Blog Review 799


Turn the argument around. Instead of asking whether we should spend 1% of GDP on (a highly dubious, cost wise) insurance pland against climate change, ask what would be the best insurance scheme for 1% of GDP?

More pointers to a failure of regulation. Turns out the Government did indeed have figures showing how bad things were getting in advance.

It's not just in the UK that the public sector fat cats' pensions are unfunded.

Why it isn't in fact the end of the world. At least, not yet it isn't.

Sadly, while we'd really like to know what to do now we're still arguing over what happened 75 years ago.

Bureaucracy in action. The FSA is shouting at the Halifax for doing something that the FSA insisted the Halifax did.

And finally, it's grim oop north.

Good news for patients


According to the BBC, the number of NHS patients choosing to take their public funding to a private hospital (on the basis that the private provider matches the NHS price) has risen ten-fold in the last year or so, to more than 3,500 a month.

There is an obvious reason for that. Private providers, who are motivated by profit and whose livelihood depends on attracting more customers, are far more attentive to patient needs than the NHS monopoly. No waiting lists, private rooms, clean wards, more communication between patients and clinicians – in other words, a better experience all round. And at no additional cost too!

You might think that everyone would consider this a good thing, but unfortunately you would be wrong. Just read the BBC article I linked to above, the implicitly negative slant jumps off the page every bit as much as the organization's left-wing bias. Take the first paragraph as an example: "Thousands of patients a month in England are using a government reform to get what is effectively private treatment paid for by the taxpayer."

Couldn't they just have said, "Thousands of English patients are now getting better treatment at no additional cost to the taxpayer", instead?

And then we get Jacky Davis of the British Medical Association saying, "This is money that is being lost from the NHS. That can compromise services and patients should be told that by going private in this way they are potentially putting care they may need in the future under pressure."

But that's just wrong. The NHS is not 'losing out' here. Yes, they don't get paid for not providing the service, but then they don't have to spend anything providing it either. They come out about even. Meanwhile, patients see substantial benefits. And if does turn out that NHS hospitals end up getting squeezed out of the market, so what? It will only have happened because people are getting better care elsewhere. That's the whole point of competition.

Taxing times


If fighting the economic downturn is really this government's top priority, one does have to wonder why it has decided to introduce the prospect of higher business rates. Surely business rate should have been cut instead.

Under the cover of the Queen’s speech, a Business Rates Supplements Bill was published contempraneously, giving town halls powers to raise and retain local supplements of up to 2p in the pound above the national business rate.

In politics, like comedy, timing is everything; once again this government has shown itself to be out of step with its audience. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has already spoken out against the measure; the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has called the bill a stealth tax; and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said it was not of its time for a struggling economy.

David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “As companies are struggling to survive, it cannot be right that they face the possible combination of Local Authorities establishing new Business Rate Supplements, Community Infrastructure Levies, congestion charging and Workplace Parking Levies".

Alex Gourlay, managing director of Boots UK has said: “This is the wrong tax at the wrong time. It will simply lead to increased costs for retailers at a time when the sector’s margins are already being squeezed by a wide range of additional property costs and trading conditions are challenging for the sector."

While the Queen was reading the words: "My Government’s overriding priority is to ensure the stability of the British economy during the global economic downturn," the truth was being slipped through the back door. They say New Labour is dead, but the stealth taxes are still with us.

Blog Review 798


Trying to distinguish between real business recessions and Keynesian recessions. The different causes of course mean that the cures are different.

Evidence that we're in a liqudity trap may not be the evidence we thought it was.

Super-senior tranches, CDOs and the CDS market.

Does a generous welfare state change the composition of would be migrants? Yes appears to be the answer.

The South Park guide to why economic profits don't last in a competitive market.

Politicians always take responsibility, of course. It's just that some do it differently than others.

And finally, more on politicians.

The jobless generations


The BBC has a thought provoking article on its website about the depressing lives of a jobless family. Entitled 'No one in our house works', it describes the mundane drama of a family that does not work. The mother is 43 and has never had a job.

It makes sobering reading. Despite the notorious cases of workless families living in palatial luxury at the taxpayers’ expense, this is surely the more usual picture: wasted lives, living on state handouts. We have nothing to envy. As the piece makes clear, this is not the life that this particular mother wanted (or indeed still wants), and it is certainly not the life her jobless children want. They have become like unemployed slaves, devoid of the essential freedoms that come through a life apart from the state.

This family is stuck in the system. This is not to negate her individual responsibility, but sometimes people need a push to step up to the demands of the natural increases in responsibilities that come through ones life: from the protection of childhood to the role of protector and provider in adulthood. For many born into jobless families, there is no imperative from within the family for the next generation to work. Through benefits, the state supports generations of jobless. They never fly the nest and it the rest of us who are left to pick up the bill.

If this generation of jobless are going to be able to escape, the benefits system needs to be radically overhauled so that we offer little or no money to those that can work. If push comes to shove, most will rise to challenge and find work. Perhaps it is inevitable that some need support, but not the numbers that are currently under our patronage, and certainly not through the state but through charities with a human face such as the Salvation Army.

We should be angered that our taxes go towards the support of such an existence, not just because it our money they are wasting, but because it is structured to keep jobless generations in purgatory which is not good for anybody.

Power lunch with Andrew Lansley MP


Andrew Lansley MP, the Shadow Health Secretary, was our guest at a power lunch in Westminster this week. His topic was "Public Health – Personal or Public Responsibility?" 'Public health' used to mean environmental health, of course – sanitation, clean water, that kind of thing – but now its usage has changed. When politicians talk about public health these days they are normally referring to obesity, smoking, and 'lifestyle diseases' in general. It makes libertarians like me feel a little queasy, but I suppose it's inevitable when you have a national health service and rapidly rising costs.

The general Tory approach to public health was outlined by Lansley in a speech this summer, and is usually summed up as "no excuses, no nannying". The idea being that if you educate people and give them all the necessary information, they can really take responsibility for their own choices. I get the impression to Tories are committed to activism and 'engagement' in this area, but don't want to interfere too much with people's lives.

One obvious problem, however, is that the NHS is a sickness service, and not a health service. Will the NHS really be able to do something – i.e. promote health – which is so alien to its culture and ingrained bureaucracy? Probably not, in my view, so it's not surprising the Tories aim to separate 'public health', where they see a major role for government activity, from the day-to-day running of the health service, where they want to rely more on professional autonomy balanced by consumer choice and provider competition.

I'm still not convinced by the whole 'public health' agenda though. Yes, so-called 'lifestyle diseases' (triggered by eating too much, smoking too much, drinking too much, and so on) are a major burden on the NHS and, by extension, the taxpayer. But I'd much prefer the government to just leave us alone, cut our taxes, and got us pay directly for our own healthcare. If people bore the financial consequences of their unhealthy lifestyles, perhaps they would make more sensible decisions. Otherwise, we'll forever be fixing problems caused by too much government with even more government.

Real exam questions...


Another peek into the madness of exam questions. This time from the AQA 2007 Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Higher paper (hat tip PC Pro Magazine):

Simulators are used to give ambulance drivers experience of driving an ambulance at high speed. Which two of the following are important reasons why a simulator would be used for this rather than driving on a road?

1. The driver would not be in any danger using a simulator
2. Simulators are widely used throughout the country
3. Simulators are also used by the police and the fire brigade
4. Road and weather conditions on the simulator can be changed as needed
5. The simulator could be used during lunchtime

Blog Review 797


The third of Dan Mitchell's videos on taxation. This time, the value of tax havens.

How the media is changing. The best guide over the past few years to the intricacies of the subprime mortgage market was a blogger. Who, sadly, has just died.

Contrary to what a lot of people are saying it seems that it was really monetary policy that ended the Great Depression, not fiscal such.

Modern art really doesn't seem to be all that modern.

What excellent news, we're about to solve our shortage of landfill.

Beer is cheaper than water. Some people seem to think there's something wrong with this situation: which is why they manipulate the statistics to get to it.

And finally, the search engine we all really want.

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.