Good for candidates

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good-for-candidates

This is a very good time to be a parliamentary candidate – for any party. The point is that as a candidate, you are untainted by expenses fraud and false claims. There is a good chance that your sitting MP is so tainted, in that all were part of, and connived in, a fundamentally corrupt system. It was designed to make the salaries of MPs seem modest and reasonable by hiding a huge part of them under the cloak of tax-free expenses.

Now it is payback time, and every MP with dubious claims out there is at the mercy of opponents using the local press to attack their expenses record. More than the usual number will elect not to re-stand, walking off with their gold-plated pension pots. This means that many candidates will not face incumbents, but faces as fresh as their own. Of the MPs who do try for re-election, many will not succeed, fatally tainted by what has been revealed.

The new House will be known as the "Parliament of Fresh Faces," in that record numbers will be new to Westminster. In many ways this clearing out will serve the nation well, taking with it the accumulated debris of cosy carve-ups that entrenched power and privilege in the hands of the long-serving. Fresh faces mean a fresh look, and a chance for some of the root-and-branch reforms needed to get Britain out of the hole in which the present crowd have dumped it.

Some advice to Bill Gates

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As if he doesn't have enough bright people giving him advice....still, there's a report that he and other philanthropists are thinking that overpopulation should be their major concern in the distribution of their charitable efforts:

SOME of America’s leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world’s population and speed up improvements in health and education...... At a conference in Long Beach, California, last February, he had made similar points. “Official projections say the world’s population will peak at 9.3 billion [up from 6.6 billion today] but with charitable initiatives, such as better reproductive healthcare, we think we can cap that at 8.3 billion," Gates said then.

I'm entirely unconvinced that overpopulation is a problem but will defer on that. Accept that it is and then ask, well, what can we do about it?

What we do know is that fertility rates fall the richer a country is. This is using a wide definition of rich by the way: a proper one. The more choices that women have, the greater their educational possibilities, the fewer children (and women) that die in childbirth, in youth.

Reproductive healthcare can obviously help here. Fewer deaths of children will lead, over time, to fewer being conceived. But if by reproductive health we mean simply the provision of more contraception (and or abortion) then there will be little effect upon fertility rates. For what needs to change first is peoples' desire to have many children before they'll use mechanical aids to make sure that they have fewer children. Indeed, it's been pointed out that 90% of the changes in actual fertility come from changes in desired, with availability of contraception making up only that last 10%.

So what we really want to do is increase that real wealth of the various societies. This will reduce the desired and thus the actual fertility rates, just as they have done in all of the currently wealthy countries. More educational possibilities for women, fewer deaths at young ages, decent vaccination programs and so on. Most importantly, valuing women as something more than simply children producing machines.

Which brings me to a somewhat cynical observation. If it were simple to change a society so that it valued women more, perhaps as economic actors rather than simply familial, wouldn't we see evidence that this has happened many times? Which I don't think we do. I think we see societies which are growing and/or rich valuing women as valuable economic actors. So it isn't that we might invest directly in, say, women's education but rather that we want to get those currently poor and high birthrate countries growing, so that the same factors that kicked in with us kick in there. When, to be very crude about it, women are valued for more than simply their child producing abilities then they will be treated as being more valuable than simply their child producing capabilities. And the way to get to this desired break with the past is to have an economy where women are indeed more valuable as economic actors than they are simply as mothers.

Then they'll be treated just as other valuable economic actors are, educated and trained, and the birth rate will fall.

Worked for us, worked for France, Germany, the US, Japan......everywere rich actually. Why won't it work again?

 

Buying in to Rand

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altAs global recession has taken a stranglehold on the world economy we have seen the vast majority of markets struggling. However, there are markets which buck the trend with goods growing in demand. Perhaps one of the most interesting of these is that sale of the 1957 novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand.

Since the beginning of the economic crisis, Atlas Shrugged has climbed more than 500 places on the Amazon rankings, even overtaking contemporary bestsellers such as Barack Obama’s ‘The Audacity of Hope’. It is still ranked as one of the most influential books of all time alongside The Bible. Bearing in mind The Communist Manifesto is currently ranked 140,414 bestseller in the Amazon lists, the rise of Ayn Rands magnum opus poses some serious questions.

The fact that Atlas Shrugged is still so influential shows that capitalism is still holds an allure for many people. Rand's controversial philosophy of objectivism cannot be ignored and certainly has practical applications at the current time. With over 2 million unemployed in the UK perhaps it is time we should be allowing firms to utilise human capital with the aim of increased profits and self interest rather than imposing tighter and more stringent regulation that leads to an inevitable loss of efficiency for the economy. As we have seen during the expenses scandal, MPs clearly favour self-interest, but only under immoral and fraudulent circumstances that benefit them – why can't they extend greater freedoms to the economy allowing it to get back on it’s feet?

How will we drag ourselves out of recession? Who is John Galt?

Blog Review 971

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blog-review-971

A small watercolour (claretcolour perhaps) of what might be going wrong with the NHS. Simply too rule and hide bound.

Given that markets are network goods the wider the market the better the market, no?

Yes, MPs really did change the law so that they don't have to obey the same tax laws as the rest of us.

And some other politicians would like to upend the basic rules of the capitalist game so that their favoured buddies get a better deal.

There are fairly simple and obvious reasons why Chrysler and GM went bust.

This would rather shake up the sporting world.

And finally, better late than never.

 

Repugnant transactions

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There's a whole series of things which we might class as (and some indeed do do so) repugnant transactions. They're not things which clearly breach someone else's rights or liberties, not things which obviously do damage to non-participants, but rather things which have such huge "Eeeeew!" factors that people think it right that they should be banned. The current drive to make the purchase of sex illegal perhaps, driven as it seems to be by an insistence that this is just icky rather than any reasoned or reasonable logic.

Our system of regulating the market in haploid cells seems to suffer from a particularly bad case of what I regard as this form of hypocrisy.

Thousands of British women desperate to have a child are going abroad every year to have fertility treatment in order to avoid NHS waiting lists and a shortage of donated eggs......Couples here are able to exploit the fact that, in some countries, women who choose to donate eggs can be paid, said Culley, with some donors in America receiving up to $10,000. In Britain, by contrast, tight regulation of fertility means egg donors receive only expenses. "All the evidence is that cross-border reproductive care is growing. Women here do this for all sorts of reasons," she said. "There is a serious shortage of eggs, donated sperm is in shorter supply than before, the cost can be cheaper abroad and some people want IVF which they can't get on the NHS."

Now perhaps this is indeed a repugnant transaction but that surely is something for the participants to decide, no? If they find it repugnant then there will be no transaction. But why if you or I find it repugnant then they should be banned from that transaction is something rather more difficult to justify.

It's also entirely futile as in this modern world people can simply hop on Easyjet and organise it somewhere where the prejudices of British prodnoses hold no sway. As with the stories mentioned of eggs being used from impoverished Ukrainian women to create these designer babies: something which you might expect the British left to wholeheartedly approve of. For isn't this we who are rich taking care of and raising the child of one less fortunate?

Consider the state the law is in in this area. It's entirely legal to, although the reason to do so would be a little mysterious, pay a man to perform a hand shandy. it would be illegal for you to use the resultant haploid cells to create a pregnancy. It would be legal for you to create a pregnancy out of the results of such manipulation if no money changed hands. Which all seems extremely odd.

Not only is it odd, it leads to much fertility treatment being the province only of those with the money to escape our own dear NHS which is horribly handicapped by the rarity of those who will donate the necessary cells without the incentive of a cash payment.

The answer to all of this seems blindingly obvious. Ignore those who squeal that others are violating the squealers' most closely held prejudices on what is not icky and, with the proviso that rights and liberties of others are not trampled in the process, allow individuals to decide for themselves what are and are not repugnant transactions.

If this might mean that people are paid for their eggs and their sperm then so be it: the joy and pleasure both of and from the children so engendered will outweigh the outrage.  And once again prove that there are some things simply too important not to have markets in them.

Reforming politics

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reforming-politics

In the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, there are lots of different ideas being bandied about on how to reform parliament, clean-up politics, and so on. Some ideas are better than others, but almost all of them are based on the same fundamental misconception – that we actually need full-time, professional politicians.

It all stems from what I call the West Wing view of politics, which is full of deeply moral politicians and brilliant staffers, all earnestly striving to make a difference. Too many commentators share this outlook – they are so in love with politics that they imagine political power is the only real driver of progress, and suppose that if only we had the right people in charge everything would be better.

But this naïve faith in the potential of politics of misplaced. First of all, the brilliant idealists tend to be grand planners, so sure of their own intellect that they want to re-make the world according to their own preferences and expect everyone to be grateful. Ultimately though, one political master plan is as bad as another.

Moreover, most politics has nothing to do with idealism. On the contrary, it tends to be a sordid and cynical business, where winning is everything and the only rule is not to get caught. That's what the expenses scandal and the Damian McBride debacle have laid bare, but these are just headline grabbing examples of what's been going on for years. It's the nature of the beast.

And that's why the best kind of political system is one in which politicians have so little power over our lives that it doesn't really matter which of them are in charge. Any reforms to the system should be done with that principle in mind.

Like David Myddleton, I'd cut the number of MPs and place strict limits on the number of days parliament sat. I'd pay MPs a small attendance fee like the one they'd get for doing jury service, and expect them to spend most of their time doing a proper job. Perhaps then they'd realize that all most of us want from them is to be left alone.

Blog Review 970

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blog-review-970

The male teenager is an ugly beast that needs socialising: thus raising the school leaving age is a good or a bad idea?

Another way of stating the old saw: Don't just do something, stand there!

Even the unions don't think that the equity in Chrysler has any value: and that's after the bailout.

Worth checking out, a defence of free trade from 75 years before Adam Smith's.

On the meaning of paedgnostic and the spotting of true stupidities in the public sphere.

Something to occupy those long speeches. How to play Brown bingo.

And finally, when an African in America is not an African American.

 

Women are getting unhappier

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women-are-getting-unhappier

Greg Mankiw notes a new paper:

By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women's happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women's declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging -- one with higher subjective well-being for men.

Of course, we should all be happy in these gender egalitarian times that women no longer lord it over men in terms of their subjective happiness. As we all know, proper equality insists that we are all as miserable as each other rather than allowing any one group to be better off in any manner.

However, there shouldn't really be any surprise at this finding, not amongst those who have absorbed the second thing everyone needs to know about economics: that there are always opportunity costs.

It's true that women were restricted in the life choices that they could make only a few decades ago. A serious career was incompatible with marriage not all that long ago, a generation or two, and while that did get milder, it's only recently that the wider society has believed that children and a career were both possible. That all such choices, career or no, children or no, are seen as socially acceptable (even if the combinations might not be all that easy to carry off) this is an advance in the choices open to women and thus their liberty.

Hurrah! More liberty is good.

However, no one has ever said that such will make us happier. For with more choices comes a problem: there are more things that we cannot do. One cannot be both a childless career woman and a stay at home mother. One cannot be a career woman with children and simultaneously be a career woman without. As the number of possible paths increases so must the number of paths not taken. And as we all know, the true cost of something is what you give up to get it.

So, taking any one path means forsaking all those other paths, those number of paths which have in recent decades been rising in numbers. Thus the paradox of choice, that more such can make us subjectively less happy. But if you ask people whether having fewer choices would make them happier, no one ever actually says that yes, it would.

Just as an example, does anyone seriously think that insisting that women either pursued careers or had children, with no blurring of the roles allowed, would be an acceptable limitation of liberty in a free society: even if it did make those women happier?

No, I thought not maybe subjective happiness isn't the goal that society should be pursuing then?