Obama's acceptance speech


"Before I go any further I just have to thank Barrack Obama for nominating me for this award. Without him I wouldn't have put my own name forward. Thank me. I am deeply humbled that the Norwegians have proudly seen fit to award me this prize for peace on the day we attempted to blow up the moon. Alas that proved to be unsuccessful, but we'll use the prize money to fund another shot at it. During the past 8 months, since my nomination, I've actively encouraged peace around the world. My fellow President Ahmadinejad has chosen to test fire rockets and continue with his work on nuclear physics. In the Pacific region my favourite little movie buff Kim Jong-il has been attempting to throw his rockets over Japan, luckily for us he throws like a girl. But he's continued with his pursuit of nuclear weapons. Allowable under my idea for a peaceful world where we are all armed equally, either with broken bottles or nuclear weapons. Or maybe even we can just play rock paper scissors at the future UN meetings, whatever we do we have to do it quietly.

It's not just overseas where my work has been blessed with healing hands. You could say that back in the United States I've gone down like Nobel's most famous invention and blown everyone away with how good I am at organizing this once great community. Peace is definitely the watch word of my administration and we will continue to promote that in America. Over the next few months we will be looking to replace everyone's car with a donkey and ending our dependence on oil as well as road rage. Guns will be exchanged for hot dog buns and free speech outlawed so no one can anything nasty to anyone else ever again.

Leaving those facts aside. It is fair to say that this award would not none have been possible without the good work of George. I owe him everything. I am indebted to him for the rest of my life and I dedicate this prize to him. Dubya! Thanks man."

The extraordinary efforts of Obama


Obama took office on January 20. Gosh, it’s so long ago now. What “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy" did he make in those first twelve days? Bowing to the Saudi King? Giving the British prime minister the Wal-Mart discount box of Twenty Classic Movies You’ve Seen A Thousand Times? “Er, Barack, I’ve already seen these." “That’s okay. They won’t work in your DVD player anyway.

Mark Steyn 'Who Really Won?' NRO.

The Archbishop of Canterbury caricatures consumers and fires at token targets

In this think piece, Dr Madsen Pirie makes the case that most people are not like Rowan Williams’ caricature of consumers who find no room for life’s finer experiences.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged families to get in touch with “the natural rhythms of the seasons,” and have “a sense of connectedness to natural processes.” Instead of a consumerism which “treats each person as essentially a hole that you have to keep stuffing things into,” he urges “a life that is balanced, that is at home with its material and human environment.” These are fine sentiments, in that most of us would want balanced lives rather than unbalanced ones, and most of us would rather be at ease with the world than at odds with it.

The good bishop moves onto more controversial territory, however, when he mentions specifics, in that he seems to have bought the entire agenda of “token environmentalism”. This is where green lobbyists pick out token targets to vilify, regardless of the actual degree to which they affect things.

So-called “food miles” provide one example. Dr Williams urges us to grow food in our gardens and on allotments rather than importing foodstuffs from places like Kenya. Many of the foods we import could indeed be grown at home, but with much more energy use than is required in warmer countries. Kenya, for example, is effectively exporting sunshine with its food crops.

Furthermore, many foodstuffs are more expensive to grow locally, so we would be banning cheaper foods from poor countries that are desperate to sell us them, simply to tick off token environmental boxes.

Dr Williams also appears to have taken on board the notion that air travel should be avoided to save the planet, and tried to make his own last year flight-free. In fact flying makes a much smaller contribution than do ocean or surface transport. It just makes an easier target for the tokenists. Budget airlines, which they denounce, in fact fly greener by using newer aircraft with engines that use less fuel, and by flying with fuller passenger loads.

Even the bishop’s notion of consumers as holes to stuff things into is a caricature. We all have our values and our priorities, and we express these in terms of the things we spend time and money on. The time spent working for the school bazaar cannot be spent on reading or listening to opera. The money we spend on music cannot also be spent on clothes.

Every action is a trade-off against the things we could have done instead. Of course we look down on people driven by a crass materialism which finds no room for life’s finer experiences, but most people are not like that. They express themselves through their choices, in lives that do indeed balance aesthetic and sensitive experiences with material comforts.

Published on Telegraph.co.uk here.

Public asset fire sale


Gordon Brown's sell-off of public assets is too little too late.

The government is announcing a £16 billion sell-off of public assets. The include things like the Dartford Bridge, the student loan book, and the Tote – the UK state bookmaker.

Just on that point, we argued that the Tote should be sold off years ago. The government wanted to sell it cheap to a group of horseracing interests, a sale that ASI blocked by complaining to the European Commission – this is a business owned by the public, after all, not something in politicians' gift that they can transfer to a few rich, insider chums. After the EU had stopped all that, they could have auctioned the Tote and got a good price for it. Now, they will be lucky. Potential buyers like Ladbrookes are suffering in the recession.

I'm all in favour of privatization, and a recent ASI report by Nigel Hawkins identified £20 billion-worth. But this is the wrong time to sell public assets. Very few businesses, or even members of the public, have much cash to buy new businesses – especially badly-run state businesses which will need heavy investment to sort out. And everyone knows it's a fire sale – the government need the cash. Instead, the government should wait and sell these things when the time is right.

Gordon Brown sold the nation's gold reserves at a quarter of their value – they would have been worth billions at today's $1000-an-ounce price. He seems destined to sell things at the bottom of the market. He will be be lucky to get much of a price for the assets he is now grudgingly flogging off. And what's the point? That's the amount that the government overspends every month. Unless they cut spending, they will soon run out of assets to sell.

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

I realise that I'm blinkered but....


Yes, I know, a shock isn't it, my admitting to being blinkered. But I am of course: the logic of unilateral free trade is unassailable so I never really understand those who would complicate matters. For example, there's a campaign going on about the GSP + access that Sri Lanka has to the EU. The essential point of which is that since, as is at least alleged, the Sri Lankan government is being beastly to at least part of the Tamil population then this special access to the EU market should be denied to all Sri Lankans.

All of which sounds really rather strange to someone like me. No, I understand the idea of having special access: it's not for any reasons of economic logic, it's all about politics here within the EU. There are enough lobbyists in Brussels to make sure that the EU will never become a free trader across the boundaries of the zollverien. Sad but true: the best that can happen is that some free traders can sometimes manage to have exceptions made to the rules that prevent the poor of the world from sending us their produce. Essentially this happens by pointing to a place which is so poor, so benighted, oppressed perhaps by the tricks of nature, and saying that you're going to impoverish these people just to please your industrial protectionists? These people? And so it has been with Sri Lanka.

But then we get to the part I really don't understand. Assume all the allegations are true. The Tamils, or some subset of them, are indeed being oppressed by the Sri Lankan government. Our response now is going to be to raise import duties and barriers to exports from Sri Lanka? Really? We're going to make ourselves poorer to protest the actions of a far away government? We're going to make the subjects of that government poorer to protest the actions of that government? Really?

In the name of protecting some of the poorest in the world we're going to make them even poorer? Surely the answer is to have even fewer trade restrictions so that we can continue to alleviate that poverty?

Food for thought


The summer's Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Sweden featured some challenging papers, as you would expect. One of the most controversial suggested there is a trade-off between regulation and tax levels [pdf here]. Examining the countries on the basis of their economic freedoms, those high on the list also tended to have high levels of government spending as a proportion of GDP. This is not the expected result, and the claim was that the high 'freedom' score is gained despite this, with the other factors outweighing it. Furthermore, figures were presented which showed that high government tax share correlates positively with GDP per head and with GDP growth.

This runs counter to the general free market assumption that economic growth is hindered when government takes a large share of the revenues that could otherwise be driving innovation and expansion. The explanation offered was also challenging. It was that politicians want to run things; that's what they do. They can do this by high spending programmes or by regulation. The suggestion was that high regulation is more damaging to economic growth than is high government share of spending. Governments which regulate less are more likely to preside over higher growth, and will therefore have more to spend. In a sense they 'protect' their tax revenues by minimizing the regulation that would reduce them.

The view that regulation is an alternative to high government spending is certainly a challenging one, and might go some way to explaining why it is that some high tax economies are so prosperous. On the other hand, it does not seem to fit with recent trends in the UK, where an increased proportion spent by government has been accompanied by massive increases in regulation as well. If the thesis is sustained however, it will raise the prospect of governments being bribed to deregulate by the prospect of having more cash to spend…

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

Economics is not just money and shopping


Economic choice is about time, effort, loyalty, guilt, same – not just money.

Too often, when I appear on the radio or TV and talk about the perverse incentives of some new government policy, I'm accused of being an 'unfeeling economist' who 'reduces everything to money'. Well I ain't. And that view misunderstands what is actually about. Economics is the science of choice. True, many of the choices we make involve giving up money to get something we want. But many more choices hinge on giving up other, non-monetary things – like our time and effort.

Should I go out with friends, or stay at home reading my book? I cannot do both. Should I mow the lawn, or offer to help out at the school fete? No money is involved in these decisions, and yet they are properly 'economic' decisions. How do I juggle scarce resources, like my time and effort, to yield the biggest benefit for me? And I don't just think of my private benefit. I might figure that my friends would like to see me, or that the teachers would welcome my help at the fete. Sure, it makes me feel good that I have helped others, and to that extent I derive some benefit. But it is a psychological, not a monetary, benefit.

Some studies suggest that when you pay people to give blood, fewer donors come forward. That is because people give blood to help others, not for financial gain. Offering payment suggests that you think they are doing it for their own benefit, without thought to the benefit of others, whereupon the delicate psychology of the activity is broken. Likewise, I find that I go to the doctor a lot more now that I have moved from a free NHS doctor to a private one. The reason is that I always felt guilty going to a free doctor, because I imagined that there were others who needed medical help more than I did (well, that and the long waits). Now I'm financially poorer, but I don't feel any guilt. Similar effects have been discovered when nursery schools fine parents for picking their kids up late – more of them arrive late, because they regard the fine as compensating the teachers for the inconvenience of having to stay on, whereas before they would have felt shame in being late.

Yes, there is a lot more to economic choices than mere money. People do things for reasons of love, honour, self-respect, or loyalty – and don't do things out of guilt, shame, idleness, or criticism. Indeed, most, by far, of our 'economic' decisions don't involve money at all.

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

Politicians turn nanny state into bully state


The nanny state has given way to a bully state in which politicians coerce the public into submission.

A new book by controversial former MSP Brian Monteith argues that the nanny state is dead but has been replaced by a much more malevolent bully state where we are not just preached at, but forced to do what the politicians think we should.

The Bully State: The End of Tolerance charts the movement from nannying health warnings about smoking, through compulsory motor cycle helmets and seat belts, to the bully times of today, when we can be fined for smoking in our own cars and Marmite is banned in schools.

Monteith warns: “We won't lose the freedoms that we cherish by a military coup or some great cataclysmic war engulfing us, but through the gradual invasion of our private lives by the very politicians we elect to protect us – and all in the cause of looking after our health.

“Today’s politicians think us mature enough to elect them, but too immature to decide what we should eat, smoke, drink or drive. So they give officials powers to snoop on us, enter our homes, fine householders without trial for using the wrong rubbish bins, and make shopkeepers hide the cigarettes under the counter.

“This is not just some left-wing campaign. It started when New Labour and Conservative politicians decided that information and choice weren’t enough in their brave new target-setting world. Now politicians of all colours simply bully us into submission if we do things they don’t approve of."

The book traces our evolution from nanny to the bully state, with its growing intervention into the realms of smoking, eating and drinking – including some truly bizarre and absurd examples of politicians’ latest bullying. An edifying and shocking read.

The Bully State: The End of Tolerance is published by The Free Society, price £5.99, is launched on Wednesday in Westminster.