The Treasury and the self-employed

The Adam Smith Institute has had many a run-in with the Treasury over the issue of self-employment. Fundamentally we like self-employment and they don't. They deny that, of course, but their actions over the years evince their attitude. They try to have as many as possible classified as employed rather than self-employed, and have moved whole categories of workers from the latter camp into the former.

It is easy to see why they take this position. Tax is easier for them to collect if the employer sends it off under PAYE.  It takes longer for a self-employed person to assess what they owe and to send it off.  Furthermore, the self-employed have legitimate deductions if they, for example, use part of their home as an office.  The Treasury prefers to get its money the easy way, without taking into account the effect it might have on individual lives or on the economy as a whole.

One group of Treasury officials actually suggested that all wages should be paid by employers direct to HMRC, who would then graciously remit to employees the sums they were due to be paid after tax.  It is illustrative of a mindset that sees all money in the UK as belonging to the Treasury except that which they generously hand out to its citizens. They actually refer to not taxing the wealth in our bank accounts as a "tax cost."

We like self-employment because it provides space for independence and for scope for entrepreneurship. It is an engine of growth and it creates jobs. Self-employment has helped prevent our jobless totals from ballooning after the 2007-2008 Financial Crisis. It is, for many, a step on the way to realizing the dream of owning and running their own business.

The Budget of March 2017 was a political miscalculation of the highest order. It broke a clear manifesto commitment and will be thrown at every future promise the Conservatives make. No less importantly, it hits the very people we should be trying to encourage. The self-employed are the aspirational, the upwardly mobile, the people who will create tomorrow's jobs and tomorrow's wealth. For them to face higher National Insurance sends the wrong signal. 

The reduction in tax-free dividend income is a further blow to people setting up and managing their own businesses. These two measures look like Treasury spreadsheet thinking that likes neat rows and columns. The self-employed pay less National Insurance than their employed counterparts, true, but they receive far fewer social benefits in return. 

MPs with political intuition have understood what a political disaster these twin measures would be, and implementation has been delayed pending consultation. It is not too late for the government to listen to objections and abandon the measures. It has happened before.

As Shell sells its oil sands it calls for a carbon price

As regulars around here will know we've rather annoyed everyone over this past decade. The point being that there's such a head of steam about climate change that the science doesn't particularly matter, something is going to be done. We've thus been insisting that if something is to be done then it should be the sensible thing, a carbon tax to provide a price for emissions.

At which point we get the news that shell is selling its oil sands operations:

Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to sell most of its carbon-heavy Canadian oil sands assets for $8.5bn (£7bn) as the chief executive warned that the industry risked losing public support without progress towards cleaner energy.

We would happily wager that that's little to nothing to do with emissions and all about money - we're really very sure that it is the folding stuff which motivates. As something much more akin to a manufacturing process shale is still getting ever cheaper and that changes the economics of high fixed costs production like sands, or even the larger deep sea or Arctic projects. The oil world has changed.

However, this part hasn't:

Van Beurden said that the transition to a low carbon energy system would take decades and government policies including putting a price on carbon emissions would be essential to phase out the most polluting sources of energy such as coal and oil.

Quite so, if we want to - and note at the top, we're saying that something will be done, not that necessarily something need be done - change behaviour in this manner then the method to use is putting a price on that externality. A carbon price, a carbon tax. As Nordhaus, Stern,. Quiggin, Tol, Weizman, Mankiw and every other economist on the issue insists.

If anyone actually wants to implement a solution then we know what the correct solution is.

Yes, we know there's a problem now let's get on and solve it

There is, to our mind, much too much attention paid to, reporting of, symptoms rather than the root cause. And it's only when the root cause is correctly identified that it is possible to come up with a solution:

Vulnerable tenants are being pushed out of the housing market as cuts to benefits and rising costs mean rents are “increasingly out of step” with household incomes, a leading industry body has warned.

Yes, we know this. We also know that student loans are a problem as their existence means that yuppies cannot buy a house because houses are so expensive. And unemployed people cannot move to London where the jobs are because housing is so expensive. And we can't keep key workers in expensive areas of the country because housing is so expensive. And there's a wealth generation gap opening up of those who can afford expensive housing through inheritance as against those who cannot because housing is so expensive.

And variously people have told us that we should have a higher inheritance tax to close that wealth gap, that key workers should have a special scheme for cheaper housing, that something must be done to aid the unemployed in moving and student loans must be changed so that yuppies can buy and then here, that something must be done about housing support for those on benefits.

All of which are to try to treat symptoms. It's as if a doctor were to note a severe rash, fever, headache, neck stiffness and intolerance to light and set out to treat each. Skin cream for the rash, aspirin for the fever, ibuprofen for the headache, a neck brace, a darkened room and so on. Instead of getting to the root cause and starting to treat the meningitis.

Not treating that root cause is entirely ineffective as well as likely leading to the death of the patient.

And so it is with housing. The common point here is that housing is too expensive. We do not want to construct some rickety apparatus to deal with each, nor even any, of the symptoms. We want to excise the original problem ,the expense of housing. And we know how to do that. Restricted supply means high prices, that's one page one of each and every textbook. The answer is thus to build more housing.

We have no shortage of land we only have a shortage of land that can be built upon. May be built upon is perhaps better. Mischa Balen sorted that out for us over a decade ago. Just let people build houses on the land they'd like to build houses upon.

Or as we tend to put it these days, blow up the Town and Country Planning Act and successors.

Response to Aidan Byrne on British Academia

Aidan Byrne of the Plashing Vole blog has written an article criticising the report I wrote for the Adam Smith Institute about the political views of British academics. 

Most of the first half of his article concerns the figures I cited from the THE poll and A.H. Halsey’s book. Since I have already responded to a separate critique of that aspect of my report, I will not repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that, even if the figures from the THE poll are off, they are unlikely to be off by enough to alter the conclusion that the British academy has a sizable left-liberal skew. In this regard, it is noteworthy that Byrne purports to speak for the entire academy in censuring my report:

A new report from the Adam Smith Institute on so-called left-wing bias in academia has been making waves over the past week. It has already largely been written off in the sector as lazy, unevidenced, ideological puff [emphasis added]

That “the sector” could already have “written off” my report as “ideological puff” would be rather surprising if there were a substantial number of conservative or right-wing academics. Here, Byrne implicitly admits that the British academy has a left-liberal skew.

Before getting to Byrne’s other substantive criticisms, it is necessary to make a few corrections. First, I am not affiliated to the Adam Smith Institute, other than via having written this report for them. Pace Byrne, the ASI’s funding sources are therefore completely irrelevant. I was simply asked by my friend Ben Southwood, the ASI’s head of research, to write a paper on a germane topic that interested me. Second, Byrne claims, “It’s bad enough that Noah Carl was paid to produce this stuff”. This is completely false; I was not paid anything to write the report. Third, Bryne describes me as a “white male author from a country governed by a white male billionaire”. Technically, this is true, since I am half-American. But I do live in the UK, which is currently governed by a white female non-billionaire.

Back to Byrne’s substantive criticisms. First, he completely misrepresents scholarly opinion on the subject of IQ, writing:

Point 2 depends on Intelligence Quotient scores, as though IQ isn’t thoroughly discredited as anything other than a measure of how people perform on IQ tests

And later in the article, he writes:

IQ is a load of cobblers often promoted by rather unpleasant people who have a habit of moving from IQ scores to theories of racial difference, by which they almost always mean superiority

Contra Byrne, IQ is one of the most valid, reliable and predictive variables in all of social science. It has not been thoroughly discredited. Rather, it has been continuously excoriated by scholars who view it as a threat to left-wing objectives. As Steven Pinker notes in his book The Blank Slate, these scholars are guilty of what’s known as the moralistic fallacy: “It would be bad if human intelligence could be quantified using a single number; therefore it cannot”. Three excellent overviews of intelligence research are: Arthur Jensen’s The g Factor, Ian Deary’s Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction, and Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All that Matters. Indeed, Byrne cites Richard Nisbett’s Intelligence and How to Get It as if this were the final word on the subject. Yet that book has itself been subject to sustained criticism: by Rushton & Jensen in the Open Psychology Journal, as well as by James Lee in Personality and Individual Differences.

Second, Byrne accuses me of attacking a straw man by “by wondering out loud whether academics are left-wing because they’re more intelligent”. Yet I cited several previous studies that have entertained precisely this hypothesis (please see pp. 6–7 of my report).

Third, Byrne erects his own straw man, suggesting that––by discussing the so-called status inconsistency hypothesis––I was accusing left-wing academics of being “bitter purveyors” of the “politics of envy”. To quote myself:

the left-liberal leanings of academics may derive from a peculiarity of their social-class positions, namely that they receive low incomes relative to their advanced educational attainment and rich cultural capital

I should note that I did not originate this hypothesis. Rather, it goes back to the work of Erving Goffman, Alwin Gouldner and Pierre Bourdieu. Byrne goes on to claim, “There’s no evidence, but Carl’s just going to leave it there for you to think about.” Once again––contra Byrne––I cited the work of Neil Gross, who found that a measure of status inconsistency made a modest contribution to explaining the liberal views of American professors.

Fourth, Byrne subtly accuses me of racism a number of times. In fact, he mentions “the Nazis”, “Jim Crow” or “racial superiority” an impressive seven times during the course of his ~2,800 word article. Then, about two thirds of the way down, he rather bluntly states:

The true purpose of Lacakademia becomes clear. It isn’t really about the sociological curiosity of imbalanced political views amongst academics. It is about academic rejection of theories of racial superiority.

I would assure Byrne that I am not a racist, but I very much doubt that such an assurance would convince him, given his evident talent for reading racist motives into scholarship. However, in order to assuage any concern the reader might have that I am a fulminating, hood-wearing, cross-burning member of the KKK, I will note that the only sentence of my report in which race differences were mentioned simply stated:

When Charles Murray published his book the ‘The Bell Curve’, which, in one chapter discussed studies of race differences in intelligence, he was roundly excoriated for allegedly trying to demonstrate that blacks were genetically inferior to whites, an accusation that is 15 still levelled at him 20 years later [link added]

Fifth, Byrne includes the former Harvard president Lawrence Summers in his line-up of “racial superiority theorists”. I should point out to Byrne that he has the wrong ‘ism’ here: Summers was accused of sexism not racism, as I note on p. 14 of the report.

Sixth, Byrne claims that I failed to provide “any contextual analysis”. Indeed, he asks “What of the shift in the UK to student fees, to managerial over-reach, to the employability agenda?” Once again––contra Byrne––I explicitly discussed the issue of student fees, writing:

Because they now have to pay hefty fees upfront, students are increasingly treated like consumers, rather than prospective scholars, so that when they demand restrictions on free speech, universities supply those restrictions accordingly

In summary, I was not paid by the Adam Smith Institute to write the report, and fail to see the relevance of their funding sources to any discussion of my report’s veracity. I reject the accusation that I am a “racial superiority theorist”. And, finally, I would point out that one does not have to be conservative or right-wing to be concerned about the extreme left-liberal skew seen in some academic disciplines. Heterodox Academy, an American organisation set up to promote intellectual diversity within the academy, boasts many progressives and centrists, as well as conservatives and libertarians, among its membership.

Ann Pettifor tells us all about the magic money tree

Ann Pettifor takes to The Guardian to tell us all about....well, it's supposedly about International Women's Day but it's actually about the Magic Money Tree.

Despite all these obvious differences, government budgets are deemed analogous (by economists and politicians) to a household budget.

Standard, absolutely middle of the road, economics does no such thing. It does simplify the arguments into the demotic to get points over to the populace, entirely true, but it simply isn't true that economist equate government and household budgets. There are chapters in each and every textbook detailing why it would be wrong to do so.

 If the economy slumps (as in 2008-9) and the private sector weakens, then like a see-saw the public sector deficit, and then the debt, rises. When private economic activity revives (thanks to increased investment, employment, sales etc) tax revenues rise, unemployment benefits fall, and the government deficit and debt follow the same downward trajectory.

In those same textbooks that's usually under the subject of "automatic stabilisers." This is again absolutely standard, mainline, economics.

 Because government spending (unlike a household’s spending) has a big impact on the economy, governments can use loan-financed investment to expand tax-generating employment – both public (for example, nurses and teachers) and private sector employment (construction workers). Both nurses and construction workers will return a large part of their incomes into the economy through spending, benefitting the private sector. Thanks to the multiplier effect, that spending will generate VAT and corporation tax revenues – for repaying government debt.

That though is Magic Money Tree stuff. Certainly, some of that happens but Pettifor and others take it too far. Some even (R. Murphy for example) insisting that it costs nothing at all to employ a State worker. Because the tax that comes back from having done so entirely covers the cost of their employment. If this were so of course then we'd never have to tax the private sector in order to pay for the public one, would we?

Today this framing of the debate is at odds with reality. After the financial crisis, the Bank of England injected £1,000bn into the private finance sector to prevent systemic economic failure. And after the shock of the Brexit vote, the Bank unveiled the “Term Funding Scheme” as part of a £170bn “stimulus package”aimed at the private finance sector. The money was “public money” offered at a historically low interest rate – to bankers. It was not raised by cutting spending, and it was not raised from “your taxes”, even while its issue was backed by Britain’s taxpayers.

And there we have the second incarnation of the Magic Money Tree. We can just invent money and spend it! Which we indeed can. Again this is entirely standard and mainstream economics. It is called monetisation of spending. Printing money to go and spend it that is. This can be done, this has been done, many a time. Two notable recent examples are Zimbabwe and Venezuela. The result was massive inflation - that in Zim being such that the value of the last 100 trillion $ notes off the press were not high enough to purchase the ink for the next run.

We have indeed done QE but there are two points to that process, firstly it's exactly because we haven't gone off to spend it in the real economy that hasn't caused that inflation. Secondly, QE is reversible and the Federal Reserve and the BoE have been very clear about how they will reverse it. When the time comes they will stop purchasing more bonds to replace those maturing, a process which will destroy again that excess money.

The problem with Pettifor's radical economics is that it isn't in fact radical at all. All of her assertions are dealt with within the entirely standard economics structure.  Or as we might put it, no, really, sorry, there is no Magic Money Tree that we can reliably use.

At least Polly gets the basic underlying argument correct

We are not, as regular readers will have noted, great believers in the perspicacity of Polly Toynbee, the grande dame of the British left. However, when she does get something right it's worth pointing out that she has got something right:

They plan to cut the size of the state permanently to 36% of GDP, from 45% in 2010. New faces in No 10 and 11 Downing Street are only casting changes for the same old script, ideologically identical. How far can they go? That’s the only question: with an 18-point poll lead they may imagine nothing can stop them squeezing the breath out of public services – except hubris.

Of course there's more than just a tad of rhetorical hyperbole there but she is right about one point, the underlying basic one. This is ideologically driven.

Different people have different ideas about what makes up the good society. Sorting through whose ideas should be enacted is the purpose of democracy. We've had a number of elections in recent decades and the pendulum has swung between those different visions. Government, public spending, that state, was about 35% of GDP when T Blair and G Brown took over and they ramped it up to over 40%. That was an ideological move, their vision of that good society was one closer to the Nordic social democracy than what had pertained before.

As Polly herself has noted we Brits tend to like the idea of that Nordic state but we're really very unhappy about having to pay for it through the necessary taxation. And so the pendulum has swung again to those with the vision of a slightly smaller state, one that might be described as closer to the more traditional Anglo-Saxon model. 

We can all make arguments in favour of one or the other variant and we ourselves continually make those for the case that significantly smaller than 35% is a better vision. However, to advance one or the other, or any variant, is not an act of hubris - it's to lay out a vision of what the good society is.

What ails Polly is that currently the British people do not agree with her ideas on the point. Ah well, that's democracy for you.

The very real impact of India’s demonetization

On November 8th 2016, a joke went viral across India’s Whatsapp users: “Tomorrow, a lot of married men in India are going to find out how much black money their wives have.” The US elections of that evening overshadowed another huge political announcement elsewhere in the world – that in 50 days time 86% of India’s currency in circulation would be void.

This demonetization is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to reduce bribery and the black economy so that India may shift towards digitalized money transfers, which are more traceable and taxable. Only 2.89% of Indians filed any income taxes in 2013, compared with 45% of US citizens. Although the majority of Indian’s incomes are probably below the tax threshold in the first place, there is no doubt that India’s black market is huge: the World Bank estimated it to be 23.2% of the total economy in 2007.

It’s unsurprising that scrapping the 500 and 1,000 rupee note overnight (worth about £6 and £12 respectively) was a huge shock to India. Nearly 87% of transactions in India use cash, meaning the country is more cash driven than Russia, Brazil and Mexico. A huge government push for financial inclusion drove up bank account holdings from 35% to 53% (an extra 175 million Indians became account holders) between 2011-2014, but the majority of these new bank accounts are empty and only 15% of adults reported using their account to make or receive payments. Crucially, only 39% of account holders in India own a credit or debit card, meaning the remainder would require a bank teller to carry out each transaction. Even online shopping in India is done with cash: about 70% of online commerce is paid with cash on delivery.

Although the government was primarily targeting wealth tax evaders in an attempt to redistribute income, the poor, and particularly women and those living rurally, have perhaps suffered the most. Lower income Indians are unlikely to have their own bank account, and even given 50 days to do so, would struggle with limited education and resources to open one. They might even not be able to reach a bank in the first place, as only 27% of Indian villages have one within 5km. Women also have been particularly effected, as most do not already own a bank account – according to the UN, 80% of women in India did not have access to one as of 2014.

This demonetization has caused chaos throughout India. The Indian Express reported that at least 33 people have died as a result of demonetization, with causes of death ranging from people collapsing of exhaustion after waiting in the queues for the bank, a child dying in hospital as the parents only had only currency notes, and others committing suicide as they were unable to feed their families. Outside of these extreme cases, the rest of the country faced hours of queuing outside banks and ATMs and huge income losses, as customers and employers had no cash to pay workers with. The huge cash shortages haven’t been helped by the government’s failure to introduce the new 500 and 2,000 rupee notes: to make demonetization a surprise, they couldn’t start printing any new cash before the announcement.

Domestic abuse rates spiked in November, with calls to India’s One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) – a domestic abuse charity – more than doubling the month that Modi announced demonetization. 50% of the women who received counseling said their abuse was due to troubles to do with demonetization. India has a culture of women stowing away small sums of cash without their husbands’ knowing, in cases of emergencies. In a country where the percentage of work-age women with jobs has fallen by 10% to 27% since 2005 (the largest drop in any country), for many this cash is a lifeline and the greatest source of control and independence they have. After demonetization, many women were faced with the choice of losing their money or handing it over to their husbands.

This isn’t the first time India has tried demonetization, and it very well may not be the last. In 1946, all 1,000 and 10,000 rupee notes were recalled and in 1978, all 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 notes were. That the country has tried this measure two times already suggests both that demonetization isn’t enough to end corruption and that the new money quickly becomes ‘black money’ again. Yet despite the IMF cutting India’s growth rate from 7.6% down to 6.6%, Modi has held on to most of his popularity, with most seeing demonetization as a genuine stand against tax evasion and the black market. Increased financial inclusion and transparency are of course fantastic goals, and if achieved, would alleviate poverty and increase productivity, but the question is whether demonetisation is worth the price Indians have had to pay.

The beguiling notion of a minimum income for all

Another attempt to convince us all of the merits of a universal basic income over in The Guardian. This is based on the experiment done in Dauphin in the 1970s. Some of us here very much like the idea but as we do so that means that we've also thought through the idea a little more than some others have:

But is this really an old-fashioned, leftist idea? I remembered reading about an old plan, something that has been proposed by some of history’s leading thinkers. Thomas More hinted at it in Utopia, more than 500 years ago. And its proponents have spanned the spectrum from the left to the right, from the civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King to the economist Milton Friedman.

It’s an incredibly simple idea: universal basic income – a monthly allowance of enough to pay for your basic needs: food, shelter, education. And it’s completely unconditional: not a favour, but a right.

The first problem with the proof being used here, that Dauphin experiment, is that it wasn't a universal basic income, was not ion fact a right to a certain income unconditionally. Rather, what was tested was a negative income tax. If you earn less than x then that income will be topped up to x. And there was a tax rate applied too, you only kept 50% of earned income over a certain level.

This is an important point because it mirrors the development of the idea itself. It was Milton Friedman who did a lot of the heavy lifting here. He started out with a universal basic income. And quickly realised that there was just no way to tax everyone enough to pay it out. So he moved to the negative income tax idea, that there's a minimum income, yes, but earned income counts against it in some manner.

That was still too expensive for the time and so it morphed into tax credits - the EITC over in the US being introduced at about the same time as this Dauphin experiment. The EITC arrived with us as working tax credits rather later.

And the reason is simply cost. The Dauphin guaranteed income was about $16,000 (in 2014 $) for a single person. Call that about £13,000 here today. To produce that as a universal basic income would cost about £650 billion, not that far off total government tax revenue today. Or 35 to 40% of GDP, that sort of number. Sure, we can subtract much of current welfare spending to get to the net cost but that's not the sort of amount that we think we can squeeze out of the economy in tax without beginning not to have much of an economy.

Which is why it turns up as working tax credits, something conditional, not something universal.

It is possible to construct it so that it is universal - but that means paying attention to the other part of UBI, basic. At a rate around the state pension, perhaps the state pension guarantee, say £150 a week per adult, then it could be done with the redirection of current spending rather than taxing everyone to heck and back. As Charles Murray showed in "In Our Hands", $10,000 a year for the rather richer United States could just about be done.

We can have universal and basic of substantial and directed but not substantial and universal. And of course this is before we get to the fantasies of the JRF and the like where everyone should have a "liveable" income.

Some of us here support a UBI, others don't. But it is still true that the number only stack up if great attention is paid to the basic part of it. If it's to be anything more than that most basic amount then the universal part has to go.

Is Ayn Rand still relevant 35 years on from her death?

Though she died in 1982, huge numbers of people still come to Ayn Rand through her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged – and their lives are changed as a result. No wonder. These novels assert the nobility of using your mind to reach your full potential. They make self-belief cool.

Rand’s heroes are individualists who live by their own creative talents—existing for no one else, nor asking others to exist for them. They are rebels against the establishment and its ways. They do not conform to social norms, but stand by their own vision and truth: a vision built on their own values and a truth built on fact and reason, not on the false authority of others. They are the creative minds who discover new knowledge, who innovate, drive progress and consequently benefit all humanity.

But minds cannot be forced to think. Creativity, and therefore human progress, depends on people being free to think and act in pursuit of their own values. That is a powerful case for liberty, values, mind, reason, creativity, entrepreneurship, capitalism, achievement, heroism, happiness, self-esteem and pride. And against the life-destroying consequences of coercion, extortion, regulation, self-sacrifice, altruism, wishful thinking and refusing to use one’s mind.

Nowhere do Rand’s ideas change more lives than in her adopted United States, where her novels tap into the American ideals of self-reliance and individualism. In the early 1990s, a decade after her death, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club rated Atlas Shrugged as the most influential book after the Bible. Today, Rand’s ideas are taught in colleges across America and discussed in academic and popular journals. Institutes and groups have been set up to promote her ideas.

Her ideas are accelerating in other English-speaking countries too, such as the UK (where 20,000 Rand books are sold each year), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India, where English is widely spoken. Even Indian footballers and Bollywood stars acknowledge her influence on their lives.

Beyond the English-speaking countries, Sweden, a country of just 9.5m people, leads the world in Google searches for ‘Ayn Rand’. About 25,000 copies are bought each year in Rand’s native Russia, another 13,000 a year in Brazil, 6,000 in Spain and 1,000 each in Japan and Bulgaria. Even in China, some 15,000 Rand books are bought each year—a number which, given that country’s economic and intellectual awakening, can only increase.

All this gives Rand a significant impact on the political debate. In the United States, many of those she inspired rose into public office. Former US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan (1926-) was an early member of Rand’s inner circle. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (1948-) shows his new clerks The Fountainhead movie. Politicians such as former Congressman Ron Paul (1935-), his son, Senator Rand Paul (1965-) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (1970-) cite Rand as an influence. Even President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) described himself as “an admirer of Ayn Rand.”

Nor is this only a US phenomenon. Annie Lööf (1983-), leader of Sweden’s Center Party and former Enterprise Minister, helped launch the Swedish translation of The Fountainhead, calling Rand “one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century.” Rand’s ideas were praised by the reformist Prime Minister of Estonia, Mart Laar (1960-), and influenced Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser (1930-2015), along with many other past or current political leaders.

What other novels have had such an impact on events, more than half a century after their publication? And what other novelist?

If we're to deal with drugs let's deal with the actual problems of drugs

There are of course those out here who object to people doing as they wish - against the wishes of those doing the objecting. The rest of us are only worried about the effects of people following their own path upon our lives. The externalities of their actions, that fist swinging to hit our nose or not.

At which point this is a thoroughly good idea:

Police will give free heroin to addicts in a controversial bid to cut drug-related crime, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Durham Constabulary is the first force in the country to draw up detailed plans for the Class A drug to be handed to long-term users.

In an exclusive interview, Chief Constable Mike Barton told this newspaper that police money will be used to supply heroin to addicts to inject themselves twice a day in a supervised ‘shooting gallery’.

The force – rated the best in the country by watchdogs last week – will fund the programme from its already stretched budget.

Mr Barton admits the plan will attract criticism but insists it will reduce crime because the addicts will no longer have to steal to pay for their fix, and dealers will lose customers.

We have been saying this ourselves for a number of years now. The problem with drugs is not people getting high - their life to waste after all. It's the effects upon the rest of us of the illegality of their getting high. The disease spread by unclean equipment, the vast costs of the illegally trafficked drugs themselves, the crimes committed to pay for them.

Short-circuit that entire system by just giving the addicts the drugs. Pharmaceutically pure heroin is in fact rather cheap - rather cheaper than having police officers go out to investigate a rash of low level burglaries in fact.

We approve, mightily.