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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

Societal order via database management

Written by Steve Bettison | Wednesday 21 May 2008

In preparing for a data communications Bill in November’s Queen Speech, the Home Office is investigating the idea of a communications database. The government, which has already implemented the European Union’s Data Retention Directive (whereby telecommunication companies are required to keep records for 12 months of all calls made and text messages sent), is looking to extend this to include email and website visits. This is to be coupled with the haunting prospect of it all being gathered together in a database for easy governmental access, so that they may ‘protect us’.

We should be fearful of the inherent inability for the information to remain secure in their hands. This database would hold even more sensitive data (how many emails contain credit card details?) available for them to lose, data that could allow local governments to spy on our behaviour. The potential for blackmail or cash for access to that data is greatly enhanced as well. This creeping introduction of the ‘Big Brother’ state is nothing more than a reflection of a complete misinterpretation of the natural order of society. As the Labour government’s introduced legislation fails, they seek to control us via the concept of database management and its systematic appeal. They do so because they wish to create a perfect, stable un-natural order.

Currently we live under a system of continual surveillance, and have done since the 1970s. It is light in touch and the government’s use of it is held in check by the judicial system. ECHELON, which screens all telephone and email communication for any incriminating phrases, is a listening service that is at the government’s disposal so that it may deal with any potential threats to our security. This governments desire to understand and re-order us means that ECHELON is of little use to them. We could all inevitably face being entered in a database. Thankfully though, there are only 709 days left for us to live under this cloud. If there wasn’t a chance to vote for a change of direction we would, more probably than not, be turned into bar-code branded numbers.

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The unpopulist

Written by Philip Salter | Wednesday 21 May 2008

One thing is clear from the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Traditional class politics - epitomized by the ludicrous shenanigans of the Labour Party shadowing Edward Timpson with a young man dressed in top hat and tails - is well and truly dead.

The stunt has failed entirely to hit the right note with the people of Crewe and Nantwich. Gone are the days when political party affiliation was inherited lock, stock and barrel alongside support for the local football club. Those who aspire to better than what Gordon Brown has been able to offer thus far are ready to vote instead for the what the Conservative candidate is promising, and this is no doubt a good thing.

It was the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who shaped the current political climate. Blair was a populist, undercutting traditional party loyalties through a personal (even if fabricated) connection with the public. Brown’s inability to tune in to this, explains the Crewe and Nantwich tactics and it is much to the credit of the voters that the message of class is being ignored.

Gordon Brown is not a populist, but an ideological left-winger. His problem is that undermining the public’s individual rights, regulating their businesses and offering them pitiful state services has proven to make him very unpopular indeed, something transcending all class divides.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Wednesday 21 May 2008

A few stunts from Romania to help Brown hold on to Crewe and Nantwich.

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Blog Review 603

Written by Netsmith | Tuesday 20 May 2008

This doesn't just apply in Latin America of course. The background to the Chilean reform of their pension scheme.

Exactly how you measure inflation makes a great deal of difference to whether inequality is rising or falling. Add in Wal-Mart and it's even more true.

On that embryology bill in Parliament. We've been creating chimeras a great deal longer than many seem to think.

Could there be anything worse than climate change? How about trying to solve climate change through the courts: after all, it worked so well for asbestosis, didn't it?

From the history books: the economic organisation of a POW camp.

Political advice: how to lose the next election.

And finally, another chick flick and the present for the Prime Minister who has everything.

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Junk Juncker’s Junk

Written by Philip Salter | Tuesday 20 May 2008

Jean-Claude Juncker, the long serving Europhile Prime Minister of Luxembourg and chair of the regular euro-area meetings, has claimed that EU finance ministers are considering hiking taxes to limit what he has dubbed the scandal and social scourge of corporate bonuses.

With rising inflation, times are relatively hard for many people in the EU. However, it would be an unforgivable mistake to cap corporate bonuses. It would be sure to push even more business out of the continent.

If the EU want help the relatively poor in Europe by cutting inflation they should bin the complex and expensive Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which keeps European food prices at artificially high levels, while forcing people into abject poverty in the developing world.

Although unlikely, it would be a revelation to see bold leadership from EU bureaucrats, biting the political hand that feeds them, scrapping the CAP and leaving alone the talented individuals whose business it is to make Europe wealthy.

Of course if they really want to cut excess waste, or link remuneration with productivity as Joaquín Almunia (EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner) has suggested, they could offer their resignations, shut down the behemoth and in so doing save the poor citizens of Europe billions of pounds each year.

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The Chinese earthquake

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Tuesday 20 May 2008

There could hardly be a stronger contrast between the response of the Burmese government to the typhoon there, and that of the Chinese government to last week's earthquake.  Terrible pictures have been shown of both disasters; the difference is that the pictures from Burma were taken without the consent of the ruling junta, who have down-played the tragedy to their own people and to the world beyond.

The Chinese, on the other hand, have invited the world to share their grief, and have not minimized the scale of the disaster to their own people or to the world.  They have acted with commendable efficiency themselves, and have readily accepted offers of help.  The pictures from China have been heart-rending, reminding us all of Adam Smith's observations that our very humanity leads us to empathize with the emotions of others, sharing their sorrows and their joys.  The pictures remind us that the common humanity we all share is more important than the political differences which separate us.

Perhaps it is a sign of Chinese self-confidence that they can show us the catastrophe which befell them with an openness unthinkable even a decade ago.  China has grown more self-assured as it has grown richer, and when it rebuilds it will probably do so with earthquake resistant buildings, as has been done in California and Japan.  It is rich countries which can afford to do this, as Alex Singleton points out in the Telegraph.  Those who decry economic growth might reflect on the fact that natural disasters fall hardest on poorer countries which lack the resources to plan against them or to cope with them when they strike.

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Quote of the Day

Written by Wordsmith | Tuesday 20 May 2008

A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away

Barry Goldwater (1964)

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Blog Review 602

Written by Netsmith | Monday 19 May 2008

Two views of Jeffrey Sach's new book: in itself if's not all that intellectually acute and commenting upon the same review, neither is the reviewer.

Might someone provide the Prime Minister with a history lesson or two?

Or perhaps logic lessons would be more appropriate? If violent porn and violent crime are substitutes (as seems likely ) rather than complements, then its banning will lead to more abused and dead people.

After a year at the Taxpayers' Alliance, what's going on there and what's it all about?

Proof that America is a continent, not a country.

Public choice theory raises its ugly head again.

And finally, yes, we do hope this is fiercely deadpan.

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Well, no Mr Yunus

Written by Tim Worstall | Monday 19 May 2008

It is of course foolhardiness to the point of madness to criticise the developmental views of an economist who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but despite my reputation as a level and clear headed sorta guy I'm afraid that it has to be done with the recently announced ideas of Muhammd Yunus.

Yes, indeed, food prices have risen and yes indeed, there are things we can do about this. But the specific suggestions seem, well, odd would be a polite way of putting it.

Of the six points, getting the money together for any necessary emergency food aid is uncontroversial, aid for seed and fertiliser also seems sensible.

Crop subsidies and export controls in many important countries are distorting markets and raising prices; they should be eliminated. In particular, subsidies for ethanol that made sense when oil cost $20 a barrel cannot be justified at $120 a barrel - nor can subsidies for oil.

Indeed, quite so. Fourthly, of course we shouldn't stop the long-term search for solutions to poverty and matters environmental and fifthly, of course we want to continue and extend the green revolution: most especially to the standard crops of Africa. The sixth sounds good but of course has no chance whatsoever of becoming reality:

Sixth, to help fund these important initiatives, I propose that each oil-exporting country create a "poverty and agriculture fund", contributing a fixed amount - perhaps 10% - of the price of every barrel of oil exported. This would be a small fraction of the windfall they have been gaining from higher prices. The funds would be managed by the founding nations and devoted to overcoming poverty, improving agricultural yields, supporting research for new technology, and creating social businesses to help solve the problems of the poor, such as health care, education and women's empowerment.

A ratio of five decent if uncontroversial ideas to one that's very odd indeed is a clear (if not unprecedented actually) advance on most political interventions, so why am I saying that they're odd? Because of this part: 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon deserves credit for convening the leaders of 27 UN agencies and programs to organize a coordinated response. They have agreed to establish a high-level task force under Ban's leadership, with sound immediate objectives. A comprehensive global plan should include the following six elements.

Yes, it's that global comprehensive plan part (leave aside the giggle induced by asking the UN General Assembly to solve problems). Yunus received his Nobel for both noting and then proving that top down development doesn't work: that bottom up development does. He started Grameen Bank, by far the most successful of the micro-lending institutions. Lending out $30 here and $100 there to people who wish to improve their own lives works: that's why he's lauded, for he proved this.

The oddity is that someone who has spent decades proving this to be true now turns around and says that the solution to such problems is in fact a top down one, detailed planning from the centre. As I say, most odd.

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Obama and the free market

Written by Jason Jones | Monday 19 May 2008

Says Barack Obama:

I believe that America's free market has been the engine of America's great progress. It's created a prosperity that is the envy of the world. It's led to a standard of living unmatched in history. And it has provided great rewards to the innovators and risk-takers who have made America a beacon for science, and technology, and discovery.

Very well said. But if well done is better that well said, why did he:

  • 1) Vote against the Central American Free Trade Agreement?
  • 2) Advocate raising minimum wage?
  • 3) Attack Hillary for her support of NAFTA in the 1990s?
  • 4) Vote for, and attack Bush and McCain for opposing, the recent farm bill, which would increase subsidies by $20bn, make the government buy sugar at twice the world price, and give subsidies to farmers with incomes of up to $1.5 million per year? (See here and here).
  • 5) Propose raising the capital gains tax?
  • 6) Advocate fair, not free trade, which will halt the rapid economic growth in poor and industrialising nations?

If the free market is the engine of economic prosperity, why hit the brakes and turn off the vehicle? The enlarging free-trade block in Europe, British economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, economists across the world, and the end of the cold war, all show what Adam Smith said in the first place — that the invisible hand, not central government, should guide our economies.

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