could build one million homes around London on just 3.7% of the capital’s green belt.

Could the private sector do it? It already has – during the 1930s housing boom, private construction rose from 133,000 houses per year in 1934-45 to 279,000, in just one year – and these houses were affordable. If you come, they will built it.

The cost of extra infrastructure could be more than covered by capturing “planning gain”, with the government buying green belt land, reclassifying it and selling it at the market rate to the private sector, keeping the gains for itself.

Trimming the edges of the green belt would suffice, but I’d like to go further. Much of the countryside is worth protecting, but much of the green belt itself is not. It doesn’t provide amenity to anyone who doesn’t live there already, it’s bad for the environment, and it makes housing cripplingly expensive.

Read the whole thing. I’ve tried to make it as comprehensive as possible, as a useful ‘cut out and keep’ piece to send to people who haven’t thought about how easily we could solve the housing crisis.

Maybe Cuban refugees did hurt unskilled Miamians after all

How do refugees affect the wages of natives in the places they settle? I’ve written on the (few) studies of this effect that I’ve seen, but a new paper contradicts one of them.

David Card’s 1990 study of the Mariel Boatlift, where 125,000 Cubans fled the Castro regime to settle mostly in Miami, found that there was no negative effect for unskilled natives. Card’s results suggested that the city’s existing garment and agricultural industries absorbed the extra workers and the influx did not cause downward pressure on the wages of unskilled workers already in Miami.

But a new working paper by Harvard’s George Borjas seems to undermine Card’s conclusions. Borjas looks at a particular sub-section of Miami’s unskilled workforce, high school dropouts, and compares Miami to a different set of cities to Card which, says Borjas, were more like Miami in terms of employment growth before the Boatlift took place.

When you do that, the Boatlift seems to have affected high school dropouts’ earnings very badly: they fell by between 10 and 30 percent, relative to the wages of high school graduates and college graduates. The gap between white and black workers’ wages grew substantially too – black workers’ wages fell by 20 percentage points.

The chart below shows the percentage difference in high school dropouts’ wages relative to college graduates’ wages during this period – the different ‘placebos’ show how dropouts’ wages performed in other samples of cities over the same period.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 13.36.19

Borjas concludes that the Boatlift put significant downward pressure on the wages of natives with skills similar to those of the migrants, which may also be the case with other similar influxes of immigrants.

It’s an important paper for anybody interested in the immigration debate. But there are also some important things that should make us cautious about extrapolating too much from this.

Most notably, the relative wages of high school dropouts recover entirely by 1990 – the effect Borjas has found only holds in the short-run. And Borjas’s study shows that the impact was negative for people at the bottom, but Card’s conclusions about the impact on native workers more generally still seem reasonably solid.

The Mariel immigrants were ‘exogenous’ to Miami’s economy – they did not come primarily to get jobs, but to escape Cuba. So the effect might not apply at all to economic migrants from other EU countries who are coming to the UK to work. But for refugees fleeing war, Borjas’s findings might well be repeated.

David Card may reply with some objections that throw doubt on some of Borjas’s choices, and as some people have pointed out a very influential paper by Borjas from 2003 was later undermined itself by replication and slight changes to assumptions. This doesn’t mean we should be skeptical of Borjas in particular, but it is a reminder to avoid drawing firm conclusions from just a couple of studies. Whatever their findings, more research like this can only be a good thing.

It’s free speech that will defeat Islamist preachers in universities

I suspect most readers of this blog will agree with Barack Obama’s basic point in the video above, which is that by banning racist books and right-wing speakers to ‘coddle’ oversensitive types, universities are failing students.

This is a problem we have in the UK as well – Brendan O’Neill and Tim Stanley were barred from speaking at a debate about abortion they’d been invited to take part in at Oxford last November, and certain parts of the social justice movement have been waging a quiet war against ‘trans-exclusionary’ radical feminists (and vice-versa, perhaps) by having them barred from university conferences and events, heckling them when they speak, and so on. People like James Watson have been made untouchable for suggesting that there may be genetic differences in IQ between different races.

This is not entirely a left-wing phenomenon. Today David Cameron has ‘named and shamed‘ universities ‘that regularly give platforms to hate preachers who are determined to undermine British values’. It’s not clear to me what ‘British values’ are, or what’s so bad about wanting to undermine them. Is belief in the NHS a British value, making free marketeers dangerous too? Is belief in democracy, excluding Jacobite restorationists from campuses and the like?

The obvious response to this is that these people will not just ‘undermine British values’ but actively encourage students to kill other people. Of course we already have laws against incitement to violence (excessively strict ones, some would say) but perhaps these don’t work here. A roundabout suggestion that the, ahem, Zionists are controlling the media and, you know, maybe these ISIS fellas aren’t so bad after all is not – and should not be – illegal, but might plant a seed in enough people’s minds to lead them to kill.

No doubt there is something rotten in British universities, but I wonder if part of the problem is that opponents of these speakers are heavily restricted by the sort of people Obama attacked yesterday.

How easy is it to oppose Islamism on university campuses? Being anti-abortion is unpopular, but Islamophobia is so forbidden that Ed Miliband proposed to make it a hate crime. Last year Plymouth University’s Islamic Society tried to have a speaker from the anti-Islamist Quilliam banned from speaking there. The year before that, a mob of students blocked Israel’s deputy Ambassador to Britain from giving a lecture at the University of Essex. There is no shortage of other examples either.

So perhaps institutionalised political correctness is allowing Islamists to get a free pass at universities without being challenged, as it has arguably contributed to child abuse in Rotherham and elsewhere. If feminist comedian Kate Smurthwaite is too edgy to be allowed to perform to Goldsmith University students, what hope do harsh critics of Islamism like Maajid Nawaz or Douglas Murray have?

Banning hate preachers would mean we must also accept the principle of banning Maajid Nawaz for pushing back against them, Tim Stanley for opposing abortion, and Germaine Greer for showing insufficient respect to Caitlin Jenner. It concedes too much.

Open debate is too valuable to give up in places where it is supposed to thrive. It shouldn’t be harder for Islamists to speak at universities – it should be easier for their enemies to contradict them. The problem is not what is being said, but what is not being said.

Six points about the Trade Union Bill

  1. Making striking more difficult might be a good thing. The most controversial part of the bill is the part requiring at least 50% turnout in strikes overall (so 25% of members must vote in favour), and for public sector strikes the backing of at least 40% of those eligible to vote. This certainly does make striking less easy, but it hardly makes it impossible. If workers really feel that they need to strike, they can still do so, provided they get 25% or 40% of total members (for private and public sector workers respectively) to agree with them. This does make it harder for people like Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka to call strikes that most union members don’t want, though.
  2. Most workers aren’t in a union. Only 14% of private sector workers and 54% of public sector workers – 25% overall – are in a union. That means that strikes, even if they are good for union workers, only benefit a small number of workers. And everyone else is inconvenienced by them: strikes can be costly and time-consuming for people who use the services that the striking workers provide.
  3. People who are in a union are generally middle-income workers. According to the ONS, “Middle-income earners were more likely to be trade union members than either high or low paid employees. About 38 per cent of employees who earned between £500 and £999 were members of a trade union, compared with 21 per cent of employees earning £1,000 or more. The proportion of employees earning less than £250 who were trade union members was 15 per cent.” Also, “Employees in professional occupations are more likely to be trade union members” (this includes jobs like nurses).
  4. Why shouldn’t firms be allowed to hire agency workers to fill in for striking workers? Workers who take part in official strikes (as defined here) are protected from being fired, except after 12 weeks of striking if the employer has tried to settle the dispute. This privilege is popular but if the only reason to stop firms from hiring replacement workers is that it makes strikes less powerful it’s not clear why this is a bad thing.
  5. Some parts of the bill do seem draconian. Making strikers wear armbands may be justifiable if there is a problem with identifying workers who are actually working and who are taking part in the strike – I don’t know if this is the case. Requiring picketers to give their names to the police seems entirely overboard, though, and David Davis is probably right that it’s unnecessary.
  6. Strikes do cost money, though some might have a surprising upside too. Between 2011 and 2014 (inclusive) about 3 million days worth of labour were lost directly because of strikes. That’s costly and does not include the time lost from people working from home, leaving work early, coming in late, etc. (Giles Wilkes points out that over the same period 520 million days were lost to illness. With that context, 3 million doesn’t sound very high.) But there may be surprising upside too – a Cambridge paper released today says that the February 2014 tube strike was a net positives in efficiency terms, because 1 in 20 people who found a new route to work stuck with it after that, and the long-term savings to them from that outweigh the daily losses to the other 19 in 20 workers. I’m not sure if that scales to other strikes, but it’s quite a nifty finding either way. (NB: I haven’t read the full paper yet, so I can’t vouch for it.)