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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

The life and works of Richard Cobden

Written by Tom Clougherty | Tuesday 20 November 2007

cobden.jpgI was at a Liberty Fund colloquium in Edinburgh over the weekend, discussing the life and works of Richard Cobden, the legendary 19th Century promoter of peace and free trade. Although I was already familiar with Cobden's ideas and achievements, I had not read any of his original writings before.

The thing that struck me most was the extent to which Cobden was an activist and campaigner, rather than merely a theorist. His speeches as leader of the Anti-Corn Law League were exceptional, displaying a rare ability to communicate liberal ideas in a way that would appeal to and motivate the audiences he was addressing. More than that, he realized the importance of using the political process to effect change – the League produced a newspaper, corresponded with voters, encouraged people to join the electoral register, stood candidates and lobbied politicians. With such commitment, it's no wonder his campaign to have the corn laws repealed was a success.

Too often today's classical liberals (or libertarians) have such disdain for government that they are not prepared to engage in politics. Could this be why liberty seems to be doing so badly at the moment? Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of Cobden's book and start fighting a little harder for our ideals.

The other thing that surprised me is how relevant Cobden remains today, whether on foreign policy (where he believed in peaceful non-intervention), labour laws (which he opposed) or a whole host of other issues. He criticized stealth taxes, for instance, arguing that a tax should be as visible and closely linked with the service for which it is required as possible, in order to increase accountability. He also realized, long before Laffer drew his curve, that lowering taxes could boost enterprise and raise revenue. Gordon Brown take note.

You can read more about Cobden on the Globalisation Institute's website – where it is also possible to download The Life of Richard Cobden by Viscount John Morley.

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Blog Review 423

Written by Netsmith | Tuesday 20 November 2007

Could we please all try and remember this ? That it is the imports we want, the exports being only what we must give up to get them?

A warning to all of those attempting LETS and Acorn schemes with alternative currencies. If you're actually successful, the Govt. will most likely close you down

Promoting growth or promoting "pro-poor" growth? Go for the growth : the poverty part is best dealt with by the growth itself and the possible addition of social policy. 

The news out of Northern Rock appears to get worse: we taxpayers are in fact subordinated debt, nearly the last to get paid

More government joyousness. The glory that is the Common Fisheries Policy means that we throw back dead twice the amount of cod that is actually landed and eaten. All in the name of protecting the cod stocks of course. (NB, sweary alert, as it is the Devil's Kitchen.)

An interesting view of history, that 200 years ago everyone had their own landed estate

And finally , an excellent Christmas Card.

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It's a cost, not a benefit

Written by Tim Worstall | Wednesday 21 November 2007

One little point that all too few seem to appreciate. In Gordon Brown's speech on how we're going to make ourselves poorer reduce carbon emissions he let drop this little comment :

There would be "hard choices and tough decisions" but he said a new low carbon economy could bring thousands of jobs.

That's how we know that it's going to make us poorer of course. Now it still might be a wise idea, might not be as well, but my point is rather that everyone seems to insist that "creating jobs" via such schemes is a good idea. It isn't. It is most certainly not a benefit of such schemes, it is a cost. 

For of course if all those busy little workers were not installing tofu machines to light the yurt growing communes, they'd be off doing something else, curing AIDS, planting turnips or hanging politicians, all things which would arguably increase human happiness more. We are therefore poorer by those things which they will not be doing.

This is a blog post, so I'm not going to try and work out whether what they're going to do in their new green jobs increases human happiness more or less than the alternatives they would do without the government intervention: I just want to insist that we should regard this creation of jobs as something to put on the costs side of our analysis, not the benefits.

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Government (and people) getting a bit larger

Written by Rachel Patterson | Wednesday 21 November 2007

The Daily Telegraph has reported a story about a Welsh couple prevented from moving to New Zealand because each was considered vastly overweight and therefore a likely strain on health services. Mr Trezise had secured a highly skilled job for Telecom, but had to go on a crash diet in order to enter the country. His wife, unable to lose the extra pounds, has still not joined him.

Now, arguments have arisen that this is discrimination and stigmatization, but aren't these the kind of problems a nation faces when the government decides to provide health care? Private health companies won’t allow you to buy a policy with a serious pre-existing health problem, and when services like health become nationalized it makes sense that unhealthy people would then be banned from the nation providing the service.

Once the government becomes the health insurer, translating health policy into immigration policy isn’t that drastic of a step, neither is drinking policy or smoking policy – both of which we've seen in the UK. Once the government gains one power, it can expand its purview into all manner of life activities, all justified under keeping you healthy and safe. Start to scale back those powers (less socialized healthcare, for example) and the state has fewer justifications for control. Funny how that works.

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Is water different?

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Wednesday 21 November 2007

philipfletcher.jpgIs water different? That was the theme of OfWat chairman Philip Fletcher CBE at our Power Lunch in Westminster this week. He suggested that while the regulators wanted to see more competition, there was not a lot of scope for it in the water and sewage sector.

I'm not so sure. OK, the pipes are sort-of-natural monopolies: planning, cost, and common sense are all reasons why we don't have three or four set of pipes and drains coming into and out of our homes. But the whole operation of that infrastructure could, I would guess, be contracted out, with considerable savings. Of course, there is little reason for water-monopoly executives to give up parts of their empire (and their pay) to contractors. But they could be pushed into doing it. Or someone could just buy water companies and do it, cutting costs and pocketing a profit - or they could if the sector wasn't so heavily regulated.

There would be even more pressure for competition if Britain's water legislation wasn't so absurdly restrictive. At present, only the very largest customers, like universities, health trusts and big factories can switch to alternative water suppliers. Why not ordinary householders – who can switch their gas, electricity or phone provider but not their water utility. That must change.

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Wednesday 21 November 2007

After many years, I've finally worked out what a woman really wants in bed.


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Fools and incompetents

Written by Tom Clougherty | Wednesday 21 November 2007

idcard.jpgIt transpires that HM Revenue and Customs has "lost" the details of 25 million child benefit recipients in the post. The records included the names and addresses of parents and their children, dates of birth, child benefit and national insurance numbers, and – in seven million cases – bank and building society records. The data was contained on two discs, which were sent to the National Audit Office by unrecorded delivery. No one knows where they ended up.

To his credit Paul Gray, the chairman of HMRC, has already resigned. But this incident should raise much wider questions about the extent to which we are prepared to trust government with our personal information. Surely this sort of thing provides the single greatest argument against ID cards and the central ID database the scheme would entail?

Factor in civil liberties concerns and spiralling costs, and the case against ID cards looks pretty conclusive. Of course, the government tells us we can trust them, that they have our best interests at heart, and that ID cards will make the world a safer place. I'm sure they believe it. But does anyone believe them?

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Blog Review 424

Written by Netsmith | Wednesday 21 November 2007

The big news today, indeed almost the only news worth talking about, is the way our Lords and Masters have shown themselves to be incompetent at keeping data safe. This is why, of course, we are all urged to load up every detail of our lives into the Government IT systems via the NHS Spine and the ID cards systems. So that they can, umm, keep them safe for us.

The basic outline of what happened

Of course, the Minister insisted that the ID card system would be more secure . Her technical qualifications for this statement are: 

Ms Kennedy's qualifications for making her statement include "residential child care officer at Liverpool City Council (LCC) (1979-1983) and care assistant at LCC Social Services (1983-88). Other past roles include Branch Secretary (1983-88) and Area Organiser (1988-92) of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE)

Fraser at The Spectator does some reporting

The Times wonders whether ID cards are now a good idea (not that they ever were)? 

The difference between this happening in Government and the private sector

How about the conspiracy rather than the cock up theory ? It will cause a rise in identity crimes, meaning that cracking down by ID cards is even more necessary... 

 It was all known about a week ago : so they waited a week so that accounts could be drained perhaps?

Well, quite

As this sorry saga proves, relying on the government to safeguard our personal data is like asking Fred West to babysit.

The NHS Spine also carries a great deal of data about us

But don't worry! If GPs lose their laptops they'll be fined £5,000! 

Even if this hadn't happened we would still oppose ID cards on moral grounds

Why was this information even in a format that could be downloaded

We look forward to Polly's Friday column to tell us how this is all a good thing

No2ID is on the case, of course

Don't forget, they also lost the information on 15,000 Standard Life customers as well

This morning's newspapers will have made fine reading for Chancellor and Prime Minister no doubt

A technical review of what went wrong and what should be checked

The Home Office's own advice on protecting your personal data (amazingly, leaving it all in the hands of junior civil servants isn't mentioned).  

This is where the information has really gone of course

Expect to see letters like this very soon

Oh, and the man who resigned over this? You do know he's on full salary until his pension kicks in, do you

And finally , the whole thing reduced Tim Worstall, sometimes of this parish, to helpless giggles. If we all start to think they're laughable buffoons, might they go away?

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And in other news...

Written by Tom Bowman | Thursday 22 November 2007

LibDem MP Vince Cable on the Northern Rock debacle:

Tony Blair was widely criticised for advancing £800 million for the Millennium Dome. In the last few weeks this government has provided the equivalent of 30 Millennium Domes to this bank without even the prospect of a decent pop concert at the end of it.

UKIP MEP Derek Clark on the EU's plans to question women about their sexual history:

When will politicians realise that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual?

And finally, infamous German cannibal Armin Meiwes (the one who advertised for his victim online) has converted to vegetarianism and become leader of the Green Party group in his maximum security prison. According to The Scotsman :

The group of Green supporters is made up of murderers, paedophiles and drug-dealers and now has a convicted cannibal as its leader.

I've always said environmentalists were an odd bunch...

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Two steps forward, one step back

Written by Tom Clougherty | Thursday 22 November 2007

In his most recent announcement on education, Conservative leader David Cameron pledged to provide of 220,000 new school places by allowing independent organisations to set up schools that would receive state funding on a per pupil basis. Under the Tory plans, a legal presumption that any "fit and proper persons" should be able to set up their own state-financed schools would be created, and planning rules would be shaken up to release more land for educational purposes.

All of which is excellent, and could make a real difference to our ailing education system. Supply side reform like this, which harnesses market forces to create good new school places, is vital if demand side reform (i.e. school choice) is going to be effective. Indeed, the proposals are very similar to those in our recent education report Open Access for UK Schools (which popped up again in the Guardian this week).

Unfortunately though, I worry the Tories still haven't quite 'got it'.

The whole point of establishing independent schools within the state-funded sector is that in return for greater accountability (the school sinks or swims on how many pupils it is able to attract) the schools are given operational independence. This is the surest way to raise standards. Yet the Conservatives seem unable to move beyond the idea that when public money is being spent, the government has to regulate. Thus these new 'independent' schools would have to stream pupils by ability and teach synthetic phonics, and so on. Of course, these requirements may be sensible ones, but surely such decisions are better left to parents and to teachers? As soon as you allow government to regulate, the rules start piling up and you're back where you started – city academies are a shining example of this.

All in all: good, but could do better.

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