Blog Review 910

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It appears that our Lord Chancellor doesn´t in fact understand what a Bill of Rights is. It is what is ours, not what we owe to him. He also rather misses that we already have a Bill of Rights.

Further problems in the political process. No one is overseeing the executive´s use of tax funds. Isn´t that what led to the civil war that preceded that Bill of Rights?

Indeed, power seems to be abdicated to special interest groups.

An alternative reason for rising inequality....other than bankers´greed that is.

For and against (in part) the Geithner plan for the banks.

A snarl at Paul Krugman and a conjecture: Jade Goody and Hotblack Desiato?

And finally, telling the truth with numbers or, if you prefer, gin and your daughter.

Police, politicians and prostitutes

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You'd have thought that after twelve years and countless Acts of Parliament on police, crime, and terrorism, the government would have its security policy about right by now. But no, the Policing and Crime Bill, which is coming up for its Third Reading and will go to the Lords soon, is a rag-bag of measures – some administrative trivia, but others fundamental to our freedoms.

There is, for example, a bit stuck in which would allow the police to insist on CCTV being installed within licensed premises – that is, all bars, pubs, clubs, corner grocery stores that sell alcohol, and even the poshest, quietest, country house hotels. Quite apart from the fact that I don't want some camera lip-reading me, or looking over my shoulder as I tap out my PIN number in a restaurant, my concern is that, once again, it will be the innocent who get criminalized by this technology. The police will regularly demand the CCTV records, and if they find one occasion where the shopkeeper has failed to ask some 20-year-old for ID (perhaps because he's known them for years), well, that's an offence and another nice conviction to put towards Gordon Brown's targets.

Then there's the bizarre new offence of paying for sex with prostitutes 'controlled for gain'. It's billed, of course, as preventing human trafficking. But it actually says that if 'any' of a prostitute's activities are controlled by another, the clients are nicked. So that's an end to places where some experienced woman actually schedules and looks out for the girls. From now on, they're on their own in that big bad world. I guess it would include girls who use agencies (like taxi drivers do) to bring business to them. After all, that peripheral part of their activities is 'controlled for gain' by the agency managers.

Again, agencies actually protect the girls they manage – barring violent clients, checking on the girls to ensure that clients have left on time without doing them injury. Depending on how these vague clauses are interpreted – and you can be sure that the police and the Home Secretary will interpret them as widely as they dare – it all means that there will be more prostitutes out there, on their own, without the protection of experienced other people. Like the human trafficking legislation that preceded it, this law isn't going to catch any nasty guys – it's simply going to be used to harass girls who are trying to make a living from an entirely voluntary activity. This government really are turning into a bunch of fascists.

Dr Eamonn Butler's new book, The Rotten State of Britain, is now available to buy.

Bill of slavery

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If Labour wins the next election and the new Bill of Rights is introduced, it will be a step towards a new type of slavery in this country. One that would enshrine in law the government’s stranglehold over the people of this country. The legislative foundations will shift, drowning freedom under a plethora of rights and responsibilities. A step greater than the 1998 Human Rights Act, if introduced, this should make all who value freedom weep.

The rights and responsibilities agenda is viral. It assumes a de facto subservient relation of subject to ruler. The Bill of Rights would permit entitlements to free health care, education and mush else that the state is best left out of. A lawyers dream, but a nightmare for the productive, as the government strips them bare to uphold their side of this new socialist contract.

Any rights and space within the law for freedom will in effect be subsumed by the rule of ‘social justice’. As kings and queens before them, politicians will be the undoubted granter of rights and the ones to whom we owe responsibility. Hobbes’ Leviathan is taking shape nicely.

We could not trust the opposition to scrap it when finally in power;, after all, they are unlikely to do much in taking back powers lost to bureaucrats in Brussels. Similarly the fourth estate is scrambling around in the dirt, perhaps busy planning the rise and fall of its next celebrity superstar. As such, if Labour were to win this Bill of Rights would slip below the radar. The Times and Telegraph are well off the mark with their evocation of a ‘nanny state’, while the Daily Mail is mistaken in branding the Bill ‘spin’. This is nothing less than the blueprint for setting socialism in law.

Decisions, decisions

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As most of the world knows, the AIG bonus situation is quite a sore spot for the United States right now. Even though the company received $182 billion in bailout money, AIG will have distributed $165 million in bonuses total to over 400 executives by the end of March. The bonuses were written in a contract created in late 2008, so there is a limited amount of options the government can take at this time.

There are two aspects of the solution that the government should look toward. The first involves incentives, meaning that the original intention of this bailout was to help save a company that the country’s commerce depends upon. The media has already begun demonizing every executive at AIG, even though many of them are opting out of the bonuses. What this means for the future of the company is not difficult to predict. Employees from AIG will seek jobs at other companies, whose names might not bear the same stigma. The company will soon lose the most talented individuals who were able to find other positions, possibly resulting in a worse performance than if those employees had stayed. This is not what the United States was originally hoping for when they signed off on the bailouts.

The second aspect of the solution deals with the constitutionality of government intervention in such a situation. Obama has been evaluating the house’s bill, passed last week, which will place a 90% tax on bonuses received by employees with salaries above $250,000 at companies receiving federal aid. This is a pretty serious move by the House, it is essentially breaking a contract that the US government approved quite a long time ago.

Obama himself said on 60 Minutes that, "As a general proposition, you don't want to be passing laws that are just targeting a handful of individuals. You want to pass laws that have some broad applicability. And as a general proposition, I think you certainly don't want to use the tax code...to punish people."

Whether the bonuses are ethical or not, it is no small matter if the government uses the tax code to sidestep contracts. Let’s see what Obama decides…

Blog Review 908

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If government is willing to violate a contract only a month after passing a law stating that government will uphold that contract, why would anyone believe promises made by government?

Such loss of faith in the word and bond of government will of course make everything worse.

Repudiating the AIG bonuses is an excellent way of killing any method of rescuing the banks. Doesn't achieve much else though.

For example, this on the face of it sensible plan will not work if investors believe that any profits will be taxed at extortionate rates.

Yes, we're in a recession. So worth asking perhaps, "What has capitalism ever done for us?"

A quote on a quote of the day: "In other words, capitalism gets the job done, other systems don't."

And finally, how health and lifestyle issues are decided these days (naughty words alert).

A sorry state of affairs

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In The Times, Camilla Cavendish delivers a damning and spot-on criticism of the government and public services. She touches upon the fact that average public sector wages are rising whilst those in the private sector are rapidly falling and this brings into question ‘who is working for who exactly?’ I have blogged on this before.
 
The claim that the government has ‘mortgaged’ our futures is sadly all too true. It is indicative of a government who only consider winning votes and cannot see past the end of their noses towards the long-term prosperity of Britain. Indeed, in his new book, The Rotten State of Britain, Eamonn Butler has calculated that the average public debt is now almost £270,000 per household. This includes future costs which the government has tried hide, such as unfunded public sector pensions, PFI liabilities, and the cost of nuclear decommissioning. 
 
The article shows how our public services really have become a sorry state of affairs – almost an embarrassment. There are examples of failure in healthcare, education and welfare. It is absurd to consider that the NHS is the third largest employer in the world, yet the service it offers is so far behind other developed nations. It would be easy for the government to blame current failings on the global recession, which in turn they blame on America (or anybody besides themselves). But this lack of quality in our public services just highlights how inefficient they have become. You cannot simply pour resources into a service in the vain hope it will boost the quality of output.
 
Essentially, the government seems to feel it has a right to spend our hard-earned money. They don't see it as the privilege that it is. Unfortunately, it is not the current crop of politicians who will suffer the consequences, but future generations and future governments. Perhaps a severe lack of accountability is to blame.

Risk

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In his first pre-Budget report as Chancellor, the infamous ‘boom & bust’ phrase, that mantra Gordon Brown came so steadfastly to believe in, can be seen lurking in the opening paragraphs. What this showed was that Gordon Brown held no singular understanding of risk, and/or the global economy.

Over the past 18 months we have heard continual cries for risk to be curbed. Yet risk is something that humans curb naturally: by learning from their errors. What bailouts and new systems of regulation achieve is that the various parties involved in the financial meltdown do not learn, as the bonuses at AIG show.

Lawmakers have to understand that risk is inherent in all that we do, which is why we have a ‘natural’ system that ‘booms and busts’. Unfortunately for us, lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to concentrate the control of the economy in their own hands with the result that the peaks of growth and the troughs of contraction become ever higher and deeper respectively.

Gordon Brown and those who invested based on his assertion that boom and bust were over are much like King Canute and the tide. They failed to understand the risks involved, and also misread all of the information that was available that would assist them in investing wisely.

Gordon Brown had to make a quick buck so as to cover the 50% rise in taxes that he had implemented, whilst others believed that the prices could only ever rise and that somehow risk had been vanquished. Those in the business and banking world should now be made to learn from their failures, not through new legislation and regulation but through the cold hard fact that the risks they took were wrong; they should be the warning to us all not to allow risk to be undervalued and taken for granted.

Risk is a cold-hearted mistress.

Play games and die?

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In a move that'll shock no one, but will further antogonise Britain's successful and profitable game industry. The Advertising Standards Authority has rejected objections to the "play video games and die early" advert.

The MCV reports that the ASA responded with this terse statement:

Whilst the ASA Council understood the concerns of Tiga and those complainants who worked in the video games industry, it noted that the ad did not claim that playing computer or console games alone would lead to illness or premature death.

Funny that anyone seeing the advertisement in the article might come to a rather different conclusion. If you want to see the ASA make excuses for its decision the article has their complete response.

Blog Review 907

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If you were to look around the world and pick a country whose agricultural system you'd like to emulate: well, it wouldn't be Cuba's system, would it?

You know how so many say that if only the banks had been  mutuals, credit unions, then the disaster would not have happened? Ooops!

And Oops! again as those credit unions that did not go bust have to bail out those who did.

Blogs doing what newspapers no longer do. Long investigative pieces. Here on the NSPCC.

Some argue that the growth of the past few years was phantasmal. We recorded as GDP growth what never actually existed. Well, yes, but doesn't that mean that we're not in a recession now:  writing off GDP that was never there isn't a fall in GDP?

The utter cluelessness of the regulators in the lead up to the storm. Plus Alistair Darling is being blamed for Lehman's falling now.

And finally, spare a thought for the poor bureaucrats in their time of need.

The Governor's Eyebrow

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Apologies for stealing the headline to this interesting Matthew Parris piece. He's pondering upon the difference between rules based regulation and judgement based. For example, was the earlier system when the governor of the Bank of England could simply raise an eyebrow and an activity would stop better than the current FSA system of rules....leading to box ticking rather than a consideration of the underlying reality of said activity.

In this instance I find myself agreeing that the eyebrow system works better. Yet Parris goes on to another example: wouldn't a tax system that depended upon HMCR simply saying "Oi! That's not on!" be better than a rules based, box ticking one. And I find myself disagreeing.

Which leads to something of a conundrum. If judgement, the eyebrow, is better sometimes than the strict interpretation of the written down rules and yet at other times the reverse is true, is there any sort of sorting mechanism that we can have to work out when for which? Erm, a rule as to when to use judgement or a judgement as to when to use rules as it were?

I don't claim that this is the final word and would welcome comments which would help sharpen this up. But I would say that judgement is correct when we're talking about a voluntary activity and rules when we're talking about the power of the State over us.

Being in the City, being able to rely upon the Bank of England as the lender of last resort, as an example, is a choice made by your business model. I see no problem with that meaning that you've also accepted the judgement based control of your activities as a quid pro quo. To use a sporting analogy, by agreeing to play the game of rugby you've accepted that the referee has the last word and can indeed send you off for anything he likes and no arguing.

However, how we are taxed is not voluntary. This is something imposed upon us by the State and at this point we want to know exactly what the rules are, in detail, in advance. Thus we need to have a rules based system,. the legislation which we can all read and understand (well, if tax law was in fact comprehensible by ordinary mortals).

To use another analogy, that of the criminal law. I want to know what is legal and what is not in advance. I don't want myself (or anyone else) to be dragged off the street and incarcerated just because someone has judged that I am a bad 'un. I've done what that is illegal? And how have you proven this and have you ticked all those boxes of evidence, trial, jury, of justice?

As I say I'd appreciate some help fleshing this out but I'd say judgement is appropriate when we voluntarily submit and rules when we are forced to.