Credit crunch reality


America will beat this crisis and emerge as an economic powerhouse once more. Politicians and policy-makers will rush to claim credit. But the US recovery, when it comes, will be driven by the grit, talent and hard work of ordinary American people. It will happen in spite of, not because of, the actions of Bernanke and his ilk.

– Liam Halligan, 'Four more years of Bernanke is a problem, not a solution'

At last, a truly sensible idea for legislative reform!


Now this idea is originally aimed at those who have banned incandescent light bulbs but I think it could usefully be deployed further:

Here's my modest proposal to determine whether the legislation actually serves people. Satisfy the proposed power limits in all public buildings, from museums, houses of worship and hospitals to the White House and the homes of all elected officials. Of course, this will include replacing all incandescents with CFLs. At the end of 18 months, we would check to be certain that the former lighting had not been reinstalled, and survey all users to determine satisfaction with the resulting lighting. Based on the data collected, the Energy Independence and Security Act and energy legislation still in Congress would be amended to conform to the results of the test.

Yes, I like it, I like it a lot. Let legislators pay higher taxes for 18 months before the rest of us have our money taken from us. Insist that the SNP does without sealskin sporrans for a year and half before we have to. If fuel duty is to rise then let them pay it before we do: perhaps using some complicated voucher scheme at each and every petrol station so we can identify the scoundrels and thus pelt them.

If children are to be randomly assigned to schools by lottery, then all the children of the educational bureaucracy will be so assigned in the test period: that's every civil servant at the centre, of every councillor enacting it, every child of even a cleaner for a Local Education Authority and most definitely the young Cooper/Balls.

If climate change requires less use of cars and more of public transport then Ministers should be the first: abolish their cars and drivers perk.

Finally, if everything is to be powered by windmills then insist that the entire governmental apparatus do so first for 18 months. What with their chilblains, incipient pneumonia and the sputtering candles they'll have to work by that'll be a year and a half when we are entirely free from their bright ideas and ministrations.

Yes, an excellent idea and I thoroughly recommend it to the House.

Reform the ONS


Having spent the last week trying to come up with accurate statistics on the public sector, I can confidently state that the online information available from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is a mess.

Information is hidden in tables that cannot be easily found and when it is finally dug up it is not in a logical format and incomplete without explanation of why this is so. It should not take hours to get access to the number of people employed in the public sector. Upon my inability to find some bssic statistics on public sector pay I sent them an email; despite the prompt reply it was to a page that did not work. I have put in another request and have yet to hear back from them; even if they do get back to me, I don’t expect much help from them.

This failure to provide information in a digestible form is a long way from the model of open government that politicians are so keen to promote. The lack of maneuverability on the website is indicative of all government despite its obsession and waste on new technology. We do not need the policy analysis present in the ONS publications, just the statistics with background information on their collection. Outsiders can do the policy analysis.

Apart from the core functions – measuring the National Accounts, the census, Consumer Prices index (CPI) and the Retail Prices Index (RPI) – most of the statistics are not useful. The ONS needs fundamental reform in order to meet the informational demands of the 21st century. We deserve value for the £1.2 billion we are spending from 2007 to 2012.

The statistics need to be available in easily searchable and comparable formats. The US are doing slightly better with, but it is perversely obsessed with graphics and performance metrics and is remarkably costly. Instead we just need clear and consistent facts.

Perhaps though this is all too much to ask. After all, an understanding of public choice theory suggests that it is not in the government’s interest: “crafty governments use artful marketing to create fiscal illusion--a false picture--to hide from taxpayers how much they pay, where the money goes and what the true long-term costs will be."

Incentives matter


Famine stalks Ethiopia once again:

The spectre of famine has returned to the Horn of Africa nearly a quarter of a century after the world's pop stars gathered to banish it at Live Aid, raising £150m for relief efforts in 1985. Millions of impoverished Ethiopians face the threat of malnutrition and possibly starvation this winter in what is shaping up to be the country's worst food crisis for decades.

Yes, of course we should buy food and feed it to the starving. It's difficult to think of any system of morals worthy of being called such that would deny them that or us that duty. However, while we go looking down the back of the couch for that spare change which will keep our fellow human beings alive, it's still worth pondering why this keeps on happening.

Land ownership is another important election issue. The opposition believes the best way to fight poverty is ending the state's ownership of all land, and argues farmers must be free to buy and sell property and develop wealth. The government insists the state must own land, arguing it gives more security to farmers.

Yes, all land is State owned. There is no incentive for a farmer to invest in improving the productivity of his land for it simply ain't his land. In more detail, Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian Prime Minister:

Now we have, as I am sure all of you know, rejected the concept of changing land into a commodity in Ethiopia. We feel that this choice in our context is not economically rational. That is why we don’t accept it. Why do we think it is not economically rational? By fully privatizing land ownership, one starts the process of differentiation. The creative, vigorous peasant farmer gets to own larger pieces of land and the less effective get to be left to live in doubt.

He then goes on to reject this and insist that as they have lots of peasants thus they should have lots of peasant farms. Oh, and, while the land is held by the peasant "in perpetuity" the government still reserves the right to reallocate at any time. So it's not actually in perpetuity and of course as it cannot be owned privately it cannot be used as security for a loan to improve its productivity.

Until those incentives are sorted out Ethiopia is condemned to have repetetive famines, sadly.

Just for a little further illumination, Zenawi, after a couple of years medical studies, joined the "Marxist Leninist League of Tigray" where he presumably got his education in economics. The MLLT were Hoxaist. That is, the people who thought that Joe Stalin had actually got it right on agriculture.

Which, if you want to starve the peasantry, is probably correct.

When two sides go to war


On Tuesday evening of this past week two groups of males decided that, at that moment in the celestial calendar, it was the most pertinent time to attempt to beat the other into submission. When two tribes go to war! And that's where the problem lies, if there is no tribe then there is struggle to come up with a reason to be violent, there is no attachment to a cause. In this case the groups concerned decided a re-enactment of the heady days of the 1970s would be in order and they adorned themselves in the colours of two football clubs: West Ham and Millwall.

Both inside the ground during the game, and outside, before and after, there were clashes between the two groups as well as with the police. As a libertarian if two groups of people wish to do battle to discover who is the better, as long as no innocent bystanders come to harm then there is no problem with consensual violence. It is when thousands of innocent people who wish to watch a football match or indeed go about their daily business in the environs of a football stadium get caught up in it it becomes a problem.

There has long been an association between football and violence, not just in England but across the world, for most who watch it (and play it) it is theIR way of releasing tension, for some though this manifests itself in violence. These people aren't football fans. They hold more empathy to the violence than they do to the football. These people should be allowed to set up their own alternative sport, something that revolves around groups who can meet up in a field and belt seven shades of leather out of each other. Basically hooliganism needs to become a sport in its own right as long as they all have private health insurance.

In case you wondering: West Ham won the football. As to which group of knuckle dragging cavemen came out on top in the fighting: it was a no- score draw for intelligence.

Evolution and creationism


James Murdoch comes up with an apposite analogy in his recent speech:

The number who reject Darwin and cling to the concept of creationism is substantial. And it crops up in some surprising places. For example, right here in the broadcasting sector in the UK. The consensus appears to be that creationism - the belief in a managed process with an omniscient authority - is the only way to achieve successful outcomes. There is general agreement that the natural operation of the market is inadequate, and that a better outcome can be achieved through the wisdom and activity of governments and regulators.

As in so many things the confusion over beliefs is more extreme in the US than the UK but it still exists here. Creationism itself is more associated with sects on the right, even while such loudly abhor government planning of the economy. But those who are most strident in their insistence that the natural world is simply a result of random chance filtered through survival of the fittest also seem to be those who insist that the economy is not such.

All of which is really rather puzzling. It would seem logical that believing that one huge, chaotic and extraordinarily complex system has arisen without planning would lead on to the acceptance that if it can happen once it can happen twice. If humans are simply the result of competition in spreading gametes for 4 billion years, then it should be easier to accept that an economy is a result of similar if subtly different competition.

Yet, as above, it just doesn't quite seem to work out that way. Perhaps it is just that the human brain is uncomfortable with quite so much randomness: if we are planned to be here than we can accept the random nature of the world, while if we are randomly here then there must be planned order in the world?

Or perhaps it's that those who accept both Darwin (correctly) and planning (incorrectly) are not quite so free of religious desires as they think themselves to be. There still needs to be a caste to protect them from the vagaries of the universe, to intercede against randomness, but they'll term them planners instead of priests?