We really don't know very much, certainly not enough to plan

This point has of course been made before, even by the occasional person even more illustrious than we are. However, it does bear repeating, we just don't know very much about our world:

The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) is the source of the nation’s official household income and poverty statistics. In 2012, the CPS ASEC showed that median household income was $33,800 for householders aged 65 and over and the poverty rate was 9.1 percent for persons aged 65 and over. When we instead use an extensive array of administrative income records linked to the same CPS ASEC sample, we find that median household income was $44,400 (30 percent higher) and the poverty rate was just 6.9 percent. We demonstrate that large differences between survey and administrative record estimates are present within most demographic subgroups and are not easily explained by survey design features or processes such as imputation. Further, we show that the discrepancy is mainly attributable to underreporting of retirement income from defined benefit pensions and retirement account withdrawals.

Note that this is the US Census analysing their own numbers. And note how far out they are, an entire 30% of median income. On the basis that, you know, people lie about their income.

All of which is an excellent example of what Hayek was pointing out, we don't in fact have the information to be ab le to plan the economy in any meaningful manner. Here, what value all those plans to reduce elderly poverty when we're 30% out in our estimation of how much elderly poverty there actually is? And that's from the best figures available to government.

Our ability to change things is severely limited by our inability to know how things actually are.

We need to talk more about Venezuela

On Sunday, Venezuela will go to the polls to vote for representatives to a council that will start rewriting the country’s constitution. After four months of street protests, 100 people are thought to have been killed by the Maduro regime and there are serious questions being asked in Washington about the potential of a civil war breaking out.   

But how we did we get here and why does it matter that yet another socialist regime has reached its inevitable conclusion of abject failure?

In short, it matters because Venezuela has been held up as a paradigm of what could be possible for socialism by the West’s leading leftist commentators. 

As Kristian Niemietz at the IEA has catalogued the current leadership of the Labour Party in this country, as well as their supporters in the media, used to tout Venezuela as an inspiration to their cause. Only yesterday the Daily Mail revealed that Jeremy Corbyn praised Hugo Chavez and criticised the European Union as being a ‘barrier to building socialism and fighting capitalism’ in a phone call to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro back in 2014. Owen Jones, George Monbiot, the Labour MP Richard Burgon and Corbyn’s director of communications Seumas Milne have all put pieces out in support of Chavez, Maduro and the Bolivarian socialist revolution - they’re strangely silent on the topic at the moment. 

The policies that Venezuela has adopted - which the Labour Party’s leader used to praise and which have been argued for by their supporters - have left Venezuela in ruin. 

Policies such as pegging the currency at levels staggeringly divergent from its real value,  financing large increases in public spending through printing money, strong state subsidy and price controls of basic goods, rent controls, and a string of nationalisations have all taken their toll. For a while a high oil price was enough to paper over the cracks but eventually you have to face up to economic reality. Debt repayments started adding up, a persistent public sector deficit and commitments to spending programmes its political leaders don’t want to sacrifice have led to scenes akin to those seen at the end of the Soviet Union, with money printing causing high inflation

Yesterday the inflation rate in Venezuela reached a record high annual rate of 844.22%.Our own inflation rate was at 2.6% last month. 

With the rate back up that high Venezuela’s inflation became the 57th verified episode of hyperinflation (it has been added to the official Hanke-Krus World Hyperinflation Table). You have to have inflation of over 50% for a period greater than 30 days to be included - fortunately that’s rare but as we can see in Venezuela it’s not rare enough.  

The value of the Bolivar (the currency of Venezuela) has collapsed. On the black market one US Dollar can get you 7,691 Bolivars. There are two official rates, which are strictly controlled by central authorities. The DIPRO rate is currently 10 Bolivars to the dollar, with the DICOM rate recently devalued to just over 2,000 Bolivars to every US Dollar. DIPRO is used for imports of goods like food and medication, social security pensions for Venezuelans abroad, imports for sports and culture and payments to Venezuelan students abroad. DICOM is used for everything else (including oil) and is auctioned.

When I was Venezuela in 2009 - very briefly - I was struck by the divergent nature of the place compared to their neighbours Colombia. You couldn’t use the cash machines because they required your Venezuelan registration number and the differences in official and unofficial currency exchange rates were very apparent (I paid nearly $90 for two sandwiches from Subway in the airport). 

This is a country of 31 million men, women, and children who have had their lives ruined by two successive socialist presidents, in a place that sits on the largest oil reserves on the planet. 

Medicines are running out and infant mortality has spiked 21% in a single year and is 45% higher than in 2013. Heart surgeons have conducted operations by the light of mobile phones as power cuts hit. 

One of the most striking things that has happened is a change in people’s diets as inflation has skyrocketed and the Bolivar’s value has fallen, sapping their purchasing power. Consumption of staples that Venezuelan families had bought for decades began to fall as prices shot up. People stopped being able to afford things like rice, chicken and beef and have to replace these with cheaper and less nutritious crops like potatoes. Over 75% of the Venezuelan population say that they lost an average of 19lbs in 2016.  

That’s before we mention the scary fact that Venezuela is fast approaching a crunch point. The country is down to its last $10bn of foreign reserves while the oil price is nowhere near the level of around $75 dollars the Latin American country needs to finance its public spending and debt commitments. State oil company PDVSA has $3.7bn of repayments to foreign creditors to make this year and another $8bn in 2018 - debts it needs to pay in order to keep any money coming in from oil exports. 

The policies that Jeremy Corbyn has publicly praised as examples, that John McDonnell wants in order to start ‘fermenting the conditions to overthrow capitalism’, and that their media hands have been supporting for a decade are coming to their inevitable conclusion. 

Venezuela deserved better than the economic hell its leaders have created. Venezuela is not an example that Britain should be looking to, but a warning. Those British journalists and politicians, including those leading Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, that lauded the socialist revolution should be looking again at their own policy suggestions.

This really is not poverty, to claim it is is to devalue the very concept

There is a certain tension over how we should be defining poverty. On the one hand we've Adam Smith's linen shirt example, if society thinks that not being able to afford something makes you poor, you cannot afford it, then you're poor in that society. On the other hand that declaration of poverty also brings with it, for all too many, the right to then confiscate from others to repair the deficiency.

Just about everyone agrees with both propositions but in differing degrees. We're just fine with the idea of that confiscation, that taxation, to produce food for the starving. We're likely to be less accommodating to a suggestion that something similar must be done about iPad inequality.

As so often with economic questions the answer becomes "It Depends."

At which point we really do need to insist that this isn't poverty:

A report from In Kind Direct says thousands of people are seeking help and describes the issue as a “hidden crisis”. Last year the charity distributed a record £20.2m of hygiene products, a rise of 67% on £12.1m the year before.

The charity itself looks like a thoroughly good idea to us. Manufacturers do end up with a certain amount of whatever that is off spec. Nothing wrong with it in its essence, just not quite up to prime time retailing - labels wonky, colours running on the printing, that sort of thing. Rather than dumping or scrapping it why not pass it along to the poor? 

Quite, why not? And yet:

Growing numbers of people are facing hygiene poverty, where they are unable to afford essential products such as shampoo and deodorant, and are having to choose between eating and keeping clean, a charity has found.

No, we do not believe, and nothing will convince us to believe, that an inability to afford deodorant is poverty. And most certainly not the sort of poverty that lays a claim upon the incomes of others.

In fact, the very claim that this is poverty we would take as being evidence that there is no poverty in the United Kingdom today. Which puts us up there with Barbara Castle in fact, who back in the 1960s pointed out that there was no poverty in Britain any more. Both of us here talking about absolute poverty of course. There is still that inequality that some have more than others, still the possibility of Smith's linen shirt style as well.

But if that debate has now got to the point where we're talking about deodorant poverty then we're really very sure that the problem has been licked. What remains is a triviality of First World Problems level, something we can safely ignore while we get on with solving other matters.

Do Mediterranean search-and-rescue missions cause more drownings?

Earlier this week, a ship chartered by far-right activist group Defend Europe entered Mediterranean waters: apparently in a bid to support the Libyan Coast Guard's reconnaissance efforts, prevent human trafficking, and monitor humanitarian NGO activity. On its website, the group states that humanitarian NGOs are “responsible for the mass drowning of thousand [sic] of Africans in the Mediterranean.” The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that from the beginning of this year to the end of June, 2257 people have died or gone missing while trying to reach Europe by sea.

Defend Europe describe themselves as “Identitarian”: a label used by those who wish to preserve European culture by drastically cutting immigration and combating what they perceive to be Islamization. Although they claim to be partially motivated by preventing the suffering of migrants and refugees who drown attempting to cross the Mediterranean, they are at least honest about their primary goal. But immigration concerns notwithstanding, do those who claim that rescue missions incentivize dangerous Mediterranean crossings have a point? The key question here is whether the lives saved by SAR operations outweigh the lives lost as a consequence of irregular migration incentivized by them; the evidence suggests that they don’t.

One argument used to criticize the impact of SAR missions is that they increase the mortality risk of Mediterranean sea-crossings: independently of the overall number. An internal report from the European border agency Frontex, obtained last year by the Financial Times, argued that search-and-rescue (SAR) missions in the Mediterranean may incentivize riskier methods of smuggling. However, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)—one of several humanitarian organizations working in the area—have cast doubt on Frontex’s reasoning for this claim. Furthermore, Blaming the Rescuers—a report released last month by Forensic Oceanography—highlights more compelling explanations for changing smuggling practices in 2015-2016:

...the increasing involvement of militias in the smuggling business, the shift in composition of migrant nationalities, and the increasing interventions of the Libyan Coast Guard...have contributed to a downward spiral in the practices of smugglers and conditions of crossing over 2015 and 2016. The dynamics of Libyan smuggling are deeply shaped by the fragmented political landscape in Libya, which constitutes a causal factor in its own right. While difficult to measure, the influence of these trends on the increasing danger of the crossing in 2016 is undisputable. While Frontex has analysed smuggling networks in Libya, it has kept these factors out of the analysis of the causes of the deteriorating conditions of crossing offered to migrants, blaming them instead on SAR NGOs...

These criticisms stack up with recent analysis of mortality rates in relation to different periods of SAR activity:


The authors of this analysis also anticipate an objection to the use of Triton I mortality figures:

The high mortality rate during Triton I is largely the result of two large accidents on 13th  and 18th April 2015, with estimated casualties of 400 and 750 people respectively. However, it would not be appropriate to consider these accidents outliers that were unrelated to the (absence of) SAR capacity. The excellent ‘Death by Rescue’ investigative report by the University of London’s Forensic Oceanography department analysed the circumstances of both accidents, using multiple sources such as photos, interviews with shipwreck survivors, rescue vessel crews, statistical data, GIS locations and internal reports by national authorities. It concluded that the deaths could have been prevented, had a more intensive SAR mission been in place...

The data referenced above casts doubt on the other main argument used by SAR-detractors, since it shows that migrant arrivals in Europe significantly increased despite the end of Mare Nostrum. Whilst it’s reasonable to assume that SAR operations may have some causal effect on irregular migration, the fact that arrivals were highest in the low-SAR period casts doubt on the strength of this effect and the likelihood that it outweighs the lives saved by SAR operations. Push-factors such as conflicts in Libya and Syria seem to have a far greater impact on the number of attempted sea-crossings than any pull-factors, as echoed in a 2015 International Organization for Migration report:

...the current migratory flows across the Mediterranean, from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle-East to Europe, seem to be driven much more significantly by push factors that cause migrants to depart their homes, than by the pull factors that draw migrants to Europe.

I’m pessimistic about the possibility of self-styled Identitarians changing their mind about SAR missions in the Mediterranean on the basis of the available evidence. For them, the wellbeing of migrants and refugees is at best secondary to their misplaced concerns about the impacts of immigration. However, I’m hopeful that others—who understandably find the “pull-factor” explanation intuitively appealing—view this argument with a more critical eye.

Money is a veil over economic understanding

One genre of claim I hear a lot on Twitter goes something like this: "more pounds spent in the economy means firms have more money so they invest more", or "more stuff consumed means more confidence for investors". I think this confusion comes partly from half-digested media economics, partly from the fact that the individual claims sound very intuitive, and partly from the fact that money is clouding our judgement. Without money, the issue is much clearer.

Imagine there was no money. Instead, a government plans the entire economy. Imagine for a second that it can easily compel people to do what it wants, and that there are no information problems, it can see inside people's minds to understand their preferences exactly.

It faces itself with a number of inputs at its disposal. First it has land—because economy activity has to take place somewhere, and some places can sustain more valuable economic activity, perhaps because there is oil buried there, the climate makes human habitation cheap or pleasant, or because it is near other areas of dense population. Second it has labour—humans are even now the crucial input for making most things through their dexterity, endurance, strength, and most of all brainpower. Third it has capital—in the past we've invested, producing stuff that did not service any of our demands directly, but made us better at serving them in the future, stuff like machinery, buildings, training, skills, and so on.

This economic planner basically arranges these economic inputs to produce two types of outputs:

  1. Consumption goods. People want medical services, lawyers, restaurants, hotels, aeroplanes, trains, cars, houses, and much much more. You can produce these. We spend 70-75% of our national product on these nowadays.
  2. Investment goods. If we use all of our inputs to produce consumption goods then we can consume a lot, but the amount we consume doesn't go up over time. In fact, if our capital depreciates over time, then the amount we consume actually falls. So we also use people, land, and capital to invest in new capital. We train new doctors, build new shopping centres and airports and factories, design new drugs and machine tools, invent robots. This stuff gives us no reward now, but it gives us a big reward later.

So it's clear that in this planned economy, any consumption comes at the cost of investment. But this is also true, for the most part, with money brought back in. Except for examples where governments (or firms) make terrible calls or restrictive regulations, most our best land, labour, and capital is tied up in producing consumption and investment goods. If our actions result in lower consumption, then they usually result in higher investment—and vice versa.

Now: this is not true when we're in a recession. At these times, lots of land, labour, and capital is un- or under-employed. At these times, you can increase both consumption and investment.

But in usual times more funds for investment lead to more investment. Slightly higher bids for a given financial security means slightly lower yields, making it slightly cheaper for that firm to borrow. Firms are not continuous, but thresholds in their borrowing costs do make a difference to their investment plans, and each infinitesimal shift is equally likely to bring them over such a psychological threshold on both the extensive (whether to invest) and intensive (how much to invest) margins.

It's true that raw correlations between aggregate borrowing costs and aggregate investment are weak. But that's because borrowing costs are usually low when the macroeconomy is weak, because of poor fiscal or monetary policy, factors we can easily abstract from. Controlling for expected economic conditions (as few papers do) would reveal a tight link.

This is why doing economics without a model—what I call "pub economics"—can be so difficult and misleading. Individually plausible-sounding claims can be false when you integrate them together with all the other relationships that are happening in the economy.

We look forward to seeing the pay slips from Julie Walters' next film

It has always caused us a certain amount of amusement that the luvvies, those engaged in one of the most ruthlessly free market occupations in the country, are generally lefties. If they bring in the paying audience they get showered with riches, if they don't then they're working for nothing in off-off-whatever-the-name-of- the-theatre-district-is shows. There are also their comments upon matters economic to consider as well - that they're good at reading someone elses' words seems not to give them any great insight into the subject they then comment upon.

Dame Julie Walters has called for women to be paid the same as men for doing “the same bloody job”.

As the BBC pledges to tackle the gender divide, Dame Julie said the entertainment industry has been underpaying women for decades.

“It’s good that we’re talking about it. It should be out there,” the actress said. Male actors have been “earning more money. Why? It’s the same bloody job!”

What actually is the same job? Acting? That would rather mean that Julie Walters should have been getting the same amount as Tom Felton in those movies, wouldn't it? Something which we would hazard a guess at the Famed Dame not having got.

At which point, wouldn't it be interesting to see the payslips for the next production she is in. Why are different actors getting different amounts if it is all just the same job?

Conservatives deserve facts about immigration, not guesswork

Conservatives deserve facts about immigration, not guesswork

Alex Morton (a No 10 policy advisor under David Cameron) has written a piece for ConHome that attempts to show that there is no particular reason for free marketeers to support liberal immigration policies. 

He is not very persuasive and mostly relies on his intuition to make his case. But since he mentions the Adam Smith Institute I feel obliged to respond. Conservatives reading his post deserve to hear more than Morton's gut instinct about immigration policy.

George Monbiot is wrong about chlorine chicken

It’s always good to know that people are reading your work. Guardian columnist George Monbiot has clearly had a thorough look at the Adam Smith Institute’s report on chlorinated chicken, which I authored.

In that, I argue that the UK should consider accepting imports of US chlorine-washed chicken, which could lead to lower food prices and help to secure a better transatlantic trade deal. I draw on existing research from the European Food Safety Authority, the Institute of Environmental Science & Research, and the University of Maryland to show that chemically-rinsed birds are safe for consumption, and that these rinses are effective at disinfecting poultry.

Monbiot does not contest these headline claims. Rather, he disputes one use of World Health Organization figures.

These figures are by no means the crux of the report. Nor are they particularly controversial - the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the body which sets international food standards, has published guidance for chlorine-washing chicken that is safe for human consumption.

And Monbiot does not question the logic behind my use of the WHO data. If chemically-rinsed chicken is ineffective in controlling pathogen spread, then as I write in the report, “one would expect foodborne illnesses carried by chicken to be much more prevalent”.

Here’s what I wrote:

WHO figures reveal that salmonella and campylobacter infections in North American countries are not out of line with their European counterparts.

And here is what Monbiot has to say:

But [the Adam Smith Institute] says that figures from the World Health Organisation reveal that salmonella and campylobacter infections there are “not out of line” with rates in the European Union.

I checked the source: the WHO study the Adam Smith Institute cited. While the incidence of campylobacter is similar, it shows that the burdens of infection per head of population from the two species of salmonella it analyses – Salmonella typhi and Salmonella paratyphi – are, respectively, four times and five times higher in North America than in Europe. I cannot state that this is caused by chlorinated chicken, as the WHO doesn’t provide such detail. But I can state that the Adam Smith Institute’s claim is false.

There is something to what Monbiot is saying. When you compare developed Western Europe, where we use the farm-to-fork approach, to developed North America, where they mostly chlorine wash at the end, the rates of the two types of salmonella seem higher in the US.

But what Monbiot doesn’t report are the actual numbers. Salmonella Paratyphi A and Salmonella Typhi infections are so rare in both subregions that the difference Monbiot highlights is trivial in the context of total infections, which the WHO weights according to the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost to them. The figures are 0.1 and 0.4 DALYs per 100,000 in North America versus 0.02 and 0.09 in Western Europe, respectively.

But even those average estimates are misleading: the 95% confidence intervals on those numbers all touch zero, and include the rates of the opposite countries. That is: the stats are statistically insignificant from each other. When you drill down to two such specific sub-figures, relying on imperfect sources, you can’t draw a clear result.

It’s like rolling two dice three times and arguing the one with the higher number is loaded: you haven’t got enough data to make that conclusion.

Monbiot also neglects to mention non-typhodial Salmonella enterica, which is much more prevalent that the other species mentioned.* In this case, the burden is lower in North America than Western Europe, while the gap between the two subregions is still not statistically significant. For North America the figure is 9 DALYs lost per 100,000 people, and for Western Europe it is 12. The figures for each subregion lies in the confidence interval of the other. However, all in all, it is the European region where salmonella has a higher burden.

Once you put those three specific infections together with all the diarrhoeal and infectious diseases we’d expect chemical washing to reduce you get a clearer comparison. The sum of DALYs lost to these poultry-related diseases per 100,000 in those North American countries is 18.5, compared with 22.11 in those European countries. As I wrote, “not out of line”.

This chart makes it clear: AMR A (North America) and EUR A (Western Europe) are barely different, although if we zoomed in massively we’d see the rate for all four hazards taken together is slightly higher in Europe. Guessing from the confidence intervals they give us, this difference might even be (marginally) significant.

If a cancer affects just 0.01% of the population then large differences in survival rates between countries do not much affect the relative burden of cancer overall between them. Whereas even small differences in survival rates for a cancer that affects 10% will make huge differences to the health of society overall. I think it’s this slip-up that Monbiot has made.

With more context and better understanding of the figures, it should be clear that our initial claim was correct and Monbiot’s “correction” misguided.

*Editor's note: we've updated this section, after a reader contacted us. Originally we responded only on the strains Monbiot raised; now we have added other poultry-related microbial infections.

The Department of Health: an overview of its quangos

Health and adult care services are surely complex matters but the challenges facing the 2,000 Department of Health HQ staff should be relatively simple: persuading HM Treasury to provide more resource and splitting that between NHS England (treatment and cure), adult care services and the technical quangos which address central issues such as the efficacy of medicines.  The more that goes to the Department itself, and its quangos, the less goes to front-line services.

Remarkably, none of the 27 quangos focus specifically on adult care services or mental health – the two big problems of our time.  NICE provides guidance on medicines, medical technology and, since 2013, social care. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the National Data Guardian monitor both NHS and adult care provision. The Health and Social Care Information Centre is now called NHS Digital as, according to its 2016/7 annual report, it now aligns itself with the NHS rather than social care. None of the other 23 gives address social care at all.  The DH should, perhaps, have an over-arching public body, equivalent to NHS England, to oversee adult public services, especially since the front line services are largely devolved to local authorities.

As discussed in an earlier ASI Blog[1], NHS England, now an “Executive Non-departmental Public Body”, should become a publicly owned corporation, if only to stop politicians and civil servants messing it up. Remarkably, the DH has eight quangos interfering, or helping depending on one’s point of view, in NHS England’s business: Independent Reconfiguration Panel, National Information Board, NHS Business Services Authority, NHS Digital, NHS Improvement, NHS Litigation Authority and the two review boards for NHS staff pay and doctors/dentists.  Clearly decisions for staff differ from GPs who are independent contractors for the context is the same and the board needs to be fair across both sectors.

Five of those can be seen as services that NHS England would itself need, one way or another.  The Independent Reconfiguration Panel, National Information Board and NHS Improvement, however, exist purely to tell the CEO of NHS England how to do his job in addition to the stream of instructions from the DH itself.  The three should be disbanded.

Six other quangos clearly need to be independent from the NHS: Administration of Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee, CQC, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Human Tissue Authority, National Data Guardian and the NHS Blood and Transplant.  The CQC and Data Guardian monitor performance and patient confidentiality respectively.  The other four are technical/scientific.

Of the remaining 12 quangos, five should be disbanded and seven have overlapping functions and could be merged into three quangos. Merger does not of itself guarantee better value for money but at least it gives the opportunity for squeezing costs to prioritise what matters most. The seven could therefore be merged into two agencies: Public Health, and Medicines and Technology (NICE).  The public health agencies are Public Health England, Health Education England and the Health Research Authority.  The other four are National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), British Pharmacopoeia Commission, Commission on Human Medicines, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

The existing NICE is far the largest of this last group, with 600+ staff and a budget of £65M p.a.  Its guidance on medicines can be controversial but is unquestionably independent and well informed.  The 2013 tacking on of adult social care seems culturally alien and receives relatively little attention. Much of its social care guidance can be parodied as “all the involved people should be involved”.  This responsibility should be transferred to the new adult social services public body proposed above.

The final proposed disposals are the Accelerated Access Review, Advisory Committee on Clinical Excellence Awards, Committee on Mutagenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, Morecambe Bay Investigation and Porton Biopharma Limited. The first and fourth of those completed their work some years back and should no longer be listed. Deciding, once a year, which consultants should receive awards does not need a full time DH quango, just an ad hoc committee of the NHS. The Mutagenicity Committee is actually three separate ones which belong in their separate Whitehall departments – the Food Standards Agency for food, BIS for consumer products and DEFRA for the environment.

Porton Biopharma Limited is either the profitable commercial enterprise, as the DH website claims, in which case it should be privatized, or that is a cover for high security research, in which case it should become part of the Ministry of Defence.

Although the idea of “taxpayer value” has now been espoused in Whitehall, comparing the taxpayer value of, say, a destroyer with an acute hospital is somewhat  with an acute hospital is somewhat conjectural.  This overview of the DH quangos has indicated that, excluding the NHS and Adult Care bodies, only about nine of them are necessary.  Divvying the annual budget 12 (NHS and Adult Care England, nine quangos and the DH itself) ways, once a year, and writing a few policy and briefing papers, is not a lot of work: all bar 200 of the HQ staff could safely be stood down and thereby fund another 1,800 doctors and nurses.

The “bonfire of the quangos” promised (again) in 2010 was more of a puff of smoke.  Some were merged but most were unaffected.  The streamlining of quangos outlined in this overview is not so much to save money as to give the NHS a better chance of improving its performance.  No NHS England chief executive needs this many quangos looking over his shoulder and telling him how to do his job.

Well done Polly, except this is rather the point of trade

Polly Toynbee tells us that the very point of trade is one of the terrors of trade which must be avoided. Which is a rather interesting case of entirely mangling reality, isn't it

The American farming industry insists any free trade deal must include agriculture – and Britain must allow in US chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-fed beef and genetically modified crops, all banned here and in the EU. The Telegraph reports Fox sources, backed by Boris Johnson, saying “the Americans have been eating it perfectly safely for years” and it’s 21% cheaper than our chicken. Trade is supposed to mean cheaper imports. But, with echoes of the old Corn Law wars, Gove and Leadsom jump to defend British farmers, expressing “serious concerns”. Not only will UK farmers lose market share, but lowering standards bars us from exporting our food to the EU. Fox dismissed food obsession as media trivia. Maybe the food is safe – but his eagerness to lower standards shows how a supplicant UK will take whatever terms a super-power desires.

It’s infuriating to watch Brexiteers only now finding out basic truths that “experts” told them years ago. Trade with New Zealand? That will wipe out our sheep farming.

If foreigners do the chicken thing better than we do (there is more on our work on this here) then we positively desire to be buying what they do better than we. If foreigners can farm better than we can, perhaps they have a greater or better original endowment of land for example, then we want them to take market share.

If our land isn't very good for sheep growing, as it also isn't for cocoa or banana growing (or even, as Adam Smith pointed out, grapes for Bourdeaux) then we absolutely do want them to be doing that and we to be doing something else.

Something else that we're less bad at, as David Ricardo pointed out 200 years and a couple of months back. Which is surely long enough for even Polly to get to grips with the basic concept? 

That free trade with the world would mean we do less of certain things here in Britain is not a problem with free trade, is not a usurpation by free trade nor a perversity of free trade, it's the entire damn point of free trade itself.