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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

A party for libertarians

Written by Steve Bettison | Monday 04 February 2008

libertarian_snake.jpgAnd not a party in the traditional sense, but in the political. A recent addition to the political landscape (and to some extent a welcome one) is the UK Libertarian Party. It's so newborn that there’s little in the way of policy on their website, but we should be able to safely assume that it will be based on the idea of self-ownership and limited government, and most importantly: freedom! But does the creation of this party mean that the libertarians are moving towards becoming part of the establishment? Or is the establishment becoming more liberal, so that now is the correct time to expose the libertarian ideas to the public on a wider basis?

The most recent exploration of this theme came from the Libertarian Alliance, who've long been at the forefront of libertarianism in Britain. They recently asked the question in the inaugural Chris R. Tame Memorial Prize, "Does Britain need a Libertarian Party?" The winning entry can be read here and the author's answer is that there is no current need for a libertarian party. The author abhors the idea of libertarians becoming involved in the state machinery and argues that rather than squander time becoming part of the problem, libertarians should concentrate their efforts on spreading the ideas of liberty.

The arrival of Nick Clegg and David Cameron to the leadership positions of their respective parties has seen a sprouting of liberal (in its original meaning) ideas, albeit ones still couched in the language of the state. Perhaps a libertarian party can push them towards removing the state from people's everyday lives. It remains to be seen what can be achieved with a libertarian party, since as with any party it will be a mixture of all the creeds of libertarian thought. The problem is assembling policy that is truly libertarian, yet appealing to all within and without.

The surest way to make the state smaller is to explain and champion individual freedom and win the hearts and minds of the many. Hopefully a libertarian party will be able to help in that.

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Quote of the day

Written by Wordsmith | Monday 04 February 2008

The difference between death and taxes is, death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.

– Will Rogers

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Blog Review 496

Written by Netsmith | Sunday 03 February 2008

An interesting point : that £73 billion cost of decommissioning the extant nuclear plants: more than half is from Calder Hall. Not only is that a sunk cost (and thus makes no difference to decisions about the future) it's also something that we're never going to build again. So, again, not something that should weigh upon decisions about future actions.

On the energy front, putting Exxon's profits in perspective. The tax collected upon them is equal to the income tax from an entire 50% of the US population.

Not a bad little political and blogging manifesto from Guido. 

Yet another reason to free schools from centralised control: when they were so free silly pedagogical methods could not be imposed from the centre. 

After the purely local matters, a very interesting idea posited: the US railways are run mainly for freight, the European ones mainly for people. Who has the matter the right way around? 

Indeed, we are truly in an age of unparalleled plenty when people use their leisure time to build leisure saving devices. 

And finally, the campaign against cheap chickens has increased the sales of cheap chickens and while it took a few years, Fraser gets the joke

 

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Trying to understand

Written by Tim Worstall | Sunday 03 February 2008

I have to admit that I'm having trouble understanding the Naomi Klein phenomenon. The part I do understand is her fame as the author of a book called No Logo, which turned her into a global brand name for those complaining about global brands. Fame, yes, but I am suprised to find out that it's not as a disproof of the contention that only the British do irony. Looking at what she actually writes confuses me further:


Even in the wealthy United States, most people earn less than the average income.

We'll assume, in kindness, that she means the mean average (for of course the definition of the median is that 50% minus one person does indeed earn more), but even then it's a very strange statement, one to which the answer is, of course! Income is bounded at the bottom at zero (while it is possible to have a negative income in a year, as I know, we don't actually count incomes in that manner) and not bounded on the up side, the mean average therefore always being higher than the median and thus higher than what the majority earn. Even given this, quite what it has to do with the wealth or not of the US escapes me. 


That means it is in the interest of the majority to vote for politicians promising to redistribute wealth from the top down.

That contention being true only if economies are a zero sum game: only if the amount of income or wealth possible is fixed. As even a cursory glance at historical incomes will show, whether we look 500 years back or 50, this simply isn't true. Thus it would indeed be in the interest of the majority to vote for policies which increased the size of the pie rather than simply reslice it.

It's a quite wonderful example of garbled thinking to my mind, but the real treat comes a little later in the piece. Having implied that the poor were suckered into first the stock market boom and then house buying, both activities which were too risky for them, she then says:


To avoid regulatory scrutiny, the new trend is away from publicly
traded stocks and toward private equity. In November, Nasdaq joined
forces with several private banks, including Goldman Sachs, to form
Portal Alliance, a private-equity stock market open only to investors
with assets upward of $100m. In short order, yesterday's ownership
society has morphed into today's members-only society.

Umm, the Portal Alliance is a market for trading "144a" stocks: those that are deemed too risky to be dealt in by retail investors. The very structure of the market is determined by the Government looking to keep the Mom and Pop investors away from the clutches of the greedy capitalists. And she's complaining?

No, I'm sorry, I simply don't understand. 

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Common Error No. 24

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Sunday 03 February 2008

24. "A market economy offers people no more than a crass, materialistic life."

What market economies offer are choices and opportunities. They allow people to acquire the wealth that brings new things within reach. In some cases these will indeed be material things. If a person can become sufficiently well off to afford decent housing, enough to eat, adequate clothing and shoes, these are all better than their absence.

But a market economy brings more. It allows people to buy the things that make life more rewarding. They can enjoy music, communicate more readily with each other, travel to places previously out of reach. These, too, are the result of material things. They do not represent a crass materialism, however, because they give the chance to improve life's social interactions and its mind-broadening opportunities. It might take material objects to enjoy music and to visit exotic places, but a person with access to them does not lead a crass life in consequence.

Even beyond the personal possessions that can add to life's experiences, the wealth created by a market economy enables people to afford better services such as health an education. It enables them to enrich their surroundings with fine architecture. Better education opens doors to life's opportunities, and good health brings the possibility of activities such as sports and hobbies. They require material goods to become possible, but the opportunities they offer are far from materialistic.

Wealth is a tool. It enables the holder to trade it for the things they value. Some might indeed use it to acquire more possessions; it is their choice. For others it might be for enjoyment of the arts, the theatre and the concert hall. Some might seek satisfaction in beautiful objects such as antiques of works of art. The wealth created by economic growth gives access to all of these, and it allows us to express our personality by the choices we make.

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New global health blog

Written by Tom Bowman | Sunday 03 February 2008

cfd.jpgAlthough it is now widely accepted that markets and their underlying institutions are the best way to organise economic relations between people, certain fields of human activity have remained stubbornly resistant to such thinking.

The provision of healthcare, for example, is hindered throughout the world by the belief that governments should take the driving seat. As a result, the patients in developing countries have to endure decrepit state-run healthcare systems, while the UN and its agencies promote all kinds of failing centrally-planned initiatives to combat diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. All this is lavishly funded by taxpayers in richer countries, whose money often doesn’t make it past the personal bank accounts of corrupt officials in ministries of health.

In order to help shift the global health consensus towards something more practical, the Campaign for Fighting Diseases have started a blog – www.fighitngdiseases.org/blog. It promises to be well worth reading.

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The economy and the town

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Sunday 03 February 2008

There's an interesting point over at the Globalisation Institute. Tim Worstall quotes the fact in the Telegraph that this year for the first time in human history, more of us will live in towns rather than in the country. He rightly points to the abject poverty of rural life in many parts of the world, but quotes the Telegraph article on what urban conditions mean for some.

Shenaz and her husband, Subir, both in their early twenties, made their living sifting household rubbish for metal, squatting on the floor of their shack searching for anything that might be worth a few precious rupees - an iron bed spring, a brass door catch, a few strands of copper wire - anything that had a price with the scrap dealers. Like millions of others, they had come from a village in rural India to scratch a living in the city...

Shenaz and Subir lived on the edge of an open sewer, in a wooden box not much bigger than two large packing cases, actually and metaphorically at the bottom of India's billion-man economic dust-heap. Surely village life was preferable to this, I wondered? Shenaz smiled. "Here we eat every night," she said, "and we even save some money."

That's it in a nutshell. Poor though it is, it's still better than the miserable and precarious lot of many of the world's rural poor. As Tim says,

That peasant life, out in the villages, that hip wading, is even less attractive. Yes, of course, we all want the lives of those slum dwellers to get better: that means more development, more wealth creation, more trade, yes, you've guessed it, more globalisation.

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Quote of the week

Written by Wordsmith | Sunday 03 February 2008

To be governed … is to be watched, inspected, directed, indoctrinated, numbered, estimated, regulated, commanded, controlled, law-driven, preached at, spied upon, censured, checked, valued, enrolled – by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so.

– Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

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Blog Review 495

Written by Netsmith | Saturday 02 February 2008

So why do so many nations insit upon having an integrated steel works? Could it be the same reason we Brits started using iron?

As so often, Frank Field speaks great good sense. 

Tsk: once again the media is allowing the petticoats, the artifice, to show.

A possible reason why the reading of literature is in decline: the way that students are taught to read literature. 

It would appear that at least one part of the climate change scare story is incorrect, the possible slowing or ceasing of the thermo-haline circulation. Far from doing that, increased temperatures should strengthen it. 

Yes, really, in some places you need an auctioneers' licence to sell things on e-Bay. For the good of the consumer, of course, although there's more than a suspicion that the professional auctioneers have something to do with it. 

And finally, a selection of most excellent advertisements. 

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Tax need not be taxing (with a flat tax)

Written by Philip Salter | Saturday 02 February 2008

adamhartdavis.jpgFollowing the online tax return debacle, Adam Hart-Davis, the face of HM Revenue and Customs, questioned the way tax is collected in this country. As well as apologising for the online website crashing on Thursday, he described the VAT system as absurdly complicated and said it was a mistake for Gordon Brown to have amalgamated the Inland Revenue and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise in 2005. That move was analogised at the time in the Financial Times with trying to cross a Terrier with a Retriever.

It is worth considering how we got to this state of affairs. The idea has been to save money by replacing the monolithic human system with a complex computerised one. However, implementing the new system has proved more prodigal than its predecessor, with the added disadvantage of putting many people’s personal data at risk. With all the mistakes too numerous to recount, the government is rethinking its affection for these grand IT projects. Given that that the cost to tax payer of abandoned IT projects alone since 2000 stands at £2 billion, this is clearly too little, years too late.

Private industry chiefs have been critical of the incompetence of this government. Rob Steggles of NTT Europe Online arguing: "If an organisation’s web presence fails to perform at a critical time, both reputation and revenue suffer." However, unlike the private sector, HMRC will not go out of business and as such the chaos continues.

The solution is surely to simplify the tax system. In the same interview Hart-Davis argues for a simpler tax system. He suggests that a flat tax system would be both easier for the taxpayer and will ultimately bring in more revenue. He is absolutely right. With a flat rate of tax, a tax return could be completed in matter of minutes on the size of postcard, abolishing the need and unbounded expense of either a bloated bureaucracy or complex computer system.

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