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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

Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Friday 14 December 2007

A man arrives at the gates of heaven. St. Peter asks, "Religion?"
The man says, "Methodist"
St. Peter looks down his list, and says, "Go to room twenty-eight, but be very quiet as you pass room eight."
Another man arrives at the gates of heaven. "Religion?"
"Go to room eighteen, but be very quiet as you pass room eight."
A third man arrives at the gates. "Religion?"
"Go to room eleven, but be very quiet as you pass room eight."
The man replies, "I can understand there being different rooms for different religions, but why must I be quiet when I pass room eight?"
St Peter replies, "The Jehovah's Witnesses are in room eight, and they think they're the only ones here."

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Social mobility and class barriers

Written by Tim Worstall | Friday 14 December 2007

The Sutton Trust has just released a report on the way in which social mobility has been flatlining since 1970. All of the newspapers seem to be taking the same line (with varying degres of stridency, I agree) which is that this shows how ossified society is and isn't it all an outrage, a crying shame. The FT, The Indy, Times, Telegraph. Oddly, it's the Guardian which gives the best report:

The brightest children in Britain's poorest homes are outperformed by the least gifted children from wealthy homes by the age of seven, according to research. It concludes that social class is still the biggest predictor of school achievement, the likelihood of getting a degree and even a child's behaviour, suggesting that the advantages of being born in a privileged home have not changed in 30 years.

For the Sutton Trust hasn't studied social mobility at all. It's studied what is, in the very kindest possible description of it, a weak proxy for it, the liklihood of getting a degree by age 23 (one that I myself would have failed btw). 

I'm entirely willing to believe that coming from a privileged home does indeed increase your chances of succeeding via the education system: given the manifest deficiencies of that system, that anyone without a strong home and family background gets anything at all out of it surprises me.

What I'm much less sure about is that this is in fact a good proxy for social mobility: for a start, we're not actually interested in social mobility at all, we're interested in economic mobility and income and class have never been closely linked in England. The report does acknowledge this in a way:

A key assumption is that, as demonstrated by previous studies, earlier educational and behaviourial outcomes for children are a good (and reasonably constant) predictor of their future earnings as adults.

Given that the graduate premium is falling and has been for a decade or more (to the point that investment in an Arts degree, for men, is thought to now have a negative economic return) that assumption of constancy seems unwarranted. The Sutton Trust has pointed out that the education system, as so many of us have been insisting, isn't very good. But they haven't, as most of the newspaper reports seem to think, found out anything about social or economic mobility, at least, not to a reasonable standard of proof they haven't.

Still that won't worry anyone, will it? "Research" has shown that the UK lags the civilised world in social mobility and that'll be good for a few thousand jeremiads. Just a pity that what the research does show is that the £77 billion a year we spend on the education system isn't being well spent, but then we knew that, didn't we?


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Blog Review 446

Written by Netsmith | Friday 14 December 2007

Only someone entirely a cynic, hatefully so, could believe that this story from 1907 has anything at all to do with the expansion of the public payroll over the past decade.

Similarly, we would have to be silly to think that there are such examples of rent-seeking here in the UK. 

If we are indeed to do anything about climate change then it's clear that a carbon tax provides the fewest opportunities for such rent-seeking. 

Originally these tariffs were simply rent seeking. But now that 99% of shoes bought in the US are imported, they don't even cover that function, they're simply a particularly nasty regressive tax.

Staying with the US tax system, has it become more or less progressive in recent years do you think? Given that average tax rates for the poorer groups have fallen further than those for the richer, perhaps it has become more progressive? 

Coming soon to an internet near you. The confiscation of any equipment being used to breach copyright. So that's Google's servers running Blogger for chop then, eh?

And finally , in the comments at Guido's, Stanislav, a young polish plumber. Not PC, foul language and very, very funny.

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A pity about the police

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Saturday 15 December 2007

police1.jpgPolice are said to be 'puzzled' that John Darwin's sons, Anthony and Mark, have decided to take legal advice and speak to them only through a lawyer. It is 'very strange' said a police spokesman.

Strange? You must be joking. It's perfectly sensible.

John Darwin went missing a few years back after supposedly taking his canoe on the sea in North-East England. His sudden re-appearance this month led to his (and his wife's) arrest on the suspicion that his disappearance was in fact a deliberate attempt to escape his debts. Police want to interview the sons as possible witnesses.

Well, either they knew about it, or they didn't. Either way, if I was them, I'd do the same and call the lawyers. I was brought up to trust the police as my friend. The Yorkshire Ripper enquiry - where information was kept on file cards rather then computers, and the police interviewed the guilty man nine times without figuring he had anything to hide - made me realize they were incompetent. More recently, their arresting folk on terrorist charges for cycling on a footpath or shouting at the Home Secretary made me realize they couldn't be trusted with the huge power politicians had voted them. And their willingness to charge someone with kidnapping who had made a citizen's arrest of a window-smashing thug made me realize that they were only interested in getting easy convictions so that they could meet their Home Office targets.

'Ask a policeman' I was taught. Now I wouldn't even ask them how to cross the road, never mind give them my name and address. Their brand has been polluted. Pity - it's not their fault. It's the rotten public-sector system they work under, and the political targets they have to work to. Sad.

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Saturday 15 December 2007

Peter, who was in a lot of pain, called his doctor's office for an appointment.
"I'm sorry," said the receptionist, "but we can't fit you in for at least two weeks."
"Two weeks!" the man replied. "But I could be dead by then."
The receptionist replied, "No problem, sir. If your wife calls the surgery we can cancel the appointment." 

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Is Fred dead?

Written by Tom Clougherty | Saturday 15 December 2007

fred-thompson.jpgNot long ago Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and Law & Order star, was the great hope of many US Republicans, who excitedly compared him to Ronald Reagan and willed him to run for president. But since announcing his candidacy, Thompson's campaign has been lacklustre at best.
Yet the criticism most often levelled at Thompson – that he is just a TV personality – is unfair.

If anything, his policy platform and his commitment to small government principles are stronger than his competitors', while it is his media skills that have proved surprisingly disappointing.

His tax plan illustrates this perfectly. Having announced the policy on Fox News, he didn't make a single public appearance for three days and his plan sank without trace, which is a great shame, since it is extremely promising and would undoubtedly appeal to Republican voters if only they knew about it.
Thompson would permanently extend the Bush tax cuts (which have done much to keep the US economy afloat) and reduce corporation tax from 35 to 27 percent – a vital move for America's global competitiveness. The death tax would be abolished, as would the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was meant to hit the rich but now catches countless middle-income Americans in its net.

Best of all, Thompson proposes a new, alternative income tax code, which people could choose to opt into. Instead of the complexities of the existing system, people could choose a simple $15,000 personal allowance, paying 10 percent on their next $35,000, and 25 percent on everything over $50,000.

Eventually, I suspect most people would opt for this simpler tax code, and the US would have shifted to a simpler, flatter tax system without ever fighting major political battles over the removal of popular complexities. It's a clever policy, and one that could work this side of the Atlantic too.

It goes to show: Fred Thompson has plenty of potential. He just needs to raise his game before it's too late.

Kimberly Strassel, in the Wall Street Journal, and Quin Hillyer, in the American Spectator, have good pieces on Thompson here and here.

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Blog Review 447

Written by Netsmith | Saturday 15 December 2007

We don't always make fun of Polly Toynbee around here but this is too good to not mention: the lump of indignation fallacy . This is good too .

On iron fertilisation of the oceans as a way of sequestering CO2: might we in fact already have done the experiment? The iron contained in coal burnt by all those ships a century ago?

Perhaps adapatation to a low carbon economy won't be all that difficult (given enough time)?  

Iain Dale's decided to, umm, well, you've got to admit it's a pretty neat idea , don't you? 

The Victorian principles of policing :  Netsmith didn't recognise any of them in the modern forces but perhaps you can do better?

So just how well paid are public sector chief executives? As compared with private sector ones

And finally, those who speak Spanish might like to go here , those who don't, read this

Venezuelan Interior Minister Pedro Carreno was momentarily at a loss
for words when a journalist interrupted his speech and asked if it was
not contradictory to criticize capitalism while wearing Gucci shoes and
a tie made by Parisian luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton.


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Atheists are people too

Written by Steve Bettison | Sunday 16 December 2007

romney_3.jpgHow do you ostracise 30 million people? One simple way is to explain that, "freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom... freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." This is what Mitt Romney fundamentally did when he uttered those lines in his speech on the presidency and its relationship to belief. The Economist this week draws attention to the fact that there is a forgotten mass of people within the US who's votes are hardly ever courted.

Currently around 10 percent of Americans class themselves as being agnostic or atheist, a figure that has doubled in ten years. Unfortunately for them though they are a disparate group, and they are increasingly being forgotten. Especially as politicians are becoming more than happy to clothe themselves in religiosity as a way of proving that they are trustworthy and honest. (Even though the innumerable scandals prove that many are ordinary fallible human beings.)

Those who have no religious belief need to join together and begin to ask tough questions of those seeking election to office. There is a rightful place in the political arena for them, especially as a voice against those who seek to hold back scientific advances in the name of religion.

Mitt Romney et al. need to realise, as George Bush did, that even people without faith are Americans and that they, and their views, need to be incorporated into campaigns and politics. Religious belief, or lack of it, should never be a reason for exclusion from the political process. Having said that, we are surely light years away from ever seeing an unbelieving president.

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Sunday 16 December 2007

One night a burglar was trying to break into a house. He was sneaking across the lawn when he heard a voice - "Jesus is watching you!"
He jumped, turnedaround, but he didn't see anything. So he startedcreeping across the lawn again. "Jesus is watching you!" He heard it again.
Now the burglar was really looking around, and he saw a parrot in a cage by the side of the house. He said to the parrot, "Did you say that?"
The parrot answered "Yes I did."
So the burglar asked, "What's your name?"
The parrot said "Clarence."
The burglar said "What kind of stupid idiot would name his parrot Clarence?"
The parrot laughed and said, "The same stupid idiot that named his Rottweiler 'Jesus'"

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The vision thing

Written by Tom Clougherty | Sunday 16 December 2007

cameron.jpgThere is an interesting article in The Economist this week, which states "The Conservatives are doing well, but not well enough." That's probably a fair assessment.

The point is that despite the government's recent woes, and the sustained poll lead they have produced for Cameron's opposition, the Tories have not managed to really pull away from Labour. As The Economist notes, in 1995 Labour were scoring 60 percent, more than 30 percent ahead of the Tories. By contrast, Cameron's Conservatives are only averaging a ten-point lead, with 41 percent to Labour's 31. Of course, that is their best lead since 1992 and it represents a truly remarkable turn around from just a few months ago. But thanks to the structural unfairness of the British electoral system (the Conservatives need many more votes than Labour to win the same number of parliamentary seats) it is not yet enough to be sure of victory.

The main question for the Tories is, what can they do to propel themselves further ahead? The Economist points to two issues. The first is personnel - the shadow cabinet as a whole needs to perform better. Too many of them are completely unknown to the wider public, and do not seem to be particularly proactive. This is foolish: the Conservatives cannot simply hope for the government to lose the next election, they will have to work tirelessly to win it.

The second issue is policy. The problem is not, as is often suggested, that there isn't enough of it, or that it isn't detailed or radical enough. In fact, Cameron's policy commissions have provided him with a wealth of promising ideas, particularly on education and welfare reform (which may prove to be the most important challenges facing the next government). But what the Conservatives have not yet developed is an overarching theme or narrative that holds everything together and makes people understand just what a Tory government will be all about.

Ultimately, people vote for a vision, not for a handful of good policies. The challenge that remains for the Conservatives is making their vision the most attractive one on the market.

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