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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 441

Written by Netsmith | Sunday 09 December 2007

As ever, the problem with making sophisticated economic arguments. Do politicians agree with your subtlety, understand the nuances, or are they simply appropriating your logic to do the wrong thing?

So what do actual climate scientists think of the Bali Declaration? Something of a curate's egg it appears. 

Who actually is it that homeschools their children

Guido seems to have all of the important news today about Mr. Abrahams

This idea of paying councillors when they're voted out of office . Wouldn't this simply be rewarding failure, something so decried when it happens in business? 

A nice three word movie review: although one which, to be honest, could be written without actually having seen the movie in question. 

And finally , aren't MPs supposed to drool over present constituents, rather than potential future ones? Or is this legitimate development of the papparazzi industry?

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Ghasted flabbers and smacked gobs

Written by Tim Worstall | Sunday 09 December 2007

homesec.jpgVarious people are being uncomplimentary about the latest ideas for the abolition of freedom detention without trial as announced: constitutionally illiterate for example :

Proposals to extend the limit for pre-charge detention to 42 days are "constitutionally illiterate" as well as dangerous, critics warned yesterday, because proper parliamentary scrutiny would confuse the roles of MPs and judges.

The former attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, warned that such examination by MPs would be difficult, adding: "I think parliamentary scrutiny is hugely important and one of the great things we have in this country. But it isn't necessarily the right way to deal with individual cases, while they are going on."

At heart the idea is that, in order to make sure that someone isn't either released or charged (that is, they can continue to be kept in jail despite being, legally, entirely innocent), the Home Secretary should ask MPs for permission to keep an individual in custody for further questioning. 

I'm sorry? Politicians hold a vote as to whether a specific individual should be denied his freedom? That's dangerously close to a Bill of Attainder: further, it betrays a gobsmackingly awful understanding of what the "rule of law" actually means. Certainly, politicians get to decide what the law is but it then applies, evenhandedly, to all of us. For politicians to vote on whether that evenhandedness exists or not in individual cases replaces the rule of law with the rule of the mob, not, perhaps, a path we want to go any further down.

I'm reminded of Larry Flynt's words (and I paraphrase) after winning a First Amendment case in the US. If the law protects bastards like me you can be sure that it will protect you too.

Imagine, for a moment, a purely hypothetical: we have a one eyed, hook handed, benefits gobbling, bigamously married preacher, one who incites violence and is of dubious status as a British citizen (yes, this is a hypothetical). The Home Secretary asks for an extension of his detention. Does anyone really think that MPs will vote their consciences? On either the balance of probabilities or beyond reasonable doubt? Or will it be the Whips, or, worse, The Sun leader column that decides whether he continues to be denied his freedom?

And if the law will not protect him from politicians seeking votes, will it protect you? 

I'm entirely flabberghasted that (even) the current Home Secretary could think this an advance in freedom, liberty or security. 

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Sunday 09 December 2007

A blonde was playing Trivial Pursuit one night.

It was her turn, she rolled the dice and she landed on "Science & Nature".

Her question was, "If you are in a vacuum and someone calls your name, can you hear it?"

She thought for a time and then asked, "Is it on or off?"

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When it s not funny any more

Written by Rachel Patterson | Sunday 09 December 2007

franken2.jpgCommitted to a meritocratic society, many States in America allow nearly anyone with the filing fee and handful of supporters to run for office. This is, of course how a body-building actor and a professional wrestler filled the governorships of California and Minnesota.

In 2008, comedians have taken over as the joke candidates, as Al Franken becomes increasingly serious in his bid for Senator in Minnesota and Steven Colbert’s short presidential campaign dies in South Carolina. Both men, comedians and commentators adored by the left, began their campaigns mocking the process, but ambiguous about their true intentions. Colbert feigned seriousness until the end, but Franken has begun to act like a real candidate and looks more like a serious candidate and threat to Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. However, as he picks up the traits of a classic candidate, one wonders: has Franken taken his candidacy to this level to further mock the others, or is he now seriously considering himself as running for office and unfortunately slipped into the characteristics he once so mocked?

Nevertheless, people frustrated with government originally loved Colbert and Franken because they mocked the process. Once comedians actually join in the fray, they lose their appeal. As Franken’s candidacy becomes more viable and he slips into the traditional candidate image, what more does he have to offer the people?

Support for those who mock the process show the frustration and dissatisfaction of most people with government administration. Comedians are meant to continually poke leaders with a stick, not become them. An attempt like Franken’s shows the problems inherent to government, that even the most stinging commentators will fall in line with the election and governing machine when placed in the position. In reality, the process needs its commentators, because it's so difficult to check the power of government from inside.

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Farewell to the ASI

Written by Rachel Patterson | Sunday 09 December 2007

rachel.jpgAfter four months here, the time has come to say goodbye to the ASI and return home to the US. Working here has been quite the experience and of what I remember, I'll never forget. I will certainly miss the guys in the office and the slice of English culture I've gotten to know.

I've had a fantastic time exploring London, but now I'm ready to return to small town life in Walla Walla, Washington and complete my undergraduate work at Whitman College. I'm especially looking forward to Senior year when I will stop paying rent on my house and simply take up residence in the library as I attempt to finish my thesis.

Good luck to the ASI and to everyone here!

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Blog Review 440

Written by Netsmith | Saturday 08 December 2007

A fascinating conversation with Arthur Laffer about the Laffer Curve. Yes, it is both obviously true and a little more complex than is often assumed.

Correcting unsound ideas about other economists: no, Adam Smith was not laissez faire

This is supposedly about boxing but actually has more to do with the Brits abroad and interactions with Johnny Foreigner than anything else. 

More blog news from America. Netsmith agrees with Dizzy here, whoever invented that phrase should be fired

Extremely depressing news about fisheries . At least some politicians have managed to cotton on to the problem: but there's not going to be any action towards the obvious solution. 

No, this might not have been the best idea about food suggestions for the holiday season. 

And finally , film ideas that really were so bad that they didn't get made. 


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High taxes don't pay

Written by Steve Bettison | Saturday 08 December 2007

Denmark is often looked at as a society that is somewhat fairer and more equal than ours. This view is mainly due to an economic system fundamentally based on very high levels of taxation and generous welfare payments. However, the Danish system is sometimes referred to as "flexicurity" since it has a uniquely liberal approach to hiring and firing which has allowed the country to produce growth figures of some 3.5 percent in 2006 whilst approaching full employment. Nonetheless, this approach still isn't without its problems. There seems now to be a brain drain occurring, with Denmark having to face up to European (as well as global) tax competition.

In key areas such as the highly skilled they are suffering from a shortage. This is highlighted by The Confederation of Danish Industries' estimation that through the end of 2005, the workforce had shrunk by around 19,000 Danes, mainly through them leaving the country. This outflow is not being matched by the inflow of foreign workers, which tends to lower levels of skill. One of the key reasons for this brain drain is the high taxation that highly skilled workers have to pay to keep the lavish welfare system going. Faced with paying 63 percent of their own income to the government, many understandably decide to leave and take advantage of the lower rates around Europe.

Unless something changes, the Danes may be facing growth figures of only around 1 percent for the 5 years from 2009 onwards. The obvious approach to this problem is to lower the tax rates to more competitive levels, attracting Danes back and enticing in others as well. The Danish only need to look to London to see how lower taxation on high earners can promote growth. Alternatively though, we could always ship over those on the left who love the Scandinavian model of taxation and welfare. Then they can pay the tax bills.

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Joke of the Day

Written by Jokesmith | Saturday 08 December 2007

When I was younger I hated going to weddings. It seemed that all of my aunts and the grandmotherly types used to come up to me, poking me in the ribs and cackling, telling me, 'You're next.'

They stopped doing that when I started doing the same thing to them at funerals.

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Power lunch with Barbara Young

Written by Dr Eamonn Butler | Saturday 08 December 2007

barbara_young.jpgBarbara Young, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, was our guest at a Power Lunch in Westminster this week. She's had a difficult few months dealing with the physical and political results of widespread flooding in the UK – two major inundations in just a few months.

By any standard, the floods were unusually bad - maybe a one in a hundred years event. Though the worry is that they might get more frequent due to climate change. But one in a hundred years events do occur (roughly every hundred years or so, in fact) and you can't necessarily say that they herald a change. A hurricane just a few years back devastated New Orleans, and everyone started talking about climate change. But even in the 1960s, forecasters knew that a hurricane of a certain strength and a certain trajectory would do that. There were plenty of hurricanes over the next forty years, but only one got lucky. A sign of climate change? Hardly. And don't forget that a hurricane devastated Galveston a century earlier.

But if things really are changing, we are in a mess. One of the things that made the floods so devastating was that nobody seems able to take charge. The water companies control the pipes and sewers. Local authorities are in charge of logistics. The Environment Agency has other functions. When there is a national emergency, we could use smoother and more co-ordinated systems.

Meanwhile, the 55,000 flooded houses that are being refurbished after the floods are being restored to - their original condition. Why don't the insurers use it as an opportunity to flood-proof them while they're about it? Maybe it's because Barbara Young's government colleagues have regulated them all senseless.

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Book of the week

Written by Booksmith | Saturday 08 December 2007

ursulas_story.jpgIf you need a stocking-filler, look no further than Model turned Tory Leader's Wife turned Novelist Sandra Howard. Well, not her personally, but her new novel Ursula's Story (usually £12.99, our price £9.74+P&P). Ursula's ex-husband is all over the tabloids as he marries a government minister. Her young children are excited at they meet half the cabinet. But what effect does it all really have on them, and can she get them through it?

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