Not enough people watch Game of Thrones


That might just sound like the subjective ramblings of someone who's into blood, guts, quality drama and gratuitous nudity. But economic theory suggests that an inefficiently low number of people are enjoying George R.R. Martin's fantasy epic, along with other cultural gems such as Wolf Hall, Mad Men, and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. The BBC's current system turns its rights over to private distributors who profit from the sole right to sell it on. Instead the Corporation could act as a 'national netflix,' negotiating purchase of the UK distribution rights to content, and making it available to the public for free.

Such a radical proposal makes sense because of the strange economics of the digital age. The cost of producing an episode of Game of Thrones is high – the first season alone set HBO back $50 million. But the cost of producing an extra copy of that episode is almost nothing. There are lots of people out there to whom the episode is worth only 50p, whereas it costs $4 on iTunes.

This argument applies to a lot of digital media – to e-books, to search engines, and to blogs. Google have found a way around it by monopolising the market and raising revenue from the vapour rising off viewers' eyeballs. (Advertising). The Adam Smith Institute raises funding from wealthy, libertarian-minded donors. So far the best that TV has to offer is streaming services like iPlayer and Netflix, and the option of online piracy.

It would be anathema to suggest the government getting involved in the business of search engines. Producing the kind of unique institutional culture that Google has is very difficult for a private company to do, and almost impossible for the government. But a quality institution – the BBC – already exists. It already provides online media to millions for free, and iPlayer is an immensely successful streaming platform.

One concern might be the weakening of incentives to produce great shows. But in an age of piracy, producers are already finding innovative ways to finance projects that don't require shutting out potential viewers.

Nationalising content rights might not seem very pro-freedom. But the current copyright laws provide content producers with a monopoly, preventing people from enjoying content that costs nothing to produce. In this case, government intervention can promote freedom.

Theo Clifford is winner of the 18-21 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. You can follow him on @Theo_Clifford, and read his blog at economicsondemand.com.

The case for abolishing Inheritance Tax


Posthumous taxation is no different to Victorian style grave robbery, only done on a much larger scale. Morally- the inheritance tax should be abolished. As well as the moralistic argument, there are also serious economic consequences of the tax- chiefly that it makes the tax system incredibly complicated. Abolishing the tax also means that those who are about to die will have the security of knowing their loved ones will have enough to live comfortably- a worry most parents have in common.

Some say this will lead to more inequality of opportunity. However this may not necessarily be the case. Take the case of the Walton family. Sam Walton grew up very poor. Through innovation and enterprise he founded Walmart and grew it to be the biggest retailer in the world, and when he died in 1992 Walmart was worth roughly $45 billion. His six children have no such experience in building a business. They are better at spending money than making it, and so their fortune will decline over the generations even without inheritance tax. This happens across the economy in Britain and the U.S. Of all the Fortune 500 companies that existed in 1955, only 11% remain. The average life expectancy for a Fortune 500 firm is now 15 years old. Family owned firms are usually sold by a less competent individual family member to another firm or individual, one with a better talent for enterprise.

So, without inheritance tax, the market still distributes resources to ensure maximum efficiency. The inequality of outcome cannot be attributed to lack of opportunity, but to inequality in entrepreneurship, something which builds capitalist society. Additionally some wealthy individuals like Bill Gates, choose to give away their wealth voluntary on their death, Gates choosing to leave his three children with just $10 million each of his vast fortune so they can “find their own way”. Taxing this fortune would probably result in less social good than would result from it going to the charities of Bill Gate’s choice, given how efficient government is.

Of course some hereditary inequality will occur, but this is the case when parents hand down good parenting skills, or good genetics or good education. Why should hereditary property be regulated by the government? Inheritance tax is unfair, predatory and economically harmful. The UK economy would benefit from Inheritance tax being scrapped.

Theo Cox Dodgson is winner of the Under-18 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. You can follow him @theoretical23.                             

Britain should leave the United Nations


Much talk these days is made of Britain leaving the EU. But what of other bodies that violate Parliamentary Sovereignty? What about, for example, the United Nations? The EU, is made of 28 member states, most of whom could broadly be described as liberal democracies . The UN is made of 167 non-micro states, 88 of whom The Economist would describe as “Hybrid regimes” or “Authoritarian regimes”. Only 25 are full democracies. When dictatorships have a say on the policy of Great Britain, one should not be surprised when the results are bad. Britain, if serious about Parliamentary Sovereignty and democracy, should leave the UN.

To be clear, such a move would likely mean the entire UN would disband. Unless there were major consequences imposed upon our country, the world would remember that membership of the UN is voluntary and thus nations are free to leave at any point in time. And what would the world really lose? Peace has been maintained primarily by two forces over the last 70 years:

1) Democracy- Democracies are less likely to go to war than Autocracies. 2) Free Trade- Building trade relations between countries means going to war with other countries is extremely expensive in terms of lost trade.

The UN facilitates neither and discourages both. By passing numerous binding resolutions- often against democratically elected governments such as Israel, it violates the principle that National Parliaments are sovereign and furthers the neoconservative delusion that imperfect countries can be perfected through the “General will” of other countries, many of whom are far less democratic than Israel.

The UN also implements trade sanctions. The UN claims that this is peaceful, but aside from economic damage- we should also learn from Otto Mallery (Not Bastiat) who said “When goods do not cross borders, armies will”. Iraq makes a good example. On August 6th 1990 the UN approved trade sanctions against Iraq which lasted until 2003.

These sanctions resulted in the deaths of over 576,000 children, and agitated Iraq further into isolation and radicalism. Mallery‘s lesson was proven when the US and UK invaded Iraq in 2003. This was not only an example of the UN failing to secure peace- it was an example of the UN actively discouraging it.

Membership of this organization is at best useless and at worst malign- it is time Britain set an example and left.

Theo Cox Dodgson is winner of the Under-18 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. You can follow him on Twitter @theoretical23.                             

Britain needs more slums

The problems with the UK housing market have been well-documented. There is a 'housing crisis.' No-one today can afford to buy the sorts of houses their parents did. Household formation is depressed. Every day, the reports get more lurid. The latest example of this is a survey suggesting that all 43 of the affordable houses in London aren't actually houses, but rather boats. There has been a proliferation of not-houses in recent years, from houseboats to 'beds-in-sheds.' The reason is clear – Britain has a sore lack of proper slums.

Government regulations designed to clamp down on 'cowboy landlords' restrict people's ability to choose the kind of accommodation in which they want to live. Local authorities impose exhaustive energy efficiency standards, design codes, and depress density – if they allow construction at all. Each individual requirement sounds fairly reasonable, something that almost everyone would want. But housing should cater to a wide array of preferences. Some people might not feel like they need a bedroom space as large as the state expects, while others might not mind sharing a bathroom with another family if it means lower rents.

The consequences of forcing people outside the law are serious, as with immigration. If the only way you can afford housing is to live illegally, you have no recourse to the law if you do have a dispute with your landlord.

These regulations don't just affect the type of squalid accommodation that they were designed to outlaw. A recent project to build 'micro-flats' worth up to £231,000 required the intervention of the London Mayor to exempt it from certain regulations. Developments like these might be the future for young people like me struggling to get onto the housing market, but this kind of ad-hoc policymaking is no way to run a country. Wholesale change is needed.

The market desperately wants to provide houses people can live in at prices they can afford – but in the eyes of local authorities these houses are too small, or too tall, or the ceilings are too low, or the windows not energy efficient enough. Sweeping deregulation is the only way to provide Britain with the slums it is crying out for.

Theo Clifford is winner of the 18-21 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. You can follow him on @Theo_Clifford, and read his blog at economicsondemand.com.

Replace the House of Lords with a Lottery


Before the House of Lords Act 1999, foolish legislation from the Commons would often be blocked, delayed or amended by wise men that did not owe anything to anyone and would thus be wise and objective in their decisions. Tony Blair was defeated 38 times in the Commons in his 1st year of government. After 1999 the chamber became nothing more than a useless chamber of former party donors who had been given life peerages often at the request of the Prime Minister. Unsurprisingly they would enter the chamber owing the Prime Minister a favour or two and suddenly a lot of poor legislation is being passed without so much a whimper from that once mighty chamber. While we can all agree the current system is broken, conservatives should recognize the old one is lost, and thus a redesign of the House of Lords should keep the best of the old while discarding some of the more unnecessary inequality of the old system.

My idea is a lottery system, whereby people are, at random, selected to serve as a “Lord” for one Parliamentary session, much like an extended form of Jury service. There would be rules of course- no-one should be forced into it, and those who do accept would have to declare all interests for the purpose of public accountability. To ensure wisdom prevails there should be a minimum age of 45, and anyone who has been closely involved with a political party in the last 5 years should be disqualified. The few hundred who accept will be compensated generously for any time they have missed out of work, and of course because they are all older, this year long task will not take vital time younger people would need in the job market or higher education.

The sheer hassle of such a system will discourage the government from passing excessive legislation to the Lords- and certainly make the legislation understandable for the average laymen who will be serving. The selected group should have the powers the Lords currently have- with the suspensory veto extended from 1 year to 5 years and the formal discarding of the Salisbury Doctrine.

Hopefully this change will result in a conservation of the liberties and property rights Britain still has, and an end to the de facto unicameralism of our current House of Commons.

Theo Cox Dodgson is winner of the Under-18 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. You can follow him on Twitter @theoretical23.                             

Liberalising Immigration is a Win-Win scenario


Draconian immigration rules represent the largest restriction on liberty in the UK today. They restrict the personal and economic potential of millions of people and achieve little in return. How to roll back these limits on freedom? Think tanks have a difficult dilemma. They want to build a reputation as radical thinkers, but at the same time propose moderate policies. Early drafts of this essay argued that Britain should be more open to this or that group, but the truth is that both hard-headed economics and human decency demand wholesale liberalisation. Immigration restrictions curtail our ability to hire, sell to, befriend and marry the people we want to. People understand this – it's why people view immigration to their local area much more favourably than on the national level. And they have an enormous economic cost.

The ASI's namesake argued that the division of labour is limited by the extent of the market. Everyone accepts the case for free trade, but that leaves markets incomplete, because non-tradable services (like haircuts) can't travel across borders. Freeing people to move where they wish would let people go where their talents would be best used. The productivity of someone with an engineering degree – the amount can achieve with their labour – is many times lower in some areas of the developing world than it is in the UK.

The benefits to migrants are best illustrated by the lengths migrants are willing to go to to cross borders. Smugglers charge thousands for passage from Libya to Europe, and the journey is fraught with risk, but hundreds of thousands make the journey anyway. Migration lets people escape poverty, war and authoritarian regimes.

The Mariel Boatlift is an example of this. In 1980, 125000 Cubans fled Castro's regime, landing in Miami. Their liberation increasing the size of the local labour force by 7% almost overnight. But economists found almost no impact on wages and the labour market.

7% of the UK labour force works out to approximately 2.3m people. The government could auction off permanent residency permits to that many people each year. Such a radical policy would be disruptive. It would have costs, losers as well as winners. But the potential benefits are too colossal to ignore – a Britain where not only workers and jobs but husbands and wives, parents and children, potential pub geezers would not be separated by arbitrary borders.

Theo Clifford is winner of the 18-21 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. You can follow him on @Theo_Clifford, and read his blog at economicsondemand.com.

Securitising Britain’s Future: A free market solution to university funding


  When the Coalition Government increased tuition fees from £3,300 to £9,000 a year, it had done so to provide a sustainable alternative that would boost university’s incomes and cut government spending. But there are reasons to believe this has failed. The Guardian reported that the new funding system is likely to cost the government not less, but more money than the system it replaced. It is time to reevaluate university funding, and I propose the following alternative: a system under which students would agree to ‘sell’ a percentage of their future income to their university in exchange for an education.

Under the current system moral hazard occurs since the universities need not worry about its students’ ability to repay their loans. Instead, the government will bear the costs if students default. This is a problem in desperate need of addressing especially considering that an estimated 73% of graduates will not be able to fully repay their loans.

Under the proposed system in which universities own the income rights to students’ future earnings, the incentive structure would be changed as to align the interests of students, universities and society alike. Universities will factor in how much their education will benefit their students in terms of their future earnings. This allows relative prices to convey how much certain professions are, in fact, valued by society. The university would encourage more students to take up careers that are more valued and it could charge less (in terms of percentage points) for the degrees with better prospects than those with worse.

By contrast, universities today charge uniform rates and have an incentive to provide the most appealing courses - which often mean courses that are enjoyable or easy - rather than being actually useful or valuable. The graduates may therefore lack the skills to be productive members of the workforce, despite accumulating large debts. Universities even have an incentive to admit students it knows will not benefit from the course since it will nonetheless receive government funding.

In turn, universities could sell its future income rights through a process of ‘securitisation’, per course or as a diversified portfolio. This free-market solution provides an equitable opportunity to all, since students’ ability to attend university is not depended upon current wealth but future earnings; thus depended upon skill and merit, not money. This system would streamline all stakeholders’ interests and ‘securitise’ Britain’s free and prosperous future.

Tamay is the runner-up in the 18-21 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition. 

Devolution and Super-Councils


As Scotland looks set to receive an ‘unprecedented’ collection of powers from Westminster, it is time too for the English regions to benefit from devolution. The lack of what Hayek would call ‘perfect information’ is a weakness intrinsic to a centralised states – surely local councils have a greater understanding of problems that face their local areas than Whitehall? As one of the most centralised states in the world, the UK is ripe for devolution in a variety of policy areas. One such example is taxation. Rather than simply being bankrolled by central government, local authorities should be able to raise their own revenue. This would encourage greater fiscal responsibility from councils, as they would have to justify spending to their electorate, discouraging the waste that has been all too characteristic of local government.

Another possible area of devolution is healthcare: councils should be free to innovate in response to local problems. The savings that this would result in would contribute to the £22 billion of efficiencies in the NHS that Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England, has highlighted as necessary by 2020-21. Furthermore, patient satisfaction will improve: the Institute of Economic Affairs has pointed to Switzerland’s decentralised healthcare system, which provides a responsive service with high life expectancy and patient approval ratings.

Having greater powers would also give councils more clout when they bid for major infrastructure projects. London has reaped the fruits of much central government support, with the Greater London Authority securing £4.7 billion from the Department of Transport to fund Crossrail. If all councils had the same bidding powers, government spending would more effectively match the infrastructure needs of the local area – instead of grandiose projects such as HS2, more Crossrails could be built, creating the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ that George Osborne strives for.

How will this devolution create a freer UK? Firstly, councils being forced to raise their own money deters excessive spending, lest councillors be punished by the local electorate who are paying for it. Secondly, healthcare efficiencies mean a smaller burden on the taxpayer to pay for the NHS, while the patient will likely be more satisfied with a service suited for local needs. Finally, this devolution will result in more focussed, efficient infrastructure spending. In short, ‘super-councils’ can reduce the burden on the taxpayer, and create the conditions for a flourishing free market.

Alan Petri is runner-up in the Under-18 category of the ASI's 'Young Writer on Liberty' competition 2015.

Young Writer on Liberty 2015 Winners


We're delighted to announce the winners of our 2015 Young Writer on Liberty competition, and will be showcasing some of their work in the coming days. The theme of this year's competition was 'The road not yet travelled: Three paths the next government should take for a freer United Kingdom'. Entrants wrote three, 400-word articles on this theme, each outlining a policy proposal to make the United Kingdom richer, freer and more prosperous.

We received dozens of entries and competition was fierce with incredibly high standards. This year for the first time, entries were spilt into 'Under-18' and '18-21' categories, with a winner and a runner-up in each.

The runner-up of the Under-18 category is Alan Petri, and the winner of the Under-18s is Theo Cox Dodgson. The runner-up of the 18-21 category is Tamay Besiroglu, and the category winner Theo Clifford.

Runners-up will have one of their entries showcased on the ASI blog tomorrow, and category winners will have all three of their pieces posted over the week.

Category winners will also receive £150 prize money, whilst both winners and runners-up will receive boxes filled with liberty-related books.

Check-in next week to read the entries!