"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
Harriet Harman's official blog was, as we know, hacked. Her. umm, log in details were, well fairly obvious. As she admitted on TV this morning. Ms. Harman is, of course, one of those leading us into a bright future of multiple government run databases which will contain every detail of our lives.
More ferrets in a sack as Lord Levy's memoirs are serialised.
Not to worry though, here's the definitive breakdown on how much of our law no longer comes from Westminster so what they say or do there doesn't really matter.
This could be taken to be a good thing, given the skill and competence with which they deal with those matters they do still have power over.
Very much from far out in left field: Ken Livingstone for Prime Minister?
Not a blog, but still an excellent rehearsal of the arguments surrounding legalisation of drugs.
We have the threat of another trade war looming:
European biodiesel producers triggered a fresh transatlantic trade war yesterday by urging the EU to impose punitive duties on cheap imports from the US.
Low-priced imports of biofuels, as part of the so-called "splash and dash" trade, are putting many European producers out of business, the industry group claims.
Now yes, the subsidies being complained of are indeed pretty silly, and they're paid out in an even siller manner. Plus of course the whole idea of biofuels has been pretty comprehensively shown to be positively harmful to the environment rather than beneficial, at least at current levels of technology.
But the idea of a trade war over it is boneheaded. There are two possibilities here. The first that we should not have biofuels at all, in which case certainly we shouldn't be encouraging domestic production. Alternatively, we should indeed be using biofuels, in which case we want the cheapest ones for our fellow EU citizens to use: the cheapest possible, for that is what makes our fellow citizens richer, that they have the money saved to do something else with.
Whether those cheapest possible fuels come from a technological advance (either at home or abroad), from some playing out of a comparative advantage (Brazil and sugar cane for example) or an entirely stupid government subsidy elsewhere matters not. It's cheaper than we ourselves can make it? Excellent, we'll take it and we'll have another two tanker loads tomorrow as well please and four for the weekend.
Think through what is actually happening here: the American taxpayer is making it cheaper for us Europeans to drive, farm and transport our goods. I could understand an American taxpayer complaining about this, but from our point of view, what's not to like?
Just over two months ago I blogged about the arrival of the Libertarian Party on the UK political scene. At the time there was little in the way of policy pronouncements, but since then they've been busy in the forums on their website discussing a multitude of topics. Now they are beginning to assemble a very credible programme that would see the reduction of the size of the state and a restoration of individual responsibility.
The first highlighted manifesto policy is the abolition of personal income tax. It is a well thought through and well argued for piece of legislation that the LP would seek to introduce in the second year of them being in power and would finally, after 200+ years, rid us of this 'temporary' tax. This is the cornerstone of their economic programme which would also see them lower corporation tax to 10%, abolish IHT and CGT, the replacement of VAT with a national sales tax and Council Tax replaced with a local sales tax. As well as the strengthening of the Bank of England's independence they would also reduce government borrowing to zero and abolish the minimum wage. All very sound libertarian actions to take to drive an economy forward and free the market.
The manifesto is steeped in the notion of the rule of law which encompasses property rights, due process, equality and transparency. It outlines broad swathes of policy and the party's initial ideas concerning what action needs to be taken to free people from the dead hand of the state. Highlights include an end to the state monopolies in health and education, the former through a move to an insurance-based system the latter through a move to a Swedish style voucher system (similar to the one we covered here), a return to a more responsive and local police force, a localised planning system, a review of EU/UN membership and the removal of the welfare state hammock.
They are turning into a very well organized political party with appealing policies, so keep an eye on them. They may well surprise people in a few years time!
The Dragons of Expectation: Reality and Delusion in the Course of History, by Robert Conquest
The splendid Robert Conquest has devoted his life to exposing the political distortions that spawn and appease tyranny. Whether discussing the political thinking of ancient Greece, the corrosive effect of Stalinism, or the inanities of the European Union, Conquest assesses the ravages of our past, the absurdities of our present, and the pitfalls that lie in our future. He's not exactly an optimist, but at least he identifies the problem. Politicians, mostly.
Buy it here from the ASI book shop.
A quite astonishing result: entirely contrary to what everyone has been assuming, trade actually reduces inequality rather than increases it.
One less surprising although equally important: if you try to look at household incomes over time then you do need to look at the changing sizes of households as well.
PETA actually does something both interesting and useful shock, horror!
Yes, you do have to sign up with your email address, but what's a little bit of spam to get a free anti-malarial bednet sent to a child in Africa?
This interactivity on blogs, this ability to correct oneself, might it have gone too far?
The perils of making sweeping statements without actually checking the numbers.
And finally, a joke.
The gloriously vindictive and absurd asset confiscation orders imposed upon terrorist suspects have been declared unlawful:
Anti-terrorism legislation was condemned as poorly thought-out by a senior High Court judge yesterday as he declared that the Treasury’s powers to freeze suspects’ bank accounts were unlawful.
Mr Justice Collins said that terrorist financial orders — introduced by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor — were absurd, unfair and a breach of fundamental rights.
Excellent: it was clear to anyone with an ounce of sense that the authorities being able to confiscate all you own, upon no evidence that they had to show to anyone, with no method of appeal possible, was an "absurdity", as the judge indeed said that it was. Slippery slope arguments are dangerous things (and indeed, Madsen of this parish has chided me for using them in the past, even sent me a book explaining why they should not be used) but then so are slippery slopes themselves.
Yes, it's true that only 59 people were subject to such terror asset freeses, but we've just had recently the news that the basic concept is to be extended:
Police will be able to seize high-value assets from suspected drug dealers as soon as they are arrested under plans to be unveiled this week by Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary.
Yes, that's right: upon arrest, nothing so boring or inconvenient as a trial (under either civil or criminal procedures), simply the impounding of your property at the say so of the authorities. And of course, just like the earlier terror orders, these will of course only ever be used in the most serious and alarming of cases. There certainly won't be any slippery slope to an extension of them, no siree Bob!
Just as, umm, there wasn't from terror suspects to suspected drug dealers.
While I do know, as has been impressed upon me, that slippery slope arguments are logical fallacies, am I allowed to insist upon the exisetnce of slippery slopes, or as Bernard Levin called it, the Fallacy of Altered Standpoints? One we've taken the first grossly illiberal step, it is not necessary that we take the next, but it is easier?
Earlier this month Democrats in the United States House of Representatives managed to delay the establishment of a free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. This protectionist stance reflects the positions taken by Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, the two contenders for the Democratic nomination. This is despite the fact that both countries would clearly benefit from the agreement. Robert J Samuelson articulates this well, pointing out the blindingly obvious (though clearly not to many democrats): that this agreement would increase trade, helping U.S. manufacturers.
The decision for the Democrat led house to delay President Bush’s agreement with President Álvaro Uribe Vélez is mired in cheap political opportunism with little thought as to the consequences. The free trade agreement would benefit people in the United States by stripping out Colombia’s tariffs that are as high 35% on cars, 15% on tractors and 10% on computers. This will obviously give U.S. businesses a fairer chance of competing with imports from elsewhere.
The principal benefit for Colombians is different. Colombia's exports already enter the U.S. market duty-free under the 1991 Andean Trade Preference Act. For the people of Columbia, the Free Trade agreement offers the permanency that the 1991 Andean Trade Preference Act lacks, as the latter has to be renewed leaving businesses uncertain on the future.
Although the Democrats lead the delay on the Trade agreement, there is a split in Democratic Party ideology between Lou Dobbs-style populism and Bill Clinton-style free trade. As such, prominent Democrats have written an open letter to Congress in support of the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement.
Whether Clinton or Obama are true advocates of protectionism or just posturing for popular appeal, they are undoubtedly damaging the economic prospects of their country. In contrast, straight talking John McCain has the guts and integrity to stand up in Ohio and make the case for free trade to the people. He seems wise enough to know that free trade begins at home.
If you picked up the Daily Mail this week and came across this article you may have been quite cynical. Glass, in bones, that heals? They must be joking! Well, no, it is true. Scientists at three English universities (Imperial College London, University of Kent, and Warwick) are working together to develop just that – a glass to heal bones.
Now, before you go thinking they’re crushing up windows and putting them in people, glass can be (simply) defined as: a brittle, transparent solid made from silica without a crystalline molecular structure. Back in the 1969, Larry Hench developed BioGlass (pictured left), after being challenged by a US colonel to help Vietnam War vets with devastating injuries. BioGlass was the first man-made material to bond with living tissues, and has many uses today, including dental, middle ear implants, and orthopaedic applications.
In patients where grafts are necessary, often there is little spare bone to graft from one place to another. Animal grafts or bone from donor banks introduce immune responses, and require lots of medication to prevent rejection. This research aims to eliminate that need altogether.
Today, scientists are working on improving this glass, making it more bioactive and like the shape of trabecular bone. Researchers at Imperial College were the first to take BioGlass and make it into a 3-D porous structure. The improved shape allows cells to grow and form tissue, while providing strength and support like native bone.
When implanted, these bioactive glasses gradually release necessary ions, such as calcium and phosphorus, stimulating the bone to mend itself. They are also biodegradable, and slowly break down as the bone re-grows, preventing a loss of strength while repairing. These glasses are now being combined with other materials on the nanoscale, widening their potential applications in the body. These implants have the potential to greatly improve patients’ quality of life and change the future of medicine.