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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

And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Thursday 15 May 2008

Another tale from the NHS:

Doctor: "Nurse, this patient is dead."
Patient: "No I’m not!"
Nurse: "Quiet please, Doctor knows best."

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Blog Review 597

Written by Netsmith | Wednesday 14 May 2008

Something of a pity that Darling's announcement monopolises the tax reporting today. The Taxpayers' Alliance has done a sterling job detailing how much taxation has risen in recent years.

Darling's announcement though is going to make the politics of tax cutting a great deal easier (or more difficult, depnding upon which side of the argument you are).

Reporting from north of the border on the latest twist in Wendy Alexander's political career.

Just how much do Americans and America give in aid? Both public and private? Comparing wealth and population? Although Netsmith would disagree with the wording of the conclusion: rather than private charity making up deficiencies in state provision, shouldn't it be state provision crowds out private?

Meeting the bureaucracy up close and personal.

Introducing the loan shark full employment bill.

And finally, wine snobs and the basic problem with Microsoft.

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A Burmese reminder

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Wednesday 14 May 2008

The cyclone in Burma reminds us of the misery inflicted by human disasters as much as natural ones. The (all too common) human disaster of totalitarian governments leaves people trapped under regimes which think that they know best. They know best how to plan and run the economy, they know best where people should live and what they should do, they know best how people should conduct their personal, cultural and spiritual lives, and they know best how to meet what nature throws at them.

Except they don't. They don't have a thriving economy because, as Hayek showed us, information is over-concentrated at the centre, and decisions are out of date or just inappropriate by the time they get out to the sticks. And they are unable to deal with natural disasters for much the same reason: information is slow to get to the decision-making centre, slow to be processed by the bureaucracy, and slow to get acted on. Economic backwardness, and the fact that capitalism is seen as a threat means that there is less capital – trucks, helicopters, cranes, hospitals, utilities – that can be focused on dealing with natural disasters.

Richer countries, by contrast, can build more strongly, defend themselves from storms, floods and earthquakes more effectively, and repair the damage more quickly. There is more capital to throw at the problem, more decisions are made locally, and more people are willing to get stuck in without waiting for the government to tell them what to do. If you want an example, remember the Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 that killed over 3000 people in poor Haiti but only 5 in rich Florida.

And yet, some people seem determined to compound the misery by keeping poor countries poor – refusing their imports in order to protect our own manufacturers, or demanding that they rein back industrial development in case it pollutes the atmosphere. If you really want to help the planet and the lives and welfare of all who live in it, my prescription would be liberal democracy and free trade. That's the best form of aid we could give to anyone.

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The broken welfare system

Written by Jason Jones | Wednesday 14 May 2008

The broken welfare systems in the United States and throughout Europe have kept the poorest citizens poor while wasting huge amounts of taxpayer money. Rachel Swarns wrote this week in The New York Times that many states now give cash handouts to those who move from welfare to low-wage work.

Arkansas, for example, offers $204 a month for up to two years, while Oregon and Virginia offer $150 and $50 respectively for up to one year. Massachusetts offers $7 a month, Michigan gives $10 for six months, and Utah offers $474 for two months and $237 for the third.

How will these plans work? Fortunately the programs are varied enough that empirical research should shed light on which plans are most effective. Although a cash handout for workers is better than welfare, it leaves the fundamental questions of poverty unanswered.

Swarns highlighted two women who are currently receiving cash handouts. One is a 24 year-old mother of two and the other is a 33 year-old mother of four and grandmother of one. Both women are single, and neither graduated from college. With no disrespect to them, financial success is always going to be difficult under these circumstances. Education is strongly correlated to low poverty, low teen-birth rates, and a host of other factors. Perhaps reforming education and giving the poor access to better education, rather than the moribund state-financed schools in many urban communities, would be a better cure.

Still, at least many states are moving away from detrimental welfare policies and toward programs that encourage productivity.

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Europe leads the way on direct democracy

Written by Simon Maynard | Wednesday 14 May 2008

We’ve long known that the Swiss are big-fans but now it seems the Germans too are getting the hang of direct democracy. The Economist reports on the enthusiasm of campaigners for Tempelhof airport, who urged Berliners to vote yes in a referendum to keep open the airport; (which is seen as a symbol of the Berlin airlift of 1948-49). On the same day the citizens of Schwerin voted to oust their mayor for mishandling an investigation into the starvation of a five-year-old girl, while the Bavarian branch of the trade union confederation started collecting signatures on May 1 for a referendum on a minimum wage.

Supporters argue that direct democracy is stepping in where traditional democracy has failed. Membership of political parties has collapsed, as has trust in politicians – trends that should be recognisable to any student of British politics. A 2006 survey showed that nearly half of Germans think elections give them no say over government policies and that some 80% wanted referendums at national level.Yet in spite of such figures opposition still remains; most states do not allow votes on such issues as spending and taxation, and legislatures can sometimes overturn referendum results or have them modified in the courts.

The Swiss model certainly indicates that direct democracy improves decision-making. Lars Feld of the University of Heidelberg claims that Switzerland's taxes and spending are lower than otherwise, and its labour productivity higher, precisely because the Swiss can vote on fiscal issues. Now that Germany is adopting similar solutions in reponse to voter apathy, the qustion surely is, when will the UK catch up?

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Wednesday 14 May 2008

My credit card was stolen and the thief used it to buy flowers, hair restorer and books.

Police are looking for a sensitive, bald-headed bibliophile.

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Blog Review 596

Written by Netsmith | Tuesday 13 May 2008

Yet more evidence that the government doesn't seem to have got the hang of this tax reform thing  yet. You're supposed to be making it simpler!

Can you say "producer capture of the regulators"?

Something of a turn up for the books: someone has found something useful to do with all those CCTV cameras.

A film recommendation, or, what two South Asian stoners can tell us about the American ideal.

It's an interesting question: if unions really do increase productivity and or profits, then why don't companies welcome them with open arms?

Of interest perhaps only to rugger buggers: Richard Hill has played his last first class game.

And finally, some clue as to what is wrong with the education system.


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Why the 10p tax might speed up welfare reform

Written by Phil Stevens | Tuesday 13 May 2008

When Gordon Brown decided to abolish the 10p tax rate, he was calculating that there wouldn’t be much of a political fuss.

After all, a large part of the workforce that benefited from the 10p tax rate were immigrants working in low-paid, unskilled jobs: factory workers, farm hands, restaurant staff and so on. These workers are conveniently unable to vote in parliamentary elections, and lack much political clout.

They are also increasingly important to the UK economy: it is estimated that 40% of EU migrants to the UK work in unskilled jobs – 96,000 EU immigrants took up unskilled jobs in 2006 alone.

While the rest of the country seemed oblivious to Mr Brown’s 10p tax reform following the 2007 budget, migrants from the EU appear to have been quietly taking note. According to research from the IPPR, about half of EU migrants have now left the UK, increasingly unimpressed by the economic opportunities offered by Britain. This trend is set to accelerate.

However, before Migrationwatch get too excited, this exodus of unskilled labour could bring with it a host of new problems: a tighter labour market, with increased upward pressure on wages and consequently greater general inflation.

As we know, inflation clobbers the lowest earners in particular, as essentials such as food become more expensive. So yet again, it will be Labour’s core voters that bear the brunt.

Fortunately, there are some 1.1 million people of working age on incapacity benefit who could feasibly be working. These people could fill the gaps left by our vanishing migrants, thereby easing inflationary pressures.

Time to put those welfare reforms at the top of the in-tray, Prime Minister?

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Is it a disease, or not?

Written by Dr Fred Hansen | Tuesday 13 May 2008

For a very long time doctors who worked with drug addicts have stated that addiction to illicit drugs like heroin is not stronger than that to legal drugs like cigarettes. But this message has not reached the public and has therefore not prevented the emergence of a huge therapeutic bureaucracy, which ironically – at least according to my experience in Germany – has provided jobs for ex-junkies.

Theodore Dalrymple analyses this therapeutic community in his new book Junk Medicine: Doctors, Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy, which is dedicated to the war against withdrawal symptoms. He thoroughly debunks the disease model of addiction claiming that we should be really talking about a moral and spiritual problem requiring changes in behaviour. Based on U.S. government survey data among others the book provides plenty of examples contradicting the prevailing wisdom about addiction:

  • Just as with smokers the vast majority of people who try heroin either never use it again, use it just a few times, or only use it intermittently.
  • Even among heroin users, the heroin addict is the exception.
  • Experiments have shown that withdrawal symptoms were eliminated with placebo injections of saline solution.
  • Histrionic addicts…who complain of horrible discomfort in the presence of doctors…to obtain narcotics but act normally both before the visit and after.
  • Patients who repeatedly receive large doses of narcotics for pain... rarely become addicted.

Dalrymple has plenty of experience in this field since he had been working as a prison doctor in northern England. Dalrymple’s book offers some hope and a good opportunity to rethink our hugely expensive, mostly unsuccessful therapeutic addiction regimes.


If you buy Junk Medicine here from our online bookshop, you can get it for just £11 – £4 off the retail price.

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Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Tuesday 13 May 2008

Easyjet operates a priority boarding system called (predictably) Easy Boarding. You get on ahead of other people, and can therefore select your seat more easily (it's open seating on these budget airlines, which allows for costs to be minimized and a faster turn-around –passengers board quicker if they aren't tring to find a particular seat and making other people move in order to get to it).

As we flew down to Nice this week for an ASI awayday, Stelios – the airline's founder and major shareholder – happened to be on the plane. It was a full flight, and quite a few of those who boarded last could not find seats together. "You should have got Easy Boarding," Stelios told them cheerfully. "It's only £5."

Ah true: but what would happen if everyone took his advice. Then everyone would have Easy Boarding priority and the people at the end would still be at a loss. Then of course there would have to be Really Easy Boarding for another £5! Stelios would have raised the price by a fiver all round! But maybe that's why he's incredibly rich and I'm not. Ho hum.

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