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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 585

Written by Netsmith | Friday 02 May 2008

Quite: what is it about the State that makes it OK for the power of it to be used to drive Madams to suicide? Aren't there better activities to try and regulate?

A neat little observation about how while things are currently not perfect, they are better.

Not everyone is impressed with Joe Stiglitz' ideas. Seriously, putting the UN in charge of the global financial system?

My, my, who would have thought it? The European Union using false health standards as a protectionist measure?

Exxon paid three times more in taxes than it made in profits. Also, what Big Oil really ought to say to politicians.

Another sighting of the Lesser Spotted Unintended Consequence.

And finally, the excellence of journalistic fact checking and a truly valuable travel resource.

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More good school places

Written by Tom Clougherty | Friday 02 May 2008

Wednesday's Times carried the story that demand for places at independent schools is at its highest in five years, despite above inflation rises in fees and the worsening economic situation. Yesterday's Times reported that thousands of children are set to miss out on their first choice state primary school this year – in some places as many as a quarter of students are to be disappointed. These two pieces of news are not unrelated.

Parents care about where their child goes to school, and want the best for them. In increasing numbers, they are realizing that the state system cannot deliver this and are turning to the private sector instead. Of course, that's fine for families who can afford to pay an average £11,000 a year in fees, but it does leave the less advantaged in a bit of a pickle. They probably cant afford to move into the catchment area of a good state school or pay to go private. They will be stuck with the school they are allocated to by their local authority, regardless of how bad it is.

It doesn't have to be like this. First of all, there are things you can do to improve standards in existing schools. Give them the freedom from regulation and targets that they need to innovate and tailor teaching to the pupils in front of them. Put headteachers back in charge of discipline and expulsions and let them deal with staff pay, using incentives if they want to. Then make them accountable to parents, not bureaucrats.

And that means giving parents a real and effective choice over where to send their children. As in Sweden, the independent sector needs to be encouraged to open more schools, which would be eligible for state-funding on a per-capita basis. As in Denmark, groups of parents should be able to group together, demand their share of state funding, and set up their own schools. The real key here is to create many more good school places, so that the competitive pressures of parent choice can truly be effective. 

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Power Lunch with Peter Luff MP

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Friday 02 May 2008

Peter Luff MP, head of the House of Commission Business and Enterprise Committee, was our guest at a Power Lunch in Westminster yesterday. Round the table we had a number of regulators, lobbyists and businesspeople, mainly from the telecoms, mail, and energy sectors, so it made for a wide-ranging discussion.

Luff's topic was how far we might streamline the workings of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. Quite a bit, I would say. Rather a lot of its work involves simply replicating what private agencies do already. It seems to delight in devising all kinds of taxpayer-supported special schemes for this sector or that, this activity or that, as the political wind blows. It would be much better off standing out of the sun and letting businesses grow under the light of lower taxes and lighter regulation.

One topic that did come up at the discussion was the independent review of postal services that is currently underway. This could be quite radical in its findings. There is certainly a strong case for privatizing the Royal Mail, as we explained in our report Privatization - Reviving the Momentum. Indeed, with many other national mail carriers now in private hands, and with the growth of private carriers in the UK, the case is getting stronger. The political problem, of course, has always been what to do with rural post offices. Privatization brings transparency, and transparency is the enemy of the sort of cross-subsidies that keep rural post offices open today.

On the other hand, many of the rural post offices have gone already. More banking, benefits, licensing and other traditional post office functions are now done online. So maybe the problem is getting smaller. And maybe the question of whether some rural village really needs a post office or not should be up to the local authorities – not a decision made by some distant bureaucrat in London.

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Science to the rescue

Written by Steve Bettison | Friday 02 May 2008

It's time to light up in the pub again...Yes, I realise that sounds absurd in the extreme, especially as you’ve not heard about the ban on cigarettes being lifted. But now technology has come to the rescue. A clever device has hit the market, which will enable you to get round the ban altogether.

Advertising for the Gamucci Micro Electronic Cigarette claims, "It looks like a cigarette, it tastes like a cigarette, it smokes like a cigarette, but it isn't a cigarette... [it] produces a real smoking experience without any of the deeply unpleasant side-effects of tobacco."

The device uses state of the art vapourising liquid to produce smoke and it comes with cartridges that release vary strengths of nicotine if you just can’t give up the weed. So what are you waiting for, spark up... or at least plug it in, charge it up, and stand at the bar puffing away! Oh what fun, to watch the nannies' faces turn puce with rage as they realize they can’t do anything.

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Quote of the day

Written by Wordsmith | Friday 02 May 2008

"Boris as mayor? Unthinkable. It just exposes democracy as a sham, especially if people don't vote for Ken..."

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood seems to have misunderstood democracy...

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Blog Review 584

Written by Netsmith | Thursday 01 May 2008

Yes, you should vote today. You can't run around complaining about them if you haven't at least tried to throw the ***tards out.

On which subject, yet another grossly illiberal measure being proposed. Further, as pornography and sexual violence seem to be substitutes rather than complements it is also entirely counter-productive, not that that's ever stopped politicians before.

The results of another grossly illiberal measure: also counter-productive. Quelle Surprise.

A bracing dose of economic sense in the medical field. If you can't get insurance to do it it's because it's too risky.

Two on science: evidence would be a nice thing to have in one newspaper article and losing the superscript is really rather important here.

Yes, there really is a skill called "management".

And finally, some of these journalist types really do enjoy their job.

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Deceitful Darling

Written by Philip Salter | Thursday 01 May 2008

altYesterday The Times led with the revelation that the government is introducing a secret tax that will add £200 to cost of many family cars:

Tens of thousands of families will have to pay up to £245 extra a year under new road tax rules after a covert government decision to include cars up to seven years old.

This move is entirely deceitful. If car buyers had known at the time of purchase that buying a car that emits over 225g of carbon dioxide per kilometre would mean such an added cost, they might have thought twice before acquiring it.

As Chancellor, Gordon Brown steered clear of such dishonesty. However, as Prime Minister he has allowed this retroactive policy to be initiated under his watch. Originally cars bought previous to March 23 2006 were exempt from the tax, but Alistair Darling in the last budget announced a new series of car tax bands that rescind the previous exemption, leaving the already over-taxed motorist with even less money in their pocket. The Automobile Association (AA) claims that this will push many people into negative equity because the value of these cars on the second-hand market will now be worth thousands of pounds less than the car owner’s outstanding loans.

Given the rising fuel, utilities and food costs such a stealth tax is plain wrong. The people it will hit are families; these are not super cars but family cars, chosen not for their power but their safety record. Take a look at the EURO NCAP safety standards for the Renault Espace, the Vauxhall Zafira and the Ford Galaxy; three cars that will now be heavily taxed.

What, you may ask is Alistair Darling’s response to hardworking families hit by another stealth tax? Upon being asked in a radio interview what those facing higher car taxes, his answer was that to suggest that they should by new cars. Maybe if you stop taxing us, Darling, we might be able to.

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Race to the bottom?

Written by Tom Clougherty | Thursday 01 May 2008

One of the worst aspects of the Clinton–Obama battle for the Democratic presidential nomination has been the increasingly protectionist rhetoric coming from the candidates. Each seems desperate to appear more isolationist on trade than the other. This is a shame, because as this excellent new trade briefing paper from the Cato Institute points out:

[F]ree trade is a vital component for maximising economic growth. America's ongoing commitment to expanding trade – a commitment shared by previous Republican and Democratic administrations – has resulted in lower prices and greater product variety for consumers, job growth for exporters, and higher levels of productivity and innovation that increase prosperity in America and abroad. Accounting for the phases of the business cycle, indicators of American worker and household well-being and prosperity continue to improve. The decades-long decline in manufacturing employment (although not matched by a decline in manufacturing output) has corresponded with an increase in service-sector jobs, with a net 26 million new jobs added since NAFTA took effect in 1994, and an increase in real compensation of nearly 23 percent.

What makes it worse is that I'm sure Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both know this. After all, Bill Clinton was an enthusiastic free-trader who passed the now much-maligned NAFTA (don't forget, Hillary was a 'key part' of that administration...), while Barack Obama's advisers told Canadian diplomats that his protectionism "should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans." Perhaps whoever wins will swing back to the centre once the primaries are over, but I wouldn't want to bet on it.

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Interesting times

Written by Simon Maynard | Thursday 01 May 2008

Presumably with an eye to a swift recovery after a possible drubbing in today's local and mayoral elections, Labour is sensibly losing no time on the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. They have already taken the unusual decision to table the writ before the funeral of Gwyneth Dunwoody has taken place and it now looks as if they are lining up Gwyneth's politically active daughter – Tamsin Dunwoody – as their candidate.

The late Gwyneth Dunwoody had a 7,000 majority and the seat is only 165th on the Conservative list of target seats, requiring an 8.4 percent swing. This said, if the News of the World’s target seat data is to be believed then this could be a Conservative gain. Their ICM poll suggests that the Conservatives would make a net gain of 131 seats, resulting in a 64-seat majority – or, to put it another way, Tory donor Lord Ashcroft's field-ops team has done rather well.

Either way, we have an intriguing contest on our hands. If the Conservatives fail to make a significant inroad into the Labour majority Brown will use it to shore up his position, whilst if the Tory's cut the majority to anything below 3,000, Cameron will really be able to claim that his message is reverberating throughout the country.

The election is only three weeks away, on Thursday 22 May. It will be very interesting to see what happens.

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Right on

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Thursday 01 May 2008

I'm quite impressed by Right On, the Daily Telegraph's 15-minute weekly television show. It's all very professionally produced. It features a two-minute segment called Heffer Confronted in which the rotund and politically incorrect pundit is confronted by (the slightly less rotund and almost as equally politicially incorrect) Iain Dale. There's also a discussion with leading politicians on a current affairs issue (on this one it's Alan Duncan MP) and a short section of snippets from the Westminster gossip factory.

I think this will work and will grow. Iain Dale's 18 Doughty Street internet enterprise was a really good try at pioneering the unknown terrain of online television. But I guess that few people want to watch five hours of political stuff on their computer screen each night. And if you just dipped in, you never knew exactly what you'd get. I'm sure the way forward is something like the Telegraph have done - a few short snippets that you can select from, and play the bits that really interest you. I imagine the choice will expand as the Telegraph gets to grip with the format. Worth a look.

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