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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 606

Written by Netsmith | Friday 23 May 2008

No, there really isn't a case for joining the euro. Nor was there.

So, who will end up with Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat? Is it both a Republic and a Democracy?

Harsh but fair: Naomi Klein's theories described as "intellectual vomitus".

An argument against the Crown controlling prosecutions: they can decide not to prosecute their own servants who might deserve it.

An oft quoted figure which is almost certainly wrong: 1.3 million people don't "make their livings from e-Bay".

My word, how could this happen? Legislators not actually reading the law they vote upon?

And finally, cruel but funny.

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Immigration: everyone's a winner

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Friday 23 May 2008

"Immigration soars to new record," screams the Daily Express headline. True, but the real story is more complicated. There are in fact many different things going on here, not all of them by any means troublesome for Daily Express readers.

Alongside the headline 3.9m people who have immigrated to Britain in the last ten years, for example, just under 2m others have left Britain for other countries. Brits are more prosperous than they were, making them better able to retire early and head off to the sun overseas. The increasing globalization of the world economy means that more Brits are being posted abroad by their companies, and more can find work abroad on their own, working in or advising companies in other countries. Already, something like 5.5m Britons actually live abroad. And some of our emigrants are people who had emigrated here from other countries and now want to return to their homeland – perhaps they feel that they have earned enough to give themselves a better start back home, or perhaps the country they came from has returned to a more peaceful state.

So is this immigration pattern worrying at all? Certainly, some people on low incomes have found it more difficult to get work as unskilled and semi-skilled workers come in – 800,000 of them from Eastern Europe alone since the EU enlarged in 2004. And rising immigrant numbers put a strain on public services such as education. On the other hand, I for one am glad that Britain is a tolerant, safe haven for people who face conflict, corrupt governments and economic destitution at home. And I am glad that Brits are now exporting their skills and their values of tolerance abroad.

Of course, if immigration occurred naturally, there would be less concern. The trouble is that it so often happens in large waves as a result of political events. If people from Eastern Europe had not been walled in, for example, they might well have come in greater numbers, but over a much longer period of time. If world politicians had less control over their peoples, Daily Express readers would be a much happier bunch.

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Digging holes and kicking trees

Written by Jason Jones | Friday 23 May 2008

The Times reports today that the EU may suspend subsidies to farmers that don’t go green. Various bureaucracies hope subsidies will solve overproduction, the impact of farming on flowers and bird habitats, worldwide food shortage, watercourses, and the use of pesticides. Here’s a better idea: don’t stop there!

The good news, however, is that the European Commission will no longer pay farmers to leave 8% of their fields empty. But that leaves the question: What Einstein had the idea to pay farmers for production, and then to avoid the overproduction caused in part by subsidies themselves, pay them even more to leave part of their fields empty?

I had a flatmate once who tried the same techniques to woo various women over the course of several months, but to no avail. After being rejected dozens of times, he said, “I guess if I try the same things over and over and get the same result, I should try something else."

Touché. How many times will our governments try the same old things and expect different results? Supply. Demand. Prices. Free markets. Same old things that always result in economic growth. Subsidies, government planning, market manipulation, and regulation? Take a wild guess…

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Brown’s legacy

Written by Philip Salter | Friday 23 May 2008

It is not often that I agree with our incumbent Prime Minister, but on the rare occasion it happens, it is certainly worth mentioning. On Wednesday, Gordon Brown called for the UK’s G8 partners to find a way to break down trade barriers and implement a world trade deal.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Brown stated:

I'll be working very hard with our G8 (Group of Eight) partners and others in the hope that in this 11th hour, where we need a trade deal now or it will be delayed for a great deal of time, we can make urgent progress in the next few days.

Earlier this week at the Google Zeitgeist Conference he spoke along the similar lines. Coming down strongly against protectionism he argued once more for free trade:

The two great protected industries of the moment are the two industries that are causing us the greatest problems today: the oil industry, with a cartel run by Opec; and the food industry, with high levels of subsidy.

It is well known that one of Brown’s personal concerns is poverty. He is absolutely correct in highlighting the iniquity of protectionism, and that it is holding back the economic development of the world.

Brown’s concern is timely. Following President Bush’s departure there is a strong risk that a protectionist Democrat will take the White House. With his growing unpopularity Brown may also be out of office before too long, but if he is capable of leading the world towards a free trade deal, he will leave office having done at something to be proud of.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Friday 23 May 2008

Oil above $135 per barrel and burgers up to $175 per barrel!

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Blog Review 605

Written by Netsmith | Thursday 22 May 2008

If you would like to see a true outrage, a gross use of "earmarks", try this little story from the Cato Institute.

Another twisting of the regulatory process: nuclear plants are not able to take part in the carbon offsets schems. Why ever not?

If you would like to try something useful in cutting carbon emissions, try this contrarian list: first thing, shun organic milk.

What a wonderful phrase: a derangement of legislators. Links to more comments here.

How the State claims it is saving money: by moving the goalposts, of course.

It simply boggles the mind that this keeps being deleted from the Guardian website.

And finally, an email that never did receive an answer.


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Taxes should be slashed by half

Written by Philip Salter | Thursday 22 May 2008

There was a terrific article in yesterday’s Times by the philosopher Jamie Whyte entitled, ‘Why taxes should be slashed by half’. Arguing against the still-indecisive Conservative tax policy, Whyte claims that we are miles past the acceptable limit of taxation because politicians lack an understanding of the basic business concept of “cost of funds".

When a company considers investing in a project, they first have to determine how much it will cost them to raise the funds. As Whyte explains, a company will keep raising money until its cost exceeds the return from spending it. Whyte suggests that such logic should apply to government spending:

The Government should raise taxes until the cost (to society) of doing so exceeds the benefit (to society) of the spending it funds.

Due to the combination of administration, compliance, avoidance, and deadweight costs, this equates to the need for the government to deliver a return of more than 20 per cent upon the taxpayer’s investment. Of course, almost all government spending fails by any objective standards to deliver on this investment. Just take a look at education, healthcare, housing, unemployment insurance and pensions.

Whyte concludes:

Given the politically sacred status of “public services", eliminating this spending and taxation will not sound like a very nice idea. And Mr Cameron is determined to make the Conservatives seem nice. But imposing pointless costs on society is not really a nice thing to do.

Taxes slashed by half? It would certainly get my vote.

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New tires, please

Written by Jessica May | Thursday 22 May 2008

The past two days have certainly been heated ones in Parliament.  MP’s have been voting on amendments proposed to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. On Monday, I attended an event held by the Progress Education Trust entitled Half-truths? The Science, Politics and Morality of Hybrid Embryos.

Three panellists debated the topic: John Burn, Clinical Geneticist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Professor at Newcastle University, (in support of the embryos); Josephine Quintavalle, Co-founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, (against); and Brenda Almond, Emiritus Professor of Moral and Social Philosophy at the University of Hull, (explaining the ethics of the bill).

Several examples why “closing some roads" would harm science in the future were provided from the audience:

  • IVF was highly debated in the past and is now a common technique for many people.
  • Organ transplantation initially provoked much public scrutiny, but today many people benefit from this practice.
  • Not enough adult stem cells could be obtained to replace the amount of tissue harmed by a heart attack affecting 25% of the left ventricle.
  • Far more animal DNA would exist in a human with a heart valve replacement supplied from a cow or pig than these cells would have if grown into a heart valve.
  • Only the mitochondria (energy providers for the cells) in the cell contain any animal DNA.
  • This issue was about a small clump of cells in a dish that will be prevented from becoming a full organism at day 14.

Ms. Almond described old definitions and proposed these ‘embryos’ be called “pseudo embryos", as they are not true embryos. Ultimately, this debate was less about the embryos and more about the government telling scientists what they may or may not do.  Luckily MP’s recognised the need not to close the book on this topic. My favourite quote from the evening was from Prof. Burn comparing stem cells with replacing tires on his car: “ I don’t want retreads (adult stem cells), I want new ones (embryonic stem cells)!"

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Religious arguments

Written by Jason Jones | Thursday 22 May 2008

Religious-political institutions around the world are criticizing the British Parliament for yesterday’s vote to no longer require doctors to include "the need for a father" when administering fertilization treatment. The argument that Judeo-Christian values, or any religious ideology, necessitate pro-family legislation automatically caters the legal system to a faction of society at the expense of those who believe differently. After criticising Barack Obama last week, I’ll praise his advice to religious political institutions:

What [pluralistic democracy] demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. [For example,] those opposed to abortion cannot simply invoke God's will--they have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, [or those of no faith]. (The Audacity of Hope).

If for some reason fertilization treatment for lesbians were indeed bad for society, the arguments should be based on scientific and empirical facts, not religious doctrine. They ought to remember what Abraham Lincoln said: “Certainly there is no contending against the Will of God; but still there is some difficulty in ascertaining, and applying it, to particular cases."

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Thursday 22 May 2008

"In response to climate change, Barack Obama said we can't drive our SUVs, keep our houses at 72 degrees, and eat all we want. When Al Gore heard we can't eat all we want, he called Obama a global warming fanatic! He's an environmental nut case!"

Jay Leno

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