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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

100 months left....

Written by Tim Worstall | Sunday 03 August 2008

Is the message from those bright lads over at the new economics foundation (they, of course, launch their critique of capitalism by not using capitals). Unless we radically change the way we do everything then in 100 months time (wonder why 8.33 years wasn't used, maybe it doesn't have quite the same ring to it?) catastrophic climate change will be inevitable. Worth taking with a pinch of salt perhaps, as these were the people who told us that penis sheaths and worshipping the Duke of Edinburgh as a living God were the way to an earthly nirvana.

Exactly what we need to put in place of the current system is a little less amusing. Taking lessons from Cuban agriculture with the low level malnutrition there doesn't sound all that wise. The compulsion that accompanies the WWII style mobilisation (yes, they do make a direct comparison) they urge is of course anathema to anyone with the least pretence to a concern for liberty or freedom. Their ideas on how to reform the financial system actually brought on a bout of hysteria: they want credit controls, they want to lower the interest rates so that green schemes appear profitable and they want to divert pensions into such green schemes. They then have the audacity that stuffing your money in to low return green schemes will provide you with a decent pension. Eh? The hysteria turned to giggles when they described the capital controls needed to increase the amount of money available for such investments. Leave aside their both socialist and nationalist insistence that your money must be placed at the use of the nation rather than your use and think instead of this.

Given that we run a trade deficit we of course run a capital surplus. Capital controls might stop capital leaving but they'll also stop it coming in for fear of not being able to leave again: so given that we are nett capital importers they intend to increase investment capital by stopping such importation. Genius, don't you think?

One thing that really did amuse was that this article appeared in the same edition of the same newspaper. Crude oil from GM algae, a process some 16 times more efficient (claimed, at least) than biofuels. This, from the day before also amused, low cost electrolysis as a way of storing solar power. Then of course there's the repeated insistence by such as Jeremey Leggett that solar itself is only five or six years away from being cost competitive with coal for electricity generation.

My own view on all of this is that we really don't need to change society in the ways described, even if it were possible or even desirable. We did need to work out a way of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, yes, but that process started in the labs a decade and more ago, is now in the hands of the engineers and soon the technologies of choice will be available off the shelf.

In short, technology will indeed save us, for people spotted a profit opportunity and got on with inventing and making the things that we will need. What we needed to do we've already done.

Hmm, I wonder what the next argument the millenarian socialists will use as a reason we must destroy civilisation will be?

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101 Great Philosophers

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Monday 21 September 2009

I have a new book out which is something of a departure from the field of public policy. Published by Continuum it is "101 Great Philosophers," my own selection of the great thinkers who between them set the Western intellectual tradition. Before the Adam Smith Institute I was a philosophy professor in the US, so I am revisiting familiar territory.

The remarkable feature of the book is that I allocate only 400 words to each of them! This is not any kind of "bluff your way" book. On the contrary, I try to bring out what they said, what was innovative and important about it, and to capture a small flavour of their lives. The result is a book you could read in an evening, gaining admittance thereby to some of the intellectual heritage of our civilization.

Why, though? It is because I think philosophy is important, and that some of our leaders might not make the mistakes they do, were they more versed in what philosophers have said. Philosophy is under-taught and under-studied, which is a pity because it does develop and expand the thinking processes. In an age awash with information, my supposition is that some people will want and value a highly condensed analysis of the contribution of the great thinkers. My hope, too, is that after reading my account, readers will be tempted to explore more of their works.

It is a personal selection, but a fair one, in that it probably overlaps by 80 percent with the names almost anyone might choose. The great minds who have blighted human happiness are in there alongside those who have blessed it. There is more information about it here.

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101 Great Philosophers launch party

Written by Blog Editor | Tuesday 13 October 2009

altOn the 19th October the official London book launch of Dr Madsen Pirie’s latest work will take place. We are delighted to confirm that the Matthew Parris will be along to say a few words at the event.

101 Great Philosophers
is a concise and accessible guide to 101 of the greatest minds that contributed to the legacy of western philosophy. From the ancient Greeks to present-day thinkers, Dr Pirie employs concise entries, each limited to about 400 words, to give an overview of the contribution made by 101 key philosophers to the development of this fascinating subject.

Dr Pirie deliberately takes a broad view, including some from other disciplines who also have changed the way we think about ourselves, our society or our world. This book provides a sparkling insight into the lives and times of each philosopher covered - explaining just why what they had to say was so innovative and important.

If you are interested in attending the book launch, please contact Philip at philip@adamsmith.org.

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130 years of Ludwig von Mises

Written by Sam Bowman | Thursday 29 September 2011

mises

Today is the 130th birthday of Ludwig von Mises. Mises was, in my opinion, the greatest economist of all time as the man who systematized the Austrian school of economics and developed some of its key insights.

His Theory of Money and Credit gives the first fully-fledged exposition of the Austrian Business Cycle theory, later refined and developed by FA Hayek; his article Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth and book Socialism make the defining argument against socialism based on the impossibility of calculating resource allocation without a functioning price system; his Epistemological Problems of Economics and Theory and History (a personal favourite) are broadsides against positivism and historicism in economics and the social sciences. His magnum opus, Human Action, gives the most comprehensive and persuasive defence of the free market that I am aware of. (Eamonn has written a great primer on Mises, which is available for free here.)

For me, Mises is the root of 20th Century libertarianism. Himself a product of the early Austrian economists Menger, Bohm-Bawerk and Weiser, Mises directly spawned the two great – and often conflicting – traditions of Austrian school thought, by converting a young FA Hayek to liberalism and hugely influencing Murray Rothbard. For all their disputes, both the Hayekian and Rothbardian traditions owe their roots to Mises. Both have produced some of the most important works of economics and the social sciences of the 20th Century, in the Misesian tradition. Ayn Rand usually made her economic arguments along Misesian lines. Mises has had an impact on politics as well: both Ron Paul and, closer to home, Steve Baker have cited Mises as key influences and promote his ideas where they are needed most.

Reading Mises at university changed my life, by convincing me of the need for truly laissez-faire capitalism without government control of the money supply or the economic autocracy of socialism. We stand on the brink of another crisis caused, yet again, by the government-induced bubbles that Mises identified. Mises never made his arguments in terms of natural rights or morality, but in much simpler terms. His message was that if you want peace, prosperity and happiness, people must be free.

Here's an extract from Mises on the economic foundations of freedom:

Unfortunately many of our contemporaries fail to realize what a radical change in the moral conditions of man the rise of statism, the substitution of government omnipotence for this market economy, is bound to bring about. They are deluded by the idea that there prevails a clear-cut dualism in the affairs of man, that there is on the one side a sphere of economic activities and on the other side a field of activities that are considered as noneconomic. Between these two fields there is, they think, no close connection. The freedom that socialism abolishes is "only" the economic freedom, while freedom in all other matters remains unimpaired.

However, these two spheres are not independent of each other as this doctrine assumes. Human beings do not float in ethereal regions. Everything that a man does must necessarily in some way or other affect the economic or material sphere and requires his power to interfere with this sphere. In order to subsist, he must toil and have the opportunity to deal with some material tangible goods.

The confusion manifests itself in the popular idea that what is going on in the market refers merely to the economic side of human life and action. But in fact the prices of the market reflect not only "material concerns"; like getting food, shelter, and other amenities; but no less those concerns which are commonly called spiritual or higher or nobler. The observance or nonobservance of religious commandments; to abstain from certain activities altogether or on specific days, to assist those in need, to build and to maintain houses of worship, and many others; is one of the factors that determines the supply of, and the demand for, various consumers' goods and thereby prices and the conduct of business.

The freedom that the market economy grants to the individual is not merely "economic" as distinguished from some other kind of freedom. It implies the freedom to determine also all those issues which are considered as moral, spiritual, and intellectual. . . .

What makes many people blind to the essential features of any socialist or totalitarian system is the illusion that this system will be operated precisely in the way which they themselves consider as desirable. In supporting socialism, they take it for granted that the "state" will always do what they themselves want it to do. They call only that brand of totalitarianism "true," "real," or "good" socialism the rulers of which comply with their own ideas. All other brands they decry as counterfeit. What they first of all expect from the dictator is that he will suppress all those ideas of which they themselves disapprove. In fact, all these supporters of socialism are, unbeknown to themselves, obsessed by the dictatorial or authoritarian complex. They want all opinions and plans with which they disagree to be crushed by violent action on the part of the government.

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167 CCTV camera pilgrimage

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Friday 10 April 2009

Today, Good Friday, there's a pilgrimage in Westminster, from Methodist Central Hall to the Anglican Westminster Abbey, and on to the Catholic Westminster Cathedral. It's a distance of little more than a thousand yards – about three good fairway strokes for Tiger Woods – down Victoria Street. But over the years that I have worked nearby, I've noticed CCTV cameras springing up here and there along the route. In my book, The Rotten State of Britain, I have documented how we are sleepwalking into a surveillance state (not to mention a database state and a nanny state). So I decided to trace the route myself and count the number of CCTV cameras that I could see.

I started at the North door of the Abbey. I couldn't see any cameras on this magnificent building, though a notice by the door alerts tourists to the fact that CCTV is used inside. As I gaze across Parliament Square, and up the bottom end of Whitehall, with Parliament behind me, I must be on scores. But my eyesight isn't great, and I don't want to whip out my binoculars and start scanning the Treasury and other government buildings, in case I get arrested and held for 21 days without charge as a terrorist. Nor can I cross the Square and take a closer look, because it's full of Tamil demonstrators.

But I can see 8 very easily on the new Supreme Court building, another 6 or so on the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, and even two over the entrance of the Abbey bookshop. Thank goodness they didn't disfigure Nicholas Hawksmoor's fabulous West Front with them.

Strolling over the road I find Central Hall pretty well camera-free too, though I know there are some round the bank, and from here I can see 5 down Tothill Street and another 3 on the Treasury building at the end of Storey's Gate. On the other side of Victoria Street, I can see 2 on the Schools Department, and the Department of Business seems particularly anxious about its security, because on this side alone in sports and impresive 11.

As you would expect, when you pass Scotland Yard you are under the gaze of dozens, either on the building itself or on the lampposts outside. I count 18 on the two sides I can see, but there are almost as many at the back. I'm halfway down my route now, and the count has already passed 100.

Past the Albert pub with a very artistic looking CCTV camera pretending to be a streetlight, I can see the Korean Embassy, which boasts another 6, and the Howick Place Post Office, with a modest 1 being visible. But the Ministry of Justice has four heavy-duty cameras with floodlights that look as if they can be swivelled in any direction to meet the need of the hour.

Ashdowne House, which is home to another bit of BERR, is also very security conscious for some reason, with another 6. And at last I'm turning into the marvellous forecourt of the Cathedral. Looking down Victoria Street, I make out 7 on the Kingsgate shopping arcade, 3 on a large pole at the end of the street, and 6 more that seem to be for traffic management. As I reach the Cathedral steps I look back I can see another 9 cameras. And maybe there are more inside the building itself, staring out at me, I don't know.

All in all, I have counted 167 CCTV cameras in my short three-drive walk. I've probably missed a lot more that my poor eyesight and my anxiety to avoid arrest have caused me to miss. And the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith ridicules the idea that we are living in a police state!

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1942: Where it all went wrong?

Written by Junksmith | Tuesday 01 December 2009

On this day 67 years ago, Beveridge laid the foundations of the wefare state.

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1950: The end of fuel rations

Written by Junksmith | Tuesday 26 May 2009

On this day in 1950 fuel rations ended thanks to trade with the United States.

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1994: The beginning of the beginning

Written by Junksmith | Tuesday 21 July 2009

Tony takes power. How the Party must wish he was still around.

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200 Countries, 200 Years

Written by Tim Worstall | Friday 03 December 2010

An excellent brief video from Hans Rosling.

We can all argue (what fun!) about what exactly set this all off: the innate genius of the English that everyone else then just copied, capitalism, markets, liberal democracy, whatever, but there's no doubt at all that something changed those couple of hundred years ago. Something changed for the better of course: longer, richer, lives for all. 

There are many flavours of this liberal, market, capitalism thing, from Hong Kong style laissez faire to Swedish social democracy and China's current authoritarian fumblings towards the rule of law. But when you peer down into the figures that Rosling is visualising there one result stands out a mile. All those who got rich did so with one of those flavours of liberal market capitalism, all those who got rich did so as they adopted liberal market capitalism and no one has got rich without adopting some flavour of it.

So let's hear it for liberal market capitalism then: longer richer lives for all, 200 years and counting. 

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200% Proof perfect that we're being ruled by (...)s

Written by Tim Worstall | Sunday 25 March 2012

I'm afraid that I don't struggle at all, like Sam did, to find something to say about minimum alcohol pricing. This is the most monumentally insane, stupid and illiberal nonsense that we've had imposed upon us in years. There have been things more illiberal, yes, but not insane at the same time. I'll leave you to fill in the (...)s in the title there for I'm afraid that my carpet biting outrage at this silliness might lead me to become intemperate in my language. Idiots just isn't strong enough.

As Sam points out a lot of the detailed heavy lifting on this has been done by Chris Snowden, sometimes of this parish. Alcohol consumption is falling, definitions of "binge drinking" are ludicrous, the statistics on alcohol related hospital admissions are nonsense (they are assumed, not counted or calculated), boozers, smokers and lardbuckets save the NHS money, not cost it and anyway, what is this interference in our charting our own way from cradle to inevitable grave? Not to say that it's regressive in distribution.

There is worse though than just entirely shakey evidential support (much of it cooked up by people paid by the government to lobby the government) and gross illiberalism. There's actual stupidity as well in at least two points. The first is that minimum pricing is almost certainly illegal. We even have case law on the point.

The second is so glaringly, inanely, stupid that it even has the European Commission on the right side of the point. And yes, you know someone has to have been really barmcaked to have managed to get them on the right side of any question more complex than the cuteness of kittens:

The European Commission sounded a warning to Britain about the policy, saying it believed “minimum tax rates to be preferable to minimum pricing for alcohol”.

“Minimum tax rates put all products on an equal footing from a market perspective, whereas minimum prices can increase the profit margin of products with the lowest production cost,” a spokesman said.

Let us assume that all of the evidence is in fact sound: that there is an outbreak of binge drinking, that this is doing harm and that higher alcohol prices will reduce these evils and harms. How magnificently chocolate teapot do you have to be to insist that that extra money from the higher prices goes to brewers and supermarkets rather than into the Treasury? If you're going to sting the boozers because they've been naughty boys and girls then the least you can do is reduce the tax burden on others, no? Instead of pumping up the profits of some favoured sector?

I can reveal that I've once met Cameron, just after he came down from Oxford. I took an instant dislike to him and I'm able to say that the intervening years haven't produced any evidence that I should have changed my mind.

Minimum alcohol pricing is doing something that almost certainly shouldn't be done and then compounding the error by doing it in the most cackhanded way possible and illegally to boot. Just what is it that they teach in PPE these days?

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