Blog Review 847


Civilisiation is undone. At least the online subset of it. There's now more money in politics than there is in porn.

A reminder of what a certain political approach to the real world always seems to result in.

Two interesting pieces from the OECD. High taxes reduce productivity and high taxes do have Laffer Curve effects.

A bold statement about climate change and quite possible a true one as well.

All too often plausible theories turn out not to be all that plausible when you really study them.

One reason many economist fall into error is that not many economists have actually read Adam Smith.

And finally, not new but now it's official.

Three-line whip: the latest in the expenses disgrace


The Prime Minister is going to use the three-line whip to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act. This is the latest move in the ongoing expenses disgrace.

When writing about this previously, I suggested that there was little appetite among MPs across the political spectrum to disclose their receipts to public scrutiny. In reply, a commenter suggested that I was wrong because the Conservative Party lwere opposed to the plan. Indeed, both the opposition Parties are critical of the government on this.

However, this opposition is on the whole political posturing. An Early Day Motion by Jo Swinton has so far received only 32 signatures. Those signed up are mostly principled individuals (such as Frank Field), opposed to restrictions on us knowing what our money is being spent on. Tomorrow's vote will pass and any pretence of accountability will be lost.

LATEST: Brown has backed down. Certainly good news and a lot of credit should go to the work of

Robert Burns, Poems, Burns Suppers, Haggis – and Adam Smith


This Sunday, 25 January, marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns (1759-96), Scotland's most celebrated poet. He gave us poems and songs such us O, my Luve's like a red, red rose, and Comin Thro' the Rye, not to mention the Address to a Haggis (which is traditionally eaten at Burns Suppers at this time of year to honour his birth). He wrote in the Lowland dialect and is remembered for phrases like "Oh wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us," "A man's a man for a' that." and (to a mouse) "We sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie."

The spin-doctors of the time hailed Burns as the "Poet Ploughman" and he did indeed work on the land in his native Ayrshire.. But he was well educated, at home, and at a local school. At that time, and particularly in Scotland, even the poorest families strived to give their children the best education they could afford – something that is often forgotten today amid the propaganda for universal state education.

Probably before his twenties, indeed, he had already read Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published just a few weeks after Burns was born. Smith's humanity, evident in this work, obviously struck a chord in the young Burns; the book was, he wrote, a great influence on his life. He admired Smith, and wrote of The Wealth of Nations, "I could not have given any mere man credit for half the intelligence Mr Smith discovers in his book." Like Burns, Smith was of course also fascinated with language, and Burns must have known of Smith's lectures on rhetoric and belles lettres, even though these were not published until after Smith's death.

Smith too appreciated Burns's talent, and ordered an advance copy of his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. When Smith was appointed a Scottish Commissioner of Customs, he was able to recommend Burns as a Customs Officer in Dumfries – and probably did. But it seems that the two never met. Burns did arrange to pay a visit to Smith in 1787. But by that time, Smith was unwell (he died in 1790) and had to leave the day before to seek medical treatment.

Power Lunch with Grant Shapps


Grant Shapps MP, the shadow housing minister, was our guest at a Power Lunch in Westminster yesterday. He seems in no doubt that much of the rise in house prices over the last few years is down to a fake boom engineered by Gordon Brown, with some help from the US politicians and financial authorities too. 

And certainly, Brown make the Bank of England focus on an inflation measure that stripped out housing costs. So while house prices doubled, they had to sit back and ignore the fact.

House prices will undoubtedly fall a lot further as Brown's inflationary boom works itself out. So what is housing going to look like then? Like me, Shapps would like it to be a sector that is driven far more by local market returns and incentives, rather than on clunky top-down decisions by ministers to build three million homes, or politicians sticking pins in a map and declaring them the sites for new eco-towns, whether local people want them or not.

We need a system in which local people get the benefits of development, and not just their costs. At present, builders face the so-called 'Section 106' process, in which they have to agree to make a third (in London, Ken Livingstone wanted it to be a half ) of what they build 'affordable'. But that just raises the cost of the rest, and it doesn't help people who are already resident there. If builders are going to face this sort of development tax, it should go to purposes that the local community actually wants – tidying up the high street, for example, or upgrading the general infrastructure, or even reducing the council tax. Then local councillors and residents would see gains from new development, instead of just resisting it.

Blog Review 846


It's an old old story. If you're facing string economic pressures then something has to give. Interest rates and exchange rates work. But when changes in those are not available, you have to fall back on changes and reductions in nominal wages (as well as changes in real wages). Such changes are not a pretty sight in democratic nations.

The latest bank bailout is Her Majesty's version of AIG. Like it worked so well when it was just AIG without  Her Maj, right?

So do we want nationalisation or nationalisation with due process?

After all, property rights are essential not just to liberty but to any pretence of a functioning economy.

You don't have to be entirely an Austrian to see that there are merits to certain Austrian ways of looking at events.

Just how independent is a "charity" with an income of £500,000 a year, less than £5,000 of which comes from voluntary donations?

And finally, past thoughts on geoengineering.

Obama: The politics of hope


The sycophancy surrounding yesterday’s concert in honour of Obama was quite beyond what any sane person should be able to stand. Even if you are not familiar with the music below, the titles will give you a clue to the theme of the evening, celebrities worshiping at the feet of the new President:

  • “Higher Ground" - Usher, Shakira and Stevie Wonder
  • "A Change Is Gonna Come" - Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi
  • "Lean on Me" - Mary J. Blige with Herbie Hancock
  • "One Love" - Will.I.Am and Sheryl Crow
  • "The Rising" - Bruce Springsteen
  • "Shower the People" - James Taylor, John Legend and Jennifer Nettles
  • "Pride (In the Name of Love)" - U2

Let it not be forgotten that the man that stands before you is a politician. Celebrity has its place, but surely not here. It is a sad reflection on many people in the world that they are investing so much hope in one man, charming as he undoubtedly is. Ronald Reagan - who was as far as politicians go, as good as it gets – made this offhand comment that should be borne in mind: “Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first." He really did not go far enough. After all, the oldest profession is usually a free contact between two consenting individuals, whereas the second is the forced consent of the majority upon the individual with the small recompense of a vote every few years.

The fun police


Last night More4 aired their latest documentary: ‘The Fun Police’. The programme followed a number of Health & Safety officers on their daily routines. Although the essence of the documentary was light-hearted entertainment, dryly mocking the characters being filmed, in truth it exposed serious inefficiencies and losses caused by health and safety regulation.

One scene showed an officer going to a small, independent workshop. He walked in and after a short inspection declared that the manager would have to stop using two large cutting machines –if he refused, he was threatended with prosecution. The look of shock and disbelief on the owners face was in stark contrast to the lack of regard and respect the Health & Safety official showed towards his business and employees. Small firms are facing tough times. By enforcing such regulation so stringently, the government isn't helping.

The Fun Police also showed the excessive resources the government wastes on regulation such as health and safety. At one point, an H&S officer wanted to know what glues were used in a local nail parlours (as some glues have been banned in the US), despite the glues still being legal in the UK. She entered one parlour loudly declaring that she was a H&S officer in front of numerous customers. When she was greeted with a less-than-impressed manager she began to threaten him with a legal action – all this was unnecessary and totally at the cost to the taxpayer.

The absurdity of it all was illustrated perfectly by a traditional village donkey show where children could no longer ride the donkeys; instead, the children were replaced with inflatable toys – all in the name of regulation. Increasingly, it is clear that government seems hell-bent on restricting both our businesses and our fun.

Flying high


altTheir heads rose from amongst the manure strewn cabbage patch as the rumbling sounds grew ever louder. The bright shiny tubes ascended to the heavens.  Distracted from their picnic on the heath by the disturbance, Islington's middle classes were under threat. Both of these groups have found a common ground. They hate the idea of Heathrow expanding. The former because they believe that their cabbages will wilt. The latter,  wealthy enough to travel regardless of cost, are tangled in a web of armchair environmentalism.

What of one of the common claims that it will drastically increase carbon dioxide emissions? Well as things stand, the UK’s total aviation emissions (including non-UK flights, 2006 figures) stands at 6.4%, or 36  million tonnes. To put this into perspective, that’s 0.128% of the total global COs emissions. Even if one runway increases aviation’s carbon dioxide output by 100% it will stand at a quarter of a percent of the total global output. Over the next decades aeroplanes are destined to become quieter (excepting the A380) and cleaner, as airlines respond to demand from users, airlines and people on the ground.

We now have to suffer at the hands of their crass stunts for the next few years as billions of our money is wasted on attempting to achieve the building of a runway.

Blog Review 845


It isn't quite true to say that a bank which is insolvent has no value. Strange thought, but true all the same.

We'll have an inaugural speech tomorrow and there will be many ooohs and aahs. Here's Milton Friedman's response to an earlier such speech which got a lot of such adulation.

The perils of this libertarian paternalism.

Apparently simple economics is beyond the ken of our own bureaucratic paternalists.

The joys of fiscal stimulus. We've had at least three such stimuli in the past 8 years: guess how well they worked out?

A site that you really do want to contribute to. Keeping track of those charities which are simply mouthpieces for government propaganda.

And finally, fare thee well, Tony Hart.