By Jove, I think he's got it!


Nick Cohen starts off with this in his column:

Just before he died, Kingsley Amis wrote that two dismal groups fought over the use of English: the berks and the wankers. Berks were permissive types who rejected all rules. "Careless, coarse, crass [and] gross ... they speak in a slipshod way with dropped 'Hs', intruded glottal stops and many mistakes in grammar. Left to them, the English language would die of impurity, like late Latin. "By contrast, wankers were authoritarians who wanted to impose every possible restriction on speakers and writers. "Prissy, fussy, priggish [and] prim ... they speak in an over-precise way with much pedantic insistence on letters not generally sounded, especially 'Hs'. Left to them, the language would die of purity, like medieval Latin."

He then uses that to start talking about public health cares and the precautionary principle. But I think this basic division, between the berks and the wankers, explains so much more than either just language or health scares. I think it explains much of what is wrong with the modern world.

Being inescapably a berk myself I often look over at the others and think, well, just what are they thinking? Who really thought that it was necessary to use the criminal law to define carrots as fruit, jam for the making of? (That's an EU one.) Who could possibly believe that in the sad absence of a barcode tattooed on the forehead of every citizen they should carry an identity card instead? (A home grown insanity.) I can understand those in favour of immigration as I can those against but it takes a certain form of very non-berkness to open the borders to 450 million EU citizens but close them to a couple of thousand who have already fought for us.

In short, I'm taking the berk attitude to be the old English one, that live and let live sentiment, that freedom from rules and restrictions that we were really the first place to get as a civic reality from the 1660s onwards (even more so after 1689). And the other side, well they're the dirigistes, the pencil pushers, those who insist that there must be a rule for everything and everything must have a rule. And the power, sadly, seems to have flown from the berks to the others.

Or in Amis' terminology, the berks have let the wankers achieve power.

A holiday whose time has gone


The Mayday holiday on the first Monday of May has brought holiday fatigue to the middle of Spring. We've had Good Friday and Easter Monday, and the late May holiday, formerly Whit Monday, is this year on May 25th. This early May holiday was introduced by a Labour government to coincide with Labour Day in Socialist countries. (They celebrated it in the Spring, full of the promise of hoped-for achievement. The Americans celebrate it in September when the harvest is in and the achievement secure).

Meanwhile, the late August public holiday is on August 31st, leaving a gaping absence of days off until Christmas Day.  The obvious way to ration them out is to move the superfluous and unsound Mayday holiday to somewhere in the middle of that gap.  Trafalgar Day (October 21st) is an obvious candidate. We could have the holiday on the nearest Monday to it to give us another long weekend. It celebrates a great achievement for our nation, and one which secured its freedom until quite recently. As we struggle now to restore some of that lost freedom, the day and the holiday might strengthen our resolve, so that in later years we could celebrate that victory, too.

Blog Review 950


Does the US really need a car industry? And if it does, is supporting Chrysler and GM the best way to have one?

Good news on those "toxic assets". Prices are higher than many had thought.

If Netsmith were able to bash just one point into the heads of idiot lefties it would be this one. That markets are not inherently rightish things, they work for all regardless of ideology.

There's a nasty whiff of something not right about this case of Master Ferry. 4 months remand and no charges brought?

And there's more than a whiff of demonisation of those owners of Chrysler debt who, umm, insisted that such debt was in fact their property,

This just has to be made into a film. Just has to be.

And finally, why the police should not be using loudhailers.


Making use of a good crisis


It's the greatest of political sins, to fail to make use of a good crisis. One example of those trying to do so might be the recent EU report on financial market regulations. Hedge funds and private equity are to be brought under tighter control despite their having nothing whatsoever to do with the current problems.

Another attempt which is unfolding under our very eyes is the attempt to portray this swine flu as being an example of the evils of industrial farming.

The Mexican swine flu, a genetic chimera probably conceived in the faecal mire of an industrial pigsty, suddenly threatens to give the whole world a fever.

It's not a chimera, of course, as that would be mixed DNA rather than mutated. It's also an interesting thought for that's not really how we expect zoonoses to arise. For a disease to spread from one species to another, to become cross infectious, we actually think we need to have the two species living in close proximity. Like the Hong Kong bird flu of 68 came from the way in which small holding farmers in that at the time poor country lived cheek by jowl with their birds. Or SARS from Vietnam from the similarly close proximity of stock and human. (No, Spanish flu was not thought to come from humans associating too closely with Spaniards.) That is, we expect such diseases, and we've seen that they do historically, to come not from industrial farming, but from small scale peasant farming. Sleeping above the stock (rather than, erm, with it) is the cause, not having tens of thousands of stock that have little inter species contact.

But of course this should not get in the way of using a good crisis to get whatever it is that you've already decided you want, as Caroline Lucas shows us

More research is urgently needed to explore the potential link between industrialised animal farming, and the spread of disease. Some elements of the Mexican media are already pointing to the potential role of intensive pig farming in Mexico, which has grown substantially in recent years, with some giant operations raising tens of thousands of pigs at a time.

Very well, let us have some more research. How about a bit of empiricism, some collection of relevant facts?

But agricultural in­spec­tion officials say there is no swine flu virus among the pigs at these farms.

So theory says we wouldn't expect large single species farms to produce zoonoses and the facts say that it didn't. Another glorious theory ruined by those pesky facts perhaps? But unfortunately I doubt that will be enough to drown out the siren voices desirous of making good use of this crisis.

Swine flu and the financial crisis


I guess that Swine Flu is a bit like the financial crisis, in a way. One started in the US on the back of bad policy – forcing banks to lend to minorities who couldn't repay, bad regulation, the government creating lenders who were too big to fail – and the other came from Mexico, with bad farming practices.

They both infected other countries with alarming speed, thanks in one case to modern electronic communications and in the other to daily international air travel. They remind us what a small, interconnected global village we now live in.

They are both things we have not seen before, since 1933 in one case and 1918 in the other, and since then, things have changed (financial institutions and trade, viral strains). So we don't really know how to cure them.

They've both caused panics which seem disproportionate to the reality. As ASI author Terence O'Halloran pointed out in a letter to the Daily Telegraph on Friday, 36,000 people a year routinely die of seasonal flu in the United States, but there was hysteria over a single death from Swine Flu. And both have a real impact on the economy and on output.

Ultimately it will not be elaborate technologies that defeat them, but basic, sound, common sense. Keynesian makework programmes, massive borrowing and quantitative easing will not cure the financial problem. Only sound money, freer trade, lower tax and regulatory burdens on business and better (not more) regulation on the banks will cure the financial problem. And sound hygiene, and putting infected people (like infected assets) into isolation will have more effect on Swine Flu than any of the latest anti-virals.

And we will learn that, just as the human body has amazing powers of fighting infection and recuperating from it, so does market capitalism have amazing powers to restore itself to health. Provided that the policy doctors let it, of course.

Blog Review 949


We have myriad problems about pensions, both public and private, at present. But the root cause of all of them is actually something to celebrate: we're all living longer.

Anna Schwartz blamed the Fed for the last disaster, in the 30s, and she was right. Now she's blaming the Fed for the current problems: is she right again?

No, Somalian anarchy is not the perfect state. But amazingly, the absence of government is better than the presence of some governments.

The secret to understanding Adam Smith. He describes meticulously that which is - and not so much that which should be.

The universal first rule of politics:

Every politician really, sincerely, and truly wants what is best for the nation ... as his or her second priority, after doing whatever it takes to get elected or re-elected.

The language here is shocking but then perhaps justifiably so. The lies and contortions are simply fantastical.

And finally, celebrating May Day.

This is a political problem, not an economic one


Keynesianism that is, or the management of the economy through fiscal policy. Allow us, for a moment, to pretend, and assume that we've found ourselves miraculously in agreement with all and every of Keynes' tenets. We will even agree that borrowing £175 billion in the coming year is a good idea (and that no, it doesn't matter what we spend it on) because we really could do with some fiscal stimulus.

So, where does this leave us? Well, we're saying that we need this fiscal stimulus because there are unused resources in the economy and that growth is going to be below trend. Right, but as the IFS points out, this gives us something of a problem. For if we are below trend now it's fairly easy to show that in recent years we were above trend. As indeed the IFS points out.

Now remember that we have drunk the Keynesian Kool Aid in its entirety. Just as we believe in fiscal stimulus when growth is below trend, we also believe in fiscal contraction when growth is above it. And can anyone see that happening in recent years?

Such a contraction would have meant raising more in taxes than was being spent by government. Instead of public borrowing, we would have had debt repayment. And can anyone really believe that was going to happen? When you've Polly Toynbee screaming that we can and must abolish child poverty for only a few billion more? When every policy panhandler is pronouncing on how this or that evil of the world can be solved for just a little more taxpayers' cash and anyway, isn't this what a Labour government is for?

Well, quite. The failure of the system is thus a political one at the very least. Whether it works as an economic system is for others to determine but if it's politically impossible to have fiscal contraction when the theory says that there must be fiscal contraction then it's not all that useful a theory, is it?