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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

Blog Review 479

Written by Netsmith | Thursday 17 January 2008

It was ten years ago today : the birth of the alternative online media. Drudge got his first scoop and blogs followed soon after.

The appallingness of government funded neocon propaganda. How dare they use tax money to spout such things?

Worried about the pace of development in the poorer countries of the world? You could do worse than ask McDonald's to set up in them you know?

What should you do when the government insists that your offer to your customers is illegal? Obey the law, of course, but there's a certain joy at Amazon's response to the French government all the same. 

It is indeed something of a problem when the leading Republican candidate is this absurdly protectionist. Should proper liberals actually be thinking about voting Democratic? 

Predicating politics and policies on the idea that American incomes have been stagnant for decades has only one problem: it isn't true. 

And finally, one way bets courtesy of the Finnish Government. 

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The Stonehenge saga

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Thursday 17 January 2008

stonehenge.jpgWhat gives motorists a thrill gives archaeologists - well, some of them - distress. The busy A303 one of the main roads from London to the Southwest of England, goes right past ancient Stonehenge (see picture). It's a magnificent view as you drive past, and I'm sure that many tourists are moved to turn off and go to the visitor centre, which is right next to the stones, and have a look round.

I think that's wonderful, but the opposing point of view says that the stones lose much of their majesty when you have nose-to-tail traffic grinding past - for this is one of the few remaining sections of the A303 that has not been made dual carriageway. Stonehenge isn't just a pile of stones in the middle of nowhere - it lies in a landscape teeming with ancient earthworks, and folk worry that any road widening, or even a diversion, would irretrievably harm that landscape.

There have been dozens of proposals. Twelve years ago a conference proposed a 4km bored tunnel; but the government baulked at the cost, proposing a cut-and-cover alternative (right out because it would destroy a huge area of the ancient landscape). I was glad: a 4km tunnel would have meant denying motorists that magnificent view - not that the state-dependent heritage bodies and professional archaeologists worried about that. Driving by is how thousands of people see Stonehenge, and we should rejoice in that; but the quango-crats can't stand it. They're only interested in getting people immersed (apart from those who see the public as just a complete nuisance).

The government came back with a 2.1km bored tunnel suggestion, which would have preserved something for the motorist to look at, while still removing the traffic right next to the stones. Now it has shelved even that idea, on cost grounds.

This is a mixed blessing. It seems to put paid to English Heritage's plans for a new visitor centre, far away from the stones, which would require people to spend several hours just to visit them. A typical producer-driven solution. The present visitor centre and car park is right beside the stones, and all the archaeology round there is pretty shot anyway, so expanding that would seem a much cheaper and easier solution, which would allow people to go right up to the stones in just a short time.

This whole saga is testimony to what happens when governments and quangos are in charge of things. No doubt we'll still be talking about it a dozen years from now. Why can't we just have a people-driven solution?

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Thursday 17 January 2008

Being a minor internet celebrity, I was asked to appear on BBC Radio's 'Desert Island Disks'. They asked me which book I would like to have alongside me if I were ever marooned somewhere. I had no hesitation in replying: 'How to Build a Boat'.

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Even IPCC scientists are contradicting the 'consensus'

Written by Dr Fred Hansen | Thursday 17 January 2008

A comprehensive new scientific study comparing 22 climate change models with recent actual measurements of the troposphere highlight the clear failure of their predictive accuracy. The group of climate scientists, among them IPCC member John Christy, found new evidence that the computer models are failing because they do not reflect actual causes of climate change.

This is only the latest in a series of studies that have cast systematic doubts on the efficacy of climate modelling. These models form the basis for future global warming predictions and have projected significantly more warming in recent years than has actually occurred. Their main weakness seems to be that they are unable to deal with confounding factors such as cloud cover and water vapour, which is the dominant green house gas.

Satellite data and independent balloon data agree that atmospheric warming trends do not exceed those of the surface. Greenhouse models, on the other hand demand that atmospheric trend values be 2-3 times greater. Satellite observations suggest the greenhouse models ignore negative feedbacks, produced by clouds and by water vapour, that diminish the warming effects of carbon dioxide.

This is a devastating message given that the whole global warming alarmism is almost entirely based on computer climate models. And put simply, the models are completely unable to account for the facts on the ground – like the observed cooling periods in recorded temperatures between 1940 and 1975. The models falsely project fast warming in the middle atmosphere compared to the earth surface - whereas in fact the opposite is happening. And they cannot explain the present cooling of the Antarctic, which forces me to put an extra pullover on when sitting on the balcony of my 30th floor Melbourne apartment with south westerly winds.

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Barriers to trade

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Thursday 17 January 2008

The ASI's Tim Worstall has a good piece on the Globalisation Institute site, covering what he calls "the pernicious idea" that developing countries need to shelter behind tariff barriers to protect their fledgling industries. He quotes from Power and Plenty about the 19th century protectionism in America and Europe.

On balance, it appears that the new transport technologies were so cost-reducing that that their effects swamped those of rising European and American protectionism.

Tim's case is that the overall costs of trade need to be low, especially transport costs, and the fact that they are not low in sub-Saharan Africa helps explain their lackluster performance. It's a good, insightful piece, and well worth reading.


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New watchdog may contain nuts

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Thursday 17 January 2008

nuts.jpgThe Times reports on the formation of a new watchdog to tackle 'nanny state'. The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council, which replaces the Better Regulation Council, is being advertised as a move to 'halt the march of the nanny state'.

Gordon Brown has asked the new body to report directly to him as it looks into problems such as bags of peanuts labelled "may contain nuts" and rules banning conker fights.

Well, you know what that means. It means that the nanny state has just got bigger. No doubt peanut manufacturers will be handed another 10,000 pages of directives telling them the circumstances in which they have to say "may contain nuts" and the circumstances they don't have to, and head teachers will get another 40-ream rulebook on what games are and aren't allowed in the playground (though I'm sure conkers will be fine, as long as goggles and other sensible protective clothing is worn).

We don't want a new quango to roll back the nanny state. We just want less state!

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Blog Review 478

Written by Netsmith | Wednesday 16 January 2008

A fascinating (tax geek alert, this for a certain and not common value of "fascinating") post looking at what rate of flat tax and the associated personal allowance would be needed to replicate the current US income tax yield?

If these really are the economics of large scale wind power systems, why on earth do we have a Government Minister proposing that we build tens of thousands of them? 

Reforming the rights to public protests. Well, what did you think they were going to do? Return freedoms to Parliament Square or reduce freedoms elsewhere in their harmonisations? 

The perils of State funding of political parties, of State control of political parties. Once the money comes from the State then said State gets to decide who is allowed to be a political party (and possibly, thus, who may stand for election).

More political duplicity, otherwise known as do as I say, not as I do. 

And more such : this is why we don't let the government own the printing presses. 

And finally, where does a divorce lawyer advertise if a divorce lawyer isn't allowed to advertise? How about sponsoring the condoms at that hot sheet motel on the edge of town? 

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The Celtic Tiger

Written by Dr Sean Barrett | Wednesday 16 January 2008

ireland.jpgHouse prices in Ireland fell 4.7 percent last year, or 9 percent when you take inflation into account. Some people see that as a big worry, since house building has been a very large chunk of Ireland's heretofore booming economy. And forecasters say that Ireland's 5.1 percent growth rate last year could fall to just 2.1 percent this year - still positive but things will seem very tight after years of rapid expansion. But house price falls are perhaps just one part of the changes that are needed to make Ireland a more competitive economy. Without its own currency any more (Ireland is part of the Eurozone), there are few ways for Ireland to adjust to a downturn. And anyway, in other sectors such as tourism, manufacturing and services, things are still looking not too bad. Agriculture, too, has benefited from the sharp rise in wheat and dairy product prices.

The government, though, might have a problem, having made tax revenues too dependent on housing. Instead of the old rates system and a short-lived property tax plan, Ireland opted for stamp duty at the point of purchase as its means of taxing house property. With prices falling, so does the revenue. And with growth slowing, other taxes are under pressure too. So the government needs to get more of
a grip on public expenditure and the value for money that it gets from public spending: as usual, when things were booming, nobody had to worry too much about being efficient. They do now. But reality is asserting itself, and a benchmarking report on public service pay recommended only a 0.3 percent rise overall.

On the bright side, unemployment in 2007 was just 4.6 percent compared to 17 percent in 1986 before the Celtic Tiger stirred itself, and the number of people in work has doubled over the past two decades. Ireland this year surpassed Switzerland in GDP per head. Norway might be passed in three to four years if sensible policy is pursued. Reinstating the policies that created the Celtic Tiger would take Ireland on a strong growth path in 2009. A return to the high tax-high borrowing policies of the 1970s and early 1980s would undermine growth as it did in Japan, Germany and France.

Ireland's strong ties with the United States should help too, but the essential recipe for success in a small, open economy is simple: invest in education, cut taxes, pursue value for money in public expenditure, deregulate markets, and support world free trade. It's a recipe that would work for Alex Salmond's Scotland just as it has worked in the past for Ireland.

Dr Sean Barrett is a senior lecturer in the Department of Economics at Trinity College, Dublin.

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Wednesday 16 January 2008

A young man was having a blazing row with his parents and cried, "I want excitement, adventure, money and beautiful women. I'll never find them here at home, so I'm leaving. Don't try to stop me!" What that he headed for the door.
His father rose and followed close behind.
"Didn't you hear what I said? I don't want you to try and stop me."
"Who's trying to stop you?" replied his father. "If you wait a minute, I'll come too."

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Common Error No. 10

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Wednesday 16 January 2008

10. "We have to keep universal services in health and education, so that the middle classes will demand their improvement."

nurse.jpgThis is the "theory of imprisoned misery." The supposition behind it is that the middle classes will support nothing unless they stand to gain from it. Its corollary is that as many people as possible should be imprisoned in shoddy and inadequate services in order that the pressure of their protest will improve things.

It underestimates, in the first place, the ability of the middle class to get what they want out of the system. In any universal service, it is not the articulate and self-confident who suffer deprivation; they are quite able to command the scarce resources. The inarticulate and poor lose out in competition with the middle classes. They get worse health and worse education within the state system.

Critics point to their fear of a two-tier system, with an adequate service for the middle classes and a rotten one for the poor. They fail to see that universal state services themselves create a two-tier system.

They also underestimate the readiness of the middle classes to support causes from which they derive no personal benefit. They are the backbone of most charities and the mainstay of most church organizations. The middle classes have campaigned in the past to improve the lot of the poor, and are no different now. They don't need to be imprisoned in a poor service to work for its improvement. On the contrary, if they are imprisoned within it, they might devote their energies to securing an adequate service for themselves first. If people are free to seek alternatives, new standards might be pioneered which others can benefit from.

The real reason for keeping the middle classes in a universal service might be to promote an egalitarian society by preventing them from choosing alternatives. But lack of competition militates against improvement in the services concerned.

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