"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
While these figures are for the US, the UK situation is broadly similar. The loss of manufacturing jobs is not a result of trade or offshoring, rather of rising labour productivity.
When is a benefit of the Olympics not a benefit? When the Olympians take over your local sports hall or gym, of course.
Using statistics to work out whether MPs might be playing games with their expenses budgets. Of course, if they simply released the raw information these studies would not be necessary.
Other statistical studies seem of rather less merit.
Explaining Ken Livingstone. Perhaps Augustus Fink-Nottle wasn't quite the right role model to choose.
The very early days of a project to map free wi-fi sites across the UK.
And finally, a teacher on teaching.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the UK's new school admissions policy, it will be a political disaster.
At present, middle class parents get their kids into good state schools by moving into the catchment areas of the best ones. So the plan is to allocate school places by lottery rather than catchment, so that poorer parents have an equal chance (and so that schools would get a wider social mix too).
While the parents whose kids get into good schools under this scheme will be pleased, they won't exactly be marching on City Hall to express their pleasure. But the middle-class parents whose kids don't get into nearby good schools will be absolutely furious, and campaigning in their thousands. And poorer parents whose kids don't get into their preferred nearby school will be marching alongside them.
And whatever the merits of the policy, its inevitable result is that kids will have to travel longer distances to get to school. That means they are going to be walking or cycling greater distances along busy streets, and (come winter) more are going to get killed or injured. Already there is a spike in road fatalities around the age of eleven, when kids transfer from their neighbourhood primary schools to the more distant secondary schools. The first case of a kid being killed on one of these forced cycle trips will get the media, and parents, baying for ministers' blood.
A better policy would focus on incentivizing state schools to improve, not rationing them by throwing dice. For some ideas, ministers should check here.
52. "Schooling should seek to make children equal."
The trouble with notions such as this is that they end up by restraining the talented. Children are not equal. Some are cleverer, some are stronger, some are faster. Some have musical talent, some linguistic and some mathematical. Any attempt to impose an artificial equality on them inevitably reduces down to the lowest common denominator.
Equality is not a good thing in itself. Diversity is. People of different talents will do different things, and be of service to their fellow men and women in different ways. It should be the aim of schooling to try to avoid any waste of talent, to bring out in each child the maximum of his or her potential. This is not achieved by pretending that everyone is equal, and by denying the talented any recognition.
Children might be equally worthy of consideration as individuals; they might be equally entitled to fair treatment. They are done no service, however, if they are taught that a poor performance is the same as an excellent one. Schools which avoid competitive sports or prize-giving ceremonies do their children no favours. The real world outside school is not like that, and they will be ill-prepared for it.
Even equality of opportunity has its limits. Some children will have more thoughtful or more loving parents. Some will have educational opportunities for foreign travel because their parents choose such holidays. Others will have more access to books because their parents keep them about the house. The ultimate logic of total equality of opportunity is the state battery farm. It is, however, a worthwhile goal for society to try to develop the potential of each child, and not to discriminate against any particular groups.
If children are diverse in their talents and abilities, then schooling itself should be diverse, enabling the parents of each child to find an education suited to it.
Sometimes I wonder whether we are governed by crazed loons: at other times I don't. Now is one of the second:
An inquiry commissioned by Gordon Brown will recommend local authorities have the power to prevent outsiders buying property they do not intend to make their main residence. Those seeking to buy country boltholes that deprive local residents of houses would be forced to apply to the council.
They would have to win planning permission to change the house from fully occupied to a second home and could be refused by the council.
Leave aside the despicable illiberality, the gross intrusion into private property rights, and think solely of the economic effects. Leave aside too the near impossibility of policing such a plan.
This requirement for permission will only affect those houses that people wish to purchase as second homes: those already used as such will not be affected. So there will be a restriction on the supply of second homes while demand will continue to rise. Thus the prices of those already used as second homes will continue to rise, as the report notes.< br />
And it will also, as is its very intention, reduce the prices (from where they would otherwise be) of those homes which are actually lived in full time.
Which is really rather something of a problem. Those who already own two or more houses are, we might reasonably assume, quite a bit wealthier than those who own only one. Yet the result of this plan will be to distribute wealth from the second group to the first. Even I, froth-mouthed supporter of naked capitalism that I am, don't think this a good idea, that we should be conveying wealth from the poor to the rich.
There's also one other teensie problem with the plan. Having paid the premium to purchase a house to use as a second home, who is going to be mad enough to live in it full time and thus lose that premium?
Matthew Taylor, the Liberal Democrat MP who was invited by Brown to do the review, said: “For the rural communities that are affected, this is a massive issue. This measure would allow local authorities to say that a property cannot be converted from a full-time home into a second home. “In some communities, 30%, 40% or 50% of the village is dark most of the year.
Thanks Matthew, you've just ensured that those villages will stay 50% dark for evermore.
It's very difficult to escape the "crazed loons" description of government when people come up with plans of such mindboggling fatuity.
The government is contemplating a tax on plastic supermarket bags. This makes me think of the words of Henry Luttrell:
O that there might in England be
A duty on hypocrisy
A tax on humbug, an excise
On solemn plausibilities.
One argument used in favour of progressive taxation is the diminishing marginal utility of income. David Friedman doesn't think it's a very valid one though.
The absurdiity of the current management of schools and access to them. Vouchers please, the Swedish Option.
Guido reveals quite how much a political family can make these days.
As ever in politics, sincerity's the thing. If you can fake that you've got it made.
Just how much of the cost of a nuclear plant is actually the cost of a nuclear plant: and how much is the paperwork?
Further bad regulation: the problems of tin whiskers and the banning of lead solders.
51. "Capitalism is wasteful, dissipating resources into profit and advertising."
Some claim that resources in a planned economy need be allocated only to production and distribution. With no need for profits or for advertising, costs will be cheaper. In practice, however, profit spurs people to seek out market opportunities. They are constantly looking for needs that can be satisfied, or efficiencies which can be made, and to the gains which these can bring. This is why the market economies are so flexible and adaptable at bringing people the goods they want, by contrast with the sluggishness and unresponsiveness which characterized the socialist economies, and which still characterizes state industries.
Men and women are motivated, each with a desire to improve their lot. They are not automatons, programmed to act in ways which are of no benefit to them. People generally put in more effort and skill when they have some personal stake in the outcome, and stand to reap some of the rewards of their enterprise and enthusiasm.
The search for profit directs people to invest in production, to put money to work generating new wealth, and bringing new goods before people in the process. Advertising serves an important information function. It tells people about products, processes and prices, and enables them to compare. Much of it is directed to informing people about new products and services, and in attempting to break into new markets. It thus contributes to the competitiveness and adaptability of the economy.
Without profit or advertising, there is neither the incentive to seek out new markets, nor the ability to let people know what choices are available. There is no pressure for ever more efficiency in the production of goods and services, and no rapid turnover in the range of those which are available.
Far from being wasteful, both profit and advertising contribute to the superior efficiency and cost-effectiveness of market economies.
Mark Boyle set off from Bristol a month ago on a planned two-and-a-half year trek to Ghandi’s birthplace in India. Nothing unusual in that most would think, but when you set off with only a backpack (filled with a knife, a bandage, t-shirts, sandals and sunscreen) and no money or credit cards then it’s taking a turn for the weird. But as a member of the Freeconomy
The main reason for his failure was that he couldn’t converse with the natives. He lacked one of the most fundamental skills needed for trade to take place and thus he had no choice but to return home. Whilst I’m sure that Mr Boyle has plenty to offer in the way of tradable skills, if he cannot communicate with others in the marketplace there is no way for him to sell himself. The failure to communicate sufficiently engenders distrust, it makes people fearful, as in this case, the French of Calais believed Mr Boyle to be either a ‘freeloader or an asylum seeker’.
This is a barrier that is partly broken down through the use of money. Money conveys priceless information to the other party in the exchange, it can insure them against any loss they may incur and ultimately it puts people at ease. To be able to trade across borders we need more than basic skills and a heart full of good intentions, as Mr Boyle’s failure has proven.
His idea of a world without money is possible. As amply demonstrated by Kyle MacDonald,
I spoke at the Oxford Union on Thursday against the idea of positive discrimination or affirmative action. I rested my argument on three pillars. The first was that to discriminate in favour of some inevitably involves discriminating against others. Those who have worked to qualify for university or to gain a job are rightly affronted if the place goes to someone with lower qualifications but who happens to belong to an approved group.
My second point was that to treat people in groups rather than as individuals diminishes them a little, even dehumanizes them to a small degree. We should not be concerned with what groups people come from, but with where they might go. It is somewhat patronizing to demand high standards generally, but to lower the standards for people from certain groups.
The third pillar of my argument was that those who lose out when others receive positive discrimination have done nothing to deserve it. Why should people be punished for deeds which some of their ancestors might have been involved in? None of mine were likely to have owned or traded slaves. Indeed, in ancient times they quite possibly were slaves themselves. I doubt if any joined the redcoats in conquering continents. And even if any of our Roman ancestors might have mistreated Gauls or Carthaginians, is that a reason why less qualified Gauls and Carthaginians should be given favoured treatment today.
To my surprise and pleasure, positive discrimination was voted down by a large majority.