Blog RSS

The Pin Factory Blog

"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

The revolution will not be televised

Written by Philip Salter | Thursday 19 June 2008

At present the UK government regulates genetically modified food out of the market. This was done following an ill-informed scare campaign backed by environmental lobbyists, encouraged by a complicit media and left unchallenged by weak-willed politicians. With the global food crisis, it is surely time for politicians in this country to lead the way by embracing biogenetic food, the latest development in the Green Revolution.

It is telling that the term "Green Revolution" is now often used counter to its original meaning. Instead of the agricultural revolution beginning around the middle of the last century, it is increasingly being used as synonym of the confused ideas behind organic and sustainable agriculture. Such backwards thinking will not meet the increased demand and consequent rising cost of food. It will not be to the benefit of the farmers and consumers in this country, nor those living in abject poverty in the poorest countries of the world.

As Norman Borlaug – the geneticist and plant pathologist responsible for saving the lives of over a billion people in countries such as Mexico, India and Pakistan – said in addressing those on the other side of the argument:

They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.

The GM debate needs to be had again. This time those in favour of GM food should have the loudest voice and those against it in the past should be contrite in the face of the obvious falsity of their doomsday predictions.

View comments

Eroded liberties 4

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Thursday 19 June 2008

The law only had powers to punish someone who had been brought before a court and convicted of a crime after due process. This is no longer true. Like so many of the rights which underpin our liberties, this has been breached in order to prevent drug-dealers profiting from their ill-gotten gains. The law was changed recently to allow police to confiscate the property of people they believe were involved in drug-dealing. The mere suspicion allows bank deposits, houses and cars to be seized by police without any due process, and without giving the accused their day in court with all of the rights that protect against arbitrary oppression. The rule was 'conviction before sentence,' but for some cases now this is the other way round.

View comments

What is there to think about?

Written by Tom Clougherty | Thursday 19 June 2008

The government have announced a review of their policy of denying NHS services to patients who top up their care with private treatment. The rule has meant that cancer patients wishing to pay privately for a more effective drug not offered by the NHS have ended up having to foot the bill for all their treatment.

In the past, the Department of Health has maintained that, "Co-payments would risk creating a two-tier health service and be in direct contravention with the principles and values of the NHS." In other words, the health service's Soviet-era ideology was regarded as more important than the health of its patients.

Obviously, that this sickening policy is under review is welcome. But I really wonder what there is to think about. As I've said in a previous blog, the prohibition of co-payments is immoral, incoherent and quite possible illegal.

It's immoral because the government have no right to deny people services they have already paid for (through the tax system) just because they want to pay privately for some additional services that are too expensive to be offered on the NHS. Who is the Health Secretary to tell people they can't have a potentially life-saving drug even if they're prepared to pay for it themselves?

It's incoherent because people are already allowed to pay extra for private rooms, televisions and other non-clinical benefits in NHS hospitals. Why shouldn't they be allowed to pay extra for newer medicines?

As for illegal – well, the NHS has a legal duty to provide 'reasonably required' care unless there is some legitimate reason not to do so. Limited resources are a legitimate reason, but if you are prepared to pay the extra money yourself, then it's hard to see what acceptable grounds the NHS could have for refusing to allow the treatment.

It is high time the government moved beyond thinking that 'fairness' means preventing anyone from accessing better care. And they shouldn't need a lengthy review process to tell them that.

View comments

Quote of the day

Written by Wordsmith | Thursday 19 June 2008

Everyone wants to live at the expense of the State. They forget that the State lives at the expense of everyone.

Frédéric Bastiat

View comments

Blog Review 632

Written by Netsmith | Wednesday 18 June 2008

Yes, there really has been a house price crash in the US....well, in certain states, at least. Just as the worst excesses of the bubble were geographically concentrated, so is the bust.

Seems that Gordon still doesn't quite get it. Taking away a long standing right then allowing a limited form of it isn't giving people "new rights".

Yes, it really is true that smaller governments and lower taxes do lead to higher growth in GDP, consumption and all the rest.

Distressing: that our rulers think that we need a zollverein in order to have a single market.

Finally, we have an accurate definition of who and what are hip.

No, not a surprise: yes, rising fuel prices will change world patterns of trade.

And finally, at least there's one good joke about the Irish Referendum.

View comments

Nick Herbert MP on prison reform

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Wednesday 18 June 2008

Nick Herbert MP, the shadow justice minister, was our guest at a Power Lunch in Westminster yesterday. A former director and co-founder of the campaigning think-tank Reform, he was, as you would expect, keen to see robust reform of the UK's prison service. One of his main concerns is that, having gone through the criminal justice system and through prison, so many people – particularly young people – nevertheless re-offend. Re-offenders cost the taxpayer something like £11bn a year. Can't we spend that money better, and do something to prevent people coming back to jail again?

The Conservative answer is yes, and they propose to do it by realigning incentives. Someone needs to take responsibility on re-conviction rates; someone needs to 'own the problem'. That's one reason why the Conservatives plan to set up prison trusts – rather like NHS trusts – and devolve power down to them. The trusts would be charged with reducing re-offending rates, and prison governors would be paid by results on this score. But exactly how they do it would be more a matter for them than for London-based civil servants and politicians.

I am sure that part of the solution is to have a meaningful drugs policy in prisons. Stories abound of people who have been turned into drug users in prisons, since drugs are all around. Hardly an environment in which to prepare people to return to the outside world as useful members of society. I am also sure that the private sector could help to drive reform on this and many other levels – if they were left to get on with it. While there are private security providers around already, the reality is that they have to follow the public-sector agenda. But it's time for some fresh thinking. Let private-enterprise ideas bloom, Nick.

View comments

Eroded liberties 3

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Wednesday 18 June 2008

Along with the presumption of innocence went the right to silence. People could not be forced to testify against themselves, and had the right to say nothing at all. Juries were not allowed to draw any inference from this, because the rule was that the state had to prove guilt, and not require the accused to prove innocence.

This is another of the eroded liberties which David Davis referred to. The right to silence has been fatally compromised by allowing the prosecution to suggest to juries that they can draw inferences from the accused's failure to speak in their own defence. They should not have to if the burden of proof falls on the state.

One thing the right to silence established was that torture or even just bullying to force confessions was not worthwhile if the accused could simply exercise their right to silence.  The removal of that right weakens the protection which individuals have against malicious and presumptive prosecution.

View comments

Hope for carbon-eating GM trees

Written by Dr Fred Hansen | Wednesday 18 June 2008

Biotechnology is very likely to dominate the second half of the 21st century, just as computer technology dominated the second half of the 20th century. This is why the former Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson reckons that the solution to growing GHG emissions will come from genetic manipulation of our vast Northern forests.

His hope is based on the famous Keeling graph to be found here. It shows that about 8 percent of atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed and returned in a yearly cycle by the earth's vegetation. This means that the average lifetime of a carbon molecule is just 12 years. This rapid exchange is of fundamental importance because:

In the unlikely event that human-induced global warming were to prove a real problem, we’d have far more time up our collective sleeve to finetune the preferred level of atmospheric CO2…

Freeman thinks in the next 20 to 50 years scientists might be able to create carbon-eating trees, which could absorb most of the atmospheric carbon, convert it into a stable form and bury it into the ground. He suggests:

If one-quarter of the world’s forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in 50 years.

View comments

And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Wednesday 18 June 2008

There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer. When asked to define "great" he said, "I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level, stuff that will make them scream, cry, howl in pain and anger!" He now works for Microsoft, writing error messages.

View comments

Blog Review 631

Written by Netsmith | Tuesday 17 June 2008

The Starve the Beast theory of Government (don't give it any money, it'll only spend it) has always come under a lot of fire from various lefties. Odd then to see that various lefties are now complaining about how the Starve the Beast policies constrain their room for manouvre. As, umm, the Theory is designed to do.

If you're not sure what Hayek was talking about with cosmos and taxis, try here for a very good description. Yes, we're on the cosmos side of that divide (more formally, cosmos is the default position, except when clearly proven that it isn't).

Something from the taxis side: some would argue that simply because it has introduced no new regulations therefore a bureaucracy is failing in its work.

It would also appear that, at least when asked, some of the African recipients of our aid would rather not have it: cosmos again, not taxis.

It appears that the EU's new Justice Commissioner is a convicted criminal. Joy.

Yes, these are US figures, but look at the death rate for cannabis consumption. Can we stop the War on Drugs now please?

And finally, identifying a hypocrite.

View comments


About the Institute

The Adam Smith Institute is the UK’s leading libertarian think tank...

Read more