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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 627

Written by Netsmith | Friday 13 June 2008

Further (as if it were needed) evidence that The Guardian really doesn't understand this liberal capitalism thing as yet. Well, yes, big surprise, eh?

Yes, this is the US rather than the 42 days here, but the Supreme Court makes the point that habeas corpus idea really is about what the State may not do to the citizenry. Security from terrorists isn't the point: it's security from those who would rule us. (How 42 days was reached here.)

More on that disconnect between the Westminster Village (as the saying goes, there's an awful lot of villages across the country that have lost their own idiots) and the general population.

No, this really isn't all that much of a surprise. What, you thought bureaucracies were there to aid you rather than control?

This bureaucracy seems a little less malevolent but the basic structure is similar.

Netsmith is going out a little on a limb here but it is at least arguable that there have only ever been three major inventions. Agriculture, the scientific method and the limited liability corporation.

And finally, yes, Wellesley really is different than Vassar for as the man said, if all the students at Vassar were laid end to end no one would be at all surprised.

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In defence of liberty

Written by Tom Bowman | Friday 13 June 2008

If you haven't seen David Davis' brilliant resignation speech yet, you should click below to watch it. In the wake of the commons' vote to extend pre-trial detention without charge to 42 days, Davis has resigned as Shadow Home Secretary and quit Parliament, and will now fight a by-election purely on the issue of civil liberties.

This is a remarkable display of political courage, and it is wonderful to see a politician take a real stand on a matter of principle. In the short-term, this may not be a wonderful development for his party, with some in the media unfairly characterizing it as the product of internal strife. But regardless of party politics, Davis' decision put the current government's appalling record on civil liberties directly to the public could not be more welcome.

Davis is not just standing on the issue of detention without charge, but against a whole raft of illiberal policies, from restrictions on free speech, to surveillance, ID cards and the database state. With luck Davis' 'nuclear option' could mark a turning point in the national debate.

Winston Churchill once campaigned under the slogan "Set the people free!" David Davis could do worse than adopt the same rallying cry.

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Power lunch with David Lidington MP

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Friday 13 June 2008

David Lidington MP, Shadow Foreign Minister, was our guest at a Power Lunch in Westminster this week. With oil now more than $130 a barrel, and half the world's cranes busy building new hotels and apartments in Dubai, it was no surprise that much of the discussion focused on the Middle East. Lidington, of course, is expert on the subject, and had recently come back from a top-level visit to the region.

The discussion was off the record, so I can't go into the details of who said what, but it does seem that the main concerns in the region have changed, from primarily strategic (notably issues around Israel and America's interests) to economic. Middle-Eastern countries see themselves as developing rapidly – on a par with China as the future economic powerhouse of the world. And yet, outside a few countries, the region's political structures have not developed fast enough to give this new, market economy the framework to really grow. The Gulf region imports 90% of its food; water is in short supply for agriculture as for much else; and Egypt has had bread riots. But when you try to fix the price of bread as Egypt does – so you can make more money selling it for animal fodder than human food – what would any economist really expect?

And economic development itself will pile up the political pressure. Economic development has allowed education to expand, and in particular more women are now getting an education. That will stoke up rising expectations in the region's predominantly young population. We can't expect that overnight there will be American-style constitutions, free elections and bright new democrats bursting into the majority. But I would say the UK needs to do more to help political reform by encouraging the understanding and discussion of democratic culture and institutions, and in particular the rule of law. Britain is, of course, the home of those principles. But since our nanny state is tearing them up at home these days, one cannot be optimistic that we will make much of a job of exporting them abroad.

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The second coming

Written by Jason Jones | Friday 13 June 2008

Over on Comment is Free, Mark Lynas has mapped out three scenarios for future policies regarding climate change. The first is that the world will maintain the status quo. The second is that the world’s great nations will come together, set and keep high standards that will eventually solve the problem, and then we can all hold hands and sing We are the World. The third, which is a bit more apocalyptic, foresees massive climate disasters in 2010 and 2011 causing a sudden sense of urgency worldwide. Then the UN works its magic, carbon emissions are capped, and temperatures rise less than they would otherwise.

The lack of critical thinking is mind boggling—reminiscent of the many doomsayers before Y2K. The argument that storms are increasing because of global warming is not only fallacious (relying on correlated statistics to imply causation and being emotionally, not empirically based), but its conclusion is also incorrect.

Katrina would have been remembered much like Hurricane Andrew if the levee system in New Orleans had not failed—horrible and destructive—but not at the same level of catastrophe. In Myanmar, the problem was not so much the strength of the storm as it was poor infrastructure—no evacuation system, poor housing, and horrible emergency services. This is why the ten deadliest hurricanes ever happened over one hundred years ago (when engineering was less advanced) or in third world countries.

The sad thing is that in 15 years when everyone realizes the world will be ok, Al Gore will look back and say, "Ah, it’s because we cut our CO2 emissions." To think… he could have been the president. Instead, he's the saviour.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Friday 13 June 2008

Good news for freedom in Utah.

Kanab City Council has repealed its ban on bikinis at public pools.

Apparently they never actually intended the prohibition. As one councilwoman put it, "We were so engrossed with safety and health issues we overlooked the wording."

Regulation, eh?


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Blog Review 626

Written by Netsmith | Thursday 12 June 2008

The big news today is of course David Davis taking the Chiltern Hundreds over the 42 day detention matter. John Redwood is impressed, The Guardian has links to a series of posts and Fraser Nelson thinks that the last resignation on a matter of principle was over the Corn Laws.

Of course there was another vote last night as well and here are the results.

Adam Smith noted this all those years ago, that businessmen seldom meet....except to engage in a conspiracy against the public.

One view of climate change certainly: if perhaps a rather pithy manner of expressing it.

Yes, the minimum wage does indeed have deadweight costs. Some, as these, are trivial, but not all of them will be.

It's amazing what tax money gets spent on, isn't it?

And finally, a possibly accurate calculation of when the next general election will be.

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Cleaner fuel and mahogany tables

Written by Jason Jones | Thursday 12 June 2008

Good news for those who support ethanol production as a means to reduce greenhouse gasses. You can get a beautiful mahogany table and chairs set, made from rainforest land converted to farmland to grow crops for ethanol.

According to Time Magazine, ethanol production isn’t just raising food prices:

An explosion in demand for farm-grown fuels has raised global crop prices to record highs, which is spurring a dramatic expansion of Brazilian agriculture, which is invading the Amazon at an increasingly alarming rate.

Worse yet, ethanol is increasing food prices, which in turn has significantly increased the demand for soybeans. Hmmm… where could soybeans grow? Northern Brazil. On land formerly known as the Amazon. Remember the 1980s and 1990s when saving the rainforest was all you talked about in science class? The last great environmental cause is being destroyed by the current one. In fact: “Bio-fuels now look less green than oil-derived gasoline."

So please, Congress, Parliament, EU, Gordon, George: just stop. Like always, your mandates, regulations, and subsidies are doing the reverse of their supposed intentions.

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Draining confidence

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Thursday 12 June 2008

The Institute of Chartered Accountants (130,000 members strong) has just released its quarterly survey of business confidence, which makes predictably grim reading. Business confidence, it says has declined for the fourth quarter in a row. It is now at the lowest level since the survey began.

It may not amount to a recession, where the real economy shrinks over two or more quarters, but the bean-counters expect that the growth in turnover, profits and exports will all slow, and that fresh capital will be increasingly hard to obtain.

It's not just London's enormous financial sector that is feeling the pinch – though, even after the Bank of England's attempts to increase liquidity, that sector most assuredly is. No, the credit crunch seems to be spreading out, affecting confidence for the worse in all sectors of the UK economy. It's going to be a difficult year for businesses of all sizes, in all sectors, and in all regions, the survey concludes.

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It's business time

Written by Carly Zubrzycki | Thursday 12 June 2008

The New York Times has reported that vacation time is good for your health. While this is not a very shocking or interesting revelation, it is certainly a useful piece of information that businesses and individuals could consider when creating employment contracts. More information can only help people make good decisions and properly weigh trade-offs. The problem, however, is that the researchers behind the study do not stop simply at spreading their information; they have fallen into the all-too familiar pattern of identifying something that has one good effect, and concluding that the appropriate action is to legislatively mandate that thing for everyone, regardless of the trade-offs. Most of Europe has already fallen into this trap, but America so far has held out.

Long vacations are a delightful thing, and may well be good for the health, but those aren’t the only concerns that either individuals or businesses must consider. After all, working in an office at all is probably less healthy than a life spent relaxing and exercising on the beach. The authors acknowledge that mandating increased vacation days would increase labour costs, but suggest that this would be counter-balanced by increased productivity and better employee retention. If this is really true, concerned organizations should be able to focus on simply spreading that information. This is precisely the sort of question that a market is suited to determine, for surely if these benefits really do make up for the increased costs, companies will begin offering longer vacation times. If businesses remain reluctant and people are unwilling to voluntarily make the trade-off between money and vacation time, perhaps European governments, too, should pay attention. 

People weigh the relative benefits of different packages of pay and hours and vacation days, and make their own decisions; for some, the extra pay may be well worth giving up the mild benefits of extra vacation time. If anything, perhaps proponents of longer vacations should be encouraging employers to offer more negotiable contracts, or encourage individuals to negotiate longer vacations in exchange for lower salaries, in line with how they value such things. Allowing a bunch of legislators to make that decision for Americans would be a step in the wrong direction.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Thursday 12 June 2008

The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) spent only £230 on celebrating St Georges Day, while spending £51,838 on refreshments.

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