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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

Can't add up?

Written by Jason Jones | Tuesday 08 July 2008

A new government report claims Britons are wasting more than £1 billion a year, and the Cabinet Office inquiry into food policy says the average family wastes £420 worth of food each year. All these numbers have prompted Gordon Brown to ask Britons to stop wasting food.

The numbers, however, don’t quite add up. The UK has 60 million people—meaning the average waste per person is less than £20. If the average family size is 21 people, then it is true that each family wastes £420 each year. If not...

Anyway, encouraging Britons to reduce the amount of wasted food is Brown’s latest brilliant idea:

“If we are to get food prices down, we must do more to deal with unnecessary demands, such as by all of us doing more to reduce our food waste," he said.

Yeah, and we can reduce greenhouse gasses enough to save the planet by switching our light bulbs. Enough has already been said about agriculture that anymore simply feels redundant. But what do governments really expect when they subsidize bio-fuel production so heavily, and subsidize food production but then pay the same farmers to leave some plots of land empty to prevent overproduction?

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Children are racist, apparently

Written by Cate Schafer | Tuesday 08 July 2008

Thanks to the deep concern of Britain’s overbearing government racism is now being targeted in nursery schools, not with a focus on teachers, no, no that’s already been done, but on those narrow-minded little 3 to 4 year olds.
According to the Telegraph, the National Children’s Bureau, which receives most of its yearly £12 million pounds from the government, has started a new program designed to detect racist attitudes in children as young 3.  The program highlights several ‘potentially racist’ characteristics that teachers and caretakers should watch out for, my favourite being a dislike for spicy foods.

Good thing this policy wasn’t encouraged during my childhood. My revulsion of marinara sauce and garlic in nursery school would’ve alerted my parents to my intense anti-Italianism as a 4-year old. But I applaud the Government for issuing tax money to identify future Nazi’s by their food preferences. It just goes to show that some of the most ludicrous ideas can be the greatest. Or in this case, just downright silly.

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Kat Rolle joins the ASI

Written by Kat Rolle | Tuesday 08 July 2008

Hi! I’m Kat and I've just started a one-week internship at the Adam Smith Institute.

I study Politics, History, French and Drama at Woodhouse College in North London.
I enjoy singing – which explains why I have been a member of the Finchley Children’s Music Group for 5 years. On Saturday, we did our last concert of the summer, singing pieces commissioned for us by James Weeks & John Pickard. I love skiing and travelling but, in general, I'm not a big sports fan.

Finally, it is likely that I will take a gap year before going to university to "see the world".

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Blog Review 651

Written by Netsmith | Monday 07 July 2008

Here's something to annoy the biologists: both Wallace and Darwin got some of their inspiration from Malthus.

That ever longer working week idea: Americans now spend only 28% of their waking hours working as opposed to 61% only a century and a half ago.

The optimal approach to slowing climate change might not in fact be the optimal approach to climate change.

Getting technical on measuring the benefits of trade: Stolper-Samuelson is broken if you consider that ownership of factors of production is shared.

Limiting the new domain names: the morality police would be better off arguing for all the rude words as new domains.

Things are bad when a respectable middle aged lawyer dreams of doing this to the Prime Minister: "would have given the oily little tick a good kicking behind the bike sheds."

And finally, well, just what is the best thing since sliced bread?

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A magnificent tribute

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Monday 07 July 2008


Adam Smith is finally honoured by a fitting statue in his own country. There were two days of festivities to mark the occasion, starting with Thursday’s debate on The Invisible Hand (which won handsomely). On Friday morning there was a visit to Panmure House, his one-time residence. Adam Smith’s favourite breakfast, strawberries, was served. Then at 12.15 in the Royal Mile in front of St Giles Cathedral, Nobel Laureate Vernon Lomax Smith said the words and pulled off the cover to reveal Alexander Stoddart’s astonishing tribute to the great man himself.

He stares down Edinburgh’s High Street, his stern expression reminding onlookers of the virtues of free markets and free societies. The statue itself, 10 foot high on a 10 foot base, took over three years to organize and complete, and was funded by private donations and organized by the Adam Smith Institute. A piper played some of the guests into a lunch in City Chambers, and the events concluded with a dinner addressed by R Emmett Tyrell of the American Spectator and Prof David Purdie speaking on the Scottish Enlightenment.

The unveiling was widely covered in the media (with an excellent photo in the Financial Times), and marks the successful culmination of much effort. Adam Smith has in recent years returned to his rightful place of prominence and respect. He is the Scot who has had the greatest influence on the world and on the lives of other people, and a wholly benign influence at that. Now there is a striking monument which captures the likeness of the man and serves to remind everyone of his great contribution to human happiness.

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Reviving GM foods

Written by Tim Worstall | Monday 07 July 2008

A nice piece detailing the new GM foods which are being developed. The first generation of such crops concentrated either on increasing yields or on decreasing inputs, thus raising the profit margins of farmers and thus the quantities grown. All good news of course but not enough to sway the near hysterical opposition to the technology.

The new generation of such foods depends rather more on increasing the nutritional quality of the crop, rather than volume or the reduction of input costs. For example:

Cassava has been packed with new genes that help the plant accumulate extra iron and zinc from the soil, and synthesise vitamins E and A.

Cassava is the basic crop for hundreds of millions (some 800 million) around the world and its nutritional failings are responsible for  the damaging of many lives through under- and mal-nutrition. The addition of those nutrients will help to reduce such problems: that vitamin A will for example stop many cases of blindness.

Sadly, there are those who would oppose even this:

Claire Hope Cummings, a former lawyer with the US Department of Agriculture and author of Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds, published in March, said: “People do not need miracle crops offering enhanced nutrients. What they need is a good varied diet. Who wants to eat a giant bowl of cassava or golden rice each day? These ideas are just a new way of marketing GM."

It's true that most people do not wish to eat a giant bowl of cassava or rice each day and yes, that they would prefer a varied diet. But that isn't something that's on offer just yet: we need to remind ourselves that life currently offers all too many people all too short a list of options, none of said options being all that enviable and some just plain awful. Like, perhaps, eating a giant bowl of cassava or rice each day or eating nothing each day and thus dying.

The GM cassava, like the golden rice which is also vitamin A enhanced, will allow hundreds of millions to continue living and reduce their risk of going blind while doing so (250,000 children currently blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency and a further hundred million at risk).

I realise that Ms. Cummings (and no doubt others) will disagree with me here but I take that to be 100,250,000 damn good reasons why we should get on with marketing GM.

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Bad, not terrible

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Monday 07 July 2008

It seems like the worst of news. Cash-strapped Americans have given up their cars andf their coffee. Car firms in Detroit say their sales are down 20% on last year, and Starbucks is closing 600 of its 7000-odd company-owned coffee bars. How bad can things get?

A lot worse, probably, because I'm not convinced these problems are completely due to an economic slowdown. The thing about hard times is that they are like a forest fire. A lot of dead old wood goes up in smoke but the tender, younger plants survive and go on to grow and bloom in a couple of years' time. The fact is that cars and other capital goods don't do at all well in a downturn – they are a purchase which people don't mind postponing for a few months or more. And, even Americans know that American cars are rubbish – lumbering, heavy, greedy, unresponsive. Detroit can only survive so long on patriotic purchases: once people are strapped for cash, if they buy at all they buy Japanese.

As for Starbucks, they used to be great but they have lost their edge. The last few times I've visited one (in the UK admittedly), my coffee has been weak and cold, the place has been littered with debris from previous customers, and the staff have roped off large areas of the seating, for their convenience rather than ours. That's bad management, and that dead wood has to get burned off.

In the UK, meanwhile, Marks & Spencer have suffered some bad figures, and that's thought particularly bad for a store that has been bouncing back so energetically. But M&S is a very upmarket store. It goes for quality in food and clothing, but that comes at a price. Again, when people are a bit short, it's the luxuries they cut back on. Everyone goes downmarket until things recover.

So sure, things are bad but I don't think we should play up these particular problems as a sign of coming catastrophe. The market is hugely diverse, and things rise and fall all the time. And as Adam Smith said, 'There's a deal of ruin in a nation.'

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Word of the day

Written by Wordsmith | Monday 07 July 2008

Eleutherophobia. e·leuth·er·o·pho·bi·a – n. 1. The fear of freedom.

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Blog Review 650

Written by Netsmith | Sunday 06 July 2008

Remarkable news: when petrol prices go up then sales of cars which use a lot of petrol go down. Amazing, isn't it? Perhaps someone would like to study such matters, make it the basis of a new science or something?

More motoring: while petrol prices might be high nominally, there're still highly affordable by historic standards.

Looks like we might be about to lose the biofuels mandate as well, in favour of "renewable".

This, however, does not look like a sensible substitute.

A strange thought: might it be possible to have too many property rights, or ones that are too strong?

An idea for shrinking the BBC. Perhaps as a back up if flogging the whole thing off doesn't suit?

And finally, suggestions for modern pub names. 

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Explaining the Industrial Revolution (again)

Written by Tim Worstall | Sunday 06 July 2008

Greg Clark's recent book, Farewell to Alms, makes the argument that the Industrial Revolution happened because the bourgeois values necessary for it to do so were bred into the English population. It's an appealing argument to both Little Englanders and Great Britons, that there's something special about us: and indeed it's also true that since the IR did indeed start here there was indeed something different about our forefathers.

However, the perceived weakness in the argument has been over the transmission mechanism of those virtues.  Was it genetic? or cultural, memetic even? New research seems to show that it might have been a bit of both.

We find that parents who are more trusting and parents who are risk tolerant have children with similar attitudes. The correlation is strong with both mothers and fathers for risk; for trust, the mother plays a more important role than the father. Parents also tend to marry individuals with similar trust and risk attitudes. This reinforces the impact on the child; having one parent with a given attitude means that the child is likely to have a second parent with that attitude as well. We also find a role for environment, because child attitudes are similar to the prevailing attitudes in the local geographic region, even controlling for parental attitudes. Whether attitude transmission works through nurture, nature, or both is not clear, although several pieces of evidence suggest that nurture must play some role.

Trust and risk tolerance are of course cultural pre-requisites for any form of large scale trading economy. Whether it's directly genetic or more to do with nurture and education doesn't really matter for the purposes of Clark's argument. All that's necessary is that such attitudes were passed on by the part of society which was outbreeding the others, as his work on the bourgeois shows they were.

Another result of this research is that there are national differences in these levels of trust and risk tolerance, something which might aid in explaining why there are such differences in economic structure, the prevalence of entrepreneurialism and the rate of growth between nations.

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