On the Legitimacy of Strikes

My good friend Joel compares the turnouts in Strike Ballots with the turnouts in elections. Obviously, it’s ridiculous to say a person “was elected by 25% of the electorate” when 50% of those who voted voted for him. Abstention is a legitimate democratic choice. The same is true of strike ballots. Perhaps 30% of members return their ballots. Of whom there might be a majority in favour of strike action. This doesn’t mean the “strike is supported by 15% of the members” to take the rather dishonest Tory line. What is more reasonable is the line taken by the Tory MP on the Today programme this morning, who said in an election, everyone affected can vote, and can choose not to. However a strike affects people who do not have a vote.

The Union barons are whining that Margaret Thatcher’s evil anti-union legislation, which demanded postal ballots for strike action is preventing high turnouts. Why, they ask, can’t there be work-place ballot boxes? Had anyone bothered to look at why all-postal ballots are insisted upon in the legislation, they would know that it is a measure to prevent intimidation by Union organisers in the workplaces. Who would oversee those secret ballots? The Union reps, who would then be tempted to influence the result…. 
What the Union Barons want is for people to turn up to work, and vote on a strike ballot overseen by the union, so the union members can be subject to the same intimidation and thuggery that they were in the good-old days of the 1970s, which increases union power in negotiations with “the Bosses”, supposedly for the benefit of the workers, but in practice so the Union barons can feel all important.
Strikes, though romanticised by the Union movement and the broader left as part of the “Workers Struggle”, have actually achieved very little in the way of improvements in pay or conditions. What has driven pay and conditions is productivity and investment. What a strike does is encourage the bosses to fire people and, where possible, employ machines. The people running the machines will be paid well enough so they regard themselves as one of the bosses, and so don’t strike.
The very point of a strike is to impose costs on the bosses, and broader society so that the monopolistic power of employers can curtailed, and the rewards for labour are more evenly shared. But employers don’t have monopolistic power any more. Educated people especially don’t need Unions, because there are plenty of people hiring. UK unemployment is low thanks, in part, to flexible Labour markets that allow people to be taken on “on risk” because getting rid of them should they turn out to be unsuitable is not too costly either for the employer or employee. The idea that “bosses” still have the power, absent any legislation or unions, to drive down pay and conditions in a “race to the bottom” is risible. The strike then, is a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. 
The problem is not bosses beating up on the poor, downtrodden worker, but the workers in safe, secure jobs, pulling up the drawbridge behind them. Every time there’s a strike, there’s an incentive for workers not yet hired to never be hired, and their wages spent on a machine instead. Or in businesses folding because the labour relations are too much bother, or not being started in the first place, because even taking on one member of staff, risks bankruptcy.
If you don’t like the pay and conditions in your current employment, get your lazy arse to City and Guilds, the Open University or whatever, and call your head-hunter. Yes, be prepared to move, if necessary. But if you want to enjoy the moral high-ground of “serving the public” in tax-funded (secure, well-paid relative to the private sector, and enjoying a gold-plated pension) public sector, please don’t expect me to have any sympathy when, following the strike, you’re outsourced to the lowest bidder. For that is the logic of strikes.
If you’re on strike, feel my contempt for your spiteful, economically illiterate, selfish stupidity. 

On the Right of Recall

I’m not a fundamentalist on this issue. We have a right of recall, it’s just we might have to wait a few years to exercise it. Neil Hamilton was booted out by the electorate in Tatton in 1997 and now pathetically plods along, embarrassing UKIP rather than the Tories. Tatton was the fourth safest Tory seat.

The problem is how to deal with politically-motivated, opportunistic attempts at recall. It’s easy to see a situation where an MP in a marginal constituency could face a recall petition simply at the behest of a (and it probably would be Labour) party in order to discomfit the Government and take advantage of mid-term unpopularity.

So while I like, in principle, a right of recall, In practice, I’m comfortable with a committee of MPs as a filter for vexatious recall petitions.

I expect lots of “How can you call yourself ‘Libertarian’?” rants from the perma-outraaged in the comments. Democracy doesn’t mean giving the people what they want, all the time. Nor does ‘freedom and the rule of law’ mean pandering to every whim of the mob. Indeed quite the opposite. We have a responsive democracy in the UK. It ain’t broken, so doesn’t need much fixing.

The Rise of UKIP Heralds a Return to Two Party Politics.

The Liberal Democrats have based their political offer on a number of things. First a certain honesty about policy. Remember “1p on income tax to fund education” for example, and a general willingness to “think the unthinkable”. Clegg coming out as an Atheist or, senior people openly thinking about the legalisation of Drugs. They hope with a child-like naivety, that being right will somehow get them elected. It didn’t, at least in the Euros. Their councillors think that being the best at getting potholes filled in and dealing with dog-shit, will somehow go noticed by their electorate. That too is naive. They lost hundreds of councillors in the Local elections. The tragedy of the Liberal Democrats is they’re an honest party with dishonest voters.

Liberal Democrat voters wanted to be able to say smugly “don’t blame me, I voted Liberal Democrat” when the talk turned political at dinner parties. The hard-working, realistic, decent centrists of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party took to Government rather well. It’s the voters who couldn’t handle the compromises of Government. Not being in a position to deliver all your promises is not the same as “lying”.

And it seems Clegg, by obtaining power will destroy his party.

Which brings us to UKIP. UKIP’s proposition isn’t couched in policy terms. They have one confirmed policy: to get out of the EU. How exactly that would be achieved, is open to doubt. Some of the more intelligent ‘KIPpers (a low bar, admittedly) might say “repeal the European Communities act 1972” and hang the consequences. Of course this isn’t simple. We’d then have to negotiate trade terms with the EU from outside, and I doubt this would be as favourable as negotiated withdrawal. But these niceties are not important the offer from UKIP is deliberately vague. This enables their supporters to think the UKIP policy is the same as whatever they think, which on immigration might range from “send them all back” to “open door to the commonwealth“. Elected ‘KIPpers have said both over the last few weeks.

Why do politicians lie? Well they don’t. They’re reacting to changing circumstances and they’re not always in the position to deliver. Why do politicians not answer the question? Well they’re absolutely terrified of making a promise they can’t keep, and so need to dissemble because the media is unable and unwilling to distinguish between “what I think” and “this is policy”.

So they’re all the same, right? Well no. The Public seems unwilling to understand just how unresponsive the economy is to the levers a politician might pull. While I think the Coalition is doing a good job, I certainly don’t credit them with the recovery, thought the fall in the deficit is welcome. “Nothing ever changes” the electorate say. Well not quickly no. But over 13 years, Labour massively increased the size cost and reach of the state. In four years since, the Coalition has shrunk the state headcount back again and undone about half of the damage done by Labour to the public finances. So things DO change. But most people are still in the same job they were in 2009, living in the same house, going to the same super-market, where things may or may not have risen in price faster than wages. That change is not noticeable day to day.

Politics matters. But it requires an electorate prepared to listen to arguments. Perhaps it’s not the politicians who’ve become dishonest, it’s the electorate? But this great yawp of dissatisfaction will pass. In many ways, the electorate have been reasonable. The Euro elections are pointless elections to a pointless chamber without power or influence. Sending a bunch of ignorant, clock-punching neanderthals to Strasbourg is a sensible response to a body formed as a democratic fig-leaf to cover “ever closer union” driven by the EU commission.

Perhaps the Eurocrats will finally get the message. ENOUGH! and David Cameron may find his renegotiation a little easier as a result of the parade of fascists, loons, time-wasters and bigots the European electorate have sent as representatives. It’s probable therefore that UKIP will be surprised by the General election when their “surge” falters. Do they really think UKIP are a party with actual governing ambitions, rather than just some suits sent to wave two fingers at Herman Van Rumpuy?

Turnout in the 2014 EU elections was 34.19%.  In the 2010 General election. which is the one that matters, it was 65%. I suspect 2015 will be higher still. Even if everyone who voted for UKIP did so in the General election, it’s still only about 14% of the vote. But they won’t. Many people return to their normal parties for an election that matters and this is probably around half of UKIP’s vote. Despite securing 16.5% of the vote in 2009 European elections, they got 2.5% in the 2010 General election. UKIP have indeed surged, but I think it unlikely they’ll get more than 8%, a level at which they will win no seats.

The Liberal Democrats will, of course be decimated. This isn’t the beginning of four party politics, it’s a return to Two party politics. And if you think Miliband’s going to improve his polling from here, I’ve a bridge to sell you. Many UKIPpers will drift back to their habitual parties, but which is going to have the stronger pull? The evidence suggests UKIP’s  initial surge, coinciding with the Gay Marriage debate, came mainly from the Tories. But the most recent surge in the run up to the Euro Elections came mainly from Labour. And I’ve a sneaking (possibly wishful) suspicion, the ex-Labour vote may stick around for the General Election, but more of the Ex Tory vote will head back to the blues, lest Miliband gets in.

It’s difficult to think of a better election strategy for Cameron than saying “we delivered a recovery, they’re led by Ed Miliband”. Apparently no leader has shown worse in focus groups, not even Gordon Brown. The more enthusiastic UKIP voters don’t want the grubby compromises of Government to dilute the simple appeal of the message. In this, they’re very similar to Liberal Democrat voters. Most of the rest know, deep down, however much they like having their prejudices stroked by Nigel Farage, UKIP are not a potential party of Government. It’s either Miliband or Cameron for about half of the 4.5 million people who voted UKIP, and I suspect the majority of those will choose the latter.

Every single pollster over-estimated Labour and underestimated the Tories in the run-up to the Euro poll, which means far from being neck and neck, I suspect the real GE 2015 polling position now is a small Tory lead. Governments enjoy swing back in the final year of Government, especially when there’s an economic recovery. And the UK is the fastest-growing major economy in the world at the moment. Napoleon once asked of a General, “I don’t care how good he is, IS HE LUCKY?“. Cameron appears to be.

Cameron, Farage and the Referendum

In 2007, when Cameron made his “Cast-Iron” guarantee about a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, it was made in the context of an election which was anticipated in 2008. This was probably his greatest political mistake. In not making this abundantly clear that there would be no post-ratification referendum, he opened the door for hysterical Euro obsessives to rant about it ever since.

The fact is the Lib Dems campaigned on an in/out referendum in the election and have blocked one in this parliament. Labour promised a referendum on Lisbon, and then scuttled away, and signed it anyway while he thought no-one was looking. The Tories did everything in their power to stop Lisbon, but once ratified accepted a done deal. None of the parties have a great record on offering a referendum, but only one has not actually gone back on a direct promise. The Tories.

When he finally became Prime Minister in 2010, I think given the state of the country, he can be forgiven for having other priorities than what would be a divisive, time consuming and problematic campaign – ones on which In think the Government has done a good job. The deficit has been cut, the coalition has got out of the way of job creation, and shrunk the state headcount faster than any Government not actively demobilising an army. Discretionary spending has fallen faster than under any Government in peace-time. Basically the coalition is cutting state spending faster than Thatcher did. Free schools are upsetting the teaching unions (a reliable indicator of good policy), private sector involvement in the NHS is a roaring success. This is a very effective government which has performed remarkably well despite a toxic legacy, as usual from an outgoing Labour government.
In doing so, the bubbling Tory discontent on Europe was kept from boiling over. Part of this is due to the fact that, at some considerable political cost, a referendum has been promised should Cameron be PM, and has been legislated for in this parliament. Cameron has said this would be a red-line for Tory involvement in a coalition. There is simply no way Cameron could stay leader of the party and renege on this promise. Even if you think Cameron a dishonest Europhile (and if you think the most Eurosceptic PM this country has ever had is a Europhile, you’re a nincompoop) you must see the weight of opinion in the Tory party will ensure a he sticks to his promise.
The Labour party and Liberal Democrats are NOT offering a referendum. Ultimately, if you want out of the EU, there is only one referendum you will be offered, and that’s by voting Tory in 2015.
Of course ‘KIPpers will say “I don’t believe Cameron’s promise”. If you think this, frankly I don’t care. Your nihilistic stupidity is utterly beyond reach. The real reason for (effectively) opposing a referendum in 2017, is that ‘KIPpers have been pretty effective at polarising opinion on the EU. While there are a lot of people who HATE the EU and want out, yesterday if possible and by next-Thursday at the latest, they’re already voting UKIP. The polls are clear. If the Prime Minister repatriates some powers, and Merkel has indicated she’s happy to go along with some limited renegotiation, the British public will overwhelmingly, if grumpily vote to stay ‘in’. 
Incidentally, the other politician to renege on a promise is Nigel Farage, who promised that he would work with any party to offer an unambiguous referendum promise, probably because he’s rather enjoying riding the Brussels gravy train. UKIP is a major obstacle to its own stated goals, having become much more about race, sex and a general Kulturkapmf by people who feel left behind by the world. UKIP is the party, not for those who really want a referendum: the Tories are for them; UKIP is for people who hanker after 1959, and who REALLY don’t like what the poofters get up to in bed.
So prediction: UKIP will come first tomorrow in the Euros with around mid to high-20’s vote share, Labour second and Tories third. Enjoy crowing. In 2009, UKIP got 16.5% beat Labour into third place, and got less than 3% a year later. Peak UKIP is nigh. The Tories have long expected and planned for this final mid-term kicking and will be delighted it’s not coming from Labour.

Oderint Dum Metuant

UKIP is based on the idea that the educated and intelligent, who have a certain set of views, should kowtow to the brute and unexamined opinions of the uneducated by sheer dint of the latter’s numbers. “The liberal metropolitan elite” don’t know how to respond because they’ve delivered a society since the war that has prioritised butter over guns to a greater degree than any in history. And yet now the uneducated are having the political equivalent of a hissy-fit by voting UKIP at the first sign of a couple of years’ falling living standards.

Having delivered the ill-educated all the material possessions they could want in the decades since the war, these people actually want listening to as well! Actually listening to the stupid is the real decadence of the west. Actually believing the poor are better than the rich, or somehow more “authentic”, taking our stylistic, and cultural norms from those who’ve utterly failed is the suicide note of our society.

The right to be listened to has to be earned, and UKIPpers in any decent society would be told to go do their homework again. Ultimately, the beliefs that underpin UKIPpery are all entirely wrong or based on flawed premises, and they need to be told, loudly, repeatedly and often.

1) Immigration is not a bad thing.

The economic benefits of immigration are obvious, and overwhelming for those prepared to look. However uneducated people tend to draw their venn diagram of “them” and “us” a little tighter than the educated. The belief that the uneducated alone suffer from immigration is also demonstrably false. Immigration brings as much work as it takes. They aren’t taking “your” jobs, you just don’t like “them” but know just enough to express your prejudice in economic terms. UKIPpers are mainly uneducated, old, and though most UKIPpers try to hide it, xenophobic.

Because the UK’s immigration policy isn’t “go away you dirty foreigner”, UKIPpers aren’t listening.

2) The EU…

Almost everything UKIPpers fervently believe about the EU is wrong. The EU doesn’t write “most of our law”. Depending on how broad to view it, between 7% and 50% originates in Brussels, most of it high volume, low impact trade regulation. Most important stuff comes from Westminster. The EU is not taking our sovereignty. The EU isn’t getting in the way of international trade (quite the opposite, thanks largely to the UK’s influence, the EU is the most ardent supporter of free trade in world bodies) and the UK isn’t utterly powerless. Enlargement for example is a huge British triumph. The EU has cemented democracy in South Eastern Europe pretty effectively. Of course there are problems, bureaucracy, the CAP, the Fisheries policy and so forth. But the UK has been pretty effective in achieving its goals.

UKIPpers only goal is to leave the EU, and any goal that isn’t that, will be ignored. They’ve entirely stopped listening.

3) Russia isn’t a very nice place.

UKIPpers firmly believe the UK is utterly impotent in world affairs, and admire the freedom of action of a Dictator, mistaking Putin’s megalomania for strength. This is because stupid, ignorant people read the Sun, not ‘Foreign Affairs’ and ‘the economist’, so they’re entirely unaware of what’s going on, why and what we’re doing about it. The UK has the 4-6th (depending on who’s counting) largest defence budget on earth, is one of the 3 countries (the other two are both Allies and one of them is France) who can deploy and sustain forces on expeditionary operations. The UK’s membership of the EU, NATO, G7, UNSC and so forth means the UK can protect its interests better than almost any member of the EU.

UKIPpers have actually persuaded themselves that Ukrainians are mostly thanking Putin for saving them from the EU. This is insane.

But as UK foreign policy cannot be tweeted as “fuck the EU”, and Ukraine actually has little to do with the EU, UKIPpers aren’t listening.

4) LibLabCon

The Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservative party are all led by white men in suits, whereas UKIP is led by a white man in yellow chords and a loud tweed sports coat. That doesn’t make UKIP different, or the others all the same. The reason UKIPpers think they’re  all the same is because study of politics is hard, and the ship of state takes a long time to turn round. The levers our leaders pull are inexact and our constitution is deliberately designed to prevent rash action and impose checks and balances. Of course you don’t notice a change immediately a new Government takes power. “LibLabCon” is simply an expression of wilful ignorance of this simple fact. Stupid people can’t be bothered to find out about other parties policies. They just notice UKIP is stroking their stupid prejudices and that the others aren’t. The difference is UKIPs policies will never be implemented and so can be as un-realistic as the pie-in-the-sky crap that Nigel Farage pulls out of his arse on BBCQT every week.

I could go on. UKIPpers views on crime and punishment, law and order, education, the welfare state and so forth are distinctly red-top, and entirely uninformed by any study, research or theory. Mostly they’re just hankering after an imagined better yesterday. It’s just a grouping of the prejudices of people born around WW2, unleavened by any coherent philosophy or evidence.

And these stupid, unformed, ignorant opinions are being given the respect they do not deserve by those who should know better.

The reason is simple. Our political leaders have stopped demanding deference and respect, and instead genuflect before Daytime TV presenters, grovel to members of the public, and so are not being given any platform to explain themselves. A desire to be liked has replaced Maggie’s oderint dum metuant attitude. I long for a politician to tell John Humphries to shut up and listen. I long for someone to ram Paxman’s smug aggression down his disrespectful throat. I long for Politicians to say “not my fucking problem” to whining constituents bitching about something trivial. Westminster isn’t about blocked drains or benefits complaints, it’s about scrutinising legislation and protecting freedoms.

When politicians stop trying to meddle in the minutiae of people’s lives and do their job protecting our freedom, they may get the respect they (should actually, really) deserve.

The mainstream parties need to sing the praises of immigration, and try to inform the electorate, rather than run scared by pretending one thing and doing another. They need to explain how cutting job protection increases jobs available. They need to explain the supply-side advantages of benefit cuts. And they need to tell journalists asking stupid questions, that quite often, (how much people smoke for eg) it’s none of politics’ business rather than rolling over for every pressure group that gets its propaganda dressed as research under their nose. Politicians need to stop campaigning on “issues” and start saying “no”.

A bit of self-confidence from the political class: leadership, rather than pandering to UKIP’s ignorant bastards. Be PROUD you know more than Steve, 54, an unemployed bricklayer from Basildon who will “definitely be voting UKIP” mainly because he doesn’t like the Latvians.

Prediction: a Year Out

The Tories are going to win the General Election next year, there’s an outside chance of the Lib-Dems securing enough to be worth hanging onto as coalition partners.

Everything is in place for a Tory victory in 2015. Don’t believe me?
  1. Even Gordon Brown secured “swingback” in the last year of his Government: in his case at least 8 points. The Coalition, Tories especially will enjoy the same effect. Given the Tories are 4% behind (polls currently running 6%-1% labour leads), this alone will give them a small lead at the poll.
  2. The trend is already in the Tories’ favour, though this alone will not extend Cameron’s lease on Number 10. 
  3. UKIP, currently polling 13-20%, are most likely to be disaffected Tories. (50% of their current polling are ex-Tories). It’s obvious a fair number of these are ‘lent’ votes for the Euros. UKIP are not going to poll 18% in General election. You can give at least a third of the UKIP vote to the Tories for the GE. And there you have it. Enough for a Tory government. But that’s not all.
  4. Labour is led by Miliband for whom voters will not turn out. Cameron at least isn’t repellent.
  5. New incumbent effect generally helps Tories.
  6. The return of the shy Tory?
  7. Lib-dems are harder to shift than herpes. (This hurts Tories at least as much as Labour)
  8. The UK is the fastest-growing major developed economy in the world. The cost of living crisis is over, and the public may well be feeling a bit more optimistic come May 2015.
  9. The Tory election narrative will be a combination of “look, things are going well, don’t let Labour ruin it” combined with “look at Ed Miliband, what a wally”. This is powerful.
So, if you think it’s inconceivable that the Tories will win a GE out right, the chances are you’re talking your own book.

Academics are Left Wing because…

Chris Bertram is professor of Social and Political Philosophy at Bristol, he tweets as @crookedfootball and blogs at Crooked Timber. In Today’s post he argues that “Squeezing the rich is good, even when it raises no money“. Essentially his argument boils down to the left’s new theory of everything – that inequality is bad.

This may, or may not be the case. But the argument that punishing the wealthy ends up hurting the poor, by shrinking the pie, is not even considered as valid. There are so many near lies, distortions and pure hate for people who do things an academic political philosopher doesn’t understand, that the article is worth looking at in more detail.

However, the feature of the discussion I want to write about is the assumption, generally taken as decisive by the commentariat, TV interviews and the like, that if such a tax would raise little or no money then that should count against it decisively. On this view taxes are an unfortunate necessity, required to finance state expenditure and to be minimized whereever possible: a tax that raises no money is therefore pointless, imposing needless pain for no benefit.

The art of taxation wrote Jean Baptiste Colbert, is “maximum pluck for minimum hiss”. The top rate of income tax has been set at 40% for a generation. The rich are willing to pay 40% in a way they’re not willing to pay 50%. Thus rich people who might have settled in England to do business, settle instead in Spain where the weather’s better, or Geneva, or Monaco. At a stroke you’ve deprived the exchequer of £100,000 because you’ve asked for another £12k. For very little extra pluck, a 50p rate probably does in the long run, see the economy smaller than it might have been, and causes a great deal of hiss. No-one is better off.

But this view is just plain wrong, for several reasons. First, in a complex society structured by all kinds of institutional rules, the idea that people have full liberal property rights in their pre-tax income is unwarranted. They participate in a co-operative venture with others in society subject to certain conditions, and those conditions include one that part of “their income” already belongs to the wider society, via the state. This point, hated by libertarians, defeats the widespread view that people are having “their money” take off them: it wasn’t theirs to start with. Though I think such an argument, with some caveats, is correct, it is a second and third consideration that I’d want to rely on here.

This view seems dangerously close to the totalitarian view that all your money is the state’s except that which they let you keep. This man is a professor of Political philosophy. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The second consideration is that inequality is deadly for democracy, and for the equal political status of citizens. Because the power and influence high earners derive from their income threatens such status equality, there is a strong public interest in constraining it, even if doing so raises no money at all. It isn’t just that the rich come to own media outlets or that politicians are swayed by their donations to parties, it is also that the prominence their cash gives them gets them listened to and taken seriously by opinion formers. Their experience matters and shapes public policy, that of an unemployed teenager in the North East doesn’t: we need to shift the balance of voice in favour of the unemployed teenager and against the City trader.

Inequality is sometimes “deadly for democracy”, because it’s often a symptom of extractive political institutions – much of Africa for EG. However that is not the case in the UK. Most people who get rich enough to pay the 45p band are not politically connected. They’re just business people. Where there is a problem, it lies in the quangocrats and state apparatchiks walking through revolving doors on huge salaries with apparently no oversight. Even worse, many of these are superannuated, (mostly labour) politicians, conducting a gramscian march through the institutions. I agree here, in the crony capitalist, and quango state, we could do with some pay restraint.

In any case, the UK is not particularly unequal. Remove London, and it’s international mega-rich, the UK is a pretty bog standard north-European welfare state whose inequality is relieved by direct transfers at least as much as it is in Germany. I fail to see how chasing the International Mega rich who choose to pay a lot of tax here, makes anyone better off.

Third, income inequality makes life worse for the rest of us in real terms. Economists are supposed to believe that utility (whatever that is) matters intrinsically and money only matters instrumentally. But right-wing economists often seem to forget this as soon as they are asked to comment on tax policy and inequality, arguing as if their theorems apply to cash and not to utility. If we’re dealing in cash terms, then a tax that makes some people worse off and nobody better off looks bad, and looks Pareto inferior. But it isn’t necessarily Pareto inferior if we focus on well-being: making some cash poorer may make some others better off, a Pareto incomparable outcome. Here’s one way how: if those on high incomes have too much, they can outbid the rest of us for goods that are intrinsically in limited supply or where supply can’t be quickly increased.

I see, he wants stuff that a political philospher would once have been able to afford, but can’t now. He seems ignorant of the fact that, in general, markets are better at relieving scarcity than making the rich poorer.

If I’m further away from being able to buy a house near to where I work, because house prices are raised in an auction I can’t compete in, then I’m worse off even if my income stays flat. Reducing the purchasing power of the wealthy is therefore good for me (unless I got hold of a house early and can earn windfall gains from the auction). And similarly for many other goods. 

I see. It’s the nice big house he can’t afford that he’s envious of, the poor dear. But house builders cannot respond to demand, because the permits to build are not being issued to cope with population growth. So prices rise. Contrast with Germany, where building is encouraged – house prices haven’t risen relative to incomes. This is a market failure which can be laid directly at the door of the state, and particularly, the left’s beloved councils. The answer is not to drag down the rich, but to ensure greater supply. And markets do this better than any other mechanism.

Unrestrained income for the wealthy also means that they can commit more of their resources to ensuring that their offspring make it to the top in the next generation, thereby harming the opportunities for the rest of society.

State education is rubbish. That is not the fault of those who can afford to escape it. But the education establishment of which Professor Bertram is part, opposes any market mechanisms which may drive up standards in state education.

I could go on and enumerate more mechanisms whereby squeezing high earners is good, even if it raises no money, but the general point should be clear. It should give Labour reasons to go on the offensive (“class war”); it certainly gives the commentariat reason to stop making their stupid talking point. They won’t, of course.

The real reason for this attitude is that the incomes of political science professors haven’t kept up with people like business owners, bankers, corporate lawyers and the like. This is pure envy by members of a profession which feels undervalued.

And it demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of who the payers of the top rate of tax are: there are a number of city traders in there, sure, but the majority are business owners, many of whom will have financed their company with a mortgage, risking their house on their business. As business owners, they often have options to pay themselves in a number of ways – dividends, capital returns, income etc… prudent tax-planning is not avoidance, but this is why the 50p doesn’t raise as much as left-wing academics, who comprehend nothing but PAYE wages, think it should.

This hostility to wealth creators (whoever they are) is simply a lack of understanding, and worse, the sneering of a profession whose people were once able to afford the houses now snapped up by people involved in mere trade.

This left-wing politics of envy, so common amongst academics is pure bitterness from a profession which no longer commands the respect (and money) they think they’re due.

It doesn’t help the poor to tax the rich so much they seek means to pay less tax. For the means by which the rich pay less tax shrink the pie for everyone.

The reason Marxism is doomed to end up murderously totalitarian is that everyone imagines themselves as the planner, not the man condemned to the salt mines to fulfil the plan. The professor of Political Philosophy at Bristol university has not grasped this simple point.

Why Evidence-Based Policy is a Bad Thing.

Who could possibly be against “evidence-based” policy?

The problem is very simple. It’s almost impossible to conduct experiments in the social sciences. No government can alter one economic variable and measure the outcome. The noise to signal ratio is absurdly high. What you’re left with is explanations of the data that may or may not stumble on the actual causality.

Some things are obviously and self-evidently stupid. Socialism for example – high marginal tax-rates, nationalisation, closing down markets where possible in favour of state monopolies failed. And in as perfect an economic experiment as any undertaken, two nations, both shattered by war and populated by Germans went head to head. The Capitalist system turned out to be much, much less shit than socialism. Yet many social “scientists” still seem intent on manufacturing evidence that the solutions once tried in East Germany are not only feasible, but that any other approach is both doomed to failure and wicked.

Instead of evidence-based policy, what you often get is policy-based “evidence”. You have the same political arguments, dressed up in a kind of pseudo scientific hocus-pocus.

Take the “debate” about minimum pricing as a classic example.

First make a heroic assumption. Assume a fall in alcohol consumption per head is desirable (it isn’t, what we want to do is reduce “problem” drinking). Second, ignore the fact that your desired outcome is happening anyway. Third, ignore all the evidence that “problem” drug-takers have a lower elasticity of demand and assume that minimum pricing will mostly affect the consumption by alcoholics. Fourth, express these assumptions in a spreadsheet, with no real-world evidence. Fifth, describe this spreadsheet as a “model“. The zeroth step is, of course to get a university to describe you as “professor” first. Then you’re able to tout your guesswork and call it “evidence”, to politicians, and unmolested by any critical thought on the Today program and be paid handsomely from tax-payers’ funds to make this “evidence” up into the bargain.

So you have an “evidence-based” policy to impose a minimum unit price on Alcohol. It’s regressive, and probably won’t work. It will reduce moderate drinking by sensible people, making them at the margin, unhappier. It is unlikely to reduce problem drinking, but may make problem drinkers substitute clothes, or food, or heating for their more expensive booze. Nice one. Everyone’s poorer.

The same is true with social services’ interventions in family. You can point to the number of successful interventions, but there’s no-one measuring the opportunity cost of responsibility not taken, or families broken up unnecessarily. Or regulation in Banking – it’s impossible to deliver a counter-factual, and everyone’s trying to defend their decisions.

Or climate-change. Whilst I’m almost convinced the climate’s changing, and we’re responsible, what’s preventing me being ACTUALLY convinced by the evidence for Anthropogenic climate change caused by C02 etc… is that no-one’s funding research into any other hypotheses. All research grants flow through councils who’re totally committed to a single theory. The lack of understanding of feedback loops, and the total lack of any predictive power of the models suggests our understanding of a chaotic system like the climate is limited. We’re probably on the right lines, but anyone who thinks otherwise is effectively shut out of funding. Therefore the shriller the POLITICAL consensus for wind-farms (for example) the less convinced I am by the SCIENTIFIC consensus. The obvious nonsenses from both sides (look at the weather – there’s climate change flooding your house/Ha! climate scientists stuck in the ice) means this is becoming less about science, and more about political articles of faith. There’s been too much policy-based evidence-making based more on distaste/support for big business, than any climate scientists’ actual views. And what does a climate scientist know about the economics of electricity generation anyway?

You can go through almost any area where government claims to be “evidence-based”. The evidence given to politicians is nearly always policy-based. This is why politicians make crap decisions, and they’d be better off just leaving us alone.

2014 is going to be the best year in human history.

This time last year, I made some predictions: 2013 is going to be the best year in human history. It was, for most of the world at least. And 2014 is going to be even better, for all the same reasons.

How did I do with my prognostication?

The scourge of war is receding from human experience. Though they are still going on, they involve fewer combatants and kill fewer people. As people get richer, and pass through the dangerous middle-income phase, they have too much to lose by fighting.

Alas Mali and the Central African Republic saw crises rise to the level of war in 2013. The civil war in Syria the ongoing wars in Afghanistan continue to claim lives. There have, however been no big, new wars involving western forces. We missed the window of opportunity in 2012 to prevent the disaster in Syria, and it is now too late. I suspect letting Bashar al Assad win is now the least bad option.

Several states in the US have signalled the abandonment of the war on Drugs (well Marijuana at least)

One country, Uruguay, has fully legalised it. The logic of the War on Drugs is waning. Several successful politicians in North America have been caught using Crack and Cocaine, none of whom look like junkies. Dozens of people who clearly aren’t drug-addled derelicts, self-arguing in underpasses, but who maintain busy and high-profile lives have “come out” as having taken Marijuana or Cocaine. It won’t be long before such people no-longer have to pretend to have hated it, or for it to have been a response to an emotional trauma.

In 1963, “some time between the end of the Chatterley Ban and the Beatles’ first LP” people started to admit they like to have sex, and not just for procreation. Rock & Roll became acceptable when in 1976, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols said “fuck” on live TV, at a stroke rendering that nice young Mr (now Sir) Michael Jagger, respectable. Perhaps a TV cook with ample curves might be the person whom we can thank for ending the hypocrisy of the drug war. Unlikely. But someone’s going to provide the moment. And soon. A wise man once said….

The world is still getting richer, even if the squeezed middle in the west isn’t.

The giant emerging economies are creating wealth at a rate unprecedented in human history, by the simple expedient of abandoning the socialist choke-hold on creative economic endeavour.

India and China may have slowed, India especially so, but the truth holds. Their Governments have seen the fruits of economic liberalism and seen it work. India may regret electing someone who seems to be an unrepentant Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi of the BJP in 2014, but it won’t be for his economic policies which are far more business-friendly than the rather corporatist Congress party.

 The poorest parts of the world are the fastest growing. Even if inequality in the west is rising a bit, and that’s debatable, global inequality is falling. 

This is still true, but less so.

So, to carry the game forward, here are some concrete predictions for this time next year.

Money & Business
The FTSE100 will reach an all-time high, for the first time since 1999, and will continue the bull-run. 7,000 will be left behind.
Thanks to tightening money, The Oil Price will fall below $100 and stay there. The Brent/WTI spread will narrow from 99/111.

UK Politics
The Labour lead will fall from 6-8%. UKIP will win popular vote in the European parliament elections, then their support will drift back to the Tories thanks to a strengthening recovery. Scotland will vote ‘No’ to independence. Ed Miliband will remain a worthless union stooge. The voter-repelling and emetic Ed Balls will remain shadow Chancellor, because his boss is a spineless dweeb, with shit for brains and “Red” Len McClusky’s hand up his bum. Tories will post a lead, but I doubt it will be done consistently.

The Syrian civil war will not end, but Assad will regain control of much of the country, leaving an islamist insurgency. The world will continue to look the other way.
China’s growth will slow. The rumblings of dissent new riches have smothered will start to grow louder. The Communist Party may seek to use Sabre-Rattling with Japan to detract domestic opinion from the looming economic crisis.
Something dramatic will happen on the Korean Peninsula.

Happy New Year

There you go. My posts have been sporadic in 2013 as I have less new to say. But I still enjoy writing from time to time, and it’s nice to know my readers, both of you, are still out there somewhere and I hope, whether you come in from RSS or by a random websearch for stewardesses boobs (I still get a lot of hits that way, for reasons that are beyond me) you still think what I say is interesting, provocative, informative or entertaining.

Have a happy new year. And remember risk is to reward as hangover is to party.

Gender Segregation in Universities

If you believe the hype, you’d think British universities are going to be routinely segregating by gender in order to appease islamists. Twitter is outraged. This is about new guidance from universities UK which suggests that some external speakers may be allowed to segregate their audience by gender. The libertarian in me says as no-one is going to be forced to attend such an external event, segregate away, as it’s no skin of my rosy nose. It advises for example that segregation is left to right, not front to back, to ensure equal participation, but in the competing “rights” of equality of gender and religion, compromises should be available. Money quote:

“…Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system…”

Of course any speaker demanding gender segregation at a UK university is not being culturally sensitive. The kind of speaker who would demand such a policy doesn’t care. Indeed the hue and cry will ensure more radical islamists do demand it; the ensuing publicity will be far more valuable than the speaking gig, whether or not the event goes ahead.

I would be unlikely to attend an event where the genders were segregated to appease a bigoted Islamist. But I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of making a fuss about it. And if you feel you need to go, the segregation demanded reflects badly on the speaker, but is sitting on the left really so bad?

We have become obsessed by trivial symbols. Is anyone actually going to be forced into “gender apartheid” in British universities as some more hysterical commentators have suggested? Or are you just going to have to sit where you’re told to listen to a ranting islamist for an hour or so? Are we so insecure in our society that rational debate cannot overcome the antediluvian nonsense of these religious throwbacks?

“Live and let live” is the most important mantra of liberal democracy. Let’s not give those who oppose it, the satisfaction of letting them think their ideas actually present a threat.