Mark Andreessen’s half a good idea

Mark Andreessen has half a good idea here. He points out that while everyone’s trying to create more Silicon Valleys that’s not actually what we need. SV is the global agglomeration of the world’s computing nerds and their necessary support services. That’s what makes the place work. However, what we would rather like to have is similar global agglomerations of the world’s materials processing nerds, of the geeks who get organic chemistry and so on. For this is the way that industries manage to develop: building themselves where people already grasp the basics. It’s still true, for example, that if you’rte going to set up in non-ferrous metals in the UK you’ll do it around Sheffield or Rotherham, if in pottery in the Potteries, chlorine chemistry is Tyne- and Tees- side.

So, politicians who would like a development cluster should look to what areas already have some footing in and then attempt to build upon them. That’s sensible and that’s the half the good idea. However, we then get to the other half:

Imagine a Bitcoin Valley, for instance, where some country fully legalizes cryptocurrencies for all financial functions. Or a Drone Valley, where a particular region removes all legal barriers to flying unmanned aerial vehicles locally. A Driverless Car Valley in a city that allows experimentation with different autonomous car designs, redesigned roadways and safety laws. A Stem Cell Valley. And so on. There’s a key difference from the if-you-build-it-they-will-come argument of yore. Here, the focus is more on driving regulatory competition between city, state and national governments. There are many new categories of innovation out there and entrepreneurs eager to go after opportunities within each of them. Rethinking the regulatory barriers in specific industries would better draw the startups, researchers and divisions of big companies that want to innovate in the vanguard of a particular domain—while also exploring and addressing many of the difficult regulatory issues along the way.

Selectively reduce the regulatory state in various areas and see what happens. But this doesn’t go far enough: as we saw with the Urban Development Corporations of St. Maggie’s era. For if reduced regulation is going to increase growth, and we are already assuming that, then why would we reduce regulation in only one geographic area?

Once we’ve accepted the basic argument, reduce regulation so as to encourage innovation, then our answer should be to reduce regulation everywheree.

Politicians Without Borders: A proposal to abolish the nationality requirement to run for election

Vishal is the winner of the Adam Smith Institute’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. The subject of the competition was ’3 Policy Choices to make the UK a Freer Country’, and below is one of Vishal’s three submissions.

If representative democracy is characterised by the citizens voting for those who they think will represent their interests most accurately – why is this choice restricted? I am referring specifically to the nationality requirement to run for election in all nation-states.

Interestingly, European Parliament elections do not require candidates to be of the same nationality as the citizens of the constituency they hope to represent. For example, Anita Pollack was an Australian who represented a UK constituency, Maurice Duverger was a Frenchman representing Italians, Ari Vatanen was a Finn who represented the French and Monica Frassoni was an Italian who represented Belgians. Why, then, should we be denied such choice when electing individuals to national parliaments?

One may argue that the right must be deprived due to security concerns and because ‘foreigners may not have the country’s best interests at heart’. However, we could say the same for domestic politicians – this is not sufficient. Furthermore, when we consider that there are many humanitarian projects in various countries that involve people of different nationalities, sometimes it might just be reasonable to believe thatpeople actually want to help others, regardless of their nationality!

Currently, all mainstream parties in all countries are nationalist and abolishing the nationality requirement would pave the way for non-nationalist alternatives (at the very least) which may actually help preserve peaceful relations with other countries by providing a voice to those who do not believe in a potentially dangerous, exclusionary nationalist agenda.

Furthermore, the extra competition from foreign nationals might make the transmission of public policy ideas and implementation of public policy more effective. Voters could essentially call for certain foreign politicians to run and ‘import’ politicians whose policies they think they would help the country more than their domestic alternatives (people might prefer, for example, some Scandinavian, German or American MPs). Essentially, domestic politicians would have to increase their performance in response to foreign competition and this would improve overall political performance over time.

After all, if George Osborne can legitimately appoint Mark Carney, a Canadian national, to control the country’s money supply on the grounds of competence, why should the British public not be able to directly elect the foreign politicians whom they would like to see governing the UK? Simply abolishing the nationality requirement and thereby increasing choice for voters would ultimately lead to a net gain in welfare for British society.

Don’t cry for Argentina

The usual suspects are complaining loudly that Argentina will have to pay back some of the money that it borrowed. Better, they seem to think, that the law should be flouted by a government than that capitalists should get their money back. However, Argentina had a choice a decade ago. And they made one that benefited them then and has done so for the past decade: it’s only now that the other part of that choice is becoming apparent.

Yet, the implications of this ruling go far beyond Argentina’s borders. The New York court decision is a precedent that prioritises the profits of financial speculators above the rights of a nation to make economical decisions and protect the interests of its people. It dramatically increases the risk and potential impact of future debt crises, removing any incentive for creditors to participate in debt restructuring for countries facing debt distress – why take the hit when you can stop everyone else from getting paid by holding out?

The clue is in that “New York court decision”. Why on earth is a New York court interfering between a soverign government and the people that lent that government money? We wouldn’t expect a New York court to have any power over the issuance of UK gilts for example. And the reason is that investors don’t trust the Argentine courts. Thus if the bonds had been issued under Argentine law the interest rate to be paid on those bonds would have been higher than those that were actually issued under Now York law. so, Argentina has been benefiting all along from lower interest rates (both before and after default in fact) as a result of issuance in somewhere where court decisions get decided according to the law rather than as a result of a telephone call from the Presidential Palace.

And do not think this does not happen: some Argentine bonds have interest rates set against the Argentine inflation rate (logically, as they’re local currency bonds). And the Argentine government has been threatening to jail economists recording the inflation rate as they keep coming up with numbers rather higher than the official announcements which are used to calculate that interest rate.

Another way to put this is that if a government flouts the rule of law so egregiously as to have to borrow money outside its own legal jurisdiction (something that is very different from having to borrow from foreigners, as you can issue foreign bonds under domestic law or that of some other jurisdiction) then it really shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise when some of those foreigners use that foreign law to stop you flouting said rule of law. For, of course, that’s why it’s all been set up this way in the first place.

Allow student loans to be spent abroad!

Vishal is the winner of the Adam Smith Institute’s ‘Young Writer on Liberty’ competition. The subject of the competition was ’3 Policy Choices to make the UK a Freer Country’, and below is one of Vishal’s three submissions.

If the objective of providing student loans is to ensure that everyone has access to higher education, why do we stipulate that its use be restricted to British universities? Why not grant all prospective university students the freedom to use their loan money on foreign universities?

 Simply expanding university places in the name of ‘widening participation’ doesn’t change the fact that people from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately well represented in the lower-tier universities (where graduate unemployment rates are the highest). Furthermore, the prospect of graduating with up to £37,725 of debt (for a 3-year course; £9000/year for tuition + £3575 maintenance loan) is far more daunting for people from lower-income households (bursaries and grants are limited, after all).

Allowing students to spend their student loans on foreign universities would ease the pressure on British universities whilst simultaneously encouraging them to be more competitive with the services they offer – most importantly though, students would have more choice (and often cheaper alternatives).

Many middle-income and upper middle-income families (whose children hold the lion’s share of places at the best universities, currently) may find that the resultant change in the marginal cost of sending their children where fees are relatively more expensive (to the USA, Canada and Australia, for example) would actually make this option financially feasible – thereby freeing domestic places.

Furthermore, if students chose to study in Europe (as many would, seeing as it is closer), many European countries do not even have tuition fees (and, if they do, it’s a fraction of what we pay for our universities) – this means that they’d only really need a maintenance loan, if at all! There are no tuition fees charged in Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Norway charge about 40EUR/semester (no, I’ve not omitted any zeroes), German universities can charge a maximum of 1000EUR/year, the French public universities charge between 250-650EUR/year, the Dutch 1835EUR/year, the Spanish between 525-1280EUR/year and the Swiss up to 3000EUR/year. That means massive savings for the taxpayer and many happier British graduates with a lot less debt.

Also, for those students who are adventurous and/or enterprising enough to want to get their foot in the door of certain emerging markets sooner rather than later, they could study in the BRICS countries (again, for a fraction of the cost).

If the objective of student loans is to educate, let students spend it on the education they would prefer!

Don’t take this new estimate of poverty all that seriously

A new report out insisting that poverty has climbed over the past few decades. Not a report to take all that seriously really:

The number of British households falling below minimum living standards has more than doubled in the past 30 years, despite the size of the economy increasing twofold, a study on poverty and deprivation in the UK claims . According to the study, 33% of households endure below-par living standards – defined as going without three or more “basic necessities of life”, such as being able to adequately feed and clothe themselves and their children, and to heat and insure their homes. In the early 1980s, the comparable figure was 14%.

The actual research itself isn’t quite as bad as the write up of it (although that’s last year’s version, this year’s is not published as yet). Not as bad as long as we recall the limitations to it.

The number of people falling below the minimum standards of the day has doubled since 1983

The important part is that “standards of the day”.

It’s a good measure of poverty for all that. Very similar to the way the Rowntree people calculate the Living Wage and we at the ASI have several times insisted that we support that method of measurement. It’s Adam Smith’s linen shirt all over again. Not being able to afford a linen shirt does not make you poor. But if you live in a society where not having enough to be able to afford a linen shirt means you are regarded as poor then in that society you are indeed poor. Thus the Rowntree surveys of what people ought to be able to do without being regarded as poor in this society.

But that makes this a survey of relative poverty, not absolute. For as society becomes generally richer then the list of things you should be able to do without being regarded as poor expands. For example:

Specifically, one in three people could not afford to adequately heat their homes last winter and 29% had to turn the heating down or off or only heat part of their homes.

I very much doubt that anyone at all expected to be able to heat all of their house the entire winter back in 1980. Perhaps the very richest: but partial heating of a house was entirely the norm even in a thoroughly middle class upbringing like my own. Yes, the report does talk about this but the standard of “fully heated” has changed markedly over these decades.

The interesting way to read this report is actually to look at the advances that have been made. The general standard of living has risen sufficiently that what used to be considered being reasonably well to do is now regarded as being in poverty. At which point three cheers for free market capitalism: the only socio-economic system that has ever actually managed this feat.