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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 | Thursday 22 November 2007

A drunken man staggered into a Catholic  church, sat down in the confessional and said nothing.

The priest waited and waitedand waited.

The priest coughed to attract the drunk's attention, but the man still said nothing.

The priest then knocked on the wall three times in a final attempt to get the man to speak.

Finally the drunk replied, "No use knocking, pal. There's no paper." 

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Planning and the Scottish Parliament

Written by Tom Clougherty | Thursday 22 November 2007

scot_parl.jpgWhen I was in Edinburgh last week, I went to have a look at the Scottish Parliament building. I had seen pictures of it, of course, but wanted to reserve judgement until I had viewed it myself. The question is, how well spent was the British taxpayer's £414.4 million (the original budget estimate was £10-40 million)?

In my opinion, not well at all. The Scottish Parliament is without doubt one of the most monstrous buildings I've seen – and I tend to like modern architecture. It may be pleasant on the inside, but the exterior looks like a misshapen concrete block with bits of bamboo randomly stuck on it. I'm told the design was based on up-turned ships, which explains a lot and is, perhaps, symbolic.

Anyway, the Scottish Parliament building got me thinking about town planning. One of the arguments commonly made in favour of our restrictive planning system is that without it, there would be a free for all, with ugly, poorly designed buildings popping up all over the place. But the Scottish Parliament wasn't just approved by government, it was built for government. And it's hideous.

Look at the rest of Edinburgh. New Town, a wonderful example of Georgian architecture at its best, was a privately planned development (street layout aside), just like the equally picturesque Bath. Developers made the buildings attractive because they wanted people to buy them. Compare that with the council estates that surround Edinburgh (and other great Northern cities). Built by the state after development rights were nationalised in 1947, little regard was given to the people who would be living in them, and they have been regretted ever since.

It's time we finally returned planning and development to the free market. There can be little doubt it does a better job than the state.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Written by ASI Staff | Thursday 22 November 2007


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Blog Review 425

Written by Netsmith | Thursday 22 November 2007

A Happy Thanksgiving to all of our colonial cousins today of course, and here's a suggestion or two about what it's really all about. A producers' holiday celebrating private property rights ?

The always interesting Kip Viscusi: far from smokers costing society money, they save it money. Which makes the high taxation levels a little odd: it should, in logic, be a subsidy

Switzerland and the EU : is low corporate taxation actually a state subsidy? 

He may be a top policeman but he's certainly not a top logician

It seems that those outside the Westminster Village are in fact taking a great deal of notice of the missing CDs. 

No, it's not a surprising result, but then with those sponsors anything else would be .

And finally , a worthy contender for headline of the week. 

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A safer high

Written by Steve Bettison | Friday 23 November 2007

A rational approach to the hardcore heroin addicts is proving somewhat successful. A pilot scheme that has been running for the past two years has seen drug use and drug related crime fall among those undergoing treatment. The treatment involves two thirds of patients taking methadone (half orally, half injecting) and the remaining third injecting diamorphine (pure heroin) all under the watchful gaze of nurses, doctors and counsellors. This amassed support has helped many users back to a more stable life and a way of coping with their addiction.

This clinical version of supplying legalized heroin has cut the amount of crime normally associated with addicts. As Professor John Strang, of the National Addiction Centre, pointed out, about 40 percent of users had "quit their involvement with the street scene completely. Of those who have continued, which obviously is a disappointment, it goes down from every day to about four days per month.” Whilst it hasn’t totally cut crime, it has reduced it significantly and this is just as important for both users and society in general. This isn’t a cheap process; the treatment costs around £9,000 to £15,000 per patient but this is more than borne out by the reduced costs in policing and prosecuting their crimes.

The government has taken a very practical approach to the problem and has seen that 'legalizing' drugs can be done in a safe way and has many benefits, not just to the user but to society. Perhaps they could extend this to other drugs and remove them from the streets so as to be in direct competition with the current sellers. In future the government could pay for the treatment of those that become heavily addicted, or indeed suffer a bad reaction to the drug of their choice, through taxing the sale of drugs. Not only would drug legalization reduce crime overall but it would also mean that a large swathe of our society need never be in contact with the criminal element. 

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Brainy guy, that Adam Smith

Written by Tim Worstall | Friday 23 November 2007

Ron Bailey over at Reason has a look at what modern science can tell us about the workings of the brain. The discovery of mirror neurons (essentially an extension of monkey see, monkey do, to monkey see, monkey feels like he do) and their part in the generation of empathy, plus the connections between this and certain forms of autism, all fascinating stuff. And all dependent upon the highest of high technologies: MRI scanners (the development of which got the 2003 Nobel in Medicine) and electro-encelphalogram studies.

But as Bailey points out, while the mechanisms have only recently been uncovered, the basic idea has been around for a couple of centuries or more:

"As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form
no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving
what we ourselves should feel in the like situation," observed British philosopher and economist Adam Smith in the first chapter of his magisterial The Theory of Moral Sentiments
(1759). "Whatever is the passion which arises from any object in the
person principally concerned, an analogous emotion springs up, at the
thought of his situation, in the breast of every attentive spectator."
Smith's argument is that our ability to empathize with others is at the
root of our morality.

Given this further proof of his wisdom, might we be able to persuade a few more people to pay attention to what he had to say about political economy do you think? 

NB: Gavin Kennedy gives us the chapter and verse on the quotations for those who want to follow the reasoning more closely in the original. 

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Friday 23 November 2007

"Waiter! What do you call this sprig of parsley in my Manhattan?"

"Central Park, sir." 

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The rise of Ron Paul

Written by Tom Clougherty | Friday 23 November 2007

ronpaul.jpgA few weeks ago Rachel wrote a blog suggesting that presidential hopeful Fred Thompson might be just the small-government type the Republicans need. We were immediately inundated with comments saying 'What about Ron Paul?' Well...

He is certainly the subject of much conversation in libertarian circles, and has even hit the headlines a few times recently. He managed to raise more money in a single day than any previous presidential primary candidate. His website is getting more traffic than all his Republican opponents combined, and significantly more than any of the Democrats. He even won a New York State Republican straw poll. Granted, only 61 people voted, but Paul deserves to be taken seriously.

He's got some good policies too. He wants to abolish most of the federal government along with the taxes that sustain it, and return to limited constitutional government. He wants to protect and strengthen property rights, and extend personal freedom by rolling back the Bush administration's more invasive and illiberal legislation.

I'm not 100 percent convinced by his platform, however. A more pragmatic US approach to foreign policy would be welcome, but Paul's isolationism is a step too far. His opposition to multilateral trade liberalization and immigration also worry me, since both are vital to the promotion of free trade and international development. As for a return to the gold standard, it's just not feasible – especially with a major economic downturn on the horizon.

The biggest problem with Ron Paul though is simply that he can't win. He will not win the Republican nomination, and if he stands as an independent he will only ensure a left-leaning presidency. It's a shame really – policy differences aside, a libertarian president would be a wonderful thing.

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Blog Review 426

Written by Netsmith | Friday 23 November 2007

It would appear that trying to do an AS level these days marks you out as a terrorist . Perhaps the elitism of trying to get ahead is what bothers so?

And if an AS level is such a sign, then when do they start burning all of the bookshops that stock the revision textbooks? 

An interesting little story of how a blogger was asked to help a newspaper set up a story...and ended up in Private Eye

This shouldn't be a surprise perhaps: more government produces more corruption . As PJ O'Rourke pointed out, when the legislators get to decide what is bought and sold the first thing to be bought and sold will be the legislators.

There's nothing quite so publically a good as a public toilet: but they don't apparently have to be provided publically

Yes, why not? Let's really make it the England team

And finally ,  a metaphor for government perhaps. Extremely complex, frequently ramshackle and doesn't actually achieve very much.

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Book of the week

Written by Booksmith | Saturday 24 November 2007

bumperbook.jpgYou need to read this book - even though it hurts. The Bumper Book of Government Waste 2008 by Matthew Elliott and Lee Rotherham (£5.99 + postage) is, sadly, even bigger than the last edition - because there's even more waste. £101bn of it in fact. That's enough of your pennies to stretch to the moon and back. Five times.

How can a government possibly spend £280,000 on a conference on value for money in the public services? Or £100,000 in assessing whether £400,000 spent on modern art in hospitals was a good buy?

Buy it here from the ASI bookshop. 

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