Must work for housing


Plans to revise the social housing system are currently being reviewed by the new Housing Minister, Margaret Beckett. Major changes would occur to address the lack of accommodation and long waiting lists for housing that exist today. Under these new plans, people in council houses would have fixed-term contracts with stricter limitations on residency. This is due to the fact that almost 4 million people, or 1.6 million households, are currently waiting for subsidized houses, while only 170,000 open up each year. These numbers are expected to increase in the next few years as more homes are repossessed due to the credit crunch.

According to The Times, Beckett may seek to end the possibility of lifelong residency in subsidized council homes. First of all, a person could only live in council housing if he or she was actively looking for work. To ensure that no one is taking advantage of social housing, tenants would be reviewed every few years by a board of directors. She also proposed that if a tenant’s financial situation improves, he or she would be persuaded to take an equity share or else move to a private home or apartment. The tenant would then face higher rent rates if he or she does not move out. In this case, rent would be closer to the market rate, rather than only rising each year by the retail price index plus half of a percent.

This new plan is far from being implemented, but it does allow for promising changes to the subsidized housing system. It will give priority to those people who need housing the most, such as pregnant women and families with dependent children. Its more stringent rules concerning residents’ finances and work ethic would also give them the push they need to reduce their dependency on the state – a very welcome move. By enforcing limits on occupancy and employment, tenants will have more incentive to find work. At least in theory, Beckett’s plans could, in the long run, reduce the number of people seeking government aid while also ensuring that people who really needed subsidized housing would be able to benefit from it.

Adam Smith Conference 2009


The Adam Smith Research Foundation, part of the Faculty of Law, Business & Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow, is holding an Adam Smith conference – Smith in Glasgow '09 – from 31 March - 2 April next year.

Recognising the breadth of Smith's interests and range of his work at Glasgow, the conference is organised along 4 themes:

  • Smith, Scotland and the Enlightenment
  • Smith and Culture, Literature and the Arts
  • Smith and Moral Philosophy
  • Smith and the Social Sciences

Visit the conference website for more information about attending.

Blog Review 775


So, the reaction to the credit problems seems to have finally put paid to Naomi Klein's thesis that we liberals advance our agendas by utilising crises, doesn't it?

Filing a patent on the process of patent trolling.

We seem to be missing a series of congressional and parliamentary committee hearings. Why aren't the oil bosses being called in to explain why prices are falling so fast?

That Great Depression thins, was Hoover laissez faire? No, not at all, he did lots and lots of the wrong things.

In Finland, "Little House on the Prairie" is over 18s only. No, it's for political reasons, purely bureaucratic.

There's no one as Irish as Barack O'Bama.

And finally, tough choices have to be made at times,

Reporting poverty in the UK


There's a new publication out, a guide to journalists, called "Reporting poverty in the UK". I found it extremely instructive but perhaps not in the way that the author intended.

We do get an interesting overview though of how poverty is currently defined, the differences between the official measures of absolute and relative poverty for example. And I don't think there's anything wrong with the point repeatedly made that poverty is really about being excluded from what society defines as a reasonable standard of living. As Adam Smith pointed out, a linen shirt may not be necessary for the continuation of life but if society defines one who cannot afford a linen shirt as poor then someone who cannot afford a linen shirt is indeed poor.

There are some absurdities though, as you would expect. The cost of supplying free school meals is described as a cost of poverty. Umm, no, that's a cost of alleviating poverty. There's no acknowledgement, not even a glancing reference, to the fact that "relative poverty" is, despite the linen shirt example, more a measure of inequality than poverty. But these are almost trivial complaints in respect of the most glaring ommission.

No mention at all is made of the way in which various benefits and payments made to alleviate poverty interact with the taxation system. That one of the reasons that poverty is so persistent, that it can be so hard to climb out of, is that those who try it can face marginal tax rates of 60, 80, sometimes even over 100%, as they try to do so. That, for some at least, trying to earn more to escape poverty leads to a lower income, that for millions, an extra £50 a week, an extra £100 in market income, can mean a rise in £2, £5 in disposable income.

That's the real point which journalists need to know about poverty in the UK today. That we both pay benefits to the poor and also tax them at the same time, leading to marginal tax rates so high that no one rational would try to work out of said poverty.

It's not actually a bad guide in what it says, although it is of course leading and biased as is any good piece of polemic. But in what it leaves out it is terrible, that the best way we can help the poor is to stop taxing them.

The fourth estate is not fit for purpose


And, lo, the Saviour did descend from the mountain and save America, at least according to the media. But as we have come to expect there is very little truth in the news these days, aside from maybe the football scores and the date. It turns out that the 2008 Presidential Election was no different to 2004, save for the Donkeys being ascendant over the Elephants.

In  the latest election report from American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate they reveal that turnout may have risen by as much as <1%, with the same proportion of people voting. The estimation of the final figures seem to indicate that 28.7% voted Republican (down from 30% in ‘04) while 31.3% voted Democrat (up from 28.5% in ‘04). This was, according to AUCSAE, attributable to lower Republican turnout, (McCain’s failure to rouse the cultural wing and placate the moderate Republicans with a more tested VP pick), the over-hyping of a Democrat landside which depressed the GOP turnout further, and thirdly, the momentum being with the Democrats in much the same way as it had been with the Republicans in 2004. It is far easier to get-out-the-vote to those that are emotionally aligned.

Post Election the media has been subjecting us to a deeply misconceived notion of America based on this collection of election results. That America has somehow shifted to the left is deeply delusional, by its very nature the US remains a conservative nation; as post-election polling shows:  34% of people still consider themselves conservatives, compared with 22% liberals, the rest see themselves as moderates. The new dawn is nothing more than a media mirage.

And so we move on to 4 years hence and undoubtedly it will be the same all over again, no matter what the media tells us. It will just be another election, of yet another set of politicians, with the same result: another barrier to wealth creation and freedom for all. So in 2012, don’t believe the hype.

Ready to cut you down


According to Jacqui Smith, public demand means people will be able to pre-register for an ID card within the next few months. She said: "I regularly have people coming up to me and saying they don't want to wait that long."

What tosh! The only people who would want to talk to her are slimy obsequious fools, one rung down from most politicians on the evolutionary scale. ID Cards are deeply unpopular. As I have written previously, they are one of the only issues that all newspapers are against.

In the same piece I suggested a bonfire of ID Cards, if and when we are in position where we are forced either explicitly or implicitly to carry one. A comment rightly suggested that the fumes would be too much, and that instead we should shred them. Good idea. Perhaps one of those industrial wood chippers would do the job?

For a number of years politicians have been assiduously stripping away our hard fought freedoms like cork from the Quercus suber. Now they are getting out the axe and preparing to strike. The yell of timber is not far away. The freeborn Englishman is increasingly the stuff of legend.

Blog Review 774


An interesting thought, that our political system is reverting to something very much like that extant in the early part of the 18th century.

Ignorance of economics is no crime, but perhaps attempting to influence public  policy when so ignorant ought to be?

A useful example of such ignorance.

Not economics, rather a more basic point about liberty. The draft, whether it's for the military or for "community" purposes is profoundly illiberal.

A satirical site seems to have understood the Home Secretary better than all of the mainstream papers.

Untangling the details of economic growth pre-Industrial Revolution.

And finally, bears and woods.

On artists, takings and theft


If you take something from someone without paying them the full market value the Americans call this a "taking". In their Constitution (actually, the Fifth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights) this is expressly forbidden, the taking of private property for public use without just compensation.

While this is, sadly, often honoured only in the breach the reasoning behind it is quite simple. To use the law, or the power of government, to take the property of a person is theft in the wider sense of that word.

The impending closure of the Colony Room, the Soho drinking den patronised by louche figures from the art world including Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin, may be averted after an intervention by English Heritage.

The advisory body is rushing through an inspection to determine whether the club, which has witnessed 60 years of booze-soaked misbehaviour by some of Britain's most creative drunks, merits listed status.

Quite why the room where artistic livers have been destroyed should be listed escapes me, but the real reason why they want to try is this:

Artists who are campaigning to keep the Colony Room open believe that listed status will help them to come to an arrangement with the landlord because it would be harder to redevelop the premises.

Making it harder to redevelop the building means that the landlord will lose some of the value of the property. That value will be transferred, by law, from the landlord to the drinkers, for the landlord will lose any development profits while the artistes will be able to drink in Soho without paying the full cost of the premises in which they do so.

That the law is used of course makes it entirely legal but in my opinion this is still theft.

Don't list it, don't create such a taking, let Tracey and her friends cough up the full cost of their tipples and the room they like to spill them in.

The iron is hot


Tax-cuts are back on the agenda. These arguments are coming not from the traditional fiscally tight Conservative Party, but the traditional 'tax and spend' Labour Party. As things stand the Conservative’s are firmly on the back foot; however, it offers the perfect opportunity for the Conservatives to strike back.

The Liberal Democrats were the first Party to raise the possibility of putting tax-cuts on the agenda as a powerful fiscal tool to help people cope in the current crisis. The popular shadow chancellor Vince Cable sounded remarkably libertarian, stating: "The fact is that millions of families are under severe financial pressure and would prefer to decide for themselves how their money is spent".

Writing in The Independent before the Labour Party’s opening salvo, Bruce Anderson understood the tone that the opposition should be taking. He suggested that in a time in which households are economizing, the Conservatives should be calling for cutting back unnecessary government waste and the cutting of taxes. Good call. Luckily for the Conservatives, government waste is one thing we have a lot of at the moment.

Perhaps David Cameron is right not to risk too much on calls for tax-cuts or the reduction of government, instead relying upon the public’s cyclical appetite for change. But such would be a sad reflection on politicians and the public at large. The Conservative Party should be arguing now for a flat tax with an increased personal allowance to take the poorest out of 'tax poverty'. If the public isn’t ready for this now, they certainly will be once recession takes hold.