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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

George Soros and free markets

Written by Tim Worstall | Monday 07 April 2008

I have to admit that I did something of a double take when I saw this from George Soros:

Regulators have abandoned their duty by letting markets regulate themselves. It's because a market fundamentalist ideology has come to dominate the behaviour of market participants and market regulatorsover the past 25 years ... and the idea that markets are best left to their own devices became policy.

Well, yes, I certainly do believe that markets regulate themselves to a great extent: although that doesn't mean that there should never be any regulation at all, of course. The interesting arguments are always about what regulation, by whom, and who benefits?

The double take comes from the fact that it was of course the same George Soros who showed us quite how expensive bad regulation could be all those years ago:

His heavy bets against sterling helped force it out of the European exchange rate mechanism in 1992, netting himself an estimated $1bn profit that Black Wednesday.

That profit being a transfer from us taxpayers of course. Now no, of course I don't blame him, nor even begrudge him his profit: it was a cheap price for the education of the political classes that it will always be markets that determine prices, not those politicians.

It's just odd to see a man who has become so rich by arbitrage, the very process itself being the exploitation of inefficiencies caused by the lack of deep and liquid markets, insisting that markets should be curbed, more regulation enacted in order to make them less efficient....oh, wait a minute.

It's not become that hard to make a profit with a hedge fund, surely?

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Common Error No. 84

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Monday 07 April 2008

84. "We must bring in tougher laws and sentences against drug dealers and users."

drugs1.jpgWe tried that. We already know it does not work. Each new dramatic case, each tragic death, each new set of statistics brings on the tabloid editorials. More laws, tougher laws, better enforcement. We tried this last time and the time before. Anyone who suggests that we might try a different approach meets a hail of press vilification, with tearfully bereaved parents demanding that the evil men who led Johnny or Jill astray be locked up, or perhaps executed.

Narcotics are evil, and sensible people should not go down that road. However, they are out there, and young people will be exposed to them. To some their very illegality adds the spice of defiance, giving them an allure that conceals some of their tawdriness.

By criminalizing them we turn them into a profitable industry. Because there are risks of criminal penalties, the price is high, and the rewards of dealing are raised. This leads to a steady supply. Because illegality increases the price, some people turn to crime to fund their habit. Violent street crime and burglary are heavily reinforced by the drug trade, as is embezzlement and fraud. Desperate people take desperate measures.

Police crackdowns sometimes temporarily curtail the supply, raising the price and the profitability of the trade even further. The different solution is to make drugs freely available to be consumed on the premises at high street clinics in towns and cities. They could be under medical supervision, and users might have to agree to medical assessment and perhaps have to view information videos about the health hazards which addicts face. No-one would want to consume recreational drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine or cannabis under such conditions, but these might be legalized generally.

Such a policy would break the link between narcotics and crime, guarantee the safe quality of drugs, and bring their addiction within manageable limits.

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Freedom Week 2008

Written by Blog Administrator | Monday 07 April 2008

freedomweek07.jpgDo you want to learn about Freedom?

Why not attend a free freedom seminar for UK students? 

Freedom Week is a one week free seminar for thirty students about the principles of a free society based on the free market and individual liberty. It is taught by eminent academics and supported by the main UK free market think tanks.

Freedom Week 2008 will take place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from 7 to 11 July 2008. To apply, please email to and include:

1. your CV (2 pages maximum);

2. a statement as to why you would like to participate in the seminar (150 words or less)

3. a statement (150 words or less) about your career interests;

4. other supporting evidence as to why you would be suitable to be included in the programme (must be concise!)

Please put "Application [your name]" in the subject box.
The absolute deadline for applications is 3 June 2008. Please apply asap.
Hope to see you in Cambridge! 

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Quote of the day

Written by Wordsmith | Monday 07 April 2008

The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.

Albert Einstein

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Blog Review 559

Written by Netsmith | Sunday 06 April 2008

OK, so it's party political propaganda: that doesn't stop it being true in this case. Abolishing the 10p tax band means raising taxes on the working poor. A better answer would be to raise the personal allowance to take them out of tax altogether.

These modern policing methods: they really do seem to have been a change for the worse. 

Science works slowly, but it does work: at least, most of the time it does. No, it's not climate change that's killing the frogs. 

Fascinating maps of how various newspapers (and blogs) report the world. 

The Libertarian Party of the UK: contains actual human beings, something of an oddity for a British political party. 

Current conservative policy aptly explained. 

And finally, the lighter fluid hits the suckbut.

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Drug crazed loons

Written by Tim Worstall | Sunday 06 April 2008

HMG's considered thoughts on what to do about drugs is containted in this document. It's an absolute masterpiece, quite the apotheisis of the bureacractic art. There is page after page of detailed plan, of targets to be set and met, of who is the departmental owner of this and that and those oh so vital dates by which "increase the number of DIP conditional cautions to 2,000" will be achieved (March 2009, for those interested).

Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing at all about the only possible way to actually win the War on Drugs. Declare victory and then smartly retreat by legalising them. It simply isn't possible to wipe out drug use and supply without demolishing every last vestige of civil liberty....on which point they do make one horrendous suggestion:

23. Widen the categories of assets liable for civil recovery and introduce recovery of assets at arrest.

Yes, not content with the current system of seizing the assets of those convicted of no criminal offence they now suggest that upon arrest, that is without even the necessity of a trial even under civil litgation rules, that your house, car, bank account, essentially your life, should be forfeit to the State. I'm sure we're all most confident that they will be speedily returned if charges are not brought, or if a conviction isn't achieved. Aren't we all?

Milton Friedman said it all 18 years ago:

The drug war cannot be won by those tactics without undermining the human liberty and individual freedom that you and I cherish.

I certainly cherish human liberty and individual freedom but I don't think that the same thing can be said of the Government.

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Common Error No. 83

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Sunday 06 April 2008

83. "Developing nations need tariff walls to protect their fledgling industries."

The argument goes that unless developing countries protect their industries by tariffs, they will be unable to compete with mature multinationals backed by global resources. Supporters of this position usually say that America and Europe had tariff protection in the 19th century when they were developing, and that the Asian countries which became rich only did so by protecting their infant industries.

It is true that the US and European countries had protective tariffs, but it's also true that the transport revolution of the 19th century brought trade costs down by so large an extent that the tariffs were of little importance in comparison. Some Asian success stories like South Korea, were relatively protectionist; some like Hong Kong, were relatively free trade. The market is so vibrant and flexible a source of wealth creation that you can do some things wrong and still find that it works.

But when countries have tariff barriers against imports, their own citizens are poorer, paying higher prices than necessary for goods, and having less cash to buy other things or to save and invest. Their local businesses have to pay higher prices for the materials, imported and domestic, that go into their products. Their farmers have to pay higher prices for tools, machinery and seeds. This is all so that some local manufacturers can enjoy a protected market. They do not face the impact of proper competition, or enjoy its full benefits. Instead they produce higher-priced goods that are uncompetitive on world markets.

None of this is good for developing economies. It creates an artificial economy in a protected bubble, unable to interact fully with the world beyond it, but within which some local interests are given an easier time. It's another version of the mistaken view that wealth is gained by selling exports and resisting imports, when in fact it is gained by trade.

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All change, please

Written by Tom Clougherty | Sunday 06 April 2008

Yesterday morning I attended an exhibition of plans for the redevelopment of the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth, south-west London. I was impresssed – both by the plans themselves and by the amount of people the developers had there to discuss the project with local residents.

It's a long overdue scheme. Wandsworth is a great place to live: a lovely residential area with good links to central London and the lowest council tax in the country. But it's a town without a centre. The high street is run-down and full of speeding cars; on one side is a misguided sixties development, on the other the disused Ram Brewery. Minerva Plc's plans would renovate the brewery's historic buildings, and replace the rest with housing, retail space and a new public square – as well as opening the River Wandle up to pedestrians. More controversially, they are going to put up two 'skyscrapers' (29 and 39 storeys respectively) at the northern end of the development.

I love skyscrapers – they look fantastic and I can't understand why London doesn't have more of them, especially given its lack of space. Yet many local residents don't share my enthusiasm. Indeed, some would apparently prefer the town centre remained a dead space full of empty industrial buildings. This a peculiar (but common) sentiment I've never been able to get my head around – I once took part in a TV discussion about residents who wanted to preserve a disused, ugly and inaccessible coal-mine rather than have anything new built. Such resistance to change is perverse.

There is one legitimate worry about the new development: transport. The trains from Wandsworth Town station are already nightmarishly overcrowded at peak times (will Network Rail ever lengthen the platform?) and the roads are not much better. Yet it strikes me that the developers are doing their best on this front – after all, the people who are going to buy from them want decent infrastructure. Minerva have set aside room around the development for widening roads and junctions, and made substantial funding available to Transport for London.

So the private sector is doing its bit. The public sector is dragging its feet.

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Quote of week

Written by Wordsmith | Sunday 06 April 2008

"Need" now means wanting someone else's money. "Greed" means wanting to keep your own. "Compassion" is when a politician arranges the transfer.

Joseph Sobran

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Blog Review 558

Written by Netsmith | Saturday 05 April 2008

Hillary Clinton stumbled across a wonderful example of an economic truth: unfortunately, she took away the wrong conclusion from it.

Talking of economics, why did it start so late? In short, study of the economy started around and about the time there was an economy to study. 

We continue to learn, of course. The perception of fairness is central to the human experience. 

Although some people refuse to accept what we have already learned. 

Again, as do others: regulation doesn't necessarily solve problems. 

Nice to see it all in one place: why the Lisbon Treaty really is The Constitution.  

And finally, might this be a first? A blog turned into a radio play? 

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