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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

Blog Review 674

Written by Netsmith | Wednesday 30 July 2008

If you'd like to know why the Government's plans for computer systems, databases, identity and in general all things tecchie are quite such a mess, you might find some clues here in this podcast with the "tech czar".

There is of course direct action that you can take if you're upset with the growth of surveillance and the database state.

There might be something of an unexpected consequence (and how rare are those?) of the changes in the law on murder and manslaughter. Would a battered wife in fear of future violence be equivalent to a householder in fear of future violence from an intruder?

We add our congratulations to Guido's for the Guardian's financial results. A 4.99% effective tax rate is indeed good going.

Who would have thought it? The War on Drugs isn't working very well.

Excellent news, ten things we don't have to worry about. Plastic bags being one of why has there just been an announcement on dealing with the perils of them?

And finally, why prosecute this guy and when domain names go wrong.

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First he came for the wealth creators...

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Wednesday 30 July 2008

Barak Obama's social security (pensions) plan looks a mess. Last month, he called for a new social security payroll tax on incomes above $250,000 a year. Currently, the tax is levied only on the first $102,000 of income. That's easily more than the wages of most Americans, but to avoid antagonizing the middle-class millions who do earn more, Obama's plan is to leave incomes between $102,000 and $250,000 untouched. So it's only the 'millionaires and billionaires' – about 3% of the taxpaying population – who will pay it.

Whoever said that politics is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner? The argument is that the tax would be just small change for the likes of Warren Buffett. But does that make it just? Where do we end up when politicians forget the principle of equal treatment and are willing exploit minority groups one by one?

Actually, we need more millionaires and billionaries, and we need to encourage people to make themselves millionaires and billionaires. They days have gone when rich people owed their wealth to inheritance so that an extra tax really was small change for an unproductive class. But today, wealth comes principally through building up a business. You take a huge risk, but you reap a huge reward. Like the National Lottery, it's the size of the star prize that induces millions of people to take the gamble. Lower the reward and the number of players tails off remarkably quickly. Taxing 'the rich' is a counterproductive policy.

And, of course, moves like this further complicate the tax code.

The US social security system, like the UK's National Insurance, is already corrupted by this sort of expediency. In the US, the payroll tax is 6.2% – but as in the UK, employers pay a lot more (indeed twice as much, in the US, at 12.4%). That's designed to disguise the tax: employers notice it but employees don't. Until businesses find their costs rising so much that they have to lay people off, of course.

The system's rotten. The quicker we move to a compulsory, privately funded pension system the better.

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An apple a day

Written by Jessica May | Wednesday 30 July 2008

It’s been 1-2 days: you’ve a temperature of 38.5/39oC, a cough (not dry), sore throat, and paracetamol is all that keeps your temperature normal (37oC). What do you do?

Your options: visit the GP (though you may not get in on short notice), visit an NHS walk-in centre, or call NHS direct and talk to a nurse. Say you’re lucky enough get into your GP, who prescribes you antibiotics. Problem solved! Or is it…?

Now, let’s say you didn’t get antibiotics, but were instead told you had a virus — go home, rest and come back if it gets much worse.

Which would you choose?

These days, antibiotics are being over-prescribed in the UK. Taking antibiotics for a virus will not cure the infection. In fact, £270 million, put forth by Health Secretary Alan Johnson earlier this year, will be spent to advertise this simple fact.

So who is to blame: GPs for being uninformed, or patients for being too demanding and pushy?

Last year, 38 million prescriptions for antibiotics on the NHS cost taxpayers £175 million. New guidance has been issued to GPs to try and reduce this level, to help prevent building immunity. MRSA, for example, is antibiotic resistant, as are other superbugs plaguing hospital wards. But — more interestingly, this call is coming from the NHS drugs rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (‘NICE’).

Notice — the body in charge of drugs for NHS is asking for fewer drugs to be prescribed. Yes, this will have some effect against superbugs, but nearly TWICE as much money is being spent telling people they don’t need the prescriptions than is spent filling them. Perhaps, financial motives taking precedent over health? It’s a little hard to believe taking penicillin a few more times than necessary will make you susceptible to MRSA.

According to the General Medical Council GPs have a responsibility to patients to, “provide effective treatments based on the best available evidence; take steps to alleviate pain and distress whether or not a cure may be possible." GPs should be upholding this and letting the rest cure the virus.

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Scrubbing out carbon dioxide

Written by Fred Hansen | Wednesday 30 July 2008

Sound environmental policy or eco-ideology? In some countries hardcore environmentalists still resist nuclear power despite it being the most economically clean and truly sustainable energy option available. It also allows us to avoid stifling oil–dependence and additional pollution of the atmosphere. Those opposed to utilizing nuclear have of course dramatically over emphasized any potential problems that it may harbour. So rather than alleviating atmospheric pollution it leaves it at the mercy of the economically illiterate carbon–trading schemes. Similarly environmental activists, such as Greenpeace, have also resisted technologies like carbon capture and sequestration, exposing themselves to the accusation of being 21st Century Luddites. This increasingly compromises their credibility as environmentally responsible citizens.

Now environmentalists are giving us yet another example of imprudent opposition to new technology. Scientists at Columbia University are developing a new appliance called the carbon dioxide (CO2) scrubber. In as single day alone it can remove a ton of CO2 from the air. Speaking for the research team Klaus Lackner guesses that this device could prove an efficient way to minimize the atmospheric CO2 levels:

While some see the scrubber as an efficient and economical way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, many environmentalists are opposing the technology because it allows people to use fossil fuels and emit carbon in the first place.

After decades of investment renewable energies have yet to deliver their required cost-effectiveness. Therefore it is not prudent to flat-out reject other technological solutions which are often much cheaper than reducing CO2 emissions at the source. This whole issue of green campaigning reeks of special interest groups and doesn’t reflect the pursuit of the noble cause of saving our planet.

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And another thing

Written by Junksmith | Wednesday 30 July 2008

 Congress to Halt Closing of Unprofitable Starbucks

Democrats in Congress today plan to introduce a bill to halt the recently-announced closing of some 600 Starbucks coffee stores...

...well you wouldn't put it past them.

Hat Tip: Greg Mankiw

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Blog Review 673

Written by Netsmith | Tuesday 29 July 2008

It appears that Larry Summers was actually correct. Netsmith wonders if he'll be offered his old job back.

So, what are the silly but serious ideas (ie, nothing so insane as believing that central planning is going to work) in economics?

On insane economic ideas, how about a national food price agency?

Or the stupidity of ignoring opportunity costs?

Serious and not silly economic ideas: just where does the power reside in a firm? (The answer is that all purpose economic get out: "it depends".)

The moment all have been waiting for: the ASI does sex-blogging. The conclusion, that you should decide what risks you wish to take seems obvious.

And finally, so this is where the Muppet Show got the idea from then?

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The new religion

Written by Steve Bettison | Tuesday 29 July 2008

On Tuesday myself and others from the office went along to Waterstones at the LSE to listen to Lord Lawson of Blaby discuss his recent publication: An Appeal to Reason. It was an event that exposed both of the ugly sides of the debate surrounding climate change, but Lord Lawson remained above this and raised some valid points. Perhaps the most controversial was his argument that environmentalism was the new religion, and I believe that he may have identified a core reason for the appeal of climate change.

Over the past fifty years the number of people practicing religion within Western Europe has declined sharply. This has taken place simultaneously with a cultural shift away from independent/communal self-reliance, to expectations of state absolution which has left in its wake a moral vacuum. Lord Lawson argues that environmentalism has filled this vacuum. Over the past decade people have been more and more kowtowing to the potentially over-exaggerated catastrophic happenings that the climate change apostles have been disseminating. The continual doom sayings of these people have built up the idea that everyone is as culpable as next for the destruction of the planet, and that greatness is only attainable through a slavish and moralistic life dedicated to the cause of stopping climate change.

It is difficult to see much between the European interpretation of religion and environmentalism, save for the private/public disparity. The “New Religion" seeks to raise everyone’s guilt through the invasion of the private sphere, via public policy implementation; those that don’t follow the prescribed messages are seen as heretics. Despite living in the 21st Century, a time of religious liberty, it seems that we are rejecting scientific investigation and results out of hand, if it dare question other's beliefs. The invocation of politics to raise a section of science above all others, based on exaggerated scientific truths that tell of harrowing future terrors, is seemingly irrational in this day and age. Self-comfort can be found in many ways, but making others feel guilty via a comparison of actions is not progressive. It is no wonder Lord Lawson titled his book as he did.

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Won’t anyone think of the children?

Written by Philip Salter | Tuesday 29 July 2008

Last year The Independent produced an extremely shaky article on overpopulation. It ended with the dreaded words…

By the time you have finished reading this column, an estimated 100 babies have been born in the world.

Won’t anyone think of the children? Ah...wait a minute...

For an equally backward vision of the world read this recent interview with Paul Ehrlich (not to be confused with the Nobel Prize winning Immunologist). Remember it was he who said in an interview with Peter Collier in 1970 that:

Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make, ... The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.

Surely the question is: when will overpopulation loonies cut back their own number?

Recently, the excellent Walter Williams has written a straightforward defence of an increasing population entitled The Ultimate Resource:

The greatest threat to mankind's prosperity is government. A recent example is Zimbabwe's increasing misery. Like our country, Zimbabwe had a flourishing agriculture sector, so much so it was called the breadbasket of southern Africa. Today, its people are on the brink of starvation as a result of its government. It's the same story in many countries -- government interference with mankind's natural tendency to engage in wealth-producing activities. Blaming poverty on overpopulation not only lets governments off the hook; it encourages the enactment of harmful policies.

Thus, to protect the resource, lets premorse the cause. Not people, government.

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Low demand for economics

Written by Carly Zubrzycki | Tuesday 29 July 2008

At university, I've heard people advised not to take economics because "it's just codified common sense."  Be that as it may, people are quite bad at codifying and generalizing common sense when they aren't forced to, and the kind of common sense that economics deals with is fundamental to the functioning of society. That's why I was so depressed to read the following sentence on the BBC's website:

Only three economics teachers were trained on teacher training courses in the whole of England last year.

Three?!  Out of 38.000 new teachers? No wonder Labour is in power. Right now, twice as many students study Media Studies as study economics, and economics' popularity is expected to dwindle with the number of teachers.  The decline in popularity means that universities are also having a harder time getting students to study economics.

The more I hear the public discuss policy, the more convinced I am that the world would be a much better place if more people took the time to study economics.  We all vote, and at least understanding the basic language of economics is crucial to making sense out of policy. A functioning democracy requires an informed citizenry.  If economics continues to be neglected, I must say, I fear for the future...

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Tuesday 29 July 2008

It seems that the Kiwi’s really are stretching the boundaries of imagination with the names for their children. A recent case saw a child being made a ward court due to being named:  Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii. Yes that’s her actual name.

It is also alarming to read the names that have been blocked: Yeah Detroit; Stallion; Twisty Poi; Keenan Got Lucy; Sex Fruit; Fat Boy; Cinderella Beauty Blossom; Fish and Chips (twins). Even more alarming are those that have been allowed: Violence; Number 16 Bus Shelter; Midnight Chardonnay; Benson and Hedges (twins).

Still in this day age parents should be allowed to name their children what they like. But children should be allowed to change their names when they realise how idiotic the parents have been. Maybe with compensation thrown in for the years of suffering the parents caused!!

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