Why Alistair Darling should raise the personal allowance

This briefing, published in advance of the Chancellor's 2008 pre-budget report, calls for the personal income tax allowance to be raised from £6,035 to £12,000 for all UK taxpayers. This would take 7 million people out of paying income tax altogether, and ensure no one earning the minimum wage or less would pay income tax at all. It would be equivalent to giving the average worker an extra £1730 per year in gross pay, making them £100 per month better off. This policy could be implemented at a cost of £18.9bn to the Exchequer – a sum which should not require increased government borrowing.

The Amnesia of Reform

In their 1994 paper The Amnesia of Reform, Peter Young and Paul Reynolds review the progress of post-communist privatisation. It argues that "privatization in many post-communist countries is failing because it is being implemented with insufficient regard to its ultimate objective of creating a competitive market economy", and that more attention should be paid to deregulation.  

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Privatization - Reviving the Momentum

Privatization - Reviving the Momentum calls for a new wave of privatizations, which could net the exchequer in excess of £20bn. Given the worsening state of the economy and the increasing tightness of the public finances, the report notes that such an inflow of funds would be very welcome.  In addition to the revenues generated for the government, a new wave of privatizations would also deliver significant operational benefits. Previous privatizations have delivered a wide range of improvements, including increased investment, lower prices, greater choice and better service for customers – as well as underpinning billions of pounds worth of economic activity. The leading privatization candidates identified by the report include the Royal Mail, Channel 4, BBC Worldwide, Scottish Water, Northern Ireland Water, Glas Cymru, the National Air Traffic Control System, as well as government stakes in British Energy and the Nuclear industry.

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Freedom 101

Freedom 101 is a personal refutation by Dr Madsen Pirie of many of the common errors of economic, political and social debate. He has selected 101 of these erroneous assumptions in order to show why they are not correct. Many of them are in daily circulation as if they were truisms. We are told that, 'the world is running out of scarce resources' or that, 'we should protect the poor by fixing the price of essential goods'. The author shows in his pithy style why these and other assumptions are incorrect. Of his selected 101, some are based on errors of fact, some on false arguments, and many of them on a misunderstanding of how economics works. This is a refreshing book, full of sharp insights to help readers clarify their own thoughts and equip them to bring that same clarity to aid the understanding of others in discussion and debate.
Available here.

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The Waste of Nations

The Waste of Nations argues that pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) waste charges are the best way to encourage recycling and to boost profitable waste businesses. However, the report stresses that PAYT must not be used as a 'dustbin tax' and that its introduction must be accompanied by a corresponding fall in council tax. The report also calls for the full liberalization of the refuse collection sector. Such a move would keep prices down and increase customer satisfaction. It would also lead to innovation and encourage refuse collectors to recycle more waste. The final section of the report argues that recycling should be put on a commercial footing. Recycling facilities and providers should be allowed to merge and consolidate, and the free movement and trade of recyclables should be established. This would ensure a market for commercially viable businesses in the long run.


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Unfair Trade

Unfair Trade argues that for all its good intentions, Fairtrade is not fair. Firstly, by guaranteeing certified farmers a minimum price for their goods, it can distort local markets leaving other farmers even worse off. Secondly, only about 10 percent of the premium paid by consumers actually makes it to the producer, which makes it an inefficient way of helping the poor. Most importantly, Fairtrade does little to aid economic development, focusing instead on sustaining farmers in their current state. Although helpful to some in the short term, this holds back mechanization, diversification, and moves up the value chain. And by requiring farmers to form co-operatives, Fairtrade rules reduce opportunities for labourers to get full-time, permanent jobs and can foster corruption. The report also details the range of alternatives available to ethical consumers, which may be better options than Fairtrade.


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Simpler Taxes

This briefing argues that the Treasury should embark upon a sustained programme of tax simplification. Firstly, this would let people know their liabilities and assent to them – making clear the duties of citizenship and allowing individuals to feel they are partners with, not servants of, government. Secondly, tax simplification can lead to lower taxes. Lower and simpler taxes stimulate growth by discouraging avoidance and creating greater incentives to industry. The briefing goes on to outline a series of practical reforms that would make simpler taxes a reality. 

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Depoliticizing the NHS

This paper documents the bewildering and counter-productive range of political initiatives and interference which has wreaked such havoc on our nation's healthcare system.

The paper's proposal is for a distinguished panel of health professionals to be appointed to run the NHS, to allocate its budget, determine its priorities, and operate it according to medical needs rather than political aims. A YouGov poll taken on the subject shows massive popular support for precisely such a proposal, with 69 percent in favour and only 12 percent against.

The NHS budget would be set by Parliament every five years, and up-rated each year in line with inflation. The ASI's YouGov poll showed that this idea, too, enjoys widespread popular support, with 74 percent in favour. The suggestion that "the NHS has become a political football" receives 72 percent backing.


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Safeguarding civil liberties

This paper itemizes how recent government acts have compromised or removed many of the legal protections traditionally enjoyed under common law. These include habeas corpus, right to trial by jury, right to remain silent, freedom from double jeopardy, among many others.

It is proposed that a new judicial panel be established, independent of government, to review the effect of recent legislation on long-standing liberties, and to make recommendations as to how the impairment of liberties might be redressed. While the body's recommendations would not have the force of law, it is envisaged that it would be so prestigious that governments would find it impossible to ignore or sideline their pronouncements.


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A Parliament for England

This paper calls for an English Parliament, but in a novel form. Unlike proposals which involve a new layer of representatives, a fresh set of elections, and a new building to house it, the ASI proposal uses existing institutions. Under the ASI plan, following the next general election the MPs representing English constituencies should meet in the Palace of Westminster as the Parliament of England, having equivalent powers over health, education, policing and transport as the Scottish Parliament presently has.

They would elect a First Minister, as the Scots do, who would then put together a cabinet which would govern England in the designated areas of responsibility. The UK Parliament would remain responsible UK-wide matters and would control the various departments in charge of them: security and immigration, foreign affairs, international development, defence, employment and social security, energy, constitutional affairs, and tax and the economy.

A YouGov poll found that those in favour of this proposal outnumbered those against by a margin of two to one.


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