Excellent news; so there will be fewer milk farmers then?

Some people don’t seem to get the point of this market thing:

The boss of British yoghurt-maker Yeo Valley has warned that the removal of the EU milk quota system, which previously capped production will be another blow for struggling farmers.

Tim Mead, chairman of the Somerset-based dairy producer, said the removal of restrictions will encourage the industry to ramp up production, leaving farmers with a surplus of dairy products that they are then unable to sell.

Yes, this is rather the point of the changes.

Currently there are restrictions upon production. This means that each producer is operating at inefficient levels: they require more inputs in the form of land, labour and capital than the level of their output should require, because of those production restrictions.

So, we remove those production restrictions and the more efficient of those producers will expand their production, from very much the same set of inputs. This does of course mean that the less efficient producers then go out of buseinss. Allowing those inputs, that land, labour and capital, to be repurposed to go off and produce something else which satiates some other human desire or want.

That is, we all become richer by removing those production constraints. Because, from our same set of inputs, we get more human desires satiated. And this is the point and purpose of having an economy in the first place: to satiate, as best we can, as many human desires and wishes as we are capable of.

Removing production quotas will mean some milk farmers go bust. Good, that’s the point of removing the production quotas.

A blanket ban on psychoactive substances makes UK drugs policy even worse

It is a truth under-acknowledged that a drug user denied possession of their poison is in want of an alternative. The current ‘explosion‘ in varied and easily-accessible ‘legal highs’ (also know as ‘new psychoactive substances’) are a clear example of this.

In June 2008 33 tonnes of sassafras oil - a key ingredient in the production of MDMA – were seized in Cambodia; enough to produce an estimated 245 million ecstasy tablets. The following year real ecstasy pills ‘almost vanished‘ from Britain’s clubs. At the same time the purity of street cocaine had also been steadily falling, from over 60% in 2002 to 22% in 2009.

Enter mephedrone: a legal high with similar effects to MDMA but readily available and for less than a quarter of the price. As the quality of ecstasy plummeted (as shown by the blue line on this graph) and substituted with things like piperazines, (the orange line) mephedrone usage soared (purple line). The 2010 (self-selecting, online) Global Drug Survey found that 51% of regular clubbers had used mephedrone that year, and official figures from the 2010/11 British Crime Survey estimate that around 4.4% 16 to 24 year olds had tried it in the past year.

Similarly, law changes and clampdowns in India resulted in a UK ketamine drought, leading to dabblers (both knowingly and unknowingly) taking things like (the once legal, now Class B) methoxetamine. And indeed, the majority of legal highs on offer are ‘synthetic cannabinoids’ which claim to mimic the effect of cannabis. In all, it’s fairly safe to claim that were recreational drugs like ecstasy, cannabis and cocaine not so stringently prohibited, these ‘legal highs’ (about which we know very little) probably wouldn’t be knocking about.

Still, governments tend to be of the view that any use of drugs is simply objectively bad, so the above is rather a moot point. But what anxious states can do, of course, is ban new legal highs as they crop up. However, even this apparently obvious solution has a few problems— the first being that there seems to be a near-limitless supply of cheap, experimental compounds to bring to market. When mephedrone was made a Class B controlled substance in 2010, alternative legal highs such NRG-1 and ‘Benzo Fury’ started to appear. In fact, over 550 NPS have been controlled since 2009. Generally less is known about each concoction than the last, presenting potentially far greater health risks to users.

At the same time, restricting a drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 requires evidence of the harm they cause (not that harm levels always bear much relation to a drug’s legality), demanding actual research as opposed to sensationalist headlines. Even though temporary class drug orders were introduced in 2011 to speed up the process, a full-out ban still requires study, time and resources. Many have claimed the battle with the chemists in China  is one lawmakers are unlikely to win.

And so with all of this in mind, the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday confirmed that Conservatives will take the next rational step in drug enforcement, namely, to simply ban ALL OF THE THINGS.

In order to automatically outlaw anything which can make people’s heads go a bit funny, their proposed blanket ban (modelled on a similar Irish policy) will prohibit the trade of ‘any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect’, and will carry up to a 7-year prison sentence.

Somewhat ironically for a party so concerned with preserving the UK’s legal identity it wants to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, this represents a break from centuries of British common law, under which we are free to do something unless the law expressly forbids it. This law enshrines the opposite. In fact, so heavy-handed and far-reaching is the definition of what it is prohibited to supply that special exemptions have to be granted for those everyday psychoactive drugs like caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. Whilst on first glance the ban might sound like sensible-enough tinkering at the edges of our already nonsensical drug policy, it really is rather sinister, setting a worrying precedent for the state to bestow upon citizens permission to behave in certain ways.

This law will probably (at least initially) wipe out the high street ‘head shops’ which the Daily Mail and Centre for Social Justice  are so concerned about. However, banning something has never yet simply made a drug disappear. An expert panel commissioned by the government to investigate legal highs acknowledged that a 50% increase in seizures of Class B drugs between 2011/12 and 2013/14 was driven by the continued sale of mephedrone and other once-legal highs like it. Usage has fallen from pre-ban levels, but so has its purity whilst the street price has doubled. Perhaps the most damning evidence, however, comes from the Home Office’s own report into different national drug control strategies, which failed to find “any obvious relationship between the toughness of a country’s enforcement against drug possession, and levels of drug use in that country”.

The best that can be hoped for with this ridiculous plan is that with the banning of absolutely everything, dealers stick to pushing the tried and tested (and what seems to be safer) stuff. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case – mephedrone and and other legal and once-legal highs have been turning up in batches of drugs like MDMA and cocaine as adulterants, and even being passed off as the real things.  Funnily enough, the best chance of new psychoactive substances disappearing from use comes from a resurgence of super-strong ecstasy, thanks to the discovery of a way to make MDMA using less heavily-controlled ingredients.

The ASI has pointed out somanytimes. that the best way to reduce the harms associated with drug use is to decriminalise, license and tax recreational drugs. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the Conservatives will see sense in the course of this parliament.  However, at least the mischievous can entertain themselves with the prospect that home-grown opiates could soon be on the horizon thanks to genetically modified wheat. And what a moral panic-cum-legislative nightmare that will be…

There’s a difference between the intent of regulation and the effects in the real world

We have another of these lovely examples of how the intent of a regulation can be very different indeed from the effect of said regulation out there in the real world. We’ll assume that most people are pretty cool with there being regulations against murder and punishments for breaching them. We’re also pretty sure that such regulations and punishments reduce the number of murders that occur. So, sure, some regulations can indeed be beneficial, achieve their stated goal.

We can also look around the world and see those gurning idiots in South America who think that if you peg the price of toilet paper nice and low then the poor will be able to afford toilet paper. Of course, what happens is that no one can afford toilet paper as no one is willing to make it for this new and lower price. Regulations can have the opposite effect to that intended.

And then there’s, well, then there’s this:

Fair or not, this latest evidence of the risks of informal surrogacy arrangements, in the context of Britain’s strict regulatory code, can only encourage more parents to bypass local options and head straight for a poorer or developing country. In India, for example, surrogates are plentiful, screened and by all accounts more dependable than British volunteers.

Leave aside, for a moment, any judgement on either the morality or desirability of such surrogacy. And consider the statement there. That strict regulation of who may do what and when drives the very activity itself out of the regulatory net. Does this regulation therefore achieve its aim? We would say probably not. The take away from this specific example being that, if one wanted to keep the activity inside the regulatory net then one would probably argue for a lighter touch with the regulation.

This observation is of a great deal mpore use than just talking about reproductive technology of course. It’s from the one side, the argument used in favour of legal abortion: without the legality it would still take place on those fabled backstreets and this would be worse. And it, from the other side, informs our attitude towards recreational drugs. As is obvious it’s going to happen anyway. So, loosen the regulations on whether people can or not so as to bring the activity into the regulations on purity and safety. Which is, as should be obvious, exactly the same as that abortion argument. Both are arguing that regulation should be pitched at the level to minimise harm, that only being possible when regulation is sufficiently light for the activity to remain regulated at all.

Thus it is essential that all regulation be “light touch” regulation. Within a wide and highly variable definition of “light” to be sure, dependent upon the specific activity. But it must always be light enough not to drive the activity underground and thus out of the reach of any regulation at all.

Here’s one reason for slow growth: regulation

Perhaps we do want to drill for oil in the heartland of the Home Counties, perhaps we don’t. That’s rather a political question and probably one best solved by politics. Instead, we want to draw attention to one of the reasons why the richer countries tend to have lower growth rates:

It is understood that although UKOG, which is chaired by Mr Lenigas, and its partners have local planning permission and a licence for the site in Surrey they would still require formal approval from the newly established OGA before any flow testing operations- vital to the project’s commercial future – could begin.

UKOG, whose shares are traded on the London Stock Exchange’s junior Aim market, said in a statement to the stock exchange that planning permission to proceed at Horse Hill was in place and that it had “already submitted the applications to the authorities for their consent” to conduct a flow test of the well.

However, The Telegraph understands that no such application had been received by the Oil and Gas Authority as at the close of business today, Aoril 28.

A spokesman for Mr Lenigas – who is playing an active role in driving the scheme forward – said that the company stands by its original statement “which is entirely accurate”.

According to guidelines, a well test would require planning permission from the Mineral Planning Authority, environmental permits from the Environment Agency (EA), a review of well plans by the Health and Safety Executive and finally regulatory consent from the OGA.

This process could take months, which if so would potentially put the company’s plans to flow test Horse Hill this year under pressure.

Leave aside, entirely, the interesting financial background to this. Consider instead this regulatory thicket.

It’s entirely possible that this is environmentally sound. That it really should take many months for the authorities to decide whether someone should be allowed to carry out a flow test. We find that hard to believe, given that well tests are a normal, routine, and well understood part of the process. But let that stand: there’s still, obviously, a restriction of the growth rate of the economy when people trying to do new things meet such regulatory thickets.

If there must be regulation then it needs to be simple, obvious and above all fast. The current regime doesn’t meet those tests: and this is a part of the explanation as to why growth rates are slow. We’ve allowed the necessity of a certain amount of bureaucratic licence gaining to become the equivalent of a barnacle encrusted hull on a ship. This reduces the speed through the water: time to haul the system out for a good careening.

It really is planning that is the problem with housing and house prices

We know, we go on about this almost ad nauseam. But it really is true that the basic problem with housing and house prices is the planning system. An interesting paper from the CEPR allows us, once again and via a different route, to prove this:

How have house prices evolved over the long‐run? This paper presents annual house prices
for 14 advanced economies since 1870. Based on extensive data collection, we show that real
house prices stayed constant from the 19th to the mid‐20th century, but rose strongly during
the second half of the 20th century. Land prices, not replacement costs, are the key to
understanding the trajectory of house prices. Rising land prices explain about 80 percent of
the global house price boom that has taken place since World War II. Higher land values have
pushed up wealth‐to‐income ratios in recent decades.

It is not that houses have become more expensive to build. The standard 3 bedder suburban semi can be put up, from scratch, for £120k and a little less than that in volume. What has become more expensive is that land. And, no, it’s not that we’re running out of land nor even that land itself has become more expensive. Even prime agricultural land in he SE tops out at £10k a hectare.

It is that land upon which you are allowed to build a house has become more expensive. And that of course is an entirely artificial shortage caused by the planning system itself.

So, if we want to deal with the “housing crisis” what we need to do is reform the planning system. Probably to the one we had before it caused this particular problem which was, essentially, to have no planning system at all.