The 2016 Budget; Things Other Than The Sugar Tax…

There is much to like, and much to deplore.

The steady cuts to personal income taxation continue the trend under this Government of moving the tax burden from income to consumption. The continued cuts to corporation tax are welcome, and whatever idiot journalists say are virtually cost-free to the exchequer, as money not paid out in corporation tax mostly ends up in wages (to be taxed more highly) or investment (which everyone says we don’t have enough of). Companies don’t pay tax, people do, so corporation tax is a fiction and always has been. Did I mention we don’t have enough investment? Capital gains tax has been cut. Because taxing capital is silly. And the ISA allowance has been raised for the same reason.

Now the only people who pay capital gains taxes are people with large lump sums outside ISAs. These are people who’re so rich they can afford to save more than £15,240 a year, and those who inherited money. So big ISA allowances are moderately progressive.

So far, so good. But there are further disincentives to selling property: namely the increase in stamp duty for buy to let landlords. And there are further tax privileges for the first home in the form of the ‘help to buy’ ISA into which the Government bungs some taxpayers money to help first time buyers “get on the housing ladder”.

The UK’s insane system of property taxation of encourages home-hoarding, and entrenches the perverse idea in the British public’s mind that your house is an investment, not just something to live in. In most of the world, rent and purchase are more-or-less interchangeable. But in the UK, the disincentives to sell are behind much of the continual ratchet up of house prices. The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough houses – everyone has a roof over their heads after all. The problem is that the UK housing market is insufficiently assortive: people can’t afford the RIGHT housing in the right place and must therefore pay through the nose.

We need to scrap stamp duty on property entirely, and increase the taxation of property values giving empty-nesters an incentive to sell that property on to someone who might value its space higher. Unfortunately council tax, which needs re-banding, is a political third rail.

Families cannot afford family homes, because family homes are being held onto by people whose families have long-since flown the nest. So families are being brought up in rabbit hutches, because Granny has no incentive to downsize. Indeed she has an incentive to rattle around in the big house until she dies, when that house will be once more privileged in the inheritance tax system. She will then pass it on to her children, whose own children will have already flown the nest too, and so the cycle continues.

Meanwhile, the assault on Buy-to-let landlords means the supply of rental homes will dry up too. The “housing crisis” will be made a little worse by this budget.

If a family wants a family house, either Daddy has to be very, very well paid, Granny has to die young, or be very, very generous. And the Tories have a massive blind-spot about people’s houses. Thatcher’s dream of a “property-owning democracy” casts a long shadow, and measures to facilitate this, are now actually behind the sheer unaffordability of property for the average worker, while working against increasing the supply of reasonably priced rental homes.

One thing I will say for the Chancellor, the Sugar tax has done its job. It’s a pissy, regressive, fabian authoritarian little bit of nanny state spite. If you think taxing sugary drinks is about obesity, I’ve a bridge to sell you. It’s a bone thrown to the Daily Mail authoritarians, gets a noisy and oddly influential mockney prat with a fat tongue to support the Government and because everyone’s talking about it, It’s an effective dead cat, flung on the table to distract from controversial cuts to benefits, income taxes and corporate taxes, which are mostly going unnoticed; as is the “miss” of fiscal targets.

Ah yes, the targets. The worst thing about political journalism is the absurd weight that is put on Office of Budget Responsibility fiscal forecasts. If there’s one thing less interesting than the deficit, it’s an official guess as to what the deficit might be in 5 years. Then, armed with this utterly fictional state of the finances 5 years out, journalists hyperventilate about whether the Chancellor has “hit” or “missed” his target to balance the books by the end of the parliament, and go on, and on about how much he “has to spend” or “has to find” in the future. So the chancellor puts measures in that may or may not come to to be superseded in future budgets, just to “hit” a “target” that only really still exists in the minds of journalists.

Labour excoriate the chancellor for “missing his own target”, while opposing anything that might bring the books into balance. The deficit is falling, perhaps not as fast as many would like, but debt to GDP isn’t rising all that much, and may soon start to fall. Thus the deficit is under control, to the satisfaction of international creditors, and there’s no risk of a run on Sterling. So the target to balance the books, and get the debt burden down is a noble one, it’s also pretty low on a sensible chancellors list of priorities right now. The rabbit he’s hoping to pull out in the next few years is a big increase in productivity which will finally close the “output gap” bring down the deficit and raise people’s living standards, and cover the “living wage” without increasing unemployment, all in one go.

I don’t think there’s an awful lot the chancellor can do to increase productivity, though cuts to corporate taxation will help a little. We’re still dragging ourselves out of the mother of all balance-sheet recessions, which means investment is low, productivity growth is low, nominal wages aren’t rising fast enough, and the economy sits on a permanent risk of deflation.

Personally I think the Chancellor’s threading the needle between “stimulus” and Japan-style debt mountain pretty well in what remains an extremely cash-constrained fiscal situation. But let’s encourage him to deal with the perverse incentives in property taxation that have long poisoned the British economy, before bleating about fictional forecasts or whining about a silly nanny state sugar tax. The fixation people have on stuff that really doesn’t matter is beyond me.

on the Psychoactive substances bill

America has a law called the “Federal Analogue Act” which attempts to do what the Conservatives are planning to do with the Psychoactive substances bill in the Queen’s speech. It didn’t work in the ‘States, and it won’t work here. It’s vague: What does “substantially similar” mean. How can you prove it’s for human consumption? As a result, it’s hardly been used. 

Worse than it being pointless, what it is trying to do is dangerous.

“Designer drugs” are dangerous: they’re untested, the side-effects are unknown and the metabolism is often slow. People have died, because they don’t know how, or how much to take of any substance, which may be highly toxic. Why then do people take them? Because they can’t get the stimulant, Cocaine; relaxant, Marijuana or the Halucinogenic, LSD or Psilocybin they want, and these “designer drugs” are “legal” and therefore thought by users to be safer than the “killer drugs” that have been banned.
People have been told “drugs kill”. But we know what the lethal doses are for LSD, Psilocybin, THC and Cocaine hydrochloride. There isn’t one. (It’s about 6 litres for water, and about 300ml for Alcohol by comparison). These compounds aren’t “safe”, and have deleterious effects on physical and mental health, especially with long-term use. But their dangers are a known quantity, just like they are for alcohol. People have been smoking Marijuana, and eating hallucinogenic fungi for millennia. These, really should be considered no different to alcohol. Chewing Coca leaves is a prophylactic against altitude sickness, and a stimulant effect a bit stronger than coffee and are legal in much of South America. So why are they banned here? 
And the prohibition of stimulants and psychoactive substances has led to exactly the same death and carnage that prohibition of alcohol did in the USA. A business of enormous profitability has been gifted to criminals. Billions have been spend interdicting supply rather than taxing use and profits from the recreational drug business. This is stupid.
And now, any Chemistry graduate can synthesise novel chemicals, and sell them as “plant food”, and people will try to take them to get high. This only happens because reasonably safe compounds are banned, and the ban enforced with all the power the law affords.
This habit is INSANE, and it’s only supported because the scientific literature is focussed on how to make the drug war work, rather than on working out what and why drugs do what they do, and what to do about it when people take them. All “experts” are from the Law Enforcement/Medical prohibition complex. Banning more substances is just a regulatory whack-a-mole with cis/trans isomers, making matters WORSE not better.
Instead of assuming all drug use is bad, accept that people have always, and always will, like to get off their tits from time to time. Sure, tax the products, like alcohol and tobacco, through the nose if necessary to cover policing costs, quality control and healthcare. Most people will treat Marijuana like they do Merlot: something pleasant to have at the end of the day. Cocaine: A bit like they do Tequila: Something to put rocket-fuel into a night out. A few will become dangerously hooked, as they do right now with alcohol.
My guess is that were recreational narcotics legal, there would be more Marijuana and Cocaine use, and less Alcohol and Heroin. LSD and Magic Mushrooms are not seriously habit forming. They weren’t a problem when Psilocybins cubensis could be bought openly in Camden head shops pre 2005, and they won’t be a problem after they’re made legal again. The harms from all drugs would probably go down thanks to a safer supply chain, and the tax revenue would help the Government balance the books. All those drug-warriors in the police could be re-deployed to something socially useful, like enforcing parking offences or stopping littering.
No country to liberalise drugs laws has seen any major problems, despite heroic efforts of the bansturbationists to manufacture evidence to the contrary. Yet the major problem with prohibition: an illegal and unregulated supply chain remains in place. Imagine the good that could be done were the criminals, and their profits removed from the business.
You want to stop dangerous “designer drugs”? Legalise and regulate the relatively safe stuff that’s currently banned.

Won’t someone Think of the Children?

Kathy Gyngell, Research Fellow and bansturbationist at the centre for policy studies is worried:

the people who perturb me are middle-aged political converts to this ‘cause’ – Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage, Daniel Hannan and Norman Fowler. Whether intentionally or not, they have aligned themselves in a culture war which pits the liberal against traditionalist, cosmopolitan against parochial and old against young. This is what drugs’ legalisation is about: a war over fundamental values. It is not a battle about basic freedoms – far from it. Drugs enslave

Some of the harder drugs are extraordinarily habit-forming. But society copes with alcohol easily enough. It will cope with a bit of pot.

I doubt whether any of these politicians are or were ‘recreational’ drug users, let alone former addicts; or that they’d wish drugs on their children. Yet they’ve been persuaded that a hypothetical taxed and regulated system – one they’ve been told would cut police and prison costs, undercut criminal gangs and end the war on drugs to boot – would sanitise drug use. It wouldn’t. It would normalise it

Why does she doubt these politicians smoked pot at university? I know of only a handful of people, mostly military obsessed or weird, who never tried. Certainly pot use, in certain circles is already “normal” and it causes almost no problems. Cocaine use is on the rise, again with very little social effect. It’s alcohol which causes the blood and vomit on the street.

But like the pro-legalising think tank head I sat next to at dinner recently, I suspect Mr. Hannan’s grasp of the drug problem is pretty limited. My dinner companion typically had no idea how marginal an activity drug use is compared with smoking and drinking – living as he does amongst London’s metropolitan liberals.

Few people have the criminal contacts to get hold of weed, which is easy for the police to interdict (it smells) and therefore getting scarcer. People are instead taking cocaine – easy to conceal, high margin. With the rise of mobile phones it’s a delivery business.

He was surprised that fewer than three per cent of adults smoke a spliff on any sort of regular basis compared with the 20 per cent who smoke daily and the overwhelming majority who regularly drink alcohol. He had no idea that cannabis use overall had declined in the UK, and so markedly amongst adolescents – 30 per cent in the last 15 years

Of course cannabis use has fallen. As has LSD – they’re hard to get. People are moving onto cocaine, whose use is rising.

For today’s young people are more, not less, responsible than before, they drink less, use drugs less, commit fewer crimes and volunteer more as a recent Demos report shows. In these newly competitive times, the last thing this generation need is a drugs legalising experiment foisted on them by ageing libertarians.

Yes they are much more responsible. They’re also quite capable of lying to researchers about their drug use, and making their own decisions. NOTHING I have seen suggests to me that pot causes problems. It may exacerbate problems already there, but no more so than does alcohol. The link between schizophrenia and cannabis use is, according to all literature not published by a government-sponsored “education” campaign, suggests a co-morbidity, not a causal relationship, however comforting it is for parents of sufferers to believe it’s the pot that “caused” the problem. People with mental health problems take all and any drugs in greater volume, whether legal or illegal, stimulant or depressive.

Anyway, there already is one – in Colorado. It does not look good. According to Dr. Christian Thurstone, the director of one of Colorado’s largest youth substance-abuse treatment clinics, regular high school drug use has leaped from 19 per cent to 30 per cent since Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2009 for adults

So under a legalised system, the proportion smoking rose to that which it was in the UK, before pot got hard to come by? I’m SHOCKED, that people like to get high. SHOCKED.

Drug warriors, like prohibitionists like to present it as an a-priori benefit when drug use goes down. Furthermore, there’s the tired assumption that the pot available now is stronger and therefore worse, than that which our parents smoked (True in the USAbut less so in Europe) and this is mainly down to freshness – our parents smoked pot grown in Morocco (or mexico, if American). Our kids smoke pot hydroponically forced in someone’s basement.

I simply don’t accept that it’s necessarily  bad for people to get high/pissed/stoned once in a while.

Drugs enslave

That’s is probably true of Heroin. But not of pot. Pot is likely to be a substitute for getting smashed on alcohol for young people. Which drug has the worse social effects? Most of the harms associated with drug use are due to Heroin and (in the USA meth and crack), which is highly addictive, lethal if the dose is wrong and with catastrophic health effects. No-one sets out to be a junkie. They probably start with Pot. When pot is hard to come by, their dealer suggests cocaine (which is easier to get these days). When there’s no cocaine, a dealer might suggest heroin – smoking at first, before finally injecting. The slippery slope exists, for vulnerable people at least.

Why would a dealer do such a thing?

Because he’s dealing to fund his own habit.

What the heroin market is at present is a highly effective pyramid marketing scheme. Why do people take heroin? Because they can’t get medical grade diamorphine (which has fewer health effects, no track-lines, infections, and crap injected into viens). A legal supply chain (not decriminalisation) would break the hold of the dealer, prevent dealers recruiting users to fund their own habit and close down the heroin marketing pyramid.

The number of problem heroin addicts rocketed after the misuse of drugs act. Before the misuse of drugs act, most people became addicted to opiates in hospital. It was known as “the soldiers’ disease”.

Legalised drugs would mean more people taking pot and cocaine, and fewer people drinking to excess and injecting heroin. I can live with that.

A Simple Policy to make the UK Happier…

…Would be for the Government stop funding, and the BBC to ignore, the following organisations and their output:

No, not Young Professionals meeting for a drink after
work, but dangerous addicts damaging their livers.
There are plenty of others you can add to the list fake charities: government funded lobbying organisations who produce endless “studies” supporting the ban of whatever their bee is in their bonnet; all in the name of “public health”, whose policy-based evidence-making goes entirely unchallenged on the BBC.
And people turn on the radio, and hear some ghastly purse-lipped harridan, with a mouth like a dog’s arsehole from Alcohol Concern spewing forth statistics about “middle class binge-drinking” (by which she means sharing a bottle or two of a weeknight evening) like so much vomit. As she sits there, unchallenged, calling for warning labels or more tax, or a minimum price of Alcohol or some such nanny-state fuss-bucketry, the people lisening feel put upon and oppressed, as the vague notion that the Government is going to make their few remaining pleasures more expensive, harder to get forms; even if nothing is happening.
These temperance bags of spite have already destroyed the working classes’ social life by taking away their local boozer thanks to the smoking ban. Now they want to price the “squeezed middle” out of their chilled Chardonnay when they get in from work.
LEAVE PEOPLE BE, for pity’s sake you puritan cock-wombles. Leave us alone.

On BMI, Smoking and Physical Fitness

Quite often amongst libertarians there’s a ‘drinkin’ smokin’ and ahm-a-gonna-continue-coz-you-ain’t-gonna-stop-me attitude’. Because the BMA advises something, some libertarians willfully do the opposite.

I entirely understand the wish to blow the smoke of an unfiltered Senior Service into the face of any public-health busybodies I see. There’s enormous glee for example in the reporting of the meta-study released recently which suggested the slightly overweight live longer than those in the “healthy” BMI range. This is something that I thought was long-known. The VERY underweight live the longest, as near-starvation prevents some damage caused by free-radicals in cells during metabolism. We all know what healthy people look like, but it’s apparently just as healthy to carry a bit more weight as you age. The findings of the report are not surprising.

BMI was invented in the 19th century, when people were calorie constrained, cars hadn’t been invented and everyone was skinny, worked in manual labour, and walked, rode, or cycled everywhere. “Normal” was different back then. However BMI’s not a bad rule of thumb. Normal these days is a bit overweight, and certainly not doing the exercise or suffering the occasional bout of hunger for which nature designed us.

The key is muscle. If you’re carrying muscle, and we carry a lot more of it than our great-grandparents, you’re active, a bit of extra fat isn’t a problem for your body to bear, but big muscles are heavy and so push you into “overweight” on the BMI.  If you’re built like a jockey’s whip, you’re completely sedentary and have an unhealthy lifestyle, you can have quite a high fat percentage and a low BMI as fatty tissue is less dense than muscle. Catwalk models have bad skin from make-up and a diet of cocaine, bulimic vomiting and fizzy white wine yet fall at or below the healthy range. Most professional Rugby Players, on the other hand are “obese” thanks to their large muscle mass. There’s no doubt which looks more healthy (without makeup).

Make-up can be used to disguise an unhealthy lifestyle and unhealthy BMI.

I’ve never been a heavy smoker, but I have recently got into the habit of enjoying a cigarette or two in the evenings when I get home from work. I have for one reason or another been without a bicycle for much of the last few months. I’ve been drinking nearly every day and eating too much. I’ve not been taking exercise. I’ve got a bit fat. My BMI is 25.6. Very slightly over the border into overweight. And that’s probably about right. Fat, but not dangerously so. It certainly doesn’t help anyone who isn’t a professional athlete to see the BMI and think “Overweight is good”, because it isn’t.

Just a week of running and swimming each evening, and giving up the cancer-sticks entirely and cutting down the booze, I feel great. The first run was horrible. The second wasn’t much better. But on the third, I felt I’d cleared out some crap from the lungs and I enjoyed it. From previous bouts of fitness fanaticism I find at first you hate it. Then you start to enjoy it. Then you start to need it.

What interests me in the epidemiology is to what extent is the huge health penalty with which smoking is correlated to do with the harms of smoking itself, and how much is to do with the fact that people who smoke are also less likely to make healthy choices with exercise and food? It’s my belief that for day to day well-being, being sedentary is worse than light smoking. If you take regular exercise, I suspect you can get away with a fag with your pint afterwards. But I’m not a doctor, nor am I a public health epidemiologist. I don’t know.

Just because some nannying doctor tells you something is good or bad for you, doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Feeling hungover, lethargic and listless is not as good as feeling bright, cheerful and healthy. Pretty girls prefer men with toned muscles. You’re better in the sack with those pretty girls (or even your significant other) if you take some exercise. Fit people suffer less depression and have higher self-reported happiness. You’ll live longer and so generate more personal utility from the taxes you pay as you burden the NHS with your longer senescence. You sleep better after exercise, and are so more productive when you get up. Live fast, die young? Sod that. Live fast, die old, that’s my motto.

I’ve just started an exercise regime. I’m not just happy about it, I’m smug about it too. Hate me.

How BBC bias works

Let’s take the BBC’s coverage of the minimum pricing legislation debate. The headline went something like this:

Doctors [respected] have welcomed the governments proposal to introduce minimum pricing, but industry bodies [Boo! Profiteers] have reacted angrily [ie not rationally] to the proposals saying they will hit ordinary drinkers.

No one has seriously questioned the Sheffield university “report” which is basically assumptions, untested against evidence in a spreadsheet, reported with grotesque overconfidence and represents nothing more than policy-based evidence-making.

Anyone claiming to be a scientist, presenting this “data” on lives which will be saved by the policy, without pointing out the heroic assumptions (for example that heavy, problem alcoholics are MORE price sensitive, not less than the general population, something which flies in the face of evidence from other addictive drugs), is basically lying to you.

No-one questions the self-appointed experts who are basically a temperance movement dressed up in academic drag, on their evidence, which is taken at face value. The poor sap hauled up on the today program faced scrutiny of his opinions which was sorely lacking for the temperance witch on the other side of the desk. Once again, the BBC has come down in favour of MORE regulation by the state, more intrusion into the lives of ordinary people, not less. Once more supposedly skeptical journalists have have failed to question experts’ assumptions with any rigour.

What are they for again?

Minimum Unit Pricing for Alcohol

Cameron seems to think a minimum unit price for alcohol is a good idea. It isn’t of course, it’s the worst type of New Labour nanny-state idiocy. You know that, I know that. What’s important is who the enemies of liberty are, and how they use their positions in a conspiracy against the public.

The medical political complex has become dominated by a kind of purse-lipped puritan, who sees the maintenance of life as its sole aim. To these people, the poor especially must be bullied, for that is what it amounts to, into “healthy lifestyles”. To this end, government must see to it that the poor especially must be prevented from doing harm to themselves. Especially by smoking, drinking and taking drugs.

The war on smoking is going well. The habit has been de-normalised in much of middle-class society, remaining widespread only in the working class. The ban on smoking in pubs has caused tens of thousands of pubs to shut down. Not, of course the nice gastro-pub in which the members of the medical/political complex might take their 21 units a week (a number for which, of course there is NO evidence), but the kind of local boozer in which a builder might enjoy a pint after work. Builders, who are more likely to smoke than public health professionals, have responded to the incentive provided by the smoking ban by going to the supermarket for lager, and watching the television at home, where they are (still, just) allowed to smoke, instead of socialising with their friends and work colleagues.

The public health professional is not now satisfied with the steady decline in smoking. They are now going after booze, in a big way. And they are fundamentally dishonest. The UK has relatively low consumption of alcohol. Consumption of alcohol is falling. Young people are drinking less than ever. Of course some people go out and get squiffy on a Friday night, but THEY ALWAYS HAVE and much of the vomit and blood on the street is down to insane licencing laws that see local pubs shut (no “entertainment” you see) and vertical drinking barns with bull-necked bouncers who delight in giving random kickings, stay open late. People are herded into noisy “venues” only to have all of them shut simultaneously, leading to fights in kebab queues and taxi ranks. Stressed, drunk people whose jackets are probably still in the cloakroom of the club they’ve been kicked out of, and by whose bouncers they’ve had kickings, are herded around by increasingly officious and aggressive people wearing high-viz, until the police arrive and add one more person to the crime & disorder statistics.

A free market in the night-time economy wouldn’t look like that.

Sheffield university’s Professor Petra Meier’s MODEL-BASED APPRAISAL OF ALCOHOL MINIMUM PRICING is being widely touted as evidence that minimum pricing works. It’s nothing of the sort, of course. It’s a model. If you assume a policy works, and put those numbers into a spreadsheet, you can estimate by how much consumption will fall at different unit prices. All you need is a title – in this case two PhDs and a Professor – to be believed when you say “but the model shows that consumption by problem drinkers falls the most”. But it is by no means evidence that the policy will work. It’s a tarted-up guess. It’s policy-based evidence making, and hoping no-one challenges you on the data.

In a word they’re lying to you. But by repetition the lies become the accepted truth.

But it’s not about whether an intervention into minimum pricing would work. To make the argument about that risks the medical/political complex actually finding it does work, within their parameters, and being encouraged to ban bacon. Is a drop in alcohol consumption a good thing? Why? We probably want to cut the blood and vomit on the street on a Friday night, but that isn’t about booze, it’s culture, law and licensing. Why fight on ground of the puritan’s choosing?

The question should whether it’s the state’s role to intervene in pricing. Because once that rubicon’s been crossed, you can bet we’re back to fighting the cold war again as price-planners flood through the economy, and every decision gets scrutinised by your GP. We will see restrictions on fatty foods. And before long, no-doubt the nation will be forced (for the good of the NHS) to do their press-ups and sit-ups every morning, in the road, where you can be inspected. Minimum pricing therefore is about whether the state has a right to tell you and me what we do with our bodies.

I like a glass of wine now and again. Once in a while, and less often than I used to, I like to get squiffy with my friends. This is absolutely none of the government’s business. And it’s the poor who suffer most. Pubs in poor areas were  already marginal businesses, and they’ve gone. So the low-waged have seen their social forum shut, increasing atomisation and alienation. And all because the temperance lobby don’t like the sight of men with cigarettes and a pint. The poor have been driven to a WORSE health outcome by the smoking ban. And because their lives are a bit less social, the harmful drinkers may well drink more. Of course, if this is the case, there’s no evidence, because there’s no-one looking. The temperance lobby got their policy, and they’ve moved on.

This isn’t about health. It’s about a certain type of curtain-twitching middle-class puritan, drawn to careers in public health who see the poor not as people, but a problem to be tidied up. This is true of slum clearances which destroyed communities in the name of public health, and it’s true of the modern-day temperance crusade.

My prediction: This policy will be declared illegal under European law as the Scottish experiment is shot down. Cameron will use that as a pretext to drop a policy in which he’s invested, but on which the rest of the Cabinet is less less keen. He will use it, like the votes for prisoners, as something on which he will “stand up to Europe”. We will still hear the confident assertions medical/political complex go unchallenged on the Today program.

Further reading on the subject: Heresy Corner’s post is very good and Christopher Snowdon’s blog is excellent on the litany of lies by public health professionals and the temperance industry. You should read it.

On Freedom…

… Which could be a musing on the excellent essays by Isiah Berlin, but isn’t. It’s much more prosaic than that.

Twitter is asking me to sign a petition: @nomorepage3 by someone called Lucy Holmes (the world’s greatest Kylie tribute artist, apparently. No… Me neither).

I am not going to sign this petition, mainly because Liberal free-market democracy requires a mindset that if you don’t like something, broadly you don’t have to do it. Furthermore, those that DO like to do something, watch Films by racists or bowing down before a God or looking at bare breasts in a newspaper, should be free to get on with whatever it is they want to do, unmolested by agents of the state, religion or busybodies. If we are to remain a Liberal, free market democracy, we must be as hard on the busybodies as we are supporters of minority pursuits. I disapprove of the desire to ban things far, far more than I do bare breasts in a paper.

Obviously the state proscribes some harmless activities for our own good: Enjoying a pint with a cigarette in a pub, for example. Or smoking Marijuana at any time. Though broadly speaking, in most grown-up liberal democracies, these things are possible if you’re prepared to break a poorly enforced law. The police take things like murder really very seriously indeed. If you kill someone it’s rather hard to get away with it. On the other hand, millions buy illegal drugs every weekend, unmolested by the police. Even when Homosexuality was illegal, laws against it were rarely enforced. This shows, broadly, that even where the law is an ass, society has it’s head screwed on right.

Ultimately, I am a Libertarian, which means I believe your body is your own to do with what you will. If that means flashing secondary sexual characteristics for a photographer, and be handsomely paid to do so; or sticking cocaine up one orifice, and a cock up another; or for that matter, do something really stupid and dangerous like read the Bible or Marx, you should be free to do so being stopped only from hurting others through recklessness or aggression.

It’s amazing how the arguments of people who would deny the us freedom always look the same. Let’s look at the preamble to Lucy Holmes’ petition to Dominic Mohan, the editor of Britain’s best-selling daily Newspaper, the Sun.

We are asking Dominic Mohan to drop the bare boobs from The Sun newspaper.

We are asking very nicely.

Please, Dominic.

No More Page 3.

George Alagiah doesn’t say, ‘And now let’s look at Courtney, 21, from Warrington’s bare breasts,’ in the middle of the 6 O’ Clock News, does he, Dominic?

Philip and Holly don’t flash up pictures of Danni, 19, from Plymouth, in just her pants and a necklace, on This Morning, do they, Dominic?

No, they don’t.

There would be an outcry.

And you shouldn’t show the naked breasts of young women in your widely read ‘family’ newspaper either.

Consider this a long overdue outcry.

Dominic, stop showing topless pictures of young women in Britain’s most widely read newspaper, stop conditioning your readers to view women as sex objects.

Enough is enough.

Thank you.

Why do you care, Lucy? What does it matter to you if some people like to look at other people in their pants? Why are you so offended by the notion that men, in particular enjoy looking at pretty girls in the buff? If you don’t like it, don’t buy the Sun. Of course there are no naked boobs on the 6-O’clock news, BECAUSE THE LAW SAYS THERE CAN’T BE. Maybe if there were bare boobs on the telly at 6 pm, more working-class people would watch the news?

If you’re really offended, encourage others who share your views to not buy the Sun. The Sun, however is the UK’s best-selling paper, with is rather a standing retort to your world view, and I suspect this is the real reason you want Page 3 banned. I am reasonably sure that anyone signing this petition has already voted, by not buying ‘the Sun’, so the signers of this petition are simply looking to impose their preferences on other people.

The idea that a semi-naked woman on Page 3 “encourages men to view women as sex-objects” is ridiculous, as I don’t see ms Holmes objecting to the similarly attired David Beckham advertising versace smellies and smalls. This pathetic diatribe contains the logical inference, supplied without argument or evidence, that children seeing bared breasts (organs designed to feed children) will somehow damage them.

The arguments are so weak they essentially boil down to “we, the enlightened object to something you, the proles, do; so we’re banning it“. This has happened to smoking, which died out in the middle-classes but persists amongst the kind of people who build houses and clean streets. Once this happened, pubs, clubs, businesses were denied the right to allow their patrons to smoke. “For the children” was invoked, but pubs, the kind where working class people gather, not the nice gastro-pub, closed as a direct result. How is anyone happier or better off, drinking at home rather than in a pub?

Cocaine was freely available, and widely used by middle-class dentists and psychatrists. Opiate addiction used to be known as the soldiers disease, for which Cocaine was prescribed! The British Royal family were high as kites at Balmoral at the turn of the century. Currently illegal drugs were only banned when the working classes started taking them. Not because the drugs are particularly harmful, but because middle class people don’t like the poor and seek to tidy them up. They failed.

The people who are most keen on clearing “slums”, temperance, drug prohibition, anti-smoking, anti-obesity, sure-start, parenting classes and means-tested welfare are the political left, who are also most keen on taxing the poor’s few remaining pleasures. The left claim to act in the poor’s interest, but they don’t seem to much like the poor, and so wish to alter them “for their own good”. This isn’t about the working class’s self-improvement, it’s about power and class and brute, miserable prejudice of purse-lipped puritanism and middle-class hypocrisy. C.S Lewis:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Perhaps the libertarian solution is better: Make sure the poor have enough to survive, but otherwise apply benign neglect. Leave ’em alone for a bit, see what they come up with. Then leave that alone too. Some of “them” might “succeed” and join the middle-class at table; the routes to self-“betterment” must always be open. Otherwise, who are we to judge what they do? Many poor people are happy. The left, with its endless interference and fussbucktry seems intent on keeping the poor in their place (and so the fuss-buckets in jobs). I am not sure the interference helps the people it’s meant to.

Were we are all free to make our own choices to both social AND economic spheres, the world would be a better place. It does not matter to me whether your drug of choice is a glass of Sherry after lunch,  or speed-balling smack and cocaine whilst wearing a crotchless gimp suit. It makes no difference to me whether you spend or save, watch TV or go for a run. So much of people’s desire to “help” the poor is simple distaste for what other people CHOOSE to do.

The only thing that’s certain: everyone’s more miserable when mere prejudice is turned into law.

WHY do you care what people you don’t know do with their free time and spare cash? Why don’t you focus on your own life a bit? Because many of these people you’re trying to help don’t WANT and HAVEN’T ASKED FOR your help. Listen Guardian readers: SUN READERS DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR OPINION, so leave them be. They will probably be happier. And you, without an object of your pity and disapproval, might have to confront your own demons, whatever they are. The nanny-state fuss-buckets might be more miserable. Y’see ‘freedom’ means that some people do things of which you or I disapprove. I get that. Lucy Holmes doesn’t. I’m happy to let Page 3 exist, she isn’t. Not my problem either.

Government as a Tool.

Government is not inherently evil. Indeed it is necessary – anarchy is not a happy state of affairs. This is the difference between Anarchism, and Libertarianism: Somalia is not a standing retort to the principles of the latter. Nor are things like progressive taxes, welfare states or redistribution necessarily bad.

Even (or even especially) in meritocratic societies, much of one’s station in life is overwhelmingly predicted by what your parents do. If they’re smack-addled self-arguers, you’re unlikely to become Prime-Minister. So, redistribution fulfils a fairness function – mitigating the gross dice-roll of fate which decided which womb bore you. Redistribution also reduces the risk of starting businesses – if you fail, you’re not going to starve, so  as a minimum standard of living can be guaranteed, people can on take more entrepreneurial risks. And as much business success is down to luck, this too is fair. There is an economic function to welfare. Welfare can also be seen as an insurance policy, preventing the rich ending up on a gibbet when the revolution comes.

The trick is to help the needy and unlucky while not damaging the incentive to work. Unfortunately, the British welfare state, with its vast bureaucracy of 72 separate benefits is a massive disincentive to work. Simplifying the benefits system, and aligning it with the tax system and make it simpler to claim, reducing the risk of lost benefits, when taking on short-term work. The Government’s plans for a universal Credit are a step in the right direction.

Government has a role in infrastructure. It is naive to imagine a comprehensive network of Metalled roads would be provided by the private sector. Paths form naturally, but for them to be in decent condition, this is best provided collectively. A road on its own is worth less than the same road in a network.

The realm must be defended. Most countries don’t have a handy English Channel, and whilst Britain Eschewed a standing army long after the rest of Europe had started conscripting, she did always have a big Navy and almost no states do without some form of military, even tiny Lichtenstein has paramilitary police. No-one would argue that private armies are a good idea. This is what made Medieval England so hard to Govern.

Defence morphs into law enforcement. A strong, central state through British history has tended to act as a protector of the peasants against their local potentates. The Royal Boroughs became wealthy for example because their liberties were guaranteed by the crown against the often rapacious demands of local barons. Where monarchies became defenders of the people against the barons in this manner – The UK, Scandinavia and much of Northern Europe, they tended to survive. It’s clear therefore enforcing rules, especially on behalf of the weak against the powerful is a key role of the state.

A strong, effective state therefore is good for all except the most powerful. Economically, the benefits of a state listed above are demonstrated in the concept of the Rahn curve. If the state doesn’t exist, you don’t get much economy, let alone economic growth. But just as libertarians are wont to abuse the Laffer Curve to suggest that tax-cuts always bring more revenue, leftists are currently pretending more state spending will always generate growth. It doesn’t, and here’s why.

An efficient package of tools

Having got some measure of control of the state, and having used it to deliver a more equitable society, the temptation arises in democracies especially to use this powerful tool called the state to solve problems to which it is not suited. Politicians get called “complacent” if they say “not my problem”. A limited state, focused on what it does well is wealth enhancing. Take the state into areas to which it is not suited, the result is a state which takes too much, and as a result gets captured by vested interests in public-sector unions, who agitate for more spending on their priorities (mainly wages for their members) forgetting that this must be paid for out of everyone else’s surplus production. The result is a state providing Health, Education and social services, over which the people who are supposed to use them, have no control. You take what you’re given and like it. You get substandard services, delivered by people who know they’re going to get paid, whatever you think.

It also means the costs lead to over taxation. The rich are mobile, and while they might enjoy London or Paris’ cultural riches, there comes a point when they will bugger off, as Francois Hollande is likely to find out soon. It is tempting to blame ‘the rich’ because they are few in number and democracy can become the tyranny of the majority. If the rich “avoid” taxes, a problem existing mostly in the fevered minds of left-wing activists, it’s because a ridiculously complicated tax-code allows them to. Simple, fair, progressive taxation is rarely avoided. Gordon Brown tried to use the Tax system as a control on the economy. He failed.

Trying to do too much

The problem causing the ratchet upwards in the cost of government is the costs of state inaction are easy to picture – you’ve pissed off individuals making noise. But the costs of state over-action are spread equally amongst millions, but it takes a crisis to make people aware of it.

The answer is to use the state as an enabling tool, funding rather than providing. And this is the key to the success of the Nordic states, despite their high (eye-wateringly so) tax rates. I’ve no problem with state funded services. I’ve no problem with progressive taxation, and a welfare safety net. But these have limits. And we’re at or beyond them now. The tool of the state has become unwieldy and inefficient because it tries to do too much.

Few would have a problem paying high taxes if the services delivered were up to scratch. And if they are not up to scratch, if there’s a choice between competing providers, you still don’t mind paying. You just take your tax-funded business elsewhere. This is why Sweden’s state schools are so much better than ours – they aren’t run by the state, and so don’t have the bureaucracy to stifle good ideas, and are not completely captured by the producer interest.

Ultimately the standard of living, that we’re trying to improve for as many as possible, equates to a measure of free income after tax, non-tax health and education costs, and transport. All of which government can influence. The USA may have low headline federal taxes, and variable state taxes but its citizens are expected to pay out the majority of the difference into a bloated private health system (the US health industry is as obscene as it is in part of ridiculous laws like those banning the sale of insurance across state lines, but that’s another subject, for another day). So despite their low taxes, Americans are not greatly better off than western Europeans. It’s not just about money.

It’s impossible to live cheek-by-jowl without some collective decision making. So long as this is under democratic control, and uncorrupt, State action can mitigate certain behaviours which only become individually optimal in the absence of a collective alternative. For example, America rejected public transport almost entirely, in favour of the car facilitating (along with a large, underpopulated land-mass) urban sprawl which means Americans spend longer commuting than almost anyone else on the planet, something at the top of the list of misery-making habits. So a rejection of state action in favour of rugged individualism has forced Americans into a sub-optimal status quo and sitting in queues of traffic on the freeway, but feeling like they have no choice.  Monopolies, like the near monopoly of car infrastructure in Los Angeles, are anywhere and always a problem.

So the idiot ‘Libertarian’ battle cry of “cut taxes now” is likely to mean people spend the savings from taxes on things that used to be provided by taxes and being forced into sub-optimal behaviour by the abandonment of some collective action. Inevitably taxes would also be spent on subsidising the poor’s access to goods and services, so few are really any better off despite lower headline tax rates.

The trick therefore is to maximise everyone’s utiltiy at minimum cost, and to do so whilst increasing everyone’s freedom of action. And the best drivers of efficiency are markets. Free schools would create choice, whilst still being free at the point of delivery. There is no reason (apart from producer interest) to oppose privatised bits within the NHS. The internal market was abandoned, then resurrected by Labour, not for ideological reasons, but because it worked.

I’ve no problem with health care free (or free-ish) at the point of delivery funded from taxation because no-one has shown me any evidence that private insurance is more efficient. After-all insurance pools risk. Tax-funding pools risk better. However I do not believe the state, or any other monopoly to be any good at delivery. So break the NHS up, and let the patients choose where to be treated, whom to see as their GP, and let the funds follow those choices accordingly. All the regulator (NICE?) needs to do is say which treatments are available for free, and which need to be paid for out of your pocket, and then check they’re up to a standard. The market can do the rest.

Where the real cuts need to come is in the vast, expensive bureaucracies managing and regulating our lives. Big business lobbies for tight regulation because this protects incumbents. Look at banking – a ridiculously tightly regulated industry from which innovation has been frozen by a cartel of self-interested Giants. These Giants are egged on by a regulator which encourages scale in the belief that big is better, and who do business according to the regulators idea of risk. And look where that go us. Deregulation cannot be the reason for the crisis because it’s never been tried. A free market in banking (with a state guarantee for depositors, but not investors) would let a thousand flowers bloom. Bank failures need not be disruptive and would cause the banking industry to join the 21st century as crappy customer service would be punished by people moving. At present, I can’t e-mail my bank and they still take 3 days to clear a cheque.

If you want to cut costs in Government, don’t look at the transfer payments of the Education and NHS. The delivery of these is going to improve as markets penetrate industries which were once monopolies. If a state bureaucracy replaces an insurance bureaucracy, is that really worse? Look at the vast regulatory raj, with fingers in big business, local Government and cut that out. Focus remaining regulation on competition, not consumer outcomes (that’s what a market’s for…)- don’t let anyone get a monopoly anywhere. Bust cosy cartels. Enable choices, stop protecting us from ourselves, and leave the results alone.

Ultimately the state needs to stop doing quite a lot of things its got used to doing. Why is there a public bureaucracy around sport? What is the DTI for except a conduit to Government for big business? Why are there laws demanding I wear a helmet on a motorbike or a seat-belt in a car? Why is there a ‘War on Drugs’? Why can I not have a cigarette with a pint? Because our elected representatives decided to use an inappropriate tool to solve problems which are none of their business. The result is a state delivering shoddy services, yet which cost 50% of everyone’s income.

This has become unsustainable. Much as I want taxes cut, I still want good public services and we need a balanced budget. However instead of cutting the Army to 82,000, why not cut the bureaucracy of the MoD? Instead of pruning branches, why not cut down the whole tree of the DTI? How about Stopping giving money to “charity” on  our behalf? Why not Roll DfID back into the FCO? The list of unnecessary stuff the Government does is nearly endless. Slash the areas of the state whose sole purpose is to provide jobs for life for Unite members, and create markets in most of the rest. You may not see the tax burden go down much in the short-term, there are too many pensioners for that, but you may get more for your taxes and your children might be rich enough to be taxed less. In final analysis, Gordon Brown’s spending splurge wrecked the rest of your economic life. It might not wreck your children’s.

Risk Fetishisation

Bicycle helmets save lives, don’t they?

In any given accident, they have a 16% chance of reducing injury. They have little or no effect, however when you are hit by a car. They do cause drivers to subconsciously assume a cyclist is protected, and less vulnerable and cause motorists to drive closer when passing. They may therefore INCREASE the risk of the type of accident where wearing a helmet won’t help. The cyclist himself may too take more risks if wearing a helmet. There is no data on this, but risk-compensation in other areas is well documented.

But by far the biggest effect of the cycle helmet is that it sends a message to non-cyclists: cycling is dangerous. By far the biggest effect on cycling safety is numbers: the more cyclists there are, the more drivers get used to driving with them, the fewer accidents. The fewer accidents, the more cyclists. By far the safest cities to cycle in are on the continent where everyone cycles and no-one wears a helmet. The health benefits of cycling both physical and mental far outweigh the risk of being killed or injured. This is why I cancelled my order for a cycle helmet this morning.

Of course cycle-helmet manufacturers want to encourage their use. Governments, aided by the popular press (who put whether or not a cyclist was wearing a helmet at front and centre of ANY story about cycling injury) assume they help, and are actively considering compulsion. Naturally those disgusting fascists at the BMA are foursquare behind a mandatory helmet law. Who benefits? Cycle helmet manufacturers. The police who have ANOTHER reason to stop someone at will. Other cyclists will not benefit from the safety in numbers as cycling remains a niche mode of transport, and cars will still be mystified by cyclists’ behaviour.

Where ever mandatory helmet laws are put in place, the kind of casual cycling for transport you seen in the most “livable” cities in the world – Copenhagen, Amsterdam disappears. Cyclists therefore become the Lycra Nazis. An other tribe of weirdos, bunny huggers. If only the cycling enthusiast cycles, its less safe for everyone. When Copenhagen started “encouraging” helmet use, the growth in cycling stopped. The car, with its particulate emissions and rapacious need for parking has another victory. Melbourne’s bicycle hire scheme failed mainly because of a mandatory helmet law, which reduced head-injuries amongst cyclists by amost exactly the same amount as cycling rates dropped. The law didn’t make people safer, it made one mode of transport appear more dangerous than another equivalently dangerous means of transport.

We’ve become scared; it is the fear that keeps people in line. We meekly accept ridiculous security theatre in Airports, ever tougher laws and police powers to “keep us safe” when we live in the safest, healthiest, longest-lived most protected lives in human history. It’s not just mandatory helmet laws. It’s banning boxing, limiting your right to have a pint in the pub at 23:01. It’s about limiting your right to have a cigarette with a pint at ANY time. You cannot even have a sly fag at the end of a train Platform, and you’re constantly harangued by disembodied voices and watched over by CCTV. Government sets people against each other in the search for legislative solutions to keep us safe and well. It is not US who benefit, but those who seek to control us.

It all started with the mandatory seat belt law and helmets for motorcyclists, that may have in themselves been good ideas. However we’re so far down the slippery slope, now look at us. People are buying helmets for children learning to walk. How long before they’re mandatory? And what are the side-effects of such a product inculcating a child with the idea that the world is DANGEROUS, not exciting?

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

I give you our future.

In Case He Falls Over.