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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 445

Written by Netsmith | Thursday 13 December 2007

Yes, I was rather surprised , someone sensible praising a Johann Hari article. Fortunately, reconsideration and thus good sense prevails in the comments.

Wat Tyler with another explanation of why we don't want Government spending our money. This time it's the Thames Gateway plans, but the reason is the same, they're simply not very good at getting anything for the spending. 

More tax news from the US : it's a surprisingly progressive tax system they have, much more so than many assume.

Perhaps a little Panglossian but war is set to be eradicated by liberal capitalism? 

Greg Mankiw laid out what he sees as the areas of disagreement between left and right in economics. Here's the Austrian counter

Dan Hannan and EU Referendum on the events in the European Parliament yesterday. At least one person's private film of the episode was attempted to be confiscated: apparently dissention cannot be shown publically.

And finally , this is a very British indeed manner of showing displeasure with Johnny Foreigner. 

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Meta-Blogging (definition: blogging about blogging)

Written by Tim Worstall | Thursday 13 December 2007

Matthew D'Ancona had a piece in The Guardian about political blogs and blogging earlier in the week and he asks the interesting question of whether, as, if and when there's a Tory government again whether the current (perceived perhaps) success of the right-wing blogs will give way to one of the left-wing such. The point being that it is both easier (and more fun!) to oppose and also that when in opposition anything which bashes the rulers is helpful, rather than the more controlled message necessary if you're in power and want to stay there.

If we confine ourselves to the nakedly party political blogs I think he might well be right, that there will at least be attempts to control the message. Unlike D'Ancona I think such attempts at control will probably succeed, too, if we again confine ourselves to the nakedly party political blogs. For those who run them are indeed party political animals and will continue to work, as they do now, for the success of their "tribe".

Where I think his ultimate conclusion, that blogs won't be controlled is correct, is with respect to those that lie outside such party limits. For example, Samizdata make no bones about their virulent dislike of Tories, of social authoritarians just as much as economic ones. I've been known to make the same point myself. It's most unlikely that this blog will roll over to have its belly rubbed just because the blue rosettes got into Number 10 either.

For I think there's a fault line that runs through "political blogging" which isn't in fact properly appreciated. There are those who blog for a specific group, for a party, for their tribe. And there are those who blog in support of certain ideas, or ideals. The former group will indeed be liable to capture by the centre ("don't rock the boat old boy, not now we've got back into power again") and the latter will continue to scream for their cherished goals whichever party is in power.

In a way, I think that might be one of the ways in which blogging has and will in fact change politics: it used to be that if you had a cause you had to join a party, a coalition, even for that cause to get a hearing. Now all and any causes can get that hearing which rather diminishes the importance of party politics itself. 

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Thursday 13 December 2007

The following was recently voted the funniest joke in Belgium:

Why do ducks have webbed feet?

To stamp out fires.

Why do elephants have flat feet?

To stamp out burning ducks.

Do you think something got lost in translation?


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Power lunch with Professor Ian Fells

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Thursday 13 December 2007

fells.jpgNewcastle's Professor Ian Fells was our guest at a Power Lunch here yesterday. As an engineer and energy expert, he's flabbergasted at this week's announcement from the government that every home in Britain will be fed by wind energy by 2020, thanks to a new 25-gigawatt wave of offshore wind turbines. Fells points out that most government announcements on energy since around 2000 have been - well, confused, to put it politely.

Quite so. The chance of the UK reaching their targets of 20 percent renewable energy by 2020, or a 60 percent cut in CO2 by 2050 are roughly zero. Presently we have about 1500 wind turbines generating just 1 percent of our electricity. You will need a lot of new turbines to increase that significantly. And when you do build them, remember that you will also have to strengthen parts of the national grid to cope. And planing authorities don't much like the idea of lots of new pylons crossing the landscape.

When it comes to offshore wind power, the costs are largely unknown, and the kit needed to build on that scale doesn't exist. The trouble with wind power is that quite often, the wind isn't blowing; and when it is, it isn't blowing hard enough to make turbines work at peak efficiency. So you need more turbines than you think to generate the power you need. Fells reckons it means erecting ten turbines a day to meet the government targets, and he can't see how that is feasible. After all, they are each bigger than the London Eye, and that took years to build.

Turbines are great for pumping water in Australia, or charging your batteries in Antarctica. But as a power source for an industrialized country that is completely dependent on electricity – the computers, the waterworks, the tills, the rail signals and just about everything else goes off when the power fails – it's hardly something we can rely on. So why are we making such grand commitments? Well, politicians want to seem green. And with nine different energy ministers in the last decade, it's probably that none of them really understand the costings and engineering. So they throw £1bn of our money each year on renewables that wouldn't exist without that largesse. We should concentrate on security of supply (and new nuclear capacity is probably the cheapest way of doing that) - then the rest will follow.

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Quote of the day

Written by Wordsmith | Thursday 13 December 2007

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.

– Groucho Marx 

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Blog Review 444

Written by Netsmith | Wednesday 12 December 2007

This is rather a grenade being thrown into the crowded climate change room. Climate change isn't happening at all! (Just to note, Netsmith himself is dubious of many of the plans put forward to combat the problem, but not quite this dubious that the problem doesn't exist.)

For example , taxing the externalities of children seems a little over the top (although taxing those who don't keep the little darlin's quiet has its temptations). 

The latest theory about the sub-prime mess gets blown out of the water before it has a chance to spread, thankfully

This piece of lunacy (quite literally lunatic) will fortunately garner a great deal less support in the first place. 

More interestingly lunatic ideas: the supermarkets have just been fined fo conspiring to raise the prices they pay to their suppliers. So, umm, what is the difference between what they were doing and Fair Trade

The entire fund management industry destroyed in one blog post

And finally , this is colloquially known as taking the piss. 

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Thoughts on red tape

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Wednesday 12 December 2007

redtape.jpgOne of the delights of our Power Lunches in Westminster is that you can chat informally and off the record with folk who are prominent in the policy world, and pick up all sorts of insights. A couple of ideas that have sprung up in recent weeks concern regulation. I'm getting more interested in this theme, because we are setting up a new regulatory policy campaign to scrutinize EU and UK regulation to see how it can be streamlined and reduced, It will involve participation by regulators and key regulated industries, and will publish policy agenda reports on how we can actually do what governments say they want to do - cut red tape.

The first thing that came to me, talking to an ex regulator, is how the government now actually has more control over essential industries - such as telephones, rail, water, gas, electricity - than it ever did when they were in public ownership. Before privatization, governments thought that it controlled these great sectors and was running them for the benefit of the public. In fact, they were run by the trade unions for the benefit of their members. Now, however, they are all privatized companies, and better run. When the government, or the regulator, tell them to do something, they might complain, but it still gets done. In the old days, nothing got done and the industry just carried on regardless.

This change is great if you think that governments really do promote the public interest. It's not great if you think they have their own interests to serve, like winning votes. And now, of course, they can get privatized companies to pick up the bill for their social policies and other pet schemes, because they have the regulatory muscle to force them. Indeed, rather than strengthening competition, they have strengthened regulation. And that's my second insight: when you look back, we have less competition in the privatized industries than we had ten years ago - or in the case of some like rail and electricity, less than just five years ago. Competition policy is not going in the right direction.

The third thing that occurred to me is how we all get sucked into this regulatory quicksand. Actually, it's quite easy. Brussels (it usually starts there) proposes some great new all-embracing regulatory initiative. Everyone affected (national governments or companies in the sector) raise their eyes to heaven, but feel that if they just told the Commission to get lost, they'd be regarded as Bad Europeans, so they simply try to water down the proposals as much as possible. The watered down proposals are adopted, so a regulatory and enforcement regime is put into place. That of course likes to justify its own existence, and proposes stiffening the regulations. Those in Brussels who wanted stronger regulation anyway go along with this. How can we ever stop circling the drain?

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Wednesday 12 December 2007

An architect, a surgeon, and an economist were discussing their place in the universe.

The surgeon said, 'Look, we're the most important. God's a surgeon because the very first thing God did was to extract Eve from Adam's rib.'

The architect said, 'No, wait a minute, God is an architect. God made the world in seven days out of chaos.'

The economist smiled, 'And who made the chaos?'

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Climate change and the WHO

Written by Tom Bowman | Wednesday 12 December 2007

The Campaign for Fighting Diseases, run by Philip Stevens (formerly of the ASI), does excellent work on health policy issues in the developing world. Most recently, they have been pointing out the flaws in the World Health Organization's approach to climate change.

Although WHO claims that climate change is responsible for all manner of health threats to the developing world, the evidence suggests this is not the case. Take malaria – contrary to NGO claims the geographical incidence of malaria seems to have little to do with climate, relating more to the wealth of a country than to its temperature. Malaria existed in Europe throughout most of history, and it was not a change in temperature than eradicated it, but economic development and its consequent change in land use.

Another example is natural disasters. We are always hearing that climate change is going to cause more natural disasters and kill lots of people (particularly in the developing world), but deaths from climate related natural disasters have in fact fallen dramatically since the 1920s. This is purely the result of economic growth and the technological advances it has brought.

The point is clear: rising wealth will reduce the incidence of malaria and lessen the human cost of natural disasters in the developing world, regardless of climate change. You would think, then, that the WHO would be doing everything it could to promote the economic development of poor countries. Yet the global emissions caps they advocate would undoubtedly hurt the poor by retarding their economic growth.

The WHO should forget environmentalism and focus on the real barriers to good health in poor countries. The taxes and tariffs many governments impose on medicines would be a good place to start.

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IHS academic writing competition

Written by Dr Madsen Pirie | Wednesday 12 December 2007

The Institute for Humane Studies has launched an essay contest for full-time undergraduate and graduate students.The deadline for submissions is January 31st 2008.

Essays must be a maximum of 2,500 words on any topic that addresses "the conditions essential for prosperity, progress and human flourishing." The prizes are as follows:

First place: $1,000

Second place: $500

Third place: $250

There are separate awards for graduates and undergraduates, and the total prize money will be $4,000. Details at

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