Brown in USA

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Gordon Brown is smug to be the first European leader to meet the new American President. And no doubt he'll be telling Mr Obama how the special 'partnership' can save the world.

He's still jumping the gun a bit, since Obama's economic team is far from being in place. That's because of all the FBI checks, the Congressional hearings, the Trial by Newspaper as the press trawls through the tax returns of potential Cabinet members. It can take six months to find a set of Cabinet appointees who've actually paid their taxes, not hired illegal nannies, not taken free trips from lobbyists, and all the rest. And in a US administration, there are 2,000 or more political appointments to be made. You have to get the Cabinet selected first before you can then move down to the others. So we haven't the faintest clue as to what Obama's Treasury team will look like. Mr Brown will be speaking into a void.

You don't know what a US administration's policies will be until everyone's appointed. Which might not be before the summer. It's a feeble way to run a country.

Not that any of them have any idea what to do anyway. Obama has never run any organization, except possibly a campaign team. His refloat package, like the $750 billion put up to solve the financial crisis last year, was a figure plucked out of the air. I guess that $500 billion sounded not quite enough to convince people it would work, and $1,000 sounded too frighteningly large. The politicians and officials just felt they had to do something, but they still don't know quite what. Nor do they know who's going to pay back all this debt they're clocking up. You can't rely on China - its fate so largely depends on its trade with the US, so you're in a spiral there. Ah well. Good luck, Gordon, save a bit of the world for me.

The Rotten State Of Britain by Eamonn Butler (Gibson Square Books) is now available to buy here.

The "Freedom Bill" is not liberal enough

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The Liberal Democrats recently unveiled their new "Freedom Bill". Although it has been heralded as the beginning of the counter-attack to reclaim our civil liberties, its lack of ambition and the existence of a number of possible flaws mean that this valiant effort may fail in its early stages.

The proposal for reducing the period of detention without trial is limited in only demanding a retreat from 28 to 14 days when it had the opportunity to call for a much greater reduction. However, this is not the only sign of unfulfilled aspiration. With measures to restore the right to public assembly by increasing the numbers permitted back from 2 to 20, the Bill has missed the opportunity to demand an even higher number.

A proposed reduction in the number of crimes that can be retried in light of new evidence appears to suggest that attempted murder, kidnapping and a number of sexual offences are not considered serious enough, and that retrial should be limited exclusively to cases of genocide and murder. By doing so, the Bill does not defend against Double Jeopardy, which is the retrial for the same crime on the same evidence, but instead attacks the retrial of gravely serious crimes based on both new and compelling evidence - terms already clearly defined.

Finally, the "Freedom Bill" makes no mention of repealing some of the most ridiculous curtailments of our freedoms. There is nothing on repealing the criminalisation of photographing police officers, and perhaps most seriously of all, there is nothing to balance or redress the huge potential to abuse ministerial powers due to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act of 2006, a law that allows minsters to ignore Parliament and even directly amend existing legislation at their own discretion.

If Britain is to truly reclaim liberty from its own government, we must have the courage to be bolder and more radical in our demands.

Anton Howes is leader of the Social Liberalist Party.

Convention on modern liberty

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Last Saturday, I attended the London event of the Convention on Modern Liberty. It was “a call to all concerned with attacks on our fundamental rights and freedoms under pressure from counter-terrorism, financial breakdown and the database state".

Whilst England may be the birthplace of freedom, we live in a country increasingly burdened by excessive government. Our political freedoms are under perpetual attack under the false pretext that freedom and security are a zero sum game and liberty must be traded for security. As the economy crumbles, the battle to halt the further erosion of our economic freedoms will be tough. We have reached the dire situation where we have failed to achieve greater security or better services, but have given up fundamental liberty. The attrition has accelerated under the Labour regime and as David Davis commented, we may not live in a police state, but when does it become one? We only see what we have lost when it has become too late.

While there was considerable concurrence at the convention against many forms of swelling intrusion, especially in political terms, I was shocked and perturbed by the many who claimed to champion the cause of Liberty, but actually wished dishonourably to stab it in the back. To clarify with some examples:

  1. Billy Bragg passionately attacked the rise of individualism, and consumerism. He clearly missed the inherent link between Liberty, and the freedom to pursue one’s own interests.
  2. There was little mention of economic freedoms.
  3. The Left and Liberty ... a contradiction in terms? It was noteworthy how quasi socialists attempted to latch on to the positive support for liberty.

Overall, it was an excellent event, and I highly recommend going on the website to look at media from the event and to support the cause. The eternal battle for liberty is never won, but people “have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win."
 

Koch Associate Program 2009-10

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The good people of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation have opened up their Associate Program for 2009-10.

During the year-long program, Associates are based in Washington, D.C., and spend four days each week at non-profit organizations working in full-time positions and one day each week at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation immersed in a Market-Based Management curriculum.

The non-profit assignments cover fascinating fields such as policy research, leadership and talent development, grassroots education, marketing, network development, and non-profit operations, and allow Associates to explore specific areas of interest within the organizations. Associates have the chance to demonstrate their talents and the opportunity to earn more responsibility if they perform their jobs well. Associates witness first-hand the nuts and bolts of non-profit work, including how decisions are made, how projects are prioritized, which capabilities are necessary for an organization to operate smoothly, and the challenges faced in a non-profit environment. Over the course of the year, Associates share their diverse experiences with the group, creating a unique learning opportunity unparalleled in other development programs.

Click here to find out more

Blog Review 888

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At least someone has a solution.

Has Harriet been studying Zimbabwe?

Not necessarily true but interesting all the same: is HSBC actually to blame?

A return to traditional British foods, that's what we need.

By not allowing companies to contract or go bust are we Sovietising our economy?

Yes, Warren Buffett really is different.

And finally, Lord of the Rings as written by other authors. Conan Doyle for example.

Northern Rock's lesson in regulation

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The Northern Rock, which publishes its results today, used to be a building society. They were rather conservative institutions, whose role was to take money from cautious savers and lend it to people buying homes.

But in the Thatcher years, they found themselves suddenly able to become banks, and swap the dull world of bricks and mortar for the exciting world of international derivatives. A few didn't take up the offer, recognizing that their customers actually preferred savings accounts that were dull but safe. Some, like Northern Rock, grabbed the chance. And this being a competitive market, the Rock rushed after market share. Unfortunately it rushed after market share at the expense of good business, and came a cropper.

Some folk think that this Thatcherite deregulation is the sole cause of our present problems. That's wrong. Firstly, it was quarter of a century ago, and lots of other things have happened since. Secondly, to me it shows more the folly of regulation, rather than deregulation. If you minutely regulate your business institutions, then suddenly set them free, you might well expect them to do a lot of silly things. Like all those East Europeans, after the Berlin Wall came down, rushing into the West to spend their life savings on the Mercedes Benz they'd always dreamed of. The lesson isn't 'don't deregulate' - the lesson should be 'don't over-regulate in the first place'. And if you're going to cut back on regulation, maybe it's best to do it gradually so that euphoria doesn't overwhelm everyone all at once. The deregulation of the alcohol licensing laws might provide us with another example.

Should we then go back to tighter regulation? To force banks to separate their day-to-day small-saver business from their high flying money market activities? Bring back Glass-Steagall? No, we shouldn't. After this little lot, customers will be demanding that for themselves. And bankers will be well aware of what sort of a mess they got themselves into by mixing and matching different kinds of business. Regulation, as we now all realize, is a very powerful tool. It's such a shame that it's wielded by people who plainly don't have the competence to handle it.

The Rotten State of Britain by Eamonn Butler (Gibson Square Books) is available to buy here.

Government in a panic

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‘Bad cases make bad law’ (Law 101). I have read many contracts and I have never ceased to be amazed at the casual approach to important contractual issues displayed by relatively high-paid executives in both private and public life. The reaction to Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension fiasco among members of the Government is born of the panic to remove him as quickly as possible as the fall-guy for the whole sorry mess.

The more the bank bosses were and are portrayed as culpable, the less the public would blame the Government, or so the politics of pass-the-parcel blame game feels like since last October. This Government is obsessed by being seen to be ‘doing something’, allegedly better than ‘doing nothing’ (though ‘doing right’ is the better strategy).

The ‘mere’ details of the severance arrangements slipped from view. Competent negotiators often say: ‘If you’ve got it in writing you’ve got a prayer; if it ain’t in writing you’ve got thin air.’  Sir Fred got it in writing. Lord Mandelson, the Chancellor, and the Prime Minister didn’t, and neither did their talented advisors. Double worse, it has come to light, and now they are squirming in deep manure.

Their reaction? As ever, they panic!  Harriet Harman threatens to over-ride the law because the Prime minister says so. How? By passing a new law, or introducing a new tax on high incomes, or perhaps something in the anti-terror laws, or how about the wartime laws on the seizure of German assets? Or don’t pay him and await his writ in the courts?

In short, more panic, more short-termism, and more of what got us into this mess.

Professor Gavin Kennedy is a fellow of the Adam Smith Institute and writes regularly here

Nationalism in developing nations

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Developing countries should not grow weary of the global economy. Globalization has been the force pulling developing countries upward for the past two decades, and eventually it will accomplish the feat in full as long as their governments leave well alone.

Jeffrey E. Garten published an essay in the Wall Street Journal this week called The Dangers of Turning Inward, in which he argues that although most countries claim that their current protectionist policies are temporary, many of these policies will be difficult to reverse after the recession.

It is not only the actual tariffs in India, Argentina, and Brazil that are hurting their development into economic powerhouses, but the illusionary mindset which can turn a temporary policy into a long-term failure to re-cooperate with the world market. “It is a frame of mind that casts doubt on the very assumption that we live in a single international market, and that relatively open borders are a virtue."

Millions of people in developing countries will be moving from the countryside to cities such as Sao Paulo, Johannesburg, and Shanghai in search of careers, housing, and education. Globalization was the major force behind this movement, and only through increased trade and cooperation can these people find their means to live. “It will be globalization that opens the world to them, allowing international agencies to pump in capital, multinational companies to help supply technology and management, and Western universities to transfer knowledge."

Hopefully governments will not lose faith in the world market economy, for every country’s cooperation will eventually save us from the current mess. From the EU to the US to Argentina, every country should value the free-market, and not expect to rely on nationalism for long term growth.

Blog Review 887

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We all agree that monopolies are a bad thing which is why tax competition is such a good thing.

One part of Obama's proposals seems to be to entirely gut the American approach to charitable giving. And replace it with government money.

Yet another proposal that government should simply steal private property.

That's still better than this proposal to abolish the rule of law though.

Is the book industry about to go the way of the music industry?

"There is no threat of deflation in Europe". Netsmith thought that central bankers had actually learned something from the 1930s?

And finally, ever had a day like this?