Bah, Humbug!

Given the day and the season of course we should be discussing the ickle ones, the children. Preferably without succumbing to Herod's appreciation of the subject. 

However, this latest report is not quite as we're told

Children from poor families are far more likely to end up in hospital A&E departments or need emergency treatment for conditions such as asthma and diabetes, according to shocking figures revealing the consequences of poverty in Britain.

In findings that senior doctors said showed the “devastating impact” of deprivation on child health, the nation’s poorest teenagers were found to be almost 70% more likely to appear in A&E than their less deprived counterparts.

We would, of course, like to know why this is happening. Further, to do something about it if only we could work out what.

However poverty has an impact on a range of other issues such as education, housing and continuity of healthcare,” he said. “We agree with the authors of this report when they say the most vulnerable children are being let down by health services and we back their calls for policymakers to focus on narrowing the inequalities gap. They can do this by reversing cuts to universal credit which actually leave the majority of families claiming this benefit worse off, and by the restoration of national targets to reduce child poverty, backed by a national child poverty strategy.”

The what probably not being that. For as we're continually being told, child poverty is rising in the UK. This is using the modern definition of relative poverty of course. Thus it is a measure of inequality - and it's not really true that inequality is rising in any significant manner. It fell during the recession, as it always does in a recession, and has been rising back to pre-recession levels since. Deprivation, as in absolute poverty, isn't a feature of British society even as it is true that some have less than others.

But the capping reason this isn't the solution comes from the report itself:

While, overall, emergency (or unplanned) hospital admissions have increased slightly (by 9 per cent between 2005/6 and 2015/16), the gap between the most and least deprived groups has narrowed.

Even as all the other things being complained about are, by the claimed measures, increasing, this inequality, that of emergency health care admissions, is falling. Thus the inequality of health care admissions cannot be caused by the widening inequalities being complained of elsewhere.

We should be more charitable on this day of course. But then we are in fact being charitable. For we too would prefer that the children are not ill, that parents are not consumed with worry as they wait for that emergency care. Which means that we do in fact have to identify what is causing this rather than leaping for polite society's explanation for all, economic inequality.

Bah, Humbug! 

The twelve regulations of Christmas - 1 to 6

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

…a partridge in a pear tree.

Until quite recently, the convention was that a ‘day’ ended, not at midnight as we reckon today, but at sundown. And that was when the next day started. So the first day of Christmas actually started at sundown on Christmas Eve—literally the ‘evening’ at the start of Christmas Day. That is why, in many countries, people open their presents at this time.

But as to the gift itself…

At least your true love started on a positive note. You haven’t needed a game licence to deal in game since 2007 in England & Wales and 2011 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. So let’s hear it for deregulation. If you want to hunt game, though, there are plenty of rules. You can only shoot game birds in the specified season, and you can’t shoot some waterfowl about the high water line. The internal diameter of the shotgun can’t be more than 1.75 inches, can’t be automatic, and can’t have a light or night shooting sight.

As for the pear tree, your true love has not done you any favours. If it’s big enough to provide a home to a partridge, it’s quite likely to have a Tree Preservation Order slapped on it by the local council. Then you face a fine of up to £20,000 if you cut it down, uproot it, top or lop it, or generally damage it in any way. Unless the local Tree Officer gives you consent, of course. And if they do let you cut it down, they’ll probably insist that you plant another one right away.

The trick it to stop thinking of your garden as your property.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…two turtle doves

The turtle dove or gets its genus name Streptopelia from the ancient Greek word streptos, meaning collar. It has a black and white patch on its neck, giving rise to the name. It is not actually what people call a collared dove, though it is related.

Despite the association of doves and love, these birds are regarded as a pest, their generally disgusting habits making them likely to spread disease. Don’t think you can just go out and (pun intended) collar a couple, as they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. And that is an enormous document of legalese that is impossible for most people even to read. Moreover, if you want to know how it applies to these particular birds, it will take you some time to get through to the right person at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is several thousand bureaucrats strong. 

You can of course put nets or spikes on your roof and window ledges to stop them (the birds, not the bureaucrats) settling there, but that is regulated under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. If you put up a net and doves get trapped in it, you could face prosecution. In fact the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to kill or injure any wild bird, or interfere with its nest or eggs—unless they are specifically excepted. Even then, you can only kill them if there is no alternative and they are a demonstrable risk to health and safety (merely damaging your house not count). Better get professional advice though—various animal welfare groups have gone to court to claim that these pests do little harm. Still, it all makes work for pest controllers and lawyers.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…three French Hens

Faverolles are a French fancy chicken breed, originally raised for meat and eggs—though now generally raised only for exhibition, because of its extravagant beard and muffs and general absurdity. They are large chickens—the Poultry Club of Great Britain ordains that British Faverolles cocks weigh 4.08–4.98 kg (9–11 lb).

If the birds were imported the birds from France, your true love could be in a lot of trouble. To transport livestock for journeys over 65 kilometres, she would need a valid transporter authorisation and valid certificates of competence for any drivers and handlers involved. To get that, they have to be trained in things like loading and handling the animals, watering and feeding them, and what journey times and rest periods are allowed or not allowed. If the journey took amore than eight hours, she would also need valid approval certificates for the vehicle itself, and the containers used, as well as contingency plans for emergencies. It might even be necessary for the vehicle to have satnav and a tracking system that records the journey. Plus sensors to monitor the temperature of the animal compartment, equipment to keep it warm, a warning system to alert the driver if it becomes too hot or cold, and a ventilation system with a minium airflow of nominal capacity of 60 cubic metres per hour per kilo Newton of payload that can operate independently of the vehicle engine for at least four hours. Also, it has to be approved to transport the precise species—no shoving your French Hens in a cattle truck and hoping.

The regulators do not seem particularly bothered about the comfort of the driver, but they are minutely concerned about the animals. That might be why French Hens are so darn expensive…

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…four Calling Birds

The modern version of the song refers to calling birds, but not long ago it spoke of colly birds. Even those who remember this old version were probably unaware that colly bird was an archaic term for blackbird, which is probably why the line has elided into calling birds.  

Though blackbirds are very common, they are protected by the law, as are their nests and eggs. To be sure you are treating your true love’s gift properly, you had better read the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the various amendments made to it under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. None of them are short documents, but it all makes work for the people who draft parliamentary measures. 

If they really are calling birds and produce a sweet song, then you might want to put them on show to the public or enter them in a competition. Unfortunately it is an offence to show wild birds at a competition, or (just to be on the safe side) in premises in which a competition is being held. So maybe they are not much use to you, but unless they are native songbirds, you would be committing another offence. Indeed, if police suspect you are, they can ask a Justice of the Peace to grant a warrant to enter your premises and collect evidence. If they find it, you could be looking at a fine up to £5,000 or six months in the slammer. For each bird (that’s 20 grand). But at least they will confiscate the birds, which might come as a relief.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…five gold rings

Is your true love’s obsession with wildfowl finally fading? Probably not, because it is likely that the five gold rings actually refers to a goldspink (an archaic word for goldfinch) or possibly the yellowy rings round the neck of a pheasant. And since all your true love’s other gifts over the first week are birds, that’s at least plausible.

Still, supposing the gold rings were the real thing, your true love’s gift is still deeply nested in regulation. Nine carat gold must be an alloy of at least 375 parts per thousand precious metal, and assuming the ring is over a gram in weight (gold is heavy, after all), it must be checked by an independent Assay Office and duly hallmarked. Traders in precious metals also need to display a Dealer’s Notice, which explains what the hallmark means, in a prominent position in their shop. 

And don’t think of using the gold rings to pay all the handlers, hauliers and animal welfare experts you will need to look after your growing aviary. Under legislation designed (they say) to combat ‘morally repugnant’ tax avoidance, employees can no longer be paid in gold. Note the word avoidance. Avoiding tax—arranging your affairs to pay less tax than you otherwise might—is perfectly legal. It is evading tax—lying about your affairs, such as your income, in order to pay less tax—that is illegal. But now we have a law to make the legal illegal because it is immoral. A lot of people argue that capitalism is immoral, so you can see where this creative legal thinking is taking us.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…
…six geese a-laying

Well, at least these geese are obviously alive, so there is no worry about whether they have been shot out of season. Like other wildfowl, Canada Geese can be shot only from 1 September to 31 January above the high water mark of ordinary spring tides, and up to 20 February below the high water mark of ordinary spring tides. If you are shooting and don’t realise it is an extraordinary spring tide, you could be in even more of a pickle than your goose meat. 

Given the eighteen, mostly wild, animals that your true love has already pushed on you already, you might well be tempted to shoot the geese, but if you are wise, you will read a very large quantity of legislation first. Geese both fly and can cause damage, so you might hope that an angry farmer in the vicinity will shoot them for you. However, bird enthusiasts argue that most birds cause no harm to agricultural interests, and if the damage is minor, nobody should take any action against them. If the geese are seriously damaging, the farmer would be obliged to try non-lethal methods first, such as scaring them away or putting nets over the crops.

Of course, geese normally lay eggs (five or six to a nest) in March, April or May. So police or animal welfare officers (not to mention other animal groups that have special powers under the legislation) might well want to enquire of you what you or your true love did to them in order to get them laying at this unseasonal time of year. Better have a good answer, or they’ll be off to a JP for a warrant.

Time for the US to legalise drugs

When drug addiction, and the overdoses flowing from it, is a minority sport then interesting conversations can be had about the conflicts between civil liberty and protecting people from their own demons. When the problem has become sufficiently large to be affecting the expected lifespans of the nation then government really does have to do something.

That something being legalise the stuff:

America's worsening opioid crisis has caused life expectancy to fall for the second year running for the first time in more than half a century.

The average life expectancy in the US is now 78.6 years - down by 0.1 years, figures from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found.

It is the first consecutive drop in life expectancy since 1962-63 and surpasses the previous one-year dip in 1993 at the height of the Aids epidemic.

America's opioid addiction crisis - caused by the over-prescription of opioid based painkillers - has been blamed for the trend. 

The addiction sees patients turning to heroin and other substances when their doctors stops issuing prescription medication.

Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which has flooded the US drugs market and is 100 times more powerful than heroin, are thought to be behind the dramatic increase in overdoses among heroin users. 

How we got here isn't important as compared to what we do now. For what's killing people is not the desire to get blitzed - whether caused by over-prescription of opioids, inequality, the terrors of neoliberalism or anything else - but the illegality of the drugs themselves.

Heroin itself rarely kills. Pharmaceutically pure that is, in measured doses. The two most common, by far, causes of overdoses are those coming back to it after a layoff, dosing as before and having lost much of their tolerance, and variable doses in the material itself.

Modern chemistry has made this very much worse with synthetics like fentanyl. It's hugely cheaper and also very much stronger. More, the gap between a dose that produces a high and one that kills is very much smaller. Some to much "heroin" is now cut with such synthetics, making a dose even more of a lottery than it has traditionally been.

As we say, this is now enough of a problem that something really must be done. We've tried half a century of prosecuting, persecuting, those who simply wish to get high and as we can see that doesn't work. Legalisation - no, not decriminalisation, full legalisation - is the only viable answer.

For it is the variability of the dose that is killing people. Only when brands appear with controlled and known dosages will the deaths stop. Thus we want to have such legal brands.

Sure, profits will be made from this. But then profits are being made from the current system too. It's just that with the high being legal we've a system to prosecute those who kill their customers. And no, shouting that we've already got a system of prosecuting drug dealers doesn't work. For the current system quite obviously doesn't work, does it?  

There is also that civil liberty argument to consider. We are sovereign over our own bodies so why shouldn't we be allowed to get high in the manner of our choosing? Government's job is therefore, as far as it has one at all, to regulate to encourage safety, no more.

Wait, what? You mean higher taxes mean people have less money?

It's true that - up to that Laffer Curve point - higher taxes mean that the government has more money to spend on what it wishes. But equally obviously this also means that people themselves have less money to spend as they wish. A part of the ineluctable logic that all too few manage to grasp.

Fortunately The Guardian is here to inform us all:

The news that local authorities will now be able to raise council tax by up to 5.99% next year will be welcomed by many in local government – but risks pushing many people who find it hard to make ends meet further into debt.

Well, yes, that's the way it works. If we re-slice the pie so that the people with all the guns get a larger slice then those of us being taxed will have a smaller one. This should be obvious even if all too many don't grasp it.

But the problem is worse. For in our taxation of the richer among us we're pretty much at that Laffer Curve point. Sure, we can argue about whether the income tax take peaks at 40%, 43%, 47% and so on but all the experience (our own experience with the 50% rate, academic research by Diamond and Saez and so on) tells us that when we look at taxes upon income (so, adding NI and so on) then we are at least around about that peak.

Which means that if we're to increase the tax take as a percentage of the economy, the thing being demanded, then we're going to have to tax the poorer among us. The very people who don't have much to start with and who are really going to miss that marginal income.

This isn't the collective view here, not formally at least, but it does inform that general view. The very argument in favour of a smaller state is that, around and about where we are - even with a substantially smaller state than we already have - we have to tax the poor to pay for it all. Which isn't what we think we should be doing at all. 

We have a great deal of sympathy with the idea that the richer should be paying. But that does mean cutting the State to the size that can be paid for only by the rich.

Not, to repeat, a formal or official point, nor even a precise and exact one, but one underpinning a general view all the same. 

Solidarity isn't socialism and socialism isn't solidarity

Of all the dreadful syllogisms that could be used Owen Jones has picked a right stinker here:

Thatcherism – or neoliberalism, whichever you want to call it – tried to bulldoze every last remnant of solidarity we felt – and it failed. “We have to move this country in a new direction,” Margaret Thatcher declared after her first election triumph, “to change the way we look at things, to create a wholly new attitude of mind.”

I wonder how she would feel reading a new survey by the European commissionasking EU citizens whether, by 2030, they would prefer a society that gave more importance to solidarity or to individualism. She would undoubtedly be heartened to find that Britain comes joint top of the individualism league table. But she would probably be dispirited to read that only 29% favoured individualism, with a solid 52% hoping for more solidarity.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t formidable challenges to building socialism in modern Britain.

We are not straining this point, he really does mean it:

As a dogma, this form of individualism is a formidable obstacle to socialism.

Neoliberalism, Thatcherism, right wing baby eating, call it what you will, is not opposed to collectivism in any manner whatsoever. It's simply a difference in who decides upon the cooperation. Is it, in the form Jones is advocating, something imposed by the Commissars? Or is it something arising out of the actions of free people? 

David Cameron did have one thing right, there is society it's just not the government. As did St Maggie, the no society part should be fully quoted along with the there are individuals and families and.... All of which is a calling back to Burke's point about the little platoons.

We humans do cooperate, a market economy is exactly such solidarity. The farmer, miller and baker are all cooperating to provide our bread. The competition part is in who they decide to cooperate with to do so. So too is solidarity encapsulated in the pub quiz team, that voluntary nature and funding of the lifeboats, doing the shopping for the elderly neighbour and the existence of the Boy Scouts.

You know, the sorts of things that millions of us do every day? Even Friendly Societies, mutual insurance companies and all the rest. They're solidarity and they're not socialism of this form that Jones is defining, where it has to be something done by government? 


Tinkering with defence

The House of Commons Defence Select Committee published its report “Gambling on ‘Efficiency’: Defence Acquisition and Procurement" on 14th December.  It notes that the MoD is trying to live well beyond its means and doubts that the future efficiencies promised by the MoD to narrow the gap will be realized.  So far, so correct.  The report makes ten recommendations, sensible in themselves perhaps, but none resolve the strategic issues.

The ten recommendations can be summarized as:

  1. The MoD should provide us the criteria to assess the effectiveness of “Defence Equipment and Support” (DE&S) which is currently seen as failing.
  2. The Chief Executive of DE&S left after two years.  An interim should be appointed urgently and the proposed appointee interviewed by the Select Committee.

  3. The MoD should review its efficiency plans and contingencies.

  4. The MoD should publish an ‘efficiency tracker’ which would detail when, where and how efficiencies are to be made, together with risks and contingency plans.

  5. The role of Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) to ensure the MoD’s contractors make enough money (currently >10%) when procurement is not made competitively on the open market: the SSRO’s scope should be extended to government-to-government contracts and any single source contracts, save in exceptional circumstances.

  6. The SSRO must also be given similar powers to those of other regulators.

  7. To serve as a fully-fledged regulator, rather than just as a unit to assist the MoD, its personnel must be chosen, and its funds provided, independently of the MoD. Proposed appointees to the Chair and the Chief Executive positions should be interviewed by the Select Committee.

  8. Those updating the defence industrial policy should consider adopting a broader definition of ‘value for money’ that incorporates the impact of major defence projects on local economies, skills and employment levels.

  9. The new defence industrial policy should emphasise the importance of a regular drumbeat of activity to sustain a successful and high-skilled work force and to maintain the UK’s sovereign capabilities. It should also look at the types and quantity of defence equipment that are currently sourced externally, with a view to identifying where such equipment could be sourced domestically.

  10. The Government should commit to spend at least 2% of the defence budget on science and technology.

There are key strategic issues lying behind this report including: how the MoD can live within its means; how the MoD will deliver the efficiencies it claims it will make by cutting the tail and not the teeth of the armed forces and their essential suppliers; how to get better bangs for the bucks by sourcing from the competitive market, without decimating the UK’s defence industry needed for national security; and how to stop senior officers and civil servants commissioning distant future contracts which will be unaffordable when the bills roll in and they themselves have moved on.

To what extent do the Select Committee’s recommendations address those issues?

The first two are practical housekeeping for the DE&S.  Interviewing the sole nominated candidate is a bit late in the process.  The MoD will simply “take note” of any concerns.  Better to establish consensus sooner with the MoD and headhunter.

I am no prophet but I am willing to bet that the MoD will conclude its review of its own plans (recommendation 3) by finding them wholly admirable.  It would be better to have them exposed to the light of day, independently assessed and (recommendation 4) tracked.

Recommendations 5 – 7 concern the SSRO which is an extraordinary beast designed, it would seem, to featherbed the British defence industry at the expense of the taxpayer and more or less guarantee the MoD will overspend its budget.  These recommendations exacerbate the problem but do contain a valuable kernel.  Within the SSRO is the Investment Approvals Committee (IAC) whose role is to challenge non-competitive procurement.  If it worked, it would make a sizeable dent in the MoD’s overspend. The reality is, as the Select Committee points out, that the MoD has rendered it entirely ineffective.  For example, on all 14 occasions (out of a total of 166 decisions made between January 2015 – September 2017) where the IAC challenged the decisions to make non-competitive contracts, they were told it was too late as commitments had already been made (those interested should read the full report Improving value for money in non-competitive procurement of defence equipment produced by the National Audit Office in October).

The solution is not to give SSRO powers similar to unspecified regulators, some of whom are less than effective, but to transfer the IAC to the Treasury and make its pre-agreement to bespoke procurement mandatory.

“Value for money” (recommendations 8 and 9) should mean the impact on cost/effectiveness of our armed forces. Watering it down to incorporate “the impact of major defence projects on local economies, skills and employment levels” would mean, for example, that the UK production of rifles was good value for money, even though they did not work, if it provided employment in Huddersfield. Most soldiers would be able to express an opinion on that.  The Select Committee’s intent could be met by requiring the IAC to take the wider UK economic considerations into account.

Finally, recommendation 10, which may well be a good idea, is not relevant to the topic of the paper.

In conclusion, the strategic issues do need to be addressed head on. There are a few points that the government could start with:

  • It is already policy, albeit not implemented, to use the competitive market for procurement wherever possible. More could be done to focus resources on lower cost, but more often used. armed forces such as the infantry which are engaged almost every year. Only one non-ballistic submarine, by contrast, has seen action in the last 70 years. 
  • The MoD should publish the efficiencies it claims it will make, open them to criticism and, as the Select Committee suggests, progress each year against that plan.
  • Inter-service rivalry contributes to the commissioning of what might be considered vanity projects.  There is a belief, correct or otherwise, that the army is down-sized as a result. We need a fully independent (of the MoD) IAC. The spending options and their relative values for money should be transparent, at least to the Select Committee. The UK defence industry has to be brought up to world standards so that it can win competitively.  Featherbedding only worsens its long-term prospects.
  • Senior officers and civil servants do not intentionally over-commit the future. The problem is partly that the commissioners are each deeply engaged in their own projects and the MoD does not seem capable of scheduling and adding up the likely year-by-year total bill for the ten or even twenty years ahead. As responsibility moves over that time period and new options arise, specifications keep changing. Anyone who has had a house built knows how expensive it is to change specifications. The IAC’s role should be expanded to monitor the overall management of these future commitments and, in conjunction with the NAO occasionally, report annually to the Treasury, the MoD and the Select Committee.

Defence procurement has been a mess since the MoD was founded in 1947. Numerous consultants have advised numerous changes but the fundamental strategic issues have remained much the same. Last week’s Select Committee report is welcome but it does not go far enough.

This is a therefore about wages, not a but

We wonder, what does anyone think is going to happen in such circumstances

Cost of hiring a worker shoots up – but pay packets barely budge 

We do understand that the Telegraph doesn't have subeditors any more but really:

Companies are shelling out extra cash to take on more workers, but little of the money is finding its way into wage packets.

Wage costs in the three months to September were up by 2.6pc on the year but other costs of employing workers were up by 6pc, the Office for National Statistics said. 

Those other costs include pension contributions, national insurance, sickness payments, maternity and paternity pay and other benefits.

Auto-enrolment pensions are one possible contributor to the rise.

The important number to the employer is "What is the cost of hiring someone?" As a first order approximation they care not how that is divided between wages, taxes upon wages, other parts of total compensation and so on. They're interested in how much it costs to get a warm body in to do the work, that's all.

So, if the costs of doing that rise employers are seeing a rise in employment costs. They might even be entirely willing to pay more to get the workers they want. But if that rise is coming in non-wage compensation then there's no more money left over to raise the wages, is there? 

So, why do we have as close as modern times has ever come to full employment, economic growth and little to nothing in the manner of wage rises? Because government is forcing up the non-wage costs of employing someone. Hey, maybe it's even true that this all *should* be happening, perhaps everyone really should be saving for a pension, perhaps the maw of the State needs feeding with more employment taxation.

It is still true though that this is a therefore, not a but. Non-wage costs of employment are rising therefore wages aren't.

It's not just what they do, it's how badly they do it

The government has decided to treat us to a listing of fat cats. This is, as is obvious, a basic error. For this is being advanced as a fault of capitalism, that those running businesses get paid large amounts. Quite why it is a failure of capitalism that workers with rare skills get highly paid is not explained. We tend to think that the workers, even if they have been hired to organise matters as bosses, get well paid is a feature, not a fault, of an economic system.

But it's not just what is being done, it is the manner as well. For the definition of who is on this little list is absurd:

Several of Britain’s best-known companies, including Burberry, Sky and Sports Direct, are included on a list ordered by the prime minister of firms rewarding bosses with “fat cat pay” and representing the “unacceptable face of capitalism”.

More than a fifth of Britain’s FTSE listed-firms are included on the “name and shame” register of companies that Theresa May said risk damaging “the social fabric of our country” by paying bosses too much money.

No, not really:

The public register was published on Tuesday by the Investment Association, a trade body of investment firms that manage the pensions of million of Britons.

The register lists every company in the FTSE All-Share Index which has suffered at least a 20% shareholder rebellion against proposals for executives pay, re-election of directors or other resolution at their shareholder meetings.

It's a list of those who haven't been listening to shareholder concern over pay. That is really something rather different, isn't it?

 The public register, which will be continuously updated, also includes companies that withdrew or amended pay packages in the wake of shareholder discontent in the run up to votes.

What? Well, yes:

Companies on the register include:

Sports Direct

More than 70% of independent shareholders voted against a proposed £11m payout to founder Mike Ashley’s brother, John. The payment was blocked and the company said it now “considers all these matters to be closed”.

We have a list of companies that don't listen to their shareholders. On it we include those who do listen to their shareholders.

Let's face it folks, if this were a racehorse we'd already have boiled it down for glue. And this is, by the time you read this, only Day Two of our little list. Government, bad ideas incompetently applied.

Parting thoughts

Today is my last day as Executive Director of the Adam Smith Institute. I joined back in 2010 at a junior level, helping out with the research. Over the years was able to rise up the ranks and help to shape the Institute’s research and overall mission.

It’s a bittersweet day for me. I’m enormously proud of the things I’ve helped to achieve here, and especially of the teams I’ve been able to build. I hope you won’t mind indulging me in some memories of my time here.

When I started, the team of Tom Clougherty, Sally Yarrow and Philip Salter mentored and encouraged me, giving me chances to go on media and write for national newspapers that few other 22 year olds will get. Those early days especially were a time when my confidence grew and grew. The fact that people as smart and capable of that, who I liked and respected so much, saw something of value in me gave me encouragement and a feeling that I could make something valuable of myself.

After they left, and the period of interregnum that followed (made manageable thanks to the enormous talent and hard work of JP Floru and Peter Spence, who went on to a successful career in journalism), we had to rebuild. Our first hire, from City AM, was Ben Southwood. Ben is the reason that the modern ASI is what it is – anti-dogmatic, curious, and iconoclastic. You simply cannot be an ideologue around Ben. He is too smart and too intolerant of bullshit to let it happen. I try to be as open-minded, flexible and reasonable as possible – to the extent that I am, it is largely thanks to Ben. His influence on the Institute is less visible than mine, but it is absolutely equal to mine. He deserves to be known as the person responsible more than anyone else for bringing rigour and intellectual curiosity back to the British free market movement.

With our first generation team under my leadership, made up of Ben, Charlotte Bowyer, Kate Andrews, Nick Partington and Sophie Sandor, we helped to rebuild the Institute and restore the ASI’s place in the political landscape. Those were scrappy days of long internal debates and risk-taking, as we tried to re-direct the Institute to be something relevant and exciting again, and show our own personalities in its work. Kate’s star continues to shine, as befits one of the best communicators of ideas in the British liberal movement. Charlotte’s talents, more than anyone else I’ve worked with, reflect what I like to see as my own – an enthusiasm for every challenge, and an ability to cut to the facts and through the rhetoric in political debate.

Some of the best memories I have of those days are our trip to Hong Kong, our shared love of PC Music and Carly Rae Jepsen, and the evenings we spent trying out new restaurants together. I’m amazingly proud of that team and how much we were able to achieve. It was because we were some of each other’s closest friends that we managed to do so much with so little.

As some of those staffers left, new ones joined. Sam Dumitriu, Flora Laven-Morris, Holly McKay and Hunter Georgeson helped to turn a think tank that was back on its feet into one that was running at full pace. I remain in awe of Flora’s ability to turn PR lead into gold, and Sam’s ability to master subjects just before they exploded, like electricity regulation and the gig economy. Sam, who will be taking over as Head of Research, is one of the most impressive policy wonks I’ve met at any think tank, and I believe the ASI’s output will reflect his serious, scholarly approach to empirical research.

As the political landscape shifted, we were joined by Daniel Pryor, Matthew Kilcoyne, Amelia Stewart, Oliver Riley and, most recently, Jonas Christiansen. I have known Daniel since he was seventeen and, of all the future stars I’ve come across in the liberal movement, he is one of the brightest. Matthew’s understanding of the political tectonics is unparallelled, and combined with his flair for PR, I believe the ASI’s work will be more influential and more politically relevant than it has been for decades. I am proud to have had a hand in the founding of the Entrepreneurs’ Network, founded by Philip Salter who, along with Sophie Jarvis, has created an important, powerful voice for entrepreneurs that does not just revert to corporatist talking points.

The ASI we’ve tried to build has been one that is self-aware, pragmatic, humane and, above all, interesting. We’ve tried not to just bang the same drum all the time, unless we think it’s a particularly important drum that nobody else is banging. We’ve tried to put new, unusual ideas like NGDP targeting, full expensing, YIMBY housing policies, Japanese-inspired transport policies, and globalist migration policies onto the agenda. In embracing the word ‘neoliberal’, we’ve tried to build a new identity for like-minded people who are sickened by the libertarian flirtation with the alt-right and want to be able to identify themselves as open-minded, liberal believers in the power of markets to improve the human condition. None of these jobs are finished yet, but we’re getting there. I’m proud to have had a hand in that.

Finally, the two people who made all of this, the best years of my life to date, possible – Madsen and Eamonn. Eamonn was, I once realised, the fourth person I ever followed on Twitter, back when I was a student in Ireland and years before I had set foot inside the Adam Smith Institute. The enormous respect that Eamonn commands across the world is well-deserved, not just because of his huge contributions to the political and intellectual landscape but because of his generosity of time and spirit. Eamonn will speak to anyone, and give time to everyone, as an equal. To be treated in such a way by such a giant is an awesome experience. All who have met him will know what I mean. 

And Madsen. Madsen defines the ASI and changes the lives of so many of those who come to know him. His sense of mischief and his brilliant mind together make him a force of nature. Throughout the last seven years he has mentored and challenged me. I have “downloaded his software” on so many fronts that I find myself approaching my days with the same determination to change the world and confidence in my own ability to do so that I feel that nearly anything is possible. As I take the next steps in my life, his motto will always stay in my mind: quod tango muto – that which I touch, I change.

Why do people say that hunter gatherers don't work very much?

It's a commonplace these days for people to insist that hunter gatherer societies don't do all that much work.

Questioning the notion that the hunter-gatherer way of life is a “precarious and arduous struggle for existence,” Lee instead described a society of relative comfort and abundance. Lee studied the !Kung of the Dobe area in the Kalahari Desert (also known variously as Bushmen, the San people, or the Ju/’hoansi) and noted that they required only 12 to 19 hours a week to collect all the food they needed.

A couple of reasons why this isn't really very interesting as an observation:

Let us first revisit the !Kung themselves. As Lee himself would later mention in his 1984 book on the Dobe !Kung, his original estimate of 12-19 hours worked per week did not include food processing, tool making, or general housework, and when such activities were included he estimated that the !Kung worked about 40-44 hours per week.

The second being that it's near impossible to have any population density among hunter gatherers. 7 billion people trying to live like that would rapidly be dead as they stripped every living thing, including each other, from the environment.

But another observation.

The average British food budget for a family is some £60 a week. The median full time hourly wage is some £13 or so an hour. Our calculator tells us that this is 5 hours of work a week for the food required. Note well that that is 5 hours work to feed a family, something we can define as the (still, just about) modal four people of two adults and two children, or if preferred, two adults only. Using that latter we work somewhere between one fifth and one tenth of the amount of time hunter gatherers do to fill our bellies.

How the hell does anyone still say that we work more than our ancestors?