There’re times to obey the rules and there are times to strangle the last politician with the intestines of the last bureaucrat

Presented without any further comment than that headline:

Charles Murray is quick to add that he is perfectly fine with a wide range of sensible regulations, and that only a narrow subset of regulations ought to be disobeyed, offering this rule of thumb: if the matter in question were to become a news story in the mass media, the vast majority of Americans would side with the rule-breaker. He offered the example of a bartender with whom he corresponded––she was fined $3,000 for failing to card a customer, and while he granted the legitimacy of requiring alcohol sellers to check the ages of customers, he felt it was unfair to fine the bartender in this particular situation as the customer was her father.

But why is private property not allowed to leave the country, even if it is a Cezanne?

We find this all most odd:

An important Cézanne landscape view of the Mediterranean, which has been on public view in Cambridge for nearly 30 years, is in danger of leaving the UK unless more than £13.5m can be raised.

The British government on Monday placed a temporary export bar on Cézanne’s Vue sur L’Estaque et le Château d’If.

Purchased by the industrialist Samuel Courtauld in 1936 and passed down through his family, it was on long-term loan to the Fitzwilliam Museum from 1985 until last year when a decision was taken to sell it.

What justification is there for whoever owns this painting now not being allowed to take their private property where they wish?

After all, consider the peregrinations of the painting so far:

Ambroise Vollard, Paris, by whom acquired directly from the artist.
Baron Denys Cochin, Paris, by 1904.
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris, by whom acquired on 12 May 1905.
Paul Cassirer, Berlin, by whom acquired on 21 September 1905.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, and Jos Hessel, Paris, by whom acquired on 2 April 1909.
Jos Hessel, Paris, by whom acquired on 12 July 1910.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, by whom acquired on 12 October 1912.
Walther Halvorsen, Oslo, by whom acquired on 21 April 1915.
Erich Goeritz, Luxembourg, by 1936.
Galerie Thannhauser, Lucerne, by whom acquired from the above on 9 July 1936.
Wildenstein Galleries, Paris & London, by whom acquired from the above on 11 July 1936.
Samuel Courtauld, London, by whom acquired from the above in November 1936, and thence by succession to the current owners.

What is there in all that which justifies the full majesty of the law being applied to keeping it in the UK?

Our general reading of such export bans is that they are a scam perpetrated upon the general public. Some small number of influential people rather like looking at the occasional French painting. But they’d prefer not to have to pay for their pleasures. Thus they manipulate the law so as to insist that their desires are catered to.

It’s time for us to change this system: ban export bans now!

Sensible regulation

Regulation involves compliance costs that large businesses can afford more readily than can small firms.  Indeed, big business sometimes colludes with government and bureaucracy to have regulations that make market entry difficult for start-up and small competitors.

Regulation should be cost-effective, doing as little economic damage as possible, limiting competition or increasing prices as little as it can while achieving its objectives.  Above every regulator’s desk should be inscribed the words: “Competition is the best regulator,” for it is the ability of the customer to go elsewhere that compels firms to keep their quality high and their prices low.

Above all, regulation should be sensible.  Those who have no experience of business are unlikely to produce sensible regulations unless they consult with those who have.  Part of the problem is that things change.  New products and processes render old regulations irrelevant or inappropriate, and legislators struggle to add extra pages of detail to keep up with events.  The pile of regulatory requirements grows higher.

One possible solution might be to draw on the tradition of English Common Law, relying on precedent rather than on closely-written requirements.  For example, many pages of detail set out what toilet facilities employers have to provide for employees.  A general requirement that employers should have to provide ‘decent toilet facilities’ immediately begs the question of “What counts as decent?”  It could be determined by a series of decisions by juries and tribunals, so that an understanding of what was expected would soon emerge.

The advantage of this method is that it would incorporate the common sense of those sitting in judgement, and could adapt in response to changing times, just as Common Law does. 

This is not the Continental tradition of statute law.  Law there tends to be made by legislators and bureaucrats rather than by juries.  The rules are written down in advance and in detail, rather than emerging from a series of decisions dealing with circumstances.  EU regulations are made in this way, and there is little prospect of them changing.  

Mr Cameron might make part of his EU negotiating stance that the 95% of UK firms which do not export to the EU should not be subject to EU regulations.  A common law system of regulation could then be applied to them, making regulation more sympathetic and more flexible, lowering compliance costs and making it easier for new firms to start up.  It would give a significant boost to the economy.

Aim: Here’s to 20 more years

The Alternative Investment Market (Aim) – a sub-market of the London Stock Exchange that allows smaller companies to participate with greater regulatory flexibility than applies to the main market – is today celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Aim has seen over 3,600 companies join since its 1995 launch and is now home to around 1,100 small and midsized companies. A less tightly regulated market than the main exchange, Aim provides a lower-cost alternative for small and mid-sized companies seeking investment.

But crucially, once afloat firms can raise further finance from their shareholders without going through the procedures enforced on those listed on the London Stock Exchange. And in a bid to ensure the flexible ambitions of SMEs are served even further, acquisitive companies and those looking to be acquired encounter far fewer controls than those on the main market.

Many successful companies have listed on Aim, including:Arbuthnot Banking Group
Arbuthnot Banking Group, previously known as Secure Trust Banking Group, listed on the Alternative Investment Market (having previously been listed on the London Stock Exchange). Over the past five years, share prices have steadily risen, and have seen a 22.66 per cent rise in the past 12 months.

Asos, the online fashion retailer, is one of the most famous success stories since Aim’s debut in 1995. Asos was initially priced at 3p and share prices once soared as high as £70 (now close to £38, after a major swing in value). Since the beginning of the year, shares have risen by 49 per cent.

Fevertree Drinks
In 2005, Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow joined forces to change the face of tonic water, finding an alternative preserver to sodium benzoate and instead using high quality quinine. A newbie to Aim, share prices have soared 65.51 per cent in the past six months. Today, the company sells more than 60m bottles of its premium mixers in 50 markets.

Fitbug tracks sleep, steps, and estimates calories burned, and was founded in 2005 by ex-management consultant Paul Landau. At around £40, the Fitbug Orb device affordable compared to its competitors and it is now stocked by major retailers. Its share price soared late last year, and despite a correction this January, is still up 675 per cent in the past 52 weeks.

GW Pharmaceuticals
One of Aim’s great success stories, GW Pharmaceuticals – the biopharmaceutical company founded in 1998 and best known for its MS treatment product Sativex – is listed on both the Nasdaq Global Market and Aim. In the past five years, share prices have rocketed from just over a pound, to 655p today.

Majestic Wine
A favourite tipple of investors in the Aim for years, Majestic Vintners opened its first wine warehouse in Wood Green in 1980. In 1996, the company floated and it now has 200 stores and an online platform. Despite a rocky 2014, Majestic’s share price has risen 4.67 per cent in the past year.

You may be surprised to learn that a company specialising in tableware has become one of the most successful in the UK today. Over 40 per cent of its sales are to the North American market, and the company sells almost as much to South Korea as it does to the UK. Portmeirion has never cut its dividend and has been paying out since 1982.

Nevertheless, the market has been plagued by poor returns and a host of corporate failures – including some high profile fraud cases (the Langbar International fraud was once branded “the greatest stock market heist of all time”). And let us not forget that the market has performed pretty poorly over the years, with annualised total returns of -1.6 per cent per year when measured over the past two decades.

Nonetheless, Aim shares have surged in popularity since 2013, when they became eligible for inclusion in Isas. The high-risk factor had previously stopped the government from removing the restriction, but a desire to ensure that small and medium-sized companies – which are driving the economic recovery – have sufficient access to funding led to it reversing this decision.

It was the right choice: without Aim, there was a risk these companies would have turned to Nasdaq, or simply failed to grow. Research from Grant Thornton has also revealed that the companies listed on Aim paid £2.3bn in taxes in 2013 and directly employed 430,000 people at the end of that year.

For investors, Aim shares remain one of the most tax-advantaged options. If held through an Isa, benefits include no capital gains tax (CGT), no tax on dividend income, and no stamp duty. In addition, once certain Aim shares have been held in an Isa for a two-year period, they can qualify for Business Property Relief (BPR) and thus up to 100 per cent exemption from inheritance tax (IHT).

But the market is volatile: in 2008, for example, it lost around two-thirds of its value. Neither does the market offer plain sailing for the smaller companies that choose to list on it. Analysts predict that floating on Aim can cost anywhere between £400,000 and £1m – so for businesses with a projected market capitalisation of less than £25m, it may not be worth considering. 2014 research from accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young found that professional fees paid by companies to brokers and nominated advisers for a placing on aim accounted for 9.5 per cent of all funds raised.

And many of the mining, oil and gas companies (which account for a whopping 40 per cent of the market) that listed on Aim have since gone bust – among them ScotOil, African Minerals and Independent Energy Holdings. Firms involved in exploration for natural resources are among the riskiest of all: if a company digs for oil and there’s none to be found, the money raised for exploration has all but gone down the drain.

But should the government be doing more to serve the needs of smaller companies? Xavier Rolet, chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, certainly thinks so. Compared to the US, there are relatively few UK companies that progress to mid-size (and then on to become multibillion pound corporations like Facebook or Google). And as Rolet recently told the CBI:

“The entire business and financial community is working to nurture and celebrate these firms. But we must continue to challenge the status quo and not become complacent. We need to carry on fostering, through policy and practice, a richer, more diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem, so that the UK’s high-growth firms can take root and flourish.”

Rolet is right. Although floating your company isn’t the only way to grow a business, it needs to remain a workable option: particularly if we are to get the share-owning democracy that so many in the current government crave.

This article was first published by The Entrepreneurs Network.

In which we come over all regal and medieval

It was never quite true that if a medieval king or ruler felt that the quality of the advice he was receiving was slipping a bit, that then there would be a nice bloody purge of said advisers in order to buck up the quality of policy on offer from those who remained. Britain, certainly, never had quite such absolutism, something for which of course we should all be grateful. But there are times, even in this modern era, when such a policy seems most attractive:

He said EU regulations are the “single biggest impact on our business”. The EU is unleashing Europe’s beet farmers in 2017 by removing a production cap, in a move that is expected to push down prices 15pc by 2020. Farmers will be subsidised to counteract this drop, while cane sugar imports continue to face tariffs of up to €339 (£246) per tonne.

Leave aside the bleatings of the business affected by these rules. And savour instead the absurdity of them.

There’s poor people out there, poor people who would be delighted to sell us the sugar we desire at a price we’d be delighted to pay. So, instead of raising both our and their quality of life we tax what they would sell us. Then there’s the very much richer farmers of Europe, who do not wish to produce sugar for us to consume at any price that we wish to pay. So, we subsidise them to do so. And bringing up the rear is the lamentable Action on Sugar who are insisting that the whole sector should groan under yet another layer of taxes to prevent us eating what we subsidise the production of.

It is obviously true that waving a broadsword through the apparatchicki of an entire continent is not a liberal proposal. But boy, oh boy, is it still a tempting one. This is of course Kip Esquire’s Law, that if there were some rationalisation of the world, some attempt at planning, then we’d be the people getting to do said rationalising and planning rather than someone else doing it in a manner we might not appreciate so much. So back to the boring old, and markedly more liberal, ideas of persuasion, democratic politics and simple exposition of the absurd state of modern affairs.

We are subsidising the rich to produce something, we are taxing the poor who would provide us with that same thing and this is simply a nonsense. We should stop doing both.

Please, and our having asked nicely doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the idea of getting a bit more regal and medieval about it all.