Compulsion doesn’t cure apathy


Australia boasts a 95% turnout rate every election season thanks to their adoption of compulsory voting in the 1920s. In Australia, refusing to show up to the polls – unless you can prove illness or an emergency to the state’s liking – results in a fine, up to $170. If that isn’t paid, a court hearing is the next step. Advocates of compulsory voting point to high turnout numbers and claim the system ‘works’. But getting high voter turnout is not a good thing in and of itself. If high numbers are the result of engaged, politically interested people choosing to vote for on issues they care about, that’s great; that result will have stemmed from politicians taking to the streets and doing their jobs. But getting high percentages through coercion and threats of punishment isn’t something to boast about.

In September 2013, IPPR proposed that the UK make voting mandatory for first-time voters, to ensure they are registered to vote and to set them on a ‘good’ voting path for the future. Not only does the well-meaning proposal reeks of paternalism, but it is also the wrong way to get young people genuinely engaged in politics.

Many young people don’t feel they have a stake in political decisions, while others feel their opinions don’t carry weight within the parties. Couple that with making their first adult interaction with the state be one that’s compulsory, met with fines and courts, and you may just turn a potentially interested voter off for life.

But young people aren’t the only ones who feel abandoned by the political system. The integrity of democracy is breaking across western countries, as the political systems prioritize taking care of promises made to special interest groups, unions and corporations before they address the promises made to voters during the election season. Many feel voting has become a spectacle - just another occasion to glorify the state. And even if there is an option to spoil one’s vote, the state has still made people complicit in upholding a political system they may disagree with.

Those who would advocate for the Australian system and propose a compulsory vote on all adult citizens in the UK have carelessly forgotten that avoiding the ballot box in a check on government power.

Refusing to take part in what is thought to be a civic duty is an act of civil disobedience – and civil disobedience, especially when it is as thoughtful and safe as not showing up to the polls – is a health-meter for the state of the country’s political parties and political system as a whole.

The right to vote is the choice to vote – or not vote. That freedom must be upheld, both to provide a check on over-reaching governments, but also to act as a safeguard for individual liberty.

The People's Republic of South Norwood


South Norwood, the unassuming splodge in the London Borough of Croydon is no more. Long live the People's Republic of South Norwood! You may not have noticed, thanks to a concerted media blackout by The UK Establishment (though the WSJ did get wind), but last Friday was the day of the Great South Norwood Referendum and the dawn of a new Republic. Inspired by the Scottish Independence movement and frustrated by the disdain with which local government treats the area, local heroes The South Norwood Tourist Board  held a (definitely absolutely legitimate and totally binding) referendum for the community: Should South Norwood remain with Croydon Council, unite with an Independent Scotland, or declare their independence? The public spoke, and voted to boot out their uncaring and overbearing masters to go it alone with a whopping 53% of the vote.

It's hardly surprising that the downtrodden population of South Norwood had enough of Croydon Council, who have simultaneously ignored pleas to clean up and invigorate the area, whilst clamping down on displays of frivolity and fun. Notoriously, head of the Council's Health and Safety outlawed plans for the community-led 'Lake Naming Ceremony', inspiring a crowd of revellers (and a gang of Morris Dancers) to hold an illegal event in subversive defiance. It will be written in history that the naming of Lake Conan Doyle sewed the seeds of secession.

Now that South Norwood has established its independence it faces a number of tough questions. What does this mean for its governance and security, its relationship with the UK, and its currency? Addressing these will be challenging, but there's every indication that an independent South Norwood could thrive.

At first glance South Norwood is remarkably unremarkable. Long overlooked by pretty much everybody, it is yet to benefit from the gentrification of neighbouring Crystal Palace or the massive regeneration of Croydon town centre. Yet, with its blossoming community spirit (galvanized by the tireless tourist board), more lakes than the lake district, and a country park grown on top of an old sewer farm, its potential is undeniably huge.

Clearly, it is for the people of South Norwood to decide what shape their Republic takes. But as an ex-resident and dear friend of the area, I’ve outlined a few of the topics they need to address, and give a few suggestions on how to achieve a radical, yet roaringly successful Republic:

The first issue to tackle is that of governance. How shall people be ruled, and how shall laws be made? Should, for example, The Republic have a head of State? A symbolic one may suffice, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who apparently lived there for a bit) or Pickles the dog (who discovered the stolen FIFA World Cup in a bush) are good contenders. There's also Ray Burns a.k.a Captain Sensible of The Damned, who already has a community garden installed in his honour.

Perhaps the people of South Norwood will opt for a proportional electoral system: with a population of about 14,000, the area's certainly small enough to adopt a straightforward proportional model, although PR creates the risk that Winston McKenzie, organizer of the infamous UKIP diversity carnival could hold some power. Going further, some form of direct democracy might even be possible. Regardless, electoral architects could do far worse than to read Douglas Carswell's iDemocracy for some inspiration.

However, we know that democracy can be troublesome, and that most voters are often (quite rationally!) spectacularly ignorant on basic political issues. What if democracy's not actually the 'least worst' system? One alternative, particularly for a Republic of such size, would be sortition- the selection of decision-makers by lottery. With its roots in Athenian democracy and still used in Jury service today, those selected could wise up on facts for the duration of their term and make decisions based on what's actually best for the Republic, instead of shoring up votes and a political career. There are other, more elaborate alternatives (such as Moldbug's suggestion that governments should be based on the profit motive, with bureaucrats seeking to increase their profits by boosting the value of the land, thus making it a lovely place to live) - but why not just abolish all government and embrace a form of market anarchism? It probably wouldn't be worse than the system the South Norwooders left.

Another pressing issue The Republic must address is that of their currency: what should an independent South Norwood use? Clearly, South Norwood could unilaterally adopt the pound without the permission of the UK, just as the ASI has argued for Scotland. Should PRSN wish to tie itself to the economic fate of the UK, it could -literally- just keep on using the pound. However, South Norwood could also protect its own economy and shore up against demand-side recessions by allowing private Norwood Banks to hold reserves of GBP and issue their own notes on a fractional reserve basis, adjusting the supply of money in response to demand. (Again, the detail's in the report!)

Admittedly, that does seem a bit excessive. Another option would be for South Norwood to issue their own currency (perhaps the Norwood Crown). Down the road the Brixton Pound  is well-established and well-liked; those behind it could certainly lend a hand with an eye-catching design and the logistics of issuance. And with the news that Brixton is also scheduled to hold a referendum on its independence, perhaps a currency union is on the cards.

Yet the people of South Norwood have already shown themselves to be a tech-savvy, forward-thinking bunch, as evidenced by their use of a high-tech, online voting mechanism . So why not make Bitcoin SE25's new currency? If the Assistant Governor of Australia's Central Bank thinks its good enough for Scotland, it's probably good enough for South Norwood. In fact, they could go one further, and join Iceland, Cyprus, the Oglala Laktota Nation and others in creating their own national cryptocurrency. If they act quickly, they could beat Ecuador in creating the first government- ordained digital currency.

South Norwooders could adopt any of these options. But why not do away with legal tender completely and embrace free banking: the great people and businesses of the area accepting whichever competing currencies and payment methods (what about interpretative dance?) they so choose.

Clearly the most exciting part of forming an independent territory is deciding the guiding principles and policies to pursue. Again, such matters should be decided by the citizens, but here are a few pointers:

South Norwood should get in touch with the organziations who’s raison d’etre is to look at how to achieve growth and political and economic innovation within small, autonomous communities. Some groups such as Charter Cities and Startup Cities aim to create refuges of experimentation within amenable host nations. Others, such as the Seasteading Institute work within a paradigm of complete territorial autonomy and independence. Politically neutral, all of them value radical ideas, economic progress and the freedom for individuals to join such communities and innovate.

Tips on running a successful Republic can also be gleaned from examining things like Legatum's Prosperity Index, Heritage's Index of Economic Freedom, the Index of Freedom in the World and the Tax Competitiveness Index. Countries topping these rankings have probably got a few ideas worth borrowing.

The Republic could also look at which UK laws most need a radical overhaul, and lead by example. Planning laws are a key example. Far too many houses in the area are left vacant and boarded up, yet could be put to good use. Similarly, perfectly useable patches of land lie tangled up in legal battles and the quest for planning permission, sprouting brambles and dirty mattresses in the meantime. Liberalizing planning laws would allow creative uses of neglected spaces whilst providing the area with an economic boost.

The Republic should also embrace an open borders policy, as research repeatedly shows that reducing barriers to migration benefits both migrants and the culture and finances of the host country. An open Republic which builds on its cosmopolitan roots would be a successful one.

I encourage The Republic to experiment with radical new ideas. It could scrap alcohol duty, revitalizing some of the area's more shabby-looking pubs. Or it could legalise the consumption and production of Marijuana, using taxes levied on it to fund social expenditure. From there the UK's confusing, intrusive and expensive welfare system could be replaced with some form of Minimum Income or Negative Income Tax. Deer could be introduced to every park. Uber could run the public transport. The possibilities are endless.

It really is a brave new world for the people of South Norwood. The Scots may wonder if this is an omen for the success of their own referendum, but it's unlikely: even free-thinking South Norwooders eschewed the offer of being part of  an independent Scotland. This is perhaps a shame,  given the ASI's prior work on forging a union between Scotland and other countries seeking freedom from illiberal control.

Nevertheless, the prospect that Croydon Council refuses to accept the secession and continues to 'rule' its (ex)citizens with an iron fist is very real.

I wish all the best for The People's Republic of South Norwood. But whatever the outcome of their independence, it's good to note, on the eve of an even bigger, game-changing referendum, the diversity and breadth of untested policies and fresh ideas out there - and how many of these could make countries, communities and individuals happier, richer, more successful and freer.


Why does everyone want to subsidise the stuff that no one wants any more?


Here's another one of those terribly silly ideas that people keep having. People aren't using the High Street as much as they used to. Therefore everyone must be taxed more in order to subsidise that High Street that no fewer people want to use any more:

The Labour Party is considering a new secret tax on the high street to try to boost ailing town centres across the UK if it wins next year's General Election.

An advisory group created by Labour to consider the future of the high street has recommended that it looks at introducing a new levy on residents to fund a major expansion of Business Improvement Districts, which manage local areas.

In its report, which has been seen by The Telegraph, the High Street Advisory Group recommends “diversifying the application of BIDs, including the ability to assess property owners and residents” and says that “new tools will need to be explored which diversify income streams”.


OK, so hands up everyone, why are people using the High Street less?

Yes, correct, because some 11 to 12% of retail sales now take place on the internet. We thus require some 11 to 12% less retail space on a High Street. Or, if you wish to be picky, we require 11 to 12% fewer High Streets. So the idea of taxing the people who don't want to use High Streets as much as they used to in order to preserve those High Streets they no longer want to use is, well, it's ridiculous, isn't it? Akin to taxing Ford and GM to keep buggy whip makers in business.

But sadly it's not just ridiculous. For what do we also have a shortage of? Yes, you're right again, batting 1.0 so far. We have a shortage of housing in the centre of towns, where people like to live (OK, some people like to live, but enough people do that the point still stands). And what else have we got? That 11 to 12% of former retail space that has gone bust and is standing empty. Walls, roof, utility connections: bish bosh with a bit of plasterboard and some Dulux and we can convert one to the other. You know, this structural change stuff, where we move an extant asset from a lower valued use to a higher and thereby make the nation and society richer as a result?

And what is the response to this? Quite seriously there are people campaigning to deny change of planning use from retail (most especially the pubs that no one is allowed to smoke in any more, and are thus going bust) to homes and houses. That's not ridiculous that's just crazed lunacy.


Tempus mutandis and the extant infrastructure of the nation occasionally needs to be repurposed. The idea that we should tax everyone to set it in aspic is so, so, well, it could really only have come from politicians, couldn't it?

Why sign up generics manufacturers for a drug you've only just got patent and approval for?


More importantly, why would you sign up generics manufacturers to make a drug that you can charge $84,000 a course of treatment for? Which is exactly what Gilead, the makers of Sovaldi, the $84,000 a course treatment for Hepatitis C have just done:

Multinational American drug maker Gilead Sciences was set to join hands with at least five Indian generic pharmaceutical companies and allow them to manufacture and sell cheaper versions of its new hepatitis C medicines - sofosbuvir and ledipasvir - in 90 countries, four people in the know told Business Standard.

Clearly, someone is being either terribly clever here or terribly stupid. So which is it?

It is, of course, being clever. NICE has approved Sovaldi for use in the UK, the FDA has in the US. Gilead has some short number of years (usually, about ten) to squeeze that drug for the billion dollars or so it cost to develop. So, obviously, they're going to charge what the market will bear. $84,000 looks like a lot, is a lot, but it's about the same price as other current treatments and is markedly more effective. So, that's the price they set.

But to then go and licence to generics manufacturers to sell in 90 odd countries looks most odd: won't this undercut sales? No, no, it won't: for the generics manufacturers only get the rights to sell in countries where there's no way at all that anyone would pay $84,000 for a course of treatment. For yes, there are poor countries out there and poor countries, rightly, don't try to spend that sort of money on treating one patient. They can save tens, hundreds, thousands of lives by spending the same amount on, say, a vaccination campaign.

Thus, at full market price there would be no sales: at generics prices there will be some and thus some revenue to Gilead.

But that then leads to, well, isn't it unfair on us? We've got to stump up $84,000 a treatment and poor people pay a groat a pill. True, but why is this unfair? Aren't we rich people supposed to be tendering to the ill and sick of the world?

Further, this isn't particularly to do with the way that the patent system works. Imagine that all health care research was done by the state instead. It would still be us rich world people paying for all of that research from our taxes, wouldn't it? On the simple grounds that poor people don't have incomes to pay tax upon to fund medical research. So whatever the structure is the end result will be the same. We rich people will pay to get the drugs designed and through the approval process. The poor will then get them. Whether we pay in advance in taxation or later through the price of the patented drug doesn't make much difference, does it?

And yes, for all that the NHS is The Wonder of the World and all the rest, we in the UK are indeed rich world people and that's why we're being charged this arm and a leg for this drug. And, given that we pay for the NHS through taxation it really makes absolutely no damn difference at all, what the patent or research structure is?

Whatever answer Scotland gives, the question is flawed

Broadly speaking, I'm indifferent to the outcome of the Scottish referendum. Not because I'm uninterested, but because the debate seems to be motivated by entirely the wrong intentions.  Whilst tonnes of ink have been spilled as to whether there would be greater benefits to Scotland to remain in the Union or leave, far less has been said on the subject of whether the far larger remainder of the UK would benefit. As an Englishman, I see few material benefits to the UK of Scotland's presence in the Union. Ridding ourselves of the Barnett formula, some broken banks and Scotland's over-represented, lefty MPs would all be substantial benefits for me.

I'm tempted to argue that, if the Scots do vote 'no', it would be sensible to politely but firmly ask them to leave anyway. On the other hand, Scottish independence might well impose some serious costs and risks in the short to medium term which means that one should be cautious about advocating Scottish independence.

If the Scots do vote 'no', they are virtually guaranteed 'Devo Max', which might offer the benefit of forcing some sense of fiscal responsibility onto Scotland and, if the West Lothian question were adequately dealt with, have some political benefits as well. Sadly, I fear that it may simply mean greater plundering of the few productive parts of the UK economy in order to provide further subsidies to the unproductive parts—thus worsening the situation of all concerned. If this sounds very self-interested, one can hardly accuse the Scots of lacking in that quality.

From a Scottish perspective, the outlook seems entirely ridden with paradox. Many Scots seem to believe that, by voting Yes, they will help secure greater public spending. However, the reverse seems actually to be the case—an independent Scotland would face serious fiscal challenges which would probably mean very significant fiscal consolidation, especially in the absence of a central bank.

Given the welfarist nature of Scotland's public discourse, the likely outcome would seem to be tax rises and economic malaise. Of course, if an independent Scotland did significantly cut public spending, it would likely be beneficial to Scottish performance—but that is not what many in Scotland seem to desire. The same could be said of the deregulation necessary to move Scotland closer to being a 'Nordic' economy.

On the other hand, Scotland has hardly prospered within a Union that has—with the support of the Scottish electorate—imposed high levels of taxation, regulation and welfare spending in both Scotland and the UK.

If the Scottish independence movement were imbued with the doctrines of Smith, Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment, one might have rather more faith than an independent Scotland might flourish under a less burdensome government. However, we can hardly have much optimism for a Scotland that seeks to leave the centrally-planned mess that is the UK economy in order to pursue a greater level of central-planning, taxation and expenditure.

Indeed, the most unedifying spectacle of the Scottish referendum has been the sight of politicians of all stripes falling over themselves to offer the greatest amounts of cash to sway voters. If either the Yes or No campaigns offered real liberty to the people of Scotland (or the rest of the UK), we might have a more optimistic future.

Similarly, the greater devolution that might be on offer to the rest of the UK is all well and good, but only if it means genuine devolution of powers to the individual and not simply shifting power from bureaucrats in Whitehall to bureaucrats in town halls.

Karl Popper, in The Open Society and its Enemies, enjoined us to consider that what matters is not 'who governs?' but 'what are the proper functions of government?'. Whilst the two are intertwined, it is the latter question, not the former which is key. The Scottish referendum debate has ignored this distinction. It is predicated on the belief that there is a substantive choice between government from London or government from Edinburgh that will determine whether the individuals who live in Scotland flourish or not.

This is a false dilemma. What matters is liberty and the restraint of government to its proper functions. Until Scotland, either as part of the UK or independent, rediscovers this, its future looks bleak indeed.

Owen Jones and this democracy thing again


Owen Jones has decided to take on this Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership thing. You know, the treaty that says that governments must live up to the contracts they sign, further, that it won't be the courts controlled by governments that decide whether they have or not? Marshaling his arguments Jones tells us that:

And if our political elite won’t budge, then it’s up to the rest of us to organise. Criticisms of the EU have been surrendered to the xenophobic right for too long: a democratic People’s Europe has to be built. But TTIP is also a reminder of the constant threat from those in power. When they steal chunks of our democracy away from us, we may find that it is far from easy to win them back.

The argument is not that the TTIP or that arbitration set up are themselves anti-democratic. Rather, that they might curb the ability of the electorate to vote for something in the future. On the grounds that a government might have signed a contract. For example, a contract that asks a private company to provide some medical service or other. That contract stating that if the contract is cancelled then there will be some compensation to be paid. Jones and his ilk are arguing that the payment of such compensation will make renationalisation more expensive and that thus this is a denial of democracy.

Hmm, well, we might recall this also said by Jones:

The Aids crisis was building; more than half the population believed homosexuality was “always wrong”, peaking at 64% in 1987 when just 11% opted for “not wrong at all”; and later that decade the homophobic legislation, section 28, was introduced.

Jones is, of course, against that section 28 stuff even though it was obviously democratic. He opposes it on the grounds that some things are more important than the will of the majority. But once that principle has been conceded we've then got to decide what are those things that are more important than that majority will?

And the TTIP is saying, essentially, that the rule of law is more important than whatever it is the howling mob wants this week. That's certainly something that we would agree with around here.

There really are areas of life that have to be protected from democracy. You can argue, to your taste, as to whether the teaching about homosexuality in schools, the holding of governments to contracts they have freely signed, are such or not. But once we've the basic principle, that democracy is not the sole and over riding factor then we've got to have all of those arguments individually.

It's the ineffable smugness that gets us


We're all aware of the manner in which the supermarkets have been one of the evil bugbears of our times. The manner in which the upper middle class commentariat has been outraged, outraged we tell you, at the manner in which anyone has the effrontery to offer the working classes cheap and convenient food. doesn't everyone realise that they should be buying at the butcher and greengrocer so as to subsidise the desires of the upper middle class commentariat? Which brings us to this lovely piece claiming that the age of the supermarket is now over and ain't that a good thing?

 In my street, the light thunk of plastic boxes as they’re unloaded from the supermarket delivery vans is now as familiar, if not quite so uplifting, as the sound of my beloved’s key in the door. Those who use the internet for grocery shopping do it for reasons of convenience, certainly. But we also know we spend less online, buying only what we need, choosing necessities with a ruthlessness that often abandoned us in-store. What we used to spend on impulse buys – or some of it – then goes on a decent wedge of Lincolnshire Poacher, a couple of fillets of haddock or some good beef, sold to us by smiling, helpful, talkative people whose names we may know, and whose businesses matter both to them and us.

The people who run our supermarkets, obsessed as they are with “price matching” and “meal deals”, seem not to have noticed this. Or perhaps they have merely accepted there is no real way to respond to it. Small, local supermarkets are good and useful should you run out of stock cubes or Persil of a Tuesday evening. But even their expansion is finite. For the rest, there is no short-term solution. We have become suspicious: of their mawkish advertising, of their treatment of farmers, of their desperate bids to package up things that really don’t need packaging up at all (I mean this literally and metaphorically, versions of “restaurant-style” dishes being every bit as phoney and wasteful as apples wrapped in too much plastic). Modern life, we feel, is isolating enough without self-service check-outs. They want to own us, but we aren’t having it. Suddenly, the over-lit aisles of Tesco have never looked more bleak. Or more empty.

The problem with this is as follows. I've always said that supermarkets were horrible things and look, now people agree with me! That means I was right! But, no, sadly, it doesn't. It means that you might (assuming we accept the idea that the supermarkets are falling out of favour) be right now but it means that you were wrong before. Not in your personal taste of course: but in your projection of your personal taste to others.

And the point of emphasising this is that this is why we have markets. So that the consumer can decide for themselves how, in this instance, they wish to purchase their comestibles. If technology has changed so that internet delivery is now better all well and good. If it's simply consumer taste that has, equally well and good. The entire point of having competitors in a market is so that the consumer can, with each and every groat and pfennig they spend, intimate which of the possible offerings they prefer. On the grounds of price, taste, convenience, technology or any other differentiator.

If the supermarkets do go down (something we rather suspect won't actually happen) then it will not prove that those who campaigned against them in the past were right. It will prove that they were wrong: and further that their attempts to impose their views on others will always be wrong. For the very fact that supermarkets succeeded as a technology for however long it was or will be shows that they were wrong: and that they fail (as any and every technology eventually does) at some point will again show that that market process is the method of dealing with such matters. For, as is now being said, when the technology or consumer desires change then the market reacts and replaces the less favoured with the more. What else could you possibly want from a system of socio-economic organisation?

Friends of the Earth takes a baby step forward: when will they take the big one?


Tears in heaven etc as Friends of the Earth finally agrees with scientific opinion on nuclear power. Yes, they've admitted that actually it's rather safe. Which it is: deaths caused by power generation per terrawatt produced are lower than any other method of electricity generation. Yes, really, more people fall of roofs installing solar than die from radiation from power plants. Which is good, that's a baby step forward. Even George Monbiot changed his mind on this when Fukushima showed that no one at all is killed by radiation even when three plants meltdown after a very large earthquake indeed and the associated tsunami (which in itself killed tens of thousands).

So, what's the remaining problem?

When the presenter asked him to explain the group’s opposition to nuclear power stations he got this reply: “The biggest risk of nuclear power is that it takes far too long to build, it’s far too costly, and distorts the national grid by creating an old model of centralised power generation.”

Well, certain of us think that centralised power generation is just fine: we might even say that we're rather fond of the idea of being able to turn the lights on without having to check our watch to see if we're able to.

But the next, and larger, step in this is that we need to examine why nuclear is so expensive, takes so long to build?

That would be because the hippies have been screaming blue bloody murder about the radiation problem all these decades. So, now that we can all agree that the radiation isn't a problem the hippies will, at least we can hope they will, stop that screaming and we can dial back the public inquiries, the planning appeals and the monstrously overdone safety regulations so that we can have cheap, as well as that safe, nuclear power generation.

Well, in a rational world we would but that ain't our one, is it?

Well, yes, this is rather the point about fees for filing tribunal claims


How lovely to see public policy working well for once:

The number of aggrieved workers bringing sex discrimination claims to employment tribunals has tumbled by 90 per cent in a year since claimants were made to pay a fee.

It appears that the prospect of forking out in advance – and losing the money if their case fails – is deterring many of those who may be tempted to use a tribunal to make their employer pay compensation.

But Labour business spokesman Chuka Umunna has promised to abolish the fees, claiming they are unfair.

Chuka, as ever, is missing the point here. The aim and purpose of the fee is to reduce the number of claims. The fee has been instituted, the number of claims has dropped: public policy is actually working. Would that everything done by government worked so well.

The point is not though to make sure that those cruelly done down by t'evil capitalist plutocrats have no recourse: discrimination law still exists and still operates in the normal manner. Those with a good case will happily pay the small fee, those with a frivolous one won't. The impact of this modest fee therefore tells us something most interesting: the number of former claims that were indeed frivolous, or at least highly unlikely to succeed. But if trying it on costs nothing then why not do so?

There's an interesting parallel here with another thing that the British courts get right. In, say, a patent case, the loser pays everyone's court costs and legal fees. In a similar US case the each side pays its own costs, whatever the outcome of the case (except in truly, truly, egregious cases). It costs perhaps $500 to file a suit alleging patent infringement and up to $2 million just to prepare the defence for a trial. The incentives there are obviously for many trivial suits to be filed in the hopes of getting a bit of cash as a settlement to bugger off and stop bothering everyone.

It's worth noting that the US courts are full of patent troll cases: the UK courts have nary a one.

You know, the first thing everyone should know about economics? Incentives matter.

When proven cases of real sex discrimination bring (righteous) damages of tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds the idea of a small fee as a gatekeeper to deter frivolous cases seems both sensible and not a barrier to those real cases moving into the justice system.

When science tells you something you've got to take the rough with the smooth


We've a lovely little example today of where so many environmentalists go wrong on this climate change thing. As always around here we'll take the IPCC seriously as a matter of exposition of logic. So, The Guardian's running a column in which sure, the IPCC is right about the dangers of climate change, about the way that they prove that something ought to be done. However, they're entirely wrong about what should be done (ie, get markets and private money involved in changing the world) because, well, you know, that's just neoliberal economics and that can't be right, can it?

The IPCC report has done a wonderful job at alerting the global public opinion about the urgency to prevent, or at least limit, climate change. Also, it has correctly identified the growing pressure climate change will put on public finances, thus worsening the crisis of the state. But when it comes to finding solutions, it has not escaped the neoliberal zeitgeist, and especially the tendency to see in financial markets an answer, rather than a source of social problems.

This is indeed a small example of a larger problem. People taking the IPCC seriously on climate change, the need to do something, but then insisting that this means the IPCC supports their own plan for whatever should be done. As, for example, we note around here often enough the Greenpeace and the like plan to move forward into the Middle Ages in response to it all.

Here's the problem with these projections. The very proof that the IPCC uses that something is worth doing, that doing something will be, in the end, less costly than doing nothing, is entirely based on that neoliberal economics. More specifically, that we use the most efficient methods of mitigating climate change (ie, a carbon tax, not any of this regulatory rubbish and most certainly not a retreat to feudalism).

Both William Nordhaus and Richard Tol have done a lot of work on this. Leaving out their differing numbers the logic is: it's worth spending $x to avoid damages of $x or more than $x. If $y is greater than $x then it's not worth spending $y to avoid damages of $x. They both go on to point out, at various times, that the most efficient method of spending to avoid damages is that carbon tax. Thus spending $x in a carbony tax sorta manner can be justified if we're reducing future damages by $x or more. However, because other methods (regulation, law, targets, micromanagement) are less efficient then that is akin to trying to insist that spending $y is worth avoiding damages of $x (where y is still larger than x).

Note that none of this depends upon whether the IPCC is correct in its science about climate change at all. This logic is internal to the system. The IPCC has only, using neoliberal economics, shown that responding to climate change in the most efficient manner possible (ie, using neoliberal economics) is worthwhile. This means that you cannot then project your own desired, less efficient, solutions onto the world using the IPCC as your justification.

So ideas like the one quoted above just don't fly. You can't reject the neoliberalism of the IPCC solutions because they are integral to the argument that anything at all should be done.