Blog Review 770


The state of freedom and liberty in Britain today. The police seem to think that wearing a Guy Fawkes mask on Guy Fawkes Day is an offence.

Something else seen in Parliament Square.

A banker explains why he doesn't in fact want government "help".

Regulation is a monopoly of the politicians, so, when regulation has failed, why are we granting the politicians more power?

Odd but compelling.

Tales from a courtroom.

And finally, yes, there was an election. The best piece on what it all means so far.

Sense at last


As expected, the government yesterday decided to allow 'private top-ups' within the NHS. In other words, patients are now going to be allowed to pay privately for additional drugs and treatments, without losing their right to NHS care and having to foot the bill for all of their treatment.

Previously, the government had always put the NHS' soviet-era ideology ahead of the health of patients, arguing that, "co-payments would risk creating a two-tier health service and be in direct contravention with the principles and values of the NHS". In previous blogs, I have described that policy as immoral, irrational, and quite possibly illegal, so I'm glad the government has finally seen sense. I'm still not sure why they needed an official review to tell them it was wrong to actively prevent people from accessing life-saving drugs and treatments, but there you go.

The real shame is that Andrew Lansley, the Tory health spokesman, doesn't seem to see it that way, telling the media, "I find it astonishing frankly, that we seem, the government seems, to be drifting into a system where we’ll end up with a two tier national health service." The Tories' general lack of radicalism on health reform is probably sensible – politically speaking – but standing in the way of genuine progress to score a partisan point is just wrong. For the party of individual choice to speak out against letting people spend their own money on their own health is perverse.

And make no mistake: allowing top-ups is a very definite step in the right direction as far as healthcare reform goes. Firstly, it lets people pay out-of-pocket for things that are too expensive to be provided by the taxpayer – good. Secondly, it will encourage the growth of affordable top-up insurance plans, giving many more people access to those new and expensive drugs. But there's a more important aspect to this decision: it ends the long-running fiction that the state (or rather, the taxpayer) can ever provide everything.

The lasting impact of this decision will hopefully be that the NHS becomes a defined benefit, rather than an open-ended entitlement.

Obama wins


So Obama has won. It was all very much expected. In fact, the outline of this piece was written well before the official result. Still, it was an absorbing race from start to finish.

Voter turnout was exceedingly high and, looking at the footage from across the pond, people are more than content with the new president. In fact, at times people are displaying the kind of fanaticism for him that they used to reserve only for the King (Elvis, not King George III).

Certainly it’s an historic occasion. Forty-five years ago Martin Luther King Jr was writing from Birmingham Jail, following non-violent protests against segregation in Alabama. Water cannons were used. Now America has chosen as its President a man who defines himself as black. As is so often the case, the people of the United States have confounded expectations. Let’s hope this puts us on the path to not even noticing the President’s skin colour.

Stepping back from this significance and ignoring the failures of the Republican Party, it is worth wondering what the hullabaloo is all about. In so many ways George W. Bush has proven to be a remarkably bad President. A significant portion of the support for Obama comes in reaction to Bush. However, the fervour is more than this. It is the 'audacity of hope'.

Hope that the president will heal the economy and the sick, teach all children and offer perfect protection from terrorism and hurricanes. Such is the thesis of the excellent The Cult of Presidency. When the reality of hope kicks in, Obama may suffer the same fate as that first second-coming, Tony Blair. As we found out – things cannot only get better – they can get significantly worse. We live in interesting times.

Freedom 2008


This weekend Students for Freedom! and UCL's Economics and Finance Society are celebrating liberty and individualism with a two-day seminar on the return of freedom to Europe after the fall of communism: one that's absolutely FREE and jam-packed with top speakers.

They are beginning with a protest against socialism, before a series of talks on issues related to the emergence of freedom in eastern Europe.

Confirmed speakers include: 

  • Professor Anthony Evans: Asst. Professor of Economics at European School of Management
  • Kristian Niemietz: Poverty Research Fellow, Institute for Economic Affairs
  • Guy Herbert: General-Secretary of NO2ID
  • Greg Hands MP: MP for Hammersmith and Fulham for Conservatives
  • Gerard Batten MEP: London-wide MEP and London mayoral candidate for UKIP

There's also a free public screening of the Oscar-winning film The Lives of Others, about the Stasi surveillance of East German civilians in the 1980s.

A drinks reception will be held in the Saturday evening, for which a minimum fee covering costs will be charged. The event can be found on facebook – just click here.

Blog Review 769


You know this tax competition thing, that idea that the Statists want to make impossible? Here's why, for it reduces the ability of said Statists to increase taxes.

There's a very good reason why interest rates on mortgages are lower than those on credit cards.

No, the ID card data will never be secure: but then that's not the point of the scheme.

Allowing GM to go bust would free up resources for the more productive parts of the economy.

It's not so much that the rules are mad, it's that the poeple who enforce them are.

Or perhaps just dim: those who do higher degrees in public administration are less intelligent than those who do higher degrees in any other subject.

And finally, the obesity crisis explained.

Pragmatic points


A leader in yesterday's Telegraph struck the right note on the Bank of England's expected interest rate cut this week. It makes a series of points:

Firstly, "sleepy mishandling of interest rates allowed inflation and consumer credit to expand excessively". Indeed: interests rates stayed far too low for far too long, fuelling a credit binge, inflating an asset bubble, and storing up the trouble which has now brought the UK economy to (at best) a standstill.

Secondly, with a recession looming, the Bank of England was too slow to reduce interest rates. This is also true – just as easy lending and widespread mortgage securitization served to increased the money supply, their sudden collapse indicates a severe monetary contraction. The government should not try to re-inflate the economy – painful as it may be, we need a readjustment – but that doesn't mean interest rates shouldn't be cut. Deflation is probably a greater risk than inflation at the moment.

Thirdly, cutting interest rates is rather unfair on savers, since "saving in many high street accounts [already] involves losing money in real terms". This point is too often neglected – why should savers (who have behaved responsibly) lose out because lenders and borrowers (who haven't) have got themselves into trouble? The Telegraph therefore proposes that, as compensation, "the Government should eliminate tax on interest, making saving more attractive and also helping to make London attractive to global depositors, which will strengthen our banks."

So: the Bank of England should cut interest rates, and the government should eliminate the tax system's bias against saving. Sounds like good sense all round.

Confusion 08

  • Single Partisan Ticket (which does not include non-partisan elections or proposals): Republican, Democratic, Green, US Taxpayers, Libertarian, or for the Natural Law Party
  • Presidential: One choice of pair of President & VP candidates from above 6 parties
  • Congressional: A choice from 6 parties for senator, AND 4 for house representative
  • State of Michigan: A choice from 2 house representatives in 2 parties (Rep & Dem)
  • State Board of Education: Select 2 choices from 9 candidates (5 parties)
  • Regent of the University of Michigan: Select 2 choices from 9 candidates (5 parties)
  • Trustee of Michigan State University: Select 2 choices from 9 candidates (5 parties)
  • Governor of Wayne State University: Select 2 choices from 9 candidates (5 parties)
  • County Prosecuting Attorney: Select 1 choice from 1 candidate (Rep)
  • County Sheriff: Select 1 choice from 2 candidates (Rep & Dem)
  • County Clerk: Select 1 choice from 1 candidate (Rep)
  • County Treasurer: Select 1 choice from 1 candidate (Rep)
  • County Drain Commissioner: Select 1 choice from 2 candidates (Rep & Dem)
  • County Surveyor: Write in 1 candidate
  • County Commissioner: Select 1 choice from 1 candidate (Rep)
  • Township Supervisor: Select 1 choice from 2 candidates (Rep & Dem)
  • Township Clerk: Select 1 choice from 1 candidate (Rep)
  • Township Treasurer: Select 1 choice from 2 candidates (Rep & Dem)
  • Township Trustee: Select 2 choices from 2 candidates (Rep)
  • State Supreme Court Justice: Select 1 from 3 ‘non-partisan’ candidates
  • Judge of Court Appeals (Incumbent): Select 2 from 2 candidates (non-partisan)
  • Judge of Court Appeals (Non-incumbent): Select 1 from 2 candidates
  • Judge of Circuit Court: Select 1 from 1 candidate
  • Judge of District Court: Select 1 from 1 candidate
  • Judge of Probate Court: Select 1 from 1 candidate
  • County Community College Board of Trustees: Select 2 from 4 candidates
  • County Community College Board of Trustees (Partial term): Select 1 from 1

And finally, two state proposals to vote YES or NO on:

  • Proposal 08-01: A legislative initiative to permit the use and cultivation of marijuana for specified medical conditions
  • Proposal 08-02: A proposal to amend the state constitution to address human embryo and human embryonic stem cell research in Michigan

It’s that wonderful time of year, again - Election Day! And, as a good citizen, I registered for my absentee ballot.  When it arrived, I showed it to several colleagues (English, French, Canadian, etc), and they all agreed on one point – the ballot was big, puzzling, and overwhelming.

On one ballot, I can vote for everything from US President to township clerk, from US Senator to County Drain Commission, from Education Boards and University Trustees to judges, sheriffs and county surveyors. And then to top it off, there are a couple of ballot initiatives to vote 'yes' or 'no' on. To illustrate, I’ve included all the options citizens are expected to vote for at the bottom of this blog (just click 'read more' to see them).

I guess there are a couple of points to make. Firstly, it's probably a good thing that US voters get a democratic say over so many different areas of government. The contrast with the UK – where so much political power is wielded by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels, Whitehall, and beyond – is stark.

But on the other hand, the average voter can surely not have a clue about the candidates for the majority of these positions. While the democratic process is clearly being exercised, it just confuses most people. And finding out more, frankly, would probably not be a rational use of their time. So they make up their mind based on propaganda, mudslinging, and (frequently biased) media reporting.

Perhaps separating issues onto different ballots would to help reduce the confusion on election day, and hopefully diminish the amount of recounts to come.

Smoke gets in their eyes


Following Scotland, Redbridge council aims to ban smokers from becoming foster carers, to protect children from the effects of passive smoking. The cabinet of Redbridge council, east London, meets today to rule on the proposed ban that would come into force in January 2010.

Michael Stark, cabinet member for children's services argues that "Unlike adults, children have little choice about whether or not to be in a smoky environment so I hope the cabinet will take the decision to limit the harmful effects this drug can have on them."

True, but no child has a choice to be born into their situation. In a world in which the demand for unwanted children is not met by the number adults prepared to care for them, cutting out a vast section of potential foster carers based upon their enjoyment of tobacco will prove a costly mistake.

Given the understandable scarcity of people willing to make the epic commitment of becoming a foster parent, one has to question placing the importance of whether the adult smokes ahead of other qualities. Lest it not be forgotten: “Smoking only kills you if you stick the cigarette in your own mouth. To pretend otherwise is mumbo-jumbo".

Although inspired by an impulse to protect, if Redbridge council go ahead with the ban it would cause untold harm to many vulnerable future children.

UPDATE: The ban was enforced: nothing less than a disgrace.

Blog Review 768


One way of looking at it: it's not that markets are so wonderful, but that governments are so bad.

As in this idea that we should trust all the details of our identities to such a government. Yes, they've lost data again. Lots of it. Lots and lots.

Governments also tend to not tell us the truth. Not really the truth that is.

They also always regulate for the last crisis.

Which is rather why some businesses are very keen not to be absorbed by such a government.

A response to those calling for a windfall tax: the oil companies already pay more in tax than they make in profits.

And finally, are mortgages like the porn industry?