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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

Export the American dream

Written by Philip Salter | Friday 15 August 2008

The time must have come for the United States to lift its trade embargo on Cuba. Post-Fidel, positive changes have been infinitesimal, although there are signs that Raul could be moving in the right direction. However, any optimism needs to be put into context, and even if things are at present getting slightly better for the people, they could quite easily get worse at the whim of one man.

That said, the 46-year trade embargo has conclusively failed to effect positive change in Cuba and the US should consider other mechanisms if they wish to make life better for the people of Cuba. The US has conveniently played into the Communist regime’s image of imperialism. As has been shown in the case of Eastern Europe, access to markets can be a big carrot with which to tempt future leaders within the country that there is another way.

When I stayed in Havana for a few months, I was able to see the effect that Communism has had upon the people there. As a city visited by many tourists, the people of Havana know exactly what they are missing out on. For the young, who were not yet jaded by the Communist system, there was a real thirst for the profits of capitalism. Never have I visited a place in which brands were so highly sought after. It appears that in an attempt to shelter its people from global fashion, the thirst for the best has been made all the stronger.

Whenever I visited the young Cubans that I made friends with, they would play me American rap music. The sentiments in the lyrics that they empathized with was the struggle that many of these musical artists had to go through before they got the financial security that they now have and all the material benefits for friends and family that accrues from such a lifestyle.

It is time the American dream was exported.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Friday 15 August 2008

A fast-food worker is caught washing himself in a sink at work. What's the problem? At least we know the workers are clean.

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Blog Review 689

Written by Netsmith | Thursday 14 August 2008

The Prince of Wales' views on GM and industrial farming have not been greeted with universal approval. No, really.

Yet another reason to support immigration: the next generations are going to get ever better looking.

Quite a useful thing that, what with the obesity crisis. Or maybe it's the exercise, not the ingestion, that's the problem?

A little bit of Georgian and Ossetian history.

That "abandon the north" report: there's nuggets of excellence in it.

Trade barriers aren't only tariffs and quotas: professional standards make an appearance all too often.

And finally, yearbook yourself.

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Written by Terry Arthur | Thursday 14 August 2008

The first chapter of my book covers Newspeak Crap and contains a glossary of words abused by the politicos, together with their correct meanings.  For example, “friendly fire" means “killing colleagues", “legal tender" means “a compulsory medium of exchange", “social justice" means “theft", and so on.

Also in the glossary is “price war" meaning “competition to serve customers". Ever-present, "pricewar" has recently been used by The Guardian to describe Ryanair price cuts. You can’t win of course; price increases are “exploitation" or “rip-offs"; even “pickpocket" was used recently by Ed Mays, chief of the National Consumer Council.

Meanwhile poor old Ryanair is in the wars on another front, having been accused of “waging war" against consumers by its decision to exclude price-comparison websites from purchasing tickets through third party websites rather than Ryanair’s own site.  “Pawns" is the word used to describe consumers by Which? Magazine (not always a true friend of the consumer). Similarly, (directly alongside news of the price war mentioned above) The Guardian reported that “Ryanair to cancel thousands of  ‘illegal’ tickets" and surreptitiously hinted that the word ‘illegal’ (in Ryanair’s claim that the practice is against its terms and conditions) was dubious if not ridiculous – even though Ryanair has already succeeded in recent legal actions on this very point.

Although it seems to me that Ryanair’s spokesman made several telling points in support of its action, it is quite possible that Ryanair has made an error.  But if so, it will correct it, quickly, just like British Airways did over its crucifix ban.

That’s the way that markets work – the consumer is king.  The word “pawns" is best left to describe consumers who are not served by markets.  The NHS is a good example, and let us not forget that it too can and does turn away patients which don’t fit its templates or whims. And outside the directly nationalised organisations, the UK is riddled with state regulation and state corporatism. The airline industry is a case in point, but somehow I don’t think this was what Which? Magazine had in mind.

Click here to learn about Terry's latest book, Crap: A Guide to Politics.

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Towers in the sky

Written by Philip Salter | Thursday 14 August 2008

So, the Prince of Wales has decided to speak out against GM crops, blaming them for pretty much everything. I have written before against the doomsday lunacy that GM crops provokes. With this latest officious dabble in politics, the Prince of Wales has put himself at the movement’s vanguard.

From his ivory tower, the Prince is able to make the comment: "Look at India's Green Revolution. It worked for a short time but now the price is being paid". What price is that exactly? For the people of the Punjab, there has been a decline in poverty by 11.52% between 2002 and 2005.

Of course, protecting the environment is important and the Prince’s project to save rainforests is on the whole a noble cause. Yet he fails to see that protecting the environment is where GM crops do so well, as they require far fewer pesticides to return high yields. Thus, GM crops allow practices closer to the Princes own Highgrove estate. Also, for the carbon-crazed: “GM crops need to be tilled less and sprayed less, cutting tractors' fuel use and reducing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2006 alone, the permanent carbon dioxide savings from reduced fuel consumption since the introduction of GM crops was equal to removing 25 per cent of cars from Britain's roads for a year."

Progress is not a simple thing. GM crops will not save the world from all the challenges that will be faced. However, they have and will continue to save the lives of countless millions of people from starvation. After all, Horace was quite wrong. Pale death does not knock at the hut of the poor and the towers of kings with impartial step.

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Don't hold your breath

Written by Yohan Sanmugam | Thursday 14 August 2008

As early as 1992, the Adam Smith Institute propagated the use of marketable permits for tackling high CO2 emissions (see Rethinking the Environment). This cap and trade system means that while the government has limited the overall value of emissions, firms (polluters) can trade their pollution permits. The incentive to reduce emissions is created by the cost of buying extra permits and selling your surplus if you are more efficient.

So only 13 years later, the EU entered Phase I (2005-2007) of its Emissions Trading System that sought to do just that. Over the same time period CO2 emissions in the EU rose 1.9 %. Why does the market approach appear to have failed?

Firstly, Phase I only covered a two year period; it takes time for firms to invest in more efficient methods of production and consequently reap the benefits of lower CO2 output.

Secondly, the scheme only applied to installations in the energy and industry sectors which accounted for less than half of the EU‚s emissions of CO2. In other words, the emissions trading system was not able to have its full effect.

Thirdly, the ETS was subject to lobbying and mismanagement by the EU and its member states. They allowed far too many permits to be issued, and of those only 5% were auctioned, the rest being freely allocated. This is evident in the price of allowances- from April 2006 to September 2007, it fell from •30 per tonne of CO2 to •0.10. The result: the incentive to reduce emissions vanishes.

Now in 2008 as Phase II begins, the EU has decided that it, and not the member states will allocate the emissions caps- the caps themselves will be lowered and more permits auctioned. Also, coverage of the scheme will increase to contain aluminium and ammonium producers, and, by 2010, the aviation industry. But don't hold your breath. The EU will be just as vulnerable to lobbyists as its members making overallocation just as likely. And increasing the proportion of permits auctioned from 5% to 7% is less of a step in the right direction, and more of a snail's pace.

Instead, lowering the caps to a more effective level and auctioning them all will better reflect the ideas that were suggested 16 years ago, and in the long run will help to vindicate a market based approach to the environment.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Thursday 14 August 2008

It appears that those in charge of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony understand Adam Smith's concept of the division of labour.

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Blog Review 688

Written by Netsmith | Wednesday 13 August 2008

Hypocrisy uncovered in the political classes. My, now that's a surprise, isn't it?

Another non-surprise. The attempt to remove one of our more fundamental rights.

(Swearword warning) If we've got one of the lowest drink drive death rates in the EU, why are we being asked to adopt the rules of those places which have some of the highest?

We all know of Polly's image of society as a caravan crossing the desert wastes. But does she actually understand how the camels are corraled and treated?

Good news out of Africa: someone's actually inviting productive farmers in.

Sometimes these bureaucracies go just a little bit too far? You think?

And finally, feeling hungry? Perhaps not for long.

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Ration or reform?

Written by Philip Salter | Wednesday 13 August 2008

In Monday’s Times, Libby Purves suggests that NHS rationing is something that we should all get used to. Purves plucks examples out of the air as to where further rationing could be employed:

- IVF should be funded because it is not life-threatening.
- Drunkards, smokers and addicts should be required to get clean before any emergency treatment.
- Stomach-banding should be subject to co-payment in arrears since you’ll be eating less.
- Life-extending (as opposed to palliative or Alzheimer’s) treatments should cease at 85.
- Breadwinners and parents of young families should get formal priority with cancer drugs.
- An age should be introduced beyond which heart surgery is not offered.

Purves does not suggest that any of these policies should be introduced, but is showing that these are areas in which we could potentially ration healthcare. I’m not surprised she is vague in her policy suggestions. People being denied treatment -  who have paid in taxes throughout their life for the inefficient and failing NHS - but happen to smoke, be fat, have chosen not to have children or be past a certain age, is simply unfair and frankly missing the point of the problem.

Given that this is the state of healthcare in this country, is it not therefore time for us to think about healthcare reform instead of rationing? As Michael Tanner argues in The Grass Is Not Always Greener. A Look at National Health Care Systems Around the World:

Those countries with national health care systems that work better, such as France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, are successful to the degree that they incorporate market mechanisms such as competition, cost-consciousness, market prices, and consumer choice, and eschew centralized government control.

Just to be clear. Tanner does not include the British healthcare system in this list.

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Homeward bound

Written by Cate Schafer | Wednesday 13 August 2008

Implementing curfews seems all the rage these days in the United States. Last week a town in Arkansas ordered a 24-hour curfew for all residents in a neighbourhood struggling with high amounts of violence and drug dealing. Peaceable citizens passing through the neighbourhood in any form of transportation could be stopped and searched by officers under the mayor’s orders. Another recent curfew on teenagers was implemented in Hartford, Connecticut. Teenagers less than 18-years of age cannot be out and about past 9PM without a parent or guardian. 

Sure, these curfews are set up to protect innocent bystanders from being caught up in the violence on the streets, but at the serious cost of their civil liberty to move about freely. It is not the government’s job to decide when people are allowed to traverse their own neighbourhood or if they are able to sit outside to enjoy the summer weather. People should be able so make the decision for themselves when to stay inside when the risk of straying past their doorstep is too high. The government should focus on the individual criminals and preventing their ability to commit crimes instead of forcing all citizens to sit under house arrest.

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