Let us be

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The party conferences, with all their policy announcements, pledges and sniping, raise the issue of what the public wants and expects from their government. They also bring about discussion on who exactly a particular government would favour. Segments of society are seized upon left right and centre by every party, and are either demonised or showered with promises of a better life.

Brown has stated that Labour sets out to satisfy the "values of the mainstream majority." This though is wherer governments are going wrong; they shouldn’t embody the views or values of the majority; they shouldn’t embody the values of anyone. By taking a normative stand, no matter how populist it may be, a minority will be punished or sidelined. Vilify the bankers and they might stop creating taxable wealth so quickly. Cast bored youths as feral animals and they will bite back. Introduce supervising housing for young mums, and all stigmatisation of them seems justified.

In truth, the neglected but vital role of government is to protect the liberty of those governed by it. A government should uphold a legal system that allows individuals to live peacefully and safely, with their lives and property protected from the harmful actions of others. It can also have an important role providing public goods such as roads and national defence. Evidently, it is important that a government is not against the people. However, when governments try and act for some people, they are acting against others.

The UK is a network of communities, and people have different values, priorities and cultures. One of humanities' great skills is our ability to work productively with one another, while new technology increasingly allows us to connect with each other and create solutions to problems in a way never before seen. Cameron talks sense when he speaks of the importance of Burke’s ‘little platoons’, and the way in which communities and groups are able to achieve their own goals and solve their own problems. While as a country we expect the governments to take up crusades and hand out solutions on a platter, there is much that could be done without requiring the values and priorities of one group, regardless of how large it is, becoming forced on another.

If governments stopped looking to change the course and values of people’s lives, we might just be that little bit happier, productive and more successful.

The Tyndale Centre: not knowing what they're talking about

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The latest little report attempting to scare the bejabbers out of us:

The centre, a partnership of seven universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, says that the economies of developed nations will have to shrink and consumption of almost all types of goods will have to fall “in the short to medium term".

...

“It’s a very uncomfortable message but we need a planned economic recession. Economic growth is currently incompatible with reductions in absolute emissions."

Ah, no, I'm sorry, but that argument just doesn't work I'm afraid. And it doesn't matter what the climate models say, nor whatever new gremlins you've found within them. For this is an economic argument and that's not one that a bunch of atmospheric physicists, however eminent, are going to win. Especially as they seem not to understand it in the first place. Assume, arguendo, that everything they're saying about their models, emissions, warming etc is correct: they're still wrong.

For the real argument, after we've accepted their part about the physics and chemistry, is what do we do next? Our aim is, of course, to maximise human utility, to make ourselves and those generations coming after us as rich as is humanly possible (properly rich, not just in cash). This is the very basis of the argument of the Stern Review. Indeed, despite the Stern Review making a few desperate contortions to get to the desired conclusion, the essence of his argument is entirely sound. What balance of spending money now, of investing, of curtailing consumption, will maximise human welfare in the future while causing the least cost to us now? Should we be pushing adaption? Should we be trying mitigation, reducing emissions? Simply let rip, grow the economy as fast as possible and let the rich people in the future deal with it? Stern's answer is that in order to avoid a possible loss (yes, "possible") of 20% of GDP in 2100 we should be willing to give up 1-2% of GDP now. This is through a mixture of both adaptation and mitigation.

As I say, Stern contorts quite a lot to be able to justify that conclusion but let's again accept it, arguendo.

Now the Tyndale Centre says no, this isn't enough. We must be giving up much more than 1-2% of GDP now: but we are still avoiding only that 20% of future GDP cost. That is, Stern's carefully worked out cost benefit analysis tells us that the cost of the 20% of GDP benefit is 1-2% of GDP. This is a good idea. However, if someone comes along now and says, no, the cost of avoiding that 20% of GDP hit in the future is 5% (or whatever) of GDP now then it becomes, by Stern's very arguments, a bad idea. Thus we shouldn't do it for we will be making the future poorer than it need be.

This is what the Tyndale Centre doesn't seem to understand. By insisting that we must cut GDP now in order to avoid climate change they're actually telling us that we shouldn't bother to try stopping climate change. Forget mitigation altogether, we should just let rip with the economy and let those vastly richer than us people in the future sort it out for themselves. Let them adapt, not us mitigate.

In other words, the more people tell us we have to restrain the economy now in order to avoid climate change the less we should actually restrict the economy: for our descendants would be better off with the climate change but with the wealth we can bequeath them.

 

Tories' care home costs plan

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Cameron's 'thoughtful revolution' in elderly care needs more thought about principle.

The latest fusillade in the Conservatives' 'thoughtful revolution', which Philip Salter reported on here, looks – well, completely devoid of any thought at all.

In fact, this latest vote-winning wheeze shows how devoid of principle or imagination the Conservatives have become. (Not that this is much of a criticism, since all parts of the political class are naturally more interested in votes than in either of those.) Indeed, it looks like a quick-fix plan to match Gordon Brown's costly promises on the same subject

The plan is that if people pay the £8,000 at retirement, then the government will give them free long-term care when they need it. It is absolutely extraordinary. It means that the Conservatives – the Conservatives – are proposing a new form of national insurance. An extension of the Welfare State. It means that a Conservative – a Conservative – government would crowd out private insurers who might just be able to do that sort of a job better and cheaper than Whitehall bureaucrats. (Admit it, that has been known.)

If anyone in the Eton-Islington Axis was actually moved by principle rather than PR, they'd have consulted two decades' worth of think-tank reports pointing out that things like long-term care – and healthcare in general – are best provided through a partnership between individuals, insurance, and the state. The deal should be that if you fund or insure yourself for a reasonable period (say two years) of long-term care, then yes, the state will pick up the tab for the rest – since it's those unpredictably long stays that give insurers the collywobbles. It certainly shouldn't be that the state insures everything.

As an insurance company, the state sucks. It should focus on its proper role – welfare needs and the provision of things people can't save or insure for – not advancing into new areas that never occurred to Aneurin Bevan. Now that would be a thoughtful revolution.

Dr Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain is now in paperback.

Ain't no party like a nanny state party

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May 1st 2010 will mark the launch of an annual celebration of all things New Labour: The 'Nanny State' Party. It will be a raucous affair where everyone can let their hair down and party like it's 1997.

Every party needs something to make it go with a bang, and this party will be no different. There will plenty of Nanny State ale to consume, and for those who prefer the grape, over the hop, bottles of Recession Red, to help celebrate the end of "boom and bust" economics. (Alcoholic drinks vouchers will be handed out at the door on entry, limiting people to the correct daily amount). Both will be served in recycled plastic glasses. Catering will be provided by our 'Five-a-day" officers who will be serving a wholly nutritional platter of organic fruits and vegetables. Nibbles will be in the form of organic pulses, beans and muesli. For guests who wish to smoke, there will be a controlled outside environment where we will allow 'electronic' cigarettes. For those who wish to consume nicotine in the old fashioned way you will be handed a nicotine patch and signed up to an intensive six week NHS Smoking Cessation course.

"Things Can Only Get Better" by D:Ream will be the only song available on the jukebox. And Harriet Harman is to be the spokesperson of choice, giving her view of the past 12 years. So please RSVP for your ticket soon to ensure your place at what's going to be the party of next year. We also want to ensure that we record your details on our 'entertainment' database which will of course allow us to issue you with your party ID card. John Prescott will be on the door and enforcing a no ID card, no entry policy.

The event will be powered by renewable energy and there will be ample bicycle and electrical car parking. An OFSTED licensed creche will also be available. Tickets only cost £13,000 (roughly equivalent to your share of the national debt). RSVP now and we'll even pay for your CRB check.

Fascism is communism

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We ask that the government undertake the obligation above all of providing citizens with adequate opportunity for employment and earning a living. The activities of the individual must not be allowed to clash with the interests of the community, but must take place within its confines and be for the good of all. Therefore, we demand: … an end to the power of the financial interests. We demand profit sharing in big business. We demand a broad extension of care for the aged. We demand … the greatest possible consideration of small business in the purchases of national, state, and municipal governments. In order to make possible to every capable and industrious [citizen] the attainment of higher education and thus the achievement of a post of leadership, the government must provide an all-around enlargement of our entire system of public education … We demand the education at government expense of gifted children of poor parents … The government must undertake the improvement of public health – by protecting mother and child, by prohibiting child labor … by the greatest possible support for all clubs concerned with the physical education of youth. We combat the … materialistic spirit within and without us, and are convinced that a permanent recovery of our people can only proceed from within on the foundation of the common good before the individual good.

– From the political program of the Nazi Party, adopted in Munich, February 24, 1920.

The fashion police

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Police cover-up at the Joy fashion chain in London sends a message to Cameron that he needs to strip our laws down to their foundations.

Yes, the fuzz have done it again. The new Islington, London store of fashion chain Joy enterprisingly launched a promotion, in which the first 25 customers to turn up in their underwear would get free outfits. Rather a fun idea.

But no sooner were 25 lucky ladies assembled outside the door in their smalls than the bluebottles (in the now-standard body armour) turned up to accuse them all of committing pubic indecency. That's an arrestable offence – actually, everything is an arrestable offence these days, as you'll find if you drop an apple core. Faced with the prospect of being marched in handcuffs down to the nick, swabbed, fingerprinted, cautioned, charged, and taken to court, everyone grumpily covered up, saying that our bobbies lost their sense of humour.

No, they haven't. They are just doing their job. And that's the problem. Politicians, in their anxiety to stamp out anti-social behaviour, hate crime, indecency, offensiveness and litter, have passed laws that give the cops powers to arrest (swab, fingerprint...) people for almost anything. No problem, you might think, if the Old Bill use common sense.

But you can't expect them too. It's simple bureaucrat economics. If they don't intervene and people are offended (or worse), they will get pilloried and people will demand they lose their jobs. If they do intervene, the worst that happens (to them) is that we complain they are a bit heavy-handed. Give bureaucrats – officials, rozzers, whoever – a power, and they will use it. All the time. It's just self-preservation.

That's why these powers should not exist in the first place. Sure, the peelers need authority to protect the public against terrorism, or stop breaches of the peace. But – note to Cameron & Co – if we want to make sure we don't face arrest for over-filling our wheelie bins, our politicians need to be much more precise about exactly what the law is there for. They won't, of course, because they like having the powers and think they will apply them sensibly. But for the reason I gave above, that's a fat chance. (Or can I be arrested for hate crime for using the word 'fat' in an abusing manner? When everything is unlawful, it's hard to know what to do.)

Dr Butler's book The Rotten State of Britain is now in paperback.

Cameron’s revolution

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There is little to be garnered from David Cameron’s interview with Fraser Nelson of the Spectator. However, despite his deafening silence on policy of late, the excellent Fraser Nelson does pursue two interesting lines of discussion that elicit rather telling responses.

Firstly, Cameron claims that: “the sort of tax system that I believe in is one that’s effective in raising revenue — rather than one that is trying to make a particular point". Thus, the Conservative's are not going to soak the rich without just cause. The problem is that with all matters political, the truth is easily manipulated – thus, this is no insurance at all. The principal reason the rich should not be taxed at a higher rate than others is that it is morally wrong to do so. A Conservative government should drop the 50% rate and institute a flat tax for this reason alone.

This point is connected to his second interesting utterance:

There is an easy radicalism, whereby you take the latest idea that comes out of the Institute of Economic Affairs or wherever and just say, “well, that’s it",’ he says. ‘Proper radicalism is thinking through how you are going to get from A to B to C to D. I think that’s what we’re doing.’

As we all know, the IEA releases many excellent reports every year that should and could be turned into government policy in whole or in part. It might be easy radicalism, but it is at least innovative policy as distinct from New Labour. The problem with Cameron’s position is inability to stand up and state whether or not he in fact radical. He alludes to the fact that we should tacitly accept that he would get to “D" in the end, but a position is so unprincipled is not worthy of respect and hardly worth getting excited about.

Cameron's thoughtful revolution is no revolution at all. The state of the nation demands cool hard policies, yet Cameron is still coasting on autopilot. Victory is not watching Brown crash and burn, but instead to come to the country with the policies upon which this country can thrive.

Michael Moore's capitalism

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One critic declared that the value of Capitalism: A Love Story was not in the moviemaking, but in its message that hits you in the gut and makes you angry. This film did not make me angry, but it did punch me in the gut. The people in that theater with me, including Moore, were not bad people. They just seem to all have consumed a lethal dose of Kool-Aid.

Michael W. Covel 'Michael Moore Kills Capitalism with Kool-Aid' Mises.org