If women are more reliant upon social security doesn't that mean the system is biased in favour of women?

The guardian has one of those usual rants about how, really and candidly I tell you, we have to destroy capitalism in order to reach true gender parity. OK, well, just add that to he list of reasons why we've got to destroy capitalism we suppose. However, there's one line in there which has an odd implication:

Rather, women are more likely to be reliant on social security and insecure work, and thus end up hit hardest by austerity measures.

If a reduction in government redistribution disproportionately hits women then doesn't that mean that the current structure of government redistribution is skewed in favour of women?  

We can't actually see how that cannot be true. Sure, the social security system doesn't actually work upon gender lines. We don't say "you're a man have less money". We do say that if you're taking care of dependants then you can have more money. And it does generally turn out that women do more of the taking care of dependants than men do.

At which point we can say that the society seems to have some sort of bias in it. But if we look specifically at the social security, of the redistribution, system, then that initial statement cannot be taken as evidence of bias against women but in favour of them.

If reducing government spending disproportionately hits women then the current system, before reduction, must disproportionately benefit women. Given that first statement how could it be otherwise? 

There's a point at which we've got to give these people the Anglo Saxon Wave

Given the anecdotal link with Welsh archers at Agincourt we might call it the Celtic Wave, but most today will associate it with Churchill's cheeky transformation into the V for Victory sign. Or, that general two finger wave at people who have simply lost the plot and who need to be told to travel. And we are rather getting to the point where we need to be deploying this sign language in a serious manner to our rulers:

Restaurants, cafés and pubs will be named and shamed unless they make food portions smaller or less sweet, the government has said.

Chains such as Pizza Express, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen have been told to “step up” by cutting sugar from food and reducing the size of desserts, cakes and croissants. Calorie-reduction targets for fatty, savoury foods will also be set.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, told a private meeting of more than 100 food companies yesterday that “going out to eat is no longer a treat” because it is so common. Takeaways and sandwich shops would therefore be expected to take the same action as supermarkets and food manufacturers in tackling Britain’s obesity problem, he said.

As we have pointed out innumerable times we are not all fatty lardbuckets because we eat more than our forefathers. We are so because we expend less energy than they did - this we know because we know that we ingest fewer calories than they did.

Further, there is no reasonable excuse for government intervention here. That usual excuse of the cost to the NHS of obesity is nonsense. People whose arteries pop or clog as a result of being 10 stone overweight save the rest of us money by consuming health care for many fewer decades than the slimmer among us. As is true of smokers and boozers by the way.

Finally, of course, there is the point which we consider to be important. It's no damn business of the government's what we decide to consume.

The only solution to this is to just generally ignore them. And if their hectoring becomes to shrill we recommend that Anglo Saxon Wave. Rather more vituperation from the rude mechanicals is what the prigs and prodnoses deserve - and who knows, perhaps enough of it will shut them up.

One part of the Swedish model we firmly reject

We have noted a number of times around here that the Swedish model is not quite what people think it is. The economy as a whole is more vehemently free market than our own for example. We don't share the taste for a high tax, high redistribution society but there's still no doubt that, along with that greater insistence upon economic freedom, it's a place that works.

However, there is one aspect of that model under discussion which we adamantly oppose:

Sweden’s government on Wednesday proposed the reintroduction of compulsory military service, as the country continues to rebuild its national defenses amid rising tension around the Baltic Sea.

Absolutely not, not under any circumstances. And yes, for some of us at least, we do mean any circumstances - WWII did not justify conscription.

At one level it's simply a violation of that good ol' specialisation and division of labour. There are those 20 year olds who like and are good at controlled violence. Where we need controlled violence then we should be using those talents, not simply dragging anyone in off the streets.

But at a much more important level it is simply slavery. Slavery to the desires of the state rather than to some individual Massuh to be sure, but slavery all the same. And no, slavery does not have any place in our modern society, we're all better than that.

If Sweden cannot get enough volunteers in the current circumstances then they should be offering more money to those who do join up. And if the taxpayers aren't willing to bear that burden then they won't get defended, will they?

No, Uber doesn't increase congestion

I'm a big of fan of Uber. As I've written elsewhere, Uber should be encouraged not over-regulated. It might even be saving lives.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Uber's very noisy opponents aren't persuading anyone when they argue that Uber's a threat to public safety. As a result, they're changing tactics.

Earlier this year, cabbie union the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) blamed record levels of congestion in London on Uber and called for a cap on the number of private hire drivers on the road.

But, according to a new study from Arizona State University the LTDA's fears about congestion are completely unfounded. In fact, the study found that ridesharing services like Uber actually decrease total congestion.

By looking at cities where Uber entered at different times, the researchers were able to identify changes in congestion due to Uber and control for general economy-wide increases in car use and the like. 

So why were the LTDA so wrong about Uber and congestion? Well, it seems obvious that increasing demand for private hire cars will mean more cars on the road and more people getting stuck in traffic. The study's authors offer a few reasons why this isn't necessarily the case.

First, recent data suggests that Ubers tend to have higher occupancy levels than traditional cabbies. Think of innovations like UberPool where multiple users who otherwise don't know each other are brought together in the same cab for cheaper fares. 

Second, because Uber iss so cheap many people are giving up on driving altogether. So Uber is displacing the number of cars on the road not adding to them.

Third, Uber's much criticised (but not by economists) Surge Pricing system encourages people to delay peak time trips and make journeys at less congested times. As the authors say "Since the price of ride sharing in peak hours can surge quite high, riders who are price sensitive and flexible in their schedule may delay the travel time or choose to use public transit instead."

Finally, Uber is just straight-up more efficient than traditional cabs. Research from Cramer and Krueger found that Ubers spend much more time on the streets with a fare paying passenger in the back. That means they'll cause much less traffic while searching for fares.

Of course, if the LTDA really cared about reducing congestion (opposed to just wanting a stick to bash Uber with) they'd call for pricing roads at market rates (like we've done for years) and doing the same with parking.

A neoliberal acrostic

Madsen and I have written an acrostic about what we neoliberals believe in:

Nurturing freedom
Embracing globalisation
Optimism for the future
Liberating entrepreneurs
Incentivising innovation
Borderless trade
Encouraging competition
Real choices for all
Accelerating growth
Lifting aspirations

You can see why Corbyn and his friends hate us so much. 

No, this isn't the way to do it - money, not tampons

There is a claim from Scotland that women on benefits cannot afford menstrual products. This may or may not be true but let us, arguendo, assume that it is. The suggested solution is that there should be a state distribution of free to the user menstrual products. This is the wrong solution, entirely incorrect.

If people do not have the money to buy something essential then the solution is to give them the money to buy it, not to provide that thing "free". There are two reasons for this. But the suggestion first:

Tampons and other sanitary products should be given free to women receiving working age benefits, the Trussell Trust charity has said as the Scottish parliament held its first debate on “period poverty”.

Ewan Gurr, the Scotland development officer for the trust, called on the SNP government to consider making feminine hygiene products available free to women in receipt of certain targeted benefits.

Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s inequalities spokesperson, who tabled the motion with cross-party support, has championed the issue of menstrual inequality since her election last May as the MSP for Central Scotland.

On Tuesday evening she called for a “firm commitment” from the Scottish government to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the accessibility and affordability of feminine hygiene products.

The first reason against this idea is agency. All of us, without exception, prefer to deploy whatever resources we have as we think they will be best deployed. This is to have agency over our lives. The inevitable effect of this is that we value things that we are given less than we would value the money they cost, or than the receipt of the money they cost. This is the standard argument against the American system of welfare where instead of people getting benefits to buy whatever they receive food stamps which can only be used to buy certain foods. Inevitably there is a black market in Snap cards and the most common sale is $1 on the card in return for 50 cents in cash, the cash then being spent on nappies (there are also those who spend the cash on heroin, beer and so on but that's agency for you).

Even the US Census when measuring poverty admits, somewhat sheepishly, that recipients value goods and services in kind at less than they cost to provide. We can thus make all richer by giving people in need cash to cover said needs rather than offering goods and or services. Either the poor are richer because they value the cash more or we are richer because we can give less cash and they achieve the same level of utility anyway. 

The second is from personal experience: we're of the sort of age and experience where we've done that quick run to the shops. And inevitably come back with or without wings, or applicator, or of the wrong brand, or type. So which of all of these should it be that the state should stock and provide? Some admixture of all? Each store with the free supplies copying that supermarket aisle containing all those choices? Or should those who know which type they prefer simply have the resources to go to that supermarket aisle to collect and pay for the type they prefer? 

Quite clearly that second option is going to work rather better in fitting product to desires. For we've rather a lot of evidence that state planning of what people want to have is rather less efficient than the market's provision, driven by that lust for filthy lucre, of what people desire to have.

So, if we assume that the original charge is true, that women in Scotland do not have the resources to purchase menstrual products the solution is to increase the resources available, not to try to have a state system of "free" provision of them.

Leaving only the important question left. Is it actually true that women in Scotland do not have such resources? 

Three neoliberal ideas from Barack Obama

Here’s another reason to be cheerful: Barack Obama’s final days as President are taking a neoliberal turn.

  1. He’s just spoken out against planning regulations in America’s cities. This is a huge limit on growth – maybe bigger than in the UK. By constraining the supply of housing in places people want to live, like New York and San Francisco, and keeping people in less-productive places, building and zoning regulations are an significant drag on productivity growth – a recent NBER working paper estimated that the costs were equivalent to 13.5% of GDP lost every year. If you could cut those regulations to the level of the median US city, allowing more houses to be built and workers to move, you could boost US GDP by a whopping 9.5%. The "toolkit" of evidence and policy fixes he's released to help people fight back against NIMBYs is a great first step, and his bully pulpit could be even more effective at getting people to realise that blocking developments has a wider cost.
  2. He’s driving ahead with TPP and TTIP against strong opposition. I’m a big fan of these trade deals, which seek to reduce regulatory barriers to trade as well as tariffs. These are really important, because while the WTO requires member states not to put high tariffs on goods, they can be sneaky and protect their domestic firms from better foreign competition with regulation (stringent or time-consuming safety approval processes for things already sold safely in other countries, for example – the FDA does this a lot with drugs and medical instruments). In TPP, the biggest gainer will be the poorest country – Vietnam, and as Tyler Cowen writes it’s a good thing to attach many of the countries involved to the global liberal trading order. 
  3. His White House issued a report last year attacking occupational licensing laws. In America 29% of jobs, including things like hair-braiding and interior design, require licenses that are often expensive or difficult to acquire. (Fourteen states require licenses to braid hair.) The laws seem bonkers, mostly. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, “more than 1,100 occupations are regulated in at least one state, but fewer than 60 are regulated in every state” – a sign that for almost all of them it’s possible to get by without, and a big barrier to migration between states, which helps people to find the right jobs for them (see point 1). We’re lucky in the UK that these aren’t as big of a problem as in America, although some I do suspect some licensed professions, like lawyers and black cabbies, of operating a bit of a racket.

I don’t think Mr Obama will be remembered as a great president, but we may miss him when he’s gone.

Oddly enough, we already know this about the gender pay gap

Given that this comes from the alma mater of one of us perhaps we shouldn't get too grumpy about it. Or, perhaps, we should get grumpier for the same reason. The point being that we already know this about the gender pay gap:

Fewer than one in five of the UK’s top 1% of earners are women, according to a study that highlights a stubborn gender divide among the super-rich.

Researchers writing for the London School of Economics found the UK picture was replicated in all seven other countries they studied, with men always making up a majority of the top income groups.

Women accounted for less than a third of those in the top 10% in all the countries. Higher up the income distribution, the proportion was lower still, with women constituting between 14% and 22% of the top 1%, according to the studypublished by the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute on Tuesday.

Aficionados of this particular statistic will recall when the Statistics Ombudsman (perhaps Commissioner?) rapped Harriet Harman over the knuckles for her misrepresentation of that pay gap. Harman was gaily rolling along telling everyone about the difference in mean wages. And was told to stop being so misleading - we should be using the difference in median wages. 

The reason being that we don't record those with negative wages and there is no obvious limit to wages at the top end. Further, we know very well that the top end of that distribution is heavily weighted in favour of men. Thus, quoting the gap concerning the mean gave an entirely misleading impression of the situation facing the average person - thus the median should, in fact must, be used.

All that this report does therefore is tell us what we already know. That rather fewer women than men successfully climb the greasy pole to the very top. The reason being that rather fewer women think it a useful way to spend ones life - being sensible they find that there are better things to do with the limited time we have here. 

If it were that women are not allowed to do so then that would be a problem: we do believe in equality of opportunity after all. But if the difference comes from freely made choices then it's not a problem, is it, as we don't believe in equality of specific outcome, only in the possibility of the equality of utility maximisation.

This is not capitalism, this is economics

If we are going to discuss what will happen when the robots come to take all out jobs then we need to get our initial analysis correct. Something that Tim Dunlop fails at we're afraid:

How likely is it that a robot will take your job?

It is a question asked with increasing urgency as everything from 3D printing to driverless cars to machine learning is rolled out by a tech industry that sees automation as almost a sacred duty.

To answer, let’s begin with a little-discussed fact. We live in a capitalist system, and the point of capitalism is to destroy jobs, not create them. That might sound counterintuitive but it is easy to explain.

Capitalism is driven by profit. Wages are a cost to be controlled in pursuit of that profit. This means that whenever capital can find a way to turn a buck without employing a human, it will take it, whether it be with robots in factories, automated checkouts at supermarkets or drones to deliver packages.

The destruction of jobs is not something which defines capitalism. It's something which defines economics.

Our basic starting point is that human desires and wants are unlimited. We also note that we have scarce resources with which to sate those desires and wants. Economics is about the allocation of those resources to meet them. Human labour is a scarce resource - we therefore desire to be efficient in our allocation of it just as we wish to be efficient in our allocation of copper, energy or land.

Whatever our economic system we become richer by increasing the efficiency with which we allocate those scarce resources. All economic systems therefore, at least those that make us richer which seems to be rather the point of the exercise, aim to destroy jobs for that is increasing the efficiency with which we use human labour, one of those scarce resources. 

The only point at which capitalism enters the picture is that this mixture of that capitalism plus free markets is the most efficient system devised as yet to reach that desired goal. Of us all being able to consume more, sate more needs and desires, while employing less human labour to get there.

Jobs destruction isn't capitalism - capitalism's just good at it.