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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

We want more academies

Written by Tom Clougherty | Wednesday 23 April 2008

There was a protest across the road from the ASI last night. Not directed at us, but rather at our neighbours, the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

There is plenty to protest about. Like the fact that Britain has plummeted down the international league tables of school performance in maths, literacy and science. Or the fact that 350,000 pupils a year fail to get five good GCSEs including maths and English. Or even the fact that children in deprived areas do far worse than those in wealthy ones, with the gap growing wider.

But the protestors weren’t there about that. They were protesting about one of the good things the department is doing – its city academies programme. More specifically, they were protesting against the new academy which is due to replace Pimlico School in September. Frankly, their opposition puzzles me.

After all, city academies (independently run state schools) do much better than the schools they replace. Their test scores and GCSE results are improving much faster than the national average, even though they admit more pupils with special educational needs or eligible for free school meals than their area average. Most tellingly, existing academies are three times oversubscribed, which is to say a lot of parents want to send their kids to them (a good indicator of quality, in my opinion).

The funny thing is, the reason the protestors don't like academies is also the main reason for their success: they are free from local authority control. They have more power to shape their own curriculum, to hire and reward staff, and to deal with unruly pupils than do other state schools. Rather than being weighed down by rules and regulations, they can innovate and tailor tuition to their pupils' needs.

Academies are not perfect, of course. They should be even freer from the state. They should focus less on fancy new buildings and more on teaching. Most importantly, they should be much easier to set up, so that more children get to attend them. But whatever the protestors say, the country needs more academies, not less.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Wednesday 23 April 2008

According to Bloomberg, the Danes have developed an innovative new approach to caring for the elderly. Junksmith plans to retire there someday...

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Blog Review 575

Written by Netsmith | Tuesday 22 April 2008

This is one way of looking at it: that the banks themselves are issuing new shares means that they think they are over-valued.

On bank and financial market regulation: should it be rules based or principles based?

Praise for the design of the credit market bail out.

How regulation has been effected. For example, marijuana wasn't made illegal in the US: you just had to have a licence and they wouldn't issue any licences.

Comparing the costs of locking up people from an area with the costs of policing an area to prevent the crime and thus the need to lock people up.

That decline in Russian oil production might not be peak oil you know?

And finally, imaginary animals, kosher or not? plus winning a caption competition.

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In today's Times...

Written by Blog Administrator | Tuesday 22 April 2008

... Dr Eamonn Butler writes about the problems in the financial sector and the government's £50bn bailout. Click here to read the article.

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Common Error No. 98

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Tuesday 22 April 2008

98. "It is more rational to plan for the satisfaction of our future wants and needs than to expect blind chance to do it."
This is true, but often the statement is used to claim superiority for a centrally planned society and for government intervention in the economy. Neither of which it is correct. We all plan individually for the satisfaction of our wants, and imperfect though we are, we tend to do it more accurately than government does, and in less costly ways. We are not leaving it to blind chance if we fail to plan collectively, we are planning individually. We know more about our circumstances than any government can, we know more about our needs and preferences, and we have a bigger stake in the outcome than any bureaucrat can ever have. We plan for ourselves, they do not.

The free society produces an overall order out of all of these millions of inputs. It directs towards the satisfaction of our wants the activities of distant people we will never meet, and has us helping to meet the needs of strangers.

This spontaneous society is better at meeting our needs than any alternative which can be dreamed up by a single human mind, or by a small elite. The larger society contains information from all of us, and produces an ordered outcome not sought deliberately by any of us, but more rational than blind chance could produce, and certainly more rational than anything government could ever achieve.

It meets our needs efficiently and continually directs resources to those who produce the most from them. It enables millions of us to pursue different goals at the same time. Any attempt to plan what society as a whole shall do, or what it shall produce, forfeits that versatility, that spontaneity and that problem-solving ability. It substitutes the priorities of the few for the needs and aspirations of the many.

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Dancing penguins and environmentalism

Written by Dr Fred Hansen | Tuesday 22 April 2008

Have you seen the movie Happy Feet? It was a blockbuster last year, and with good reason. It’s very funny. Produced in Australia the film is set in Antarctic waters. But in political correct times there does of course have to be an issue with 'mystic beings' degrading the environment with marine debris.

Imagine what happens to the 6-pack ring carrier that holds cans of beer or coke, thrown away carelessly from a cruiser. In the movie little Lovelace, the young Rockhopper penguin, wears it around his neck as a souvenir. Alas! Poor little Lovelace is growing fast and the ring around his neck is getting tighter. So tight that later on a killer whale whose teeth got caught with the necklace thrashes Lovelace in and out of the Antarctic waters leaving him hanging on for dear life.

Well, now the other side of the story has been told by one of the major manufacturers of this ring carrier, Illinois-based ITW Hi-Cone. The ring is non-toxic and photodegradable within days and couldn’t strangle Lovelace at all. But nevertheless the ring carrier:

…has been in the environmental spotlight since the late 1970’s. People often associate it with animal entanglement. But it has been illegal under federal law to distribute non-degradable ring carriers since the (US) EPA crafted regulations in 1994 at the direction of Congress. All three major manufacturers of ring carriers currently produce them with 100 percent photodegradable plastic.

Photo-degradation means that the sun will break the bonds of the plastic polymers, because scientists have put weak links in place. Therefore the ring carriers lose 75 percent of their strength in a few days and fall apart completely in four weeks. The movie's Antarctic setting, with its thinning ozone layer, would expose Lovelace’s necklace to even more ultraviolet radiation and speed up the photodegradation. For all its entertainment value, Happy Feet is nonetheless another example of poor eco-science.

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Professor Adam Smith

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Tuesday 22 April 2008

On this day, in 1752, Adam Smith was appointed professor at the University of Glasgow. Though still in his twenties, his fame already preceded him. Through the offices of a wealthy family friend, he had already given a series of private lectures on philosophical subjects in Edinburgh, which had caught the attention of the intelligensia of Scotland's great capital.

Most people today think of Smith as an economist. But in fact he was more of a social psychologist. At Glasgow he taught logic, ethics, rhetoric and belles-lettres (the arts of using language effectively and finely) and jurisprudence (what today we would perhaps call politics).

And it was his work on ethics that made him truly famous. His 1759 Theory of Moral Sentiments analyzed the human social psychology of morality. A hundred years before Darwin's Origin of Species, it took the view that our morality persists because it is useful and helps our species to prosper. That human beings are social creatures; they need the reinforcement of others who appreciate the good they do, and their behaviour is changed by the disapprobation of others whom they hurt.

His book brought him the commission of personal tutor to a young nobleman, with whom he toured France and Switzerland, meeting other leading intellectuals of his day, and giving him the material to flesh out his other great book, The Wealth of Nations.

Learn more about Adam Smith here.

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And another thing...

Written by Junksmith | Tuesday 22 April 2008

News from the Pope's visit to America:

A salesman from KFC walked up to the Pope and offered him a million dollars if he would change "The Lord's Prayer" from "give us this day our daily bread" to "give us this day our daily chicken." The Pope refused his offer.

Two weeks later, the man offered the pope 10 million dollars to change it from "give us this day our daily bread" to "give us this day our daily chicken" and again the Pope refused the man's generous offer. Another week later, the man offered the Pope 20 million dollars and finally the Pope accepted. The following day, the Pope said to all his officials, "I have some good news and some bad news. 'The good news is, that we have just received a check for 20 million dollars. The bad news is, we lost the Wonder Bread account!'''

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Blog Review 574

Written by Netsmith | Monday 21 April 2008

Those conferences on poverty: amazing how they're all in such desirable places to visit, isn't it? Mauritius? And of course there's a certain lack of anything useful being done at them as well.

All too many people misunderstand this: yes, services can indeed be productive uses of labour.

Although when Adam Smith called government unproductive labour, he didn't mean quite this unproductive.

Nor did he mean this entirely foolish piece of European Union legislation.

Just as there are no free lunches, there won't be a free carbon cap either.

More on that 10p tax rate abolition: planned and callous so we are told.

And finally, British eating habits are indeed improving.

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In today's Times...

Written by Blog Administrator | Monday 21 April 2008

... ASI Fellow Tim Worstall writes about the importance of taking the poor out of income tax altogether. We particularly like the bit where he describes us as "bleeding heart classical liberals". Click here for the article.

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