More philosophy in politics


Matthew Parris spoke at the London launch party for Dr Madsen Pirie's new book, 101 Great Philosophers. He spoke of the importance of philosophy and wished that more politicians would study it and learn a little about it. He pointed out that if they did, they would be less likely to fall into some of the obvious errors which they do commit. 

Dr John Campbell, the historian and biographer, spoke of how a coherent philosophy had enabled the Adam Smith Institute to help mould a new reality out of the ruins of the consensus which had prevailed before it arrived on the scene.

Dr Madsen Pirie, the author, expressed his conviction that philosophy enabled people to make sense of their physical world and its moral convictions. His aim in writing the book, he said, was to encapsulate the main ideas of all of philosophy's leading thinkers into a single volume which could introduce people to its world of ideas.

Blanchflower's blather


Just reflate the debt away. Moderate inflation would lift people out of negative housing equity. A few years of inflation of roughly 5 per cent or so would be very attractive right now. Maintain the monetary stimulus and if necessary expand it further for the foreseeable future, and keep the fiscal stimulus going. Too much is better than too little. And, for goodness' sake, don't start paying back the public debt until we are well out of recession.

David Blanchflower, 'What’s so bad about inflation?' New Statesman

When should children start school?


Children are being attacked from all sides these days. Firstly there is a recommendation that children should not start "formal" education until they are six. As someone who started school at four, I can't imagine waiting so late, but obviously others take a different line.

Dame Gillian Pugh, review author, said, "four and five-year-olds tended to be at a stage where they were just "tuning in" to learning and that they could be "turned off" if they were made to follow too formal a curriculum, too early on." Perhaps, but not for all children. The mandated age for children to enter school is questionable as the parents should decide, an issue Douglas Carswell eloquently puts forward here.

On top of this, or indeed in direct competition to it, the European People's Party believes that children should be given lessons in the benefits of the European Union from the earliest of ages. Of course, some would question how long a lesson it would be.

They claim that, "knowing and understanding, from a young age, the principles, the procedures and the successful history of the European Union, the generations of tomorrow will be immune to any distortion of the perception of the role of the EU and will much better embrace the advantages of this unique project of voluntary sharing of sovereignty." They want to 'instruct' young children in the "benefits" of the EU before they have a chance to formulate their own opinions on the institution.

Clearly both of these examples highlight why government needs to stand aside in the provision of education. The temptation to meddle and mould children's minds to be in sync with the government thinking of the time is too great. Free enterprise in schooling is best for parents, the taxpayer and the children themselves.



Campaigners from the Size Acceptance Movement have approached BoJo in an attempt to make discrimination against fat people a hate crime. Such campaigners believe that pointing out a particularly fine pair of thunder-thighs is the equivalent of racism, and feel the UK should follow the route of ‘fat-friendly’ San Francisco, where doctors cannot press patients to loose weight.

Apparently fatism is widespread, as surveys show 93% of employers would rather employ a thinner person than a fatter one even if they are equally qualified. This could be for sound economic reasons; employers obviously believe that there are benefits to employing a thinner person. Perhaps they believe an overweight worker sends out a negative, sloth-like image of a company. Maybe they believe that a fat person may have heavier breathing, which could be off-putting in an office environment. Whatever the reason, the fact is that employers frequently make choices about applicants based on appearance and personal judgement; it helps them pick the best workers for their organisation.

Being fat is not even like being of a certain age, gender or race - such things are unavoidable. Much more often than not, a person is overweight because of their own lifestyle choices and habits. If ‘fatism’ is to be miraculously eliminated by the imposition of more legislation, then obviously all body shapes must be protected from criticism and ‘discrimination’ by law. Complaints about emaciated models must also be banned in case their feelings are hurt.

The overweight should not be forced by the government or by doctors to lose weight; what they do to their bodies is their own choice. Fat people are just like any other person, and as such should learn to live in a society where not everyone may like what they do or how they look. Private lifestyle choices should be neither prohibited nor protected by the law. People should of course be able to eat as many cream cakes as they like, but it shouldn’t be illegal for others to laugh when they walk in a funny way because of it.

Debating capitalism at Durham


I was up at Durham on Friday proposing the motion in the Student Union that "Only Capitalism Can Save the World."  The Durham debating society has a high reputation, which it certainly lived up to on Friday.  The chamber was completely packed, with people sitting on the floor at the front and in the aisles, and standing at the back. It was a lively debate with a high level of floor speeches.

My case was that capitalism generates wealth. When people exchange, each gains something they value more highly that what they currently have. Thus both parties gain and wealth is created. Capitalism expands the opportunities for production, specialization and exchange, creating wealth in the process. It is this which has lifted more people out of poverty than ever before in human history.

My second point is that wealth can enable problems to be solved. My dictum was this: "There are few problems in the world so big that they can't be solved by chucking money at them." Again and again in history, the equation has been that if humanity wants it enough and will pay for it, they will probably get it. 

It is not by eschewing economic growth and living more simply that the world's problems will be solved, but through a combination of wealth, will and technology.  I predicted that humanity will conquer Alzheimer's and cancer as it is currently engaged in conquering Aids and malaria and as it has already conquered polio and smallpox. 

The drive for clean power and clean travel requires more wealth, not less. Capitalism creates wealth, and wealth gives us the wherewithal to solve our problems. The motion that only capitalism can save the world was carried. 

Check out Dr Madsen Pirie's new book, "101 Great Philosophers."

Realizing Freedom


Yesterday, the Institute of Economic Affairs hosted a lunch in honor of Dr. Tom G. Palmer, the Vice President of International Programs for the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and General Director of the Atlas Global Initiative for Free Trade, Peace, and Prosperity.  Dr. Palmer has worked for many years promoting peace and individual rights through the use and implementation of classical liberal ideas such as free trade and open markets.

As part of the event Dr. Palmer spoke on “Realizing Freedom" and the more practical means of increasing freedom among struggling countries. Many of Dr. Palmer’s points are outlined in his book “Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice". Dr. Palmer cites the lack of property rights, and personal liberties, as the primary causes for nations being unable to develop economically. He also stated that in order to establish basic freedoms and private property rights, countries must create political institutions designed to protect those rights and convince governments that a richer people equates to a richer government.

These institutions must be founded upon their own cultural and historical understandings so as to create a sense of belonging and allegiance among the people. By rooting these institutions within culture Dr. Palmer argues that private property rights will be more abundant and rational expectations among actors will result in increased freedoms and economic stimulation.

You can purchase Dr. Palmer's book here.

The free radical


To anyone who holds freedom as sacred, the most urgent problem facing this country is the vile anti-individual philosophies of collectivism and statism that have given rise to this relentless onslaught of the government's violation of individual rights, which includes the proliferation of intrusive, politically correct, government agencies charged with the 'responsibility' of fixing all our problems.

Chris Lewis in The Free Radical

Competition in postal delivery is the solution

Customers must be offered an alternative to the service which has been constantly interrupted by unofficial action, and which now threatens them with a total stoppage, argues Madsen Pirie.

The impending mail strike makes it clear how near-monopoly services seem to breed dinosaur unions. The ability to shut down a service ups the ante for the unions. In services where there is a competitive market, customers can turn to other suppliers. Lord Mandelson rightly points out that a mail strike now will turn customers to alternative communications technologies, customers who will probably not return.

Some will turn to other mail deliverers, rather than other technologies, but the problem here is that the Royal Mail does the end delivery, the so-called ‘last mile.’ Other firms such as the Dutch-owned TNT, use Royal Mail postmen and women for the final delivery through letterboxes. This means that the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has the power to shut down the service totally, giving it a massive industrial muscle it has shown itself quite prepared to use.

One reason why this state of affairs has continued is that the Post Office is uniquely exempt from paying VAT on its services, as its would-be competitors have to. This means that a rival has to be 15 percent (and soon 20 percent) more efficient to compete effectively. Most markets are won or lost on much smaller percentage margins than that. TNT has a case pending before the European Court protesting the unfairness and calling for a level playing field. Until then, though, it is effectively priced out.

The strike is about modernization, as postal services have to streamline to take on the challenge of electronic communication. The government and management know that more efficient and automated practices must come if mail delivery is to survive.

It would be a good move now for the VAT rule to be changed, putting a level playing field into place for postal services. This would give firms like TNT the chance to set up end delivery and keep the mail services running despite the CWU shutdown. This would give the customers an alternative to the service which has been constantly interrupted by unofficial action, and which now threatens them with a total stoppage.

The CWU has been intransigent and antiquated because it has the power to be so. If alternative delivery systems were in place for customers to turn to, the union would soon change its behaviour. The time has come for government to rescue its citizens from the grip of an over-mighty union by opening up the field to firms which can compete on an equal basis.

Published on here.

On not understanding the point about speculation


Tom Bower makes the most appalling hash of this piece in The Guardian.

Leadership and consensus could solve these problems, but competition between producers, oil companies, governments and traders is preventing anyone thinking beyond profits. "We're not here to help others," Hall once said.

Hall is an oil trader and Bower is blaming him for pushing up oil prices, something which might choke off economic recovery. Hall is also a peak oil man: he thinks we're about to face serious shortages of the stuff which is why he's speculating that the price will rise. And Bower castigates him for being so selfish as to chase oil prices higher in the pursuit of profit: entirely missing the public good of that speculation.

That public good being something that Adam Smith himself pointed out. Assume that Hall is right, that we're going to face shortages of oil in the future. We would therefore desire some manner of reducing our current usage of it, so as to save what little is left for the really important things. We would also like people to go and have a really, really good look to see if there's some more oil that we've not noticed: lurking down the back of the sofa along with the small change perhaps. What can we think of that might achieve these two aims? Ah, yes, that's it, higher prices now.

So, Hall, following his hunches, drives up prices now and then what happens? Well, if that peek behind the cushions doesn't turn up any more oil then we've extended the life of the oil fields because we're using less. We've also encouraged people to develop alternatives. Hall makes a fortune, we're more prepared for the oil running out and things are pretty good. Perhaps that grease in the antimacassars can indeed be used though, we're not short of oil and thus Hall loses all his money. Things are still good, for we've found we don't have to worry about oil.

But this is the point about speculators. If they're correct, if there really is a shortage looming (of anything) then they bring that price signifying shortage forward: thus making shortage less likely. So they make their money from providing us with the signals which mitigate the very problem they've identified. If they are wrong then they lose their money.

All of which leads to the conclusion that, far from decrying speculators in search of profit, we should be applauding them. Indeed, we should celebrate their making a profit for the public good that they have provided. It's the speculators who lose money we should deride and denigrate: for they were wrong.

The trouble with unions


With The Communication Workers Union (CWU) trying to hold the country to ransom, at increasing cost to individuals and businesses, it is worth considering how the free association of people into unions can have such disastrous consequences, and how we can stop it happening in the future.

The underlying trouble with unionization is its ability to capture government, particulary when that industry is so protectected by the government. Ironically many on the left – often quite rightly – disparage the relationship between big business and government, but they also need to accept that many unions behave no better. The problem in both instances is not the survival and expansionist interests of business and unions, but the power of the government to regulate and discriminate.

This latest example shows that the interests of the wokers are not always aligned with the country at large; and more importantly considering the rhetoric of the unions,  they are not aligned with the weakest, poorest and least able, but its members. Despite claims to the contrary, unions are not even vehicles for equality, but a special interest group, no less insidious than other corporatists.

The weakest, poorest and least able are – and by definition must be – outside unions. Many of the excluded are in the UK, but many more are in the poorest countries of the world that unions keep down through the promotion of protectionist policies. Protectionism – another misleadingly defensive word – aggresses those that are least able to defend themselves. Unions’ policies are not diverse or fair; only free markets truly help those at the bottom of the ladder: unions are a club to keep them out.

Of course, we should not give in to the bullyboy tactics of the CWU and to forstall the imediate crisis the post office is right to employ temps to cover the work of those on strike. But more importantly it is vital that the next government does not ignore the real problem at hand. All aspects of mail delivery need to be entirely liberalized,  Postcomm needs to be scrapped and employment law reformed to allow freedom of contract between employer and employee. Unless government is taken out of the equation, we will keep getting the same industrial disputes with the same inevitable results.

One only need look to Heath and Callaghan to learn the lessons of inaction.