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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

Cigarettes or Snus? They decide...

Written by Philip Salter | Sunday 13 January 2008

snus.jpgRichard Tomkins article in last weekend's Financial Times makes explicit that the various assaults on the act of smoking have not stopped people from lighting up. The article goes on to map out the various problems facing policy makers in trying to obstruct people from smoking.

The problem with the article is that it falls into the trap as many others on this issue. It follows the illogic of the public health agenda in assuming that the government is best placed to determine whether an individual should decide to smoke. This thinking echoes the Communist paradigm of false consciousness, in its belief that the people are blind to the "truth" and must therefore have their lives decided for them. Whereas, in the real world people smoke for a plethora of personal reasons and should be allowed to continue without a government led financial and moral tirade. Personally, I smoke to relax each month upon learning how much tax the government is taking; then once more to cope with the level I‘m taxed on my cigarettes.

In the same article, attention is also drawn to the potential of Snus, a moist powder tobacco product that is consumed by placing it under the upper lip for extended periods of time. It has been shown conclusively to be a healthier intake of nicotine than cigarettes. So, will the market offer consumers the choice of a healthier nicotine intake, if they so wish? Alas, no. The reason being that it is banned by European Law in an attempt to stop people smoking. Once again, the individual is being refused his or her right to choose how to live, healthy or unhealthy.

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Reverting to type?

Written by Steve Bettison | Sunday 13 January 2008

sarkozy.jpgIt's not taken long for President Sarkozy to resort to the age old practice of taxing the hardworking of France. His latest initiative, part of his "policy of civilisation", is to tax the revenues of the private broadcasting channels' advertising streams as well as revenues generated by internet access and mobile phone technology. This would allow the two public broadcasting channels to rid themselves of advertising and also free up the £598 million they previously earned in this way.

Frankly, it is about time all politicians set free "public broadcasting" and let it pay for itself. For it to be truly free and publicly owned it should take on the form of a non-profit organization funded by the donations of the watching public. Its funding revenues could be sourced in a similar vein to that thin slice of money raised from telethons or pledge drives that the American PBS channel utilises as a top up to its own government funding. Or, as the earnings of the French channels show, they could take advertising to pay for themselves. Whether a channel has advertising or not is increasingly irrelevant in the modern times of choice. It's the content that counts. And channels that provide poor content only have themselves to blame when the viewers switch over.

Mr Sarkozy is merely attempting to dress up a tax hike on the whole of France. It should be economically obvious that the tax rises, "no matter how infinitesimal", are passed down the financial chain to the consumers through higher charges. It may seem to the French President that he only taxing that most hated of entities in France, the private company, but in reality he is taxing the man on street. Could it be that Mr Sarkozy is the same as every other French President? Both publicly and privately...

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Blog Review 474

Written by Netsmith | Saturday 12 January 2008

Yes, this idea of extra education vouchers for disadvantaged pupils sounds sensible. But shouldn't we simply have vouchers for all pupils as well?

It might actually be true that the gender gap is caused by capitalism. Richer countries show greater sex differences in personality traits than poor ones. And we all know that only capitalism creates wealth... 

So just what is the appropriate amount of outsourcing to do, the right amount of insourcing? Ronald Coase had the answer and here's a good precis for those who don't want to read the original. 

Wondrous! Passing a law that insists that business must do what another law makes it illegal for them to do. 

Absolutely so! Adam Smith's writings and suggestions were a great deal more subtle than the cardboard cutout presented by his detractors.

At present this is still a little uncertain but...it looks like ID cards will be a European Union competence, not a Westminster one (ie, they decide whether we get them, not us). 

And finally, how The Guardian Leader columns are written and Wikipedia's lamest edit wars.  

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Common Error No. 7

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Saturday 12 January 2008

7. "True socialism has never been tried."

Neither has 'true' capitalism. If it was capitalism that has been tried in capitalist countries, then it was socialism that was tried in socialist ones. We compare like with like. Either we talk about the record of both capitalism and socialism in the real world, with all its compromises and imperfections, or we talk about some theoretical ideal of what each might be, if only the world and the people in it were different.

Too often would-be socialists want to compare capitalism in practice with some idea they have of what a socialist utopia might be like. The truth is that socialism was tried in many countries in different forms and had a deplorable record in all of them. It was characterized by suffering, shortages and the suppression of human freedom. In most cases it was accompanied by mass murder.

This is no accident of a revolution betrayed, but an inherent flaw in the idea itself. It seeks to make men and women into something they are not and do not want to be. It seeks to make them conform to the socialist's vision of what he or she thinks they ought to be. Since real men and women are self-motivated and have their own desires and preferences, in a socialist state they must be forced to behave differently. Compulsion is thus at the very core of socialism.

Capitalism, with its free markets and free choices has, for all its warts, proved more successful, more efficient and more humane. It delivers the goods far better than do socialist economies, and it manages to do so while allowing a far greater range of freedoms. It goes with political freedoms, free media and freedom of association, employment and travel, all of which are denied in socialist countries.

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Joke of the day

Written by Jokesmith | Saturday 12 January 2008

A man joined a dating agency and went out on plenty of dates all of which didn't work out.

He went back to the woman who ran the agency and said: "How you got someone on your books who doesn't care what I look like or what job I have and has a nice, big pair of breasts?"

The woman checked on her computer and said: "Actually, we do have one, but unfortunately its you."

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Leave the touts alone

Written by Steve Bettison | Saturday 12 January 2008

touts.jpgNever depend on common sense from politicians; it's not their strength. But in rejecting the idea of a ban on secondary online ticket sales by both touts and bona fide organizations the Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee has come close to showing something akin to sense. While their criticism of the rogue elements of the ticket touting world is justifiable, they are right to ignore those calling for a levy on secondary ticket sales.

The entertainment industry should provide solutions to the problems of its own creation and desist in seeking government intervention. In attempting to squeeze more cash out of the punters through a further levy they are merely trying to keep their up-front ticket prices artificially low.

Within each segment of the entertainment industry, from sport to music, through to such things as opera, ballet and musicals, each has its own individual economy; yet touts appear regardless. The touts may have purchased tickets and be looking to sell for a profit, perhaps cashing in on sold out shows and the increased demand upon a scarce resource or they may be selling on the tickets of those who couldn't attend. Either way all the tickets have been legally purchased from the seller, so the seller should have maximised their profit from the event, in which case what happens to the ticket after that point is irrelevant.

The under-pricing of tickets creates an unnatural scarcity which is reflected in the prices paid to ticket touts. We should leave the touts alone, and start suggesting that the producers and entertainers charge the real market value of their product. They will know when they've succeeded in this – the touts will only ever be able to garner face value prices for the tickets in their hands.

And for those that can't afford the real prices, the providers should find a way of redistributing the wealth within the prices they ask.

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The welfare of chickens

Written by Linda Whetstone | Saturday 12 January 2008

chicken.jpgMinisters confirmed this week that battery hen cages will be banned in Britain by 2012. UK Environment secretary Hilary Benn described the move as "long overdue".

Maybe. But I certainly thought that battery cages for chickens had been banned some time ago. When my own father, Antony Fisher, raised chickens back in the 1960s, they were not kept in cages even then. They were kept in what is called deep litter. They were on shavings bedding, loose in huge buildings so they could move around and scratch in their bedding as they do naturally. True, their space was limited, but it was infinitely better than a life in battery cages (which are only used for egg-laying chickens anyway).

None of us, including farmers, want to see animals kept in cruel conditions. In richer countries like ours, we can afford better conditions for our animals, but then our farmers find themselves undercut by foreign producers who keep their animals in conditions that have been banned here years ago. So overall, sadly, the number of animals kept in bad conditions has not changed.

It's possible that technology will change this. We now can - and do - track the entire life history of cattle and other animals, so we know the conditions they were raised in. The same might be true of chickens. Of course, it costs money to be sure of the source of any agricultural product, and many families are more concerned with the price of their food, than how it was produced. There are human needs in this equation too. One thing is for certain, though - government regulation is rather less likely to promote animal welfare than is a market driven by concerned human beings.

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Blog Review 473

Written by Netsmith | Friday 11 January 2008

An interesting list which informs the decision to go for nuclear. With the plants closing down, there really seems to be no choice.

More to the point on climate change. Those eeevil denialists have received how much in comparison to Greenpeace over the years? 

One simple way to sort out the mess of the welfare state. Of course, it would require leaving the European Union for the distinction between "British" and "EU" citizen is not allowed in the way necessary.

Using the techniques from Moneyball and its analysis of baseball we can now reveal that the greatest ever cricketer was SF Barnes. Definitely not Don Bradman. Shush, don't tell the Aussies.

Why we should support Tony Blair's new job. If people can get rich leaving British politics, perhaps more will leave British politics? 

On American politics: the source of the Ron Paul letters is revealed (and yes, that headliine is a ghastly pun. Shame!)

And finally, for a slow Friday afternoon, extreme hangman. 

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The trouble with oil

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Friday 11 January 2008

oil.jpgShould we be worried that the price of oil is over $100? Of course, dollars aren't worth very much these days, so the price is illusory. But it's still high. In the 1970s, when the oil price quadrupled overnight (but that's government cartels for you), the shock to the developed economies was enormous. The current price rise is more down to markets - like strong demand from China - but still alarms many people.

However, high oil prices make it worthwhile to invest in other sources of energy such as solar, wave, and wind power. (So why, you may rightly ask, do government feel they have to subsidize such alternatives?)
Higher oil prices induce consumers to cut back - to install more efficient domestic boilers and move to lighter, more fuel-efficient cars, to turn down the thermostat a notch, or to car-pool to work.

And high prices make it worth looking for more oil - which exists in sands and shale all over the place. And even the Middle East, which has 70 percent of known oil reserves, it relatively unexplored. Only 3 percent of the world's oil exploration has occurred there, according to Pete Geddes of the Foundation for Research on Economics & the Environment. Fewer than 100 new wells were drilled in the Persian Gulf between 1995 and 2004, compared with 15,700 in the United States (which has very much leaner reserves). And apart from the North Sea and a few other places, hardly any of the world's ocean floor is explored at all.

The trouble with oil is that 90 percent of it is controlled by non-democratic governments. It's not a market at all. And the existing producers have every incentive to keep the price up, and no incentive for new exploration. The only answer to the world's energy needs is to create an oil market - which can't happen until democracy and private enterprise is spread much more widely around the planet.

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Joke of the day

Written by Jokesmith | Friday 11 January 2008

How come America has to choose from just two people to run for president but 50 for Miss America?

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