"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
Netsmith's mathematical abilities don't extend as far as this: but if this is true then there's something rather wrong with current climate change models.
Four basic environmental lessons: yes, open access, or the absence of property rights, is important.
It's certainly one way to sell a house.
Netsmith has heard of people going bankrupt for spending too much on their credit cards, but a corporation going bust because the credit card company won't pay it is a new one.
Comparing private sector micro-lending schemes. Kiva (which we like around here) and MicroPlace, a new entrant into the market.
The regulation of pubs: makes things so much better, doesn't it?
And finally, something wrong with the history curriculum.
When I went to Dublin a while back, I had a couple of spare hours so I thought I'd look up some of my Irish ancestors. I was advised to go to the National Library (pictured), which seemed sensible, so I did. After a few minutes in its labyrinth, I eventually found the right bit of the building, only to be told that the records had all gone over to the National Archives about a mile away. So I trudged there, but by the time I had got through its labyrinthine system I had run out of time, with not so much as a readers' ticket to show for it.
Yesterday, back in Dublin, I bee-lined it to the Archives at the crack of dawn. Only to be told that the records I wanted were not in fact there, but in the General Register Office, about another mile back in the other direction again. Thanks, people.
Nor is the General Register Office easy to find. It's in a shopping mall, and there is no signage until you get inside the door – 'Reading Room 3rd Floor'. Even when you get to the third floor it's hard to spot, sharing the same door as the child welfare office. Is someone worried about terrorism (well, the IRA did blow up the record office in the 1920s, and thousands of irreplaceable records were lost, but that threat has somewhat subsided these days)?
And not surprisingly the place is a typical state-run organization. The staff are certainly pleasant and helpful enough (Ireland is still small enough for them to feel easy calling you by your first name). But there are bizarre rules (you can't order up more than five birth, marriage or death certificates a day, for example, even at 4 Euros a copy) which seem designed to make life comfortable for the producers rather than convenient for the consumers. And the indexes to all these records are kept in large, lumbering volumes.
This whole place, like most record offices I guess, should be privatized. There is no shortage of people wanting to look up their ancestry, and willing to pay to do it. A private-sector manager would have converted all the indexes, not just to microfilm (which you're lucky to get in some libraries) but to digital form, so that they can be scanned in seconds by anyone in the world – rather than people having to waste hours having to find the right place in Dublin and then having to lift, pore through, and replace heavy volumes – and copies of the records would spit out on your printer.
A lot of people worry about what would happen to libraries if the state did not provide them. I have no doubt. Without the dead hand of state bureaucracy, the whole business would be revolutionized in short order.
89. "Regional aid is necessary to bring jobs to depressed areas."
This notion assumes that the present distribution of population and industry is the optimum, and that we should stop it changing. It further assumes that government can move factories and jobs about like pieces on a chessboard. Neither assumption is valid.
The patterns of population and economic activity are constantly changing. Some new product or process can create a localized boom, and changes in fashion and habits can diminish once thriving industries. Towns once famous for hats, gloves and cigarettes have seen those industries shrink, along with the jobs they sustained.
A similar outlook early into our industrial revolution might have sent regional aid to keep people on farms. Our economic development involved a change from an agricultural economy to one featuring various types of industry. People moved and the economy prospered.
Our economy has changed recently from one dominated by manufacturing into one with a much larger service sector. Governments have tried to move jobs to where people are, rather than helping people to move to where the jobs are. There are barriers to mobility of both jobs and people, barriers which include housing shortages and an insistence on uniform national wage rates.
Regional aid makes some areas more attractive by selectively lowering costs. Grants for new equipment, lower rates, tax holidays and the like, all try to tempt firms to where they would otherwise not have gone. They attract marginal firms, unviable without their help, and easily moved. When the subsidies end, we still find uneconomic firms in depressed areas, while those easily moved go off to where production costs are lower.
We should let depressed areas trade on their lower costs, including wages, and if there are economic changes, we should concentrate on mitigating their social costs, rather than trying to prevent them.
Boris Johnson looks likely to become the next Mayor of London, but did you know that in addition to being a polished politician, he's also a serious classical scholar? Well, he's on TV, wandering through the Roman Empire in order to try to find how these extraordinary Roman folk held it all together. And to go with it there's a book, The Dream of Rome (£13.29+pp from our online bookstore – but more in the shops). As you'd expect, it's witty, politically incorrect and a good read. Browse and buy here.
|Following on from the news that Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, [allegedly] threatened to punch Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, in a row about youth crime (not a joke, apparently) the Conservatives have created a rather cheeky computer game called 'A Kick in the Balls'. You can play it here. It may not be quite as addictive as Taxman Pacman, but it's an amusing weekend diversion.|
Yes, it really is true. Tax competition (and that includes the existence of tax havens) does indeed lead to tax policieis which promote growth: by lowering the rates that can be charged. No, really, the OECD says so.
Aoril 15th is Biofuels Day. A cause for celebration, or one for sadness and recrimination?
Yes, if course you must obey the law. It's just that we're not going to tell you what the law is, so you won't know if you're breaking it. Cute, eh?
A useful guide to sorting the celebrity surgeons from the snake oil merchants. Similar constructs could be made for many areas of life.
How the Chinese press reported the passage of the Olympic torch relay. Nothing like fair and honest, eh? Nothing like at all.
Needs repeating again: manufacturing in the rich world has not been hollowed out, it is not in crisis.
And finally, if a scientist were to get a tattoo, what sort of tattoo would it be?
Despite attempts by Gordon Brown to cover up the continuing proliferation of quangos under his leadership, the Sunday Times has revealed the truth: "13 out of 16 Whitehall departments failed to reduce their spending on quangos and seven departments created new ones, with more in the pipeline this year."
This is despite Brown claiming in 1995: "The biggest question … is why our constitution is over-centralised, over-secretive and over-bureaucratic and why there is not more openness and accountability. The real alternative is a bonfire of the quangos and greater democracy."
Brown's 'bonfire' has gone the same way as his predecessor Tony Blair's claim to consign them to the "dustbin of history". Part of Brown’s initial appeal in when stepping up to lead the Labour Party appeared to be his dislike for unelected bureaucracy that undermined democracy. However, as the signing of the Lisbon Treaty (i.e. EU Constitution) has shown, his words were all bluster and held no real value. Thus, the growth of quangos under successive governments is still undermining British democracy.
The cost to British taxpayers is now truly astonishing. An investigation last year by the Sunday Times found that a total of £180 billion was being spent on them, equivalent to £3,600 a year for every adult in Britain. Whether siphoned through tax or directly from industry, the amount of money tied up in bureaucracy is staggering. Laughable at a time in which everyone is feeling the pinch.
Is your money well spent? To get the answer simply visit the British Potato Council. Did you know it was the year of the potato?
88. "The gap between rich and poor countries is growing larger, meaning that global poverty is growing worse."
This is usually recited parrot-fashion as a mantra: "The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the gap is widening." In fact the rich are indeed growing richer, and in most places outside Africa, the poor are growing richer too. Historically the gap has never been narrower, though civil wars have held back progress in Africa.
Prof Paul Ormerod has measured the Gini coefficients which reveal income disparities, and shown that since World War II the world has become more equal, not less. Common observation shows the same. After the Second World War there was a handful of rich countries, mainly in Europe, the US, and the former dominions. The rest of the world was dirt poor, with most of their populations struggling to survive on subsistence farming.
Since then Japan joined the rich club, followed by the Asian quartet of South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Then came the little tigers, including countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. Then economic growth came to some of the countries of South and Central America. Most recently and most spectacularly, China and India have surged ahead.
Last year saw more people lifted out of poverty than in any previous year in human history. Fundamentally we now know how to do it, by enterprise and trade. Instead of trying to implement socialist-style 5-year plans, with governments directing aid-assisted industrial growth, most countries now try to get the conditions right for their businesses to get ahead on their own.
Poor countries can turn their low wages to economic advantage by producing lower cost goods to sell to the rest of the world. The money thus gained can be re-invested in expansion and development, and the wages gradually rise. This roughly mirrors the way in which the rich countries did it.
Yesterday I held forth at the same dispatch box that cradled the notes and timepieces of great orators like Edmund Burke and brilliant wits like Oscar Wilde. I was at Trinity College Dublin to debate arts subsidies.
Inviting state-subsidized students and academics to reject state subsidies is always a lost cause, but I made the case that subsidies corroded true art. They centralize what should give us diversity. They bureaucratize what should be free-sprited. They tax the poor for the delight of the rich. And they give us, not Shakespeare and Chopin, but an unmade bed and the Millennium Dome. On the other side, my usually bone-dry friend Dr Sean Barrett argued that arts spending was tiny, and better than most of what government does with our money.
But I wonder if Ireland's economic woes will make taxpayers there less inclined to fund any kind of state spending. After years of boom, house prices have fallen around seven percent in Dublin (some say the final fall will be three or four times that) and the unemloyment lines are growing.
Ireland's boom started, like Britain's, following a radical tax-cutting and public-sector reform programme But then Euro membership turned the real boom into an inflationary boom. Now a rising Euro makes it harder for Ireland to sell abroad and get through these hard times. Euro membership has been a euphoric drug. But now Ireland's suffering the hangover.