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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

Farewell to the motherland

Written by Jason Jones | Monday 21 July 2008

After three wonderful months at the Adam Smith Institute, it is time for me to go back to the United States, marry my fiancé, complete my last year of university, and then head to law school. In the words of Paul (the Saint, not the Ron):

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

Ok, that's all a bit dramatic.

In all reality though, it has been a pleasure working here and I will miss London and the great friends I have made. If I have learned one lesson during the last three months, it is that we can never be complacent. Political demagogues will always promise greater prosperity to the masses by subsidizing, mandating, and taxing.

This is why those of us who want to take responsibility for our own lives must continuously work to keep the markets free, the taxes low, and the government small. Over the next few years, capitalism may indeed face its stiffest challenge in decades. Globalisation is changing the world landscape, and although it promises great benefits, many people are afraid of the future. The oil crisis and global warming hysteria will undoubtedly fuel the fire for greater government intervention.

So let's stick to our guns and continue our fight for freedom and liberty!

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"The nanny: coming to a McDonald's near you."

Written by Jason Jones | Friday 18 July 2008

California is at it again. This time it is trying to ban trans fat from all restaurants in the state. Forget that these restaurants are privately owned. Forget that costumers buy and eat food of their own free will and volition. Forget that doing so carries no externalities that would endanger the health of those who do not eat trans fats. The nanny is saying no.

As Assemblyman Chuck DeVore said, "For gosh sakes, this is taking government power to an absurd extreme."

For gosh sakes, is true. Many restaurants now voluntarily use trans fat free substitutes because consumers are increasingly aware of products that cause obesity and heart disease. But some restaurants cannot use substitutes without compromising the quality of their food. According to the California Restaurant Association:

Ethnic-food restaurants could be hit particularly hard by a ban on trans fats, because some of their entrees are difficult to prepare with substitutes... The particular oil used in a food affects product taste, appearance, texture, performance and stability.

Let restaurants and consumers decide. Children have mothers, and adults generally have enough brain capacity to decide what kind of food to eat.

The legislature approved the bill, which is now awaiting the Governator's approval or veto. For freedom's sake, let us hope Arnold Schwarzenegger terminates it.

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Maternity leave... for men?

Written by Jason Jones | Thursday 17 July 2008

Nicola Brewer, the head of the Equalities And Human Rights Commission, is proposing new legislation that will give men up to twelve weeks paternity leave at 90% of pay. She hopes the measure will give men the "same parental rights and responsibilities women have."

In reality, the proposal is meant to correct the problems caused by maternity rights legislation. According to the Telegraph:

Many employers are happier to simply bin job applications from women of child-bearing age. They can afford neither the maternity benefit - soon to be extended by the EU from nine to 12 months - nor the potential law suits.

Giving men maternity leave would supposedly allow women to work, allowing men to stay home. Brewer and her populist colleagues, however, fail to grasp the most basic principles of economics. Economic growth is a factor of production, and production a factor of incentive.

If both a husband and wife can get time off to mind their children and still get paid, why wouldn't they? Meanwhile, companies will be stuck with the deadweight of temporarily unproductive employees. This is not to say--for the record--that there should be no maternity leave whatsoever for women.

Biologically, women need some time off to recover from childbirth and to care for the child (men don't lactate yet--although we could see legislation soon requiring it so men and women are equal). The current nine month leave, soon to be extended to one year, is simply too much and ultimately hurts women who want to work. If men want an extended break, they should quit or negotiate a deal with their employer.

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Can’t touch this

Written by Jason Jones | Wednesday 16 July 2008

I spent a lovely evening at the Waterstone's bookstore in Picadilly last night and enjoyed perusing Mr Jones' Rules for the Modern Man by Dylan Jones. As I read the table of contents, I noticed a chapter entitled "How to Fire Someone." Jones then outlined what he claimed was the complicated procedure of giving warnings--both written and verbal--and of notifying HR, recording bad behaviour, and keeping witnesses.

Little does he know how good he has it. According to a Times article:

Talking to one headmaster at a London school last week, he told me that his hands were tied. Getting rid of a poor teacher, he explained, was nigh on impossible. Even though parents had complained about one of his own members of his staff, he had done little because the process was long and arduous, created dischord in the school, and might not even work.

An anecdote from my own lovely education. My history teacher when I was 16 did nothing more than make us read our textbook. She never lectured, never taught--just told us to read. If someone spoke, she yelled. Our principal wanted to fire her, but was scared she would sue. After several years of poor performance, she assaulted a student. Finally the axe fell.

It should not be this hard! Are the students for the teacher or the teacher for the students? I love and respect the thousands upon thousands of truly excellent teachers. There is hardly a more dedicated and altruistic bunch. But making it difficult to fire protects teachers at the expense of children.

As things are, if children get stuck with the poor teacher, they just have to accept it.

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Hope for a brighter tomorrow

Written by Jason Jones | Tuesday 15 July 2008

John McCain has been cruising the Rust Belt, empathizing with those who are hardest hit by economic hard times: “America is hurting today," he said. “Michigan is hurting today. The automotive industry is hurting. And we’ve got big problems, and we’ve got big challenges… [but] I have to tell you — and I know that it’s not popular — I do believe in the overall benefits of free trade."

For many in the developed world, there is indeed reason to be pessimistic. The manufacturing jobs that are leaving are not likely to return. The credit crisis and high gas prices are making things more difficult for many. Perhaps this is why more Americans than ever believe their children will not be better off than they were.

The good news, however, is that the Europe, the UK and the United States will be more prosperous in the future than they ever have in the past—as long as they recognize the opportunities that the globalised world will bring. Even though many jobs are going abroad, resulting in an increased demand for oil and food, a more prosperous world will tremendously benefit the developed world.

Why? China, India, and Brazil have a combined population of more than two billion people. As they grow more prosperous, the size of the market will increase dramatically. This creates a remarkable and unprecedented opportunity for entrepreneurs in Europe and America. Our workers will no longer anchor the assembly lines, but will market, create, and imagine new products for a better world. Although the transition may be difficult, a new and more prosperous day is on the horizon.

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Empathy for a modern day slave

Written by Jason Jones | Monday 14 July 2008

Cristiano Ronaldo is under fire for claiming he is like a slave because Manchester United will not release the final year of his contract so he can play at Real Madrid. We should all mourn this blatant violation of human rights.

Poor Ronaldo. In 2004, Man U exploited a helpless and innocent teenager, and then tricked him into signing a new contract in 2006 for £56 million 2010. When he said, "United have stood by me and been there for me and I want to repay that," it was probably against his will. Those monsters at Man U made him say it. In April 2007, he renegotiated his contract through 2012 for £120,000 per week and said, "I am very happy at the club and I want to win trophies and hopefully we will do that this season."

Those guys in Manchester United can manipulate anyone to say anything. It’s ludicrous to believe anyone could possibly be happy playing football for a living—especially for such little money. It won’t be long until the bosses at Man U realize their errors and write the greatest hymn of anguish and repentance since “Amazing Grace" and Ronaldo releases his album of freedom songs.

For someone named after the Great Ronald Reagan, Ronaldo should realize that this is actually called CAPITALISM, not slavery. Two people negotiate, agree on the terms of a contract, and sign it. Then both parties do what they agreed. In this case Man U agreed to pay Ronaldo a ridiculous amount of money and Ronaldo agreed to play football for 5 years. A little different than being transported from Africa to South Carolina in the barracks of a terrible ship, being sold from one owner to the other, and performing forced labour your whole life…

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My Country, ‘tis of thee, knows little about liberty

Written by Jason Jones | Thursday 10 July 2008

This week’s Economist contains some sad figures about my home country, the United States. Only one third of Americans believe free-trade agreements are good for the economy, the lowest figure in the developed world. On the other hand, a famous study in 1992 by Alston, Kearl and Vaughan (google: “Is There a Consensus Among Economists in the 1990's?") found that 93% of economists support free trade. Why is there such a discrepancy, not just in America, but worldwide?

Economics, in general, is not exactly intuitive. Most people don’t naturally come to the same conclusions that Ricardo and Smith came to without instruction and explanation. It is much easier to comprehend, "We should have tariffs because if we don’t, people will buy sugar from Jamaica instead of America. Plus — it could be contaminated since it comes from a developing nation."

The problem is that most people never really learn economics. Some high schools offer one course as an elective class, but most students go through high school knowing nothing of supply and demand and absolutely nothing of comparative advantage. In university, students generally only take economics if it is a required course — meaning many students graduate college without ever studying economics — even those who aspire to be high school teachers. If high schools did start to offer economics, who would be qualified to teach it?

The general lack of understanding carries grave implications. If voters oppose free-trade agreements, then politicians will certainly pander to fill their need. The doors open wide for demagoguery —meaning free-trade advocates are portrayed as insensitive and greedy.

It could be people never learn because they don’t have the opportunity. Perhaps though, it’s just because the OK! Magazine special of Wayne Rooney’s wedding is just so much more interesting than The Economist

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Responsibility — what’s that?

Written by Jason Jones | Wednesday 09 July 2008

David Cameron’s now famous speech in Glasgow on Monday essentially covered two topics: the need to accepting personal responsibility and the government’s role in judging moral behavior.

His first point is dead on. As he said,

Some people who are poor, fat, or addicted to alcohol or drugs have only themselves to blame… We talk about people being ‘at risk of obesity’ instead of talking about people who eat too much and take too little exercise. We talk about people being at risk of poverty, or social exclusion: it’s as if these things… are purely external events like a plague or bad weather. Of course, circumstances… have a huge impact. But social problems are often the consequence of the choices people make.

There is nothing that ensures someone will stay in a miserable state more than blaming someone or something else. Indeed, if the fat, the poor, or the addict does not take responsibility, then why would he or she do anything to fix the problem?

The second point Cameron makes is a bit trickier. He said that “society has been too sensitive in failing to judge the behaviour of others as good or bad, right or wrong, and [it is] time to speak out against moral neutrality."

This brings up an important question: when should the government make such judgments? Generally, the government should let people live their lives as they choose. However, the welfare and health systems as they are subsidize bad choices and unhealthy behavior. Perhaps it isn’t the government’s job to dictate our moral code, but it is certainly not its place to pay for our bad behavior with heavy social and fiscal costs.

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Can't add up?

Written by Jason Jones | Tuesday 08 July 2008

A new government report claims Britons are wasting more than £1 billion a year, and the Cabinet Office inquiry into food policy says the average family wastes £420 worth of food each year. All these numbers have prompted Gordon Brown to ask Britons to stop wasting food.

The numbers, however, don’t quite add up. The UK has 60 million people—meaning the average waste per person is less than £20. If the average family size is 21 people, then it is true that each family wastes £420 each year. If not...

Anyway, encouraging Britons to reduce the amount of wasted food is Brown’s latest brilliant idea:

“If we are to get food prices down, we must do more to deal with unnecessary demands, such as by all of us doing more to reduce our food waste," he said.

Yeah, and we can reduce greenhouse gasses enough to save the planet by switching our light bulbs. Enough has already been said about agriculture that anymore simply feels redundant. But what do governments really expect when they subsidize bio-fuel production so heavily, and subsidize food production but then pay the same farmers to leave some plots of land empty to prevent overproduction?

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From bad teeth to no teeth

Written by Jason Jones | Saturday 05 July 2008

Back in the old days, dentists were paid a fee for each type of treatment they provided. After a contract change, dentists started receiving their income by doing a certain amount of work, known as “units of dental activity."

You can imagine the dentist: “I need to do 15 procedures to meet my weekly quota. I could fill all those cavities… but that takes a long time and requires numbing and filling materials. Or I could just pull the tooth out. It takes no time at all and requires no medicine or precious metals."

The NHS did not think about all this before implementing the new contract. But a damning new report from an influential MP’s committee shows how bad the situation is.

Dentists are extracting patients’ teeth rather than carrying out more complex repair work because NHS reforms have failed… The number of tooth extractions, many of them unnecessary, experts say, has risen since the new contract was introduced. At the same time, the volume of more complex work such as crowns, bridges and dentures has fallen by more than half.

The solution is not to reform the contract again, but to eliminate it altogether. We deserve health care that gets us the best treatment for our needs, but NHS contracts distort the incentive structure in such a way that dentistry works against patients. The NHS being inefficient, working against patients, and distorting the markets? Must be a slow news day if this is news.

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