The police state


The arrest of Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green MP last week – seemingly for a crime no greater than embarrassing the Home Office – shocked Westminster and has slowly grown into a much bigger story than the government would like. Voices from the every part of the political spectrum have condemned the police's heavy-handedness and the gross violation of parliament it entailed. The newspapers and their columnists, from Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun to Jackie Ashley in The Guardian, have joined in too.

I'm glad to see people finally waking up to the vandalism the current government and their servants have wrought on the relationship between the state and the individual. If the Damian Green affair changes the way we view authority, and makes voters less willing to trust the police with whatever powers our authoritarian rulers want to give them, then at least some good will have come of it.

Damian Green's arrest is not the only police scandal causing outrage though.  This story in The Mirror is every bit as appalling:

Lance Corporal Mark Aspinall – highly praised by his commanding officer for bravery against the Taliban in Afghanistan – was set upon by three uniformed officers on his home town High Street. The sickening attack – caught in forensic detail on CCTV – led a crown court judge to label it one of the worst examples of police aggression he had ever seen...

Basically, three policemen mistook Aspinall for someone who had been harassing paramedics in the area and, without provocation, rugby-tackled him and bundled him to the ground in the middle of the road. When he protested, the police started to bang his head against the ground, punch him and, in one excruciating display of brutality repeatedly scrape his face backwards and forwards against the tarmac. Yes, Aspinall was drunk, and, yes, he swore at the police when they set upon him. But that is no excuse for the police officers' hideous thuggery. Watching them on video, I was filled with disgust.

Policing is undoubtedly a difficult job and, despite the rotten public-sector system they work under, I'm sure that most police officers still discharge their duties honourably and to the best of their abilities. Cases like this really make you wonder though. Shame.

Sitting on the dock of the bay


According to the BBC, people in the UK lack community and are thus lonely. You might well ask how the BBC, in conjunction with the University of Sheffield, arrived at these conclusions; well here it is:

The study ranks places using a formula based on the proportion of people in an area who are single, those who live alone, the numbers in private rented accommodation and those who have lived there for less than a year.

BBC Home Editor, Mark Easton, has this to say about the statistics:

My reading is that communities are less well-rooted than they were. And without a strong foundation of people and families who are committed to their neighbourhood, community life suffers.

It is of course quite possible that communities have suffered from the increase in single people living alone for short periods in rented accommodation, but this research does not show this. Instead it just shows that there has been an increase in single people living alone for short periods in rented accommodation. Going on, as the BBC does, to discuss the nature and value of communities actually leads to more questions than answers. After all, what is the value of a community of married, cohabiting homeowners, if they living in the midst of high crime and violence?

The BBC and the University of Sheffield have stretched the statistics beyond even the analysis community, suggesting that what is being measured is loneliness. To present community and loneliness as antonyms is profoundly wrong. Even if these statistics suggested that communities were being eroded (which they clearly don’t), to suggest that without community we are lonely needs more than supposition. Also, loneliness is not in fact being measured, only the status of someone living alone. These are of course very different things. Many take pleasure in the regular withdrawal from the oppression of the group, while others might invite their friends and family over for a beer.

Real exam questions...

"A nuclear power station is to be built. (1) It will provide more employment in the area. But (2) any release of radioactive material would be very dangerous. Which of these two statements argues in favour of siting the nuclear power station in the area?"

GCSE Science Paper

Taken from Terence Kealey's (Adam Institute Senior Fellow in Education) article in The Telegraph.

Blog Review 796


Remember all those lives that were being saved by the smoking ban? All those heart attacks not happening amongst passive smokers? Turns out, to put it politely, that there was a certain amount of untruth being told here.

Everyone's agreed that we need fiscal policy to bring us out of recession. But, umm, has there ever been a peacetime example of fiscal policy bringing us out of recession?

Regulation, externalities, diseconomies of scale and how to stop government from imposing them upon us.

Yes, we've been told this before. The balance of trade doesn't matter for it's not countries that trade but people.

Something that economists didn't see coming: that those banks which said they were passing along risk were in fact holding said risk.

The economists in the new Democratic team don't appear to be all that Democratic really.

And finally, what surfing beach lifeguards can tell us about spontaneous order, the little platoons and the creation of society.

Public choice theory


The essential (and often thought to be rather cynical) point of public choice theory is that politicians and bureaucrats do not do what is good for us, or the citizenry, the country, but what is good for politicians and bureaucrats. This concept is of course rejected by those with a more starry eyed view of the State and those who direct it. Like, perhaps, the great liberal newspapers of the nation....say, The Observer.

Alistair Darling has admitted that he will 'almost certainly' have to deliver a second dose of financial life-support to Britain's ailing economy as soon as next spring if his unprecedented £20bn tax-and-spending package fails to contain the recession. In an exclusive interview with The Observer, the Chancellor conceded that his pre-Christmas VAT cut might not be enough.

An Ipsos-Mori poll for today's Observer confirms public scepticism. Conducted after last Monday's pre-Budget report, it shows no dramatic political benefit for Labour from Darling's move, with the Tories holding on to a solid 11 per cent lead over Labour.

Fascinating really, that a liberal newspaper judges the effect of economic intervention on whether it makes the politician directing such more or less likely to gain re-election. That is, the sort of left liberals who reject public choice theory are judging according to said public choice theory.

Have the politician's actions benefited the politician rather than something more relevant such as, say, benefited the economy, the citizenry or the country?

Trust me, I'm a doctor


What previously was a matter of professional self-regulation is soon to be taken over by new government-regulated bodies. The conduct of GPs, in particular, will soon be subject to much greater bureaucratic scrutiny thanks to pending government legislation. The legislation will enforce the appointment of a ‘responsible officer’ for every doctor’s office in the United Kingdom.

This is all about risk. By comparison: GPs in Germany pay only about 400 Euro per year for professional insurance. British GPs pay as much every month. The best explanation for this huge discrepancy seems to be the strict gatekeeper role of GPs in the UK. Whereas in Germany everybody is eligible to see a specialist of his or her choice, in Britain NHS (and even private) patients need a referral from their GP for each contact with a specialist. This inevitably results in delays for state-of-the-art diagnosis, often leading to unnecessary suffering and postponed treatment. This is certainly the weakest point of the paternalistic NHS system, which incorrectly prides itself on equal access to health care.

Trying to mend this with a validation system overseen by an imposed, personal ‘responsible officer’ for each doctor is likely to make things even worse. GPs managed to retain their basic freedom as self-employed contractors in 1948 when the NHS was set up, but are set to lose as responsibility for their conduct is transferred to a state-regulated officer. Inevitably, doctors will be infantilized in the same way as NHS patients have always been – and patients’ access to specialist care will be limited even further. Because GPs just don’t have the same diagnostic equipment at their disposal as hospital doctors, putting them in charge of specialist referrals is, at best, an imperfect system. But putting government-sanctioned ‘responsible officers’ in charge is even worse - ‘responsible officers’ will not be able to make effective clinical decisions because they will, most likely, not even be trained doctors.

A market-based solution would be to give patients open access to specialist care. They would be happy to exercise their natural responsibility for themselves.

Blog Review 795


While we have of course moved on from thinking that this is all purely about American real estate it is worth noting that the housing bubble was in fact highly geographically concentrated.

A classic case of governmental spending crowding out a private sector competitor.

Another unhappy manner of spending the taxpayers' money.

Puzzled by synthetic CDOs? Here's the simple explanation.

Christmas presents do get stranger every year. Netsmith could get his head around a voucher for a charitable gift, even a goat for Africa, but an abortion voucher?

They said that the press, the newspapers, were biased. And they were right!

And finally, yet another Downfall spoof.

Missing the point on innovation


Over at the Economist blog there's what I regard as a bit of missing the point.

IF AMERICA does not continue to innovate, will its economy continue to grow? Basic growth theory teaches that capital and labour can only take you so far, and that the only factor providing increasing levels of prosperity is new technology. But an article in last week’s business section channels Amar Bhide in wondering if in a globalised economy America need innovate at all.

Innovation typically comes from scientists and engineers. China and India have arguably developed a comparative advantage in those fields. Mr Bhide believes America’s comparative advantage lies in the service sector. If we have a truly integrated global economy why not have India innovate and America provide the financing? That's an uncomfortable idea because traditionally countries that innovate are among the wealthiest. But of course the countries that play catch up often grow the fastest.

I'm really not sure that it matters who does the actual innovating....if we're defining the innovating as the science and engineering which leads to a new product or service. Yes, of course, Nokia and their domination of the mobile phone market is very nice for the people that own it and there are spill over effects into the rest of the Finnish economy. But those things are trivial compared to the value that we the users get out of being able to use mobile phones. That is, after all, why we buy them, because they are valuable to us.

William Nordhaus, in what might be my favourite economics paper of all time, outlined this here.

We conclude that only a minuscule fraction of the social returns from technological advances over the 1948-2001 period was captured by producers, indicating that most of the benefits of technological change are passed on to consumers rather than captured by producers.

It's actually only 2.2 % of the value that goes to the innovators. The rest goes to the users of the products.

Which leads to an interesting policy conclusion. We shouldn't be worrying (or at least, not very much) about subsidising basic research, the creation of new products. Rather, we should be worrying about making sure that the economy is flexible enough that we can swiftly deploy those new ones, whoever they are created by. After all, that's where 97% or more of the wealth creation comes from so that is what we should be concentrating upon.

Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin


Researchers working at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE) at the LSE have released a report suggesting that the government develops a ‘time poverty’ target for parents alongside the existing child poverty target.

Upon discovering that better educated single-mothers are in less ‘time poverty’ the work concludes:

Government support could take a number of forms: regulation, to ensure employers provide adequate time off for employees studying for work-related qualifications; extension of childcare tax credits to cover parents’ study hours as well as paid work; and taking a more long-term view of the value of studying for qualifications in ‘welfare to work’ rules: a qualification beyond basic literacy and numeracy will not necessarily have an immediate payback in terms of employment, but it is an investment for future that in the long run will produce better job opportunities.

The report also suggests that the government set a minimum of 'quality' time parents spend with their children in order to guide policy. More regulations for businesses are unarguably a bad idea. More benefits will lead to perverse incentives and in this financial climate would prove remarkably unpopular. There is even a suggestion to raise the minimum wage. I am not sure what planet this report was written on, but it is not of this world.

Like most of the very worst public policy, the impulse to interfere here is full of good intentions. However, the time that parents spend with their children is a matter that should not be the concern of the government. This is the sacred preserve of the family and any invitation for the state to enter is a most unwelcome one. Like salesmen, once you open the door to the state, there is no getting rid of them.