UK politicians' ignorance towards immigration gives Juncker credit he probably doesn't deserve


It’s a tough day when you have to agree with Jean-Claude Juncker. After all, I tend not to see eye-to-eye with those who think the European Commission needs “to be an even more political body.” But today, Juncker came out strong against Cameron’s proposed cap on EU migration to the UK; which is good, important even:

From The Telegraph:

Mr Juncker said: "I am not prepared to change [freedom of movement]. If we are destroying the freedom of movement other freedoms will fall. I am not willing to compromise."

He said that any attempts to address the issue of the amount of benefits being claimed by foreigners would have to be in line with current EU treaties.

“Member states are free to take the initiatives they want as long as these initiatives are line with the treaties," Mr Juncker said.

Here's the problem - I don't think I do agree with Juncker; in fact, I have a sneaking suspicion he and I hold the opinion that free movement in the EU should remain uncapped for fundamentally different reasons. I, for one, don’t think migration is complimented by mandates to ensure a universal ‘minimum social wage’ throughout the EU.

Rather, I see free movement as an integral and necessary component of UK economic prosperity, not to mention a huge benefit for communities that both migrants and natives come in inhabit.

Yet on this particular topic, Mr Juncker and I have the same end goal. And his commitment to protecting free movement—rejecting Cameron’s migration negotiations—has taken us another step towards a full-blown referendum in 2017. Such a referendum, described in the most positive light, would be an opportunity for Britons to discuss and debate the implications EU regulations have on the UK (the specifics of trade agreements and vacuum cleaner bans are two topics that immediately spring to mind…). But there is a deep worry on the part of pro-immigration advocates such as myself that many will use the referendum to lock migrants out of the UK as best they can.

The majority of Juncker’s policies fall short of promoting freedom and prosperity—but on migration, at least his end goals are right. And until UK politicians (all of them really, Conservatives and Labour across the board) stop trying to halt the overwhelming benefits migrants bring to the UK, I find myself in unfamiliar waters, with Mr Juncker as my ally.

The end of an auld West Lothian song

The Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond loves causing trouble (as many contemporaries of mine from the University of St Andrews relish as well). He must be grinning, because despite losing the independence referendum in Thursday, he has really put the Westminster politicians in a stew.Before the vote, to buy off wavering Yes voters, all the main political parties in Westminster signed a pledge to give more powers to Scotland anyway. On Friday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron correctly declared that if Scotland was getting more power, then people in Wales, Northern Ireland – and particularly England, the only bit of the UK without devolved powers – would expect nothing short of the same. He is right, even if that reality only made itself plain after the more-powers pledge had actually been signed. And having set the idea running, he realizes that he has to initiate a House of Commons vote on English devolution before the June 2015 UK general election.

Labour leader Ed Miliband is currently refusing to back any such plan, calling it a 'back of the envelope constitutional change'. He has a point: Westminster politicians are remarkably cavalier about how they change the UK's constitution. A small public company cannot change its rules just on a majority vote of the directors, so why should a large government be able to change its rules on a simple majority in Westminster? But his real concern is to ensure that the large number of Labour MPs that Scotland sends down to Westminster can still vote on everyone else's business, the 'West Lothian Question'.

The impish Alex Salmond will be chuckling at the stooshie he has created. Some say we should devolve powers down to the English cities and local authorities. Others say we need a proper English Parliament. A few talk about barring Scottish MPs from voting on English-only laws.

But devolution of power to the local authorities is a non-runner. We have been promised it for decades, but it has never really happened, and nobody trusts that it will now. As for an English Parliament – well, we have seen the expense of the Scottish one (the extravagant building alone cost ten times its original estimate) and its notoriously poor quality (stuffed, inevitably, with failed local councillors and superannuated MPs).

The simple solution to devolution, all those years ago, would have been to form English, Scottish and Welsh parliaments out of their respective Westminster MPs; and have them meet at Westminster in the mornings on their own country business, then together on UK business in the afternoon. Yes, there will be a few arguments about which matters are 'UK' and which are 'English'. But the solution is costless, and without adding an extra tier of government, you get home-grown politicians of some quality deciding home-grown issues. It is the obvious solution for England. And the end of an auld West Lothian song.

The People's Republic of South Norwood


South Norwood, the unassuming splodge in the London Borough of Croydon is no more. Long live the People's Republic of South Norwood! You may not have noticed, thanks to a concerted media blackout by The UK Establishment (though the WSJ did get wind), but last Friday was the day of the Great South Norwood Referendum and the dawn of a new Republic. Inspired by the Scottish Independence movement and frustrated by the disdain with which local government treats the area, local heroes The South Norwood Tourist Board  held a (definitely absolutely legitimate and totally binding) referendum for the community: Should South Norwood remain with Croydon Council, unite with an Independent Scotland, or declare their independence? The public spoke, and voted to boot out their uncaring and overbearing masters to go it alone with a whopping 53% of the vote.

It's hardly surprising that the downtrodden population of South Norwood had enough of Croydon Council, who have simultaneously ignored pleas to clean up and invigorate the area, whilst clamping down on displays of frivolity and fun. Notoriously, head of the Council's Health and Safety outlawed plans for the community-led 'Lake Naming Ceremony', inspiring a crowd of revellers (and a gang of Morris Dancers) to hold an illegal event in subversive defiance. It will be written in history that the naming of Lake Conan Doyle sewed the seeds of secession.

Now that South Norwood has established its independence it faces a number of tough questions. What does this mean for its governance and security, its relationship with the UK, and its currency? Addressing these will be challenging, but there's every indication that an independent South Norwood could thrive.

At first glance South Norwood is remarkably unremarkable. Long overlooked by pretty much everybody, it is yet to benefit from the gentrification of neighbouring Crystal Palace or the massive regeneration of Croydon town centre. Yet, with its blossoming community spirit (galvanized by the tireless tourist board), more lakes than the lake district, and a country park grown on top of an old sewer farm, its potential is undeniably huge.

Clearly, it is for the people of South Norwood to decide what shape their Republic takes. But as an ex-resident and dear friend of the area, I’ve outlined a few of the topics they need to address, and give a few suggestions on how to achieve a radical, yet roaringly successful Republic:

The first issue to tackle is that of governance. How shall people be ruled, and how shall laws be made? Should, for example, The Republic have a head of State? A symbolic one may suffice, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who apparently lived there for a bit) or Pickles the dog (who discovered the stolen FIFA World Cup in a bush) are good contenders. There's also Ray Burns a.k.a Captain Sensible of The Damned, who already has a community garden installed in his honour.

Perhaps the people of South Norwood will opt for a proportional electoral system: with a population of about 14,000, the area's certainly small enough to adopt a straightforward proportional model, although PR creates the risk that Winston McKenzie, organizer of the infamous UKIP diversity carnival could hold some power. Going further, some form of direct democracy might even be possible. Regardless, electoral architects could do far worse than to read Douglas Carswell's iDemocracy for some inspiration.

However, we know that democracy can be troublesome, and that most voters are often (quite rationally!) spectacularly ignorant on basic political issues. What if democracy's not actually the 'least worst' system? One alternative, particularly for a Republic of such size, would be sortition- the selection of decision-makers by lottery. With its roots in Athenian democracy and still used in Jury service today, those selected could wise up on facts for the duration of their term and make decisions based on what's actually best for the Republic, instead of shoring up votes and a political career. There are other, more elaborate alternatives (such as Moldbug's suggestion that governments should be based on the profit motive, with bureaucrats seeking to increase their profits by boosting the value of the land, thus making it a lovely place to live) - but why not just abolish all government and embrace a form of market anarchism? It probably wouldn't be worse than the system the South Norwooders left.

Another pressing issue The Republic must address is that of their currency: what should an independent South Norwood use? Clearly, South Norwood could unilaterally adopt the pound without the permission of the UK, just as the ASI has argued for Scotland. Should PRSN wish to tie itself to the economic fate of the UK, it could -literally- just keep on using the pound. However, South Norwood could also protect its own economy and shore up against demand-side recessions by allowing private Norwood Banks to hold reserves of GBP and issue their own notes on a fractional reserve basis, adjusting the supply of money in response to demand. (Again, the detail's in the report!)

Admittedly, that does seem a bit excessive. Another option would be for South Norwood to issue their own currency (perhaps the Norwood Crown). Down the road the Brixton Pound  is well-established and well-liked; those behind it could certainly lend a hand with an eye-catching design and the logistics of issuance. And with the news that Brixton is also scheduled to hold a referendum on its independence, perhaps a currency union is on the cards.

Yet the people of South Norwood have already shown themselves to be a tech-savvy, forward-thinking bunch, as evidenced by their use of a high-tech, online voting mechanism . So why not make Bitcoin SE25's new currency? If the Assistant Governor of Australia's Central Bank thinks its good enough for Scotland, it's probably good enough for South Norwood. In fact, they could go one further, and join Iceland, Cyprus, the Oglala Laktota Nation and others in creating their own national cryptocurrency. If they act quickly, they could beat Ecuador in creating the first government- ordained digital currency.

South Norwooders could adopt any of these options. But why not do away with legal tender completely and embrace free banking: the great people and businesses of the area accepting whichever competing currencies and payment methods (what about interpretative dance?) they so choose.

Clearly the most exciting part of forming an independent territory is deciding the guiding principles and policies to pursue. Again, such matters should be decided by the citizens, but here are a few pointers:

South Norwood should get in touch with the organziations who’s raison d’etre is to look at how to achieve growth and political and economic innovation within small, autonomous communities. Some groups such as Charter Cities and Startup Cities aim to create refuges of experimentation within amenable host nations. Others, such as the Seasteading Institute work within a paradigm of complete territorial autonomy and independence. Politically neutral, all of them value radical ideas, economic progress and the freedom for individuals to join such communities and innovate.

Tips on running a successful Republic can also be gleaned from examining things like Legatum's Prosperity Index, Heritage's Index of Economic Freedom, the Index of Freedom in the World and the Tax Competitiveness Index. Countries topping these rankings have probably got a few ideas worth borrowing.

The Republic could also look at which UK laws most need a radical overhaul, and lead by example. Planning laws are a key example. Far too many houses in the area are left vacant and boarded up, yet could be put to good use. Similarly, perfectly useable patches of land lie tangled up in legal battles and the quest for planning permission, sprouting brambles and dirty mattresses in the meantime. Liberalizing planning laws would allow creative uses of neglected spaces whilst providing the area with an economic boost.

The Republic should also embrace an open borders policy, as research repeatedly shows that reducing barriers to migration benefits both migrants and the culture and finances of the host country. An open Republic which builds on its cosmopolitan roots would be a successful one.

I encourage The Republic to experiment with radical new ideas. It could scrap alcohol duty, revitalizing some of the area's more shabby-looking pubs. Or it could legalise the consumption and production of Marijuana, using taxes levied on it to fund social expenditure. From there the UK's confusing, intrusive and expensive welfare system could be replaced with some form of Minimum Income or Negative Income Tax. Deer could be introduced to every park. Uber could run the public transport. The possibilities are endless.

It really is a brave new world for the people of South Norwood. The Scots may wonder if this is an omen for the success of their own referendum, but it's unlikely: even free-thinking South Norwooders eschewed the offer of being part of  an independent Scotland. This is perhaps a shame,  given the ASI's prior work on forging a union between Scotland and other countries seeking freedom from illiberal control.

Nevertheless, the prospect that Croydon Council refuses to accept the secession and continues to 'rule' its (ex)citizens with an iron fist is very real.

I wish all the best for The People's Republic of South Norwood. But whatever the outcome of their independence, it's good to note, on the eve of an even bigger, game-changing referendum, the diversity and breadth of untested policies and fresh ideas out there - and how many of these could make countries, communities and individuals happier, richer, more successful and freer.


An independent Scotland should use the pound without permission from rUK, says new ASI report

Today the Adam Smith Institute has released a new paper: "Quids In: How sterlingization and free banking could help Scotland flourish", written by Research Director of the Adam Smith Institute, Sam Bowman. Below is a condensed version of the press release; a full version of the press release can be found here. An independent Scotland could flourish by using the pound without permission from the rest of the UK, a new report released today by the Adam Smith Institute argues.

The report, “Quids In: How sterlingization and free banking could help Scotland flourish”, draws on Scottish history and contemporary international examples to argue for the adoption of what it calls ‘adaptive sterlingization,' which combines unilateral use of the pound sterling with financial reforms that remove protections for established banks while allowing competitive banks to issue their own promissory notes without restriction. This, the report argues, would give Scotland a more stable financial system and economy than the rest of the UK.

According to the report, adaptive sterlingization would allow competitive, private banks to issue their own promissory notes backed by reserves of GBP (or anything else – including USD, gold, index fund shares or even cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin). With each bank given powers to expand and contract its balance sheet relative to demand, this system would be highly adaptive to changes in money demand, preventing demand-side recessions in modern economies such as the ones that led to the 2008 Great Recession.

The report’s author, Sam Bowman, details Scotland’s successful history of 'free banking' in the 18th and 19th centuries and the period of remarkable financial and economic stability which accompanied it. Historical ‘hangovers’ from this period, like Scotland's continued practice of individual bank issuance of banknotes, are still in place today, making Scotland uniquely placed for a simple transition to the system outlined in the report.

The report highlights evidence from 'dollarized' economies in Latin America, such as Panama, Ecuador and El Salvador, which demonstrate that the informal use of another country’s currency can foster a healthy financial system and economy.

Under sterlingization, Scotland would lack the ability to print money and establish a central bank to act as a lender of last resort. Evidence from dollarized Latin American countries suggests that far from being problematic, this constraint reduces moral hazard within the financial system and forces banks to be prudent, significantly improving the overall quality of the country’s financial institutions. Panama, for example, has the seventh soundest banks in the world.

The report concludes that Britain's obstinacy could be Scotland's opportunity to return to a freer, more stable banking system. Sterilization, combined with reform of Scottish financial regulation that:

  • removed government liquidity provisions to illiquid banks,

  • established mechanisms to ‘bail-in’ insolvent banks by extending liability to shareholders, and

  • shifted deposit insurance costs onto banks and depositors rather than taxpayers,

would improve standards and competitiveness in banking, while significantly reducing the prospect of large-scale bank panics and financial crises.

Commenting on his report, the Research Director of the Adam Smith Institute, Sam Bowman, said:

The Scottish independence debate has repeatedly foundered on the question of currency, but if Scots look to their own history they will find that their country is a shining example of how competition in currency and banking can ensure a stable and effective banking system. Scotland’s free banking era was an economic and intellectual Golden Age, and its system of competitive note-issuance was recognised by such thinkers as Adam Smith as one of the root causes of the country’s prosperity during this time.

The examples of Panama and other dollarized Latin American economies are proof that countries can thrive when they unilaterally adopt another country’s currency. Combined with a flexible, adaptive banking system, the unilateral use of another country’s currency can instill a discipline in a country’s financial sector that neither a national currency nor a currency union can provide. Scotland’s banking system is almost uniquely primed for such a system of ‘adaptive sterlingization’. The path outlined in this paper would go almost unnoticed by the average Scot – until the next big economic shock, when they might just wonder why their system was so much more stable than that of the country they’d left behind.